The Corporate Culture of the New York Yankees in the Postwar Dynasty
“Don’t mess with my money.”
That’s what many a rookie Yankee heard from veteran ballplayers like All-Star outfielder Hank Bauer during the “dynasty” era.
It was less a threat and more of an attitude, the New York Yankee way, the team’s professional approach that set the club apart from others.
The phrase referred to the players’ share of the World Series money. Everyone on the team, including rookies and batboys, shared in the team’s winnings — the ultimate display of “team.”
For instance, twice in 1955, the Yankees briefly called Bobby Richardson up from the minors. He played with the team less than three weeks while Gil McDougald recovered from an injury. Then back down he went to the minors.
Three weeks later, Richardson got the call back to New York, after the Yankees had secured the pennant. Manager Casey Stengel played him in 11 games, spelling the veterans before the World Series. They went on to fall to the Brooklyn Dodgers, 4 games to 3.
For the simple fact he’d contributed in this small way to the team’s success, his major league teammates voted to reward Richardson with a one-third share of the World Series money. That $1,500 bonus was a lot of money in 1955, particularly for a small-town South Carolinian who worked at a gas station that off-season.
Attitude Is Everything
When guys like Bauer said it, they were setting the standard expected up and down the lineup and the bench: We’re here to play hard every day, put out our best effort every day, give it our all every game.
The phrase also applied when after-hours conduct might be jeopardizing on-field performance. Whitey Ford recalled, “He [Bauer] pinned me to the wall of the dugout one day and said, ‘Don’t mess with my money.’ ”
The veterans also “said” it without saying a word. They set an example by their top-tier effort, their consistent diligence, their commitment to the team’s success.
This attitude helps characterize the New York Yankee ethos of the era. It exemplifies the team’s “corporate culture.” It indicates a palpable professionalism that new team members, rookies just up from the minor leagues and veterans traded from other teams alike, picked up on almost immediately.
Every organization needs to establish standards, expectations, and a strong work ethic if it wants to succeed. There must be a shared vision, a shared attitude that permeates the organization.
It would seem inherent with a team. But too often, absent a clear example set at the top and leaders up and down the line who share and help instill this standard, self-interest can overtake what’s best for the whole.
The wrong attitude — in business, nonprofits, political organizations, and sports — can lead to internal politics and gamesmanship that undermine the group’s objectives. It puts people on edge, feeds distrust, and has those in the group constantly looking over their shoulders and second-guessing themselves. It breeds a lack of confidence and lowers morale.
The New York Yankees of the “dynasty” era in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s illustrate how a high standard of professionalism and teamwork can result in tremendous success. This club made the World Series some 15 times in the two decades after World War II — and won 10 of those championships.
The Yankee Way
What characterized the golden-era (well, one of the golden eras) New York Yankees, in terms of the team’s approach, attitude, and allegiance?
Veterans conveyed the level of performance expected. “The Yankees were, to a man, a fiercely competitive group,” Lew Paper observed in Perfect, “and they did not tolerate a teammate who seemed to be giving less than everything he had.”
Paper cited pitcher Eddie Lopat confronting rookie Mickey Mantle in the dugout in ’51. His brooding over a strikeout caused Mantle’s lapse in the field on a ball hit his direction. “You want to play?” Lopat said in no uncertain terms. “We don’t need guys like you. We want to win.”
“Don’t mess with my money” falls in this category. Tony Kubek put it this way:
“The Yankees had a philosophy that discipline doesn’t come from the top. We disciplined each other. The expression heard all the time, especially when a veteran was talking to a younger player, was, ‘Stop fooling around. You’re messing with my money.’ They were talking about World Series money, which we all needed badly.”
The Yankee attitude that Paper called “a detached professionalism” impressed young first baseman Joe Collins in 1949. The pennant race came down to two games against the Red Sox at the Stadium, with the Yankees trailing Boston by a game. “[E]verybody had the feeling on the ball club that we had gotten this far and it’s only a question of playing two games and winning them.”
New York took both games. Attitude is everything.
Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio’s introverted, silent form of leadership had demonstrable effect on his teammates. “Let’s go” from DiMag invigorated the Pinstripe Brigade as a longer pep talk by a lesser light could never do.
The veterans helped the youngsters perfect their skills (even though they could be the regulars’ replacements someday).
For example, at spring training in 1957, rookie Richardson trained with the parent club. The infield was a who’s who of great ballplayers: “The Scooter” Phil Rizzuto, Billy Martin, Andy Carey, Gil McDougald, Moose Skowron, and Jerry Coleman.
“But every one of those players gave me encouragement,” Richardson said. “Jerry Coleman, especially, spent hours with me, perfecting my pivot move, showing me how to charge slow rollers, and helping me eliminate my skip and jump in the double-play maneuver.”
The best trained the best. The lessons Jerry Coleman gave Bobby Richardson resulted in the next middle infield’s dominance. Richardson and Kubek would smoothly turn double plays, making it look as effortless and with as much perfection as Coleman and Rizzuto had done before them.
Coleman had come by this mentoring attitude honestly. “In the spring of ’49 we were just a bunch of guys,” he told Peter Golenbock in Dynasty. “And I remember that first year, one of the things about the Yankees that never existed on some clubs and is very hard to find is that the old players teach the young.”
Then there was the camaraderie that unified the team members. It stemmed from the club’s rich tradition, its well-known history, the pride that each person felt. It resulted in a selflessness that demonstrated the team was more important than personal glory.
“Yankees of that era didn’t care about batting averages,” relief pitcher Hector Lopez said. “They cared more about clutch hitting.”
In the stretch of the famous home run derby between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in 1961, Maris was closing in on Babe Ruth’s record, but he was running out of season. Yet, Maris laid down a bunt in a clutch squeeze play for the good of the team, rather than swinging for the fence.
Bud Daley joined the Yankees pitching staff, traded from the Kansas City Athletics in 1961 just before the trading deadline. Daley made fewer starts in N.Y. than he had in K.C., but in the last third of the season he pitched 35 consecutive innings without being scored on.
“There was a different attitude with the Yankees,” Daley recalled. “In Kansas City you pitched for yourself. In New York you pitched for the team.”
“They were always encouraging,” Carey said. His sacrifice grounder against the Indians, which advanced the runner to second, earned the hitter who was disappointed in himself enthusiastic congratulations from the veterans in the dugout. “They had their little cliques, but to a man, there was nothing like being a Yankee.”
Lopez attributed the unity to “Yankee spirit. We believed in the uniform, the tradition, and each other.”
Just being in the same place Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and other legends had occupied injected pride, tradition, and glory — and a sense of place.
“One of my greatest thrills was walking into the Yankee clubhouse for the first time,” Bill Stafford, a pitcher who came up through the Yankee farm system, said. “I saw all those stars standing around, then I looked at the name tags over their dressing stalls. Maris, Richardson, Kubek, Ford, Skowron, Boyer, Terry, Berra, and Mantle. I was a New York boy. They were all my idols. And then I saw the name tag over my locker. Bill Stafford. I couldn’t believe I was there.”
This corporate culture, based on team tradition and pride, fostered healthy competitiveness, accountability, and teamwork. Underlying the Yankees’ standard of professionalism was an esprit de corps that balanced competitiveness and unity. This exemplified the Bronx Bombers of the postwar dynasty. And, despite adversity that comes with baseball, this culture served the team well in that storied era.