Despite winning 90 games, the 1986 season turned out to be a disappointing one for the Yankees and their fans. New York not only failed to make the playoffs for the fifth straight year, but the team finished second in the A.L. East to the hated Boston Red Sox. The Yankees then had to sit by idly and watch as Boston opposed the crosstown rival Mets in the World Series.
Hoping to avert another such ignominious set of circumstances, the Yankee front office entered the off-season with the thought in mind of vastly improving the team’s rather mediocre pitching staff, which finished eighth in the league the previous year with a team ERA of 4.11. The New York brain-trust made its first move to address the team’s greatest need on November 26, when it traded a package of three young pitchers that included Doug Drabek to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitchers Rick Rhoden, Cecilio Guante, and Pat Clements. Rhoden was the key to the deal from New York’s perspective since the 33-year-old right-hander was considered to be one of the National League’s better pitchers. Upon learning of the trade, Tommy Lasorda, Rhoden’s former manager in Los Angeles, said, “The Yankees just won the pennant.”
The Yankees hoped that Lasorda proved to be prophetic, but, to further improve their chances, they completed another deal on December 11 that sent Mike Easler to the Philadelphia Phillies for right-hander Charles Hudson.
The Yankees also tapped the free-agent market, signing veteran outfielder Gary Ward on December 24 to add another solid right-handed bat to their lineup.
Conspicuous by his absence from New York’s plans throughout most of the off-season was Ron Guidry, who became a free agent at the end of the 1986 campaign. Coming off a bad year, Guidry elicited only a moderate amount of interest from his former employer. The soreness he experienced in his pitching arm during the latter stages of the previous season further tempered New York’s enthusiasm towards re-signing him. Nevertheless, the two sides eventually reached agreement on a new contract on May 1, keeping Guidry in pinstripes for another year.
The numerous changes the Yankees made to their roster during the off-season helped them get off to a fast start. With Rhoden and Hudson pitching well, and with Ward providing many clutch hits, New York remained in first place for much of the season’s first half. However, Hudson and Ward both eventually stumbled, Rhoden remained the team’s only reliable starter for much of the year, and Willie Randolph and Rickey Henderson both missed extensive playing time over the course of the season, causing the Yankees to eventually fall out of contention. They finished the regular season with a record of 89-73, in fourth place in the A.L. East, nine games behind the division-winning Detroit Tigers.
New York’s pitching staff ended up placing sixth in the American League with a team ERA of 4.36. Rick Rhoden led the team with 16 victories, while 44-year-old Tommy John finished second on the club with 13 wins. After starting off the season 5-0, Charles Hudson ended the year with a record of 11-7. Making only 17 starts after joining the team in mid-May, Ron Guidry finished just 5-8. Meanwhile, after establishing a new single-season record with 46 saves the previous year, Dave Righetti suffered through a sub-par campaign, saving 31 games but posting an inordinately high ERA of 3.51.
The losses of Willie Randolph and Rickey Henderson for extended periods of time really hurt New York’s offense. Henderson, who missed two months of the season recovering from pulled hamstrings, accumulated only 358 at-bats. He ended up hitting 17 home runs, batting .291, driving in just 37 runs, scoring only 78 others, and stealing “only” 41 bases. Randolph was having the finest year of his career before an injury he suffered in July forced him to sit out an entire month. Still, he managed to hit .305, score 96 runs, and establish personal bests with seven home runs and 67 runs batted in. Those figures were good enough to earn him a spot on The Sporting News All-Star Team at the end of the year
With Henderson and Randolph both missing extensive playing time, Dave Winfield, Mike Pagliarulo, and Don Mattingly were forced to carry the offensive load much of the time. Although Winfield failed to knock in 100 runs for the first time since the strike-shortened 1981 campaign, he nevertheless finished the year with 27 home runs, 97 runs batted in, and a .275 batting average. Winfield also earned the final Gold Glove Award of his career at season's end. Pagliarulo batted just .234, but he led the team with 32 home runs and he finished third on the club with 87 runs batted in.
Meanwhile, Mattingly had another exceptional year, hitting 30 home runs, driving in 115 runs, scoring 93 others, and batting .327. He accomplished all he did despite missing almost three full weeks in June due to an ailing back. Ironically, Mattingly began a historic streak on July 8, shortly after he returned to the team from the disabled list. Mattingly hit two home runs against the Minnesota Twins that evening, following up that effort by hitting home runs in his next seven games as well. When all was said and done, he hit 10 home runs, knocked in 21 runs, and batted .459 over the course of those eight contests, tying in the process Dale Long’s major-league record for most consecutive games with at least one home run. Mattingly also broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing A.L. record by collecting at least one extra-base hit in 10 straight games.
Mattingly also made history later in the year by breaking a record previously held by Chicago’s Ernie Banks (1955) and Baltimore’s Jim Gentile (1961). Mattingly’s six grand-slam home runs surpassed both sluggers in the record books, establishing a new major-league record. After tying Banks and Gentile by hitting his fifth homer with the bases loaded on September 25, Mattingly claimed the record for himself just four days later when he stroked his sixth grand-slam during a 6-0 victory over the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on September 29. Mattingly ended up making The Sporting News All-Star Team at season’s end for the fourth straight time, winning his third consecutive Gold Glove, and placing seventh in the A.L. MVP voting. He also earned A.L. All-Star honors for the fourth straight year, being joined on the squad by teammates Henderson, Randolph, Winfield, and Righetti.By Bob_Cohen
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- Cecilio Guante, Charles Hudson, Dave Righetti, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, Doug Drabek, Gary Ward, George Steinbrenner, Lou Piniella, Mike Easler, Mike Pagliarulo, New York Yankees, Pat Clements, Rick Rhoden, Rickey Henderson, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Tommy Lasorda, Willie Randolph