As the Red Sox and Rockies prepare to determine the 2007 champion of baseball, much of the mainstream baseball coverage remains transfixed on the New York Yankees. Whether the subject is Joe Torre, Alex Rodriguez, or any other member of the team, it seems the Yankees never fail to overshadow the rest of baseball. With all this never-ending coverage and organizational drama, it’s difficult to imagine a time when the franchise was not relevant. Even in the dark ages of Yankee lore, the late 1980s and early 1990s, the days of Rick Rhoden, Mel Hall, and Andy Hawkins, the team still made headlines due to its bombastic ownership.
There was a time many generations ago, however, when this was not the case. Way back in the early 20th century, before George Steinbrenner, before television, before World War II, and before George Ruth revolutionized the game, there was the sadly mediocre New York Yankees. From 1903 to 1918, as the cross-town New York Giants dominated the world of baseball, the upstart New York Yankees floundered in mediocrity. In this 16-year era, the beginning of the American League New York ballclub, the Yankees/ New York Highlanders were a collective 41 games over .500, winning 1141 and losing 1100. Comparatively, the Giants were nearly 500 wins over .500 at 1465 and 938.
Even in attendance the Yankees tread the middle road. From 1903 to 1918, they averaged 4th in the 8 team league in attendance. The Giants, on the other hand, led the National League in attendance in 12 of the 16 years. This disparity is even more striking when the Yankees moved into the Giants’ home park of the Polo Grounds in 1913. Of course, in the following years, the Yankees would eventually surpass the Giants in attendance thanks to the prolific home run hitting ability of Babe Ruth.
With the arrival of the Babe in 1920, the Yankees turned the page and quickly transformed into the kings of New York and the talk of sports world. The Babe catapulted to mythical stature and on his huge shoulders sat the Yankees franchise. From 1920 to 1964, the Yankees would only finish under .500 one time. As the torch passed from Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle to Reggie to Mattingly to Jeter, the Yankees became ingrained in American culture. They became possibly the most transcending entity in all of sports. Yet, nearly 100 years ago, as difficult as it is to imagine, the Yankees were about as dominate in the landscape of the early American League as the Toronto Blue Jays are today.