The pre-Steinbrenner Yankees were not as bad as you were told

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A second must-read for you today comes from Mark Armour, writing at The National Pastime Museum. His topic: the CBS-era New York Yankees.

Most people who talk about the Yankees thumbnail them by saying “they were a dynasty for over 40 years, then they sucked, then George Steinbrenner bought the team and they were good again.” Those “when they sucked” years were 1966-1972, when the club was owned by CBS and when they did not make a playoff appearance.¬†This is, Armour writes, a simplification that overlooks at lot of interesting stuff.

Contrary to popular belief, the CBS years were not a dark age. Indeed, in many ways they were years of rejuvenation for the franchise. Under CBS, the Yankees rebuilt a farm system that had been neglected, made some key trades that laid the groundwork for mid-to-late 1970s success and, despite no playoff appearances, were more competitive than your old man probably remembers. Oh, and while they were at it, they got the city to agree to renovate decaying Yankee Stadium, keeping the team in New York when they had a lot of reasons to follow the football Giants to New Jersey.

As Armour notes, they did all of this while suffering a unique handicap compared to earlier and later iterations of the franchise: the complete and utter lack of free agency.

The Ruth-Gehrig-DiMaggio-Mantle dynasty years came when the Yankees could sign any amateur player they wanted and could quite easily outbid and out-impress the top prospects simply because they were the World Famous New York Yankees. The Steinbrenner-era Yankees, obviously, had and continue to have the advantage of free agency for established major leaguers. CBS’ ownership of the club coincided with the only time in baseball history when a team could not sign any amateur it wanted due to the draft and could not sign veterans it wanted because it was pre-free agency.

They were not great years as Yankees fans have come to define greatness. “Win the pennant or bust” is the Yankees implied motto now and was then, and they never won a pennant for CBS. But they were useful and productive years that get far, far less ink than any other Yankees era.

Go read Armour’s article for some of that ink. It’s super interesting stuff.