The 1998 Yankees are one of the greatest baseball teams of all time


If you name the greatest Yankees teams of all time, it won’t take you long to get to 1998. Hell, if you name the greatest baseball team of all time, it won’t take you long to get to the ’98 Yankees.

Between the regular season and three rounds of the playoffs, they won 125 games, which no team has matched. Other than a brief stint in the ALCS, they were never even pushed particularly hard. They were just dominant.

Regular season record: 114-48

Manager: Joe Torre

Top hitter by WAR: Derek Jeter (7.5)

Best pitcher by WAR: David Wells (4.8)

World events: Yankees sweep San Diego Padres4-0

After returning to the top of the mountain in 1996, the 1997 season ended abruptly for the Yankees. They lost the ALDS to Cleveland in five games, losing a late lead with a chance to clinch in Game 4, then leave 10 runners on base in a one-run loss in Game 5.

In response to the 1997 exit, the Yankees and new general manager Brian Cashman took several steps to try to strengthen the team. On the pitching front, they signed a pitcher from Cuba named Orlando Hernández after he defected. Seeking to level up at second base, they acquired Chuck Knoblauch from the Twins, trading a group of prospects including a former first-round pick, top pitcher Eric Milton. Meanwhile, in a slightly under-the-radar move, they picked up third baseman Scott Brosius from the A’s, after he was the player to be named later in a deal that sent Kenny Rogers to Oakland. It would also be the year receiver Jorge Posada truly took over the starting role behind the plate.

The 1998 season actually started inauspiciously. With the Yankees on the West Coast, they lost their first three games and fell to 1-4 after suffering an 8-0 loss to the Mariners. The next day, they bounced back and started an eight-game winning streak. For the remainder of April, they embarked on a run that included a five-game winning streak. An overtime victory on April 30 gave the Yankees the lead in the AL East for the first time this season. They would never give up that position all year again.

From May 20-7, the Yankees averaged more than seven points per game and embarked on a famous fight against the Orioles. Big left-hander David Wells etched his place in Yankees history on May 17, when he had a perfect game against the Twins, marking the team’s first perfecto since Don Larsen in 1956:

As the summer was in full swing, the wins were piling up. From June 30 to July 12, the Yankees enjoyed a season-high 10-game winning streak. It would be one of eight times during the year that the team would win at least five in a row. At the All-Star break, the Yankees lead in the AL East was 11 games. This would only be half of the final margin. The Yankees’ “worst” winning percentage in a month that year was .593 from Sept. 16-11 — and even that’s a full-season 96-game winning streak. A victory on September 9 over Red Sox saw the Yankees clinch the AL East with 19 games left. It was the first time a Yankee team had taken down since 1941and that was before the advent of divisional play and jokers.

While there were certainly plenty of standout performances on the team — Jeter, batting champ Bernie Williams on offense and Wells, David Cone, Hernández on the mound — the Yankees’ main strength was depth. Of the players who made at least 300 plate appearances, only one had an OPS+ below 100. The five most used starters and all but two relievers with at least 30 innings pitched had an ERA+ below 100.

There were simply no weak points. Brosius, who as mentioned was just a PTBNL in a trade, had a career-best season and had a five-war season. Shane Spencer arrived in September and had his famously wild run on the stretch, recording an absurd 1,581 OPS in the past month – a stretch that included three Grand Slams.

Everything they touched seemed to turn to gold. It was that kind of year.

The Yankees mostly drove through the ALDS, never trailing and allowing just one run in a sweep of Rangers, although they learned they would face personal adversity towards the end of the win. the series, as DH Darryl Strawberry has been diagnosed with colon cancer. (His season was over, but he got treatment and thankfully survived.)

The ALCS briefly became doubtful after losing Games 2 and 3 in embarrassing fashion fall behind Cleveland 2-1 in the series. However, they tied the series thanks to seven shutout innings from “El Duque” in Game 4. The offense carried them over the line in Games 5 and 6, earning a second World Series appearance in two years.

In the World Series, the Yankees were scheduled to face the upstart Padres, who defeated the perennial mighty Braves in the NLCS. San Diego had improved from 22 wins in 1998, moving from fourth in the NL West in 1997 to 98 wins and a division title. In addition to manager Bruce Bochy and Padres legends and future Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman, the 1998 team featured great seasons from Kevin Brown, Greg Vaughn and others.

In Game 1, the Padres showed they were in. After the Yankees took an early lead, San Diego fought back, then opened a three-run lead in the fifth, courtesy of back-to-back homers from Gwynn and Vaughn.

The Yankees were still trailing when the game ended in the bottom of the seventh. After a single and a walk early in the inning, Brown was finally eliminated from the game after mostly holding the Yankees in check. Knoblauch came next and tied the game with a three point home runbut the round was far from over.

A single and some steps then loaded the bases for Tino Martinez. The Yankees may have won the World Series two seasons prior, but Martinez notably didn’t have the best streak against Atlanta, hitting .091. After a, uh, generous ball call with the 2-2 count, Martinez worked the full count and made sure he wouldn’t repeat ’96.

The Yankees hung on to that win and dominated the next day to go up 2-0. The series then shifted to San Diego, where Brosius would take center stage.

In Game 3, the Yankees again trailed in the final innings. In the seventh, Brosius started with a home run with the Yankees trailing 3-0. They picked up another run later in the inning to cut the deficit to one.

After Paul O’Neill started the eighth with a walk, the Padres decided to bring in their closer Hoffman. The future Hall of Famer obviously had a great career in general, but 1998 was arguably the pinnacle. He had a 1.48 ERA, league-leading 53 saves and 4.1 WAR in a year he finished second in voting to Cy Young.

Hoffman came in and quickly earned an out, before walking another. This brought Brosius to the plate, where the third baseman would etch his name in Yankees lore.

His second home run of the day gave the Yankees a lead they would never lose. The next day, Andy Pettitte pitched 7.1 shutout innings before Mariano Rivera and the bullpen completed a 3-0 victory and a series sweep. For his Game 3 heroics and generally good streak (1.294 OPS, 2 HR, 6 RBI), Brosius was named Fall Classic MVP.

The icing on the cake, Brosius was even able to record the final:

By any measure, the 1998 New York Yankees are one of the greatest baseball teams of all time. Although it was by far the best season of this era for the Yankees, it was not near the end of their run.


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