Lots to get to in the latest installment of our All-Time Yankees Fantasy Showdown, so let’s jump straight in with these first-round matchups:
(1) 1939 vs. (8) 1957
It was a heavyweight bout between legendary Yankees center fielders, both at the peak of their powers.
Joe DiMaggio was 24-years-old in 1939 and won the first of his three MVP Awards. He slashed .381/.448/.671 and was worth 7.3 rWAR. His team, which also featured Hall of Famers Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon and Lefty Gomez, coasted to the American League pennant with a 106-45 record before sweeping the Cincinnati Reds 4-0 in the World Series.
Mickey Mantle, by contrast, was 25 in 1957 and had just come off a Triple Crown season in 1956. He registered 11.3 bWAR in 1957, hitting .365/.512/.665. His OPS+ was a career-high 221 and he won the second of back-to-back MVPs. Though his team won 98 games that year, they lost in the World Series, 4-3, to the Milwaukee Braves.
Had all the makings of a classic series, right?
It was a rout.
Mantle’s boys drew first blood in Game 1, 4-1. Down 1-0 in the seventh, right fielder Hank Bauer took Lefty Gomez deep with a runner on to give 1957 a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
DiMaggio’s squad righted the ship in Game 2, winning 3-0 behind a three-RBI performance from Bill Dickey and eight scoreless innings from Red Ruffing.
If 1939 thought they’d regained their balance, they were sorely mistaken. The 1957 team walloped them 12-2 in Game 3, powered by a two-homer game from Bauer. He drove in six runs, while first basemen Moose Skowron added four more.
The 1939 team never recovered. They dropped the next game 10-5 and 1957 sealed the series win with a 6-4 win in Game 5. DiMaggio went out heroically, hitting .526. Mantle, too, played well, hitting .471. But in a series featuring two inner-circle legends, it was Hank Bauer who stole the show. He hit .429 with six homers and an astonishing 15 RBI, easily locking down the MVP award.
And just like that, the no. 1-seeded 1939 team was bounced.
(4) 1950 vs. (5) 2019
I’d initially planned to enter the current 2020 squad into the tournament and see if they could make some hay with a Gerrit Cole-led pitching staff. Unfortunately, they weren’t available in OOTP’s historical exhibition setting, so I went with the 2019 team, but with a healthy Luis Severino, Miguel Andujar and Aaron Hicks.
They weren’t destined for a long run, however, but they did pack some excitement into the series, which featured three extra-inning contests.
The 1950 team jumped all over Severino in Game 1, pounding him for seven runs in two innings of work. Even the diminutive Phil “The Scooter” Rizzuto, who won the AL MVP that year, took the righty deep in the first inning. Maybe they rushed Sevy back from the injury?
The 2019 team actually battled back to tie the game and send it into extras, but Aroldis Chapman, pitching in his third inning (gotta question the bullpen management here) surrendered an incredibly unattractive walk-off walk to Johnny Hopp in the 11th, giving 1950 the 8-7 win.
The 2019 boys gave as good as they got, though, winning Game 2, 6-4. In an odd coincidence, this game was also 11 innings and 2019 scored the go-ahead run on … a walk!
The teams traded wins in Games 3 and 4, before 1950 took home another extra inning win in Game 5, crushing Jonathan Holder for four runs in the 10th on their way to a 9-7 win.
They closed out the series with another tight victory, 7-6, in Game 6.
Johnny Hopp took MVP honors.
(3) 1928 vs. (6) 1978
The 1978 Yankees showed a lot of heart in their actual season, rallying back from a 14-game deficit in July to overtake the Boston Red Sox, beating them in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park.
But the combined talents of Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson and Ron Guidry were no real match for prime Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
The 1928 Yanks were victorious in fairly routine fashion, taking the series in five games behind an MVP performance from Ruth, who hit .421 with three homers and four RBI.
(2) 1953 vs. (7) 1962
On paper, this series is a study in Mickey Mantle at two distinct, yet similar, points in his career. In 1953, at the age of 21, he was already excellent but not yet otherworldly, putting up a 5.8 bWAR season. In 1962, he was 30-years-old and his decline years were rapidly approaching. Still, he put up a great 6.0 bWAR season – and won his third and final MVP - but he failed to reach the dizzying heights of his 20s. In fact, if you ranked his seasons by bWAR, 1962 represents his 10th best season (out of 18). Right behind that, in 11th, is 1953.
So would the two comparable Mantles cancel each other out and leave the series’ fate to their supporting casts?
The 1953 squad looked like they’d win in a cake walk, taking the first three games of the series. But the games were close. Game 1 was a 3-2 affair decided in the 11th inning by a Hank Bauer RBI single. In Game 2, ’53 edged ahead again, winning 2-1. They seemed to have grabbed the series by the throat with a 12-3 win in Game 3, but 1962 refused to go out with a whimper. They took Game 4, 6-5, then rattled off two more wins to force a decisive Game 7. But the final contest was a blowout, 9-2 in favor of 1953, who avoided the ignominy of blowing a 3-0 lead.
In the end, it wasn’t either Mantle who proved key. For the second time in this bracket, Hank Bauer took home MVP honors, hitting .481 with a homer and six RBI.