From 1921 to 1932 The Yankees were a force to be reckoned with.
The Yankees became a professional baseball team in 1903 but weren’t named the Yankees until 1913. For their first eleven years, they were the New York Highlanders, and from 1903 to 1920, the Highlanders/Yankees didn’t have much success, with only seven winning seasons and zero pennants in eighteen years of play.
First New York Yankee Pennant
That changed in 1921 when the Yankees went 98–55 and won their first American League pennant. Babe Ruth, who the Yankees acquired from the Boston Red Sox in 1920, was a big reason for the team’s sudden success. The former pitcher belted 59 home runs and drove in an astounding 171 runs.
The team was again in the World Series the following year but lost to the New York Giants for the second year in a row. In 1923, the Yankees won their third pennant in a row and defeated the Giants in the World Series to bring home their first World Championship. Ruth had another great year smashing 41 home runs, driving in 131 runs, and coming very close to having a .400 batting average, finishing at .393. He also won the American League MVP award.
The Yankees finished the 1924 season two games out of first place. But in 1925, they had their worst season since 1913, finishing the season 16 games below 500. Part of the reason for the disappointment was an aging pitching staff. Another reason was that the Babe missed 56 games, 40 due to an ulcer operation. One bright spot for the Yankees was a young first baseman named Lou Gehrig, who hit 20 home runs and batted .295.
New York bounced back strong in 1926, winning their fourth pennant in six years, but the Yankees lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals four games to three. 1927 proved the Yankee’s best year. The team put together one of the best seasons in MLB history, winning 114 games, including a four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. New York lost only 44 times that year.
History-wise, the Yankees were the first team in MLB history to reach triple figures in doubles, triples, and home runs. Ruth led the team with 60 home runs, followed by Gehrig’s 47. Six players had a batting average of over .300, with Gehrig’s .373 leading the way. Four players had over 100 RBIs. Gehrig had 175, Ruth 164, Bob Meusel 103, and Tony Lazerri had 102. Gehrig won the American League MVP.
The Yankees pitching was every bit as good as their hitting. Waite Hoyt went 22–7 with a 2.63 ERA, while Wilcy Moore went 19–7 with a 2.28 ERA. Urban Shocker went 18–6 with a 2.84 ERA, and Herb Pennock went 19–8 with a 3.00 ERA.
The 1928 Yankees were almost as good as the 1927 team, winning 101 regular season games before sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Gehrig and Ruth continued to dominate. Ruth smashed 54 home runs and had 142 RBIs, while Gehrig hit .374 while driving in 142 runs. Pitchers Waite Hoyt and George Pipgras won a combined 47 games.
The Yankees had 88 wins in 1929, 86 in 1930, and 94 in 1931, but those results weren’t good enough to win pennants. The Philadelphia Athletics had over 100 wins in all three seasons and captured three consecutive AL crowns and two World Series trophies. Despite not being the best team, the Yankees still had some of the best players in the league. One reason the team was struggling was that their manager Miller Huggins, who had led the team to six pennants and three world championships, died toward the end of the 1929 season. Huggins was only 51 yrs old.
Under the leadership of new manager Joe McCarthy, the Yankees were back on top in 1932, winning 107 regular season games and sweeping the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig led the team in hitting, while Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing led a top-notch pitching staff. It was the team’s fourth World Championship, and plenty more were to come.
New York Yankee Dynasties (Part 2)
World Series champs four straight years, 1936-39, and again in 1941 and 1943, these Yankees were on a roll.
From 1933 to 1935, the Yankees finished in second place. But 1936 was an excellent year for the Yankees as they won 102 regular season games before defeating the New York Giants four games to two in the World Series. With Babe Ruth now retired, Lou Gehrig was the team’s best player.
Gehrig batted .354 with 49 home runs and 152 RBIs, winning his second American League MVP award. Catcher Bill Dickey also had a great year, batting .362 with 22 home runs and 107 RBIs. Rookie centerfielder Joe DiMaggio belted 29 home runs, drove in 125 runs, and batted .323.
In 1937, the Yankees picked up right where they left off, again winning 102 regular season games and capturing their sixth World Series trophy. Lou Gehrig led the team in batting average at .351, while Joe DiMaggio led the team in home runs — 46 and RBIs — 167.
Pitchers Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing combined for 41 wins on the season.
Three Consecutive World Series Championships
New York kept on winning, sweeping the Chicago Cubs for their third World Series win in a row in 1938. That team was loaded with great players, including Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio led the team in batting average at .324, home runs — 32, and RBIs — 140. Pitchers Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez continued to lead a stellar pitching staff.
1939 would see the Yankees win an unprecedented fourth World Series in a row. Six players batted over .300, including pitcher Red Ruffing (who again won over 20 games). Joe DiMaggio led the team with 30 home runs, 126 RBIs, and a .381 batting average while also winning the AL MVP award.
But it was a bitter-sweet season for the Yankees. Legendary Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with ALDS, an incurable neuromuscular illness.
After finishing 3rd in 1940 with a 88–66 record, the Yankees were back on top in 1941. Their 101–53 record was good enough to claim their 12th American League pennant, and they made short work of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, winning four games to one.
Rookie shortstop Phil Rizzuto batted .307. Joe DiMaggio won his second MVP award in three years, and his 56-game hitting streak during that season has yet to be surpassed. But sadness came when Lou Gehrig succumbed to ALS on June 2nd, just 17 days before his 38th birthday.
In 1942 the Yankees won 103 games but lost in the World Series for the first time since 1926. Outfielder Charlie Keller led the team in home runs with 26. Joe DiMaggio was the leader in RBIs with 114. Second baseman Joe Gordon batted .322 and won the AL MVP award.
In 1943, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, and many other major league players served in World War II. However, the Yankees still managed to win their sixth World Series in eight years, avenging their previous loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. Charlie Keller again led the team in home runs with 31, while first baseman Nick Etten had 107 RBIs. Pitcher Spud Chandler won 20 games while losing only four and had a 1.64 ERA, earning him the AL MVP award.
How can you do any better than seven pennants and six World Series victories in eight years?
Part 3: A Dominant Run Spanning 2 Decades
The Yankees have had many great teams over the years, and this nearly two-decade (1947 – 1964) run may have been their best.
After three sub-par seasons in 1944, 45, and 46, the Yankees were back at full strength in 1947 under the leadership of Bucky Harris. Harris took over as the Yankee skipper after Joe McCarthy resigned at the end of the 1945 season. McCarthy managed the Bronx Bombers from 1931 to 1945 and led the team to seven World Championships.
After missing three seasons due to the war, Joe DiMaggio was back in form in 1947, hitting .315, belting 20 home runs, and earning his third MVP award. Outfielder Tommy Henrich led the team in RBIs with 98. In a hard-fought series, the Yankees defeated the Dodgers four games to three to win their eleventh World Series trophy.
Failing in 1948, But Bouncing Back
After finishing 2 1/2 games out of first place in 1948, the team’s new ownership fired Buck Harris and replaced him with Casey Stengel. The Bombers beat the Dodgers again in 1949, winning four of five games to capture another World Championship.
Joe DiMaggio missed the first 65 games of the season due to a foot injury, but he still led the team in batting average, hitting .346. Tommy Henrich moved to first base and led the team in home runs with 24, while catcher Yogi Berra led the team in RBIs with 91. Pitcher Vic Raschi won 21 games.
The Yankees kept winning in 1950 with yet another World Series victory–this time a sweep–of the Philadelphia Phillies. Yogi Berra led the team with 124 RBIs, while Joe DiMaggio smashed 32 home runs. Shortstop Phil Rizzuto was extraordinary on defense and also led the team in batting average — .324. For his efforts, he was voted the AL MVP.
Yankees of the 1950s
The Yankees continued to dominate in 1951, winning their fourteenth World Series, defeating the Giants four games to two. Yogi Berra had 27 home runs and 88 RBIs and won the AL MVP. Rookie infielder Gil McDougall led the team in batting average, hitting .306, and won the AL Rookie of the Year award. Pitchers Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat won a combined 42 games.
The Yankee train kept rolling in 1952 as they defeated the Dodgers in the World Series four games to three. Yogi Berra led the team again with 30 home runs and 98 RBIs. Micky Mantle, who took over at centerfield after Joe DiMaggio retired, led the team in batting average, hitting .311. Allie Reynolds was the Yankees’ top pitcher with 20 wins and a 2.06 ERA.
In 1953 the Yankees won an unprecedented fifth World Series in a row, defeating the Dodgers again. They are the only team in Major League Baseball history to win five World Championships in a row. Yogi Berra proved he was the best catcher in the American League, belting 27 home runs and knocking in 108 RBIs. Outfielder Gene Woodling led the team in batting average, hitting .306.
The Yankees won 103 games in 1954, the most regular season games they had won since 1942. It wasn’t enough as the Cleveland Indians won 111 games to claim the pennant. Yogi Berra won his second AL MVP award.
The Yankees were back in the World Series in 1955, facing the Brooklyn Dodgers for the sixth time.
But unlike the other five times, the Dodgers beat the Yankees to claim their first World Championship in team history. Yogi Berra once again led the team in runs batted in with 108. Mickey Mantle blasted 37 home runs, and first baseman Bill Skowron batted .319 on the season.
The Yankees avenged their loss to the Dodgers by defeating them in 1956, four games to three. It was their 17th World Championship. In game five, Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history. Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown, leading the league in home runs — 52, RBIs — 130, and batting average — .353. He also won the AL MVP.
The Yankees won their 23rd pennant in 1957 but lost the World Series to the Milwaukee Braves in a hard-fought seven-game series. Mickey Mantle won the AL MVP for the second year in a row. Mantle batted .365, hit 34 home runs, and batted in 94 runs. Tony Kubek won the Rookie of the Year award.
The Yankees avenged their loss to the Braves in 1958 to win World Championship # 18. Mickey Mantle hit 42 home runs and drove in 97 runs. Elston Howard led the team in batting average, hitting .314.
New York Yankees Into the 1960s
The Yankees finished the 1959 season with a 79–75 record, their worst record since 1925, but they bounced back in 1960, winning their 25th pennant. In the World Series, the Yankees outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 55–27 but lost in seven games.
Bobby Richardson became the only player from the losing team to win the series MVP. Mickey Mantle hit 40 home runs, Roger Marris had 112 RBIs and won the AL MVP, and Bill Skowron batted .309.
Manager Casey Stengel, who had guided the team to ten pennants and seven World Series victories, was fired after the series, supposedly due to his advanced age. Upon being fired, Stengel said, “I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again.”
Under the leadership of new manager Ralph Houk, 1961 proved to be one of the best teams the Yankees ever had and one of the best teams in MLB history. Six players hit over twenty home runs as the team won 109 games.
Elston Howard led the team in batting average with .348. Mickey Mantle had one of his best seasons, belting 54 home runs, driving in 128 runs, and batting .317.
A season like that would usually win you an MVP award, but that award went to teammate Roger Maris, who broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record with 61 dingers while driving in 141 runs. Pitcher Whitey Ford won 25 games while losing only four, earning him the Cy Young award. The result was another World Series victory, this time over the Cincinnati Reds.
Although not quite as good as the 1961 team, the 1962 Yankees repeated as World Series Champions, defeating the SF Giants in seven games. It was the seventh time the two teams faced each other in the World Series. Roger Maris again led the team in home runs with 33 and RBIs with 100. Mickey Mantle won his third MVP award and led the team in batting average, hitting .321. Pitcher Ralph Terry won 23 games. Shortstop Tom Tresh won the rookie of the year award.
The Yankees had another great season in 1963, winning 104 games. First baseman Joe Pepitone led the team in RBIs with 89. Catcher Elston Howard won the AL MVP award with a .287 batting average, 28 home runs, and 85 RBIs.
Pitcher Whitey Ford went 24–7 with a 2.74 ERA. Jim Bouton went 21–7 with a 2.53 ERA. But the Yankees were swept by the LA Dodgers in the World Series. After the series, Ralph Houk resigned as manager and took the front office job of General Manager.
The Yankees won their 29th pennant in 1964 under new Manager Yogi Berra but lost a tough-fought World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals four games to three. Mickey Mantle led the team with 35 home runs and 111 RBIs. Elston Howard led in batting average, hitting .313. The team went 102–67 on the season and came within one game of winning another World Series. Despite this, Manager Yogi Berra was fired.
The Yankees would not win another pennant until 1976. Although the Reds swept them in the World Series, they won the series in 1977 and 1978. After a two-year absence, they won their 33rd pennant but lost the World Series.
After a 14-year absence, the Yankees won their 23rd World Championship. From 1996 to 2003, the Yankees won six pennants and four World Series in what some would call a modern-day dynasty. The Yankees have not appeared in a World Series since 2009 when they won their 27th World Championship. Could 2022 be their 28th? Only time will tell.
Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond. He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area.