Having led the A.L. East for most of the strike-shortened 1994 campaign, the Yankees headed into the following season with the division title clearly in their sights. Although they refused to abandon their recently-established policy of promoting young players from within the organization, the Yankees took an extremely aggressive approach with them into the off-season, scouring both the trade and free-agent markets for available talent.
New York’s front office took its first step towards securing a playoff spot for the team on December 14, when it traded two minor leaguers to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Jack McDowell, who won the A.L. Cy Young Award just two years earlier when he topped the junior circuit with 22 victories and four shutouts. Just one day later, the Yankees signed shortstop Tony Fernandez to a free-agent contract.
After remaining relatively docile the next few months, New York’s front office made its next big move just before the regular season got underway, trading a minor leaguer to Montreal for closer John Wetteland, who saved a total of 105 games for the Expos the previous three seasons.
With Buck Showalter returning for his fourth year at the helm, and with New York’s roster bolstered by the acquisitions of McDowell, Fernandez, and Wetteland, the Yankees entered the 1995 campaign feeling pretty good about their chances of advancing to the postseason for the first time in 14 years. The front office also hoped that the promotions of young pitchers Andy Pettitte, Sterling Hitchcock, and Mariano Rivera from the minor leagues might further improve the team’s chances of securing a playoff berth.
However, the Yankees were dealt a serious blow early in the year when arm problems shelved Jimmy Key for the remainder of the campaign. He made only five starts, finishing 1-2 with a 5.64 ERA. The Yankees also found themselves hurt by the long layoff. Not only did the 1994 season end prematurely, but, with owners and players still trying to iron out their differences, the 1995 campaign didn’t begin until late April. Having lost all the momentum they built up over the course of the previous season, the Yankees started the year slowly, falling well behind the first-place Boston Red Sox by the end of July.
However, two key deals completed just before the trade deadline on July 28 greatly improved the fortunes of the team over the final two months. After trading Danny Tartabull to Oakland for fellow DH Ruben Sierra, the Yankees sent three minor leaguers to Toronto for David Cone. The 32-year-old right-hander captured A.L. Cy Young honors just one year earlier when he won 16 games for Kansas City. The acquisition of Cone deepened New York’s starting staff, giving the team another quality starter at the top of the rotation. Meanwhile, Sierra gave the club another solid bat in the middle of the lineup. After replacing the struggling Tartabull in the batting order, Sierra knocked in 44 runs in only 215 official at-bats.
The Yankees managed to mount a late-season surge that barely got them into the playoffs with a record of 79-65. Although they finished second in the A.L. East, seven games behind the first-place Red Sox, the Yankees advanced to the postseason as the American League’s first wild-card entry.
Key to New York’s successful stretch run were the performances of the team’s top two starters – Jack McDowell and David Cone. McDowell led the staff with 15 victories, eight complete games, and 218 innings pitched. Cone compiled a record of 9-2 after joining the team for the season’s final two months. Young left-handers Andy Pettitte and Sterling Hitchcock also made major contributions, posting 12 and 11 victories, respectively. Meanwhile, John Wetteland placed among the league leaders with 31 saves.
On offense, Mike Stanley earned All-Star honors for the only time in his career by hitting 18 home runs and driving in 83 runs. Wade Boggs joined Stanley on the All-Star Team, finishing among the league leaders with a .324 batting average. He also won his second straight Gold Glove. Bernie Williams hit 18 home runs, knocked in 82 runs, batted .307, and led the team with 93 runs scored. Paul O’Neill earned his second consecutive All-Star nomination by leading the team with 22 home runs and 96 runs batted in, scoring 82 times, and batting .300. Don Mattingly batted .288 and led the club with 32 doubles in his final season in pinstripes. The Yankee captain retired at the end of the year after finally making his first postseason appearance.
Meanwhile, as Mattingly’s departure marked the end of an era, a new one began with the arrival of Derek Jeter. After making his major league debut with the club on May 29, the 21-year-old shortstop rejoined the Yankees in September. Appearing in a total of 15 games, Jeter collected 12 hits in 48 official plate appearances, for a .250 batting average. Also joining the Yankees late in the season was 23-year-old catcher Jorge Posada, who appeared in just one game as a late-inning defensive replacement.
The Yankees subsequently faced the A.L. West champion Seattle Mariners in the ALDS. New York won the first two contests at home, finally prevailing in Game Two on a dramatic 15th-inning home run by Jim Leyritz. However, the stellar pitching of Randy Johnson and the hot bats of Edgar Martinez and Ken Griffey Jr. eventually proved to be too much for the Yankees to overcome. The Mariners took the next three contests at Seattle’s Kingdome, bringing an end to New York’s season and Don Mattingly’s career.
The Yankees also suffered another huge loss in 1995, when legendary outfielder Mickey Mantle passed away from inoperable liver cancer on August 13, at the age of 63. Mantle’s many years of alcohol abuse were considered to be the primary reason for his fatal condition. Noting during a press conference held at Baylor University shortly before his death that many fans had looked up to him as a role model, Mantle suggested to those who admired him, "This is a role model: Don't be like me."
The Yankees played the Cleveland Indians at Yankee Stadium the same day Mantle passed away. In addition to honoring the all-time great with a moving tribute prior to the start of the game, the team had organist Eddie Layton play “Over the Rainbow” throughout the entire pregame ceremonies, since Mantle once told him it was his favorite song. The Yankees wore black armbands topped by a small number 7 on the left sleeves of their uniforms the remainder of the season. At Mantle’s funeral, sportscaster Bob Costas described him during his eulogy as "a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic." Costas added, "In the last year of his life, Mickey Mantle, always so hard on himself, finally came to accept and appreciate the distinction between a role model and a hero. The first, he often was not. The second, he always will be. And, in the end, people got it."By Bob_Cohen
- 1995 ALDS1, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Bob Costas, Buck Showalter, Danny Tartabull, David Cone, Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, Edgar Martinez, George Steinbrenner, Jack McDowell, Jimmy Key, John Wetteland, Jorge Posada, Ken Griffey, Jr., Mariano Rivera, Mickey Mantle, Mike Stanley, Randy Johnson, Ruben Sierra, Seattle Mariners, Sterling Hitchcock, Tony Fernandez, Wade Boggs