Yankees facing collapse of historic proportions

The Yankees are on the verge of an epic collapse, the worst regular season meltdown in the storied 110-year history of the franchise.

At the end of play on July 18, the Yankees found themselves 10 games in front of the Orioles and 10 1/2 in front of the Rays in the AL East. They were cranking up the presses to print playoff tickets. Instead, they seem to be cracking under the pressure.

Since that high-water mark, the Bronx Bombers have played more like the Bronx Bumblers, squandering nearly all of that 10-game advantage. Their homer-happy lineup has failed to hit in the clutch, and the pitching staff has coughed up leads on a regular basis. To put in kindly, they’ve been playing a listless brand of ball for  two months.

The Yankees have never blown a double digit lead and failed to finish in first place. According to STATS LLC, their biggest cushion in a season in which they failed to finish first was six games in 1933. That year the Yankees led the Washington Senators by six games on June 6, but eventually slipped to second while Washington won the AL flag. Incidentally, that was Washington’s last playoff appearance.

Since divisional play began in 1969, New York has advanced to the postseason each of the last 15 times it has been in first place on September 1. In fact, only five times in their history have the Yankees been in first place anytime in the month of September and failed to make the playoffs.

The Highlanders, as they were known back then, found themselves in first place after beating the Boston Americans (now the Red Sox) 3-2 on October 7. The next day, Boston swept a doubleheader from the Highlanders to capture the lead with two games left in the season. After an off-day Sunday (Sunday baseball was not permitted in New York at that time) Jack Chesbro’s wild pitch gave the American’s a 3-2 win and the American League pennant. Chesbro won 41 games for the Highlanders that year, still a major league record, but will forever be remembered for that fateful wild pitch.

The Yanks were tied with Cleveland with 12 games to play, but lost to the White Sox next day while Cleveland beat Washington. The Indians went on to their first World Championship, beating the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1920 World Series

Tied for first as late in mid-September with eight games remaining, the Yankees lost to Detroit the next day. Washington won its first and only title, beating the New York Giants in seven games in a dramatic World Series.

With seven games left in the season, the Yankees found themselves in a three-way tie with Cleveland and Boston. The Indians eventually beat the Red Sox in the American League’s first playoff, and then knocked off the Boston Braves for their second — and last — World Championship.

Playing their home games at Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was being refurbished, the Yankees were in first place with eight games remaining. However the red-hot Baltimore Orioles overtook the Yankees to win the AL East.

In 2010, the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays battled down the stretch for the AL East crown. The two clubs were tied going into the final day of the season. That day the Yanks lost  to Boston 8-4 while Tampa beat Kansas City 3-2 in 12 innings. However both teams were already assured playoff spots. So even though they  failed to win the division, the Yankees still earned the wild card.

Look on the bright side Yankee fans. Nothing could be worse than 2004, when the arch-rival Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALCS — the only time in baseball history that’s ever happened . Yep, Boston snapped the Curse of the Bambino and their 86-year championship drought, while the Yankees were left to ponder their fate.

The Ins and Outs of Baseball’s Hall of Fame

Despite a 266-251 lifetime record, Eppa Rixey is in the Hall of Fame.

Who’s in? Who’s out?

The question of who belongs in the Hall of Fame — and consequently who doesn’t — sparks endless debate among baseball fans.

Well, the SportsLifer is about to solve some of those debates.

At each position, we’ve taken one Hall of Famer (OUT) and replaced him with a player more deserving of Hall enshrinement (IN).

For pitchers, we’ve put five hurlers in and taken five out.

Omit the debates about Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox, gamblers like Pete Rose, and Mark McGwire and his fellow needle-pushers of the steroid generation. They’re out.

Also out are active players and players who have retired within the past five years and are not yet eligible for the Hall.

Who’s in? Who’s out? Here’s the list:


 IN — Joe Torre — A .297 lifetime batting average, 252 home runs, and a National League MVP and batting title in 1971 with the Cardinals are good enough. Torre, right, will eventually go in as a manager..

OUT — Ray Schalk — The ancient catcher played 17 years with the White Sox, but a .253 lifetime average, 11 home runs and 594 RBIs have Schalk on the outside.


IN — Buck O’Neil — A first baseman and manager in the Negro Leagues, most notably with the Kansas City Monarchs, he later became the first black coach in the majors.

OUT — George Kelly — Despite six straight .300 seasons and four straight 100 RBI years, Highpockets, who had a nice career with the Giants and three other teams, gets the boot.


IN — Lou Whitaker — A mainstay with the Detroit Tigers for 19 seasons, Sweet Lou hit .276 with 244 homer runs and 1084 RBIs, He was Rookie of the Year in 1978.

OUT — Bill Mazeroski — The Pirates second baseman is best known for his dramatic home run that decided the 1960 World Series. Maz hit .260 lifetime with 138 homers.


IN — Bill Dahlen — His 20-year career spanned the 19th and 20th Centuries, and Bad Bill, left, hit.272 with 2457 hits and 547 stolen bases.

OUT — Joe Tinker — The Cubs shortstop of the Tinkers to Evers to Chance trio, his .262 lifetime average doesn’t cut it with this group.


IN — Ron Santo — This legendary Cubs third sacker had 342 home runs, 1331 RBIs and a .277 average, with five Gold Gloves and nine All-Star appearances.

OUT — George Kell — Perhaps the toughest cut, with only 10 3B in the Hall. Kell hit .306 lifetime and won a batting title in 1949, but was never much of a power hitter..


IN — Andre Dawson — Made his fame with the Expos and Cubs, hit 438 lifetime home runs, had 1591 RBIs, and was the 1987 National League MVP.

IN — Sherry Magee — A Phillie, Brave and Red from 1904-19, he led the league in RBIs four times and hit .291 lifetime, including a league-leading .331 in 1910.

IN — Tim Raines — A .294 lifetime hitter, Raines is fifth all-time in stolen bases with 808. The four players ahead of him, are all in the Hall of Fame.

OUT — Richie Ashburn — Hit .308 lifetime with a couple of batting titles, but only 29 career homers and 586 RBIs put Ashburn, right, on the pine.

OUT — Harry Hooper — Played with Red Sox and White Sox from 1909-25. Hooper played on four champions but hit just .281 in his career.

OUT — Ralph Kiner — This vaunted Pirates slugger won seven home run titles, but hit .just 279 in a brief 10-year, major league career.


IN — Ron Guidry — Louisiana Lightning fashioned a 170-91 record and a 3.29 ERA, and went 25-3 in 1978 while winning the Cy Young award with the Yankees.

IN — Tommy John — Anyone who has a surgery named after him is automatically eligible. John was a three-time, 20-game winner and had 288 career wins.

IN — Jim Kaat — Kitty played for 25 years, won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves, and was 283-237 while winning 20 games three times in his career.

IN — Firpo Marberry — Lost in the haze of history, Marberry was 148-88 lifetime, primarily with the Senators, and with 101 saves was the career leader from 1926-46.

IN — Tony Mullane — He had five straight 30-win campaigns on his way to 284 victories in the late 19th Century, mainly with the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

OUT — Jack Chesbro — This right-hander, with 198 career wins, made the Hall primarily on one great season, 41 wins for the New York Highlanders in 1904.

OUT — Ted Lyons — Just because Lyons, left,  pitched for some mediocre White Sox teams his entire career doesn’t mean 260-230, 3.67 ERA all-time deserves the Hall.

OUT — Gaylord Perry — Granted, Gaylord was a 300-game winner and a Cy Young pitcher, but the spitballer lost 265…and he was an admitted cheater.

OUT — Robin Roberts — He won 20 games six straight seasons and 286 in his career, but no pitcher in history allowed more home runs (505) than Rockin’ Robin.

OUT — Eppa Rixey — Those who never saw him pitch wonder how this Phillies and Reds left-hander made the grade with a record just 15 games better than .500.

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Baseball’s Lost Art

Pitchers used to finish what they started.

In 1904, Jack Chesbro started 55 games for the New York Highlanders. He finished 48 of them, winning 41 games. All are major league records.

Last year, Arizona’s Brandon Webb led the National League with 4 complete games; Roy Hallady of the Blue Jays had 7.

Cy Young threw 749 complete games in his career; the current major league career leaders are Greg Maddux with 109 and Randy Johnson with 99.

In 1968, the so-called “Year of the Pitcher,” Juan Marichal of the Giants led the majors with 30 complete games. The Tigers’ Denny McLain became the last 30-game winner, and had 28 complete games.

“Nobody trusted anybody in the bullpen,” said McLain, who wound up 31-6. “Three or four of my losses were 2-1 and 1-0.”

In 1975, Catfish Hunter started 39 games for the Yankees and finished 30 of them, the last pitcher to reach that mark in complete games.

The last hurler to record 20 complete games was the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela, in 1986. Randy Johnson was the last to have double figures in 10 CGs, 12 in 1999.

Complete games have become baseball’s lost art.

There Used to Be a Ballpark

Fans had a great view of the Hudson River and the Palisades from Hilltop Park.

There Used to Be a Ballpark is a song written by Joe Raposo and recorded by Frank Sinatra for Sinatra’s 1973 album, Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back.

The song expresses sadness at the loss of a baseball team and its ballpark, which once gave its fans and players joy. The song is.typically assumed to be about Ebbets Field and the Brooklyn Dodgers, but it could by about any team and any park in any city in America where baseball is played.

There used to be a ballpark in northern Manhattan known as Hilltop Park, the home of the New York Highlanders, a team now known as the Yankees.

Hilltop Park sat on one of the highest points in Manhattan, on a site now occupied as Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, spanning between 165th and 168th streets and between Broadway and Fort Washington Avenue. The park was constructed in only six weeks and was huge by today’s standards. Left field, facing north to 168th Street, was 365 feet from home plate. Center field was 542 feet and right field 400 feet.

A roofed single deck wooden grandstand stood along Fort Washington Avenue; the center field bleachers were on the corner of 168th Street and Broadway. There were no clubhouses, so players had to dress in hotels. Capacity of Hilltop Park was 16,000.

Opening Day, 1903
Officially known as New York American League Park, the playing grounds opened on April 30, 1903. The Highlanders, who began as the Baltimore Orioles before moving to the newly-formed American League, won that first game against the Washington Senators. 6-2. It was one of the few bright spots for the Highlanders from Hilltop Park.

They finished second three times in their 10-year stay, including a heartbreaking loss by 41-game winner Jack Chesbro in 1904. to the Boston Pilgrims (now Red Sox) in a game that decided the American League pennant.

But the most part, the Highlanders played bad baseball. They were last in the American League in 1908, and in 1912 they were last again with a 50-102 record under skipper Harry Wolverton, worst record in the mostly illustrious history of this storied franchise.

Several other memorable moments occurred at Hilltop. In September of 1908, Washington’s Walter Johnson pitched three shutouts over the Highlanders in four days.

And on May 15, 1912, after being heckled for several innings, Detroit outfielder Ty Cobb leaped the fence and attacked his tormentor. He was suspended indefinitely by league president Ban Johnson, but his suspension was eventually reduced to 10 days and $50.

Move to the Polo Grounds

The New York Giants actually played at Hilltop Park for a brief spell after a fire burned the Polo Grounds to the ground in 1911. The Giants built a new, concrete and steel Polo Grounds on the same site at 155th Street and 8th Avenue. The Yankees, as they had become known, moved into the Polo Grounds as co-tenants with John McGraw’s Giants in 1913.

Hilltop Park was demolished in 1914 and replaced by the one-story tabernacle of Billy Sunday, a baseball player turned evangelist. Following the demolition of the tabernacle, groundbreaking ceremonies for Columbia Presbyterian took place in 1925. A bronze plaque, left, in the medical center garden marks the spot where home plate was located.

The armory, which still stands, was built behind the left-field fence in 1909. Three apartment buildings from the Hilltop days remain standing on 168th Street, east of the armory.

On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audobon Ballroom, corner of 165th Street and Broadway, a spot adjacent to the old Hilltop Park.

After their move to the Polo Grounds, the Yankees eventually wore out their welcome. In 1920 they acquired Babe Ruth from the Red Sox and began to outdraw the Giants in their own park. Forced to move, the Yankees built the magnificent Yankee Stadium across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds, at 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx.

And the rest, as they say, is history.