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The Worst Yankee Team  

With the horrific start the New York Yankees have gotten off to in 2005, there is cheering in Boston and wherever haters of Steinbrenner's guys exist - and that's a lot of places. The current team is old, brittle, over-paid and over-rated - that's the gleeful line put out there by legions of Yankee haters. 

 The whole scenario conjures up the memory of what many feel was the "worst Yankee team" - the 1990 edition. 

 The Yankees began their season in New York. Billy Martin's son threw out the first ball to the cheers of 50,114. By day's end the Yanks had a 6-4 win over the Indians. It was Luis Polonia's hit that broke a tie to put the Yankees ahead. No gratitude, though. Two weeks later he was traded to the Angels for Claudell Washington.   

 The 1990 Yankees were relatively young, average age 28.2 years. Bucky Dent had been on the scene as manager from August 18, 1989. On June 6, 1990 with the Yankees in seventh place at 18-31, Dent got the axe and was replaced by Stump Merrill up from the Columbus farm team.    

 "Here we have a fellow who doesn't come with a whole lot of glamour," George Steinbrenner smiled as he said it. "For the first five years I knew him I kept calling him 'Lump.' He was madder than hell."      There were lots of times through the 1990 season and also 1991, Stump's last a Yankee pilot, that he was "madder than hell."
The 1990 Yankees scored 603 runs but allowed 749 runs. Their pitchers didn't lead the league in any category except for Tim Leary who had the most losses - 19.

The hitters were even worse. As a team the Yankees batted an American League low .241. Bragging rights for the team's best player belonged to 30 year-old Jesse Barfield, .246 average, 25 homers. He also struck out 150 times becoming the first Yankee to earn that dishonor. It was partly due to Jesse that the Yankees came within sixteen strikeouts of their worst ever total, 1,043 in 1967. Roberto Kelly, who would not walk, had the best batting average (.285). But he fanned 148 times. 

 The catching position was woeful. The full time catcher was Bob Geren, .213 average, never a full time catcher again. His backup was Matt Nokes (eight home runs, .238). His backup was Brian Dorsett who had five hits in 35 at bats.  

 The best Yankee starting lineup most of the time that season featured Geren at backstop. Don Mattingly played first base, sometimes. He complained of a bad back, got into only 89 games, batted .256 with just 5 homers and 42 RBIs. Steve Sax 2B (who made the All Star team wound up with a .260 average, 43 stolen bases), Randy Velarde, .210 average, was at third base a lot.  Shortstop Alvaro Espinoza finished the season with two home runs and 20 RBIs.    

The starting outfield was Mel Hall (12 homers, 46 RBI), team batting champ Roberto Kelly (.285, 42 stolen bases), and Jesse Barfield.  Oscar Azocar also played the outfield and in 214 at-bats, walked twice. He never saw a pitch he didn't like. He batted .248.   

Other non-pitchers taking up roster space included: rookie utility man Jimmy Leyritz (.257, 5 home runs) and Dave Winfield who hit .213 in 38 games before he was traded on May 11th to the Angels for Mike Witt. The lanky and controversial outfielder at first balked at the trade and then realized the Yankees were doing him a favor. Five days later he reported to the Angels.

On August 2, rookie first baseman Kevin Maas hammered his 10th home run in just 77 at bats. It was the quickest any player reached that mark. But predictably, the Yankees lost another tough game, 6-5 in 11 to the Tigers. Maas wound up with 21 round-trippers in 254 at-bats and writers raved about his sweet lefty swing, just made for Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch. He fizzled, but at least he flamed for a while which was not what could be said about a lot of the other 1990 Yanks. 

 There was also Steve (17 homers but only a .192 batting average) "Bye Bye" Balboni, Matt Nokes, Rick Cerone, Mike Blowers, Deion Sanders, Hensley Meulens, Claudell Washington, Wayne Tolleson, Luis Polonia and Jim Walewander.        

The only Yankee starting pitcher to win more than seven games was nine game winner Tim Leary. But he also lost 19 before Stump Merrill showed some pity and took him out of the rotation. 

Other starters were Dave Lapoint (7-10) Chuck Cary (6-12), Andy Hawkins (5-12) who did get everyone excited on July 1, 1990
when he threw and lost a no-hitter, 4-0, against the White Sox, Mike Witt (5-6). Steve Adkins made his debut on September 12, 1990. He didn't allow a hit but he walked eight batters in just 1 1/3 innings. The 25-year-old rookie was 1-2 with a 6.38 ERA in five starts and   never pitched again in the Majors after 1990.   

Others who took the ball to the hill with not that much success for the Bombers included: Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk, Jimmy Jones, Alan Mills, Dave Eiland, Mark Leiter, Clay Parker, Lance McCullers, Pascual Perez, John Habyan and Rich Monteleone and Jeff Robinson. One of the few bright spots on the pitching staff was closer Dave Righetti who had 36 saves. Lee Guetterman went 11-7. 

On June 30, George Steinbrenner was banned by Commissioner Fay Vincent from the day-to-day operations of the Yankees because of his alleged dealings with a known gambler. "The Boss" became the first American League owner ever to be removed by disciplinary action.  Then Steinbrenner resigned as managing general partner of the Yankees and watched from the sidelines the miserable season finally ended. 

The hapless New Yorkers finished 21 games behind Boston in the AL East, the first time during the Steinbrenner era that the Yankees finished in last place.


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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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