The most successful run in Yankees franchise history was from 1949-53. The Bronx Bombers won the WS every year, but none of those teams is considered one of the greatest of all time. But with just one change, the ‘52 team might have been.
1951 was one of the most pivotal in pinstripe history: It was Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio’s last year, and Mickey Mantle’s first. Joe was 36 in 1951 and had the worst year of his career. In his 415 AB’s, his second fewest ever, he slashed .263/.365/.422, which pales in comparison to his career numbers: .325/.398/.579. He did manage to put up 12 home runs, however.
Dimaggio, ever proud, could see the handwriting on the wall. Plus, his replacement was already on the team in The Mick. Instead of being a compromised player, albeit one who was still better than most players in the league, Joe retired in November of that year.
But he didn’t have to. And had he made a different choice, that 1952 team would have elevated to a mythic level.
Where Joe Already Is
And one reason is that Mantle had his first big year in ’52. Well, big for most players but still far below what the Mick would go on to do. His fine 1951 rookie slash of .267/.349/.443, along with 13 home runs, was just a sample of his abilities. The Mick posted a .311/.394/.530 slash to go with his 23 home runs the next year.
Not only did he do more damage with every at-bat, but he also got a lot more chances in ’52. Mantle went from 341 AB’s to 549. But Mickey was not the only improved player from a team that won the WS the previous year.
Johnny Mize played 1B in 1951 when he hit .259 with 10 homers. Mize was still on the team the following season but it was Joe Collins who got most of the plate appearances, hitting .280 with 18 home runs. A similar change was made at second base where Billy Martin took over from Jerry Coleman. Martin had a better BA–.267 to .249—as well as a better slugging percentage: .344 to .315. But it was his hustle and baseball IQ that really helped the team.
The outfielders also largely improved. Gene Woodling went from .281/.373/.462 to .309/.397/473, while OF Hank Bauer’s numbers stayed largely the same except he went from 10 home runs to 17. Even the always phenomenal C Yogi Berra was able to drive three more home runs and add ten RBI’s from one year to the next.
Irv Noren, Really?
This was an improved team, even younger than the one from the previous years. And those teams had won three World Series in a row. Joe could have stayed on this team, as the fourth outfielder. His numbers might have rebounded if he were to only get 320 AB’s or so.
But even if they didn’t, his 1951 numbers would still be good for a back-up, especially when compared to the man who was the primary replacement outfielder in 1952: Irv Noren. Irv (nickname unknown) got 272 AB’s that year and slashed .235/.316/.353 with five home runs. What might had this team been if Joe had gotten those AB’s?
And it’s not just about numbers, especially with 3-time MVP Joe Dimaggio. By all reports, he maxed out on intangibles. He is still considered by some to be the perfect ballplayer. Opponents would continue to be in awe of the Great Man, and his presence alone would be good enough for a half dozen wins.
It is possible that the 1952 New York Yankees could have added six wins to their total. That would have given them 102 and the most wins of any of those dynasty teams. Remember that they only played 154 games in those years. It might not have taken them seven games to beat the Dodgers, who had 96 wins that year.
If so, if all of those hypotheticals had happened, then the 1952 Yankees might be in the debate for GTOAT. And one additional team in that conversation might have been the 1938 Yankees.