Revisiting a world without the Yankees in the postseason
As the schedule shrinks, the wild card dangles tantalizingly just beyond their fingertips, and Hank Steinbrenner utters the dreaded words "next year," one gets the sense that the fork is poised above the New York Yankees. Of course, a sudden unexpected surge a la Eli Manning's Giants or a collapse by the suddenly injury-prone Rays and Red Sox (remember the '07 Mets), could extend the Yankees' streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances. But with a full M.A.S.H. tent and decimated pitching staff in the Bronx, it sure smells like an early offseason for these two-steps-forward, two-steps-back Bombers.
So to more fully appreciate the Yankees' exceptional achievement (10 division titles, six A.L. pennants, four World Series championships, three wild cards) -- only the Atlanta Braves (14) have put together a longer string of October baseball -- let's venture way back in time to the world as it was when the pinstripers last failed to play a postseason game after a full regular-season slate.
The year was 1993, the storm clouds of the '94 players strike were gathering, the Rays did not exist and there was no wild card to be won. An 18-year old named Alex Rodriguez was the first overall pick in the Major League entry draft, 26-year old Tim Wakefield was a Pirate who chucked a record 172 pitches in one game (a 6-2 win over the Braves on April 27), Brett Favre began his second season as starting quarterback of the Packers without having mentoned the word "retirement" the previous January, William Jefferson Clinton was enjoying his first year in orifice, and a gallon of regular unleaded gas cost about $1.10 at the pump -- or nothing if you were into siphoning from your neighbor's car in the dead of night.
Owner George Steinbrenner returned from his three-year suspension for handing gambler Howie Spira $40,000 to dig up unflattering information about Yankees slugger Dave Winfield. The Yankees' GM was Gene Michael, their manager Buck Showalter. The starting shortstop was the mighty Spike Owen, the starting rotation included Jimmy Key, Jim Abbott, Melido Perez and Scott Kamieniecki, and the closer was the immortal Steve Farr (25 saves!). Future postseason heroes Key, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Wade Boggs and Jim Leyritz were on the roster as the Yanks chased the Jays instead of the Rays.
Winners in every month but the last, the Yankees' high point was Abbott's no-hitter against Cleveland on September 4 as they closed in on a first-place tie with Toronto that was achieved next day. Then the bottom fell out. The injury-plagued Yanks were swept in Texas and lost four of six during a Sept. 16-22 homestand while Toronto was reeling off nine wins in a row. The Jays stuck the knife in by taking two of three in Toronto on Sept. 24-26. But if there had been wild cards, the Yankees would have won one. They finished with the third-best record in the league.
The A.L. East
(in order of finish)
Toronto (95-67), Yankees (88-74, 7 GB), Baltimore (85-77, 10 GB), Detroit (85-77), Boston (80-82, 15 GB), Cleveland (76-86, 19 GB), Milwaukee (69-93, 26 GB)
Blue Jays, White Sox, Phillies, Braves
The Blue Jays defeated the Phillies in six games, on Joe Carter's walk-off home run served up fat and juicy by Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams, to win the Series for the second year in a row -- the first team to repeat since the '77 and '78 Yankees.
MVP (Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas), Cy Young (Greg Maddux, Jack McDowell), Rookies of the Year (Mike Piazza, Tim Salmon)
Notable diamond feats
Carlos Baerga became first switch-hitter ever to homer from both sides of the plate in the same inning as the Indians bombed the Yanks, 15-5 on April 8; Carlton Fisk of the White Sox played his 2,226th and final Major League game; Three teammates (Toronto's John Olerud at .363, Paul Molitor .332 and Roberto Alomar .326) finished atop the race for the A.L. batting title for the first time in 100 years.
Ryne Sandberg, Cubs, $5.975 million
(Now: Alex Rodriguez: Yankees, $27 million)
Danny Tartabull, $5.05 million
Elsewhere in sports
The Montreal Canadiens (the Yankees of hockey) won their 24th Stanley Cup (and last to date) by defeating Wayne Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings in five games. Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls snuffed the Phoenix Suns in the finals for their third straight NBA title. The Buffalo Bills lost their third straight Super Bowl, a 52-17 squeaker to the Dallas Cowboys. Miguel Indurain peddled his rear end to victory in the Tour de France for the third time en route to five straight wins. Monica Seles was stabbed by a demented fan of Steffi Graf at a tournament in Hamburg, Germany.
Major sports scandal
Reds owner Marge Schott was fined $25,000 and suspended nine months in the wake of complaints that her wardrobe drawer included a Nazi armband and that she had uttered ethnic and racial slurs about her own players.
Celebrity scandal of the year
Michael Jackson was accused of playing slap-and-tickle with a 13-year old boy. The white-gloved superstar later issued a four-minute denial on network TV and consented to a rare, and widely-watched, interview with Oprah Winfrey.
All That She Wants (Ace of Base), Whoomp! (There It Is) (Tag Team), In Utero (Nirvana), Doggystyle (Snoop Dogg), Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang (Dr. Dre), Zooropa (U2), I'd Do Anything For Love, But I Won't Do That (Meatloaf), Crying Game (Boy George), Pork Soda (Primus), Runaway Train (Soul Asylum)
Top movies and TV shows
Unforgiven won the Oscar as Best Picture, Schindler's List, Philadelphia, and Six Degrees of Separation lured many burghers to the box office while those who stayed home were glued to Home Improvement, Seinfeld, Roseanne, Grace Under Fire and Coach.
Other cultural milestones
Steely Dan re-forms; U.S. Postal Service issues an Elvis stamp; Lorena Bobbitt cuts off her husband's best friend; The Artistry of Michael Bolton is released; Body and Soul proves to be Rick Astley's last offering until 2001
Frank Zappa, Andre The Giant, Arthur Ashe, Patricia Nixon, Conway Twitty, Cesar Chavez, George "Spanky" McFarland of the Little Rascals, Fred "Herman Munster" Gwynne, River Phoenix, Vincent Price, Herve "Tattoo" Villechaize, Thurgood Marshall, James Jordan (father of Michael), Audrey Hepburn, Dizzy Gillespie, Arlington Stadium
Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins, pentium chips, World Wide Web, Windows NT 3.1, Frasier, Beavis and Butt-Head, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Walker, Texas Ranger, Daft Punk, Wu Tang Clan, The Hives, Korn, Jimmy Eat World, Modest Mouse, Big Ass Truck
Notable world events
European Union formed; Czechoslovakia dissolved; NAFTA approved, humans cloned; Mississippi and Missouri Rivers flood Midwest; Unabomber continues to send unpleasant surprises through the mail; U.S. blows 40 tomahawk missiles up Saddam Hussein's skirt in dispute over Iraq's nuclear weapons program (Jan. 19); World Trade Center bombed (Feb. 26); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms treats the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, TX rather rudely (April 19); White House counsel Vincent Foster commits suicide (July 20); Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin sign peace accord (Sept. 13); Black Hawk Down incident in Mogadishu (Oct. 3); Church of Scientology granted full tax exempt status (Oct. 8); Omar Bongo (not the drummer for Oingo Boingo) re-elected as President of Gabon (Dec. 18).
Now: $9.6 trillion