The New Year is a time of renewal. It’s a time for people to try and start to workout or drop that bad habit they have.
In baseball, everyone starts at 0-0 again in the new season. While we can make educated guesses on who might be good or bad, we’ll never know until they take the field. In 2021, the Yankees should hopefully do better than their .550 winning percentage. Unless something goes horribly wrong either on the field or in the world in general, they definitely should win more than 33 games.
In honor of it being January 1st, let’s go back through history and find out which New Years have been the best and most important for the New York Yankees.
1904: 92-59/+20 wins
After a less than stellar first season in New York, the then Highlanders took a massive jump in year two. They were led by pitcher Jack Chesbro, who put up numbers that won’t be seen ever again in 41 wins and 454.2 innings pitched. On the offensive sides of things, new addition Patsy Dougherty and veteran Willie Keeler led a balanced lineup that featured eight regular starters with an above average OPS.
This could’ve been the first-ever team in franchise history to go to the World Series were it not for a relocated doubleheader and a mistake from an unlikely source.
1920: 95-59/+15 wins
It should be noted that the 1919 season was just 140 games due to that whole World War I thing. However, besides the jump in wins, the 1920 Yankees also had a pretty big jump in winning percentage (.576 to .617). They finished within five games of first in the AL for the first time since 1906.
The big increase in wins has a lot to do with the replacing of outfielder Sammy Vick with a guy named Babe Ruth. In 1919, Vick put up an 83 OPS+ in 449 plate appearances. In 617 PA in 1920, Ruth put up a 225 OPS+. That’s going from 17 percent below average to 125 percent above it. Pretty good. The years that followed this one? Also pretty good.
1936: 102-51/+13 wins
After winning the 1932 World Series, the Yankees started to regress. They finished in second place every year from 1933-35, but their win total was going the wrong way. Ruth left after ‘34. Lou Gehrig was still there putting up big numbers, but several others from the “Murderer’s Row” era weren’t quite as good anymore.
Enter Joe DiMaggio. As a 21-year old rookie, DiMaggio reinvigorated the Yankee lineup, hitting .323/.352/.576 with 29 home runs. Between that and big seasons from Gehrig and Bill Dickey, the Yankees went straight back to first in the AL. They would go on to beat the Giants in six in the World Series. Their .667 winning percentage is one of the best in franchise history.
1960: 97-57/+18 wins
Just looking at the Yankees’ stats, it’s hard to see exactly what went wrong in 1959. Mickey Mantle was in his prime. Yogi Berra was getting older, but was still putting up solid numbers. Behind him, you had Elston Howard starting to come into his prime. Several other of the regulars were above average hitters. Whitey Ford and Art Ditmar were good at the top of the rotation Yet, they went 79-75, and finished lower than second for the first time in more than a decade.
Whatever the problem was in ‘59, they found the answer in ‘60, and that answer was Roger Maris.
The Yankees acquired Maris in a trade with the Athletics in December 1959. They slotted him into the lineup the following season, and he immediately became an MVP. They fell short in the World Series, but an even more memorable season for him and the team was coming the very next year.
1993: 88-74/+12 wins
For the first time since 1986, the Yankees finished in the upper half of the AL East in ‘93. They did so thanks in part to the offseason additions of Wade Boggs, Jimmy Key, and Paul O’Neil. They also let Bernie Williams take over as the full-time center fielder, and he gave them a pretty good season for a developing 24-year old.
Just three years later, those guys and a few more additions and young players would win the franchise’s first World Series title in nearly 20 years, and eventually become the era’s dynasty. The ‘93 team wasn’t the finished article, but it was the true beginning of something bigger.