Where we last left off, an era was seemingly coming to an end. The stars that had led the Yankees to the 1943 World Series title, headlined by Bob Feller, were getting old. As a result, the Yankees slipped under .500 to end the 40s. The Yankees seemingly needed to rebuild, and boy did they.
1950: 57-97, 8th in AL, 31 GB, Team WAR Leader: SP Gene Jones (6.8)
For the first time since 1922, the Yankees fall to dead last in the AL. They both allow the most runs in the league and score the fewest. One good thing to come out of the season is that the Yankees get the first pick in the draft and use it to select a pitcher named Jim Bunning.
In the World Series, the Browns sweep the Dodgers, despite a 0.00 ERA in the series from young Brooklyn pitcher Whitey Ford.
1951: 52-102, 8th in AL, 38 GB, Team War Leader: SP Gene Jones (5.4)
The Yankees fall back even further as they endure a brutal season by the offense. Bunning debuts as a 19-year old, putting up an ERA over eight in just six innings. His minor league numbers look promising, however. In more good news, the Yankees use their second consecutive top pick to take an impressive young hitter named Hank Aaron.
1952: 60-94, 8th in AL, 34 GB, Team War Leader: CF Clair Bailey (3.8)
During the previous season, the Yankees had fired manager Ernesto Rodriguez. They named Ricky Villalobos the interim and then retained him for 1952. His team doesn’t really improve despite solid contributions from youngsters Bunning and Aaron. They get another high draft pick and use it on a shortstop named Ernie Banks.
1953: 61-93, T-7th in AL, 35 GB, Team WAR Leader: SP Gene Jones (3.9)
Another season, another low finish. They only don’t finish last in the AL by virtue of being equally as bad as the Senators. They did get the first pick in the draft for the third time in four years, and took an outfielder named Roberto Clemente with it.
Whitey Ford and the Dodgers take the World Series, beating the A’s in five games.
1954: 77-77, 3rd in AL, 18 GB, Team WAR Leader: SP John Hanssen (5.7)
The young talent acquired over the previous years is starting to get their sea legs in the majors, and it results in the Yankees vaulting up the standings.
Cleveland comes out on top in an all-Ohio battle in the World Series.
1955: 85-69, 3rd in AL, 8 GB, Team WAR Leader: SS Ernie Banks (9.0)
To kick off their seeming new era, the Yankees mange a managerial change, hiring Mel Preibisch. In his first season, the Yankees take another step forward and stick in the AL Pennant race until fairly late in the season. It’s a true breakout year for Banks and Aaron, while Clemente makes his debut and also gives hope for the future.
As one era begins another ends, as the Yankees release legendary pitcher Bob Feller in July. He signs with the Orioles to prolong his career, but the 36-year old is clearly past his prime. Despite that, he finishes as the Yankees’ all-time leader in several categories. He won a World Series, an MVP, and four Cy Youngs in New York and is undoubtedly ticketed for the Hall of Fame sometime soon.
Elsewhere, the newly relocated Kansas City Athletics take home the crown.
1956: 98-56, 1st in AL, Team WAR Leader: LF Hank Aaron (8.1)
Despite the improvement, the Yankees move on from Preibisch after just one season. Clifton Brooks is brought in to replace him. He immediately leads the team to the pennant with a 15-game cushion over second place. Aaron and Banks are a dominant force in the heart of the lineup and both put up monster seasons.
In the World Series, they face the Pirates and their five-time All-Star catcher Yogi Berra. Pittsburgh won 10 fewer games than the Yankees in the season, and once the two teams got on the field...it showed.
The Yankees dominated the World Series, sweeping and outscoring Pittsburgh 32 to 14. Center fielder Jim Piersall brought home MVP honors after hitting .467/.559/1.000 and recording six RBI. The Yankees championship count was now up to three. After the season, Aaron won league MVP and pitcher Paul Foytack won the Cy Young for his 21-4 record and 2.23 ERA, backing up the Yankees excellent offense.
In other big news, longtime Yankees starter Gene Jones surpassed Walter Johnson for the MLB career strikeouts record. His rotation mate for many years in Feller also ends his career after 21 seasons.
1957: 83-71, 4th in AL, 7 GB, Team WAR Leader: SS Ernie Banks (7.4)
For some reason, Brooks leaves after just one championship-winning season to go manage in the minor leagues. (This game does weird things sometimes.) They don’t go far for his replacement, promoting bench coach Jesse Gullic.
His first season is a bit of a letdown as the Yankees end up fourth in a four-horse race in the AL. Foytack can’t repeat his exploits from the season before as the pitching as a whole takes a bit of a dip. The stars on offense generally kept up their excellence, but it wasn’t enough.
The Pirates lost their second consecutive World Series, this time falling to Cleveland.
1958: 99-55, 1st in AL, Team WAR Leader: SS Ernie Banks (8.1)
It’s a big year in baseball as the Dodgers and Giants both head out west to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Yankees appear to be emulating a future owner from another dimension as they yet again change managers. We’re now up to four in four seasons with Kenneth Helmick brought in.
He returns the Yankees to the top of the AL, as they run away with the pennant by 12 games. Their reward is another series with the Pirates, although the circumstances have changed. Pittsburgh won an astounding 114 games, finishing 30 games ahead of the second-place Dodgers. They have a loaded offense led by Berra, Frank Robinson, and Richie Ashburn, while pitcher Camilo Pascual had a legendary season.
The Pirates kicked off the series with two wins, but things shifted when the series went to New York. The Yankees fought back with three wins, holding Pittsburgh to just two runs. The Pirates forced a Game Seven, but the Yankees prevailed 10-7 after scoring seven runs in the last four innings. Banks was named MVP after OPSing 1.096 with four home runs, including one in Game Seven that would be the decisive run. Berra went down swinging, putting up a 1.073 OPS with three home runs.
Yankee legend Gene Jones goes out on top and retires after the season. The team quickly takes his #39 out of circulation, making him the fourth Yankee to have their number retired. Pitcher John Hanssen is honored with the Cy Young Award after the season.
1959: 97-57, 1st in AL, Team WAR Leader: SP Jim Bunning (8.0)
The Yankees emerged from the AL by four games after a season-long battle with the Red Sox. Their World Series opponent would again be the Pirates. As it turned out, the third time would be the charm for Pittsburgh.
It was a back and forth series with no team ever taking a lead of more than one game. The Yankees led 3-2 with the series going back to New York for Game Six, but they couldn’t close the deal. Game Seven went all the way down to the ninth inning, where Jackie Jensen homered to win the game and series for Pittsburgh. All of the Yankees’ stars performed well in the series, they just got outplayed by the Pirates’ stars. After the season, Bunning would be named the Cy Young winner.
It was a disappointing end, but up to this point, the 50s were the best decade in Yankees’ history, and things only appeared to be looking up.