As a Yankee fan, you surely know that the legacy of Yankee players is often determined by their successes or failures in the postseason. Whether that’s fair or not is a different discussion but it’s no secret to Yankee players that its the situation they’re in when they sign on to play for the franchise with 27 World Series titles.
It’s also no secret that Giancarlo Stanton, despite being the target of much fan vitriol over his four seasons in the Bronx, has put on jaw-dropping displays in postseason play since becoming a Yankee. In fact, it makes one wonder (well, it made me wonder) how the white-hot start to his postseason career compares to Yankee legends and how they performed as soon as the bright postseason lights shone upon them.
Stanton hit nine home runs in his first 18 postseason games as a Yankee (tied with Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena for the most over a player’s first 18 playoff games in MLB history) while posting a terrifying .373/.734 OBP/SLG line. Unfortunately, one of his best performances came in his most recent game, the 6-2 loss to Boston one week ago today in the AL Wild Card game. Despite Stanton’s teammates going a combined 3-for-28 with 10 strikeouts in the game, Giancarlo went 3-for-4 with two line drives off the Green Monster and this laser into the right-field seats:
If we’re looking for Yankees who got off to similarly hot starts to their postseason career, we don’t have to go too far back in time. Stanton’s teammate Aaron Judge has been a destroyer of baseballs as well in his postseason career. In Judge’s first 18 postseason games he sentenced seven balls to banishment in only 79 at-bats while posting a .367/.627 OBP/SLG line. In the 2018 Wild Card game against Oakland, and then in the subsequent first two games of the ALDS versus Boston, Judge was scalding hot, going a combined 7-for-12 with three home runs in those three games.
Most of us remember Bernie Williams as being a huge part of four World Series-winning teams. Yet, I’d bet you may have forgotten just exactly how much damage he did coming out of the gates for an organization that hadn’t been in the postseason for a long time at that point. In Bernie’s first 18 postseason games, he posted a ridiculous .494/.789 OBP/SLG line with eight home runs, one of them a walk-off in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS.
If you’re a believer in clutch and momentum, Bernie also provided a clutch and tectonic plate-sized momentum shifting performance in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series, turning the tide in favor of the Yankees for good (they’d go on to win their next 14 World Series games in a row). After being embarrassed by Atlanta in the Bronx in the first two games, Bernie smoked an RBI single in the first inning to give the Yankees the lead, then put the game out of reach with an eighth-inning two-run home run off of Greg McMichael.
Of course, we can’t talk about Yankees arriving on the big stage without mentioning Mr. October. Reggie Jackson arrived in the Bronx, joined a team that had been in the World Series the season prior, and announced that he was “the straw that stirs the drink.” He did a heck of a lot more than stir, posting a staggering .458/.817 OBP/SLG line in his first 18 playoff games as a Yankee with eight home runs in only 60 at-bats. His three home runs (off only three pitches against three different pitchers) in the Series-clinching Game 6 in 1977 still stands as one of the best World Series performances in history.
The performance over the first 18 postseason games (all World Series obviously) by Lou Gehrig was so impressive, we can still talk about it almost a full century later. Lou went 12 for his first 31 with six extra-base hits in World Series play, then managed to turn the heat up even further. He slammed seven home runs in his next 20 at-bats, throwing in seven walks for good measure. His performances led to sweeps in the 1927, 1928, and 1932 World Series for the Yankees, and his OBP/SLG line of .533/.917 over his first 18 World Series games is likely to be as good as any we’ll ever see.
I’m sure you’re wondering about a Yankee postseason hero or four that I haven’t mentioned – trust me, many came to my mind when I was thinking about writing this article. But for simplicity’s sake, I wanted to compare apples to apples so I stuck to every player's first 18 postseason games as a Yankee. This of course excluded Don Mattingly who only got to play in five postseason games, but obliterated the baseball in those games. It excludes players that got off to “good” starts in their postseason careers before turning into nightmares for the opposition like Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez. Of course, many Yankees didn’t have huge highs and lows in the postseason and were just consistently very good – Mickey Mantle, Thurman Munson, and Derek Jeter certainly fall into that category.
Today’s topic doesn’t answer too many questions about past Yankee postseason heroes, and it certainly isn’t a prophecy about Stanton’s or Judge’s future performances. It is, however, an interesting discussion, as both a reminder about how much fun we had watching (depending upon how old you are) Bernie and Reggie, and how much we should appreciate Stanton and Judge now.
And please, please – if you saw Lou Gehrig, please leave a comment in the comment section below!