The Yankees’ 89 victories in 1987 left them a disappointing fourth in the A.L. East, nine full games behind the division-winning Detroit Tigers. The Yankees remained in the divisional race much of the year, but inconsistent pitching, a lack of offensive production from several members of the everyday lineup, and injuries to key players eventually caused them to fall out of contention.
Although New York’s bullpen led the American League with 47 saves the previous year, it performed erratically at times, with Dave Righetti having easily his worst season since assuming the role of closer in 1984. Among the members of the starting rotation, only Rick Rhoden and Tommy John consistently gave the team quality starts.
New York’s offense also faltered somewhat, finishing just seventh in the league in runs scored. While the losses of Rickey Henderson and Willie Randolph for extended periods of time due to injury greatly hampered the team’s offensive production, shortstop, catcher, and designated hitter remained major areas of concern.
As a result, the Yankees knew heading into the off-season that they needed to improve themselves in several areas. Pitching remained their greatest need, with both quality starters and relievers being a top priority. However, the team also desperately needed a new shortstop and a new catcher. In addition, another big bat in the middle of the lineup was needed if the Yankees were going to be serious contenders in the upcoming season.
Before addressing any of the team's on-field needs, though, the front office decided that a change in leadership was in order. On October 19, George Steinbrenner replaced Lou Piniella as manager with Billy Martin, "promoting" Piniella to general manager in the process. Martin, who spent the previous season second-guessing Piniella's moves from the Yankee television broadcast booth, thereby took over the managerial reins of the team for an unprecedented fifth time. Meanwhile, Piniella’s two-year stint as Yankee skipper made him the team’s longest-tenured manager since Martin himself retained the position from 1976 through the first half of 1978.
With a new manager in place, the front office set about restructuring the team. After outright releasing several spare parts, the Yankees made two trades in early November. They acquired catcher Don Slaught from the Texas Rangers in the first deal, before sending outfielder Dan Pasqua, once considered to be the jewel of their minor league farm system, to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Rich Dotson. The 28-year-old Dotson, a 22-game winner for Chicago in 1983, had since had surgery performed on his pitching shoulder to correct a circulatory problem. Although he had yet to regain his earlier form, the Yankees hoped he might eventually become a significant contributor to their starting rotation. Yet, most baseball insiders felt that Dotson's best days were clearly behind him, and that the White Sox had pawned off damaged goods on the Yankees, just as they had earlier done with Britt Burns.
After acquiring shortstop Rafael Santana from the crosstown rival New York Mets, the Yankees made their biggest move of the off-season on January 6, when they signed slugger Jack Clark to a free-agent contract.
Just nine days later, they made another bold move by acquiring the services of left-handed starter John Candelaria through free agency.
Having revamped their roster and changed managers, the Yankees headed into the 1988 campaign hoping to make the playoffs for the first time in seven years. However, despite remaining in the divisional race for virtually the entire season, the Yankees fell short of their ultimate goal, finishing fifth in the hotly-contested A.L. East, 3 ½ games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox, with a record of 85-76.
Once again, pitching proved to be the bane of the team, with New York finishing 12th in the league with a team ERA of 4.26. Rick Rhoden finished just 12-12, with a 4.29 ERA. Rich Dotson disappointed, winning only 12 games while posting a 5.00 ERA. Dave Righetti had another mediocre year, saving only 25 games. In his final season in pinstripes, Ron Guidry finished just 2-3, with a 4.18 ERA. Only John Candelaria pitched well, leading the team with a record of 13-7 and an ERA of 3.38.
New York also suffered from a lack of continuity at the top. Drinking more heavily than ever, Billy Martin found himself fired by George Steinbrenner for a fifth time after leading the Yankees to a 40-28 record in his 68 games at the helm. Steinbrenner replaced Martin with, of all people, Lou Piniella, under whom the team posted a mark of just 45-48 the remainder of the year.
Meanwhile, despite finishing third in the league with 772 runs scored, the Yankee offense failed to perform up to its full capabilities. Injured for much of the year, Willie Randolph scored only 43 runs and batted just .230. After hitting 32 home runs and driving in 87 runs the previous season, Mike Pagliarulo hit only 15 homers and knocked in just 67 runs. Jack Clark hit 27 home runs and drove in 93 runs, but he batted just .242 and struck out 141 times. Even Don Mattingly experienced something of an off-season. Forced to sit out almost three weeks of the campaign with an increasingly bad back, Mattingly posted the least productive numbers of his young career, hitting only 18 home runs, driving in just 88 runs, scoring only 94 others, and batting just .311. Yet he still managed to win his fourth consecutive Gold Glove and earn his fifth straight selection to the A.L. All-Star Team.
Mattingly was joined on the All-Star squad by Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield, both of whom had exceptional years for New York. Henderson batted .305, scored 118 runs, and led the league with 93 stolen bases. Winfield hit 25 home runs, scored 96 runs, tied Mattingly for the team lead with 37 doubles, and led the club with 107 runs batted in, a .322 batting average, a .398 on-base percentage, and a .530 slugging percentage.By Bob_Cohen
- Billy Martin, Dan Pasqua, Dave Righetti, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, Don Slaught, George Steinbrenner, Jack Clark, John Candelaria, Lou Piniella, Mike Pagliarulo, New York Yankees, Rafael Santana, Richard Dotson, Rick Rhoden, Rickey Henderson, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph