Yanks champs in '36, '56, '96; Mets won it all in '86
By Marty Noble
The Mets are loaded with starting pitching and again have Yoenis Cespedes to do the heavy lifting on the other side of the ball. The Yankees appear to have more questions than certainties, except in their bullpen. But will that matter?
The pending baseball season, the Mets' 55th and the 113th for the team from the Bronx, ends with a 6, and that portends something special happening. The big city is all but guaranteed an extraordinary occurrence involving at least one of its two big league franchises because of the calendar, something from either the team of the Big Citi or the one that plays in the regal digs built by King George. Or both.
Beginning in 1916, New York City baseball has provided distinctive accomplishments in each season of 6, from the first pennant for the Brooklyn franchise 100 years ago through the Mets' oh-so-close postseason plunge in 2006. And in other years ending in 6, the Yankees or Giants or both teams distinguished themselves.
Therein lies the Big Apple's built-in advantage -- multiple franchises, three from 1903-57 and two since '62. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis and, for a brief period, Los Angeles, had more than one franchise, but those municipalities couldn't match developments in the five boroughs -- at least not in the "6" years.
MLB.com herein makes 10 stops in revisiting those years.
1916: In its third season as the Robins (née Superbas, Trolley Dodgers and Bridegrooms), the Brooklyn franchise reached the World Series with Casey Stengel and Hall of Famer Zack Wheat serving as outfield regulars. But they were whipped in five games by the Red Sox, whose Game 2 starter, one Babe Ruth, won a 14-inning complete game at Braves Field.
A more remarkable development preceded the Robins' run to the pennant. The New York Giants, who finished in fourth place, did so despite winning streaks of 17 and 26 games. The first streak included only road games, the second only home games. The Giants' record, excluding the two streaks, was 43-66.
The Yankees, two years before the term Murderers' Row became popular, were an American League afterthought, placing fourth.
1926: Lou Gehrig was on deck, so there was some hope for the Yankees. If Bob Meusel, the Yankees' No. 4 hitter that October Sunday, could reach base safely and thereby push Ruth into scoring position, Gehrig would get a chance and the Yankees might avoid a defeat in the deciding game of the World Series.
Hope existed even if the man on the mound was Pete Alexander, known to most folks as Grover Cleveland Alexander. Two out, tying run on first and Meusel, a fine hitter -- he had batted .315 in the regular season -- facing Old Pete, who was pitching in his third inning of relief one day after pitching a complete game to put the Cardinals in position for their first World Series championship.
Yankee Stadium held its breath waiting for Meusel to advance Ruth and bring Gehrig to the plate. But neither Meusel nor Gehrig ever challenged the 39-year-old pitcher. Instead Ruth challenged convention and tried to steal second base. The last out of the World Series was "caught stealing" -- catcher Bob O'Farrell to second baseman Rogers Hornsby.
Ruth's explanation? "I wasn't doing anyone any good on first base."
The Giants and the Brooklyn Robins did little that year, finishing fifth and sixth, respectively. But in a season that ended with ill-conceived baserunning, the Dodgers did some of their own against the Braves in the first game of an August Sunday doubleheader in Brooklyn. Running with hopes for a triple blinding him, Babe Herman reached third only to find teammates Chick Fewster and Dazzy Vance already sharing the base. Herman had doubled (and run) into a double play.
1936: The Yankees (née Highlanders) had won the World Series four times in the franchise's first 33 years. Hardly a dynasty. But beginning in '36, the rookie year for Joe DiMaggio, they became almost perennial AL champions for more than a decade. Hardly coincidental.
The Yankees won 22 pennants in 29 years. (They won 103 games in one of their "unsuccessful" seasons.) Their World Series championships numbered 20 by the end of the 29-year sequence. DiMaggio played in 10 World Series, spanning a gap that separated Gehrig from Mickey Mantle. The Yankees won nine times.
1946: After winning six pennants in seven seasons under Joe McCarthy and with DiMaggio, the Yankees placed first, third and fourth while DiMaggio was in the service. The '46 season brought the unseemly dismissal of McCarthy. The Giants were worse off, finishing last for the second time in four years under Mel Ott. But the Dodgers almost provided the city a postseason team. They tied the Cardinals for first place, but then lost the first two games of a best-of-three playoff, the first such playoff in big league history.
Moreover, the Dodgers' Montreal Royals affiliate in the International League carried on its roster for the first time the player who, the following year, would change the game and American society -- Jackie Robinson. The Dodgers also signed Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe in '46. The Boys of Summer were in the embryonic stage.
1956: The Yankees and Dodgers played the final Subway Series -- until 2000 -- and the 13th overall. The Yankees beat Brooklyn for the sixth time in seven series. That series also featured Don Larsen's perfect game, the only perfecto in postseason history. But in a more narrowly defined way, 1956 was more readily identified as "Mickey's Year."
One year after Willie Mays had produced his best season in New York, Mantle responded with a more brilliant performance, not only winning the Triple Crown in the AL, but leading both leagues in runs batted in, home runs and batting average.
Indeed, Mantle led the big leagues in RBIs (130), home runs (52, the most in a Triple Crown season), runs (132), average (.353), OPS (1.169) and slugging (.705) and placed second, to Ted Williams, in on-base percentage (.464). Mantle won the first of his three Most Valuable Player Awards, in a unanimous vote. He hit three home runs in the seven-game World Series and saved Larsen's game with a full-sprint catch deep in Death Valley at Yankee Stadium in the fifth inning to rob Gil Hodges. The catch -- years later Mantle called it the best of his career -- came a half-inning after he had provided half the Yankees' run total for the day with a solo home run.
Newcombe of the Dodgers won the National League MVP Award and the first Cy Young Award.
1966: Nine years after New York City lost the Dodgers and Giants to California, losing was endemic in the big city. The Yankees finished 10th, their first last-place finish since 1912. The odd aspect of their standing and 70-89 record was that they were outscored by merely one run. Five other AL teams were outscored by an average of more than 70 runs.
While the Yankees put themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, the five-year-old Mets, cellar dwellers in their first four seasons, finished ninth, an ascent made possible by their own 16-game improvement and the Cubs' losing 103. Incidentally, the Mets, managed by Cliff Dweller Wes Westrum, were outscored by 74 runs.
1976: In the fourth year of George Steinbrenner's ownership, the first full season of Billy Martin's managing and the year before the arrival of Reggie Jackson, the Yankees won the pennant for the 30th time and the first time since 1964.
Thurman Munson became the third Yankees catcher -- Yogi Berra (three) and Elston Howard (one) preceded him -- to win the AL MVP Award. Graig Nettles led the league in home runs (32), Sparky Lyle led in saves (23) and Roy White in runs (104). Rookie Willie Randolph was the second baseman. Acquired the previous December with Ed Figueroa, Mickey Rivers placed third in MVP balloting and might have won the award if not for a late-season fade.
At various points, the Yankees' unremarkable rotation included Figueroa, Catfish Hunter, Dock Ellis, Rudy May and, after a June 14 trade with the Orioles, Ken Holtzman and Doyle Alexander. It might have become more productive, but Commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided the A's sale of Vida Blue to the Yankees that was announced the following day.
Playing their home games at remodeled Yankee Stadium, the Yankees won 97 games. Their total might have been 96, but an apparent game-winning grand slam by Don Money of the Brewers in the season's second game was nullified because first-base umpire Jim McKean had called time before Dave Pagan delivered the pitch.
Outscored by one run, the Yankees won the AL Championship Series against the Royals on a final-pitch home run by Chris Chambliss in the ninth inning of Game 5. They were overmatched and swept by the Reds in the Fall Classic.
A year before their trade of Tom Seaver, the Mets won 86 games, the second-highest total in their history -- they won 100 in '69 -- until '84.
1986: The Mets placed second to the Cardinals in the NL East in '85. Manager Davey Johnson assured them a runnerup repeat was not in the offing. He told them late in Spring Training they wouldn't merely win the division, they would dominate the league with power, unmatched pitching and a sense of arrogance that unnerved opponents.
Johnson proved prescient; his team won 108 games, equaling the most by an NL team in 109 years, and participated in four altercations.
The final margin in the standings was 20 1/2 games, Mets over the second-place Phillies. The Mets outscored their opponents by 205 runs; the other four teams with winning records (both leagues combined) outscored their opponents by 206.
After a taut seven-game NL Championship Series against the Astros that ended with a scintillating 16-inning game, the Mets beat the Red Sox in the World Series, surviving Game 6 in part because of an unforgettable error by Bill Buckner in the 10th inning.
The Yankees won 90 games and placed second.
1996: With Don Mattingly retired, new man Joe Torre managing and rookie Derek Jeter playing shortstop, the Yankees ended the longest period without a postseason appearance in franchise history -- 15 years. Among their 92 victories was a no-hitter by Dwight Gooden. Another former Met, Darryl Strawberry, contributed to the team's success.
The Yankees eliminated the Rangers in four games in the AL Division Series and the Orioles in five games in the AL Championship Series, winning Game 1 in extra innings in part because of a disputed home run by Jeter that tied the score in the eighth inning. Jeffrey Maier, an 11-year old from New Jersey, touched Jeter's fly ball before it could reach the top of the right-field wall.
The Braves dominated the Yankees in the first two games of the World Series. But the Yankees swept the defending World Series champions in three games in Atlanta and beat Greg Maddux in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium to produce the 23rd championship in franchise history.
The Yankees' postseason run was made more compelling by the need for a new heart for Torre's older brother, Frank.
2006: The Yankees and Mets won division titles in the same season for the first time, each won 97 games. But neither reached the World Series. The Yankees lost the ALDS to the Tigers on four games. Having ended the Braves' run of successive division championships at 14, the Mets swept the Dodgers in the NL Division Series and might have had a three-victories-to-one advantage over the Cardinals in the NLCS if not for ineffective relief pitching by Guillermo Mota in Game 2.
But the Mets lost Game 2 (after battering Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter) in New York, Games 3 and 5 in St. Louis and came up short in Game 7 despite a dazzling catch in left field by Endy Chavez in the sixth inning and despite loading bases in the ninth.
And now for 2016.
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.