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Color by Numbers: I Love (Hate) the 80s

With the Milwaukee Brewers having left town after their first visit to the Bronx in 14 years, I can’t help but think of the 1980s. Something about the team’s light blue home pinstripes and cartoonish ball-in-glove logo must have made an indelible mark on a young fan growing up in the decade.

Unfortunately, the 1980s isn’t the best period for a Yankees fan to take a trip down memory lane. After starting off with consecutive division titles and an A.L. pennant, the team began a gradual descent into one of the darkest periods in franchise history. As a result, when the decade ended, the Yankees were without a World Series championship for the first time since moving to the Bronx.

Even though the team failed to win a ring during the 1980s, things really weren’t all that bad. As George Steinbrenner was fond of reminding everyone, the Yankees actually won more games than any other team over those 10 years (the Brewers were the only team against which the Yankees had a losing record). What’s more, the team also played host to Hall of Famers like Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson, not to mention a beloved fan favorite like Don Mattingly. However, each year, there always seemed to be at least one other team that was better.

During the 1980s, 11 of the 14 teams in the American League finished in first place at least once, an impressive level of parity in the two-division format. Perhaps that’s why a sentimental journey back to the era evokes just as many memories about opposing players as heroes in pinstripes. So, in honor of the decade and its many great players, listed below is an all-1980s team selected on the basis of how well they performed against the Yankees (all stats were compiled at the designated positions). I apologize in advance if any of these names cause the 30-somethings among the Yankees’ fan base to cringe a bit.

C – Ernie Whitt, Toronto Blue Jays: 1980-1989

252 226 70 13 37 0.31 0.368 0.540 0.908

Although one of the more beloved players in Blue Jays history, Whitt was never really a star…except when he played the Yankees. In fact, the only team against which he posted better numbers was the Minnesota Twins.

Honorable Mention: Regardless of what color Sox he was wearing, Carlton Fisk was always productive (.804 OPS with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs) against the Yankees. Perhaps that’s why the Yankees tried to acquire him from Chicago after the 1985 season. Unfortunately for the Bronx Bombers, the heavily rumored trade fell through and Fisk finished the decade hitting .295/.357/.534 against them.

1B – Darrell Evans, Detroit Tigers: 1984-1988

130 107 34 11 23 0.318 0.431 0.654 1.085

Evans spent most of his career in the National League with the Braves and Giants, but a resurgent 1983 season made him one of the hottest free agent commodities on the market that off season. Seventeen teams, including the Yankees, put in a claim for Evans in the free agent re-entry draft, but the Tigers came away the winners. Despite being 37 in 1984, Evans continued to produce throughout his time in Detroit, and the Yankees were one of the teams he most enjoyed facing.

Honorable Mention: No first baseman had more plate appearances against the Yankees during the 1980s than Eddie Murray, but despite posting solid numbers, the future Hall of Famer never seemed to really torment the team. For example, despite ranking in the top-10 in all-time RBIs, Murray never knocked in more than three in one game against the Bombers.

2B – Bobby Grich, California Angels: 1980-1986

236 197 60 10 30 0.305 0.401 0.523 0.924

Continuing a theme, when Bobby Grich became a free agent after the 1976 season, Yankees’ manager Billy Martin implored the team to acquire the second baseman. George Steinbrenner overruled him, however, and the Yankees opted to sign Reggie Jackson. Mr. October contributed to three pennants and two championships during his tenure, so the Yankees had to be happy with that decision. However, throughout the 1980s, Grich reminded the team of what they missed out on.

3B – George Brett, Kansas City Royals: 1980-1989

277 248 74 12 45 0.298 0.368 0.524 0.892

When you think 1980s and the Yankees, George Brett is one of the first opposition players to come to mind. Just ask Goose Gossage. Their epic battles were a thing of legend, sometimes quite literally, as the Pine Tar Game will attest. Ultimately, however, Brett’s bat is what left the biggest mark on the rivalry between the two teams. With his plate appearances as a first baseman and DH include, Brett ranks third during the decade in home runs (23) and RBIs (75) against the Yankees. His combined OPS of .920 also ranks fourth among players with at least 150 plate appearances.

Honorable Mention: If it seemed like the Yankees never got Wade Boggs out, well, that’s because they rarely did. In over 400 plate appearance, Boggs had an outstanding OBP of .431, not to mention a .503 rate at Fenway Park. Fortunately, most Yankees’ fans now remember Boggs riding atop a horse instead of lining balls off the Green Monster.

SS – Scott Fletcher, Chicago White Sox: 1983-1985, 1989; Texas Rangers: 1986-1989

268 238 79 0 27 0.332 0.385 0.416 0.801

Considering the caliber of short stops who played in the 1980s, Fletcher’s name might strike some as a surprise, but not if you grew up watching the Yankees during the decade. Whether with Texas or Chicago, the scrappy short stop always seemed to get a hit against the Yankees. Among players with at least 150 appearances, only Boggs topped Fletcher’s batting average of .332.

Honorable Mention: Alan Trammell knocked in 66 runs against the Yankees during the decade, while Cal Ripken Jr. belted 12 home runs. The highest OPS belonged to Robin Yount. Nonetheless, those Hall of Famers (Trammell’s current exclusion notwithstanding) still take a back seat to the unheralded Fletcher.

LF – Jim Rice, Boston Red Sox: 1980-1989

351 317 102 19 69 0.322 0.382 0.587 0.969

Contrary to popular main stream media opinion, particularly emanating from Boston, Jim Rice wasn’t the most feared hitter in American League…unless you happened to be wearing a Yankee uniform. During the 1980s, when Rice’s skills were in a steady decline, the powerful right handed hitter still managed to haunt the Yankees. Including his games as DH, Rice’s line improves to .324/.392/.607, while his home run and RBI increase to 24 and 82, respectively, totals surpassed only by teammate Dwight Evans (who had over 100 more plate appearances). Without question, Rice was the Yankees’ chief tormenter during the 1980s.

CF – Lloyd Moseby, Toronto Blue Jays: 1980-1989

398 347 101 13 45 0.291 0.374 0.478 0.853

In the middle of the decade, Lloyd Moseby was often the forgotten man in the Blue Jays heralded outfield that included sluggers Jesse Barfield and George Bell. Perhaps that’s why, of all the players on this list, Moseby’s inclusion surprises me the most. Nonetheless, Moseby’s impressive output in almost 400 plate appearances is undeniable.

Honorable Mention: Had Robin Yount not split the decade between short stop and center field, he would have earned the nod at either position. Combined, Yount’s 141 hits against the Yankees trails only Paul Molitor and Willie Wilson, who each had 142, while his 75 RBIs are tied with Brett for third. In other words, Yount’s honorable mention at two positions is well deserved.

RF – Larry Parrish, Texas Rangers: 1982-1988; Boston Red Sox: 1988

154 142 45 10 31 0.317 0.357 0.585 0.942

How many fans during the 1980s confused Larry Parrish with Tigers’ catcher Lance Parrish? When it came time to preparing a scouting report, maybe the Yankees did as well? In his 36 games as a right fielder against the Yankees, Parrish had prolific power and RBI numbers, which look even more impressive (17 and 61 respectively) when combined with his totals from other positions.

Honorable Mention: Dwight Evans had the most home runs (26) and RBIs (90) against the Yankees in the 1980s. However, he also had the most plate appearances, over 100 of which came at a position other than right field. Of all the candidates for this all-decade opposition team, Evans probably has the best case for being promoted to starter, but Parrish’s short-term dominance seemed a better selection. Or, maybe I just didn’t want two Red Sox in the starting lineup.

DH: Harold Baines,Chicago White Sox: 1980-1989; Texas Rangers: 1989

120 103 31 6 22 0.301 0.392 0.573 0.964

Harold Baines actually had over 300 plate appearances against the Yankees as a right fielder, but he saved his best hitting against them for when he was the DH. Combined, Baines’ 15 home runs and 65 RBIs rank among the top-10 of all Yankees’ opponents during the 1980s.

Honorable Mention: Hal McRae was a Yankees tormenter long before the 1980s, but he continued to do damage (.310/.368/.490) to the Bronx Bombers throughout that decade as well.

Starting Pitcher: Teddy Higuera, Milwaukee Brewers: 1985-1989

12 2 0.857 2.45 17 136 108 9 101 1.07

The term Yankee killer is often overused, but during the 1980s, no one embodied that moniker more than Brewers’ left hander Teddy Higuera. Whenever the two teams would meet, you can be certain that every Yankees’ hitter scoured the box scores to see if the lefty was on target to pitch in the series. During the decade, Higuera not only tallied the most wins (tied with Floyd Banister, who had nine more starts) against the Bronx Bombers, but he also posted the highest winning percentage and lowest ERA (among all pitchers with at least 65 innings).

Honorable Mention: Despite posting an 8-9 record, Blue Jays’ right hander Dave Steib had a 2.93 ERA in more than 208 innings against the Yankees, including nine complete games and three shutouts. What’s more, on August 4, 1989, Steib almost made history by tossing a perfect game against them, but his attempt at immortality was thwarted by a Roberto Kelly double with two outs in the ninth.

Relief Pitcher: Dan Quisenberry, Kansas City Royals: 1980-1988

4 2 0.667 1.61 16 64 61.2 24 1.23

Dan Quisenberry was one of the most dominant relievers during the 1980s, and his outings against the Yankees were no exception. During the decade, no other reliever had more saves against the Bronx Bombers than the side-arming righty, who also recorded the lowest ERA among all relievers with at least 35 innings.

Honorable Mention: In 34 1/3 innings covering 17 games in the early 1980s, the Yankees only scored two earned runs off the Angels’ Andy Hassler. However, the Angels only won five of the games in which he pitched.


1 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 1, 2011 9:41 am

Wow, that is a great trip, man. I remember so much promise and frustration as a Yankee fan during those years. They had the two championships in the late 70s to live up to and had some really good teams, 83 and 85 stand out. I was so upset when they gave up on Reggie but other than '82 he never had a great season again. Steinbrenner later said it was the biggest mistake of his career but maybe it wasn't.

Mostly, I remember fighting a losing battle against Mets fans in middle school and then high school. And feeling beaten down, not so much by the Yankees roster, but by the musical chairs with the managers and general managers. Angell once wrote that he always got the feeling that George was standing up blocking your view of the team on the field and I think that's dead on. By the end of the decade I felt beaten down by the Boss not by losing.

Jeez, I'd forgotten about Teddy Higuera and Scott Fletcher. Thanks for the memories.

2 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 1, 2011 9:48 am

that '85 team along with the '93 Giants are the two biggest things you can point to in support of the Wild Card

3 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 1, 2011 9:54 am

They came so close.

4 William J.   ~  Jul 1, 2011 10:21 am

[1] I fought that same battle. Most of my friends were Mets' fans and they never missed an opportunity to gloat about their relative success in the middle of the decade. Ironically, I think that's why I treat Mets fans very nicely.

The 1985 was, and still is, one of my favorite Yankees teams of all time. The combo of Winfield, Rickey and Donnie was incredible to watch, not to mention one last hurrah from Gator. They came so close to the Jays that year, I wouldn't have guessed it would take another decade before they made the playoffs. 1985 was also the closest the Mets and Yanks got to a subway series up until that point. The two teams were never really in contention together up until that point.

5 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 1, 2011 10:55 am

That last weekend in Toronto. They blew the Friday night game right? And that was their only shot, if memory serves. But Knucksie got his 300th on Sunday.

Loved Rickey. Imitated his batting stance.

6 Bruce Markusen   ~  Jul 1, 2011 11:31 am

That 1985 team was incredibly underrated. In the wild card era, those Yankees would have made the postseason every year and been in position for a possible title. It was just bad luck that the Blue Jays were in the same division that year.

7 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 1, 2011 11:41 am

Man, I hated Dave Stieb.

8 Mrs. Peterson-Kekich   ~  Jul 1, 2011 11:47 am

Haven't posted in a long time, but I attended a 1980's theme party last night, so it was quite a coincidence to see this in the morning.

Personal note -- My wife and I were living in NYC in 1988, when I received a job offer in DC. We were really on the fence about it, but, to this day, I feel that one of the reasons I decided to move was that the Yankees weren't doing too well. It turned out to be the right decision, so belated thanks to Scott Fletcher . .

9 Raf   ~  Jul 1, 2011 12:19 pm

1985 & 88 were the closest we came to a subway series. 88 was frustrating too, they had a terrible month of August, and Sept wasn't much better. A flawed team in a weak division. Even had they won it, I don't think they get past the A's. Good gravy that rotation was horrible; Rhoden, John, Dotson... Leiter & Charles Hudson started a bunch of games that year too

[1] The 86 team was better than I remember (they managed to win 90 games), it's just that the Red Sox were that good that year.

[5] If memory serves right, they needed a sweep to tie.

10 Raf   ~  Jul 1, 2011 12:21 pm

I got everyone else, but I'm drawing a blank on the bear in the upper left corner...

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