1998 New York Yankees
114 – 48 (0.704)
Manager: Joe Torre
Won division by 22 games over the Boston Red Sox.
ALDS: Swept the Texas Rangers in three games.
ALCS: Beat the Cleveland Indians in six games.
World Series: Swept the San Diego Padres in four games.
Joe Torre’s 1998 New York Yankees had no superstars, but consistent excellence from their entire roster helped them win an American League-record 114 regular-season games. With a wonderful pitching staff that included six talented starters and a superb bullpen, the Yanks held their opponents to a league-low 656 runs during the regular season. Their lineup had no holes, and their batters were masterful at working the count to their favor and tiring out opposing hurlers. After practically clinching the AL East by Memorial Day, the Yanks blew past Texas, Cleveland, and San Diego in the playoffs, capturing the franchise’s twenty-fourth World Championship.
Their 114 regular season wins vaulted the 1998 Yankees into the company of baseball’s greatest teams; eleven more victories in the postseason sealed their place among baseball’s elite. Whether or not they were the best team of all time, they were certainly the deepest. Armed with six quality starters and a number nine hitter who drove in nearly 100 runs, the Yankees were capable of getting clutch plays at any time from anyone on their roster. They led the league in runs scored and allowed the fewest runs, outscoring their opposition by a 311-run margin — almost two runs a game.
The Yankees’ starting pitching staff was a question mark in spring training but finished the year as the best in baseball. Led by the eccentric David “Boomer” Wells, who hurled a perfect game at Yankee Stadium on May 17th, Yanks featured six ten-game winners. (Wells finished his career year with a record of 18-4 and an ERA of 3.49.) Thirty-five-year-old David Cone, who had suffered through injury-riddled campaigns during his first two seasons with the Yanks, rebounded to lead the staff with twenty wins. Cuban refugee Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez was equally as dominant, mesmerizing opposing hitters with his high leg kick and dozens of pitching angles. Andy Pettitte, fighting back personal problems all year long, won sixteen games. And Japanese import Hideki Irabu, who fizzled in 1997, won nine of his first twelve decisions. Ramiro Mendoza, in and out of the starting rotation, won ten ballgames.
The club’s bullpen, although not as overpowering as it was in 1996 when the unhittable Mariano Rivera was the setup man for ’96 World Series MVP John Wetteland, was nevertheless extremely effective. Rivera didn’t see many close games, but nevertheless had 36 saves and a 1.91 ERA. In the post-season, he didn’t allow a single run. The lefty-righty setup combination of Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson was extremely solid, and lefty specialist Graeme Lloyd enjoyed his best season ever, with a stingy 1.67 ERA in fifty appearances.
The team’s offense was as balanced as its pitching staff. With former Twin Chuck Knoblauch and shortstop-sensation Derek Jeter at the top of the order, the Yanks wore out opposing pitchers with their patience at the plate. The middle of the lineup featured fiery-tempered Paul O’Neill, AL batting champ Bernie Williams, and 1997 AL MVP runner-up Tino Martinez — all extremely effective when it came to driving men in. The trio, equally adept against both lefties and righties, drove in 336 runs in 1998.
The bottom of the order, a weak spot on most other big league clubs, was a major strength for the Yanks. Darryl Strawberry, who missed most of 1997 with leg injuries, subbed admirably for injured DH Chili Davis, smacking 24 homers while platooning with Tim Raines. When Straw went down late in ’98 with what was later diagnosed as colon cancer, rookie sensation Shane Spencer picked up the slack. He smacked eight home runs — including three grand slams — in the month of September. Catcher Jorge Posada, blossoming under the tutelage of defensive whiz Joe Girardi, became a force to be reckoned with both at and behind the plate. Oakland castoff Scott Brosius — batting ninth — raised his batting average 97 points from the previous season, while hitting 19 homers and driving in 98 runs. In the World Series, Brosius stepped up big, hitting a game-winning homer off Padre closer Trevor Hoffman, and earning Series MVP honors.