Turn Back The Clock: November 26th, 1986-Yankees Give Away Some of Their Future
By Billy Brost
As a child of the 1980s and early 1990s, I remember the deals being fast and furious (no pun intended). Guys came and went as fast as managers did during one of the darkest periods in team history (13). Can you off the top of your head, name in order, the different managers the Yankees had during the 1980s? Leave your answers in the comments below and the first correct answer gets a shout out from yours truly! It’s been several weeks since we’ve had fun with our “Turn Back The Clock” series, and of course that’s been because of the crazy hot stove league that is already well underway.
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While the focus the past few days has been on Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez signing with the rival Boston Red Sox, we celebrated Joe DiMaggio‘s 100th birthday yesterday with some controversy. MLB historian John Thorn went after the Yankee Clipper with analytics, and made his point. While it might be hard for some to swallow that pill, Thorn if ever, has taken on a topic he couldn’t prove with historical accuracy to prove his argument. That’s the great thing about history. None of us were there, yet, with new ways and methods, we can revisit that time period and present the greats of the past in a different light. I understand Mr. Thorn’s argument, but it doesn’t diminish the Great DiMaggio to me one iota.
Now, on to our TBTC for today. Do you know without me telling you what happened almost thirty years ago today? No, Don Mattingly didn’t win an MVP. No, Billy Martin (for once) wasn’t hired or fired. This was the middle of the era where the Yankees and their front office were a complete grease fire, despite continuing to be competitive in the AL East. Some of the generation’s best players were practically given away for stop gap measures, and quick fixes that rarely, if ever, worked to the Yankees advantage.
The Yankees never struggled to put runs across the dish during the 1980s. Hell, with a lineup whose first four hitters were Rickey Henderson, Willie Randolph, Don Mattingly, and Dave Winfield, and then added Jack Clark for one season (1988), teams feared the Bronx Bombers. No, the issue that kept the Yankees from getting over the top in the mid-to-late 1980s, was pitching. Sure, the Yankees had the best closer in the game in record-setting Dave Righetti, but never a true, legit, #1 that could throw the team on his back and end a losing streak or get that must have game when they needed it. I won’t even begin to go down the list of embarrassing names that donned pinstripes and took the hill (Ed Whitson is greateful).
So on this day, back in 1986, the Yankees, after watching their rival Boston Red Sox finish 5 1/2 games out in front of them, win not only the AL Eastern division, but come within one booted ball from Bill Buckner of winning their first World Series in over 60 years, the Yankees did what they always did in the 80s: they traded a pitching prospect away for guys that would never matter…to anyone at any point in the big leagues. Does anyone remember Doug Drabek? Yes, that Doug Drabek.
After a force-feeding big league debut season in 1986, one in which Drabek went 7-8 with an ERA of 4.10, the Yankees had seen enough. Rather than be patient with their young, hard-throwing righty, they shipped Drabek off to the rebuilding Pittsburgh Pirates for Rick Rhoden, Pat Clements, and Cecilio Guante. I don’t need to go into what the three of those guys failed to do for the Bombers after their arrival in the Bronx.
Drabek on the other hand, by 1988, was already a 15-game winner, by 1990 (at which time the Yankees had bottomed out and were losing close to 100 games per season), had won 22 games, and a Cy Young Award. He helped, along with Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy Van Slyke, to multiple NL East crowns. Drabek would’ve easily led the Yankees’ pitching staff into the new decade, and perhaps helped usher in a kinder, gentler era of Yankees baseball in the 1990s than what fans such as myself and Wayne Cavadi were forced to live through as teenagers.
The Drabek giveaway was just one of many that saw players such as Willie McGee, Free McGriff, Jose Rijo, and Jay Buhner get jettisoned out of the Bronx for quick-fix, epic failures that led to the dismantling of the 1980s teams and several years of dark baseball in the Bronx. Who knows what Drabek and the Yankees could’ve accomplished had George Steinbrenner just let his front office do what THEY knew how to do, rather than slam and stomp around demanding changes for change’s sake.