The first round of our All-Time Yankees Fantasy Showdown marches on, with the 1998 team getting their first taste of action.
(1) 1998 vs. (8) 1976
The 1998 team needs no introduction. They won 114 regular season games – then an American League record – before going 11-2 in the postseason to capture the franchise’s 24th World Series title. Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill were operating at or near their peak. David Cone, David Wells, and Andy Pettitte were joined by “El Duque,” Orlando Hernandez, in the rotation. Mariano Rivera was cementing himself as the premier closer in the game.
Thurman Munson led the way for the 1976 team, winning his first and only MVP that year. But players like Graig Nettles (8.0 bWAR), Mickey Rivers (6.4), Roy White (5.5), Willie Randolph (5.0) and Chris Chambliss (4.1) provided ample support. They beat the Kansas City Royals in a dramatic ALCS before being swept by Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the World Series, but their success laid the foundation for the championship teams of 1977 and 1978.
In Game One, 1976 got off to a roaring start with a 10-1 win. David Cone pitched well for ’98, giving up just one run in 5.2 innings, but the bullpen crumbled. Mike Stanton, Ramiro Mendoza and a mop-up stint from Mike Buddie yielded nine runs against. Randolph drove in three from the leadoff spot, while Munson and Chambliss each had two RBI, behind a sparkling complete game effort from Catfish Hunter.
The ’98 squad recovered in Game Two, winning 6-4 before the two teams traded victories in Games Three and Four. That set up a pivotal Game Five with the series even.
It was a rematch of Game One: Cone vs. Hunter. Cone surrendered a second-inning solo shot to right fielder Oscar Gamble, but that would be the only run he’d give up over 6.2 innings. Hunter, off his one-run complete game performance in Game One, tossed zeroes over eight innings before passing the baton to closer Sparky Lyle. With one out in the ninth, Bernie Williams doubled, then advanced to third on a wild pitch. Paul O’Neill cashed in the run with a sac fly and ’98 tied it at 1-1. To extras they went.
Mariano Rivera and Lyle matched zeroes in the 10th before ’98 second baseman Chuck Knoblauch led off the top of the 11th with a double. He scored the go-ahead run four batters later on a Scott Brosius sac fly. Rivera, who was leaned on for 41 pitches, registered the first two outs of the bottom half before making way for lefty specialist Graeme Lloyd to face Chambliss with a runner on. Lloyd retired the first baseman on two pitches to preserve a critical 2-1 win.
That momentum appeared to carry over into Game Six, with 1998 skating to a 7-0 victory. Bernie Williams, who hit .346 and drove in four runs was the MVP.
(4) 1943 vs. (5) 1947
On paper, 1943 was the higher seed, but they represent an odd situation as a World War II-era team, competing in a league in which many of the best young players were performing military service, including their own Joe DiMaggio. And they find themselves matched up in this round against that very same star they were sorely lacking, who brought along his pals Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto to boot. The ’43 squad still had Joe Gordon and an aging Bill Dickey, both Hall of Famers who didn’t begin their military service until 1944, so they had talent, don’t get me wrong. But I was still expecting 1947 to make quick work of their ’43 counterparts.
I was wrong.
The ’43 team, led by Snuffy Stirnweiss and Charlie “King Kong” Keller took Game One 4-2. Spud Chandler outpitched … Spud Chandler.
The 1947 team finally showed their teeth in Game Four, winning 10-3, but couldn’t overcome the 3-1 series hole they’d dug themselves and exited the tournament following a 7-4 loss in Game Five. Household name Roy Weatherly was MVP for 1943.
(3) 1932 vs. (6) 1952
The 1932 Yankees represent Babe Ruth’s last World Series-winning team and their championship victory over the Chicago Cubs that year contributed a massive bit of baseball folklore to the game: the legend of Ruth’s called shot.
The club’s 1952 version won the fourth of five straight World Series for the franchise, led by Mantle, Berra and Rizzuto.
This series could’ve been a classic, but it wasn’t to be. The Ruth/Gehrig Yanks clubbed their counterparts in Game One, 7-1, then followed that up with two more lopsided victories: 9-3 in Game Two and 8-5 in Game Three powered by a four-hit, three-RBI performance from Gehrig.
Game Four proved to be the high-water mark for 1952, as they eked out a 3-2 win in 11 innings, but their joy was short-lived. Gehrig once again propelled his boys to a win, 5-3, clinching the series in five games. The Iron Horse took home MVP honors on the back of a .421 average with two homers and five RBI.
(2) 1937 vs. (7) 2000
The 2000 Yankees have the dubious distinction of winning the fewest regular season games (87) of any World Series-winning Yankees team. That didn’t stop them from beating their crosstown rival New York Mets to lift their third title in a row, however.
But they found themselves squaring off against a 1937 team that went 102-52 on their way to a World Series win over their own crosstown rival, the New York Giants. That team represented the second of five consecutive championships between 1936-41.
Unfortunately for the Derek Jeter-led 2000 squad, it wasn’t close – 1937 took Game One, 7-2, and never looked back, completing a four-game sweep against their millennial opponents. A 22-year-old Joe DiMaggio hit .533 with three home runs and seven RBI to earn the series MVP.