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Between 1996 and 2003, the New York Yankees won four World Series titles while playing in six World Series. Prior to this period, the team hadn’t even won a pennant since 1981. This Yankees team did more than prove they were the best with their title wins. They created the greatest dynasty in baseball history. In this article, we'll take a look back at the New York Yankees that defined the latter end of the 20th century and turned baseball back into a game where the best team occupied New York.
In 1973, George Steinbrenner took over as the owner of the New York Yankees baseball organization. Along with several other investors, Steinbrenner owned the largest stake, which meant he had the largest say when it came to managerial decisions. However, Steinbrenner’s purchase received more scrutiny than it deserved. The Yankees at the time were very similar to the one that exists currently. They had not played in the World Series for an extended period of time, and they were still considered the greatest sports franchise to occupy the face of the Earth. Steinbrenner wanted to change the organization and make it a place where the best players wanted to come play again. He did it the only way he knew how. He wanted bigger contracts for better players.
1976 saw the beginning of a brief era of prosperity for the team. Under the leadership of manager Billy Martin, who managed the Yankees for five seasons and was a player during some of their best years, the team became a contender. The 1976 Yankees fell short in the playoffs, but Steinbrenner had made it clear that the team was one signing away from winning it all. In the offseason, the Yankees signed slugger Reggie Jackson from the Oakland A’s. Jackson was not the most popular teammate in the world, but in October of 1977, he cemented his legacy as Mr. October. The Yankees won back-to-back titles in 1977 and 1978.
However, the 1980s was very cruel to them. They were an organization that had been outshined by their cross town opponent, the New York Mets. The worst of those years was in 1986 when the Mets proved beyond a doubt that they were the best team in baseball by winning their second World Series. The Yankees were a laughing stock of an organization. They were not even close to outshining the likes of the now confident Boston Red Sox, the Oakland A’s, or even the Mets. All the Yankees needed was a rebuild in order to become their old selves again. So in 1996, they made a choice that would be the best move they can make.
The Early 1990s
New York was improving their team in the early 1990s. They had placed guys like Wade Boggs and Paul O’Neill in the lineup to give themselves an advantage. Despite building the team around these players, it seemed like most of the roster had seen better days. New York was seen as a place to get a nice payday rather than a place where a team could grow and become champions. However, everything would change in the mid-1990s.
The Yankees had a plethora of young talent in their farm system. Their rebuild started with the 1992 MLB draft. The Astros had a chance to get Derek Jeter, but they passed on him for financial reasons. Jeter was signed by the Yankees and played for three seasons before being called up to play for the Yankees. He was awarded the starting job in June of 1995 due to shortstop Pat Kelly being injured. From then on, the Yankees never needed another shortstop until 2015.
Jeter became an instant fan favorite, but he was not the only talent the Yankees possessed. In the outfield, they had an outfielder who had spent four seasons with the team and was finally coming into his own. Bernie Williams was a talent that appeared once in a lifetime. Along with him, a closer by the name of Mariano Rivera was called up in 1995. Catcher Jorge Posada would also be called up. The Yankees seemed like they were ready to make a championship run, but they needed a good leader to do so. In 1996, they hired Joe Torre to make all the pieces fall into place.
The Yankees had a great 1995 season where they made it to the Division Series. It seemed like the team just needed a spark to reach the next plateau. Joe Torre’s hiring in 1996 sparked interest around the league. He had previously managed the New York Mets, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Atlanta Braves. Torre seemed like a guy that could push the team to new heights.
In 1996, the Yankees rocked the American League and won their division. They looked set to reclaim the throne as the world champions, and only one team stood in their way. The Atlanta Braves, previously managed by Torre in the early 1980s, had a Hall of Fame caliber team of their own. They had previously won the 1995 World Series. The Yankees had won their division by four games while the Braves had won by eight. The Braves were thought to be developing a dynasty of their own, but the Yankees had a thing or two to say about that.
It took six games, but the upstart young guns of the Yankees helped lead the team to their 23rd World Series championship. This series would feature many future hall of famers. Names like Derek Jeter, Wade Boggs, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera all played in the series along with Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. In 1996, Jeter won the Rookie of the Year award, Bernie Williams was the ALCS MVP, and John Wetteland earned the World Series MVP award. New York was once again at the mountain top. Now they needed to stay there.
The 1998-2000 Three-Peat
The 1998 season would arguably be the best for the team. They won 114 games that year and added talent like Darryl Strawberry to the lineup. Instead of moving into a downward spiral like most championship teams, the Yankees were actually getting better. The secret to their success was that they were able to keep all of their talent. Their common goal was not money, it was about winning. Guys like Jeter and Williams knew that in order to win, they had to keep the talent around. The 1998 World Series was abysmal to watch. The talented San Diego Padres were left to rot after the Yankees swept them in four games to win a second World Series under Torre. Rivera captured three saves in the series, and he threw the final pitch to clinch victory. At this point, there was discussion about a dynasty building in New York.
To maintain dominance, the Yankees would add more talent to their outstanding roster. The 1999 season started with a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees gave three pitchers for Roger Clemens. The season also saw a perfect game being thrown by David Cone in July. The Yankees were becoming what the Braves could have been. The team won yet another division title and another World Series in a sweep against the Braves. The Yankees had four All-Stars on that team, and Rivera won the World Series MVP award that year. It was cool to be a Yankees fan again.
In 2000, it was more of the same. The Yankees would complete a three-peat by winning their fourth title in five years. However, the 2000 World Series would be more personal than usual. It was a battle between the Yankees and the Mets in the Subway Series. After this season, the Yankees would start to see a decline.
The Decline of the Dynasty
2001 was a key year in the Yankees dynasty. If the team could have pulled off a four-peat, they would have been the third team in MLB history to do so. However, the championship fatigue seemed to finally hit them. It was time for a new chapter in baseball.
The Yankees headed to Arizona to face the young Arizona Diamondbacks in their first World Series. With aces like Randy Johnson (who would play for the Yankees a bit later) and Curt Schilling (who would haunt the Yankees in the near future), the Diamondbacks were a formidable force. Arizona gave New York a test to remember as they put the team into seven games of pure hell. New York did not go quietly, but it was still a rough pill to swallow when you had been dominating the league for the past decade.
The Diamondbacks made a play that would put them in the history books and stain the career of Rivera. Luis Gonzalez, an outfielder for the Diamondbacks, was hitting balls left and right, and he had come in the clutch coming into the series. However, when you face Rivera, you'll need luck more than skill. Rivera was planning on saving the Yankees yet again. Unfortunately, it seemed that his luck had run out for once in his career. In the ninth inning, Gonzalez hit a single that gave the Diamondbacks the series victory.
The most brutal part of that 2001 series is watching the Yankees crumble on the bench after losing in a fashion that many would consider glorious. While the team were not an unstoppable force in the 2002 season, they were still contenders. They won 103 games, but they were eliminated by the Anaheim Angels, who would go on to win the World Series. It seemed like New York's time at the mountain top was over.
The Yankees would surprise everyone in 2003 by going all the way to the World Series. This was thanks to a home run by Aaron Boone in Game 7 of the ALDS. In his lone season in New York, Boone established his legacy as a Yankee in that moment. However, 2003 proved to be yet another year of falling short as the Florida Marlins would win the series. Behind pitchers Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willis, the powerful Marlins dismantled New York. Behind small ball talent like Juan Pierre and big hitters like Miguel Cabrera, the Marlins took down the Yankees in six games.
The era had now come to an end. In the off-season, pitchers Andy Petite and Roger Clemens signed with the Houston Astros. The Yankees purchased Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers, but his value did not pay off in the long run. He still had his best years in New York, though. The team remained in the hunt for the World Series, but they were more known for coming up short; they did not return to the World Series until 2009. Only Rivera, Jeter, and Posada remained on the team from the original run. Petite would also make his way back to New York in 2009. While the Yankees would win the World Series in 2009, their time was dwindling as their talent seemed to be aging.
Why the 1996-2003 Yankees Were the Best Dynasty
A big argument could be made that the 1927 Yankees were the greatest team ever. A vast majority of their players ended up in the Hall of Fame for good reason. The New York Yankees of the 1990s and early 2000s have not all had their day in court yet. Jeter is enshrined along with Rivera, but several others deserve their day as well, including Posada and even Clemens. During those years, the Yankees won 786 games (not counting the playoffs), lost 506 games, won the division seven times, and won four World Series.
Furthermore, the Yankees won those World Series with a very similar roster. They were not divided by money and greed. The stayed together for the common purpose of winning. By getting better every year, the Yankees never fell through a championship spell that they could not spin themselves out of. What killed them in the end was Father Time. By 2003, the Yankees were not exactly the youngest guns on the block. They were struggling just to maintain their competitiveness. The pieces were falling away, and lots of deals destroyed the team that once ruled the American League.
Keep in mind that the team had two chances to achieve a four-peat, which is almost unheard of. They possibly could have won five championships in a row had it not been for the Angels, Diamondbacks, or Marlins. It seems that their legacy has been forgotten by New York faithful due to time moving forward. The current Yankees will come together in due time. They have the talent to win, they just have not been able to get past the likes of the Astros or the Red Sox. The fact remains that the Yankees of the late 1990s and early 2000s had more chances to win championships than even the New England Patriots, arguably the greatest sports dynasty in history. The Yankees beat out everyone due to being smart enough to keep everything together for such a long length of time. Needless to say, this was a team that you did not want to mess with.