New York's embarrassing loss to Los Angeles in the 1981 World Series sent shock waves throughout the Yankee organization. The Yankees not only lost to a team virtually everyone associated with the ball club considered inferior to them, but they did so in humiliating fashion, losing the final four games in succession after winning the first two games at home. The Dodgers defeated them in the final contest by a score of 9-2. New York’s vaunted pitching staff allowed Los Angeles to score a total of 22 runs in three of the four losses. And Dave Winfield, the man signed by George Steinbrenner during the off-season to be the team's next superstar, delivered just one hit in 22 times at bat, for a batting average of .045. None of this sat very well with the owner of the team.
In response, Steinbrenner decided to become even more heavily involved with his team after the loss. A former assistant football coach at both Northwestern and Purdue Universities, Steinbrenner instructed his coaching staff to adopt more of a football mentality when running Spring Training prior to the start of the 1982 season. Speed and aggressive base-running were stressed, with races between players being included as part of the daily regimen. Steinbrenner elected not to re-sign 35-year-old Reggie Jackson when he became eligible for free agency at the end of the 1981 campaign. Instead, he signed 29-year-old speedster Dave Collins, who stole 79 bases for the Cincinnati Reds two years earlier. Steinbrenner also approved a trade that sent two minor leaguers to Cincinnati for outfielder Ken Griffey.
The team’s reconfiguration continued even after the regular season began. New York acquired pitcher Shane Rawley from the Seattle Mariners on April 1st. Just nine days later, Ron Davis and two minor leaguers were sent to the Minnesota Twins for shortstop Roy Smalley. The team also traded for catcher Butch Wynegar and veteran first baseman John Mayberry in early May.
The many deals the Yankees completed demonstrated the level of instability that surrounded the team in 1982. In addition to revamping the roster and adopting a new offensive philosophy, the organization showed little patience towards the team’s on-field leadership, going through three different managers over the course of the season. Bob Lemon started the year as Yankee skipper, but ownership replaced him with Gene Michael after only 14 games when the team got off to a 6-8 start. Michael served as manager for the next 86 games, but Steinbrenner decided to replace him with pitching coach Clyde King after the team compiled a record of only 44-42 under him. King managed the squad for the final 62 games, posting a modest 29-33 record. The Yankees ended up compiling a record of only 79-83 on the season, finishing in fifth place in the American League East.
While ownership placed most of the blame for the team's failures squarely on the shoulders of the manager(s), in truth, much of the culpability for New York's lack of success lay with the misconfiguration of the squad, and with upper management's miscalculation of certain players' abilities. In attempting to add more speed to his team, owner George Steinbrenner signed Cincinnati Reds outfielder Dave Collins to a free agent contract. He also approved a deal with the Reds that brought in another speedy outfielder, Ken Griffey. However, even though Griffey had a decent year for the Yankees, batting .277 and scoring 70 runs, the constant pounding his knees endured while playing on Cincinnati's artificial surface robbed him of his once blinding speed. He also found his batting stroke much better suited to Cincinnati’s astroturf than it was to Yankee Stadium’s natural surface. Meanwhile, the signing of Collins turned out to be a complete blunder. With Griffey, Dave Winfield, and Jerry Mumphrey comprising the starting outfield, Collins moved to first base, a position he previously played only 10 times his entire career. He ended up splitting time there with John Mayberry (a former standout for the Kansas City Royals who had since been cast off by Toronto), and filling in as a fourth outfielder. Clearly uncomfortable in his new role, Collins finished the season with only three home runs, 25 runs batted in, 41 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, and a .253 batting average. The Yankees finished fifth in the American League with 161 home runs, but their total of only 69 steals placed them ninth in the circuit.
The Yankee pitching staff also faltered somewhat. After leading the A.L. with a team ERA of 2.90 the previous year, New York pitchers finished tied for seventh in the junior circuit with a mark of 3.99. Tommy John began to show signs of aging, with the 39-year-old left-hander posting a record of only 10-10 and an ERA of 3.66. Dave Righetti failed to duplicate his Rookie of the Year performance, finishing just 11-10, with a 3.79 ERA. Even Ron Guidry, who led the team with 14 victories, saw his ERA jump from 2.76 to 3.81. Only bullpen ace Goose Gossage continued to excel, compiling a 2.23 ERA and finishing second in the league with 30 saves.
Meanwhile, Dave Winfield tried his very best to carry the offense, batting .280 and placing among the league leaders with 37 home runs, 106 runs batted in, and a .560 slugging percentage. Winfield earned a spot on both the A.L. All-Star Team and The Sporting News All-Star Team, and he also won a Gold Glove for his outstanding outfield play. Guidry and Gossage joined him on the A.L. All-Star roster, and Guidry also won the first Gold Glove of his career.
One other note of interest is that a young man named Donald Arthur Mattingly made his first appearance in a Yankee uniform after being called up by the team on September 8th. Mattingly ended up playing in only seven games, coming to the plate a total of 12 times and getting his first two major league hits.By Bob_Cohen
- Bob Lemon, Butch Wynegar, Clyde King, Dave Collins, Dave Righetti, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, Gene Michael, George Steinbrenner, Graig Nettles, Jerry Mumphrey, Ken Griffey, Sr., New York Yankees, Reggie Jackson, Rich Gossage, Ron Davis, Ron Guidry, Roy Smalley, Shane Rawley, Tommy John, Willie Randolph