Does pitching really win championships? Yes, but …

21 10 2015

This concludes my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

This series started with an observation that the Yankees haven’t had many all-time great starters, but have won more world championships than any other team. I raised the question then about how could that be, if pitching actually wins championships?

I’ve covered notable pitchers in a variety of posts since then: Yankees in the Hall of Fame, Yankees who belong in the Hall of Fame, Yankees who had great careers but won’t make the Hall of Fame, and so on.

But I still haven’t thoroughly examined the question that started this discussion. So that’s where I’ll wrap it up. The Yankees have won so many championships without all-time great starting pitchers for a variety of reasons:

  • Pitching does win championships, but so do other factors. Yankee champion teams were often better at those factors than at starting pitching.
  • Pitching does win championships, but even an all-time great starting pitcher pitches only every few days. Depth of a rotation might be more important to winning a championship than having an all-time great as your No. 1 starter.
  • Pitching does win championships, but starting pitching is not all of pitching. Yankee closers rank higher on all-time-best lists than Yankee starters.
  • Managing, especially management of the pitching staff, wins championships.
  • Yankee starting pitchers have actually been pretty great. If not for the Hall of Fame biases against Yankees (and against longevity), Yankees would easily have more pitchers in the Hall of Fame than any other team.

I’ll elaborate on these points in order: Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




Few teams integrated as slowly or reluctantly as the Yankees

9 10 2015

I should acknowledge the elephant in the clubhouse: Few teams integrated as slowly as the Yankees.

This post concludes a series on continuing racial discrimination in baseball, in a blog that normally focuses on the Yankees, so I have to acknowledge my favorite team’s part of that shameful history.

A 2013 Pinstripe Alley post by Steven Goldman details the Yankees’ initial resistance to integration of baseball, then its leisurely minor-league “development” of future All-Stars Vic Power and Elston Howard, who clearly were beyond ready for the big leagues. The Yankees traded Power and didn’t bring Howard up to the majors until he was 26, in 1955, eight years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.

In this context, it is no excuse that the Yankees won the World Series in 1947, the year Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and then won five World Series in a row from 1949-53. Maybe for a year or two you could say that the Yankees’ success excused their reluctance to integrate (if you’re looking past the moral aspect).

But I cut the Yankee leadership of that time no slack. They got a good look in four of those World Series at the dynamic impact on the Dodgers of such African Americans as Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. And in the 1952 Series, the Yankees saw the greatness that Willie Mays and Monte Irvin brought to the Giants. And they played in the same city with those guys. They should have seen that aggressive recruitment of African American and Latino players would help continue, strengthen and extend their dynasty. But they worried that attracting African American fans to the ballpark would turn away white fans.

From Manager Casey Stengel to executives Larry MacPhail and George Weiss, the Yankee leadership was slow to recognize the injustice of racial exclusion and the improvement that integration brought to baseball. All those great Yankee teams of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s achieved their records and dynasties without facing some of the best players in baseball: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Buck O’Neil and the other stars of the Negro Leagues.

Only the Phillies, Tigers and Red Sox were all-white longer than the Yankees. Read the rest of this entry »