It’s officially winter and not only are we in the middle of an MLB owners’ lockout, but the owner of our favorite team is obviously a key actor in said proceedings and our collective frustrations. The good news is that as Yankee fans, we’ve had plenty of good things to talk about over the years that’ll help us pass the time until spring arrives (and hopefully baseball arrives along with it).
With that in mind, let’s take a look back and rank the decades in Yankees history, from worst to best. This will be fun because the Yankees have had several great decades, and even the ones that weren’t great were only substandard relatively speaking — most teams would be jealous of what the Yankees and their fans would consider a “bad” decade. Let’s remember and rank the past 10 decades in descending order, from worst to best, over the next three days.
A few things about the rankings first: As is the case with most lists and rankings, plenty of subjectivity will be involved. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to base my rankings on the number of World Series won, number of AL pennants won, and regular-season winning percentage in each decade. We won't give credit for non-World Series postseason appearances as that just muddies the waters. Due to league expansions, divisional and postseason changes, and level of competition it was significantly easier to make the postseason in some seasons and eras than in others, so let’s not give credit for it unless it resulted in a World Series appearance. To me, to make a World Series you either had to be great in the regular season or at least gotten through one round of playoffs, (or both) so that levels the playing field a little bit.
Of course, there’s also a huge level of randomness involved here. We’ll choose the beginning and end of a calendar decade because it’s clean, neat, and makes for an easy discussion. Obviously, if we picked 10-year stretches randomly, the discussion would change drastically. Don’t take “clean” and “neat” to mean simple, however, as going by calendar decades is far from simple — both the 1960s and 1990s had dynasties at one end of the decade, but some of the worst teams in franchise history at the other end, for example — we’re going to need our thinking caps for those decades.
Lastly, we’ll use the 1920s as the first decade in our sample size. The organization wasn’t the Yankees for an entire decade prior to that point, and Babe Ruth arriving in 1920 not only made the organization what it eventually became but changed the entire sport, so let’s start there. That’ll give us ten decades to rank going through and including the most recent, 2010-2019.
OK, enough of the preamble. From worst to first, here are Yankee decades ranked:
10. The 2010s
World Series Wins: 0
AL Pennants: 0
Regular Season winning percentage: .569
Top hitter by WAR: Brett Gardner, 39.1
Top pitcher by WAR: CC Sabathia, 23.4
There’s a popular refrain from fans of other teams that are often directed at Yankees fans when we complain about our modern team’s relative lack of success that usually goes something like this: “What are you complaining about? You should try being a Pirates or Royals fan for a while.” On a superficial level, that sentiment and its point are valid but it’s also somewhat disingenuous. A Toyota Camry is a very good car and if you invested in a Camry, it’s likely you’d be highly satisfied. However, if you invested in a Lexus LC 500 and it performed like a Camry, you’d be rather disagreeable and contentious.
That latter scenario, my friends, is the Yankees and their fans of the most recent decade, which lands it dead last on our list. Sure, on the surface the .569 regular-season winning percentage was the best in MLB over that stretch, but a lot of that came from a few good teams at the beginning, then at the end of the decade. The decade was just as much defined by the middling 80-something win per year teams in the center of the decade that failed to even make the postseason three out of four seasons (the only such team stretch since the dark days of the early ‘90s, and prior to the Wild Card era). The 2010–2019 decade for the Yankees will always be defined as the decade of good, but never good enough. The fact that this current decade has been more of the same thus far explains much of our current disagreeability.
9. The 1980s
World Series wins: 0
AL Pennants: 1
Regular Season Winning Percentage: .547
Top hitter by WAR: Don Mattingly 33.4
Top pitcher by WAR: Ron Guidry 27.2
The 1980s was an odd and often frustrating decade for the Yankees and Yankees fans. Known at the time as the first full decade without a World Series win since becoming the Yankees, we still saw some very good teams in the 1980s. The 103-win 1980 team and the 97-win 1985 team are regarded as two of the best Yankee teams to not reach the World Series, and the 1981 group was absolutely loaded but ran into some craziness both on and off the field, eventually losing in the World Series to the Dodgers.
After some increasingly poor player personnel moves, and increasingly numerous changes in field and general managers, the Yankees finished the 1980s by winning fewer games than the previous season the last four years of the decade — a streak they’d continue into 1990. Of course, George Steinbrenner playing a key role in the owners’ collusion scandal didn’t help the team’s chances either. Regardless, it was a decade that saw some very good teams and was rarely boring, but the team failed to achieve the one standard by which the organization is measured, joining our previous entry on the list as the only decade in which they did not win it all.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for numbers five through eight on our list and again on Thursday for the top four!