The Yankees have been the dominating force in baseball since the 1920s and look like they are going to be the team to beat as we begin the 2010s.
They’ve won 27 World Series titles… and if you forgot how many they won, just start a conversation with a Yankee fan and they will remind you
They won multiple World Series titles in every decade since the 1920s… with one exception:
The 1980s were a strange era in Yankee history.
The managerial merry go round became comical. In the 18 years between the 1978 and 1996 World Series, the Yankees changed the manager 17 times. And constantly brought in free agents and traded for veterans, whether they fit the team’s need or not.
And year in and year out, the Yankees were overpaid, bloated, old and with glaring holes.
All the while, a lot of the young talent they traded away blossomed elsewhere… creating an interesting “What if…?” for Yankee fans.
What if they held on to some of the young talent? Could there have been a championship (or two) in the 1980s?
In the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Steinbrenner dealt away two future World Series MVPs, a future two time home run champ, two future Cy Young Award winners and the man who would win the 1985 NL MVP.
While the Yankees struggled to find a steady shortstop, a former farm hand was the starting shortstop for two World Series winners.
While the Yankees lacked pitching depth, former Yankee minor leaguers filled the rotations and bullpens of championship teams.
When the Yankees were in turmoil in 1983, the World Series ended with a complete game by one former Yankee and the Series MVP was won by another.
We Yankee haters never had it so good. So this is Sully Baseball and we do more than just wonder about hypothetical rosters. WE MAKE HYPOTHETICAL ROSTERS.
The staff at Sully Baseball has been working round the clock for our latest entry…
THE 1980s YANKEE DYNASTY THAT COULD HAVE BEEN!
As with other rosters on this blog, there are 25 spots to fill.
A starter at each position, 5 starting pitchers, 5 relievers, 2 reserve infielders, 2 reserve outfielders, a reserve catcher and a 25th man.
Bust out the piano key tie… we’re going to the 80s!
Starting Catcher – RICK DEMPSEY
In the wake of Thurman Munson’s death, the Yankees wheeled out Rick Cerone, Butch Wynegar, Ron Hassey, Barry Foote, Joel Skinner and Don Slaught at catcher.
Meanwhile Dempsey, who was traded by the Yankees to the Orioles in 1976, was a rock solid defensive catcher for nearly a decade. He caught some of the best pitchers in baseball while in Baltimore and started in two World Series for the Birds. He let his bat do the talking in the 1983 World Series where his .385 average and 1.390 OPS earned his Series MVP honors.
Later while subbing for an injured Mike Scioscia, he caught the 1988 World Series clincher for the Dodgers. He would have been loved by Yankee fans as a gritty and smart catcher and master of handling pitchers.
Starting 1st Baseman – FRED McGRIFF
Can you imagine the Crime Dog taking aim at the short right field of Yankee Stadium?
One of the truly steady power hitters of the late 80s, 1990s and early 2000s, McGriff led both the AL and NL in homers. He was a consistent 30 home run threat. And his 10 homers in 50 career playoff games with a .303 average and .917 OPS in October.
His 493 career homers would make him a Cooperstown bound slugger with the aura of Yankee Stadium around him. Alas he was dealt within the Division as a throw in in the Dale Murray for Dave Collins trade.
Some throw in.
2nd Base – DAMASO GARCIA
When the Yankees dealt playoff hero Chris Chambliss to Toronto after the 1979 season in a trade for Rick Cerone, they were trying to fill the catching void left by Thurman Munson’s death. A toss in in the trade was Garcia.
The two time All Star became a solid fielding and Silver Slugger winning second baseman as the Blue Jays transformed from a 95 loss team to a Division winner in 1985 (when they edged out the Yankees.)
Starting Shortstop – GREG GAGNE
Between Bucky Dent and the arrival of Derek Jeter, the shortstop position was a revolving door in the Bronx. They tried Bobby Meachem, Rafael Santana, Wayne Tolleson, Mike Gallego, Andy Stankiewicz and Spike Owen with little luck.
When the Yanks traded for Roy Smalley, they sent Gagne packing to Minnesota. For 8 seasons, Gagne was a steady shortstop in Minnesota. Along the way he hit 4 post season homers and started for two World Series winners.
Starting 3rd Baseman – REX HUDLER
The wonder dog was a former first round pick by the Yankees who was sent packing to Baltimore in the dealfor Gary Roenicke after the 1985 season.
While he was never a star, his hustle and versatility would have made him a loved Yankee. He stole 29 bases as a part time player in 1988 and hit 16 homers in only 92 games for the 1996 Angels. Roenicke was long retired by then.
Today, Hudler would be a staple on the YES Network.
Starting Left Fielder – RUPPERT JONES
Jones was actually a former All Star with Seattle when he arrived in New York in a multi player deal before the 1980 season. His one season in New York was a bust and the Yankees gave up on him, trading him to San Diego in the Jerry Mumphrey trade.
He regained his left handed swing in Southern California, becoming an All Star again in 1982 and contributed to the Tigers’ 1984 World Championship and the Angels 1986 AL West title.
Starting Center Fielder – WILLIE McGEE
Arguably the worst move the Yankees made in the 1980s was trading McGee to the Cardinals for Bob Sykes, who never played a game in the Bronx. McGee exploded onto the scene in 1982, becoming a defensive and offensive hero in the World Series for the Cardinals.
He would win a pair of batting titles, be a stolen base threat, a Gold Glover in center field and the Most Valuable Player in the National League for 1985. And year in and year out be a steady switch hitting .300 hitter.
He retired in 1999 at the age of 40 as a member of the Cardinals. Not sure what Bob Sykes was doing then.
Starting Right Fielder – JAY BUHNER
Some trades are easy to destroy in retrospect. The Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps trade made NO SENSE from the first day.
The Yankees, desperately in need for an infusion of youth in 1988, had the young brash right handed slugging Buhner. But for whatever reason, the Yankees lusted after Seattle slugger Ken Phelps, who couldn’t play the field. They had an expensive DH in Jack Clark, an expensive first baseman in Don Mattingly, an expensive right fielder in Dave Winfield and an expensive left fielder in Rickey Henderson. In other words, there was no room for Phelps. And Phelps had power, but he wasn’t a pull hitter so he wasn’t suited for Yankee Stadium.
So naturally the Yankees made the trade. The addition of Phelps made the Yankees play Clark, Henderson and Mattingly out of position as they faded from contention. The next year, Phelps was in Oakland.
Buhner went on to be a fan favorite in Seattle, smacking 25-40 homers a year and protecting Ken Griffey Jr in the order.
The trade had no bigger critic than Frank Costanza.
Starting Designated Hitter – HAL MORRIS
When injuries starting catching up to Don Mattingly, the Yankees could have used a new swing swinging left handed hitting first baseman. What they had was Kevin Maas.
Who they could have used was Hal Morris, who the Yankees shipped off to Cincinnati in a deal for the broken down arm of Tim Leary. While Leary lost 19 games for the 1990 Yankees, Morris batted .340 in the regular season and .417 with an OPS of 1.000 in the NLCS, helping lead the Reds to the World Series title. He would later bat .500 with an OPS of 1.215 in the 1995 playoffs for the Reds.
Leary’s career was long over by then.
The Yankees could always hit during the 1980s, but their starting rotation was always in shambles as they kept bringing in veterans on their last legs. One such veteran was Rick Rhoden, who finished 5th in the 1986 Cy Young voting with the Pirates.
The Yankees sent some youth to Pittsburgh, including Drabek, and Rhoden came to the Bronx for 1987. By 1989 he was retiring as a member of the Astros. The next year Drabek won the Cy Young award as he was the ace for the first of three Division winners in Pittsburgh.
The 1990 post season must have been rough to watch for Yankee fans. While Doug Drabek pitched like an ace for the Pirates, another former Yankee, Jose Rijo, helped pitch the Reds all the way to the World Series title. He would win a critical Game 4 of the NLCS for the Reds and go on to be the World Series MVP with his Games 1 and 4 victories against Dave Stewart and the heavily favored A’s.
Rijo was part of the deal to bring Rickey Henderson to the Bronx. Of course by the time the 1990 World Series came around, Rijo was facing Henderson… who was back in Oakland.
Bad bad times for Yankee fans.
While former Yankee Rick Dempsey was winning the MVP of the 1983 World Series for the Orioles, another former Yankee was the pitching hero. McGregor pitched a complete game victory to clinch the series against the Phillies.
Twice McGregor finished in the top ten for Cy Young voting. He was a 20 game winner in 1980 and one of the most consistent left handed pitchers in the American League for seven seasons. Safe to say the Yankees could have used his arm. He was part of the same deal that sent Dempsey to Baltimore for Doyle Alexander, Elrod hendricks, Ken Holtzman and Grant Jackson.
There is one more player who got away because of this trade… read on.
The Yankees hoped the New Jersey native Leiter would add youth to their late 80s rotation. Instead he was dealt to the Blue Jays for Jesse Barfield after Dave Winfield was lost for the 1989 season. At first the deal looked like a bust for Toronto as Leiter only pitched 9 games total in Toronto between 1989 and 1992. But he contributed to the 1993 World Series champions as a reliever, threw a no hitter for the 1996 Marlins and helped the fish win the 1997 World Series.
As a long time Met, he threw the complete game 1 hitter than won the 1999 Wild Card. The Yankees would get to him in the 2000 World Series, making him the hard luck loser in the final Game 5. Leiter would ultimately end his career as a Yankee in 2005, 16 years after he was dealt away.
The 1983 Yankees finished 7 games out of first place. They lacked pitching depth in their rotation behind Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti. They could have used Hoyt that year, whose 24-10 season earned him the Cy Young award and propelled the White Sox to a division title they won with a 20 game margin.
Hoyt led the AL in wins for 1982 and 1983 and won 16 games for the 1985 Padres before drug busts derailed his career.
Hoyt was a toss in when the Yankees traded Oscar Gamble to the White Sox for Bucky Dent. You’ve got to watch those toss ins pretty closely.
Yet another player from the 1976 trade that cost the Yankees Rick Dempsey and Scott McGregor.
Like Dempsey and McGregor, Martinez had a highlight in 1983 that probably made Steinbrenner’s blood boil. He closed out the ALCS that year with 4 shutout relief innings, including the clinching bottom of the 10th in Chicago.
He pitched 11 seasons in Baltimore, saving 21 and winning 9 over 103 relief innings during his All Star campaign of 1983…all while the Yankees lack of pitching depth sunk their pennant hopes year after year.
As the Yankees thin pitching staffs were their undoing in the late 1980s, Tim Burke quietly put up tremendous seasons in Montreal. No season was better than his 1987 campaign. He went 7-0 and 18 saves with an ERA of 1.19 over 91 innings. He made the All Star team in 1989 and consistently kept his ERA under 3.00.
The former Yankee farm hand was dealt away to Montreal for Pat Rooney, who never played a game in a Yankee uniform.
Burke returned to the Yankees in 1992 but retired to do Missionary work.
Dave Righetti could have used some solid set up men during the mid to late 1980s. Meanwhile former Yankee Jay Howell made three All Star teams as a closer.
Part of the Rickey Henderson trade before the 1985 season, he saved 29 games and won 9 for a sub .500 A’s team that year. Somewhat maligned because of his suspension in the 1988 playoffs and letting up a walk off shot to Mark McGwire in the 1988 World Series, he returned to throw nearly three innings of clutch relief to win Game 4 of the ’88 series.
In 1989 he made his third All Star team by saving 28 games for the Dodgers and posting a 1.58 ERA. Not bad for a maligned pitcher.
A native of New York state and a left hander, Deshaies was exactly the kind of young pitcher the Yankees of the mid 1980s needed. So naturally the Yankees traded him for the ancient Joe Niekro.
He won 12 games as a rookie for the 1986 Astros and set a big league record when he struck out the first 8 batters of a game that September.
As the Yankees collapsed in the 1989 season, Deshaies won 15 games with a 2.91 ERA in Houston.
Tewksbury was a young, hungry and talented pitcher on the 1986 Yankee squad. You know what THAT means?
Tewksbury was dealt to the Cubs for Steve Trout. They could have traded for an actual trout and it couldn’t have gone any worse for the Yankees. Trout was a complete bust.
Meanwhile as a Cardinal, Tewksbury became an All Star, going 16-5 in 1992 and winning 17 in 1993… both years that the Yankees could have used a starting pitcher other than Steve Trout.
Reserve Infielder – JOE LEFEBVRE
The versatile utility man could play the infield and the outfield, and batted .310 for the 1983 National League Champion Phillies.
The former Yankee farm hand was included in the deal with Ruppert Jones (and Tim Lollar) to the Padres for Jerry Mumphrey.
Reserve Infielder – JOSE URIBE
As the Yankee merry go round of shortstops continued in the 1980s, the late Jose Uribe was a steady glove for the Giants. He got a key hit in the 1987 NLCS and was the starting shortstop for the 1989 National League champions and was loved by the fans who chanted “Oooo-Re-Bay!”
Nobody was chanting “Bobby Mea-CHEM!”
He was cut by the Yankees minor league system during the 1977 season.
Reserve Outfielder – STAN JAVIER
Along with Rijo and Howell, the A’s also picked up Stan Javier in the Rickey Henderson trade.
While never a star, he was a super reliable outfielder and steady veteran for 17 seasons.
He played in 6 different post seasons including the 1989 World Champion A’s and was a switch professional hitter with speed.
Reserve Outfielder – OTIS NIXON
The need to trade for Rickey Henderson wouldn’t have been so great had Otis Nixon been allowed to develop in New York.
A switch hitter with dazzling defensie skills, he became a 40-50 stolen base threat in Montreal and a post season hero in Atlanta.
His cocaine problems kept him from being a superstar, but he would have been electric in the Bronx.
Reserve Catcher – MIKE HEATH
Like Rick Dempsey, Heath was not a spectacular player. Just a steady leader behind the plate which is what you need from a catcher. He had some pop in his bat, but mainly was a solid receiver.
He caught the A’s deep rotation under Billy Ball in 1981 and platooned with Matt Nokes for the Tigers 1987 Division Title.
He was shipped off to the Rangers in the Sparky Lyle for Dave Righetti deal.
25th Man – STEVE BALBONI
With all due respect to Willie Upshaw who was probably a better all around hitter, you had to love “Bye Bye Balboni.” He was what slugger looked like before everyone started juicing. Big with a belly, striking out a ton but when he got a hold of one, it was long gone.
He was a product of the Yankee farm system but was shipped off to Kansas City after the 1983 season for Mike Armstrong.
He hit 36 homers for the 1985 World Champion Royals and is the answer to a fascinating trivia question. Who is the only person to hit 35 or more homers for a World Series winner between 1981 and 2000? You can look it up… during the peak of the steroid era, no World Series champ had a 35 homer guy.
Tell me the Yankee fans with beer bellies wouldn’t fall in love with this guy!
So that’s an interesting team. And it would even be better when you consider some of the mainstays of the 1980 Yankee teams could be inserted into the line up… Don Mattingly at first, Willie Randolph at second, Dave Righetti in the closer role, Dave Winfield in the outfield, Mike Pagliarulo at third.
The best thing that ever happened to the Yankee franchise was Steinbrenner’s suspension in the early 1990s.
(Remember the “George must go!” chants? He wasn’t the beloved figurehead that he is now.)
With George gone, the Yankees developed some young players like Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and didn’t deal them away.
Although remember when George came back, he wanted to deal Jeter for Bryan Harvey. Old habits die hard.
Oh what could have been… a Yankees dynasty in the 1980s.
Yankee fans have to live with the consolation that they dominated EVERY OTHER decade since Warren G. Harding was president.
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