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|Hail to the Champions
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04/26/2003 12:41 PM ET
Hail to the Champions
No team has past, or present, of the Yankees
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Throughout their First Century, the New York Yankees have spawned memorable personalities and indelible moments. But above all, they have been defined by team success, a level of excellence beyond anything achieved by any other team in any other sport.
The common definition of their sport as "a game of failure," wherein occasional triumph against a tide of adversity molds stars, does not apply to the Yankees who, befitting upstart franchises, took a while to start winning.
Then, they got very good at it. After spending their first 18 seasons a cumulative 41 games under .500, the Yankees swaggered into the nation's consciousness with their first American League pennant in 1921.
As in, first of 38. Including the multi-tiered playoff formats introduced with the 1969 advent of divisional play, the Yankees have appeared in the postseason 42 times since that 1921 debut. That's 42 times in 82 years, a .512 average that rises above baseball's culture of failure.
Twenty-six of those October performances have reaped the ultimate prize of a World Series Championship, a legacy of superiority in the dust of which the rest of American sports sputters.
In the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens have won 23 Stanley Cups. In college football, Yale has won 18 National Championships (though none since 1927). The Boston Celtics can show off 16 NBA crowns and the Green Bay Packers have 12 NFL trophies.
None have the past, or the present, of the New York Yankees, who today ride higher than ever in search of new entries to their chronology of World Series titles:
1923: After losing consecutive all-Polo Grounds World Series to the New York Giants, the Yankees finally master the G-Men at the conclusion of, fittingly enough, Yankee Stadium's debut season. Babe Ruth's career-best .393 average leads the Yanks to their third straight AL pennant, in a runaway over the runner-up Detroit Tigers.
1927: Though the Series is surprisingly competitive, the Murderer's Row Yankees still sweep out the Pirates to culminate the rise of Ruth & Gehrig as baseball's premier one-two wallop. Ruth (60 homers) and Gehrig (175 RBIs) both set records, and their combined 107 HRs are double any other AL team's output.
1928: Baseball of the century's first quarter is a game of dynasties (Giants, Cubs, Athletics), but the Yankees stamp themselves as a different breed by becoming history's first team to sweep consecutive Series, this time over the Cardinals. Ruth & Gehrig smoke the Gas House Gang by hitting a combined .630, with 7 HRs and 13 RBIs.
1932: Whether or not Ruth predicted he would homer off the Cubs' Charlie Root in Game 3 at Wrigley Field -- and even point out where the drive was going -- the point is he did homer twice that October 1 day amid yet another Series sweep. Four months earlier, in the Athletics' Shibe Park, Gehrig (4 homers) and Tony Lazzeri (the cycle) accomplished two of hitting's toughest feats in the same game.
1936: After a Game 1 loss to the Giants snaps their 12-game Series winning streak, the Yankees storm back in their first Fall Classic without Babe Ruth. But they do have a 21-year-old rookie center fielder named Joe DiMaggio, who makes his Major League debut on May 3 and contributes 29 homers and 126 RBIs to an attack that generates 1,065 runs -- 247 more than the season before.
1937: Giving further evidence that they now own The City, the Yankees, while setting a record with an errorless Series, again overpower the Giants, who score a total of 12 runs, half of them in the second inning of their lone victory. In another watershed season, on May 13 DiMaggio replaces Gehrig as the Yanks' clean-up hitter.
1938: A few generations before the term would be coined, the Yankees turn in history's first World Series three-peat with a dominant sweep of the Cubs. The Yanks trail only once, for minutes, after Chicago takes a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth of Game 3. A record turnaway Yankee Stadium crowd of 83,533 had seen their boys sweep the Red Sox in a Memorial Day doubleheader -- one of 26 played by the Yankees.
1939: The Yankees make it four straight crowns with another sweep, this time over the Reds, amid the pall of Lou Gehrig being cruelly taken out of their lineup, but not their hearts. On May 2, Terrible Tuesday, Gehrig, gripped by the onset of muscular degeneration, removes himself after 2,130 consecutive games. Sparked by his inspirational presence on the bench, the Yanks win 27 of their next 31 games -- and are 52-17 by the Iron Horse's raspy and legendary July 4 Yankee Stadium farewell speech.
1941: Coming off an unsettling third-place finish, the Yankees are still tailspinning under .500 (14-15) on May 15 when DiMaggio goes 1-for-4 against the White Sox's Ed Smith. By the time another Smith (Cleveland's Al) stops him on July 17, DiMaggio has a 56-game hitting streak and the Yankees have a 56-27 record, on the way to launching a new rivalry: they down the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first of seven Series between the teams in a 16-year span.
1943: Avenging their loss to St. Louis in the previous Series, the Yankees best the Cardinals in five games dominated by pitching. The Cards are held to a total of nine runs and are blanked in the Game 5 clincher, 2-0, on Spud Chandler's 10-hitter. It's a Series rematch between the same teams, but different war-tinged casts. Joe D., for one, is in the Army. One-third of the Series' $1.1 million gate is donated to War Funds.
1947: The Yankees take Round Two against the Dodgers in a free-swinging (67 runs between the teams) Series. It is the Bombers' 11th title -- but the first time they are pushed to the seven-game limit to get it. At the dawn of the season, April 27, Babe Ruth Day is observed simultaneously in every Major League park, including Yankee Stadium, where 58,339 hushed fans hear the cancer-stricken Babe tell them, "There's so many lovely things said about me, I'm glad I had the opportunity to thank everybody."
1949: DiMaggio inks baseball's first six-figure contract, but is out of action until June 28 with a sore heel and is limited to 76 games. These are no Bombers, with no one hitting more than 24 homers (Tommy Henrich) or driving in more than 91 runs (Yogi Berra). But strong arms (the starting quartet of Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, Tommy Byrne, Ed Lopat goes 68-33) carry the Yanks to another Series triumph over the Dodgers.
1950: The Yankees turn Philadelphia's Whiz Kids into the Wheeze Kids, sweeping to their 13th World Series title while allowing a total of five runs. It's an emphatic end to a perilous season, in which they are pitted in a dogfight against Detroit and do not take permanent possession of first place until September 16, when rookie left-hander Whitey Ford six-hits the Tigers. Life before the cable fishbowl: All-Star shortstop Phil Rizzuto is the very first guest on a new TV show -- "What's My Line?" -- where panelists try to guess the guest's occupation.
1951: A season of transition. DiMaggio leaves, retiring two months after hitting .263, 60 points below his career average, with lows of 12 homers and 71 RBIs. Mickey Mantle arrives, the multitalented rookie checking in with his first homer on May 1. And the Yankees just go on, knocking Bobby Thomson's miracle Giants off their Coogan's Bluff in the teams' first World Series meeting in 14 years.
1952: Casey Stengel, the double-talking but single-minded manager, remains perfect in four years at the helm. The Yankees outlast the Dodgers for their overall 15th championship -- but have to survive two elimination games for the first time, after the Bums take a 3-games-to-2 lead on Duke Snider's 11th-inning RBI double. Winning two is second nature to the Bombers, who during the regular season sweep 11 of their 19 doubleheaders.
1953: The Yankees' domination of the Dodgers reaches five World Series. Billy Martin sends everyone home for the winter with a record-setting 12th hit of the Series that delivers the winning run in the bottom of the ninth of Game Six. Condensed version of the Yankees' fifth consecutive AL pennant drive: On May 27, they held a slim 2 1/2-game lead over the White Sox; 18 consecutive wins later, they were 41-11 and 10 1/2 up.
1956: Don Larsen's Game 5 perfect game, to date only the fourth of the century and first in 34 years, turns the tide as the Yankees respond to a new motivation -- revenge. They get even for the Dodgers' overdue win in the previous year's Series, reclaiming their crown in seven games. The regular season is a showcase for Mantle, whose stroke adds "tape-measure homer" to the baseball vernacular on his way to a Triple Crown with a .353-52-130 ledger.
1958: Fueled by Hank Bauer, perhaps their first Mr. October, the Yankees climb out of a 3-games-to-1 hole to avenge last October's Series loss to the Milwaukee Braves. After a regular season in which he totaled 12 homers, Bauer hits four in the Classic and drives in eight runs, more than the combined total of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Elston Howard. Casey Stengel's seventh Series title -- in only his 10th year as New York manager -- ties Joe McCarthy's mark.
1961: After a summer in which Mantle & Maris held the nation breathless, it is left up to Whitey Ford to squeeze the breath out of the Reds, vanquished in five games for the Yanks' 19th World Series title. Ford posts 14 shutout innings in two wins, running his overall Classic scoreless streak to a record 32 innings. Meanwhile, Mantle & Maris combine to go 3-for-25, with two RBIs, in the Series. That's okay; they did their part in a season-long dash to Ruth, won by Roger 61-to-54.
1962: The Yankees and Giants meet in their seventh World Series, but it's a bicoastal affair for the first time. Mantle & Maris again hamper, rather than hammer, the attack, this time combining for 7-for-48. But Rajah makes his biggest contribution with the glove -- his flashy play on Willie Mays' double in the ninth inning of Game Seven prevents Matty Alou, running from first with two outs, from scoring the tying run. Willie McCovey's blue-streak Series-ending liner into Bobby Richardson's mitt follows.
1977: Reggie Jackson arrives to stir the Yankees awake after a 15-year drought mostly spent as second-division chattel under corporate (CBS) ownership. An original odd couple, Jackson and manager Billy Martin are always in each other's faces -- quite literally on June 18 during a nationally-televised fracas in the Fenway Park dugout -- but revive the Bombers' glory. The third-place Yankees are five games out on Aug. 10 when Martin installs Reggie as his permanent cleanup hitter, and thereafter go 40-13. The ensuing Series win over the Dodgers features Jackson's coronation as Mr. October, with three homers on consecutive swings in the clinching 8-4 victory.
1978: The do-hard Yankees. They don't do anything the easy way, but the conclusion is the same, a six-game Classic win over the Dodgers. And all it takes are three managers (Dick Howser playing a cameo between Billy Martin and Bob Lemon), overcoming a mid-July 14-game deficit to Boston, a Bucky Dent homer in the 163rd game, and climbing out of an 0-2 Series hole.
1996: Seventeen managerial changes later ... they're baaaack. This time, at the doorsill of a new dynasty as a fresh mix (catcher Jim Leyritz, at five-plus seasons, is the longest tenured Yankee) brings the championship trophy back home. To claim their 23rd title, the Yankees for the first time have to survive three postseason rungs -- Texas in the Division Series, Baltimore in the League Series, and finally Atlanta in the World Series.
1998: A singular year ends the only fitting way possible, with a four-game World Series knockout of the Padres for the Yankees' first Classic sweep in 48 years. The Bombers blitzed the postseason field 11-games-to-2 following a blinding 114-win regular season that beat the Red Sox -- who won 92 games! -- by 22 lengths. The Yankees' record on Aug. 14 read like a typographical error: 89-29. They clinched a playoff spot nine days before Labor Day.
1999: Come, and ye shall be rewarded. This one's for the Rocket, as Roger Clemens, acquired in a preseason deal from Toronto, is sized for the first Series ring of his 16-year career. For emphasis, he pitches four-hit ball for most of the Classic clincher as the Yankees run their Series winning streak to 12 with another sweep, of the Braves. This time, the Bombers enjoy an 11-games-to-1 playoff run that, enabled by the relatively fresh Wild Card wrinkle, includes adding to their frustration of the Red Sox with a League Series ouster.
2000: All aboard! The City is in a tizzy as the Yankees and Mets stage the first Subway Series since 1956. But it has been that kind of a New York-centric season, featuring a July 8 Subway Doubleheader, Interleague games played in both Shea and Yankee Stadium on the same day. Despite ending the regular season in harrowing fashion (a seven-game losing streak during which they were outscored 68-15), the Yankees stay on track for their third straight World Series title, No. 26 on a growing string of pearls.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.