The Yankees finally put one in the win column on Monday night, beating the Orioles 6-2 behind a dogged effort from Ivan Nova (seven innings of two-run ball despite yielding 10 hits) after being swept by the Rays in their season-opening series. In doing so, they managed to avoid an 0-4 start for the first time since 1973 and just the third time in franchise history.
The Yankees have never won a World Series in the years they've started 0-4 (1912 and 1930 being the others), but they have rallied to win no less than six of them when starting 1-3 (which they've done 25 times): 1936, 1938, 1952, 1977, 1978, and most famously 1998, when they preceded their 24th world championship by winning a franchise-record 114 games. That's just one less than they've won while starting 2-2, and two more than they've won while starting 4-0 (which they've done only 11 times). Even with a sluggish first week, rumors of their demise are greatly exaggerated.
Given the caliber of the current team, there's a slim likelihood they'll be anything less than a contender for a playoff spot, but still, it's fair to wonder about the Yankees' slowest starts and the fates of those teams, in a there-but-for-the-grace-of-Derek-Jeter sort of way. What follows is a look at some of the worst-case starts, and how things turned out for those teams.
5 games: 0-5 (1912, 1930): In 110 years of existence (including this one), the Yankees have only started 0-5 twice, fewer than any other franchise that's been in existence since 1901 save for the White Sox, who have had it happen just once. The 1912 club, still known as the Highlanders, went on to post a franchise-worst 50-102 record. The most notable player on that team was probably first baseman Hal Chase, who had managed the club in late 1910 and all of 1911, when they finished 76-76; he had gotten the job in 1910 after manager George Stallings became the first person to accuse him of "laying down" in games. After a season and change as manager, Chase stepped down in favor of Harry Wolverton, who lasted just one season as the Yankees finished a whopping 55 games out of first. Given that successor Frank Chance also accused Chase of throwing games in 1913, and that Chase would eventually be suspended for doing so with the Reds in 1917, it's fair to wonder if foul play tainted that miserable 1912 record. Less dramatically, the 1930 team — which featured Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey, Red Ruffing, Herb Pennock and briefly Waite Hoyt, recovered to go 86-68, but finished a distant third in the AL race, 16 games behind Connie Mack's A's.
10 games: 1-9 (1966): After losing the 1964 World Series to the Cardinals, the Yankees fired Yogi Berra and hired St. Louis manager Johnny Keane, but slipped to 77-85, their first sub-.500 season since 1925, the year of Babe Ruth's "bellyache heard 'round the world." With an aging Mickey Mantle only intermittently available, and Roger Maris a shell of his former self, the 1966 club stumbled out of the gate, scoring just 21 runs in its first 10 games. They would finish 70-89, last in the league for the first time since 1912.
15 games: 2-13 (1913): Frank Chance had been part of four pennant winners and two world champions as a Cub from 1898-1912, playing first base as part of the most famous double play combination of all time (along with shortstop Joe Tinker and second baseman Johnny Evers). The "Peerless Leader" had severed connections with the Cubs following the 1912 season, when he was 35, and intended to retire, but the Yankees offered him a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $40,000 deal to manage. Alas, he inherited a team coming off its worst season, and would be saddled with the scourge of Chase until "Prince Hal" was traded to the White Sox on June 1. The Yankees would finish 57-94, barely ahead of the last place St. Louis Browns (57-96), but not before popping up elsewhere on this list.
20 games: 4-16 (1913, 1966): The 1966 squad's sluggish start would cost Keane his job; he was made the scapegoat for an aging roster and a depleted farm system, fired after 20 games in favor of Ralph Houk. Houk, of course, had managed the Yankees from 1961-1963 before moving upstairs to become the general manager; he would give up the latter post to move back down to the dugout. Sadly, Keane would die of a heart attack in January 1967, at just 55 years old. Houk would go on to hold the managerial job through 1973, but he would never take the Yankees back to the postseason.
25 games: 7-17-1 (1913), 8-17 (1912, 1966, 1984): Every other franchise record for bad starts at the 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, and 50 game intervals belongs to Chance's team, which was amid a 14-game winless streak (with one tie) when they traded Chase to the White Sox. The team came out of that at 9-34-2, but would put up a better fight once the skid was over, going a still-lousy 48-60 the rest of the way. Meanwhile, three other Yankees teams would start 8-17, two of the aforementioned plus the 1984 edition under Berra. That squad scored just 70 runs over their first 25 games, on .232/.294/.325 hitting with just nine home runs. Four regulars — Butch Wynegar, Toby Harrah, Steve Kemp and Omar Moreno — were still under the Mendoza Line at that point, while Dave Winfield was hitting just .250/.291/.385 with a pair of homers. The team caught fire, and went 79-58 (.577) the rest of the way, but it wasn't nearly enough to catch the Tigers, who had started the year 21-4, would peak at 35-5, and finish 104-58.
30 games 10-19-1 (1925): Just two games better than Chance's club (8-21-1) at this juncture, the 1925 team wouldn't see Ruth until June 1, by which time they were 15-25-1. Spotting in the outfield a small handful of times in his absence, and pinch-hitting on that June 1 day was a 22-year-old kid named Lou Gehrig. He would take over first base duties from a malingerer named Pipp the following day, and go on to rack up a record 2,130 consecutive games.
So you see, kids, even a stroll through some of the slowest starts and the darkest Yankee seasons in memory can produce a notable high point in Yankee history. And now back to your regularly scheduled winning...