Inspired by Catfish Stew, here’s a list of my least favorite Yankees from the last twenty years:
25. Tim Stoddard Stoddard was 6’7″, 250 pounds and looked like Wally Walrus from the Woody Woodpecker cartoons. What’s not to like about that? Well, Wally was the bad guy in those cartoons and Tim posted a 6.38 ERA out of the Yankee pen in 1988 earning his release that August. Worse yet, Stoddard was all the Yankees managed to get in return for Ed Whitson, who would surely make this list if I extended it back further. Just a series of unpleasant memories there.
24. Xavier Hernandez The Yankees began to turn things around in 1993 with the additions of Paul O’Neill, Jimmy Key and Wade Boggs. Going into 1994, Hernandez was supposed to be part of the solution as a young (28) rubber armed reliever who had just turned in two excellent seasons for the Astros. Plus his name started with an X. How cool is that? Turns out his arm wasn’t really made of rubber after all and those 207 2/3 innings over two seasons in Houston resulted in a 5.85 ERA in his lone season for the Yanks, which was itself cut short by injury in late July. I suppose I should have blamed Houston manager Art Howe, but I was less enlightened then. Speaking of which, it didn’t help that the Yanks dealt no-hit fan favorite Andy Stankiewicz (“Stanky the Yankee”) to get Xavier.
23. Rich Dotson One of many Stump Merrill-era hurlers on this list (a term I use for those lean late-’80s, early ’90s years regardless of whom the manager was, Dotson, for instance, never actually pitched for Merrill). The Yankees sent fan favorite Danny Pasqua to the White Sox in the deal to acquire Dotson. In his only full year with the Yanks, Dotson posted a 5.00 ERA (79 ERA+ in those days) and things got so bad the following season he was released in June . . . only to resign with the White Sox! It was a trick! We wuz robbed! Dotson, of course, pitched better for the Chisox over the remainder of the 1989 season than he ever had for the Yankees, but at least he had the decency to burn out after that. Oh, it bears mentioning that Dotson wore his hat high on his head so it boxed up in front. Some players can pull that off. Dotson couldn’t.
22. Terry Mulholland Believe it or not, the Yankees were just Mulholland’s third team, though he was already in his early thirties back in 1994. Mulholland’s offenses are similar to Hernandez’s. Thought to be part of the solution in 1994, he was so very much part of the problem, struggling to stay in the rotation and posting a 6.49 ERA, which remains his worst single season ERA more than a decade later.
21. Randy Keisler With his jug-handle ears and bulging eyes, Keisler looked ready to crap himself on the mound and when he pitched like crap he had the nerve to bitch about being sent back to Columbus. Normally I’d sympathize with a young player’s gripes about getting a fair shot with Steinbrenner’s Yankees, but a) keep your mouth shut rook and make your statements on the field and b) Keisler, who made his major league debut at age 24, was such a hot prospect the Yanks just flat released him after he missed the 2003 season due to injury.
20. Carl Pavano I was ready to like Pavano despite the ridiculous contract the Yankees gave him, but once what was supposed to be a minimum DL stay last June turned into a full calendar year of inaction amid rumors of the Yankees questioning Pavano’s fortitude, he’d hung himself with the rope I was prepared to give him. He’d rank higher, but there’s still time for Meat to redeem himself.
19. Todd Zeile The Yankees never needed Zeile, but he was one of Torre’s old Cardinal pets. He played far more than he ever should have, didn’t hit, and then had the nerve to complain he wasn’t playing enough. Then when the Yankees picked up Aaron Boone, they kept the useless Zeile on the roster and dealt Robin Ventura only to release Zeile just weeks later. I’m still convinced Ventura could have tipped the balance in the 2003 World Series as a pinch-hitter for Boone, whom well get to later, and I blame Zeile for his having been dealt. And yes, I’d trade Bubba and Scott Proctor for a 2003 World Championship banner in half a heartbeat.
18. Tony Womack Some might think he’s ranked a bit low here, but I had a hard time disliking Womack despite his futility. Despite doing just the opposite with the majority of this list, I never blamed Womack for his lack of production, but rather blamed those who employed him for giving him those opportunities to fail. It was only late in the 2005 season and early this year when, as a member of the Reds, he began to complain that the Yankees stole a year of his career that I turned on Tony Mowack.
17. Jose Contreras I’d be harder on Contreras if not for all of the personal drama he was experiencing as a member of the Yankees. For those who forget, Contreras defected from Cuba expecting to be able to extract his family rather easily, but wound up having to wait a year and a half, unsure during that time if he would ever see his wife and daughters again. Barely more than a month after he was reunited with them, the Yankees traded him to the White Sox. Still, during those few hours between the lines every five days was it really that hard for him to throw a freaking fastball? Unwilling to trust his stuff (and possibly tipping pitches), Contreras frustrated the Yankees to such a degree that they traded him straight up for Esteban Loaiza simply to get rid of his contract. Prior to that he became my least favorite pitcher to watch throw. Even now as he’s dominating with the White Sox (of course), I can’t watch him. The deep creases on his thick, leathery face still look to me like they’re coated in flop sweat, and his habit of jamming the baseball deep into his mitts, preparing for a split finger fastball that rarely lived up to its billing in pinstripes, just brings the whole ordeal rushing back. The nadir for me was in Game 5 of the 2003 World Series. Yes, David Wells punted the start, but it was Contreras who let things get out of hand. Now, of course, he’s wearing a World Series ring with the White Sox and the Yankees are stuck with the Evil Empire tag that resulted from the petty bickering with the Red Sox that surrounded his signing. Heck, let him dominate with the Sox, I’m just glad I don’t have to watch him anymore.
16. Hideki Irabu The Fat Pussy Toad was actually a helpful member of the 1998 Yankees (110 ERA+ in 28 starts), yielded three solid arms in a dump trade two years later (Lilly, Westbrook and Zach Day), and had the decency to suck after being dealt. But unlike Contreras, who very well may be a decent guy, Irabu was a stone cold schmuck. Plus hype minus results equals contempt.
15. Felix Heredia The Run Fairy had his one shining moment, striking out David Ortiz with the bases loaded in the seventh inning allowing the Yankees to rally from an 0-2 deficit to beat the Sox 4-2 the night before Jeter took his dive into the stands, but otherwise he lived up to his nickname.
14. Scott Erickson Okay, so it was just 11 1/3 innings, he’s been released and it just happened so I’m probably overreacting, but . . . grrrrrrr. The only reason this man wasn’t forced into retirement three years ago is that he has The Face. Good ugly players are fun, but bad pretty ones are maddening.
13. Jay Witasick The Yanks were desperate for relief help in 2001, so they picked up Witasick, who had a 1.86 ERA with the pre-Petco Padres. He finished the year by posting a 4.69 mark as a Yankee. Then there was his postseason performance: 21.60 ERA in five innings. Oh, and did I mention the wispy moustache? Ewwww.
12. Walt Terrell Walt Terrible nearly ruined my first game at Yankee stadium by outdueling Rich Dotson (thankfully Claudell Washington played the hero). He later wormed his way over to the Yankees and posted a 5.20 ERA in a half season. But that’s not the worst of it. The Yankees sent Mike Pagliarulo to the Padres for Terrell. Pags! Yeah, sure, Pags had turned into an out machine, and in fact had always been one, but those Yankee teams weren’t going anywhere and Pags was a top-notch character. He was the rare American-born player who wore number 13, played some thrilling defense at the hot corner, was the guy Billy Martin forced to bat from the wrong side of the plate, and did some flat out awesome commercials for Yankee Stadium promotion days in his thick Medford, Mass accent, which given his I-talian last name and Mattingly-like cop-stache could easily be misheard as Brooklyn by young ears. Pagliarulo #13 is on my short list of desired custom Yankee t-shirts and thus Walt Terrell is #12 on my list of least favorite Yankees. At least Pags went on to win a ring with the Twins.
11. Juan Acevedo Acevedo joined the Yankees after recording 28 saves for the Tigers and fancied himself a legitimate understudy to Mariano Rivera. An early 2003 DL stay by Rivera gave Acevedo a chance to let his arm do his talking and he responded with a 7.71 Yankee ERA, culminating with his ruining an absolutely classic Game of the Week confrontation between Roger Clemens, going for his 300th win for the first time, and Kerry Wood at Wrigley Field by turning a 1-0 Yankee lead into a 1-3 deficit with one pitch to Eric Karros, earning his release four days later.
10. Greg Cadaret Ahead of Pagliarulo #13 on my custom t-shirt list is #24 Rickey Henderson. Cadaret was part of the trio the Yankees took in return for a 30-year-old Rickey in 1989. I resented all three at the time, but Eric Plunk and Luis Polonia at least displayed some modicum of talent. Caderet, with his odd, rodent-like overbite and moustache, earned the bulk of my distain. Looking back, his stats aren’t as bad as memory would suggest, but I think the fact that he hung around for 188 games and 439 innings, more than all but two men on this list, which also synched up exactly with the worst of the Yankees’ dark years (1989-1992) made things seem worse than they actually were. Still, it felt like he not only pitched in every game I saw over that span, but blew the lead in each one as well.
9. Kevin Brown Brown actually pitched reasonably well when healthy (daaaa!) in his first year in pinstripes, but he sure was sullen about it. Then, after what was actually a solid start against the Orioles on September 3, he punched a cinder block wall in the Yankee clubhouse out of frustration (the Yanks had given him a 1-0 lead after the first and he gave up three unanswered runs over the next five innings), breaking his glove hand. That cost him three weeks down the stretch. He then tanked his comeback game against the Red Sox, but a solid outing in the season’s penultimate game earned him a spot on the playoff roster. He then turned in a solid outing to win Game 3 of the Yankees ALDS romp over the Twins, but tanked against the Sox again in Game 3 in the ALCS only to be bailed out by 19 Yankee runs.
That’s when things went from bad to worse. After the Red Sox rallied to avoid a sweep in Game 4, won an extra-inning marathon in Game 5, and rode Curt Schilling’s ketchup stains to a tied series in Game 6, Brown let his pride get in the way, telling Joe Torre he was healthy enough to start the double-elimination Game 7 despite having appeared to have been in extreme discomfort in Game 3. He lied, getting the hook from Torre in the second inning of that game having already handed the Red Sox a 2-0 lead and leaving the bases loaded in his wake.
The next year his bad back robbed him of what little value he had before the wall-punching incident as he posted a 6.50 ERA in just 13 starts on a $15 million salary.
Plus he was universally regarded as a complete and utter ass. The only reason he’s not higher on this list is because he directed his abuse at himself, not those around him.
8. Jeff Weaver When the Yankees traded Ted Lilly and others for Jeff Weaver, I though it was a good idea. Weaver was younger and had more major league experience. When he struggled in his first half season with the Yankees (and to be fair, he did post a 108 ERA+ while being jerked between the rotation and bullpen) I had faith he’d straighten it out in his first full season in the Bronx.
Then came 2003. Weaver just couldn’t cut it and to make matters worse, he sulked on the mound when his slop got smacked around the park. His routine was infantile and suggested that Weaver though that something other than the weak stuff he was throwing toward the plate was to blame for his struggles, as if his fielders and the universe as a whole had conspired against him. The end result was a 5.99 ERA and a spot deep in Joe Torre’s dog house.
Weaver didn’t throw a single pitch in the playoffs that year, making it all the more perplexing when Joe Torre selected him over Mariano Rivera in extra innings in Game 4 of the World Series. It wasn’t Weaver’s fault that he wound up losing that game after having pitched since the regular season, but when Alex Gonzalez’s game winner landed on the other side of the left field fence in Pro Player Stadium, you knew that was Weaver’s last pitch as a Yankee, and I don’t think you could find a single Yankee fan who was disappointed to see him go.
7. Andy Hawkins A 29-year-old free agent addition to the 1989 Yankees, Hawkins was brought in to be the ace of a team that had finally sent Ron Guidry and Tommy John out to pasture. Instead, he posted a 4.80 ERA (81 ERA+ in those days), which would be his high water mark in pinstripes. As an encore he contributed perhaps the defining moment of those lean years for the pinstripers, an eight-inning no-hitter in old Comisky Park which, thanks to two walks and three errors, he and the Yankees lost by a tally of 4-0. It was the largest margin of defeat for a team that had not allowed a hit and a year later Major League Baseball ruled that no-hitters had to last a minimum of nine innings, wiping the embarrassment from the record books. Hawkins lasted just three starts in 1991 and departed the Yankees with a 5.21 ERA across his three seasons.
6. Tim Leary The Yankees got the 31-year-old Leary from the Reds prior to the 1990 season for Hal Morris, who would go on to hit .305/.362/.436 and play sparkling defense over the ensuing decade, and would be the starting first baseman for the World Champion Reds that year. Leary meanwhile went 9-19 in his first year with an admittedly terrible Yankee team, following that with a 6.49 ERA in 1991. The next year he was caught on the mound discarding a piece of sandpaper which he must have used to get his ERA up to a sparkling 5.57. According to Joel Sherman’s Birth of a Dynasty, Buck Showalter jokingly offered then-GM Gene Michael sexual favors to make Leary go away. That August Leary was dealt to the Mariners for minor leaguer Sean Twitty. Going back to Sherman: “In 2 1/2 seasons as a Yankee, Tim Leary produced the worst winning percentage (.340) and second worst ERA (5.12) ever by a Yankee pitcher with at least 400 innings pitched.” At the time Leary’s 5.12 was actually the worst ever as eventual title-holder Sterling Hitchcock (5.15) had yet to make his major league debut.
5. Aaron Boone Yeah, he hit that home run, but I’m convinced that someone else (Robin Ventura!) would have had Boone not been given the chance. Meanwhile, Boone hit .170/.196/.302 in the 2003 postseason with that home run included, and I blame him more for the Game 4 loss in that year’s World Series than I do Jeff Weaver.
The Yankees trailed 3-1 going into the ninth inning of that game. With one out, Bernie singled, Matsui walked, Jorge replaced Matsui via a fielders choice pushing Bernie to third. Down to their last out, Ruben Sierra delivered a game-tying pinch-hit triple (still wonder why Big Ru’s not on this list?). With Sierra standing on third as the winning run, Boone swung at five straight pitches, fouling off the first four and grounding out to end the inning on the fifth. Two innings later, score still knotted at 3-3, Bernie leads off with a double, Matsui walks, David Dellucci bunts them up to second and third and pinch-hitter Juan Rivera is intentionally walked to load the bases for Boone, who with just one out can give the Yankees the lead with a walk or a variety of balls in play. Again, Boone swings at the first three pitches, fouling two off to fall into an 0-2 count. He then takes ball one and swings three more times, foul, foul, strike three. John Flaherty pops out to end the inning and the Yankees lose in the twelfth on the home run surrendered by Weaver. Then, for yucks, he and Enrique Wilson botch a rundown play in Game 5 that leads to two runs in a game the Yankees lose by exactly that many.
And no he doesn’t get credit for being stupid enough to violate his contract and blow out his ACL all in one move, thus clearing the way for the Rodriguez-Soriano deal.
4. Kenny Rogers Rogers was basically Jeff Weaver but old enough to know better (Weaver was 25 when he came to the Yankees, Rogers was 31). He was actually above average during the 1996 season, posting a 108 ERA+ in 30 starts, but averaged less than six innings per start. He then posted a 14.14 ERA in the postseason, failing to last past the third inning in any of his three starts. The difference with Rogers was that, by sheer force of the 1996 Yankees mystical magical mojo, the Yankees won all three of his postseason starts despite starting all three in a sizeable hold, all on the road no less.
The next year Rogers posted a 5.65 ERA and was so undesirable he was actually traded with Mariano Duncan to the Padres midseason for Greg Vaughn, who had been displaced by Rickey Henderson, whom the Yankees dealt for chump change eight years earlier. Rogers was returned to sender, however, when Vaughn failed his Yankee physical, nixing the deal. Just as well, he was dealt for Scott Brosius after the 1997 season. Rogers didn’t have nearly the deleterious effect on the Yankees that several of the pitchers lower on this list did, but he was, and remains, less likeable all of them.
Rogers earns extra credit for sullying the name of the true Gambler, for celebrating beyond his due when the Yankees won the Championship in 1996, and for being a big stupid jerkface with a big stupid jerk’s face.
3. Enrique Wilson Wilson appeared in more games as a Yankee than anyone else on this list despite having less actual ability than just about any of them. Joe Torre like to use him as a pinch runner. Enrique went 5 for 11 on the bases as a Yankee. Enrique was the Yankees utility infielder for four seasons, but was a sub-par fielder at all three skill positions for his career. Most of all, Enrique hit .216/.261/.332 as a Yankee. He didn’t even have the decency to have a cool moustache, goofy glasses, or a colorful nickname. Hell, he didn’t even hustle. Enrique was good pals with Manny Ramirez and played the game like Manny’s twin, styling in the batter’s box and lapsing in the field, such as in that botched rundown mentioned in the Aaron Boone entry (Enrique was really the primary culprit there). Worst of all, the Yankees kept bringing him back for well above the league minimum.
2. Mike Witt Mike Witt was just 29 when the Yankees acquired him from the California Angels in July 1990, but as a ten-year veteran he seemed a decade older. He posted an 89 ERA+ in his first half season with the Yankees, then inked a $7.5 million, three-year deal with the Yankees back when $3 million per year was the highest salary in the sport. Plagued by injuries, Witt made just eleven starts over those three years and retired after the 1993 season.
That’s bad enough, but the player the Yankees traded to get Witt in the first place was Dave Winfield. Dave Winfield! My favorite player and a first-ballot Hall of Famer! Now, even ignoring the relationship between Winfield and Stienbrenner that was fractured beyond repair by the summer of 1990, Winfield was 38 and coming off an entire season lost to a back injury and had hit just .213/.269/.361 in 20 games for the Yankees in 1990. But it was Dave Winfield! Freed from the Boss’s grip in California, Winfield hit .275/.348/.466 over the remainder of the season. Two years later he turned in a .290/.377/.491 season for the Blue Jays at age 40 and erased his Mr. May tag by driving in the winning run in the final game of that year’s World Series to finally get that elusive ring. He then picked up his 3,000th hit with his hometown Twins and slipped gently into retirement two years after Witt himself had already hung ‘em up. All totaled, Winnie hit 106 home runs, and drove in 389 men after being traded for Witt, who won just eight games for the Yankees.
1. Ken Phelps It has been pointed out to me that Phelps actually slugged .551 for the Yankees down the stretch in 1988. Big whoop. He also hit .224 with a .339 OBP, then stunk up the joint the next year and was dealt to the A’s for a no-name minor leaguer. The player he was traded for, the 23-year-old Jay Buhner, hit .224/.320/.458 over the remainder of the 1988 season for Mariners and then went on to hit .256/.362/.498 with 297 homers as a key part of the team that saved the Mariners franchise in the ’90s. To make it worse, Jay Buhner was just one of three players the Yankees sent to Seattle for Phelps (the others also no-name minor leaguers).
I have one memory of Jay Buhner in a Yankee uniform and that is of flipping on a Saturday game against the Orioles in June 1988 to see Buhner break a 3-3 tie with a grand slam off of Doug Sisk. I can still see the tall, slender Buhner rounding the bases, resplendent as the afternoon sun highlighted his home pinstripes. A little over a month later he was dealt for the stocky, bespectacled, 33-year-old Phelps. That was when I knew things would get worse before they’d get better for the Bombers. Sure enough, Henderson was dealt the next year. The year after that it was Winfield who was shipped out as Mattingly’s back finally gave out on him and the Yankees sank to 90 loses for the first time since 1913. Bad times. Bad times.
I blame Ken Phelps.