After watching his team post its worst record in 22 years the previous season, George Steinbrenner seriously considered bringing back Billy Martin for a sixth tour of duty in 1990. However, the Yankee owner’s flirtation with the idea ended sadly on Christmas Day when Martin died in a car crash while returning home from a day of drinking. Martin’s death brought to an end the love-hate relationship between the two men, whose professional and personal affiliation through the years very much resembled a soap opera.
With no one else to turn to, Steinbrenner decided to retain the services of Bucky Dent, even though New York posted a record of only 18-22 under him after he replaced Dallas Green as the team’s skipper the previous year. Dent’s tenure in New York didn’t last very long, though. Dissatisfied with the 18-31 start the Yankees got off to in 1990, Steinbrenner replaced the former shortstop with Stump Merrill, who managed and coached in the Yankee organization for more than a decade before getting his first chance to manage at the major-league level. Unfortunately, New York fared no better under Merrill, posting a record of only 49-64 under him the remainder of the year. The Yankees finished the season with an overall record of 67-95, in last place in the A.L. East, 21 games behind the division-winning Red Sox. New York’s .414 winning percentage was the lowest compiled by the team since 1913 – the year that the franchise changed its name from the Highlanders to the Yankees.
The Yankees not only embarrassed themselves on the field in 1990, but George Steinbrenner brought humiliation to his organization off the diamond as well. After feuding with star outfielder Dave Winfield throughout most of the 1980s, Steinbrenner reached an all-time low by consorting with known gambler Howie Spira in an effort to dig up embarrassing information on Winfield. Upon learning that the Yankee owner paid Spira $40,000 to supply him with evidence that might damage
Winfield’s reputation, baseball commissioner Fay Vincent banned Steinbrenner for life from running the Yankees. However, the suspension ended up lasting only two years.
In the meantime, Steinbrenner finally got his wish to rid his team of Winfield’s services. After missing the entire 1989 campaign with an injured back, Winfield agreed to accept a trade to the California Angels on May 11 that netted the Yankees pitcher Mike Witt. The deal turned out to be a poor one for New York, though, since Witt finished the campaign with a record of only 5-6 and an ERA of 4.47. Meanwhile, Winfield won Comeback Player of the Year honors with California, had four more productive years, and earned a world championship ring as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992.
The Yankees truly reached their nadir in 1990, performing poorly in virtually every aspect of the game. Relief pitcher Lee Guetterman led the staff with only 11 victories. Even though he earned All-Star honors for the second straight year, Steve Sax batted just .260 and scored only 70 runs, although he did lead the team with 43 stolen bases. Forced to spend almost two months on the disabled list due to a bad back, Don Mattingly had the worst season of his career. The former A.L. MVP hit only five home runs, knocked in just 42 runs, and batted only .256. No one exemplified New York’s futility more than pitcher Andy Hawkins, who lost a 4-0 decision at Chicago on July 1 despite pitching a no-hitter.
The lone bright spots on the team were Roberto Kelly and Kevin Maas. Taking over as New York’s starting centerfielder, Kelly hit 15 home runs, drove in 61 runs, stole 42 bases, and led the club with 85 runs scored, 183 hits, 32 doubles, and a .285 batting average. After being called up from the minor leagues at the end of June, Maas hit 21 home runs and knocked in 41 runs, in only 254 official at-bats.By Bob_Cohen
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- Andy Hawkins, Billy Martin, Bucky Dent, Dave Righetti, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, Fay Vincent, George Steinbrenner, Jesse Barfield, Kevin Maas, Lee Guetterman, Mike Witt, New York Yankees, Roberto Kelly, Steve Sax, Stump Merrill