After years of high-priced frustration, the Yankees were finally playing great baseball by the summer of 1994. A trip back to the World Series seemed all but booked as they had the American League's best record until the evening of August 11. That night the oft-threatened players' strike became a cold reality. That strike led to the eventual cancellation of the 1994 World Series. As Andrew pointed out earlier this week, it was a punch in the gut to fans across the country.
This was a lineup full of patient hitters that weren't ashamed to take a walk. Polonia provided a decent amount of speed to go with his ability to get on base. Elder statesmen Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly rounded out the top of the lineup as still two of the best contact hitters in the game. By this point, back injuries had sapped Mattingly's power but Boggs provided some pop with the second highest home run total of his career. Clean up hitter Danny Tartabull did what classic sluggers do, hit home runs, draw some walks, and strike out a lot. At the heart of the order, Paul O'Neill proved that his successful debut in pinstripes the year before was no fluke. He won the AL batting crown and set career highs in all three slash stats. Backstop Mike Stanley also proved that his breakout year in 1993 was now the rule rather than the exception, leading all AL catchers in WAR. At the bottom of the order Bernie Williams continued his slow rise to stardom while Gallego and Kelly provided value as light-hitting, slick-fielding middle infielders.
With the exception of Daryl Boston, the Yankees' bench was extremely valuable in 1994. Veteran Randy Velarde had a good enough glove to backup both middle infield positions and hit well above the league standard for each. Jim Leyritz quickly became a fan favorite by smacking home runs at a high rate and being versatile enough to fill in at any position in a pinch. Once a top prospect in the organization, Gerald Williams settled into a bench role providing a steady glove in the outfield and a boost of speed on the base paths. In his final season with the Yankees Matt Nokes made sure there was no drop-off in production when he filled in for Mike Stanley, which was no small order.
The Yankees' prize free agent acquisition of 1993, lefty Jimmy Key, was the unquestioned ace of this staff. He led the major leagues in wins and placed second in the AL Cy Young award vote. There was no clear number two starter here but Key was followed by three solid, middle of the rotation guys in lefty Jim Abbott and righties Melido Perez and Scott Kamieniecki. Abbott and Perez both were more effective earlier in their careers, but they were beginning to feel the effects of their large workloads in those years. The Yankees had high hopes for Terry Mulholland, another lefty, when they traded for him after his success with the NL champion Phillies in 1993. As you can see above, his only season in the Bronx was a disaster.
In the years before Wetteland and Rivera, the Yankees' closer situation was nebulous, to say the least. After Xavier Hernandez failed to lock down the role, Steve Howe put up one of the best seasons of his troubled career and became the closest thing they had to a closer. Howe was helped by former starter Bob Wickman, who found his niche as an effective setup man and also closed out a handful of games for the club. Veterans Donn Pall and Paul Gibson were solid, if unspectacular, in middle relief while Sterling Hitchcock was a jack of all trades. As the youngest contributor to this team he was called on to be the emergency starter and long reliever and even earned two saves along the way.
The strength of this team was clearly the offense. This was the first of a long string of Yankee lineups that would consistently wear down pitchers until they either got themselves into trouble or handed the game over to a bullpen that would get into trouble for them. As a team, they ranked first in the majors in batting average, on base percentage, OPS and OPS+. The only team to score more runs than them were the formidable Cleveland Indians and if they had played a full season, they may have even flirted with scoring 1,000 runs for the year.
The pitching was a different story, though. While they were certainly an above average staff, outside of Jimmy Key and a couple reliable relievers they weren't really scaring anybody. In a playoff series they would have been in a dicey scenario if Key lost a game one and Jim Abbott was getting the ball for a must-win game two. Regardless, any Yankees fan that was conscious in 1994 was drooling for the opportunity to see them take their league-leading offense to the World Series to face off against the Expos and their league-best pitching staff. Man, that would have been fun.