If you believe in the idea of infinite parallel universes, then by extension there is at least one in which the 1994 Major League Baseball season came to a normal conclusion, with the playoffs and an eventual World Series. It then stands to reason that in at least one of them the Yankees, with an AL-best 70-43 record when baseball shut down in this dark timeline, emerged as World Series champions. It is an interesting thought experiment to consider how a 1994 title might change our historical memory of that club and some of its players.
Donnie Baseball. The first consequence of a 1994 title that came to my mind is that, in our alternate universe, the Yankee legend retired with a ring rather than leaving the sport after the 1995 season bereft of a championship. Did that version of Mattingly, with a World Series title to his name, also perhaps get into the Hall of Fame? In laying out the case for and against Mattingly, an MLB.com article identified Mattingly’s lack of a ring as one of the factors that weighed against his entrance into Cooperstown.
Bern baby, Bern. The criminally underappreciated Bernie Williams may be another of the biggest beneficiaries in historical memory of the Yankees completing the 1994 season and winning the World Series. There is already a strong argument that Williams deserves much more credit than he receives for his role in raising the Yankees to dominance. Check out this excellent piece by Neil Paine at FiveThirtyEight for more on that.
In our hypothetical timeline, Bernie wins his first ring prior to the arrival of the so-called Core Four. And it is not like he was a bit player on the 1994 team. Extrapolating from stats when the season ended in real life, alternate timeline Bernie put together 4.6 bWAR, trailing only Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and staff ace Jimmy Key. With a fifth ring, one acquired before Derek, Mariano, Andy, and Jorge arrive, it is likely that Bernie receives much more appreciation for his centrality to the Yankees dynasty.
None of this is to say that the Core Four are not deserving of their place in Yankees lore. Rather, it is that Bernie deserves elevation alongside them. A title in 1994 increases that possibility. The foursome becomes a quintet. The Fab Five, perhaps? With necessary apologies to Michigan basketball fans who might be reading this.
In our parallel universe, a couple of Yankees put together some eye-popping statistics upon the completion of game 162. Jimmy Key, for example, maintained his pace and ended the season with 24 wins, joining Whitey Ford and Ron Guidry as the only Yankees hurlers to win that many games in a season post-integration.
Meanwhile, it is fair to wonder if Paul O’Neill’s .359 batting average would stand out more in the collective memory if it had been his total after a full season rather than at the conclusion of the truncated 113-game campaign we got in our universe. The only Yankee not named Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, or Mantle to top Paulie’s 1994 batting average in a season is DJ LeMahieu, who hit .364 in 2020, albeit in barely half the games that O’Neill played.
A full season has the potential to change how we think of management as well. In 1995, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner demanded that manager Buck Showalter fire the club’s hitting coach, Rick Down. In return, The Boss offered Showalter a new, two-year contract. Buck, however, refused, and instead resigned. Joe Torre came to the Bronx and the rest, as they say, is history.
But in our hypothetical universe, Buck gets a ring as Yankees manager. And not only that, it is fair to wonder whether Steinbrenner would have made that ultimatum after the 1995 season to the man who brought the Yankees their first world championship since 1978 only a year before. Thus far, I have assumed that 1994 occurred in a vacuum and nothing else changed. But feel free to imagine what happens if Showalter remains in pinstripes after 1995 and what that might mean, in a timeline that is less likely to feature Joe Torre ever managing the Bronx Bombers.
Finally, I think it is interesting to ponder how we might consider this iteration of a Yankee dynasty differently with a 1994 title on their resumes. Even in our actual world, the club made six World Series in eight years, winning four of them. A 1994 title, though, places the Bombers in seven World Series in 10 years, and, importantly, adds a fifth ring.
Only the Yankees of the late 1940s through the mid-1960s, with an astounding 15 Fall Classics in 18 seasons and 10 rings, would surpass the 1994-2003 teams in their ability to both make the dance and win it all. The 1936-43 club won six rings but cannot match our more modern club’s frequent appearances in the World Series.
Unfortunately for Donnie Baseball, Bernie Williams, Buck Showalter, and the Yankees as a whole, we will never know what their legacies are with a 1994 championship, since baseball’s most destructive work stoppage deprived us of that possibility. With another work stoppage in place, the first since 1994, I am left hoping for two things. First, that the owners and players resolve the lockout without eating into the season, and second, that a new Yankees dynasty follows as the 1996-2003 version ensued when baseball resumed last time.