Thursday, September 25, 2003
Updated: March 23, 4:43 PM ET
History of a dynasty
By Nick Acocella
Special to ESPN.com
"Basically, the philosophy was if you came in second, you lost. Second meant nothing," says former New York second baseman Jerry Coleman on ESPN Classic's documentary on the Yankees.
Like it or not - and a lot of people don't - the New York Yankees are the most successful North American sports franchise. With 26 world championships and 39 pennants since 1921, the Yankees have produced more star power than any other major league team.
They also have been an economic powerhouse, variously supporting other clubs by drawing large crowds, signing many players it coveted and persuading other teams to complete one-sided trades.
The team was born on Jan. 9, 1903 when Frank Farrell and Bill Devery bought the defunct Baltimore franchise for $18,000 and moved it to New York. The relocation filled American League president Ban Johnson's desire for a New York team and followed what turned out to be a permanent peace between the American and National Leagues. But the club remained lackluster for most of its first 17 seasons.
In 1915, Colonels Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston purchased the team for $460,000 and three years later Miller Huggins was named manager. But the most significant event of the era - possibly in baseball's history - came after the 1919 season: the purchase of Babe Ruth from Boston.
Ruth led the Yankees to three straight pennants (1921-23). After losing two World Series to the Giants, they finally beat them in 1923 for their first world championship. The Giants, resenting the larger crowds the AL team drew to the Polo Grounds, had threatened eviction and Yankee Stadium was built, for $2.5 million, in less than a year, opening in 1923.
In April 1925, Ruth required abdominal surgery and missed six weeks. After that he broke training regularly enough to precipitate a me-or-him confrontation with Huggins that ended when Ruppert, who took over sole ownership in 1922, backed the manager and forced the slugger to apologize publicly. The season's highlight was the beginning of Lou Gehrig's 2,130 consecutive-game playing streak.
The Yankees won three straight pennants (and two world championships) from 1926-28. Ruth belted 60 homers in 1927 and some historians regard that team, nicknamed Murderers Row, as the greatest ever.
Joe McCarthy was named manager in 1931. Despite a world championship the next year - marked by Ruth's "called shot," a homer during the sweep of the Cubs - four second-place finishes in his first five seasons caused grumbling about McCarthy's credentials. One of the critics was Ruth, who sulked at having been passed over for the managerial job.
But McCarthy bided his time and gave the aging Ruth plenty of leeway. After the dumping of Ruth before the 1935 season and the arrival of Joe DiMaggio in 1936, the Yankees became the first to win four straight World Series. However, the championship season of 1939 was marred by the death of Ruppert in January and by the retirement of Gehrig, a victim of the disease named after him, in May.
McCarthy won three more pennants (and two World Series) from 1941-43, the first of them highlighted by DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. McCarthy's record seven world championships owed much to the farm system built by George Weiss. But the honeymoon ended after Larry MacPhail - along with silent partners Dan Topping and Del Webb - bought the team from Ruppert's estate for $2.8 million in 1945.
The MacPhail years produced one world championship, in 1947 under manager Bucky Harris, despite Brooklyn's Cookie Lavagetto's game-winning double that broke up Bill Bevens' no-hitter in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the Series. But the big story was the majority owner himself, who also replaced Ed Barrow, the club's conservative front office head since 1920, as president and general manager. MacPhail's flamboyance and interference offended McCarthy, who quit early in the 1946 season.
There were night games, promotions and the major league's first television contract. Fines for failing to attend promotional events and travel on a rickety plane enraged the players. The 1947 Series victory celebration was marred when Harris ejected MacPhail from the clubhouse for upbraiding players. Then MacPhail threatened to punch Topping and Webb; he did land one on an old friend. Topping and Webb bought out MacPhail the next day.
They hired Stengel as manager for the 1949 season on the recommendation of Weiss, newly promoted to general manager. The Yankees won five consecutive World Series, with Stengel juggling pitchers and platooning players in a manner that often seemed as bizarre as his personal language known as Stengelese. The retirement in 1951 of DiMaggio, never a Stengel favorite, offered an opportunity to build the team around Mickey Mantle, DiMaggio's successor in centerfield.
After finishing second in 1954, the Yankees rebounded to win four pennants (and two world championships) from 1955 to 1958. Off the field, key players, to Weiss' irritation, caroused as relentlessly as in Ruth's early days. The culmination of the partying was an altercation at the Copacabana in May 1957.
In the aftermath, Weiss traded Billy Martin, one of Stengel's favorite players. The deal was meant to break up the clique of drinkers without breaking up the team's core.
That trade was one of a series of lopsided transactions with Kansas City. Reminiscent of the deals with Boston earlier in the century, the transactions led to accusations that the Athletics were just a major league component of New York's farm system.
The Stengel era ended after the 1960 World Series, which the Yankees lost on Bill Mazeroski's ninth-inning homer in Game 7 despite outscoring Pittsburgh 55-27. Ownership chose Ralph Houk to replace Stengel, who was fired despite his winning seven World Series, tying McCarthy's record. Weiss was soon given the boot as well.
The club won three pennants (and two World Series) in Houk's first three years and a fourth straight in 1964 under Yogi Berra. The 1961 flag was highlighted by Roger Maris' 61 homers to top Ruth's mark and a record 240 homers by the team.
By 1964, however, the club had aged. Topping and Webb, having decided as early as 1962 to sell, had stopped investing in the farm system. CBS bought 80 percent of the team in November 1964 season for $11.2 million. From 1965 to 1973, the Yankees finished higher than fourth only once.
In January 1973, a limited partnership headed by George Steinbrenner, bought the team from CBS for $10 million. The club moved to Shea Stadium for 1974 and 1975 while Yankee Stadium was refurbished. Steinbrenner, who had promised "absentee ownership," was suspended after pleading guilty to contributing money illegally to Richard Nixon's 1972 presidential campaign. Then in 1975, Martin returned - as manager.
The Yankees won the pennant in 1976. Then Steinbrenner, dipping into the free-agent market, signed Reggie Jackson. This set off the George-Billy-Reggie psychodrama. While there were World Series victories in 1977 and 1978 (the latter under Bob Lemon after Martin was fired for calling Jackson a "born liar" and Steinbrenner "convicted"), the trio brought chaos to the clubhouse and executive suite. Steinbrenner made 17 managerial changes (including four Martin reprises) between 1978 and 1992.
In 1990, Steinbrenner's feud with Dave Winfield led to another suspension for the owner - for hiring a gambler to obtain damaging information on the outfielder. The ban was supposed to be for life, but Commissioner Fay Vincent allowed Steinbrenner to return for the 1993 season.
The latest dynasty, under manager Joe Torre, began in 1996 with the Yankees winning their first World Series since 1978. After a wild card finish in 1997, they set an AL record with 114 wins the next year and took the first of three straight Series, which was capped by their triumph over the Mets in 2000 in the first Subway Series since 1956.
In the 2001 Series, the Yankees won Games 4 and 5 in extra innings after dramatic ninth-inning homers. However, their bid for four straight titles ended in Game 7 in Arizona on Luis Gonzalez's soft single to center.
In 2003, the Yankees won their 39th pennant when Aaron Boone homered in the 11th inning in the seventh game of the ALCS against Boston. However, they lost the World Series to the Florida Marlins. The next season, the Yankees suffered perhaps the greatest meltdown in baseball history, becoming the first team to ever blow a three games to none lead in the postseason in losing the ALCS series to the Red Sox.