Having won 97 games and finished just two games out of first place in the A.L. East the previous year, the Yankees felt they didn’t need to make a significant number of changes heading into the 1986 campaign. New York’s 97 victories represented the fourth-highest win total in the major leagues. The Yankees led the majors with 839 runs scored, and they also finished third in both home runs (176) and team batting average (.267). Their 155 stolen bases led the American League. New York's pitching staff also performed relatively well, posting a team ERA of 3.69 – the third lowest in the junior circuit. Ron Guidry won more games than any other A.L. pitcher. Rickey Henderson led the league in runs scored and was widely considered to be the most exciting player in the game. Don Mattingly earned A.L. MVP honors and was selected at season’s end as the Major League Player of the Year. All things considered, the Yankees had a lot to be thankful for in 1985, which turned out to be a pretty good year for them.
Nevertheless, George Steinbrenner elected to fire manager Billy Martin for an unprecedented fourth time on October 27th, as a result of the latter’s late-season altercation with pitcher Ed Whitson. The New York owner subsequently replaced Martin with former Yankee outfielder Lou Piniella, who spent the previous two years serving as the team’s hitting instructor. Ironically, Steinbrenner gave Martin a job working in the Yankee broadcast booth.
New York made only two other moves of note during the off-season, both of which were aimed at improving the team’s roster. The same day the Yankees fired Martin, they traded catcher Ron Hassey and pitcher Joe Cowley to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Britt Burns and a pair of minor leaguers. Steinbrenner actually assumed the role of General Manager for the deal, working out most of the details with his good friend, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Although the 26-year-old Burns had a considerable amount of talent, winning as many as 18 games for Chicago in 1985, he had a chronic, degenerative hip condition that eventually forced him to retire prematurely. The left-hander never pitched a game in a Yankee uniform.
Shortly before the start of the regular season, the Yankees also traded Don Baylor to the rival Boston Red Sox for fellow designated hitter Mike Easler. Although Easler ended up posting solid numbers during his brief stay in New York, the Yankees sorely missed Baylor’s leadership on the field and in the clubhouse.
The changes the Yankees made during the off-season made little impact on the divisional race. New York had another good year, finishing the regular season with a record of 90-72. However, Boston posted 95 victories, finishing 5 ½ games ahead of the second-place Yankees in the A.L. East. The Yankees remained fairly close to the Red Sox for much of the year, but they fell out of contention in early September, forcing them to basically play out the string during the season’s final month.
The New York offense remained solid, scoring 797 runs – the fourth-highest total in the American League. However, the pitching staff proved to be the bane of the team, posting a team ERA of 4.11 – the eighth-best in the junior circuit. Ron Guidry was a primary culprit, finishing just 9-12 with a 3.98 ERA, after leading the league with 22 wins the previous year.
Still, there were two Yankee pitchers who performed quite well. Dennis Rasmussen surprised everyone by compiling a record of 18-6. Meanwhile, Dave Righetti made history by establishing a new major-league record with 46 saves.
Several players also made major contributions on offense. Mike Easler batted .302 and drove in 78 runs. Dave Winfield batted just .262, but he hit 24 home runs, knocked in 104 runs, and scored 90 others. By surpassing 100 RBIs for the fifth straight season, Winfield became the first Yankee to do so since Joe DiMaggio. Third baseman Mike Pagliarulo hit 28 homers and drove in 71 runs. Rickey Henderson hit 28 home runs, knocked in 74 runs, and led the league with 130 runs scored and 87 stolen bases. His 87 steals broke his own Yankee record he established one year earlier.
New York’s brightest star for the second year in a row, though, was Don Mattingly, who placed among the league leaders with 31 home runs, 113 runs batted in, 117 runs scored, a .352 batting average, and a .399 on-base percentage. He also topped the circuit with 238 hits, 53 doubles, 388 total bases, and a .573 slugging percentage. Mattingly’s 238 hits and 53 doubles both established new team records.
Mattingly also made the season’s final month interesting for Yankee fans, beginning a 24-game hitting streak on August 30 that extended until September 26. During that time, the first baseman collected 43 hits in 99 at-bats, for an average of .434. Mattingly’s hot hitting helped lead the Yankees to a late-season surge during which they won 18 of their final 25 games. It also enabled him to mount a late challenge to Wade Boggs in the American League batting race, after the Boston third baseman built up a sizable lead over the season’s first five months. Mattingly came up a bit short, finishing five points behind Boggs. Nevertheless, he put a scare into the Boston third baseman, who chose to sit out the final four games of the season against the Yankees at Fenway Park to protect his league-leading .357 batting average. Mattingly continued to draw closer to Boggs in the first three games of the series, collecting six hits in 14 times at bat. However, he still needed to go 6-for-6 in the final contest to pass Boggs. Mattingly homered and doubled in his first two at-bats, drawing cheers even from the fans in Boston, who fully understood the significance of each Mattingly trip to the plate. But those were the only hits the New York first baseman collected on the day, leaving him with a final mark of .352. Mattingly’s exceptional performance earned him spots on both the A.L. All-Star Team and The Sporting News All-Star Team for the second consecutive year. He also finished second to Boston’s Roger Clemens in the A.L. MVP voting and won his second straight Gold Glove. Ron Guidry earned his fifth consecutive Gold Glove. Teammates Henderson, Righetti, and Winfield joined Mattingly on the A.L. All-Star squad. Righetti also earned a spot on The Sporting News All-Star Team.By Bob_Cohen
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- Billy Martin, Britt Burns, Dave Righetti, Dave Winfield, Dennis Rasmussen, Don Baylor, Don Mattingly, Ed Whitson, George Steinbrenner, Jerry Reinsdorf, Lou Piniella, Mike Easler, Mike Pagliarulo, New York Yankees, Rickey Henderson, Roger Clemens, Ron Guidry, Wade Boggs, Willie Randolph