New York Yankees: The 5 Most Important Moments for the Yankees Since 1962

Stephen Skinner@https://twitter.com/oswegos1Contributor IIFebruary 9, 2012

New York Yankees: The 5 Most Important Moments for the Yankees Since 1962

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    Over the past 50 years, the New York Yankees have experienced many highs and lows.  Through it all they have won eight world championships, more than any other team in Major League Baseball. 

    To accomplish those titles, many special moments have had to occur.  This article will look at the five most important moments for this franchise since 1962. 

    These events have been chosen based upon the impact they had on the team's success or failure both at the time of the event and during the seasons following it. It is understood that each of these can be debated as to their importance to the organization.

No. 5: New Yankee Stadium

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    For 86 years the New York Yankees played their home games on basically the same field, winning 26 World Championships (the stadium was remodeled but not moved during the 1974 and '75 seasons) . "The House that Ruth Built" became an icon in sports with its famous facade and a lifetime of legendary moments.  Derek Jeter, captain of the current team, firmly believed that the ghosts of Yankee greats watched over the team in the old ballpark.

    In 2009, the Yankees "moved across the parking lot" into a new "Yankee Stadium" and, the old stadium was demolished.   Many worried that with the demolition of the old stadium, the ghosts that had so lovingly watched over their franchise would vanish.  Jeter attempted to ease fans' fears by saying, "We've gotta get the ghosts to go over a few hundred feet but I think they'll make the trip."

    The new Yankee Stadium is not only a modern marvel but also a tribute to the franchise's historic past.  The facade is still there and its exterior closely resembles the exterior of the original stadium.   Inside, the walls are adorned with historic photos of great Yankee players and teams, and a "Great Hall"—a seven-story area between the front and inner walls—is adorned with banners of Yankees past and present.  Monument park remains a cherished part brought over from the old stadium.

    New Yankee Stadium has some quirks of its own.  In particular, an inordinate number of home runs are regularly hit during the first couple of months of every season, with most coming to rest in the right field stands.  In spite of studies conducted to determine wind currents and barometric pressure during that part of the season, no definite conclusion has been made. 

    Whether or not the ghosts Jeter spoke of made the trip to the new stadium is a question whose answer is still a work in progress.  One fact that cannot be disputed is that in 2009, the first year of the new Yankee Stadium, the team won its 27th World Championship.  

    Eight decades from now, perhaps the Yankee players of that future era will speak of ghosts named Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte.   

    One can only hope.

No. 4: The Loss of Thurman Munson

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    It had been 35 years since the Yankees had Lou Gehrig as their captain, and on April 17, 1976, Thurman Munson was named the eighth captain in franchise history.  It marked a turnaround for a team that had gone 14 years without a World Championship and 12 years since even playing a postseason game.  

    With Thurman Munson leading the way, the drought would be over. 

    Munson's quiet leadership in the clubhouse and his gritty, consistent play on the field won him the 1976 MVP.  He led the Yankees to the American League championship and its first World Series appearance in over a decade.  While they lost that series to "The Big Red Machine",  the team's success would only continue to grow over the next three seasons.

    Thurman Munson would captain the Yankees to the 1977 and 1978 World Championships.  He hit .308 in '76 and .297 in '77 including .320 in both World Series. 

    As captain of the New York Yankees, Munson established himself as the heart and soul of one of the franchise's most successful eras.  Fans readily identified with his down-to-earth, blue-collar style of play.

    It is no coincidence, then, that the tragic death of their beloved captain during the 1979 season would send the Yankees into an 18-year period where the "Bronx Bombers" would not hoist any World Championship banners—the longest such drought in team history.

    The Yankees, in an effort to capture that stability and leadership Munson had provided behind the plate, would try 21 different catchers over those 18 dark years before winning their next championship in 1996.

    In the history of the Yankees, the loss of no other player had the same impact upon the franchise as the loss of Thurman Munson.

No. 3: The Signing of Reggie Jackson

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    While Thurman Munson provided the quiet leadership, stability and grit, Reggie Jackson provided the fire.

    After the 1976 season, the New York Yankees signed Reggie Jackson to a five-year contract.  Right from the start, Reggie thrust himself into the limelight of New York, and not always in a good way.  Through his well-documented run-ins with manager Billy Martin and statements proclaiming himself "the straw that stirs the drink", Reggie became an instant celebrity in baseball's largest market. 

    In spite of the controversy, Reggie gave the Yankees the "edge" they lacked in losing the 1976 World Series, and the results are undeniable.  

    "Mr October" lived up to his name with the Yankees.  In 1977, he hit .450 with 5 home runs (including three in the deciding Game 6 on three consecutive at-bats against three different pitchers), winning the World Series MVP award.  In 1978, he hit .391 with two home runs, helping the "Bronx Bombers" to a second consecutive world championship. 

    Reggie Jackson's postseason success with the Yankees only added to his legend and cemented his status as a Hall of Fame player. 

    The impact of his signing in 1976 is best shown in the results: three World Series in five years—winning two world championships (in 1981 the Yankees lost the Series to the Dodgers, but Reggie hit .333).  With Reggie anchoring the lineup, the Yankees went from a team suffering a 15-year championship drought to a team winning back-to-back titles.

No. 2: Rivera and Jeter

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    No. 2 on the list of "Most Important Moments For the Yankees Since 1962" isn't so much a moment as it is the coming of age for two of the team's greatest players.

    Since 1996, the New York Yankees have won five world championships. Their return to glory can be directly attributable to the emergence of two certain first-ballot Hall of Famers—Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.

    The Yankee's storied history is marked by truly great players, but only the very special Yankee teams had a pair of players of the caliber of Rivera and Jeter.

    "Mo" and "Jetes" came up to the major league club at the same time.  The pair saw limited play with the big league club in 1995 but both were integral parts of the team by the time 1996—the first World Championship since 1978—was complete.  Rivera began his career as the untouchable setup man to closer John Wetteland (actually finishing third in the Cy Young vote).  Jeter took over as the everyday shortstop and promptly put in a Rookie of the Year performance, hitting .314 and scoring 104 runs in his first full season. 

    Since that first year, both have helped the Yankees enter one of their most successful eras with five titles in 16 seasons, including four championships in five years from 1996 through 2000.  In the span of their careers—16 full seasons—the Yankees have been in the postseason 15 times.  

    Both Rivera and Jeter have been named World Series MVP and both have been selected as all-stars 12 times. 

    Rivera is the Major League Baseball all-time saves leader and has 42 postseason saves (including 11 World Series saves).  His ERA in the postseason is an unbelievable 0.70 (over 96 postseason games).  Simply put, he is the greatest reliever in the history of baseball.

    Jeter is the New York Yankees' all-time hits leader with 3,088 and counting.  He has won five gold gloves and four silver slugger awards and holds a career .313 batting average over 17 seasons.  In the postseason he has been even better, hitting .321 over seven World Series and is the all-time postseason hits leader with 191.

    In an age where players change teams on a regular basis, Rivera and Jeter have been throwbacks.  Maintaining high levels of performance for one organization over an extended period of time is what sets this pair among the legends of the game.  The numbers alone cannot fully measure the impact these two have had on the success of the Yankees over the past 16 years.  

    Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter have become the faces of the franchise and both will forever be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of DiMaggio, Mantle, Ford and Gehrig. 

No. 1: George Steinbrenner

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    On January 3rd, 1973, the ownership of the New York Yankees changed hands from CBS (which had owned them since 1965) to a group led by majority owner George Steinbrenner.   With that change in ownership came a change in fortune for a once proud franchise that had fallen into a period of eight years without a hint of postseason—the longest time period in the history of the organization. 

    Steinbrenner immediately started getting rid of the "old guard" (alienating many as he did so), and by 1976, the team had won its first American League championship in 12 years.  

    George was a tight-fisted owner who enjoyed micromanaging all levels of the organization (he'd call to the dugout to ask the manager why a particular move was made while the game was still underway).  He demanded excellence and was not satisfied with finishing second. 

    After that championship in 1976, the Yankees lost the World Series and George immediately went after the best available player—Reggie Jackson (No. 3 on this list).  Many criticized him for his unlimited spending and his controlling ways within the organization.  Often he was out-spoken in the media, frequently criticizing his managers and players.  He felt that since it was his money that was paying their salaries, he had every right to make remarks regarding their success or failure.  

    If George Steinbrenner felt a piece wasn't working, he'd get rid of it and replace it.  He actually fired and re-hired Billy Martin as manager five times!

    Yet, through it all, the Yankees won.  Back-to-back titles in '77 and '78 put George at the top of the heap in Major League Baseball. 

    Those titles were followed by two years without a World Series appearance, so Steinbrenner again went out and signed the best available player—Dave Winfield—after the 1980 season.   The following year, the Yankees returned to the Fall Classic only to be felled by the Los Angeles Dodgers.  That loss led to one of George's most famous public tirades as he called Winfield "Mr. May" and criticized some of the other most popular Yankees.  It over-shadowed an otherwise successful season.

    The 1981 season would be the last trip to the Fall Classic for the New York Yankees until 1996.  In fact, the team would win 90 or more games only three times in the next 14 seasons.  Over that time, Steinbrenner continued to pour his money into player after player, desperately trying to find the right formula to get the club back to the top of the baseball world. 

    Finally, in 1996, the team reached the postseason.  Ironically, it was a team known as much for its young "home-grown" players (Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera) as it was for its free agents (Paul O'Neill, Wade Boggs, Tino Martinez and David Cone).

    The 1996 season would mark the beginning of a new era for George Steinbrenner.  While he would continue to set records with contracts that he would award to free agents, he would also spend most of his money on keeping the "new generation" of Yankee greats in pinstripes.  This resulted in four championships in five years. 

    The entry into the 21st century saw George Steinbrenner's health begin to decline.  By the time the New Yankee Stadium was built (a dream he had worked on for years), he was merely a shell of his old self, and his sons—Hank and Hal—had taken over the daily operations of the franchise.

    George Steinbrenner managed to see the team he so dearly loved win one more World Championship in 2009, in his new stadium.   The team dedicated the title to him, and on July 10th, 2010, of the following year (one week after his 80th birthday), he died.

    George Michael Steinbrenner III forever endeared himself to Yankee fans with his "never settle for second best" attitude and his willingness to put the highest quality product on the field no matter the cost.  In purchasing the team from CBS, he re-established the high standard set by Yankee teams long ago.  And while some may not agree with his methods, the results will stand the test of time.