A Brief Look At How The Yankees Championship Teams Were Built (Pt. 13)
by Paul Semendinger
In this article, we continue to look at how each of the Yankees’ championship teams were assembled. This article, focusing on the 1996 team, is part thirteen in the series.
The statistics I will share in this exercise are the typical counting stats of the time - batting average/home runs/runs batted in (and for pitchers, wins, losses, ERA). These will serve as a quick guide to see how that player performed over those years.
(I used Baseball-Reference.com to determine all these stats and the transaction data. Some other information came from the SABR Biography Project.)
Please note that this is not an exhaustive study, it is only a start. More and deeper research is welcome.
The 1996 Yankees
The 1996 Yankees were the first World Championship Yankees team since 1978.
The Yankees went 92-70 in the regular season to finish in first place in the American League East.
The Yankees then defeated the Texas Rangers (3-1) in the Division Series.
The Yankees went past the Orioles (4-1) in the American League Championship Series.
The Yankees then defeated the Atlanta Braves in six games in the World Series.
Catcher - The primary catcher on this club was Joe Girardi. In 1995, the primary catcher was Mike Stanley, a fan favorite. Joe Girardi came on board for the 1996 season after being traded by the Colorado Rockies to the Yankees for minor leaguer Mike DeJean. In 1996, Joe Girardi batted .294/2/45. He’d be a force on some championship teams and would then lead the Yankees as the manager to their 2009 championship.
First Base - Tino Martinez was the first baseman for this team replacing Don Mattingly who had retired. Martinez came to the Yankees in a big trade with the Seattle Mariners (a trade the Yankees got the better of). Going to Seattle were Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock. Coming to the Yankees were Jim Mecir and Jeff Nelson along with Martinez. In 1996, Tino Martinez would hit .292/25/117. Even better days were to come…
Second Base - Often forgotten Mariano Duncan played second base for this club. He appeared in 109 games and batted .340. Duncan came to New York as a Free Agent signing in December 1995. A lifetime .267 hitter, the 1996 season was, by far, Duncan’s best in the big leagues.
Shortstop - 1996 was the year of Derek Jeter’s arrival. He hit .314/10/78 and instantly became a New York hero. Jeter was a home-grown Yankees signing with them out of Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (We will, of course, see more of this guy.)
Third Base - Future Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs patrolled third base for the 1996 champs. The Yankees signed Boggs as a Free Agent after the 1992 season and then resigned him for the 1996 season. In total Boggs spent five years with the Yankees batting .313 over that period. In 1996, Boggs batted .311/2/41.
Of note, during the season, the Yankees acquired Charlie Hayes to help relieve Boggs a bit down the stretch and also to be a right-handed bat at third base. In 20 games, Hayes hit .284/2/13. Hayes was on the field to make the last putout in the World Series. The Yankees acquired Hayes in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 30 sending a player-to-be-named-later to Pittsburgh.
Left Field - Left field was a position shared by four players throughout the year. Gerald Williams (70 games in LF), Tim Raines (50 games in LF), Ruben Siera (32 games in LF), and Daryl Strawberry (26 games in LF).
Gerald Williams was a homegrown Yankee. He would be traded in late August (see Bob Wickman below).
Tim Raines was traded from the White Sox to the Yankees before the 1996 season (in December 1995) for a minor leaguer. Raines hit .284/9/33 for the Yankees (on his way, eventually, to the Hall-of-Fame).
Ruben Sierra (.258/11/52) was acquired in July 1995 in a trade with the Oakland A’s. The Yankees sent Danny Tartabull to Oakland for Sierra. One year and three days later, in July 1996, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Cecil Fielder. (Pitching prospect Matt Drews also went from the Yankees to Detroit as part of the trade).
Darryl Strawberry (.262/11/36) had been a Yankee in 1995, but became a free agent and was starring for the St. Paul Saints in the independent minor leagues before signing with the Yankees on July 4, 1996.
Center Field - Bernie Williams was a Yankee through-and-through. A career Yankee who set the stage for the “Core Four,” Bernie hit .305/29/102 as he starred for this team (and many more to come).
Right Field - Acquired from the Cincinnati Reds, on November 3, 1992, in a trade for Roberto Kelly, Paul O’Neill would shine in New York for nine seasons. In 1996, O’Neill batted .302/19/91. O’Neill would play on three Yankees World Championship teams.
Designated Hitter - Ruben Sierra (see LF) and Cecil Fielder were the primary designated hitters. As noted above, Fielder came to the Yankees in July 1996 in the trade for Ruben Sierra. “Big Daddy” (as he was known) hit .260/13/37 for the Yankees and helped them on their quest for the World Series title.
Main Starting Pitchers:
Andy Pettitte - A home-grown Yankee (and a member of the Core-Four) Andy Pettitte led this team with 34 starts. He also led the American league in wins with 21. It was one of Pettitte’s two 20 win seasons. (In both of those seasons, 1998 and 2003, Pettitte would go 21-8.)
Kenny Rogers - Many people might forget that Kenny Rogers was a big contributor to this club. In 1996, Rogers made 30 starts, pitching to a record of 12-8, 4.68. Rogers has been signed as a free agent in December 1995, before this season. He had promise, but he never quite made it in New York. In 1997, he’d go 6-7, 5.65. After the 1997 season, he was traded to the Oakland A’s for a player-to-be-named-later. That player turned out to be third baseman Scott Brosius (who we’ll see in the next installment of this series).
Jimmy Key - One of the most important Yankee signings in this period was that of Jimmy Key who came to the Yankees as a free agent before the 1993 season. Key was a solid and very effective starter for the Yankees. In 1993, he went 18-6. In 1994, he went 17-4. Key didn’t pitch much in 1995, but in 1996, he made 30 starts and added stability to the rotation. He went 12-11, 4.68 and was the winning pitcher in Game Six of the World Series when the Yankees became champions again.
Dwight Gooden - Oh, how it must have bothered the Mets and their fans that their two great homegrown stars, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, both well past their primes, helped the Yankees to this title. Gooden made 29 starts for the Yankees in 1996. One of those starts, on May 14, resulted in a no-hitter. After not pitching in 1995, the Yankees signed Gooden as a free agent for the 1996 season. George Steinbrenner loved reclamation projects - and he liked sticking it to the Mets. Gooden went 11-7, 5.01 in 1996.
Ramiro Mendoza - A home grown important player in this time period, Mendoza appeared in 12 games making 11 starts. He went 4-5, 6.79, but he’d be an important swing man for years to come.
David Cone - David Cone came to the Yankees in a huge trade on July 28, 1995. The Yankees sent three pitching prospects to the Blue Jays for Cone. It was one of the best deals they ever made. David Cone made 13 starts for the Yanks in 1995, going 9-2 and helping them win the Wild Card. He then re-signed with the Yankees that winter. In 1996, he made only 11 starts, but David Cone was David Cone. He went, 7-2, 2.88 for the Yankees that year.
Main Relief Pitchers:
Mariano Rivera - A home grown Yankee. A member of the Core Four. One of the greatest of all time. In 1996, Mariano Rivera was just an up-and-comer, who bridged the late innings (usually the 7th and 8th) before passing the ball to John Wetteland, the closer. Rivera appeared in 61 games going 8-3, 2.09. That was great, but his best days were yet to come… a legend was bring born.
Jeff Nelson -Nelson pitched in 73 games in 1996. He was a big player on that team (4-4, 4.36). He came to the Yankees in the deal with Seattle that also brought them Tino Martinez.
Bob Wickman - Here is another oft-forgotten player from this era. Wickman came to the Yankees in December 1992 (with Domingo Jean and Melido Perez) in a trade with the Chicago White Sox for Steve Sax. Wickman (4-1, 4.67 in 58 games) would pitch in 223 games as a Yankee over five years. He was actually traded (with Gerald Williams) to the Brewers for Graeme Lloyd in late August 1996. Lloyd would come up big in the post season.
John Wetteland - The closer was traded to the Yankees in April 1995. He had a great year in 1996 and never pitched for the Yankees again. His later life in retirement has been troubled.
Conclusion - The home-grown players on these teams were important cogs in this machine. They would soon become essential. This great Yankees era gets defined by Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Andy Pettitte. (Jorge Posada played in just eight games in 1996. He’d play 60 in 1997 before becoming the #1 catcher in 1998.)
The Yankees had some home-grown role players such as Gerald Williams and Ramiro Mendoza, but this team was build through shrewd trades and solid free agent signings.
The catcher (Joe Girardi), first baseman (Tino Martinez), third baseman (Wade Boggs, and his late in the year “platoon” partner, Charlie Hayes), part-time left fielder (Tim Raines), right fielder (Paul O’Neill), the designated hitters (Ruben Sierra and Cecil Fielder), and the closer (John Wetteland) all came to New York through trades. David Cone also originally came in a trade (and loved the Yankees enough to return after becoming a free agent). That is some masterful dealing. The core four might be the Core Four, but these players, the players acquired through trades, were the core of the 1996 Yankees. These players were the solid pieces that the young stars fit around and learned from.
Much of the rest of the team came via free agency, including so much of the pitching: Jimmy Key, Kenny Rogers, Dwight Gooden, David Cone (re-signing), Mariano Duncan (second base), and Darryl Strawberry (of, dh).
This was a team built on players acquired through smart trades and also smart free agent signings to compliment the home-grown (and developing core). We will see a lot more of many of these players in the next installment of this series, and a few in this installment’s final chapter.