This afternoon, the New York Yankees are honoring their 1998 World Series winning team on their 20th anniversary. Several of the players from that special team will be there for a ceremony at Yankee Stadium prior to this afternoon’s Yankees game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
In ’98, the Yankees began that season on a west coast road-trip, losing four of their first five games. In those four losses, they were outscored 29-6. I’m sure it was safe to say the late George Steinbrenner was not happy. After losing in Seattle on April 6 to drop to 1-4 on the season, a team meeting was held (as discussed today on YES Network’s pregame with Ryan Ruocco, David Cone and Jorge Posada), with manager Joe Torre and several veterans speaking. The next day, the Yankees whipped the Mariners, 13-7. They went on to win 14 of their next 15 games and 34 of their next 40.
I find it apropos that the Yankees organization is honoring the team on this day, August 18, 2018. Exactly twenty years ago on this very day, the Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals, 3-2 in 13 innings to reach the high water mark of their impressive 1998 campaign. With that wain, the team had a record of 92-30, a mindblowing 62 games above .500 with a winning percentage of .754! This machine of a team didn’t simply beat their opponents, they often obliterated them. They played 27(!) games where they scored ten or more runs, many of those games came in consecutive games.
Needless to say, the Yankees were the talk of baseball, and talk on the streets. Prior to their 1996 World Series win, there were lean years. These late 90’s teams got the public excited again. As a fan, it was so much fun to talk with co-workers and friends (there was no such thing as social media, and the internet was in it’s infancy) about this exciting young team. The last Yankees teams that were dominant were the late 70’s teams that featured Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, etc.
Why was this 1998 team so good? There are many reasons. First of all, they got on base. Let’s take a look at a screenshot of the lineup manager Joe Torre penciled into his lineup on that August 18, 1998.
As you can see, from top to bottom of this day’s lineup, everyone has an OBP of .357 or better. Cleanup hitter Bernie Williams’ was an eye-popping .446! It doesn’t hurt that your numbers two, three and four hitters are absolutely RAKING. It also doesn’t hurt that seven regulars in the Yankees lineup hit 17 or more home-runs on the season. No one hit thirty homers on this team that season. Tino Martinez hit the most, with 28 home-runs. Bernie Williams was second with 26, and Paul O’Neill tied with Darryl Strawberry for third-most with 24.
The starting rotation was anchored by their dynamic-duo of David Cone and David “Boomer” Wells, who won 20 and 18 games, respectively. Young Andy Pettitte, who was in his fourth season with the team, added 16 more wins. And who can forget Orlando Hernandez? “El Duque” joined the team at the beginning of June, and went on to win 12 games and became known as a clutch pitcher in the postseason. And of course they had Mariano Rivera in the bullpen to slam the door shut, saving 36 games.
Another thing that added to their success was that they stuck up for each other. On May 19, the Yankees played a home game against the Baltimore Orioles. New York was ahead 7-5 in the bottom of the 8th inning. Tino Martinez dug in against O’s reliever Armando Benitez, who drilled him right between the shoulder blades. All hell proceeded to break loose.
While no one wants to see players get hurt, this team wasn’t about to stand by and let Benitez’s needless cheap shot go unanswered. Teams would rather not have brawls for obvious reasons, but these things DO build unity and cohesiveness in a clubhouse, and this is essential for overall success.
Two days prior to the Orioles/Yankees melee, starting pitcher David Wells pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins. Boomer struck out eleven over his 120 pitch day of perfection.
From a perfect game to a perfect season, the 1998 Yankees were a joy to watch.