Friday, April 16, 2021

How to Build a Great Team (Or Even a Good One)

From the ascendant mind - and defeated laptop - of HoraceClarke66...

So good to see that reason prevailed, and that the 1998 Yankees were voted the greatest Yankees—and therefore the greatest baseball—team of all time.


And no, my fingers are not tired, and I would have been happy to run up a couple hundred more votes for the 1998 Bombers. 


But let us take a closer look at that venerable squad, winner of a record 125 games.  There are many reasons why they are the greatest of all time.  Played in the integrated era, beat leading teams in the National League during the regular season as well as in the World Series, played with no known juicers against teams that had many juicers, etc.


The most amazing thing, though, is that almost nobody on that 1998 team had a career year.  Only Scott Brosius, and maybe David Wells. 


So what was the secret?  Just look at the diversity, and the depth—and compare it to the Yankees of today.


Out of that starting lineup, you have three lefthanders—Tino, Paulie, and Darryl—and two switch-hitters, Bernie and Jorge.  On the bench, you’ve got two more switch-hitters, in Tim Raines and Chili Davis, and another lefty in Ricky Ledee. 


The team hit 207 homers—but you still have three starters who batted over .300.  They were also second in the league in stolen bases. 


Among the starting staff, you have two lefties, in Pettitte and Wells.  Out of the pen, you have lefties Stanton and Lloyd.


On the bench, you had guys such as Raines, who could hit a homer, hit a single, steal a base.  When the team had a catastrophic injury—Darryl Strawberry coming down with a near-fatal cancer—they brought up Shane Spencer, who hit .373 with 10 homers in a month of action.  The back-up infielder, Homer Bush, hit .380, and stole six bases.


The team led the league in runs scored, walks, OPS, ERA, complete games, fewest hits, fewest runs, fewest earned runs, fewest home runs.


The 1998 Yankees could beat you six ways to Sunday, because they had guys who could do anything.  Behind the starters, there was a great bench—and a real bench, because most of the year, the Yanks carried “only” 10 pitchers.


Behind the bench, there was still a terrific farm system that could pop up Spencer, and Ledee, and even Mike Lowell, who had a cup of coffee that September.


Even though the 1998 squd was officially Brain Cashman’s first team, he learned absolutely nothing from it.  Instead, we have this one-dimensional, one-sided, one threadbare team pushed out here again, with assurances that they are world beaters.


They are not, and they won’t win a damned thing.


JM said...

I'm not convinced it was the greatest Yankees team ever, but my God, they were good. And thus began the myth of Torre. He could literally do anything, make any change, any on-field decision, and it worked. Not because he was a genius, far from it. The team members were just so good, your grandmother could have succeeded instead of him. (This is, of course, ignoring his supposed prowess with handling egos and the press and The Boss, which can only be anecdotal and are a media creation more than anything, in my opinion. But let's say he was great at those "intangibles.")

Just an amazing team. After most of the 80s and half of the 90s, it was such a joy to watch them dismantle other teams with pitching, offense, and defense all.

And it had nothing to do with Cashman, who learned nothing from his immediate predecessors.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Well, I do give Torre this: he WAS, I think, a great clubhouse—and media—manager, at a time when the Madness of King George was always threatening to ruin the team. That is a big part of baseball. He was NOT, as you say, even a good field manager. But of all the major sports, I think baseball, intricate though it is, requires the least field strategy.

But yeah, JM, you're right. They used to talk about Joe McCarthy being a push-button manager. To a great degree, Torre could be that, too. Almost everybody he put in, produced. And they generally had great attitudes and desire, as well.

Think of this, too: Gene Michael had done his best to sign Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens as free agents. And there was the tragic tale of Brien Taylor, who might have been just about ready for the majors. And the stupid trade of Al Leiter...This team could easily have been even better than it was, which is frightening.

Anonymous said...

@Hoss Ah, Al Leiter, there's a name that I forgot was a Yankee. Imagine if the manager hadn't let him throw 140 pitches that night. And if we'd hung onto him and Jose Rio and Doug Drabek. We gave away a lot of talent.

One of my best memories is winning the 2000 World Series with the Luis Sojo single up the middle. Al Leiter, pitching for the Metsies gave us a hell of a scare, along with Mike Piazza, but we found a way to win. Still have my Yankee Tropicana watch that came with the Sports Illustrated 2000 Yankees World Series Champions collector's edition book. The 2000 World Series had the feel like that might be the last great moment for that group, with players like Brosius, Knoblauch and Martinez aging. And indeed it did turn out to be the last World Series we would win until 2009.

But, I digress. Every great team needs a worthy opponent, a villain. If I remember right, the Cleveland Indians gave the 1998 Yankees a scare in the ALCS. Remember the infamous Chuck Knoblauch "pointing" pose? The furor that was created when Knoblauch failed to run after a loose ball and stood pointing as the umpires did not make any call. I can still remember Mike Francessa on WFAN screaming "get the ball, stupid". But our guys came through like the Champs they would be. They could not be denied. It was destiny.

The Hammer of God

Rufus T. Firefly said...

1998 had the Gerbil on the bench. Someone that would tell clueless Joe he was all fucked up and the clueless one actually would listen to him.

Clueless Joe was good at two things. Stroking the media and listening to the Gerbil.

God I miss real baseball.

Anonymous said...

Duque misses the most obvious point--the 1998 Yankees had a team OPS of .825, which was first in the A. Of course, they had great pitching too, and solid defense up the middle. But you can't win anything without a potent offense, and bunting is not part of that recipe.

Anonymous said...

The 1998 Yankees were a gift from Michael and Showalter to Cashman.

Anonymous said...

First in the AL, not A. Typo.

HoraceClarke66 said...

They could hit—and they didn't just swing for the fences on every pitch. Tino led the team with 28 HRs—another indication that they weren't juicing, though of course there's no way to know for sure.

I was at that Knoblauch game, and infuriated, of course—even though it was a bad non-call by the umps. Ted Hendry, the home-plate ump, had already enraged everyone on both teams. We couldn't see how bad the calls were, but we could see player after player, on both sides, shaking their heads as they walked away after another called third strike.

The "Blauch Head" play just put the perfect capper on it. Particularly because future Yankee Enrique Wilson fell down coming around third, and would've been chopped liver at the plate.

Next game, Colon shuts us down, 6-1, and it looked like we were on the ropes again.

But then came the Original Rays Duque, with a beautiful bit of pitching (and the help of a great O'Neill catch). Then Wells yipping back at the crazies in Cleveland (they were insulting his mother), with a great Mariano bailout.

Back in the New York, I was in the stands again—and almost had a heart attack when Thome hit that grand slam. But then Manny turns the wrong way on Jeter's ball, and the rest was history...

HoraceClarke66 said...

I dunno, Rufus: The Gerbil was a great bench coach, but supposedly it was Zimmer who told Torre not to pitch Mendoza in the 8th inning of Game 7 vs. AZ, and go for another two-inning save by The Great One.

Hey, I loved Zim, too. But what Torre did was really valuable, Rufus. You can't forget how completely out of control George was by then.

Torre understood—almost uniquely—how to handle him, if only because he was the son of an abusive father himself. It saved the team.

HoraceClarke66 said...

As for that Leiter game...yeah, that was all too scary, just because that Yankees team seemed exhausted. The Mets would've had to beat Clemens and O.R. Duque back at the Stadium to win it, but still.

I remember Bobby Valentine being all outraged after the game because anyone dared question his decision to leave Leiter out there to throw 143 pitches. He kept talking about how he was the best pitcher he had.

But over 140 pitches, your ace is no longer an ace. He's someone Luis Sojo can hit a seeing-eye single off.

Leiter was starting to lose it—you could see it. But the great Bobby V. wanted to keep him in so he could pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the ninth and not have to "waste" a reliever. When your season can be over in 1 inning, though, you can't play it like some regular-season game. End of Series.

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