As the Yankees of 2016 have trouble early, I start to compare them in my mind to the 1974 Detroit Tigers who stand as the bar for teams that got old all of a sudden.
I started rooting for baseball in 1973 when I was 11 yrs old. The Yankees were a middle-the-pack team; the top teams in the American League were the Oakland A’s, the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers had won the World Series 5 years earlier and the AL East title in 1972.
Detroit Got OLD All of a Sudden in 1974
Then in 1974 the Tigers got old all of a sudden. That’s what the announcers said back then. They fell off the earth. They went from 85-77 in 1973 to 72-90 in 1974 to 57-102 in 1975.
- In 1974, the heart of Detroit’s lineup — Al Kaline and Norm Cash — were both 39 years old. Cash — their power-hitting 1st baseman — hit .228 and found the bench — after having hit 19 homers and .262 the year before. He retired after the season.
- Kaline hit .262, his second straight year of a mediocre-for-him batting avg — he collected his 3,000th hit in 1974 and retired.
- Dick McAuliffe their 32-yr-old gold-glove second baseman, was traded to the Red Sox just before the 1974 season for young Ben Oglivie; a smart trade as McAuliffe would only play another year. But that dropped Detroit’s talent at 2nd base.
- Frank Howard, who had hit 12 homers off the bench for Detroit in 1973, retired before the 1974 season at age 36.
Here’s what Detroit’s team looked like in 1974, with the age of each player:
|Rank in 12 AL teams||4||3||10||12||10|
OK now for the 2016 NY Yankees so far:
|Rank in 15 AL teams||14||9||11||12||14|
The Yankees average age (32) for their starting lineup and bench is older than Detroit’s average age (30). Both teams are near the bottom of the league in batting average (Det was 10th out of 12; Yanks are 11th out of 15) and their On Base Percentage (OBP) is almost identical (.303 vs .304).
Back When 34 Was 34 and Some Players Lost It at 32
This was in the pre-steroid era when 34 was 34 — most hitters’ best years ended at age 34 and they retired — and those rare specimens that continued to play into their late 30’s typically put up inconsistent batting averages and performances; an era similar to the current post-steroid era.
Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, who both had terrific comeback, monster years last year when they were amongst the leaders in homeruns and RBI the first 3/4 of the season — both look old all of a sudden at 36 and 40. Carlos Beltran, who has seemingly been belting the ball — only has a .276 OBP.
Maybe the scariest player in the lineup is NOT Chase Headley, who is batting .150 but is still getting on base with walks — but Jacoby Ellsbury, who had a brief hitting spurt and stole home one game, but for the most part looks old all of a sudden at 32. And he is signed for this year and another 5 years (5th year is team option) at $21 mil a year!
Some good news is that the Yanks have some youth and mostly decent ages on their pitching staff; Detroit’s staff was older (although pitchers can usually pitch well past 34 unlike hitters). Overall the Yankees, especially with their 3-ace-reliever ballpen, have a better pitching staff than Detroit did.
|Rank in 12 AL teams||5||8||8||11||1||9||7||2|
Here is the 2016 Yankee pitching staff so far:
|Rank in 15 AL teams||13||3||14||4||11||14||9||3|
The Future Back Then for Detroit
Detroit’s fall from grace started a rebuilding period for them that lasted 5 years — they won 74 games in 1976 and 1977 and were back into the mid 80’s in wins by the late 70’s. Detroit became one of the better teams in the eighties, winning a World Series title in 1984.
The Yankees Future
The Yankees are having their worst start after 22 games since 1991. Since 1994 the lowest amount of wins the Yanks have had in a season is 84, an incredible run of success. That said, the Yanks haven’t had a top-10 pick in the June draft in 23 years — since Derek Jeter in 1992.