Yankees and the AL East: 25 years as baseball’s best division

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

Maybe O’Neill just doesn’t like Water Jugs

First was their attitude. The Yankees younglings might have been surprised to win in ’96, but now they expected to. With Paul O’Neill destroying water jugs and endlessly practicing his swing in the outfield, Derek Jeter never, ever giving away an at-bat, and Posada getting in the face of anyone who gave less than everything at all times, this team was loaded with leaders.

Add to that the anger of losing in 1997. The Yanks felt they were the better team. And when they came back for the ’98 season, they had a chip on their collective shoulder that never really fell off.

But the other significant component was Yankees mystique. Several players had all of their best years once they donned the pinstripes. Scott Brosius had never been trusted with 500 AB’s or achieved any notes of distinction.

Brosius Batted Ninth in 1998

In ’98 however, he got 530 AB’s, hit an even .300, and was named to his only All-Star game. The season culminated with his winning the World Series MVP. Even his defensive play improved as he won his only Gold Glove the following year, again helping the Yankees to the title.

Paul O’Neill never once hit above .276 in Cincinnati. The team wanted him to be their middle of the order power hitter. The Yankees told him just to be himself, and he rewarded them with six straight seasons hitting well above .300. And his home run totals went up, as well.

Had Paul played his entire career with the Yankees, he would have waltzed into the Hall of Fame.

Joe Torre and the Yankees also got the best of Tino. His home run totals with the Yanks are Hall worthy; it’s just that the rest of his career did not produce the same results. It was those factors, and a thousand, thousand little ones, that enabled the Yankees to go on a historic run.