The hot stove is running cold right now, so this week we’re going to run a series of guest posts from Sam Tydings, Steven’s brother. Sam used Out of the Park Baseball to simulate some past “what if” Yankees scenarios. We begin today with the Greg Maddux non-signing. You can follow Sam on Twitter at @simmonsclass.
The hottest Broadway shows. The biggest contract given to a pitcher in MLB history. Donald Trump. These were supposed to be the deciding factors behind Greg Maddux leaving the Cubs to join an upstart Yankees club looking to make a big free agent splash in the winter of 1992. Instead Maddux spurned the Yankees, who had not made a playoff appearance since 1981, in favor of joining a Braves team which had won back-to-back NL pennants but had yet to get over the hump and win the World Series.
The Yankees not only missed out on Maddux, but every free agent pitcher they targeted that winter, including David Cone, Doug Drabek, and Jose Guzman, along with Barry Bonds, who left Pittsburgh for San Francisco that winter despite the Yankees making some overtures. Perhaps this could be attributed to the fact that George Steinbrenner was still suspended by Major League Baseball due to the Howie Spira/Dave Winfield issue. Of course, Steinbrenner ceding day-to-day operations of the team, including roster control, to Gene Michael was a net positive in the end as it assuredly kept the Yankees from shipping off the entire Core Four (and Bernie!), even if it meant whiffing on the class of ’93.
Maddux left $6 million on the table, a big deal in pre-strike MLB money, in order to form one of the most formidable rotations in MLB history. The mid to late 1990’s turned out pretty well for both Maddux (three Cy Youngs and a World Series ring) and the Yankees (four titles, two over Maddux’s Braves), but let’s imagine a past where Maddux takes the Yankees’ monster offer and joins a future dynasty with Bernie Williams, Don Mattingly, and Paul O’Neill on the MLB roster and the Core Four waiting in the wings in the minors.
The 1993 Yankees were the sign of an extremely bright future in the Bronx, as the team tallied 88 wins, sparking a run of finishing above .500 that continues to this day. Of course, the team failed to win the AL East and were winning the division handily in 1994 when the strike ended play in August. Adding Maddux to the team changed everything in a hurry. Our fake OOTP ’93 Yanks led the league with 108 wins, led by Maddux’s 19-8 record and an incredible 190 ERA+ in a league-leading 291 innings. Unfortunately, the team was vanquished by Yankee killers Edgar Martinez and Ken Griffey, Jr. in the ALCS. Here are Maddux’s numbers:
Of course, the team’s run of dominance was only just beginning, as adding players like Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada, all who were in the Yankees’ system by the time Maddux signed, turned the AL into a laugher. Starting with the 1995 season* the Yankees won seven straight pennants and nine out of ten, including the 1995-1997 and 2000 and 2003 World Series. Maddux was of course incredible, winning three Cy Youngs, two MVP’s, and a World Series MVP along the way, cementing his spot in Yankees lore and the MLB Hall of Fame. Yes, it is possible that the Yankees were one move away from having an even more dominant run than we experienced twenty years ago.
* A quick caveat on Out of the Park Baseball: It plays out the 1994 season as scheduled and a full 162-game schedule for 1995. So for this exercise we have to suspend our disbelief for a little and pretend that the richest team adding the best pitcher to a huge contract would have done away with the strike instead of exacerbating tensions.
As Maddux helped prove in Atlanta, the MLB playoffs are a random beast. Every dynastic team experienced a huge break or two along the way, on the field or off, and every would-be dynasty was denied some of those same breaks. The 1999 Braves had an 8th inning lead in two World Series games but all it is remembered for is a Yankees sweep to cap off a dominant century of play.
Maddux to the Yankees might have been enough to push the team past Toronto in ’93 but more importantly, it raises the ceiling on the championship window that already existed. Would Maddux at the peak of his powers in 1995 been enough to give the Yankees the AL East and avoid the Seattle team that would ultimately fell them? Would it have been enough to propel the Yankees past the rest of the American League in 1997?
With an ace missing from the Braves’ rotation, does another team fill the power void in the National League to play spoiler to the Yankees dynasty we all knew and loved, or would they have just been replacement victims in the background of our World Series VHS collection? The Yankees missed out on Maddux, but obviously did not miss out on the parades. It is the most stereotypical Yankee fan complaint in the world, but the 90’s dynasty somehow could have been even better, and everyone would have hated the Yankees just that much more.