On This Date in Sports June 6, 1990: When the Yankees Hit Rock Bottom

in collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com


Amid the team’s worst season in nearly 80 years, the New York Yankees fire manager Bucky Dent, replacing him with longtime minor league manager, Stump Merrill. It is the third straight season that the Yankees changed managers in the middle of the season. The Yankees were sitting in last place at 18-31, the time of the change. George Steinbrenner is criticized as the move was made in Boston, and seen as a way to embarrass Bucky Dent. 

The 1990 season may have been the worst in the history of the New York Yankees. The Yankees had the best overall record in MLB during the 1980s but failed to win a World Series. It was the first decade they had failed to win a World Series since the 1910s. As a new decade began, the turmoil that had surrounded George Steinbrenner was coming to ahead. The team was devoid of prospects as trades like Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps had robbed the farm system with little reward. Dave Winfield was traded as Steinbrenner was being investigated for hiring a gambler to dig up dirt on the All-Star right fielder. Making matters worse, Don Mattingly was suffering through a back injury and having the worst season of his career.

While the Yankees had not been to the playoffs, since losing the 1981 World Series, they had been in contention most seasons, winning 97 games and falling two games short in 1985. In 1989, things began to fall apart as they finished in fifth place at 75-87, the team’s worst record since 1967. The Yankees started the season with Dallas Green at manager, but after an argument with George Steinbrenner, Green was fired and replaced by Bucky Dent. Dent compiled a record of 18-22 over the last 40 games in 1989.

The 1990 Yankees were a shit show, the longtime feud between Dave Winfield and George Steinbrenner had turned nuclear. The Howard Spira scandal would eventually lead to George Steinbrenner getting banned by Commissioner Fay Vincent, while Winfield was traded to the California Angels. Toiling at 18-31, George Steinbrenner, who had changed managers in the middle of each of the last three seasons, did it again, replacing Bucky Dent with Stump Merrill. 

The timing could not have been worse for firing Bucky Dent as the Yankees were in Boston to take on the Red Sox. Bucky Dent became a Yankees’ legend in 1978 when his three-run home run over the Green Monster led the Yankees to a win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park in a tie-breaker playoff in 1978. Fans in Boston gave the Yankees’ light-hitting shortstop a new middle name Buck “Blanking” Dent. Firing Dent in Boston was viewed as a move to embarrass him as George Steinbrenner was clearly out of control. 

The Yankees would finish the 1990 season with a record of 67-95. It was their worst season since 1912 when they were still known as the New York Highlanders. George Steinbrenner would be reinstated in 1993, and came back a different man, as he was more under control as the Yankees’ farm system was rebuilt over the next three years. That farm system would include the “Core Four” as the Yankees rose from the ashes and won four World Series in five years as the 90s came to an end. 

Bucky Dent would never get another managerial job in MLB, though he served as a coach for much of the next 15 years.