Before the 2018 Yankees beat Toronto 11-6 on Saturday afternoon, the Yankees honored the 1998 World Champions, the winningest team in baseball history with 125 wins between the regular season and postseason.
That was a team on a mission after a heartbreaking loss to the Indians in the ALDS the previous October.
“I remember I had to peel Bernie Williams off the steps over there, he made the last out in that game against Cleveland,” Joe Torre said before Saturday’s ceremony. “And I remember talking to Mariano, it was his first year as a closer and he gave up the home run. And I remember Mel and I talked to him on the tarmac when we got back.”
In 1998, they won 114 games, led the AL in runs scored, runs per game, on-base percentage, fewest runs per game allowed and ERA. They were second in stolen bases and committed the third fewest errors.
The season started at inauspiciously with a pair of losses in Anaheim, a split in Oakland, and a loss to Seattle to drop the Yankees to 1-4.
“It was weird,” Joe Torre said before Saturday’s ceremony. “We stumbled out of the gate 1-4 and then we started winning and kept winning and winning.”
There was a team meeting, rare for the first week of a baseball season, but one that might be the most memorable in the history of the sport because of the result. After the 1-4 start, the Yankees won 64 of the next 80 games.
“We got roughed up,” Mariano Rivera said. “So we had a little meeting, and that was it. After that, we never looked back.”
It was a meeting where things were aired out, especially by veterans like Paul O’Neill and David Cone. “Kind of pointing fingers but not pointing fingers of what we needed to do,” Jorge Posada said.
More than the wins and losses, Torre had not liked the way the team was playing during the first week. “To me, winning is a byproduct of doing everything right,” Torre said.
The team was tight, a “family” as Rivera called it.
“I felt that we had a clubhouse as such, that talk, whether it be a criticism or a compliment to one guy and it would stay in that clubhouse,” Torre said.
The Hall of Fame manager admitted he doesn’t think that’s possible in the age of social media.
More teams could use meetings like that, because the Yankees finished 113-44. Ten players hit 10 home runs, and they became the first team with eight players to hit 17 home runs. Yet, not one Yankee hit 30 that season, and only two drove in 100 runs.
And here are the men that made it happen.
Chuck Knoblauch started things in the leadoff spot with 17 homers. And he went from goat to hero, making up for his brain cramp in the ALCS to tying Game 1 of the World Series with a three-run homer in the seventh.
Derek Jeter hit .324 with 19 home runs and 30 stolen bases, finishing third in MVP voting and robbing Travis Fryman of a hit in the ALCS with a jump throw that became one of his many signature moments.
The Warrior, Paul O’Neill, hit .317 with 24 homers, including a three-run blast off Mel Rojas in the first Subway Series game at Shea Stadium. Bernie Williams led the league with a .339 batting average and hit 26 homers.
Tino Martinez led the team in homers (28) and RBI (123), and drilled a grand slam into the upper deck in the first game of the World Series to break a 5-5 tie in the seventh.
Darryl Strawberry hit 24 home runs in less than 300 at-bats, with all his homers coming before September. He even hit one at Shea Stadium in a win over the Angels as the home run apple came halfway up and then went back down. Strawberry regained that power stroke that had been missing because of injuries and suspensions but would miss the playoffs after being diagnosed with colon cancer.
Jorge Posada got the bulk of the catching duties, and hit 17 homers.
Chad Curtis and Shane Spencer both hit 10 homers, with Spencer hitting three grand slams in September, and two more homers in the ALDS against Texas.
Scott Brosius took over third base from Wade Boggs and Charlie Hayes, and hit .300 with 19 home runs and 98 RBI despite being at the bottom of the order. Then he finished it off with a World Series MVP performance, hitting a pair of homers in Game 3 in San Diego.
David Wells and David Cone provided a 1-2 punch in the rotation. Wells pitched eight complete games, including a perfect game on May 17 against the Twins, and was the number one starter in the postseason. Cone won a league-high 20 games, the first time he reached the mark in a decade.
Andy Pettitte won 16 games and the World Series clincher. Hideki Irabu won 13 games and was the AL Pitcher of the Month in May.
Orlando Hernandez joined the team during the season and won 12 games. He also won the most important game of the season after the Indians took a 2-1 lead in the ALCS.
Starter/reliever Ramiro Mendoza went 10-2, while Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton and Graeme Lloyd were the bridge to Rivera.
The Yankees went 11-2 in the postseason, culminating in a sweep of San Diego. Pity the Padres who defeated the 102-win Astros in the
NLDS and the 106-win Braves in the NLCS just to run into the Yankees.
After the season, the Yankees would trade Wells for Roger Clemens. That was the true start of the Yankees being expected to annually annihilate the competition as opposed to the underdog feel of 1996 or the workmanlike team of 1998.
As the Yankees would add more superstars to the roster with each passing year, it makes the consistent lineup of 1998 seem even more impressive.
It’s safe to say Torre’s meeting worked out pretty well.