Angered by their early exit from the postseason the previous year, the Yankees approached the 1998 campaign as if they had something to prove. Yankee players firmly believed they were destined to win their second consecutive World Series in 1997, and their failure to do so left them feeling both dejected and infuriated.
Determined not to fall short a second consecutive time, New York’s front office decided to make a number of changes to the team’s roster during the subsequent off-season. After electing to allow Wade Boggs to leave via free agency, the club traded pitcher Kenny Rogers to Oakland for third baseman Scott Brosius. The 31-year-old Brosius hit only 11 home runs, knocked in just 41 runs, and batted only .203 for the A’s in 1997. However, the Yankees hoped he might return to his form of the prior season, when he hit 22 homers, drove in 71 runs, and batted .304.
The front office also attempted to bolster the team’s offense through free agency, signing veteran sluggers Chili Davis and Darryl Strawberry. Davis spent the previous year with Kansas City, hitting 30 home runs, driving in 90 runs, and batting .279. New York expected him to serve as the team’s primary DH. Strawberry spent parts of each of the previous three seasons with the Yankees, although he appeared in only 11 games with them in 1997. The club planned to use him as a part-time DH/outfielder.
The Yankees also intended to turn over the starting catching duties to 26-year-old Jorge Posada. Although not as polished a receiver as veteran Joe Girardi, the switch-hitting Posada presented much more of a threat at the plate.
The Yankees made their biggest move of the off-season on February 6, when they traded top pitching prospect Eric Milton and three other minor leaguers to the Minnesota Twins for All-Star second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. The 29-year-old Knoblauch, who earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors with Minnesota in 1991, batted .291, scored 117 runs, and stole 62 bases for the Twins in 1997.
New York made its last significant move on March 23, when it signed Cuban refugee Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez to a free-agent contract. Hernandez, the star pitcher for the Cuban national team, endured a considerable amount of hardship after he defected from his homeland by boat to come over to the United States.
Entering the 1998 campaign with a revamped roster and a chip on their shoulders, the Yankees dominated the American League over the course of the regular season, winning a record 114 games, while losing only 48 times. The Boston Red Sox finished a distant second in the A.L. East, 22 games behind their arch-rivals. The Yankees so overwhelmed their opponents that they scored a total of 965 runs during the year, while allowing their opposition to cross the plate only 656 times.
David Cone headed New York’s deep starting staff, going 20-7, to lead the league in wins. He also placed among the leaders with 209 strikeouts. Andy Pettitte won 16 games. David Wells finished 18-4, en route to leading the league with a winning percentage of .818. He also topped the circuit with five shutouts and placed second with eight complete games.
In his finest big-league season, Wells provided Yankee fans with one of the year’s most memorable moments, pitching the 15th perfect game in baseball history on May 17, when he blanked the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium by a score of 4-0. Orlando Hernandez excelled after joining the team in early June, compiling a record of 12-4 and an ERA of 3.13. Despite being referred to as a “Fat Toad” by team owner George Steinbrenner during Spring Training, Hideki Irabu won 13 games. Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera continued to dominate opposing hitters, finishing 3-0, with 36 saves and a 1.91 ERA. Ramiro Mendoza ably assisted him in the Yankee bullpen, posting a record of 10-2.
The Yankee lineup was equally impressive. Jorge Posada hit 17 home runs and drove in 63 runs in his first year as a regular. Despite suffering through a somewhat subpar season, Chuck Knoblauch managed to hit 17 home runs, drive in 64 runs, score 117 others, and lead the team with 31 stolen bases. With Chili Davis on the shelf for most of the year with an injured ankle, Darryl Strawberry served as the team’s primary DH. Strawberry hit 24 homers and knocked in 57 runs, in only 295 official at-bats. Called up by the club during the season, Shane Spencer batted .373, hit 10 home runs and drove in 27 runs, in only 67 official at-bats. Scott Brosius had a career-year, hitting 19 home runs, driving in 98 runs, scoring 86 others, and batting .300, hitting primarily out of either the number eight or nine spot in the batting order. Tino Martinez batted .281, scored 92 runs, and led the team with 28 homers and 123 runs batted in. Paul O’Neill hit 24 home runs, scored 95 runs, and finished second on the club with 116 runs batted in and a .317 batting average. He placed 12th in the A.L. MVP voting. Despite missing a month of the season due to injury, Bernie Williams hit 26 home runs, drove in 97 runs, scored 101 others, and led the league with a .339 batting average. He also earned his second straight Gold Glove and finished seventh in the league MVP balloting. Derek Jeter had his finest season to-date, hitting 19 homers, knocking in 84 runs, leading the league with 127 runs scored, and placing among the leaders with 203 hits and a .324 batting average. Jeter earned A.L. All-Star honors and a third-place finish in the league MVP voting. Teammates Williams, O’Neill, Brosius, and Wells joined him on the All-Star squad. Meanwhile, Joe Torre won Manager of the Year honors.
The Yankees quickly disposed of Texas in the first round of the playoffs, sweeping the Rangers in three straight games despite receiving sobering news that Darryl Strawberry had colon cancer. They then faced their biggest challenge in the ALCS against their old nemesis, the Cleveland Indians. After falling behind in the series to Cleveland two-games-to- one, New York stormed back to win the next three contests, thereby earning a trip to the World Series.
The San Diego Padres subsequently offered the Yankees a surprising amount of resistance in Game One of the Fall Classic, entering the bottom of the seventh inning with a 5-2 lead. However, a game-tying three-run homer by Chuck Knoblauch, coupled with a Tino Martinez grand slam, gave New York a convincing 9-5 victory. From that point on, it was smooth sailing as the Yankees won the next three contests to complete the Series sweep. When all was said and done, New York’s 125 regular and postseason victories established a new major-league record, placing the 1998 Yankees in the discussion for the “greatest team ever.”By Bob_Cohen
- 1998 ALCS, 1998 ALDS1, 1998 World Series, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Boston Red Sox, Chili Davis, Chuck Knoblauch, Darryl Strawberry, David Cone, David Wells, Derek Jeter, Eric Milton, George Steinbrenner, Joe Girardi, Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, Kenny Rogers, Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees, Orlando Hernandez, Ramiro Mendoza, San Diego Padres, Scott Brosius, Texas Rangers, Tino Martinez, Wade Boggs