History by the fours

Since today was a day off in the current 2014 New York Yankees season, I thought I might take a look at the past versions of the Yankees during all of their “4″ seasons. This entry will look at every Yankee season that ended with a four and present the best pitcher and batter of that particular season. We begin with the 1904 New York Highlanders.

1904. The New York Highlanders were managed by the 34-year-old Clark Griffith who also pitched ches100+ innings that season and went 7-5 with a 2.86 ERA. The team won 92 games and finished a game and a half behind Boston. The best player on the team was pitcher, Happy Jack Chesbro. Chesbro had his best season and led the league in games pitched, starts, complete games, wins, innings pitched and had the lowest hits per nine allowed in the league. He went 41-12 with a 1.82 ERA (2.19 FIP) and completed 48 of his 51 starts. His ERA was fifty percent better than the league average. He also batted .237 with thirteen extra base hits!

Chesbro is probably a marginal Hall of Fame entry. He was inducted by the Old Timers Committee in 1946. He died in his home state of Massachusetts in 1931 at age 57.

The best batter on the team was another marginal Hall of Fame player, Wee Willie Keeler, who batted .344 with 186 hits. But he only put together 222 total bases with his 186 hits.

1914. The 1914 Yankees were a terrible team that finished 70-84. Frank Chance was the manager chanceand for you trivia buffs, he was the manager of the last Chicago Cubs team that won the World Series in 1908. This was Chance’s third season at the helm of the Yankees and he could not repeat his success in Chicago. With 20 games remaining in the season, he was replaced as manager by Roger Peckinpaugh, the team’s 23-year-old shortstop!

There wasn’t a best offensive player. The team came in last in the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. The best player, therefore, was pitcher, Ray Caldwell, who went 18-9 with a 1.94 ERA. It was Caldwell’s best season though he did have four good seasons in his twelve-year career. He was traded to the Red Sox in 1918 and finished his career in Cleveland.

1924. After winning the World Series in 1923, the Yankees finished two games behind the Washington Senators in 1924. The best player on the team was Babe Ruth, as you could have probably guessed. Ruth played every game that season and in between irritating manager, Miller Huggins, finished with 46 homers and an OPS of 1.252! Ruth hit 46 homers. The rest of his mates hit 52 combined.

The best pitcher of 1924 was Herb Pennock. Pennock is another one of those players who sneaked into the Hall of Fame based on his success pitching in front of great Yankees teams. In 1924, he went 21-9 with an ERA of 2.83.

1934. The 1934 Yankees were a team in need of a transition. Babe Ruth was 39 and in his last season as a Yankee. He was not that much of a factor. The team, now managed by Joe McCarthy, finished seven games behind the Tigers and came in second place despite 94 wins.

Lou Gehrig was still firing on all cylinders, however, and had another great season in 1934. His triple slash line was .363/.465/.706 and had a 206 OPS+. He hit 49 homers and drove in an incredible 166 runs and scored 128. He was the Triple Crown winner and led the league in fourteen categories. Unbelievably, he did not win the Most Valuable Player Award, which went to Mickey Cochrane.

The Yankees’ best pitcher that season was Lefty Gomez, who was almost as good on the mound as Gehrig was at the plate. Gomez went 26-5 that season with a 2.33 ERA. If Saves had been recorded back then, he would have had two of those too!

1944. Joe McCarthy was still managing the Yankees in 1944 and would for two more years after that. But the 1944 Yankees were just north of ordinary and won 83 games, good for just a third place finish. To give you an idea of the team’s fortunes in 1944 and 1945, arguably their best player during both of those years was Snuffy Sternweiss.

Sternweiss, a second baseman, hit .319 in 1944 with 205 hits that included 35 doubles, 16 triples and eight home runs. He scored 125 runs and stole 55 bases. He would come in fourth in MVP voting. Once the war ended, Sternweiss never again approached the kind of numbers he compiled in 1944 and 1945.

The Yankees’ best pitcher that season was Hank Borowy. Borowy was another player who benefited borowyfrom the war years and never duplicated the successes he had from 1942 through 1945 after the war was over. He went 17-12 with a 2.65 ERA. After starting 10-5 for the Yankees in 1945, he was traded to the contending Chicago Cubs (for $97,000!) where he went 11-2 down the stretch. He started and lost the deciding Game Seven of that 1945 Series. Alas. If he had not, we might not have the lovable loser label on the Cubs to this day.

1954. This post is starting to really bother me because I have not presented one “4″ team that has won the pennant. The 1954 version was no different as it was one of only two Yankee teams of the 1950s that did not win the pennant. But you can hardly fault this team for coming in second because they won 103 games! It was the year the Cleveland Indians went crazy and won 111–only to lose the World Series in one of the biggest upsets ever.

Mickey Mantle was just 22-years-old and made $21,000 in 1954. He had his first very good season, but it would only be a starter for some of the seasons he put together in the following years. He batted an even .300 with an on-base percentage of .408 and a slugging of .525. He hit 27 homers and drove in 102 runs and scored 129. It was also the year that Casey Stengel put Mantle in the lineup as the starting shortstop in the final game of that season.

The 25-year-old Whitey Ford was the Yankees’ best pitcher of 1954. He went 16-8 that season with a 2.82 ERA. A 24-year-old Bob Grim actually had a better record at 20-6 that season, but Ford has more complete games, a better ERA and more shutouts.

1964. Hey! A year the Yankees won a pennant! But it was also the end of the dynasty as the team would not go to those heights of glory again until 1976. The 1964 Yankees lost a heart-breaking World Series and it was Mickey Mantle’s last season as a superstar. His manager that year was his old friend, Yogi Berra, who really got the shaft by not winning that World Series. How do you get rid of the manager who just took you to the World Series!?

Mantle, now making $100,000 a year played 143 games and hit 35 homers and drove in 111. He batted .303 and led the league in on-base percentage and OPS that season. He came in second to Brooks Robinson for the MVP. Elston Howard also had a great offensive and defensive season that year.

Finally free of Casey Stengel and that manager’s penchant for playing percentages and match-ups, Whitey Ford had one of his best seasons. He went 17-6 with an ERA of 2.13 (2.45 FIP) in 244+ innings. Though to be fair, Ford had won the battle for the right to pitch as much as he wanted as early as 1961. Ford was 35-years-old and would have one more great season in 1965. Jim Bouton also had a great year in 1964.

1974. The 1974 Yankees came in second place, two games behind the Baltimore Orioles. It was one of the years the team played in Shea Stadium. The team was managed by Bill Virdon and it was after this season that the Yankees broke my heart and traded Bobby Murcer for Bobby Bonds. It still hurts today.

The best offensive player for the Yankees that season was arguably Elliot Maddox. Maddox finished the season with a .303 batting average and a .395 on-base percentage and led the team in rWAR (if it had been around back then). Ron Blomberg had a higher OPS and OPS+, but he only came to the plate 301 times that season.

Pat Dobson and Doc Medich both went 19-15 that season with a ton of innings pitched. But Dobson hd a better ERA, FIP and WHIP. Sparky Lyle was also unbelievable that season with a 1.66 ERA in 114 innings pitched.

1984. Twenty years after he managed the Yankees in 1964, Yogi Berra got another chance and got his heart broken by George Steinbrenner the year after. The team finished in third place in 1984 and were never really a factor. But that was the season of the great Don Mattingly / Dave Winfield batting race that I have already chronicled here.

The best pitcher for that season for the Yankees was the 45-year-old Phil Niekro who went 16-8 in 31 starts and finished with a 3.09 ERA. Dave Righetti also had a great year as the team’s closer.

1994. This was the blight year that never ended. Well…it did end after August 11, but not properly as the strike killed the season and there was no post season. Many talk about the strike and how it cost the Montreal Expos. But it also cost the Yankees who had a six and a half game lead in the AL East when the season ended.

Don Mattingly might have had his chance at the World Series had not the season ended and was having a good season. Wade Boggs was having an unbelievable season, easily his best as a Yankee and it ended early. But the real star that season was Paul O’Neill, who was leading the league in batting when the season ended at .359 and had a .460 on-base percentage at the time!

Another casualty was Jimmy Key, who was 17-4 when the season ended. He ended up coming in second in the Cy Young Award and lost out to David Cone, who was then pitching for the Royals. I need to write about Jimmy Key real soon as he was one of the most underrated pitchers in recent history.

2004. Ten years ago, Ah, the painful memories. They shall go unspoken. To paraphrase the biggest songs in recent times, “They could have had it all-a-a-all.” The hurt goes deep and is still seared in the memory.

The offensive player of the year is a real toss-up. I could make arguments for Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. They were all terrific that season. A-Rod led all players in rWAR though.

The rotation that year was not good with the exception of the brief and bright flame of Orlando Hernandez. You would have to give the best pitcher of that season to Mariano Rivera who saved 53 games and had a 1.94 ERA. He just could not save the 170th game of that season.

There you have it folks if you made it this far! There are the “4″ years throughout Yankee history. How will this “4″ year turn out? All we can do is wait and see.

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.