1903 – Present
The Yankees are without dispute the most successful franchise in baseball history. They have won a record 22 World Series and 33 AL pennants and totally dominated the sport in the 1940s and, especially, the 1950s. They have won more games than any franchise, even though they are in the younger American League. The club came to New York when AL president Ban Johnson moved the Baltimore franchise to compete with the Giants for attendance. The club cost owners Frank Farrell and Bill Devery $18,000. Playing in Hilltop Park in upper Manhattan, the club was named the Highlanders until they moved into the Polo Grounds (shared with the Giants) and became the Yankees. The club almost won the 1904 pennant on the strength of Jack Chesbro‘s 41-12 record but lost on the last day of the season when Chesbro wild-pitched in the losing run in the ninth inning. The team remained respectable for several years and then declined. In January 1915 Colonel Jacob Ruppert and Colonel Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston bought the franchise for $460,000. That season the famous Yankee pinstripes were seen for the first time. The new owners began buying talent almost immediately, picking up Bob Shawkey in 1916 as Connie Mack finished breaking up the Athletics. But the deal that made the Yankees into a powerhouse came in January 1920, when they bought Babe Ruth from the Red Sox as Boston owner Harry Frazee sold off his stars to finance his Broadway shows. Ruth changed baseball history by hitting 54 HR in 1920, breaking the record of 29 that he had set the previous season. At the end of the 1920 season, the Yankees hired Boston manager Ed Barrow to be their general manager. Knowing the Boston players well, he continued the Yankees’ stripping of the Red Sox roster by acquiring Wally Schang and Waite Hoyt a few months later, Joe Bush, Everett Scott, and Joe Dugan after the 1921 season, and Herb Pennock in 1923. The Yankees had just won their first pennant, and although they lost to their Polo Grounds landlords, John McGraw‘s Giants, that year and the next, they outdrew them. The popularity of the team, especially Ruth, helped finance the building of Yankee Stadium, hence its nickname of “The House That Ruth Built.” In May 1922, two weeks after construction of the park was begun, Ruppert bought out Huston for $1.5 million. Moving into their new home in 1923, the Yankees celebrated by finally besting the Giants in the 1923 WS, the Yankees’ first World Championship. After a two-year hiatus, the Yankees resumed their pennant-winning ways with another three straight, 1926-28. The 1927 team has become symbolic of overwhelming strength. Nicknamed Murderer’s Row, the offense posted the highest team slugging percentage in history, .489.
The Yankees won 110 games and finished 19 games ahead of the Athletics, who had Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, and Lefty Grove, and won 91 games. Ruth set another, nearly unbreakable record by hitting 60 home runs, and had 164 RBI, second in the league. The man who finished ahead of him, Lou Gehrig, drove in 175 and finished second to Ruth with 47 HR while batting .373 (third in the AL). Ruth, Gehrig, and Earle Combs finished 1-2-3 in runs scored, and it was Gehrig, Ruth, and Combs atop the total bases list. Tony Lazzeri finished third behind Ruth and Gehrig in home runs. This powerhouse, which led in every major offensive category but doubles and steals, might have won with the worst pitching staff in the league, but instead, it had the best, with Hoyt leading the league in ERA and winning percentage and tying in wins. Teammate Urban Shocker followed him on the ERA list. The Pirates were swept in four games in the World Series, supposedly demoralized just by watching the Yankees take batting practice. The Yankees had another Series sweep in 1928, of the Cardinals. In 1929 the Yankees wore numbers on their backs, the first team to do so on a permanent basis. Bill Dickey took over behind the plate, and the Yankees finished second; manager Miller Huggins died in September of that year. Shawkey led the team to a third-place finish in 1930, and Joe McCarthy took over in 1931 when Lefty Gomez had the first of his four 20-win seasons. McCarthy ended the three-year reign of the Athletics in 1932 and once again the Yankees swept the Series. They had won 12 consecutive WS games. The team finished second the next three seasons, with Ruth being let go after 1934. But a new era of domination was coming, presaged by the November 1934 purchase of Joe DiMaggio from the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. An agreement between the two teams allowed him to play one last season for the Seals, which had the effect of creating great anticipation in New York. His rookie season in 1936 certainly did not disappoint the Yankees, as he was the team’s second-best hitter, behind Gehrig, in the three major categories, hitting .323 with 29 HR and 125 RBI. Red Ruffing, picked up from Boston in mid-1930 after leading the league in losses the previous two seasons, had the first of four straight 20-win seasons in 1936.
The Giants managed to end the Yankees’ WS consecutive game-winning streak in the first game, but the Yankees beat them that year and the next. In 1938 it was the Cubs’ turn to lose, as New York swept them. Joe Gordon was now the Yankee second baseman, having pushed Lazzeri aside, and that helped compensate for the reduced effectiveness of Gehrig. Col. Ruppert died in January 1939, and GM Barrow succeeded him as club president. Later that year, when Gehrig ended his monumental 2,130 consecutive-game streak by sitting himself down, it was discovered that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He never played again and died two years later. His spot was taken by Babe Dahlgren, and the Yankees swept the Reds in the Series. McCarthy had led them to World Championships in four consecutive seasons, then a record. After a third-place finish in 1940, the Yankees had a memorable season in 1941. DiMaggio hit in a record 56 games, and rookie Phil Rizzuto took over shortstop from the aging Frankie Crosetti. Their Game One victory in the WS gave them another consecutive-victory streak, of ten games. The first of the fabled Yankee-Dodger matchups, the 1941 World Series was effectively decided in Game Four. The Dodgers were ahead 4-3 in the ninth inning with two out and were about to even the Series at two games apiece. But Hugh Casey‘s third strike got past Mickey Owen, and, given that reprieve, the Yankees came back with four runs and clinched the Series the next day. They hadn’t lost a WS since 1926, to the Cardinals; their triumph in eight Series without an intervening loss was yet another record. The string was snapped in 1942 when the Cardinals triumphed again, but the Yankees came back to beat them in 1943 despite the loss of DiMaggio, Rizzuto, and others to military service. Spud Chandler helped compensate with a 20-4 season. But so many players were lost to military service in the next two years that the Yankees slipped to third, and then fourth, place. In January 1945 Dan Topping and Del Webb purchased the club for $2.8 million. They replaced Barrow with Larry McPhail, giving him a third of the club. He brought night baseball, his innovation in Cincinnati, to Yankee Stadium after the war ended. But McCarthy, who had completely rebuilt the image of the Yankees from the team of carousers it had been during Ruth’s time, did not get along with the unstaid McPhail and quit in early 1946. Bill Dickey and Johnny Neun also managed the team that year, and the Yankees finished third.In 1947 the Yankees had a new manager, Bucky Harris; a new catcher, Yogi Berra (he shared duties with Aaron Robinson); a new staff ace, Allie Reynolds; and a new bullpen ace, Joe Page. They ran away with the flag and beat the Dodgers in a memorable World Series that included a near-no-hitter by Bill Bevens.
McPhail proved too much of an embarrassment and was replaced by director of minor league operations George Weiss. When the Yankees finished third in 1948, Harris was fired, despite winning 94 games. Weiss convinced the owners to bring in Casey Stengel, whom he knew from Stengel’s time managing the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. Many were surprised and disappointed with the choice of a manager who had lost in a big way in both his previous major league assignments, and who had developed a reputation as a clown, but Stengel would go on to win with the Yankees to an extent unmatched by any before or since. Stengel inherited a “Big Three” of Reynolds, Eddie Lopat, and Vic Raschi on the pitching staff and an offense that, though it included Tommy Henrich, Joe DiMaggio, and Phil Rizzuto, reminded no one of the Bronx Bombers of seasons past. He compensated by raising platooning to a new level of complexity, and he made Berra the regular catcher (he led the team in RBI the next seven seasons and won three MVP awards), gave more playing time to Bobby Brown, Jerry Coleman, Hank Bauer, and Gene Woodling, and began a practice of late-season pick-ups of veterans by buying slugger Johnny Mize, then 36 years old, from the Giants at the end of August 1949. DiMaggio was injured for much of that season but came back cold off the DL to ravage the Red Sox in an important series at Fenway Park. Stengel finished one game ahead of Joe McCarthy‘s Red Sox but had an easier time of it in the World Series as the Yankees beat the Dodgers in five games. In 1950 Whitey Ford began making the “Big Three” into the “Big Four” and the Phillies were swept in the Series. DiMaggio passed the torch to rookie Mickey Mantle in 1951, Gil McDougald won Rookie of the Year, and Johnny Sain was picked up at the end of August as the Yankees won their third straight World Championship. Mantle took over in centerfield in 1952 and Stengel installed Billy Martin, a favorite of his from Oakland, as the regular second baseman. The Dodgers fell in a seven-game Series, and Stengel had equaled McCarthy’s four straight World Championships, and more important to him personally, his mentor John McGraw‘s four straight pennants. Oddly, Yankee Stadium was sold to Earl and Arnold Johnson of Kansas City at the beginning of the 1953 season, presaging the close link that would develop between New York and Kansas City after the Athletics moved there in 1955 (previously it was a Yankee minor league outpost). Mantle hit his famous 565-foot home run in Washington that April 17, and Whitey Ford came back from two years of military service to become the staff ace as the Yankees coasted to another title. Stengel got his record fifth consecutive World Championship as Martin hit .500 in the Series against the Dodgers, equaling the Series record with 12 hits.The Indians managed to interrupt the Yankees in 1954 by winning an AL-record 111 games; Stengel’s personal high of 103 games was good enough for second place. Bill Skowron came up and began winning time at first base, and Bob Grim won the Rookie of the Year award with a 20-6 mark, although he proved to be a one-year wonder. Don Larsen and Bob Turley were picked up from the Athletics in December in the first of many similar transactions.
A month later John Williams Cox bought Yankee Stadium and sold the grounds to the Knights of Columbus; in 1962 he left the facilities to Rice University. In 1955 Mantle led the AL in home runs for the first of four times and Ford led in wins for his first time. New York returned to the top of the standings. But the Dodgers finally triumphed in the Fall Classic, beating the Yankees in seven games. Mantle had his finest season in 1956, winning the first of his three MVP awards with league highs of 52 HR and 130 RBI in his finest season. The World Series featured Larsen’s perfect game as the Yankees won in seven games. In June 1957 Martin was traded to Kansas City, over Stengel’s objections, in a deal that brought Ryne Duren to the Yankees. Martin had supposedly been involved in a brawl at a New York nightclub, and although he was not a major figure in the incident, Weiss considered him a bad influence. Bobby Richardson took over at second base. The Braves defeated New York in the World Series in 1957, but the Yankees revenged themselves in a 1958 rematch after cruising to a third straight easy pennant. Tony Kubek won the shortstop job and Rookie of the Year honors, Turley was the Cy Young winner, and Duren took over as the bullpen ace. But in 1959 the team stumbled, finishing in third with a 79-75 record. It was the first time since 1946 that they hadn’t won at least 90 games and their worst season since 1925. The truth was that the talent was running out, partly because of the Yankees’ early failure to sign gifted black players. Aside from Ford, the pitching staff was not dominating. Stengel had maneuvered spot starters in and out for years, but for one year, it didn’t work. Even so, the Yankees had dominated the decade in unprecedented fashion. But the owners decided that Stengel was getting too old. Another raid on the Athletics’ roster brought Roger Maris to New York for 1960, and he won the first of his back-to-back MVP awards. Defensive whiz Clete Boyer took over third base, moving butcher Hector Lopez into the outfield to share time with Berra, who relinquished the majority of the catching duties to Elston Howard, who had patiently played out of position in the outfield and at first base for five years. The Yankees rebounded to 97-57 and won by eight games, but lost to the Pirates in a wild, seesaw World Series that saw Pittsburgh outscored 55-27, outhit .338 – .256, and outpitched 3.54 – 7.11. But the Pirates won the close games, and Bill Mazeroski‘s climactic Game Seven home run in the bottom of the ninth inning cost Stengel and Weiss their jobs as club president Topping forced them out in the name of a supposed youth movement. Former third-string catcher Ralph Houk took over the reins in 1961 as two teams and eight games were added in the expansion. Maris and Mantle chased Ruth’s 60 home runs all season, with Maris topping it in the final game and winning his second MVP award. Ford had his best season, going 25-4 and winning Cy Young honors, as Houk stabilized the rotation for the first time in years and Luis Arroyo saved 29 games (then a record, although it was not yet a statistic).
The surprise NL winners, the Reds, were disposed of in five games in the Series. The Yankees repeated easily in 1962 as Ralph Terry had a career year, going 23-12 and winning two games in the Yankees’ seven-game triumph over San Francisco. Mantle won his final MVP award, and Tom Tresh was named Rookie of the Year in his best season after temporarily pushing Kubek aside. Skowron was traded after the Series, and Joe Pepitone took over first base in 1963. Tresh spent the whole season in the outfield as Mantle was sidelined most of the season. Howard captured MVP honors as the Yankees won their third straight pennant for Houk. But the superior pitching of the Dodgers swept New York in the World Series. Houk moved to the front office after the season and Berra took over in the dugout. The Yankees won the best AL pennant race in over a decade in 1964 to again win five straight AL titles. Topping had been disappointed by the team’s showing in the early part of the season, though, and it was already arranged that Berra would be fired after the season, with Cardinals manager Johnny Keane to replace him. The fact that New York lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games was enough justification for Topping; the odd turn of events went through. Berra was luckier than he realized. Topping had arranged during the season to sell the team to CBS. Following the World Series, they purchased 80% of the franchise for $11.2 million, buying the remaining 20% later. Their investment fell apart on them as the Yankees had their first losing season since 1925 in 1965 and then dropped to last place in 1966. Kubek and Ford had retired, Maris had lost most of his power, Mantle was deteriorating physically, and Tresh hit home runs but contributed little else. Houk took over in 1966 after the team started the year 4-16. The team improved only marginally in 1967, as Mantle and Pepitone switched positions; Mantle’s knees were no longer able to handle outfield play. Howard and Tresh lost their skills, and the mediocre Horace Clarke became the symbol, fairly or unfairly, of a new Yankee era. The team rebounded to an 83-79 fifth-place finish in 1968, Mantle’s last season. But the years 1965-71 are perhaps best summed up in the current Yankee media guides, where the only highlights listed in that time period are the painting of Yankee Stadium after the 1966 season and Mickey Mantle Day in 1969. Mel Stottlemyre won 20 games three times, and Thurman Munson came up in 1970.
The Yankees even finished second that year, although they were 15 games back. But the club remained mediocre for several more years. A large group of businessmen bought the Yankees from CBS in January 1973. Principal owner George Steinbrenner, who made his money in shipbuilding, claimed he was going to be a silent partner, but Houk resigned after the season over Steinbrenner’s meddling in decision-making. It was the first indication of a coming managerial carrousel unmatched in instability and surprising twists. Playing at Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was renovated by the City of New York, the Yankees were led by low-key Bill Virdon to a second-place finish in 1974, just two games out. The team featured Graig Nettles, Bobby Murcer, and Chris Chambliss. Virdon was replaced with the volatile Martin after going 53-51 in the first two-thirds of 1975. Catfish Hunter was the ace of the pitching staff, the first of Steinbrenner’s blockbuster free-agent signings. The owner’s willingness to spend freely proved to be his best quality. The remodeled Yankee Stadium was opened in 1976, and a revamped team that now included Willie Randolph at second base and Mickey Rivers in center field, and Ed Figueroa and Dock Ellis on the mound, finished first for the first time in 12 years. Munson won MVP honors, Nettles led the AL in homers, and Sparky Lyle emerged as the bullpen ace with 23 saves. Chambliss’s dramatic ninth-inning home run clinched the LCS. New York was swept by the Reds in the World Series, but the Yankees had reestablished themselves as a dynasty. Superstar Reggie Jackson was Steinbrenner’s next headline-grabbing free-agent acquisition; Don Gullett was also picked up for 1977. Jackson alienated many Yankees with an undiplomatic, bragging interview, and Martin was unhappy that he hadn’t gotten the hit-and-run man he wanted. But with Munson leading the Yankees in the clubhouse and on the field, and Jackson leading them statistically, the club captured its first World Championship in 15 years. Lyle captured Cy Young honors. Jackson’s remarkable performance in the final game of the Series, in which he hit three consecutive homers, all on the first pitch, clinched the Series and earned him the nickname Mr. October. The 1978 season topped 1977 in all respects.
The new free-agent arrival was Goose Gossage, who won the stopper role from Lyle. Martin and Jackson and Steinbrenner feuded openly, with Martin getting the ax while 52-42 for calling Steinbrenner and Jackson liars. Officially, he retired for health reasons. After interim manager Dick Howser lost one game, Chicago manager Bob Lemon took over the Yankees. But there was a startling twist to his situation, as it was announced just four days later (at Old-Timers Day) that Martin would return in 1980. Under Lemon’s calm guidance and masterful handling of the pitching staff, helped by the return of several injured Yankees, the club went 48-20 the rest of the way to tie the Red Sox. Ron Guidry won the climactic playoff game, running his record to 25-3, on Bucky Dent‘s home run. Guidry won the Cy Young Award, and Ed Figueroa became the first Puerto Rican 20-game winner. Kansas City fell to the Yankees again in the LCS, and the Yankees won their second straight World Championship, the most recent team to repeat. Dent continued his improbable heroics to win the Series MVP award; Nettles’s spectacular fielding might have won it for him if he had only hit better than his feeble .160. Tommy John and Luis Tiant were signed as free agents over the winter; John led the staff in wins in 1979. Martin’s return came sooner than expected when he replaced Lemon on June 18 with the Yankees at 34-30. But the team was stunned by the August death of the irreplaceable Munson in a plane crash. They finished in fourth place. Martin was replaced after the season by Dick Howser, who led the Yankees to a 103-victory division title. Newest free-agent acquisition Rudy May led the league in ERA, and Jackson led in HR. But the team was swept by the Royals in the LCS, and Steinbrenner forced Howser to “retire” in a charade that fooled no one. Gene Michael was named as Howser’s replacement in an effort to use his popularity as a former Yankee star to offset outrage at the dismissal of Howser. Steinbrenner’s biggest free-agent signing came that December when he signed Dave Winfield to a 10-year contract. Dave Righetti won the Rookie of the Year award.
In a season broken into two parts by a mid-season players’ strike, the Yankees won the first half easily and then coasted, finishing under .500 in the second half of the season. Steinbrenner’s unhappiness with this situation, which emphasized the unimportance of the second half and threatened attendance, led to the firing of Michael in the beginning of September. He was replaced by Lemon, who led the Yankees past the Brewers (in the divisional playoff) and the A’s. But the Yankees’ World Series loss elicited Steinbrenner’s outrageous “apology” to New York fans that was an implicit criticism of Winfield’s 1-for-22 performance. It would prove to be the Yankees’ last postseason appearance for quite a while. Lemon was fired again after starting the 1982 season 6-8. Gene Michael replaced him for 86 games and was in turn replaced after he attempted to stand up for the players during a disappointing 79-83 fifth-place finish (the team was at .500 at the time). Clyde King lasted to the end of the season and Martin was rehired for 1983. The Yankees finished third that year, and third under Berra in 1984 as Don Mattingly and Winfield battled down to the last day of the season before Mattingly won the batting title. Berra was fired while 6-10 in April 1985, with Martin, once again taking over. He drove the team to a second-place finish as Mattingly won the MVP and Guidry went 22-6. After the season Lou Piniella, another popular ex-Yankee, replaced Martin as manager. He lasted through a second-place finish in 1986 but finished fourth in the tough 1987 AL East despite an 89-73 record. Martin spent the whole summer sniping at Piniella’s managerial expertise from the Yankee broadcast booth and replaced Piniella, who was made GM, after the season. In Martin’s fifth term, a record for times managing one team for a non-owner (Bill Sharsig named himself manager of the Philadelphia club in the American Association), his erratic and violent behavior once again embarrassed the team, and he was fired and replaced by Piniella. Dallas Green was named manager for 1989 and began rebuilding the team with GM Syd Thrift, but was unsurprisingly fired that August; 1978 playoff hero Bucky Dent replaced him. It was the 17th managerial change in Steinbrenner’s 17 years of ownership.