The Yankees’ start to this season has been understandably frustrating to fans. It’s certainly got some wondering if they’re a playoff team, never mind a contender for anything more. It’s always possible that’s the case. This start could torpedo any chances they have at making a run. History, however, has shown that it could ultimately mean nothing.
The 1941 Yankees were coming off a third-place finish in the American League the season before. Prior to that, the Yankees had won four consecutive World Series from 1936-39. At the end of July in 1940, they were just four games over .500 and 7.5 back of first. A late charge in the final months got them as close as one game back of first, but they ended the season in third place, two games behind the AL champion Tigers.
The Yankees were mostly unchanged heading into the 1941 season. They replaced first baseman Babe Dahlgren with Johnny Sturm, and also brought up young shortstop Phil Rizzuto. Other than that, their lineup and rotation were largely similar, with Joe DiMaggio in a staring role.
They began the 1941 season similarly to how they finished it: on a solid run. The Yankees started the season 9-4. Their offense was hitting well, at one point scoring 33 runs in two games against the Philadelphia Athletics.
Things started to go downhill on April 27th, though. After taking the first two games of a series against the Washington, the Senators prevented the sweep with a 6-3 win at Yankee Stadium. That dropped them from an outright lead in the division to a tie with Cleveland. Another loss the following day, dropped them 1.5 back of first. That’s as close as they would be in the AL race for two months.
The Yankees went just 13-13 over the course of May, slumping badly over the course of the first half of the month. From May 1st to May 17th, they went 5-10, were 15-16 on the season, and sat 7.5 back of first place in the American League. A franchise who had just won four World Series a couple years before that were dangerously close to falling out of the race in May.
They rebounded and won 8 of 13 over the second half of May and cut into that deficit somewhat. That said, they were still only a couple games over .500. Then the rest of the season happened.
The Yankees went 19-7 in June, which included an eight-game win streak, and a sweep of first-placed Cleveland. That was followed by an even better July. The Yankees went 25-4, and ended the month 12 games up in the AL. In two and a half months, they had a 19.5 game swing in the standings after having been down 7.5 games. They literally scored double the runs they allowed over the course of the month, and had two separate winning-streaks of at least nine games.
The Yankees didn’t go as crazy over the rest of the season as they did in June and July. They just casually posted a 34-23 down the stretch, which works out to a solid .596 winning percentage.
For the season, the Yankees managed a 101-53 record. The last day they were under .500 was on May 19th. From that day forward, the Bombers went 85-36. That’s a .702 winning percentage, in a period lasting more that three quarters of the season.
Not shockingly, that was good enough for the Yankees to win the AL by 17 games. They beat the Dodgers in five games to win their fifth World Series in six years.
Obviously some teams don’t really recover from bad starts. Just don’t act like the Yankees’ start this year has already doomed them to mediocrity. A team has come back from further down, later in the year, and still been really, really good.