Today, we have Part 2, and numbers five through eight on our list of the best (and worst) decades for the Yankees and their fans. If you’re joining us late, you can catch up on some of the background and criteria we’re using that we covered in Part 1 here. After discussing the 2010s and the 1980s, we learned that our favorite team has set some pretty high standards, as the Yankees led MLB in winning percentage in both of those decades, but that was only good enough to land on the bottom two spots on our list. Today we’ll delve into some higher standards, and things will start to become a little more complex from here on out, as we try to separate the great decades from the legendary.
8. The 1970s
World Series wins: 2
AL Pennants: 3
Regular Season winning percentage: .555
Top hitter by WAR: Thurman Munson, 45.7
Top pitcher by WAR: Ron Guidry, 20.7
The 1970 Yankees appeared to reverse a trend of the not particularly good stretch that closed out the 1960s with a 93-win campaign and a second-place finish in the AL East. Unfortunately, that was followed by a five-season stretch in which the team averaged only 83 wins per season, bringing the franchise back down to earth. The silver lining was that numerous great trades were made over that period that built the framework of what would become a powerhouse that closed out the decade.
A loss in the World Series in 1976 at the hands of the Big Red Machine (no shame there) followed by two straight World Series wins in 1977 and 1978 push the 1970s ahead of the previous two entries on our list despite having only the sixth-best regular-season record in the 1970s. Yet as we’ve said, this is a highly competitive list, and three pennants and two World Series wins will only get you as high as eighth-best here.
7. The 1960s
World Series wins: 2
AL Pennants: 5
Regular Season winning percentage: .552
Top hitter by WAR: Mickey Mantle, 42.3
Top pitcher by WAR: Whitey Ford, 27.2
If you can imagine a team reaching the World Series five times in a decade, only to have that decade called the seventh-best in team history, you’d be thinking of the 1960s Yankees. The highs were deliriously high, as 1961 is one of the most fondly-remembered seasons in Yankees history. But after starting the decade off with five straight AL pennants, winning the Fall Classic in 1961 and 1962, the team entered into one of its darker stretches immediately thereafter.
A five-season stretch that saw an average of 76 wins per season – bad by most standards, hideous by Yankees standards – closed out the 1960s, landing the decade in seventh place on our list. CBS owned the Yankees at this point, and the franchise drifted away in relevance at rapid speed, going from AL pennant winners in 1964 to sixth place in 1965 and dead last in 1966. The best that could be said about the end of the decade is that the Yankees were mired in mediocrity rather than purely in the cellar again.
6. The 2000s
World Series wins: 2
AL Pennants: 4
Regular Season W/L percentage: .597
Top hitter by WAR: Derek Jeter, 44.1
Top pitcher by WAR: Mike Mussina, 35.1
This is where I may ruffle some feathers by putting the 2000s ahead of decades like the ‘60s and ‘70s, which both had dynasties. In full disclosure, I gave serious consideration to putting them even higher on this list, which I’m sure would have ended with me reading some sternly worded comments in the comments section.
The 2000s get overlooked in team history for a few reasons. The championships came in the first and last years of the decade, with the first being considered an extension of the ‘90s and the last often looked at almost derisively as more of an odd exception. (“The Yankees have won only one World Series in over 20 years!”) Also, many of us tend to remember the 2000s as the era of Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, Tony Womack, and numerous other similar players that make us roll our eyes a decade and a half later.
Yet we can’t allow some bad memories to cloud what was a dominating decade for the team. In addition to the two World Series wins, there were two other World Series appearances, and the Bombers averaged an incredible 97 wins per season over the decade (a number ironically dragged down by the title-winning 2000 team’s measly 87-win season), missing the playoffs just once. It was simply a decade of consistently great teams.
5. The 1990s
World Series wins: 3
AL Pennants: 3
Regular Season W/L percentage: .548
Top hitter by WAR: Bernie Williams 34.7
Top pitcher by WAR: Andy Pettitte 21.7
One of the harder decades on this list to evaluate is the 1990s. It closed out with a dynasty of not only three World Series wins in four seasons (with one of those teams considered among the best ever) but also with a 12-game World Series game winning streak. It wasn’t only postseason heroics either, as the .548 winning percentage for the decade was tops in the AL and second-best overall in baseball. Lest we forget, they had the best record in the AL during the unfinished 1994 season, so more hardware may have been added to this decade’s resume, making it even more impressive.
Although the resume as it stands is enough to put them just ahead of the 2000s, the morass that was the first two seasons of the decade remains one of the more unpleasant stretches in team history. It prevents the 1990s from being any higher on this list.
Check back tomorrow for Part 3 of our series, where we’ll count down the best four decades in Yankees’ team history! Who do you think will land in the top spot?