New York’s defeat at the hands of the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the 1995 playoffs prompted the team’s front office to make numerous changes during the subsequent off-season.  Although the vast majority of moves made by New York’s brain-trust were prompted by the team’s early exit from postseason play, some were made out of necessity.  With Don Mattingly having spent the previous few seasons playing in a considerable amount of pain, the Yankees knew it was just a matter of time before he chose to leave the game he loved so much.  Preparing themselves for that contingency, the Yankees made a trade with the Mariners on December 7 in which they sent pitcher Sterling Hitchcock and top third base prospect Russ Davis to Seattle for first baseman Tino Martinez and pitchers Jeff Nelson and Jim Mecir.  Even though Mattingly had yet to officially announce his retirement, Martinez was the key to the deal from New York’s perspective.  In addition to serving as the team’s first baseman of the future, he gave the Yankees another powerful left-handed bat to place in the middle of their batting order.  Seeing the writing on the wall, Mattingly chose not to put his aching back through the rigors of another Spring Training, instead electing to bow out gracefully by remaining on his Indiana farm.   

In addition to bringing in a new first baseman, New York decided to cut ties with shortstop Tony Fernandez and catcher Mike Stanley, allowing both men to leave via free agency.  The Yankees planned to turn over the starting shortstop duties to 21-year-old Derek Jeter, who spent the previous few seasons advancing rapidly through their farm system.  Meanwhile, they opted to replace Stanley behind the plate with free agent receiver Joe Girardi, formerly of the Colorado Rockies.

The Yankees continued their off-season facelift by signing infielder Mariano Duncan to a free agent contract.  Although they initially planned to use Duncan more in a utility role, he ended up beating out Pat Kelly for the starting second base job.  New York also acquired veteran outfielder Tim Raines from the Chicago White Sox for a minor leaguer.

After losing 15-game winner Jack McDowell to the Cleveland Indians via free agency two weeks earlier, the Yankees tapped the free-agent market by signing left-hander Kenny Rogers on December 30.  The 32-year-old Rogers spent the previous seven years with the Texas Rangers, having his best season in 1995, when he finished 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA.

New York made its final roster move on February 20, signing as a free agent 31-year-old right-hander Dwight Gooden.  Once considered to be the game’s most dominant pitcher earlier in his career with the New York Mets, Gooden had since become a reclamation project after failing to perform at the major league level since 1994 due to constant drug abuse.

Having addressed the team’s roster, the front office decided to make a change in leadership by replacing Buck Showalter at the helm with Joe Torre.  Although the 55-year-old Torre previously experienced little in the way of success while managing the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals, George Steinbrenner believed his New York roots made him the right man for the job.  Nevertheless, the local newspapers considered Torre’s hiring to be a huge mistake, greeting the new Yankee manager with headlines that read, “Clueless Joe.”

Employing more of a National League style of play that included bunting, hitting-and-running, and stealing bases, Torre led the Yankees out to a fast start.  Derek Jeter and Mariano Duncan gave the team outstanding offense from the middle infield, Bernie Williams developed into a star, Paul O’Neill continued to excel at the plate, Jimmy Key returned to the starting rotation, and Andy Pettitte established himself as the ace of the staff.  Perhaps New York’s greatest strength, though, was the bullpen tandem of Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland.  With Rivera performing brilliantly as Wetteland’s set-up man, the two hurlers essentially turned contests into six-inning affairs; other teams knew that they were doomed if they trailed the Yankees after six innings.   

However, the Yankees suffered a severe blow in May when David Cone was diagnosed with an aneurysm in his pitching arm.  With Cone needing surgery to correct the problem, he ended up missing the next four months.

Although New York found it difficult to replace Cone in the starting rotation, Dwight Gooden did his best to pick up some of the slack, even throwing a no-hitter against the hard-hitting Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium on May 14.  Gooden finished the year with a record of 11-7.

Meanwhile, the Yankees added two players in July who caused them to restructure their offense, to some degree.  After adopting more of a “small-ball” philosophy for much of the year, the acquisitions of sluggers Darryl Strawberry and Cecil Fielder forced the Yankees to depend more on the long ball.  

Having to alter their approach on offense caused the Yankees to initially struggle somewhat.  However, they eventually righted themselves, finishing first in the A.L. East with a record of 92-70, four games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles.

The Yankees’ deep pitching staff proved to be a huge factor in their successful title-run.  Andy Pettitte finished 21-8, en route to leading the league in victories, earning a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team, and placing second in the Cy Young balloting.  Kenny Rogers and Jimmy Key both won 12 games.  Returning to the team for the stretch run, David Cone compiled a record of 7-2 and led the starters with a 2.88 ERA.  John Wetteland topped the circuit with 43 saves.  He joined Pettite on the All-Star Team.  Mariano Rivera dominated opposing batters, finishing the season with a record of 8-3, a 2.09 ERA, and five saves, while allowing only 73 hits in 108 innings of work.  He also struck out 130 men.  Rivera finished third in the Cy Young voting. 

New York’s lineup was just as deep.  Wade Boggs batted .311 and scored 80 runs, en route to earning a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team.  Appearing in 109 games, Mariano Duncan batted .340.  A.L. Rookie of the Year Derek Jeter batted .314, drove in 78 runs, and finished second on the team with 104 runs scored.  After struggling during the season’s first month, Tino Martinez did an outstanding job of replacing Don Mattingly at first base, batting .292, hitting 25 home runs, and leading the team with 117 runs batted in.  Paul O’Neill had another solid season, hitting 19 homers, knocking in 91 runs, batting .302, and leading the club with a .411 on-base percentage.  Bernie Williams established himself as arguably New York’s best all-around player, leading the team with 29 home runs and 108 runs scored, driving in 102 runs, and batting .305.

After disposing of the Texas Rangers in four games in the ALDS, the Yankees advanced to the World Series by defeating the Baltimore Orioles in five games in the ALCS.  The Yankees appeared to have exhausted their good fortune when they dropped the first two games of the Fall Classic at home to the Atlanta Braves by a combined score of 16-1.  However, they rebounded to win Game Three behind David Cone.  The Yankees again seemed to be in dire straits when they fell behind 6-0 in Game Three.  Once again, though, they fought back, cutting the deficit in half in the sixth inning, before tying the contest in the top of the eighth inning on a three-run homer by Jim Leyritz.  After winning the game in the 10th inning, New York captured Game Five, as Andy Pettitte outpitched John Smoltz in a classic pitcher’s duel.  Returning to Yankee Stadium for Game Six, the Yankees captured their 23rd world championship by defeating the Braves by a final score of 3-2. 

By Bob_Cohen
1996 ALCS, 1996 ALDS1, 1996 World Series, Andy Pettitte, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Buck Showalter, Cecil Fielder, Darryl Strawberry, David Cone, Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, Dwight Gooden, George Steinbrenner, Jack McDowell, Jeff Nelson, Jim Leyritz, Jim Mecir, Jimmy Key, Joe Girardi, Joe Torre, John Smoltz, John Wetteland, Mariano Duncan, Mariano Rivera, Mike Stanley, Russ Davis, Sterling Hitchcock, Texas Rangers, Tim Raines, Tino Martinez, Tony Fernandez, Wade Boggs


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