Earlier this week, you might have seen that we here at Pinstripe Alley debuted our Champions Series. With the lockout putting a hold on a lot of offseason acquisition news, we’re taking a look back and profiling the Yankees’ teams that have won the franchise’s 27 World Series championships.
While we shouldn’t really complain about being the MLB team with the most titles, those 27 championship seasons aren’t the only occasions in which the Yankees have been within the grasp of glory. As we continue to profile the World Series winners, I’m going to take a quicker look at several more of the “nearly” teams in Yankees’ history, starting with these five:
In just their second year in New York, the then-Highlanders went into the final day of the season with a chance at winning the AL pennant. For a longer story on how they came up short, you can read this, but here’s a quick look at what happened.
The Highlanders were scheduled to host a doubleheader against the Boston Americans (now the Red Sox) to close out the regular season. Trailing Boston by 1.5 games, they needed to win both games to take the AL.
In the ninth inning of a 2-2 game in the opener, Highlanders ace and star Jack Chesbro threw a wild pitch with a runner on third, allowing Boston to take a lead and win the game, clinching the AL. To make matters worse, New York won the second game, meaning they were agonizingly close to winning their first pennant way back in 1904. Instead, they had to wait another couple decades. Good thing that’s the only Yankees-Red Sox devastation in a year that ends ‘04.
It took another 17 years for the franchise to break through and win their first pennant, but the Yankees finally did so in 1921. The Babe Ruth-led team took the AL by 4.5 games, setting up a series against the “crosstown” rival New York Giants. “Crosstown” is in quotes because at this time, the two teams shared the Polo Grounds, meaning the entire 1921 World Series was held entirely at one stadium.
The Yankees got off to a great start in the then best-of-nine World Series, taking the first two contests. However, the Giants took five of the next six games, winning the series 5-3. Other than a 13-5 Giants win in Game 3, all four of the Yankees’ other losses were by three or fewer runs. Both of the final two losses came by just one run, both in games in which Ruth was held to just one at-bat after suffering an injury.
The next year, the Yankees were back in the World Series against the Giants again, and came up short again.
On paper, this series wasn’t as close, as the Giants all but swept the Yankees. The lone saving grace was one game finishing as a tie. However, the total margin of victory in the Giants’ four wins was just seven runs, and in two of the losses (and the tie), the Yankees brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate.
The Yankees had finally broken through three years earlier, but were still a year away from the “Murderer’s Row” team and sealing the first real dynasty in franchise history. Before that, they had to deal both with playing in a true Game 7 for the first time (i.e. not one in the best-of-nine series in 1921) and blowing a 3-2 series lead.
After the opposing Cardinals took two of the first three games, the Yankees took Games 4 and 5 on the road in St. Louis, setting them up with two shots to clinch the series at home. It was never in the cards in Game 6, as the Cardinals struck with three first-inning runs and never looked back, winning 10-2.
In Game 7, the Yankees took a third-inning lead, before the Cardinals scored three to go up 3-1 in the fourth. Over the game’s last six innings, the Yankees put at least one runner on in five of them. They scored a run in the sixth to get within one run of St. Louis, but that would be it, thanks to the heroics of Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander. The game and the series ended in the bottom of the ninth when Ruth was infamously thrown out stealing second after he had walked.
You might take a quick look at this team’s Baseball Reference page and wonder how a team with 88 wins that finished third made this list, but they were much closer than those basic facts imply.
While they did place third behind the Tigers and Cleveland, they were only actually two games back of first in the final standings. Had the Yankees won just one more game against Detroit (like the error-filled one on September 12th that I profiled three years ago), then things would’ve been extremely different for Detroit, New York, and Cleveland, who finished between the two at one game back of the Tigers.
Detroit lost the World Series to a 100-win Reds team, but who knows what happens if the Yankees sneak in? They would’ve had a shot at five World Series titles in a row. Instead, the 1949-53 dynasty became the first and only team to do so.