Yankees In The 80's: A Lost Decade in The Bronx
I realized recently that I went to my first Yankee game 24 years ago this month, in mid- July 1986. I remember it like it was yesterday. The Yankees beat the Chicago White Sox 5-4 behind starter Dennis Rassmussen. My favorite player, Don Mattingly, hit a home run, and Dave Winfield threw out a Chicago runner at home plate to end the game. It was a perfect night.
The season ended without a playoff berth for the Yankees, as it seemed to every year when I was growing up, despite a 90-72 record. They finished 5.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox, who were anticipating their first World Series victory in 68 years, unaware that the Mets and Bill Buckner were going to crush their hearts in the post season.
The Yankees had some stacked teams in the 1980's. They won a staggering 103 games in 1980. They went to the World Series in the strike-shortened season in 1981, and won at least 90 games in 1983, 1985, and 1986. Despite all that winning, the Yankees of the 1980's, the Yankees of my youth, never won a darn thing that counted. There was always a team like the Red Sox or Blue jays that it seemed was a little bit better that particular year. It broke my heart as a kid, because I was too young to remember '77-78, and my dad and grandfather would talk about the Yankee "glory years" of Mantle, Berra, and DiMaggio. I wanted to experience a Yankee Dynasty. I wanted to see Don Mattingly, who was my version of Mickey Mantle, win a World Series.
Alas, it wouldn't happen until 1996, a year after Donnie Baseball retired. I was still a huge Yankee fan, but it would have meant more to me had they won ten years earlier. By '96 I was an adult, and the world looks much different to an adult than to a baseball-obsessed ten year old who's biggest concern in life was why the Yankees couldn't get a decent shortstop.
Growing up during this difficult time in Yankee history, I developed a morbid fascination and bond with the "fringe" players the Yankees put on the field. Sure, I loved Mattingly and Henderson, but who could forget Paul Zuvella? Some might refer to them as "scrubs" but as a kid they were my scrubs. They were Yankees.
So here it is, the 1980's New York Yankees "All-Scrub" Team. Enjoy!
C- Butch Wynegar (1982-86) Caught Dave Righetti's no-hitter in 1983. Got brained with a foul ball in the on deck circle in '86.
Honorable Mention: Ron Hassey (1985-1986) Andrew 'Dice' Clay lookalike is the only Major Leaguer to catch two perfect games. But couldn't catch a cold in New York.
1B- Chris Chambliss, who had one AB in 1988 and then retired. By then he was a far cry from his late-70's glory days.
Honorable Mention: Steve Balboni. No Explanation necessary.
2B- Rex "Wonder Dog" Hudler (1984-85). What can you say about a guy who's average never broke the Mendoza line while in pinstripes yet had a nickname like "Wonder Dog?"
Honorable Mention: Larry Milbourne. Had one of the great moustaches of all time. Plus, who can forget the classic photo of the Boss consoling a dejected Milbourne in the Yankees locker room?
SS- Bobby Meacham (1983-1988). The Yankees changed shortstops in the 1980's like most people change underwear. Between trades, free agent signings, and the infamous "Columbus Shuttle," it seemed like there was a new SS every day. Somehow, Bobby Meacham managed to hang around the Yankee organization for the better part of the decade.
Honorable Mentions: Wayne Tolleson, Alvaro Espinoza, Rafael Santana, Paul Zuvella, Dale Berra, The Immortal Orestes Destrade, Keith Smith, Andre Robertson, Ivan DeJesus
3B- Dale Berra (1985-86) While it may seem a bit unfair to list Berra under SS and 3B, those of us who remember him can attest that he really was that bad.
Honorable Mention:Luis Aguayo (1988) Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens (1989-93)
LF- Steve Kemp (1983-84) A huge free agent disappointment.
Honorable Mention: Luis Polonia (1994-95, 2000) A little man who wore a huge glove and had a terrible arm.
CF- Otis Nixon (1983) Came up as a young, speedy outfielder. Looked like he was 60, even though he was only 23. Hate to see what he looks like now.
Honorable Mention: Omar Moreno (1983-85)
RF- Jesse Barfield (1989-92) If there ever was a living embodiment of the Yankees in the late 80's-early 90's, it was the talented yet overpaid, past his prime, underachieving Jesse Barfield.
Honorable Mention: Brian Dayett (1983-84)
DH: Without a doubt, the one and only Jack Clark (1988).
Honorable Mention: Ken Phelps (1988-89)
Because there were so many pitchers who were disasters for the Yankees in the 80's, I figured I would pare it down to 2 starters and 2 relievers.
SP- Steve Trout (1987) George Steinbrenner reportedly proclaimed "I just won you the pennant" after getting Trout in a trade with the Cubs. He couldn't have been more wrong.
SP- Ed Whitson (1985-86) Poster boy for wilting under the NY spotlight.
Honorable Mention: Dave LaPoint, Pascual Perez, Jack McDowell, Andy Hawkins
RP- Cecilio Guante (1987-88) Looked like one of the pimps that used to hang out on the corner of River Ave. outside of the stadium back in the 80's. Eric Plunk (1989-91) dead ringer for author Stephen King. Stephen King could have wrote many a horror story about Plunk's pitching prowess.
Honorable Mention: Shane Rawley, Hipolito Pena
So there it is, in all it's glory. The team the Yankees could have put on the field, won just as many pennants, and saved about 100 million dollars. Still, although they didn't win a Series, I miss the "Balboni Years," the years of my youth.
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