Having failed to advance to the postseason for the seventh consecutive time in 1988, the Yankees decided to greatly alter the configuration of their team during the off-season. After dispatching Jack Clark to San Diego for three minor leaguers, the front office elected not to re-sign longtime second baseman Willie Randolph when he became a free agent at season’s end. Instead, New York’s brain-trust turned to fellow free agent Steve Sax, whose spirited play helped lead the Dodgers to victory in the 1988 World Series. The Yankees immediately penciled in the former N.L. Rookie of the Year to replace Randolph at second base.
Shortly thereafter, New York acquired the services of pitcher Andy Hawkins through free agency. The team believed that the 29-year-old Hawkins, who won 18 games for San Diego three years earlier, might help to cure their pitching woes. With the arrival of Hawkins, the Yankees traded 35-year-old Rick Rhoden, who clearly appeared to be nearing the end of his career, to Houston for three minor league players.
Meanwhile, the team prepared to enter the 1989 campaign without the services of Dave Winfield, whose back injury forced him to sit out the entire year. To compensate for Winfield’s loss, New York traded promising young left-hander Al Leiter to Toronto for right-fielder Jesse Barfield, who had his best year for the Blue Jays in 1986, when he hit 40 home runs and knocked in 108 runs.
As the Yankees continued to restructure their roster, they made significant news off the field as well, signing a 12-year deal worth $120 million with the Madison Square Garden network to carry their telecasts. The agreement helped change the landscape of television broadcasting, serving as a precursor to the huge deals that have since become far more common between sports teams and their local networks.
The Yankees also gained a significant amount of publicity in the local newspapers when they announced the hiring of Dallas Green as their new manager. Green, who led the Phillies to the 1980 world championship, left Philadelphia after the 1981 season to become executive vice president and general manager of the Chicago Cubs. After helping to build the Cubs into a playoff team his first few years in Chicago, Green experienced a significant amount of turmoil his last few years in the organization. With the Cubs on their way to a last-place finish in 1987, Green fired his manager over Labor Day weekend, berated his team for quitting in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, and then handed in his resignation at season’s end, citing “philosophical differences” with Tribune Company executives. As a manager, Green had built a reputation for being blunt and difficult to get along with. In describing himself, Green once noted, "I'm a screamer, a yeller, and a cusser. I never hold back."
Green’s volatile nature and penchant for criticizing his players made him a poor fit for the Yankees. He clashed frequently with the team’s owner, once referring to him as “Manager George.” With New York having posted a record of only 56-65 through mid-August, Steinbrenner relieved Green of his duties, replacing him with the more agreeable Bucky Dent. The Yankees won only 18 of their 40 games under Dent, finishing the regular season in fifth place in the A.L. East, with a record of 74-87. Their .460 winning percentage was the lowest posted by the team in 22 years.
In truth, it would have been difficult for anyone to lead this particular Yankee ball club to a winning record. Inherently flawed throughout, the team had little in the way of pitching, only a few threats on offense, and a lack of passion for the game. Unhappy with his situation in New York, Rickey Henderson frequently failed to hustle and often chose to sit out contests with relatively minor injuries. After hitting only three home runs, scoring just 41 runs, stealing only 25 bases, and batting just .247 in 65 games with the team, Henderson’s attitude bought him a ticket out of New York. The Yankees traded him back to Oakland on June 21 for pitchers Greg Cadaret and Eric Plunk, and outfielder Luis Polonia. While none of the three men the Yankees acquired for him ended up contributing much to the team, Henderson went on to help lead the Athletics to the world championship. In 85 games with Oakland over the course of the remainder of the season, Henderson hit nine home runs, scored 72 runs, stole 52 bases, batted .294, and compiled a .425 on-base percentage. He continued his outstanding performance in the postseason, earning ALCS MVP honors.
Meanwhile, the situation in New York grew increasingly bleak. Andy Hawkins, who finished 15-15 with a 4.80 ERA, was the only Yankee pitcher to win more than seven games. In 74 games, Mike Pagliarulo hit only four home runs, knocked in just 16 runs, and batted only .197. Jesse Barfield hit 18 home runs and provided solid defense in right field. But he drove in only 56 runs and batted just .240.
The team’s lone bright spots were Steve Sax and Don Mattingly. Sax led New York with a .315 batting average, 88 runs scored, 205 hits, and 43 stolen bases. Despite occasionally having to DH due to his bad back, Mattingly batted .303 and led the team with 23 home runs, 113 runs batted in, and 37 doubles. Mattingly and Sax were New York’s only representatives on the American League All-Star Team. Mattingly also won his fifth consecutive Gold Glove.By Bob_Cohen
- Al Leiter, Andy Hawkins, Bucky Dent, Dallas Green, Dave Righetti, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, Eric Plunk, George Steinbrenner, Greg Cadaret, Jack Clark, Jesse Barfield, Luis Polonia, Mike Pagliarulo, New York Yankees, Rick Rhoden, Rickey Henderson, Ron Guidry, Steve Sax, Willie Randolph