The Yankees celebrate winning the World Series against the Padres on Oct. 21, 1998, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

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Silverman: ’98 Yankees Edge Out ’61 Bombers, ’75 Reds As Baseball's Best Over Last 60 Years

Steve Silverman
August 17, 2018 - 9:38 am
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Note: This is the fifth and final article in WFAN.com’s weeklong series remembering the 1998 Yankees on the 20th anniversary of their world-championship season.

The New York Yankees broke an 18-year drought in 1996 when manager Joe Torre engineered a six-game victory in the World Series over the Atlanta Braves.

The team and Yankees fans celebrated that victory, and it got the franchise started on a string of brilliant seasons that would continue through the 2001 season.

A year after the win over the Braves, the Yankees were beaten by the Cleveland Indians in the American League Divisional Series.

That loss hurt badly, as the Bombers were forced to watch the Indians play in the World Series. But it also steeled the Yankees for the 1998 season.

MORE: Murti: How 1998 Yankees Overcame A 3-Day Moment Of Crisis In ALCS

That team was prepared every step of the way and roared back to the Fall Classic.

The record shows the 1998 Yankees were one of the greatest teams in baseball history. Not only did they dominate the regular season with a 114-48 record, they went on to sweep the Texas Rangers in the Divisional Series, beat the Indians in the ALCS and sweep the San Diego Padres in the World Series. By the time they were parading up Canyon of Heroes, the Yankees had won a Major League Baseball-record 125 regular and postseason games.

Just how good were those ’98 Yankees? There have been two teams over the past 60 years that can compare. The 1961 Yankees are often viewed as one of MLB's all-time great teams, mentioned in the same breath with the 1927 Yankees and the 1939 edition. That team featured the M&M boys – Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris – and their classic home run battle that ended with Roger hitting his record 61st home run on the final day of the season.

That team went on to beat the Cincinnati Reds in a five-game World Series, and the big question was how Cincinnati managed to win a game in that Fall Classic.

MORE: A Conversation With Paul O'Neill About '98 Yankees

The other team that has stood the test of time is the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. That team featured Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Ken Griffey Sr.

A strong argument can be made that Bench was the greatest catcher in MLB history, and the only backstop that was even close was Yogi Berra. Morgan ranks among the greatest second basemen of all time, Rose is the game’s all-time hit king, and Perez was unflinchingly clutch when it came to driving in runs. Griffey was an All-Star outfielder who would have been a superstar on any other team.

The 1998 Yankees may not have had the same overwhelming strength in the starting lineup as the Reds – a team that beat the Red Sox in seven games in the 1975 World Series and swept the Yankees the following year. However, the ’98 Yankees had depth, intangibles and the significantly better pitching staff.

Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter were the anchors in the infield, while Bernie Williams in center field and Paul O’Neill in right field were remarkably effective.

MORE: Brosius Proved To Be Anything But An Afterthought On 1998 Yankees

Martinez led the team with 123 RBIs, while O’Neill was right behind with 116. Third baseman Scott Brosius amassed 98, and Williams had 97.

The ’75 Reds, who were 108-54 and slightly better than the ’76 version, were similar in the RBI department. Bench led the way with 110, while Perez was right behind with 109. Morgan, a remarkable fielder and baserunner, had substantial pop for a second baseman in the 1970s. He had 94 RBIs to go with his 17 home runs and 67 stolen bases.

Rose batted .317 with 210 hits and 112 runs scored, while power-hitting George Foster, who was inserted into the starting lineup by manager Sparky Anderson in mid-May, would be the final piece to the Cincinnati puzzle, as he smacked 23 homers and drove in 78 runs.

While the Cincinnati lineup could stand up with any in baseball history, the pitching staff cannot.

MORE: Keidel: 1998 Yankees Were Perfect

Left-hander Don Gullett, who would eventually sign with the Yankees as a free agent, was the ace of the staff with a 15-4 record, a 2.42 earned-run average, eight complete games and three shutouts. Fellow starters Gary Nolan, Jack Billingham and Fred Norman had guile and were fairly tough, but they can’t compare with the ’98 Yankees starters.

David Cone, David Wells, Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernandez did the bulk of the starting for Torre, and they were all skilled and nearly impossible to beat in clutch situations. The Yankees had Mariano Rivera and Jeff Nelson in the bullpen, and they have an edge over Cincinnati’s Clay Carroll, Rawly Eastwick and Will McEnaney.

The Reds would have been tough to beat when Gullett was on the mound, but the other starters could not have held the Yankees in check.

The ’61 Yankees went 103-59 and ran roughshod over the American League, finishing eight games ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers.

I see those Yankees as being very similar to the ’75 Reds, as the starting lineup was spectacular. In addition to Mantle (54 homers) and Maris, catcher Elston Howard hit .348 with 21 homers and 77 RBIs, first baseman Bill “Moose” Skowron had 28 home runs, and Berra hit 22 homers while often positioned in left field. The second base-shortstop combination of Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek was brilliant defensively, and both were solid offensive contributors, while Clete Boyer may have been the best defensive third baseman the Yankees have ever had.

Whitey Ford was a remarkable pitcher throughout his Hall of Fame career, and he was 25-4 with a 3.21 ERA while striking out 209 hitters in 283 innings in '61.

Pitchers Bill Stafford, Ralph Terry and Rollie Sheldon were also quite effective, but they don’t compare with the ’98 Yankees starters.

If we imagine them meeting on the field, the ’98 Yankees would simply have too much pitching for the ’61 Yankees or ’75 Reds. They would be pushed to the limit by both teams, but the seven-game battles with both of those teams would end in similar manners.

Rivera would have stopped the ’75 Reds and Perez with the tying and winning runs on base by forcing a weak popout as he delivered his signature cutter.

He would have done the same to the ’61 Yankees, fanning Mantle with a chance to tie the game – moments after Mickey’s drive down the right-field line reached the upper deck, but was foul by 2 feet.

Torre had many things to be proud of with his ’98 Yankees, a team that was the best in baseball over the last 60 years.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy​