If you grew up a Yankee fan on Long Island like I did and you are in your late 40’s or early 50’s you were led to believe by anybody that was not a Yankee fan that the New York Yankees bought their championships over the years. I heard that narrative for as far back as I can remember from Yankee haters. In fact there was a book written in 1978 titled “The Best Team Money Could Buy”. The book was billed with the tag line of “The turmoil and triumph of the 1977 New York Yankees.” I read this book written by Steve Jacobson, a sports writer for the Long Island newspaper Newsday, as a 13 year old kid in 1978. I loved the Yankees and all the turmoil that went with it. I did not have the internet to verify anything so I just went along with the narrative that people were spewing because it seemed reasonable. I could not wait to read the Daily News and Newsday each day to see the latest updates on the Yankee soap opera. I believed what everybody always said about the Yankees. The Yankees were always signing a free agent so it made sense. I never actually looked at the roster and did the research until now. Why would I? After all we are talking about the N.Y. Yankees. The Yankees are the most successful franchise in baseball history that has a lot of money and loves to sign free agents. It all made sense to me. I never even thought to look into it, until now of course. The results of my research might surprise you.
I looked at the rosters of the World Championships teams of 1977, 78, 96, 98, 99, 2000 and 2009. I took into consideration the 8 starting fielders plus a designated hitter and 5 starting pitchers as well as the 2 main relievers. I used the 16 main everyday players as my research baseline. I then did the research on how they were acquired by the Yankees. I broke down how the players got there into three categories. The categories were drafted, traded for and free agent. The percentage of the roster that was comprised of players that were acquired by free agency is what I focused on. I found that nearly 70% of the main 16 players described previously were acquired by means other than signing a free agent. Shocking! I thought the Yankees bought all the players? The facts of course dispel this myth. Here is how the rosters break down year by year:
|C Munson – D||Munson – D||Girardi – FA||Posada – D||Posada – D||Posada – D||Posada -D|
|1B Chambliss – T||Chambliss – T||Martinez – T||Martinez – T||Martinez – T||Martinez-T||Teixeira – FA|
|2B Randolph – T||Randolph – T||Duncan – FA||Knoblauch -FA||Knoblauch -FA||Knoblauch-FA||Cano – D|
|SS Dent – T||Dent – T||Jeter – D||Jeter – D||Jeter – D||Jeter – D||Jeter – D|
|3B Nettles – T||Nettles – T||Boggs – FA||Brosius – T||Brosius – T||Brosius – T||Rodriguez – T|
|LF White – D||Piniella – T||Williams,G – D||Curtis – T||Ledee – D||Ledee – D||Damon – FA|
|CF Rivers – T||Rivers – T||Williams,B – D||Williams,B – D||Williams,B – D||Williams,B – D||Cabrera – D|
|RF Jackson – FA||Jackson – FA||Oneill – T||Oneill – T||Oneill – T||Oneill – T||Swisher – T|
|DH Piniella – T||Johnson,C -T||Sierra – T||Strawberry – T||Davis – FA||Justice – T||Matsui – FA|
|SP Figueroa – T||Figueroa – T||Pettite – D||Pettite – D||Pettite – D||Pettite – D||Petitite – D|
|SP Torrez – FA||Guidry – D||Cone – FA||Wells – FA||Cone – FA||Cone – FA||Sabathia – FA|
|SP Guidry – D||Beattie – D||Key – FA||Cone – FA||Hernandez -FA||Hernandez-FA||Burnett – FA|
|SP Gullet – FA||Tidrow – T||*Gooden – FA||*Irabu – FA||Irabu – FA||Neagle – T||Chamberlain-D|
|SP Hunter – FA||Hunter – FA||Rogers – FA||Hernandez -FA||Clemens – FA||Clemens – FA||Hughes – D|
|CL Lyle – T||Gossage – FA||Wetteland – T||Rivera -D||Rivera – D||Rivera – D||Rivera – D|
|RP Tidrow – T||Lyle – T||Rivera – D||Stanton – FA||Mendoza – D||Robertson – D||Robertson – D|
|25% are FA||18% are FA||37% are FA||37% are FA||37% are FA||25% are FA||37% are FA|
* Indicates that the player did not appear in the post season of that championship season
Key: D = Drafted Player, T = Player Traded For, FA = Free Agent Signing
The final numbers come out to only 35 of 112 ( 31% ) players that were the main cogs in the Yankees success for the 7 championships that occurred during the free agency era were free agent signings. To provide some kind of a historical comparison to other teams in recent history I selected the Red Sox and Mets. The 2013 World Championship Red Sox had 37% of the main 16 players that were signed free agents. John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uhera, Mike Napoli and yes even David Ortiz were the headliners in that group. The 2006 New York Mets, who lost in the NLCS that year, included 50% of the main 16 players on the rosters that were signed as free agents. Some of the notable free agents from that team are Cliff Floyd, Carlos Beltran, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez.
This year the Red Sox have signed David Price for over $200 million and not to be forgotten is the $70 million paid to Rusney Castillo and the $90 million to Rick Porcello last year. Castillo and Porcello are a bust so far. The Mets will pay Yoenis Cespedes $27 million for this year and possibly $75 million for 3 years if he does not opt out. Cespedes will have the highest average per year salary in history for 2016 if he just plays one year.
I think we can all safely say “hate the game not the player”. All major market teams buy what they don’t have since the inception of free agency in baseball around the mid 1970’s. The Yankees, Red Sox and Mets did not create this scenario. This is the natural progression of a game that has no salary cap and has an open market for services. It will change some day in the future but for now this is what it is. The “reserve clause” in Major League Baseball had been in place since the early days of baseball and basically made the player the property of the team for his entire career as they saw fit up until the 1970’s. The player was signed to a series of 1 year contracts until he either retired or was traded or released. Curt Flood challenged the reserve clause in a lawsuit that he took all the way to the Supreme Court and he lost. In 1969 Flood was traded from the Cardinals to the Phillies and he refused to report. The rest is history. The Yankees did not “buy players” any more than anybody else. It just seems that way because they were out in front of the curve early and often. The vast majority of the team’s main 16 players over the 40 pennants and 27 championship seasons were either home grown or traded for. I don’t create the facts Yankee haters, I simply report them.