George Steinbrenner found a way to alienate just about everybody with his drive to win championships. The fact that he wanted to win was understandable- the way he went about it drove the people that were tasked with winning those championships to the edge. In 1981, the team had a pair of future Hall of Fame superstars. One was in the final year of a historic contract, the other had barely seen the ink dry on his. Intentionally or not, Steinbrenner spent the summer of 1981 driving these two stars apart. He effusively praised the newly signed Dave Winfield, while slamming the proven post-season hero Reggie Jackson throughout the regular season. When the team, loaded with talent on offense and on the mound, made their way to another fall classic, victory was in the grasp of Steinbrenner again. However, Winfield's bat had gone cold, and Jackson was inexplicably left out of the lineup for 3 of the 6 contests.
Steinbrenner's tactic then was lambast them both, driving Reggie out of New York and making Dave Winfield miserable just one year into his ten year deal.
1982 was the end of the "Reggie" era, and Mr. October took the postseason with him. 1981 would be the only World Series appearance of the decade for the Bronx Bombers. The decline of the 1982 team can be traced to Steinbrenner as well - he was more than willing to admit it. The team had three different managers, five pitching coaches, and four hitting coaches. They made a whirlwind of transactions throughout the season, making it difficult for the team to establish any kind of rhythm. The team was no doubt talented, with many of the same veterans forming the core of the prior AL championship roster. They finished 1982 with a losing record, the franchise's first since 1973- which as it happens was the year Steinbrenner first took ownership of the team. Their 9 game losing streak during the season has not been topped again by a Yankee team. One bright spot for the team saw the debut of 21 year old Don Mattingly, who would become the team's captain for the next decade plus.
Fleer #53 Aurelio Rodriguez - The 1976 Gold Glove winner at third base was certainly known more for his defense than his hitting prowess, but the original A-Rod put on quite the display in the 1981 World Series. His .417 average (5/12) was better than most of the Yankee lineup. During the regular season he was a seldom used utility player, though he did hit a career best .346 when called upon. In the 70s he was a regular at third for the Tigers, and had it not been for playing the same position as Brooks Robinson, he might have had a few more trophies to display. He was regularly among the top ranked 3rd baseman in Range Factor, putouts, assists, double plays turned, and defensive WAR. After his MLB career, he returned to Mexico, where he continued his career as a player then manager. He was elected to Mexico's Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, and the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012.
Topps #553 Dave Winfield - In 1982, Winfield hit a career high 37 homers, won his 3rd Gold Glove, his 2nd Silver Slugger, and was named to the All-Star team for the 6th straight season. And yet, the season was viewed by Steinbrenner as a failure. Winfield had been playing with a chip on his shoulder after being christened as "Mr. May" by the Yankees owner, but the abuse had yet to reach its apex. Winfield would continue to perform well on the field throughout the 80s, but the team as a whole was not able to make progress towards the ultimate goal of another World Series win. Winfield of course was just as hungry for it as anyone else-- maybe even more so given that he had only made one post season appearance in his career, and it went about as poorly as it possibly could have. Although he never finished higher than 3rd in the MVP balloting, Winfield was a complete player and a star for his entire big league career. He had over 3,000 hits, over 1,800 RBI, and combined 465 homers with 223 stolen bases. He would reach the World Series again before his career ended, winning it all with the Toronto Blue Jays. His 2 run double in the top of the 11th inning of game 6 proved to be the series clincher, making the long journey that much sweeter.
Fleer #30 Bobby Brown - One of the first of a flurry of trades made by the Yankees in 1982 involved sending Bobby Brown along with three others to Seattle for Shane Rawley. Brown had a rough 1981, playing in just 31 games for the Yankees, and hitting just .226. But speed never slumps, and in Seattle he would crack the league leaderboard with 28 stolen bases. This was doubly impressive given that Brown was used as the team's fourth outfielder. He came to the Yankees from Toronto, and in 1979 was the International League MVP. His best MLB season came the following year, when he hit 14 homers and stole 27 bases. He was also part of the 1984 NL champion Padres squad, and was asked to fill in for the injured Kevin McReynolds. Brown had just 1 hit in 15 at bats in the World Series, then hit just .115 for the Padres in 1985, his final MLB season. He started an ice cream shop in Atlantic City with Jerry Mumphrey after he retired.
Topps #301 Reggie Jackson - There was very little action in New York for Reggie Jackson in 1982, as the team failed to extend his contract. George Steinbrenner told Reggie he was too old, so it was not a difficult decision to return to California, now with the Angels. Jackson immediately elevated the team's status as a post season contender. He led the AL in homers, out pacing his former teammate Winfield by a pair of round trippers. He also led the league in strikeouts for 5th time, but that was not concerning to Reggie, he was more focused on the bigger picture. He helped the Angels to a division title (the second in their franchise history), and would keep the team in contention for the next 4 years. He wasn't exactly joining a rag tag bunch of losers, but "The straw the stirs the drink" was the missing piece for a division championship. He joined 1979 MVP Don Baylor, 1977 MVP Rod Carew, 1975 MVP Fred Lynn and the criminally underrated foursome of Brian Downing, Bob Boone, Doug DeCinces, and Bobby Grich. The 82 Angels were a very good team!
Donruss #199 Rick Cerone - Rick was the prototypical journeyman/backup/platoon catcher, playing for 8 different teams in his career. New York was his most frequent stop, as a favorite of Steinbrenner in particular, despite blurting out a hearty F-bomb directed at George following a post season defeat in 1981. Cerone was the primary catcher for the Yankees that year, and again in 1982 prior to the trade for Butch Wynegar from Minnesota. He had his best season in 1980, when he hit 14 homers, drove in 85 runs and finished 7th in the AL MVP balloting. He was a first round pick in 1975 by Cleveland, and made his MLB debut that same year. For his career, he had 998 hits and 59 homers. He founded the independent Newark Bears baseball team in 1998, and sold them in 2003.
Topps #569 Willie Randolph - Even though the Yankees had a rough stretch in terms of championship teams in the 1980s, where oh where would they have been without Willie Randolph? Willie was the unsung, unspoken leader of the team. Sure, Reggie was the big personality in the late 70s when Randolph was acquired from the Pirates, and Dave Winfield was the big name free agent after Reggie left, and Don Mattingly was the official team Captain after that. But Randolph was the real igniter of their offense, the stalwart of their defense, and the team's best base runner (well, in the years without Rickey Henderson anyway). In 1982, Randolph was the team leader in hits, runs, stolen bases, and games played. That would be a theme throughout his tenure in pinstripes. While he only had one season in which he led the league in anything (walks in 1980), he was a regular top ten finisher in OBP, walks, runs, and stolen bases. He was a six time All Star, which is probably low, and had 4 seasons in the top 10 in defensive WAR.
Donruss #387 Yogi Berra - Donruss was hard at work to get some big names in its set that Fleer and Topps did not. That meant pulling from the coaching ranks. Yogi Berra had been coaching even before his playing career officially ended in the 1960s. When Billy Martin had him re-join the Yankees as a bench coach in 1976, I'm sure he could have never guessed that he'd see such a tumultuous revolving door of skippers until his own hiring and firing in 1984 and 1985. He'd seen the whole carousel revolve from Billy Martin through Gene Michael, Bob Lemon and back again. Berra's messy divorce from the Yankees in 1985 kept one of the greatest baseball minds away from his rightful home for nearly 15 years. Joe Torre was able to convince Berra to return in 1999 to the delight of the Yankee faithful. He remained a constant presence and a near-infinite source of wisdom and wise cracks until his passing in 2015. Berra, of course, was one of the greatest players of all-time - he captained 10 World Series winning clubs, won 3 MVP awards and was an 18 time All-Star.
Topps #505 Graig Nettles - Nettles was 37 in 1982, and appeared to be in the declining phase of his career. He would play one more season in New York before being traded to San Diego just prior to the start of the 1984 season. He had a resurgence in sunny So-Cal, helping the Padres to their first World Series appearance. Nettles of course was a key contributor to the Yankees' success in the 70s, winning a pair of Gold Gloves at third base while providing better than league average production for a position that still rarely included offensive prowess. Even pushing 40 years old, Nettles could still play well at the hot corner - he was in the top 5 in range factor, assists, and fielding percent every season from 1975 to 1985.
Donruss #409 Tommy John - Is there a more famous baseball player than Tommy John that is eligible but missing from the Hall of Fame? Of course stats should count first and foremost when evaluating the candidacy of a player, but whose name comes up more often during your average MLB broadcast - Tommy John, or Robin Roberts? Eppa Rixey? Burleigh Grimes? Early Wynn? These are all Hall of Fame pitchers (and they happen to have had among the 10 most similar careers to Tommy's). Tommy John's willingness to do something no one had ever attempted before, undergo a risky procedure followed by a painful and arduous rehabilitation for the chance to pitch again . . . that has to count for something. How many careers today have been extended thanks to "Tommy John"? In 2014, nearly a third of all active MLB Pitchers have had Tommy John surgery. Heck, I think Dr. Frank Jobe should be in the Hall of Fame too - he devised the procedure (and also did a reconstruction of Orel Hershiser's shoulder in another unique and previously un-tested operation.). But Tommy John did the work of pitching for 14 seasons after being given a 100-1 shot at every pitching professionally again. By 1982 he was 7 years removed from the procedure. He was in the middle of his sixth season with double digit victories of those 7 when the Yankees traded him to the Angels. The waiver deadline deal gave California a veteran "ace" for the playoff push. He pitched well in game 1 of the ALCS, but got knocked around in game 4. The Angels would drop the decisive game 5 the following day despite a good start and a lead heading into the 7th inning. Tommy John finished his 21 year career with 288 victories and over 2,200 strikeouts.
What is your favorite card of a Yankee from 1982? Doesn't have to be one of these...
Thanks for reading!