The 1960s were a big of a disappointing decade for the virtual Yankees. Despite a core of Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and other legendary players, they made just one World Series in the decade, and came up short in it.
Now as the calendar turns to the 1970s, the Yankees still have a competitive team, but many of the key members are getting old. Can they make a run in the new decade before they have to say goodbye to some of their legendary players?
1970: 95-67, 1st in AL East, Team WAR Leader: SP Dock Ellis (6.3)
An incredible second half and the emergence of a impressive young pitching staff led by Ellis and Jim Palmer sees the Yankees come out on top of a deep AL East. The Orioles went 88-74 and finished fifth. The division was stacked.
Their reward for winning that was an ALCS against the 103-win Twins who topped the West by 15 games. Despite that, the Yankees battled all the way to a decisive Game Five. There, Ellis picked a bad day to have an off game, as Minnesota won 10-2. The Twins went on to fall in the World Series to the Cardinals.
In the draft, the Padres selected a pitcher named Ron Guidry eighth overall.
1971: 92-70, 1st in AL, Team WAR Leader: SP Dock Ellis (7.3)
In the offseason, former Yankees pitcher John Hanssen is voted into the Hall of Fame.
Back on the field, another good stretch run allows the Yankees to squeak out another AL East title. This time, they have to face the 107-win Angels, led by Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer. The series again goes the distance, but the Yankees come out on top this time. Ellis atones for the previous season, allowing one run in seven innings in game five.
Waiting for them in the World Series is a loaded Mets team in the first ever Subway Series. The city rivals featured the likes of Ken Singleton, Reggie Jackson, Dwight Evans, and Johnny Bench. The teams split the first couple games, but the Mets win a crucial Game Five, putting the Yankees in a big hole. They won Game Six comfortably, setting up the decider.
In Game Seven, the Yankees struck with two runs in the first, before the Mets evened the score in the sixth. In the bottom of the seventh, a two-out Roberto Clemente RBI single gave the Yankees the lead, but the powerful Mets lineup still had two innings to rally. Manager Greg Jones stuck by his ace, and it paid off. Ellis threw two more scoreless innings and the Yankees were World Series champions for the fifth time. Clemente was named MVP for his game seven heroics and also for hitting .500/483/.607 in the series.
1972: 81-81, 4th in AL East, 10 GB, Team WAR Leader: SP Dock Ellis (7.6)
Despite excellent seasons from pitchers Ellis and Palmer, and turn-back-the-clock seasons from 37-year-old Clemente and 38-year-old Aaron, the Yankees fall to .500 in their title defense. A couple other players had valuable seasons, but the supporting cast was mostly disappointing.
1973: 95-67. 1st in AL East, Team WAR Leader: SP Dock Ellis (6.8)
Three-time World Series winner and eight-time All-Star pitcher Jim Bunning retires in the offseason and the Yankees retire his number 14.
On the field, an excellent season from the pitching staff returns the Yankees to the postseason. Once there, they take a good Angels team to the wire in the ALCS, but fall short. The Angels go on to lose to the Pirates in the World Series, however.
A big baseball event happens after the season when Willie Mays retires. The Cubs legend won all sorts of accolades, but most notably he ends his career with the all-time home run record with 758.
1974: 92-70, 1st in AL East, Team WAR Leader: CF Bake McBride (7.7)
An incredible season from young outfielder McBride helps guide the Yankees to another AL East title. However, they again fall in the ALCS this time to the Twins, who in turn lose to the Cubs in the Fall Classic.
A pair of Yankee legends ride off into the sunset together, as Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente both retire after the season. They, along with the recently departed Bunning, formed the “Key Three” who bridged the gap from the 1956, ‘58, and ‘71 World Series championships. Aaron’s number 44 and Clemente’s number 21 are quickly retired, and the pair will hopefully enter Cooperstown together in a few years.
1975: 85-77, 1st in AL East, Team WAR Leader: 1B Andre Thornton (7.2)
Despite the loss of those legends, the Yankees take another AL East crown, albeit one where they were the only team to finish above .500. They got matched up with a 110-win Athletics team, who promptly swept them in the ALCS. However, the A’s once again couldn’t get over the hump after an incredible regular season, losing to the Pirates in the World Series.
1976: 84-78, 2nd in AL East, 1 GB, Team WAR Leader: LF Bake McBride (7.3)
The AL East race went down to the final series of the season where the top two teams, the Yankees and Indians faced off over three games. They went in tied, and Cleveland took two out of three to take the division, dooming the Yankees to no playoffs. In said playoffs, the Phillies took home the crown, knocking off the Angels in seven in the World Series.
The disappointing ending sees the end of manager Greg Jones’ tenure in New York. His 14-year stint in charge was the longest in franchise history, and led to one championship. Joseph Gorski is hired in his place.
1977: 88-74, 1st in AL, Team WAR Leader: 1B Andre Thornton (7.3)
In the offseason, the league expanded to Toronto and Seattle adding in the Blue Jays and the Mariners. An expansion draft is held, but the Yankees don’t lose any notable pieces other than first baseman Bobby Valentine, who had played some in the majors but never really carved out a spot for himself.
Another big change to the MLB world to come in this year is the advent of free agency. The Yankees decided to make a big splash in the first year of it’s existence and sign two-time World Series champion and Tigers’ legend Pete Rose to a three-year deal.
He helped the Yankees return to the playoffs, albeit in another very weak year in the AL East. Their ALCS opponent would again be the Athletics, although this one would end different, as the Yankees would sweep Oakland. Waiting for them in the World Series was the Dodgers, who returned the favor and swept to deny the Yankees a sixth title.
1978: 82-80, t-2nd in AL East, 7 GB, Team WAR Leader: SP Dennis Leonard (4.8)
A mostly average Yankees team finishes with an average record and drops back out of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Athletics finally get over the hump and win a World Series after years of knocking on the door.
In the draft, the Blue Jays selected a first baseman named Don Mattingly second overall.
The Yankees do get some good news, as their legendary pitcher Bunning is elected into the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot.
1979: 79-83, 6th in AL East, 17 GB, Team WAR Leader: RF Bake McBride (4.5)
Dock Ellis’ Yankee career comes to an end when he’s released before the season. He had declined pretty drastically in the prior few seasons. He’s unlikely to end up with his number retired or anything, but he was the best player on a championship team, and that’s something.
His absence with them putting up a fairly similar record, although they fall pretty far in the standings as the division improves. The White Sox take home the title, beating the Dodgers in the World Series.