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Today in Yankees History: David Wells and the Perfect Game

On this date in 1998, David Wells filled one of the few gaps in Yankees' history.

That facial hair seems to be drifting below the upper lip.
That facial hair seems to be drifting below the upper lip.
David Seelig/Getty Images

Since the dawn of the twentieth century and the development of MLB, there wasn't much that success that eluded the Yankees. You probably know that already.

World Series titles, Triple Crowns, and record-setting seasons were hardly in short supply. But the fascinating thing about the formula for that success is that it's the opposite of any 21st century recipe you'd find someone talking about. Those earlier Yankees featured a devastating lineup, a deep bench and a stacked farm system (thanks to much laxer rules about signing, developing and retaining young players). Those were things a modern GM would wish for, sure, but the missing piece of the puzzle is the first piece in the modern game: pitching.

The Yankees had good pitchers, of course. Thirteen former Yankee pitchers are in the Hall of Fame, but then again, only six of those are in as Yankees, and four of those are pre-World War II players (hello, Whitey and Goose!).

Consider the 13 men who have won the MVP as Yankees, compared with the five Yankees have won Cy Young Awards (Turley, Ford, Lyle, Guidry, Clemens). And that's not even considering that Gehrig (2), Dimaggio (3), Berra (3), Mantle (3), Maris (2), or Rodriguez (2) took home the award multiple times.

Obviously, the Cy Young Award has gone through more transformation than the MVP- not beginning until 1956 and awarded to only one player for both leagues until 1967. But the MVP Award has changed, too. For most of Babe Ruth's career, a player could win MVP only once. Since Ruth won in 1923 [.393/.545/.764, but didn't win the batting title!], he was ineligible when he won the Triple Crown in 1924, or any of the years when he led the league in homers from 1926-1931 while basically posting a .500 OBP, and by the way there was no award at all the first two times he lapped the league in home runs in 1920 or 1921. But overall, I think my point stands.

All of which is just to say, given their otherwise domination of all things baseball, it's pretty incredible to think that it took the Yankees until 1998 to record their first regular season perfect game.

I don't mean to discount Don Larsen's perfect game in the '56 Series, but I feel like that belongs in a category all on its own (though Doc Halladay's no-hitter against the Reds gets equal respect from me).

I only know what it's like to get through a season from my couch, so I can't really relate. But let me try anyway: it's May 17th and you're a 35-year-old journeyman in your twelfth year in the bigs. You've always been a decent, league average pitcher, and you made your only All-Star team a few years ago. But you're with your fourth team in four years. Depending on how much you want to hold onto your bad boy self-image, you may or may not tell us you're hung over. Even the team owner takes shots at you over your weight. Today is friggin' Beanie Baby day. You start the day with an ERA over 5.

What makes you really dig deep and snap off that curveball in the second inning? It's a long season. Can you afford to go max effort on a 3-2 count with one out in the third? You could walk him and go after the next guy. When you throw your 100th pitch with no one out in the 8th, how much does what you're flirting with weigh on your mind? There's so far still to go, and just no margin for error.

That's what's so impressive to me about a regular season perfect game, how it infuses its own special kind of meaning into an otherwise ordinary game.

Thanks for that, Boomer. Here's to you.