The titanic, but nearly fruitless, 1989 Albany Yankees

ACYStadium

Just as the Yankees entered their darkest period since the mid-60s, they saw a glimmer of hope for the future.

For a few years they’d been a franchise in decline, but 1989 represented the turning point. They’d won just 74 games, finishing fifth in the AL East for the second straight season. Dave Righetti was on his way out. Don Mattingly’s back would start giving him issues the next season. Their best starter in 1989 was Clay Parker.

That is to say, while I wasn’t quite as attuned to the Yankees then as I am now (I was seven in 1989), it seemed easy to predict some lean years ahead.

Yet there was reason in 1989 to believe that the lean years wouldn’t last long, perhaps not longer than the 1990 season. While the major league squad lacked quality young players, the farm system appeared ready to deliver. The AA Albany-Colonie Yankees had just finished one of the most dominant seasons in minor league history.

ACY

The 1989 Albany-Colonie Yankees won 92 games, 18 more than the big league squad in 22 fewer games. Even crazier: at one point in July they were 70-20, 23.5 games ahead of the second place Harrisburg Senators. While they wouldn’t finish at such a torrid pace, they did win the league by 19 games.

Along the way they simply left other teams in the dust. They scored more than a third of a run per game more than the next-closest team, outscoring them by 58 runs in 140 games. On the other side of the ball they were similarly dominant, allowing a half run less per game than the next-closest team, a difference of 59 runs.

Adkins

The pitching side was perhaps more impressive. As Norm Alster notes in his July article for the New York Times, the Albany-Colonie staff didn’t exactly feature heat throwers. Their ace, 6-foot-6 lefty Steve Adkins might not have consistently hit 90 on the gun, but he struck out 10.1 per nine. That led Eastern League starters by a full strikeout per nine. Before that July article they’d promoted four pitchers to AAA Columbus, including Darrin Chapin and Kevin Mmahat, who is said to be a huge inspiration on Ben Kabak’s 2013 season. (Jokes aside, he did make it to the show in ’89, was rocked, and never appeared in the bigs again.)

Also impressive was 22-year-old Rodney Imes, who made 24 starts and produced a 2.73 ERA, his second straight phenomenal season. The 23-year-old Royal Clayton also built off his quality 1988 season to lead the Albany Yankees in innings pitched, producing a 2.98 ERA in 25 starts. (In his 175 innings he struck out just 74, which is pretty absurd.) To close out games the Albany Yankees turned to 25-year-old Tim Layana, who allowed 13 earned runs in 67.2 IP, allowing just two homers all season.

On offense Jim Leyritz led the way. He’d just made the conversion from third base to catcher and took well to his new position, leading the team in OPS while batting .315 with 10 homers. Leading the way with power was first baseman Rob Sepanek, who hit 25 homers after losing most of 1988 to injury.

Bernie

Both Leyritz and Sepanek were older, 25 and 26, and so probably ready to graduate from AA anyway. (Indeed, Leyritz mashed in AAA in 1990 before getting a promotion to the bigs and holding his own; he probably got stuck in AA because of his catching skills.) Most impressive was 20-year-old Bernie Williams, who hit .252/.381/.443 in 91 games before getting the call to Columbus. Hensley Meulens, still with his prospect shine at age 22, led the team with 21 doubles. Sideshow Deion Sanders and the lovable Andy Stankiewicz also produced on both sides of the ball.

One easy to overlook aspect of that team is its manager, Buck Showalter. He’d spent seven seasons toiling in the Yankees minor league system, starting at Class-A Fort Lauderdale in 1977 and topping out at AAA Columbus, bouncing between there and AA Nashville from 1981 through his last season, 1983. In 1985 he started managing at Low-A Oneonta, taking over High-A Fort Lauderdale in 1987 and finally AA Albany in 1989. He’d join the big league squad as their third base coach in 1990.

Even as the Yankees entered the 1990 season with a lean squad, the 1989 Albany team had to give them hope. Combined with a very good 1989 Columbus team that featured Hal Morris, Kevin Maas, and a number of kids promoted from AA (Williams, Meulens, Sanders, Oscar Azocar) it might have appeared as though the Yankees, at least on the offensive side of the ball, could weather a poor 1990 and recover in 1991.

That simply did not happen. While Williams’s debut was decent enough, Meulens flopped and Leyritz took a huge step back in ’91. Stankiewicz didn’t get the call until 1992. The pitching staff was a tatters. While 19 of 35 players on that AA Albany squad appeared in the majors, and 15 with the Yankees, only two were any good: Leyritz and Williams. The only pitcher to make an even minute impact was Scott Kamienicki, who fell into a swingman role before losing effectiveness by 1996. He earned a ring, but was nowhere near the celebration.

Showalter

“This is a prospect-laden club,” Showalter said of the Albany crew, but that just wasn’t true. On Baseball America’s list of 1989 Yankees prospects (found via The Baseball Cube), only Meulens, Sanders, and Williams were on the prospects list. Showalter wouldn’t have any of them for much longer, as they all made the trip to AAA sometime in late July or early August. The 1990 list reveals just two players, Williams and Meulens, who appeared on the 1989 team.* So even with huge performances, the guys on the ’89 Albany Yankees just weren’t considered impact prospects.

*Which is weird, because I’m pretty sure Sanders didn’t exhaust his rookie service time in 1989, but was off the list.

Adkins, the lefty with the big strikeout numbers, got promoted to AAA in 1990, where he was effective if a bit wild. The Yanks actually let him start five games in the bigs that year, but he stumbled hard, walking 29 in 24 innings. The stumble continued in AAA in 1991, and the Yanks traded him away for a guy who never reached the majors. Adkins didn’t pitch any more innings there either.

In December 1989 the Yankees dished Imes, along with Hal Morris, to the Reds for Tim Leary. The former Met 2nd overall pick was OK in 1990 before completely dropping off a cliff in 1991, while Morris had a few damn fine seasons in ’90 and ’91, when the Yanks probably could have used him.

Clayton started 1990 in AA again, but graduated to AAA, where he toiled from 1991 through 1994. I presume he was a minor league free agent at that point and departed for San Fran’s minor league system (there’s a Brian Sabean tie there) before fizzling out. Mmahat (mmm, a hat) never made it back to the bigs after his cup of coffee in ’89. He hurt his shoulder in 1990 and tried to pitch through it. The result, a torn rotator cuff, effectively ended his career. Chapin was dealt in the first Charlie Hayes deal. Azocar was generally terrible and best known for these two baseball cards.

It seems insane that a team so dominant could produce so few standout major leaguers. We’re not talking a very good farm team, either. Only when Williams, Meulens, and Sanders were promoted did the opposition stand even a chance. While they were on the squad, they were 50 — FIFTY — games over .500 in July. You’d be hard pressed to find a team that so thoroughly trounced opponents.

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Yankees will retire Joe Torre’s No. 6, add plaques to Monument Park for Gossage, O’Neill, Tino

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees will be making some additions to Monument Park this summer. The team announced they will retire Joe Torre’s uniform No. 6 later this year, as well as honor Goose Gossage, Paul O’Neill, and Tino Martinez with plaques. Bernie Williams will be honored in some way next year. Here is the ceremony schedule:

  • Martinez – Saturday, June 21st
  • Gossage – Sunday, June 22nd (Old Timers’ Day)
  • O’Neill – Saturday, August 9th
  • Torre – Saturday, August 23rd

No date has been set for Bernie’s ceremony next year, and there is no indication whether he will have his number retired or simply receive a plaque. No. 51 has been out of circulation since Williams left and it should be retired, in my opinion.

CluelessJoeCoverTorre, now 73, was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame by the Expansion Era Committee over the winter. He had one heck of a playing career and did manage four other clubs, but he is going to Cooperstown for his success leading the Yankees through their most recent dynasty.

Torre managed the club from 1996-2007, and during that time the Yankees won ten AL East titles, six AL pennants and four World Series championships. They went 1,173-767 (.605) under his watch. Torre is second on the franchise’s all-time wins and games managed (1,943) list behind Joe McCarthy.

The divorce was ugly, especially once Torre’s book The Yankee Years was published. The two sides have repaired their relationship over the last few years and Torre is now a regular at Old Timers’ Day and other team events. I’m glad they worked it out. Torre is very deserving of having his number retired.

With No. 6 being retired and Derek Jeter‘s No. 2 certain to be retired at some point in the future, the Yankees are officially out of single digit numbers. They are all retired. Here’s the list:

  1. Billy Martin
  2. Jeter (eventually)
  3. Babe Ruth
  4. Lou Gehrig
  5. Joe DiMaggio
  6. Torre
  7. Mickey Mantle
  8. Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey
  9. Roger Maris

The numbers 10 (Phil Rizzuto), 15 (Thurman Munson), 16 (Whitey Ford), 23 (Don Mattingly), 32 (Elston Howard), 37 (Casey Stengel), 42 (Mariano Rivera and Jackie Robinson), 44 (Reggie Jackson), and 49 (Ron Guidry) are also retired. Williams, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada are strong candidates to have their numbers retired. Add in Torre and Jeter and maybe it’ll be one number retirement per year from 2014-18? We’ll see.

Martinez spent seven years in pinstripes and had more than his fair share of huge moments, particularly in the postseason, but giving him a plaque seems like a stretch to me. They re-issued his No. 24 almost instantly. O’Neill played nine years with the Yankees and won a batting title while with the team (.359 in 1994), though his No. 21 has been mostly out of circulation since his retirement, outside of the LaTroy Hawkins fiasco. Gossage played seven years in New York and is wearing a Yankees hat on his Hall of Fame plaque. Giving him and O’Neill plaques works for me.

The Yankees, particularly Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman, indicated over the winter that the team is planning to beginning honoring its recent history. Rivera’s number retirement last September was the first big ceremony and we now know there will be several more over the next two years.

The End of a Historic Era

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

I’ve never really been fond of the term “Core Four.” Not because it’s cheesy or because I hate pretty much everything, but because I feel it’s disrespectful to every other player who had a role in the dynasty years. I’m talking about guys like Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Paul O’Neill — the guys who were on the field celebrating Mariano Rivera‘s career yesterday. Even more recent players like Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, and CC Sabathia deserve to be any kind of “core” talk.

The Core Four or whatever you want to call it is no more at this point. Jorge Posada retired two years ago and both Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will play the final games of their careers within the next week. Derek Jeter is still hanging around and figures to return next year — I have a very, very, very hard time thinking he would go out with a disastrous 2013 being his final season — but otherwise all the on-field ties to the dynasty years are gone. Even if Jeter does return next season, it’s hard to think he’ll be the same player he was just last year, nevermind 1996-2001.

The homegrown core of those dynasty years is not something we’re ever going to see again. Not in our lifetimes. The collection of players who came up through the farm system in the 1990s was historic, more than once in a generation stuff. Just think about it this way: if you were building a team today, from scratch, what types of the players you would target to build around? In no particular order, they’d be:

  • A switch-hitter center fielder who hit for average, power, and got on base.
  • A switch-hitting catcher with power and patience.
  • An elite offensive shortstop who had all the intangibles associated with being a franchise cornerstone.
  • A workhorse left-handed starter.
  • A durable reliever who was unfazed in the biggest moments.

Those are the five guys you’d want to build your team around, right? Strength up the middle and strength on the mound. Now imagine not only drafting/signing and developing those five guys all at once, but imagine all of them having careers long enough that they turned into this:

  • A borderline Hall of Fame center fielder.
  • A borderline Hall of Fame catcher.
  • A first ballot Hall of Fame shortstop.
  • A borderline Hall of Fame left-hander.
  • A first ballot Hall of Fame closer and the greatest reliever in baseball history.

That’s the core that came up through the Yankees’ farm system all at once in the 1990s. It’s a historically great crop of players that you’d be thrilled to develop over the span of 25 years, nevermind in just five or six years. In recent memory, I think only the Phillies — Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels — come even remotely close to developing such a high-end core in the same period of time.

The development of that five-player core is not something the Yankees or anyone can repeat. You can’t fire that idiot Brian Cashman and replace him with that genius Gene Michael, wait five years, then have another core with those caliber of players. It doesn’t work like that. The Williams/Posada/Jeter/Pettitte/Rivera core is a combination of both great scouting and historic luck. I’ve been using the word historic a lot because that’s what this is. There’s no other way to describe these guys individually or as a five-player unit.

As amazing as that development was, you know what I find just as fascinating? With the exception of Jeter, all of those guys were dangerously close to being traded at one time or another. Bernie was rumored to be involved in separate deals for Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Jeff Blauser, among others. The Yankees originally wanted to include Posada in the Tino Martinez trade with the Mariners before relenting and giving up Russ Davis. Mariano was almost dealt for Randy Johnson, Felix Fermin, and David Wells at different times. Pettitte was on the trade block all throughout his first tenure in pinstripes it seemed, and the most notable rumor involved the Phillies and Adam Eaton. All it would have taken was one “yes” to dismantle the core of a dynasty.

Rivera and Pettitte saying goodbye to the Yankee Stadium crowd yesterday was about more than just saying goodbye to the fans. It was saying goodbye to one of the greatest runs in franchise history, a historic era that featuring five World Series titles and seven pennants in a 14-year span. We watched Jeter reach 3,000 career hits, Pettitte claim the team’s all-time strikeout crown, Bernie become the all-time leader in postseason RBI, Posada play in more playoff games than any other catcher in history, and Rivera save more games than anyone else in baseball history. It has been a privilege and an honor to watch all five of these guys — as well as anyone else who helped out during the dynasty years — but like everything else at one time or another, this great era of Yankees baseball has reached its end.

Going back in time with old scouting reports

I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but at some point recently the Baseball Hall of Fame partnered with the Scout of the Year Foundation to create a free and searchable online database of old scouting reports. The data is very incomplete — it doesn’t include every player and it only goes back so far — and the database itself can be slow and a bit of a pain, but those are minor nuisances compared to the wealth of information available.

Thanks to the database, we can look back at what professional talent evaluators — people who do this for a living — had to say about our favorite players once upon a time. For example, here are some bits and pieces of reports from various teams about a young high school senior from Michigan named Derek Jeter back in 1992:

Derek Jeter Scouting Reports

You can click every image in those post for a larger view, and I highly recommend you do just that.

Within those report snippets, future first ballot Hall of Famer Derek Jeter is described as having:

  • a good face
  • a hi butt
  • an impact both offensively and defensively
  • makeup 2b a star
  • some hot dog in him

Once upon a time, Jeter was a showoff. Wrap your head around that. All of the reports agreed he was a future star though, and in the end that is what was most important.

After the jump — lots of images and I don’t want to cripple anyone’s computer — are some opinions on Alex Rodriguez back from 1993, when he was a high school senior:

[Read more…]

Clemens & Bonds headline 2013 Hall of Fame ballot

The BBWAA announced the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot today, which is headlined by first-timers Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, and former Yankee Roger Clemens. David Wells and Mike Stanton are also among the first-timers while Don Mattingly is entering his 13th year of eligibility and Bernie Williams is entering his second.

We’ve now entered the PED thunderdome with guys like Bonds, Sosa, and Clemens becoming eligible, and if Mark McGwire’s six years on the ballot are any indication, they’re going to have to wait a while for induction. Hell, there’s zero evidence linking Jeff Bagwell to PEDs and he only received 56% of the vote last year. I count no fewer than eight guys I would definitely vote for plus at least six others I’m on the fence with. The ballots are going to be very crowded the next few years.

Bernie Williams and the Hall of Fame

Bernie Williams headlines the pack of 13 newcomers on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, though the nerdsheet indicates that he’s unlikely to get inducted. Over at FanGraphs, Jeff Zimmerman looked at Bernie’s case for the Hall by factoring his postseason performance into his career fWAR. He had more than twice as many playoff plate appearances (545) as any other player, and amount that basically equals a full extra season. Ultimately, it’s still not enough for Bernie to be considered a Hall of Fame caliber player, but make no mistake, he was great. Just not great enough for long enough.

The 2012 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced on Monday.

Bernie headlines 13 newcomers on Hall of Fame ballot

The BBWAA announced the 2012 Hall of Fame Ballot today, with former Yankees star Bernie Williams headlining the group of 13 newcomers. Fellow former Yankees Ruben Sierra, Tony Womack (ha!), and Terry Mulholland are also on the ballot for the first time, joining holdover Don Mattingly. This will be Donnie’s 12th year on the ballot, though he received just 13.9% of the vote last time around. It would take a campaign that would make Jim Rice blush to get Mattingly in the Hall before his 15 years on the ballot are up.

As for Bernie, I don’t expect him to ever get voted into Cooperstown, but I do hope he gets a decent sized vote and maybe spends a few years on the ballot. He was a personal fave, I hope he does well.