Start spreading the news: Yanks were great but not the best ever

By The Columbia Chronicle

After completing the 1998 season with a 125-50 record and a World Series championship, word is the Yankees are the greatest team the game has ever seen. They were good — great in fact — but not the best ever. They lack the standout superstar and the shoo-in Hall of Famer. They have no Babe, Lou, Joe, Mickey, Yogi, or Reggie. Even outspoken Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was skeptical, saying, “I won’t say anything about us being the greatest.” Perhaps Steinbrenner realizes that there is no fair way to compare today’s team with the ‘27 Yankees, the ‘39 Yankees, the ‘72-’74 Athletics, the ‘76 Reds or any other dominant team of the past.

Players today are stronger, bigger and faster. Until 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, baseball was only available to white athletes. His impact had an immediate effect on the caliber of play. Imagine the laundry list of players that the Yankees would have been without if the color barrier still existed: Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Tino Martinez, Darryl Strawberry, and Hideki Irabu to name a few. It’s obvious that without these players the Yankees would not have been in the World Series, much less won it. Expansion of the league has diluted the quality of players and competition as well. It used to be that the World Series was the only postseason activity of baseball. Now teams have to get through two rounds of playoffs just to get to the Series. “We went 125-50. I don’t know about teams back in the 1900s but I think you can argue for us as the best team of all-time,” said shortstop Derek Jeter. Perhaps Jeter needs to crack open the baseball Bible and study up. Somehow I think the Babe would have opposing viewpoints!

It is evident that the game has changed. However, if the standard for determining the greatest team ever is based on win total, then the Yankees are the best ever. Since the wonderful world of hypothetical situations enables us to argue, would the ‘98 Yankees defeat the ‘27 Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig or the ‘76 Reds of Morgan, Rose and Bench in a seven-game series? Doubtful.

Perhaps if they had won last year, maintained the same nucleus, and been in pursuit of a three-peat, the title of “greatest team ever” would be more valid.

Greatest team or not, the Yankees won despite the hardships of real-life situations that plagued their locker room all season long. Health and tragedy were a mainstay for New York. Whether it was Andy Pettitte’s father having heart surgery, Darryl Strawberry fighting cancer, David Cone’s mother being treated for lung cancer, Chuck Knoblauch’s father suffering from Alzheimer’s, or the legendary Joe DiMaggio being diagnosed with pneumonia, the Yankees won not only for themselves but for others. “I’ve never been around a more courageous group, more determined group,” said coach Joe Torre. They put the finishing touches on baseball’s most memorable season and aided in reuniting fans with the game.