A good starting performance from our man Tanaka, a big league debut for a young outfielder, and a second victory for the Yanks.
Today gives The Big Fella, good ol’ C.C.
Never mind a thing:
Let’s Go Yank-ees!
Picture by Bags
Game 2. Whadda ya hear, whadda ya say? (Other than the irksome news that Aaron Hicks is headed for the DL.)
Dayenu and all that Good Friday stuff.
Never mind the gefilte:
Let’s Go Yank-ees!
Picture by Bags
It’s been said that time begins on Opening Day, but it’s more accurate to say that Opening Day marks the passing of time. Today begins the forty-ninth baseball season since I was born, and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older it’s that the calendar pages flip much faster than they used to. Everything speeds up. The children who used to fit nicely in your arms are readying for college, the grey in your hair has won the battle against the color of your youth, and when an old friend starts a story with “Remember that time…” he could be talking about something that happened three decades ago.
And so it is with baseball. When I was a boy my entire life centered around the game, whether I was playing in the street, watching my heroes on television, poring over box scores in the back of the sports section, or reading about ghosts named Ruth, DiMaggio, Aaron, and Clemente.
The winter was dark, even after we moved to California, because the game was gone. There was no stretch of time longer than November through March, a five-month void that loomed before me each year like a trans-Atlantic crossing. I knew we’d eventually get there, but I could never see the shore.
But somewhere along the line those months started clicking by without notice, probably because my relationship with the game changed. Baseball still has my heart, but there’s competition now. Adults have jobs and mortgages and families. Other interests. While I could still tell you Ron Guidry’s 1978 ERA off the top of my head, I don’t remember how many home runs Aaron Judge hit last season. I can list the World Series winners for most of the twentieth century, but I have no idea who won five years ago.
But baseball doesn’t. Two years ago my son and I took a train to San Diego to watch the Yankees play the Padres, and we were rewarded with a win and an autographed ball from Reggie Jackson. Last season we drove down the road to Anaheim to watch the Aaron Judge Show, and naturally he roped a home run into the centerfield seats. My son will never be the baseball fan that I was and still am, but I know he’ll remember these moments after I’m gone, and maybe one day he’ll bring his child to a ballpark and tell those stories.
My son and I won’t be able to watch the Yankees together this afternoon – he’ll be at his school and I’ll be at mine – but we’ll text about it. He’ll ask me who won, and he’ll ask who hit home runs. As the season unfolds he’ll notice the new faces who show up, and he’ll ask me about Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. We’ll pick a game to see them when they come to town, and he’ll wonder about which t-shirt to wear, Tanaka or Judge. We’ll sit in the stands sharing kettle corn, and I’ll tell him stories about players long dead and games long forgotten. Mainly, though, we’ll be together.
This is baseball.
Whirled Serious or Bust! That’s how it’s got to be for the 2018 Yankees. At least if you listen to the pundits and the ever-demanding Yankee fans. No pressure.
But let’s not be too narrow, huh? Of course, we’d like to see them reach the Serious, and once there, win a title. But we’ve got a long time between now and then, and many pleasures to be had.
So never mind the noise, let’s enjoy.
The Bombers are up in Toronto to open the season. And we’ll be watching or listening or following in some capacity because, well, that’s what we do.
Here we go. Strap in.
Let’s Go Yank-ees!
Picture by Bags
You all know the news by now. Greg Bird, doing his best to be the new version of Nick “Bones of Balsa Wood” Johnson, is hurting again. Surgery. Out for a few months. Man, what a drag. I feel for the kid and hope he gets better soon. In the meantime, this creates a chance for someone to fill in and do some work. Mr. Walker?
Hard to believe the season begins in a couple of days. Been an awfully long winter. Be nice to get back to it.
Picture by Bags.
Well now, as the present team continues to whittle down its roster and take form, we look at what the team was doing over twenty years ago as it was about to embark on a journey that would take them to, in baseball terms anyway, the Promised Land. The off season was fraught with changes; some in response to the disappointment of losing the first -ever Wild Card series with a team that was anticipated to carry the day into the World Series, and some because Mt. Vesuvius was back in charge and about to kick some major ash;m that is if he wasn’t headed off at the pass to some degree. While Showalter was likely made the scapegoat for the Yanks not going deep into the playoffs (never mind that Seattle had a helluva team with three of their own legends-in-the-making in their midst among others), Stick deflected some of the wrath from his young core by jumping out of the front office hot seat to become VP of Scouting, installing a new man to put the finishing touches on what was already a very solid contender; that man was former Houston outfielder and GM Bob Watson, who happened to have a few interesting notes of baseball trivia on his resume: the first player to hit for the cycle in both the AL and NL (in the same season, no less), being awarded for scoring the 1,000,000th run in MLB history (four seconds before Dave Concepcion, though it was later discovered that neither was close to being the one who accomplished that feat and that no one would ever know who did it), having made a cameo appearance along with several Houston teammates in a Bad News Bears movie (yeah, but not the good one) and becoming the first African American general manager in MLB history. Now he was about to be the first one for the Yankees. It was a little bit of a homecoming for Watson as well; he played for the Yanks from 1980-82, 1981 being his only and the team’s last World Series they appeared in for going on fifteen years (in which he batted .319 with two HRs and 7 RBI). Watson was a tough character, a solid player during his day and the fortitude it seemed to withstand the maelstrom that was Steinbrenner. That said, few were prepared for the next big news item…
Joseph Paul Torre; built in Brooklyn some fifty-five years beforehand and looking every bit as Brooklyn as one could imagine back in the day, having played 18 years of baseball (nine of them worthy of being voted as an All-Star and one as the MVP, with a Gold Glove and batting title mixed in for good measure) and collecting well over 2,300 hits, 1,185 runs batted in, 252 HRs and hitting .297 lifetime, was undoubtedly in a rut. His managerial career started in 1977 as a player-manager for the Mets, a title that he shortly gave up by retiring as a player after 18 days to focus on managing. Despite his earnestness, the Mets of that era were no better off than the crew of the Hesperus as his hollowed-out roster from year -to-year won no more than 67 games a season, including the strike-shortened 1981 season, after which he was fired. However, his next gig brought him to Atlanta, where he had an immediate impact replacing Bobby Cox and guided the Braves to a National League West title, their first since the season of the Amazin’ Mets (whom Torre had just left). For his efforts, Torre won his first Manager of the Year award; first person to win that and an MVP in major league baseball. Subsequent seasons were a little less successful, culminating in an 80-82 season in 1984, after which Atlanta also let him go.
Torre moved into the TV broadcast booth from there, working for another five seasons providing color commentary for the California Angels and for NBC’s Game of the Week. When the St. Louis Cardinals fired popular manager Whitey Herzog, they called Torre to replace him, and he guided the franchise to winning records in each of the first three seasons he managed them. However, the Cards could never break into the playoffs, and after a teardown season in 1995 in which Anhauser-Busch prepared to sell the team, Torre was unceremoniously dumped. All-in-all, Joe Torre was a familiar face, but a manager whose won/loss record was the definition of mediocrity; up to this point, his managerial record was 894-1,003 (.471), and though there was an MVP as a player and a Manager of the Year award way back in his early days of Atlanta, there was little reason for anyone to believe that he could be a candidate for the suddenly open position of Manager of the New York Yankees; much less for a historically demanding and difficult owner given to moments of unstable and unpredictable polarity.
However, Stick must have seen something in Torre the same way he saw something in Bernie, in Paul O’Neill, in Pettitte, Posada, Jeter and Mo that he wanted to keep them around, so he recommended him to George. Molloy was also impressed with Torre, and he supported hiring Torre. The whole front office (save one: Asst. GM Brian Cashman), even George’s personal flack Arthur Richman were on Torre’s side. Perhapshis calm demeanor in the see-saw racket of wining and losing impressed them more than anything else; to his credit, he made good use of what talent he managed to have on his roster to better ends than pundits predicted. Torre’s Braves and Cardinals were not too different than what the Yankees had built themselves to be at this point, and his calmness represented an about-face to Showalter’s intensity in some minds. All George knew at this point was that he wanted him. Watson was telling the press that he was still interviewing candidates when the hire was announced; a ruse? Or was it a commandment handed down from above that got slowed down at the station before reaching the general manager’s ears? For his part, Watson said nothing more and praised Torre as the only guy interviewed, and the only one they considered afterward.
Not that this pleased anyone beyond the vaunted gates of Yankee Stadium (outside of Mets fans, perhaps)… as it turned out, the enormous blowback from the media and fans had George running scared, now trying to find a way to bring Showalter back. After all, Buck was younger, a proven winner and had a more impressive winning percentage than Torre, plus he knew the system and the players in it. So what that George kicked him to the curb in a devious and cowardly manner, he was New York’s Golden Boy of the Moment. Why didn’t he deserve a chance to take the team he actually helped build to a championship? Clueless Joe was an interloper, a usurper; some middle-aged Brooklyn bum who had proven over and over again that while he came across as a mensch and a nice guy, his skill as a leader of a baseball team was meh, whatevah… in all this, Steinbrenner was singled out as the Yankees’ biggest and greatest liability to contention and glory; his obsessive meddling, well-worn pragmatism and oblique judgement led him to make yet another serious bungle at the worst time, but this time New Yorkers weren’t taking his s***. And so it went, as the Yanks prepared to venture into territory they hadn’t seen in about eighteen years, with “Clueless Joe” at the helm.
And… you know what happened after that >;)
1996 New York Yankees Roster
Jalal Leach was drafted in 1990 in the sixth round; he progressed at a moderate pace through the system, reaching Columbus in 1994, where he hight too lightly for an outfielder to be called up. Being taken by the Expos in the minor league draft, although bad timing professionally, did help him directly to improve his batting as he bat well over .300 and gained a little pop for the next five minor league seasons between Montreal, Seattle and San Francisco. It was with the Giants that he finally got his cup of coffee; collecting a hit and two walks (all against Octavio Dotel, which at the time wasn’t saying much) in three games and ten at bats while playing the corner outfield positions. He never did get any MLB time after that, and continued for a few more years in Mexico before retiring and coming back to the Yanks as a scout, where he stayed until 2015 when he returned to the Giants in the same capacity.
Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock became serviceable players for Seattle, while obviously Tino and Nelson became pillars of the lineup and bullpen respectively. Jim Mecir is the only one here who didn’t really pan out long term for the Yanks; the next season he was traded as a player to be named later in a previous transaction with Boston that saw Mike Stanley return to the Yanks. He was later drafted by the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays and played for three seasons before signing with Oakland for four seasons, then finishing out his career with the then-Florida Marlins. However, if you look him up, or if you like to read novels or non-fiction books about sports (baseball in particular), you’ll find some interesting facts about Mecir, which puts his career in a somewhat remarkable context.
Mariano Duncan was a known name in the 90s; he started his career as an undrafted free agent infielder with the Dodgers in 1982, spending three years in the minors before getting called up; he finished third in ROY voting. However, though he had speed and stole quite a few bases for the Dodgers, he was a light hitter, which caused him to spend the entire ’88 season in the minors while the Dodgers won the World Series, He came back the next season and did a little better, but not enough to avoid being traded (with future Yank for a Minute Tim Leary) to Cincinnati, where he finally came into his own and became a successful cog in the team’s 1990 World Series Championship campaign. He moved onto Philly two seasons later and became an All-Star at 2B, but in August 1995 when Philly tried to sneak him through waivers, he was snatched up by the Reds and finished out the season there. Perhaps this experience motivated him when he came to the Yanks in 1996, because the relatively light hitter, emergency-subbing for both Pat Kelly and Tony Fernandez who were both injured, turned in a 340/.352/.500 slash line as a super-utility and handpicked mentor. “We play today, We win today, Das’ it!” was his and one of his young charge’s spontaneous motto, and quickly became the team mantra. Older Mo’s success stopped short at the World Series that year though; he hit 1-19 in the final series, but the Yanks won despite his shortcoming at the plate. Duncan was traded for a minor leaguer the next season after falling back to norm and closed out his MLB career at season’s end. After playing one season in Japan, he become a coach; most notably on Torre’s squads with the Dodgers, and currently is the hitting coach for a low-minors team in the Chicago Cubs system. Considering that he played big brother to Jeter, Posada and The Other Mo and taught them to be prime professionals, it’s a wonder the Yanks don’t have him in their system (a little shade for Cashman if you don’t mind)…
Blaise Kozeniewski never got a sniff at the big leagues; perhaps his big game college stuff didn’t translate consistently as a pro, perhaps because he was one of several potential replacement players during the 1994 strike. His one notable point of history with the Yankees was being the PTBNL in a trade for future HOFer and second fastest man currently in baseball Tim Raines. His stats show that he didn’t even play ball beyond the 1995 season, so that turned out to be a heavily one-sided trade.
By 1994, Dwight Gooden was at the end of his rope. When he was suspended a second time for testing positive for drugs, his wife found him the next day in the bedroom with a loaded gun to his head. His legacy was in tatters; thoughts of the young “Doctor K” from his glory days with the Mets were long gone, along with any significant signs dedicated to him around the city. But fate smiled on him in the person of Ray Negron; a Yankee associate with an interesting backstory of his own. Negron, who had helped Strawberry get a shot with the Yankees that season, convinced Steinbrenner to give Gooden a chance as well; he even drew up the contract terms for him, though he was not an approved agent (which drew the attention of Player’s Association counsel Gene Ozra). The story almost retreated to sadness again as Gooden did not perform well in Spring or for his first couple of starts, but instead of being released he agreed to go to the minors to work out his mechanics. When he came back in May, he brought some of his old Doctor K style with him: he no-hit the Mariners, winning 2-0 and helping exact a measure of revenge for the Wild Card series loss last season.
Tim McIntosh and Rafael Quirico: McIntosh was a journeyman backup catcher/OF drafted by Milwaukee in 1985 and made his debut in the majors in 1990. He bounced from the Brewers to the Expos, usually as a depth player for their minor league system, then played in Japan for the Nippon Ham Fighters in 1995 before signing on with the Yanks to again add depth at Columbus. After three at-bats in September, he was released at the onset of the post-season, effectively ending his major league career and finishing pro ball in 1999 with independent Sacramento. Quirico, another unfortunate soul who missed the Yankee Dynasty by thatmuch, though when looking over his stats, he might have been better off not having made the cut under any circumstances with the Yanks. Drafted as a 19 year-old in 1989, he made steady progress up the ranks until he hit Columbus, where batters hit him… often. by 1996, he had stalled out in both Columbus and back down to AA Norwich, from where he was released. The Phillies picked him up and assigned him to A+ Clearwater to reboot him, and he made it to Scranton Wilkes-Barre (where the Yanks’ AAA team currently resides), then finally getting a start in the first game of a mid-season double-header in June 1996… where he promptly bombed, lasting only an inning and two-thirds, giving up seven runs on four hits, walking five and getting one strikeout. The team thanked him for his services, sent him back to the minors and promptly forgot about him.
Nick Johnson was supposed to be the heir apparent to Don Mattingly when he was drafted; he was known to have an excellent bat and good instincts around first. Admittedly, when he did manage to make it to the big club, there were flashes. But the flashes often came between injuries that waylaid him much of his time with the Yanks, and apparently sapped much of his promise as a top prospect. despite his shortcomings, the Yanks made an awful trade involving him, Randy Choate and Juan Rivera (no relation) for Montreal Expos pitcher Javier Vasquez a season before the Expos relocated and renamed themselves the Washington Nationals. After some productive years in DC, he returned to the Yanks for the 2010 season, where he resumed his inability to stay healthy enough to play a significant amount of games.
Scott Seabol; career mostly spent in the minors with the Yanks and other teams, he became a utility player with St. Louis and saw limited action in 2006, then played overseas for a few years before calling it a career.
There were quite a few significant pieces added to this puzzle, obviously: the return of Darryl, who was lighting up St. Paul with monster home runs when he re-signed with the Yanks on the dramatic Fourth of July, and proceeded to hit dramatic home runs. There was also a maturity that he had seemingly lacked in his days with the Mets and Dodgers; though personal problems still floated on the periphery (including a short bout with prostate cancer), his presence among the rookies and younger players in the clubhouse was rather stately and demure; he seemed to embrace his new role and the Yankee Way as it is often put, and he put all of it to good use. Cecil Fielder though was almost a bad fit for this team, as his presence was mainly as a home run threat, which he suddenly found rather hard to fulfill as he did not have the steady at-bats that he was used to with Detroit (where he routinely hit home runs in his sleep). However, the home runs he did hit in 1996 for the Yankees turned out to be timely and he managed to help put the team over the top during the World Series. His run of dominance officially ended with the Yanks though, and he signed with Anaheim after the 97 season. Hmm, who do you think was better in his prime, Cecil or his son Prince?
I was sorry to see Wickman and Gerald Williams go; they were serviceable players, and particularly with Gerald rather likable. What they got in return basically turned out to be the dominant LOOGY of his time, and not a bad guy to have on your side in a fight. Bones, a pesky sort of pitcher, didn’t really add much value and Listach was… well, he was there. David Weathers was also there, and though his stats don’t tell you, he did manage to get a lot of critical outs; yet the beginning of 97 put him squarely in Steinbrenner’s crosshairs and he was ordered off the team, which they accomplished mid-season. It sort-of worked out that he got small revenge for the move as Cleveland ousted the Yanks in the ALCS and he had a small hand in that. Overall, he pitched 19 seasons in the majors.
But my favorite underrated move in this season was getting Luis Sojo off the scrap heap from Seattle. Sojo did not look like a ballplayer, much less an infielder. But somehow he managed to get critical hits when least expected, and he made critical defensive plays that shocked you even more. Still, there was one play where he got tripped up over his own feet and fell flat on the ground; fortunately it was not a critical error, and everyone from the players on both sides to the fans laughed their behinds off. His gaff was immortalized by a poster in the Sunday pullout section of the Daily News during their postseason run that year; a cartoon of Sojo with a goofy smile and his shoelaces tied together about to throw to first. He played the majority of his career with the Yanks as the fan and coach favored utility player of their Dynasty years. Sojo’s value cannot be understated, as the Yanks searched far and wide for a similarly favored replacement after retirement, with mixed results.
So that is 1996, I’m sure there’s more to be said, but I’ve already said too much >;)
Yanks signed Neil Walker on Monday afternoon; late of the Pirates, Mets and most recently Milwaukee, on a 1-year/$4 mil deal to ostensibly be the start at second on Opening Day, but more likely to act as the veteran bridge for both Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. While Walker is essentially a downgrade offensively from Starlin Castro, his defense is considered a valuable upgrade; the hope being that he can stabilize both the right side of the infield and the bottom of the lineup while the Andujar and Torres are being groomed for third and second, respectively (and it doesn’t hurt for the organization that it adds another year of control for both of them). Everyone and their moms knew that Cashman was not going to go straight in with the rookies to start the season, so he played the market and got a solid player for a bargain.
That sort of selectivity didn’t come from just anywhere; Cashman had started his Yankee career as an intern in the 80s and received an education on how Steinbrenner and the Yanks did business; having a front row to the highs and lows of the organization from the field to the front office. Steinbrenner introduced a young Cashman to his lieutenants by saying, “pay attention; he’s going to be your boss someday.”
In 1995, The Strike continued on into the beginning of April. The players, who didn’t trust the team owners for a minute after they’d forced Commissioner Fay Vincent to resign in 1992 and never bothered to officially replace him, were purportedly striking to prevent the institution of a salary cap planned by the owners, who complained that revenues were down all over and threatened to bankrupt small market teams that didn’t have the capacity of big market teams to be profitable on their own. Revenue sharing was part of their plan, but holding costs down by instituting a cap was preferred. Naturally, this didn’t go over well, and the players’ union sued after walking out. The owners decided to use “replacement” players; mainly baseball players from the minors or independent leagues who would likely not have made it to the bigs at any rate. Striking players discouraged so-called replacement players from considering crossing their picket for the most part, but there were eventually enough players to field teams for each organization to kick-start the new season (though there was not much excitement and a lot of resentment from both players and fans for such a move). Fortunately for baseball (in the long run), an injunction was issued against the owners (by Bronx-bred Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Sonia Sotomayor; aka future Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court), forcing them to meet the players and work out a deal while still abiding by the previous expired CBA. By April 2, the strike was over and baseball plotted for a shortened season.
In 1995, The Boss was Steinbrenner once again; having been reinstated in 1993, but remaining low-key as his son-in-law Joe Molloy kept things in order and supported Michael and Showalter as they rebuilt the team from the ground up. Molloy invested in scouting and development; something that had been taken seriously for granted during Steinbrenner’s blustery and blundering run through the 80s. Molloy remained a general partner after George’s return. Within a few years, however, he would leave the organization and the Steinbrenner family mainly due to George’s “managing style”.
In 1995, Buck Showalter would lead the Yankees into the postseason as the first wildcard team in the AL for the new playoff format, but would lose in heartbreaking fashion to a stacked Seattle Mariners team which boasted future Hall of Famers, team favorites as well as former and future Yankees. Steinbrenner, once again being Steinbrenner, wanted among other things a blood sacrifice for this “failure” in Rick Down, Buck’s hitting coach, during negotiations for an extension. Buck, figuring this was part of the negotiations, replied no, I can’t accept a contract under those circumstances, and waited for a reply. The reply came from his wife, who informed him that reporters were calling to get his response after being let go. Buck and George had been butting heads for some time, with George again doing what he normally did in taking potshots at players or making veiled threats against the coaching staff. Buck, by most accounts not an easy man to get along with himself, pushed back against the onslaught, the tension permeating the Stadium and the clubhouse. Whether or not you can blame Buck for not keeping his players loose or George for disrupting the peace that had settled in his absence, Steinbrenner took advantage of the rejection to cut ties with Showalter altogether. The burn would last seemingly forever.
In 1995, on August 13 at 2am, the legendary and uncompromisingly American Mickey Mantle left our world. Flags were hung in half mast and bittersweet tears were shed across the Yankee universe as people of all thoughts who knew what a baseball was for reflected on all of what made him The Mick.
Donnie Baseball finally made it to the postseason, which had sadly eluded him throughout his career. He acquitted himself well; going 10 for 24 with a .417/.440./708 slash line; four doubles, six ribbies and a homer in Game 2. All the more heartbreaking, Mattingly played like a man rediscovering his lost childhood and trying to reach heaven; the fans willing him along every step of the way. The stadium conducted the electricity of excitement and relief, as well as the cold gusts of desperation. Mattingly wanted it. The fans wanted. The team wanted it. The whole city wanted it. But the Mariners, led by a strong mix of youth and veteran grit that included Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr. Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Tino Martinez and phenom shortstop Alex Rodriguez, outlasted the dream.
Stick, for reasons I don’t really know of at the moment, yet at an oddly appropriate moment, resigned as general manager at the end of the season and took on the mantle of Vice President of Scouting with the team. Despite the playoff loss, the Yankees were set up for a marathon run. Along with Molloy, he made two crucial recommendations for the next hires…
1995 New York Yankees Roster
June 1, 1995: Donzell McDonald was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 22nd round of the 1995 amateur draft. Player signed July 22, 1995.
June 1, 1995: Future NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 26th round (730th pick) of the 1995 amateur draft. Culpepper was drafted out of Vanguard High School.
Dante Culpepper… the Yanks sure love their foosball QBs (they just had one in for a week or two of Spring Training, didn’t they?). Danny Tartabull, who had become a frequent target of Steinbrenner, was traded for the indomitable Ruben Sierra, who somehow managed to miss a championship with the Yanks in two tours with the team. Polonia was traded away for a minor leaguer who never made it to the bigs. David Cone finally did make it to the Yanks though, after several years of trying to get him. Kevin Maas made a cameo appearance on a minor league contract, but did not play for the big club, soon moving onto Milwaukee’s minors and then Japan. How many knew or remember that Strawberry actually had two separate stints with the Yanks? Though not separated by much, Darryl first signed with the Yanks mid-season in 1995 after having been suspended for drug use (cocaine, an old-fashioned drug suspension by today’s standards). However, he started out in 1996 with the indie St. Paul Saints, mainly to clean himself up and get into real baseball shape. The Yanks resigned him on July 4, 1996 and the rest is written about in many biographies of him, other players and of the Yankee Dynasty.
Octavio Antonio Fernández Castro; better known as Tony Fernandez. A stalwart of the Toronto Blue Jays from the early 80s-on (though he only played and won with the Jays in the second of their back-to-back championships due to having been traded to San Diego a few seasons earlier, then traded from the Mets back to Toronto in mid-season), he was considered one of the premier shortstops in baseball for a combination of clutch hitting and sparkling defense earlier in his career, but then his prolific production stalled by the early 90s and he never managed to reach the pinnacle of personal stardom; he was one of three young shortstops in 1983 predicted to be a sure-shot Hall of Famer; the other two being Alan Trammel and Cal Ripkin, Jr., whom all played together in the All Star Game in 1987. However, in these parts Tony is known best for getting injured in May of 1995, which opened the door for another shortstop who ended up sticking around for a good while. Oh, he did have some heroic moments, like in 1997 when he hit a home run off of Orioles reliever Armando Benitez to clinch the pennant for Cleveland, and he did contribute a lot to Toronto winning their second championship in a row, and he even helped them win their first division title way back when. But because his career stats didn’t add up to dominant player status, the damned voters dropped him off the ballot after his first try in 2007.
John Wetteland, old reliable, was traded to the Yanks from Montreal for a player with a last name that you probably have to pause before saying and an interesting career of his own. Wetteland had originally been drafted by the Mets in 1984, but he turned them down and was drafted by the Dodgers a year later. In December 1987, he was a Rule 5 selection by the Detroit Tigers, but was later returned. In 1991, he was involved in the trade that brought Reds All-Star Eric Davis to L.A. to be united with his homeboy Strawberry. He was subsequently flipped with someone else to the Expos for Dave Martinez, Willie Greene and somebody else, where he finally established himself as a star reliever. Stick closed in on that promise and swung an easy deal, one that greatly benefitted them in the long run. However, Wetteland’s stay with the Yankees was relatively short compared to other places; his longest tenure being with the Texas Rangers, with whom he signed as a free agent for the first time in his career; a move that shocked and likely annoyed him at the time, but worked out again for the Yankees in the long run.
For some reason, I remember Scott Bankhead’s name, though not him as a player so much. He was a first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 1984 and quickly debuted for them in 1986, but ended up being part of a trade that brought Danny Tartabull to the Royals from Seattle. The bulk of his career was with the Mariners from then until 1991, when injuries diminished his pitching ability and he was eventually released. He reinvented himself as a reliever and played for Boston until his contract was bought by the Yanks in 1994, but the strike prevented him from playing. When he did, it was basically a one-and-done deal; barely used and barely missed. Rick Honeycutt I remember from the Oakland A’s of the late 80’s with their dominant pitching, from starters to relievers. Honeycutt probably represents the last of the Mohicans in that respect; the remaining player from that particular championship team either poached or signed on the cheap in their late career stage by the Yanks, this time for a postseason push in late September. He didn’t help much, and ended up with the Cardinals the following season, finishing out his long career with them a year later.
And then there’s “Black Jack” McDowell. Sigh. He was actually pretty good for the Yanks in his lone season, but the infamous “Jack Ass” incident when he walked off the mound after being bombed out by his former team to a cascade of boos and subsequently giving the fans a defiant finger not only torpedoed whatever good will might have existed for him to that point, but effectively put a hex on his career from then on. It was McDowell who gave up the wild card series-winning hit to Mariners hero Edgar Martinez in Game 5 that year, and it was he who Steinbrenner derided the most at every opportunity he got. Luckily for him, he was a free agent at the end of the season and he signed with Cleveland, who was another team on the come-up, but he had lost his mojo by that point and retired four years later after being released by Anaheim. At least he had his music to fall back on, though it’s been said that it was a night of drinking with his musician buddies that led to the Jack Ass incident.
Lastly, before I forget, the + after Ruben Rivera; cousin of the legend with the same name. This Rivera was the almost exact opposite of his cousin; highly anticipated to be a prolific outfielder with all kinds of tools, he made little impression on the Yankees in his first two seasons beyond being highly promising, but highly immature and was traded in 1997 season to San Diego, where he played the bulk of his major league career. But even as a starter, he was a poor hitter and was subsequently released by the Padres. After two seasons of failing as a role player for Cincinnati and Texas, he was once again signed by the Yanks, largely on the strength of his cousin.
So what does he do? Steal Jeter’s glove and bat and sell them for $2,500. What is worse, honestly: that he stole his teammate’s work tools, or that he sold them so cheaply? His teammates voted him off the team, and the front office followed suit and released him. He made one last ditch effort to salvage his MLB career with San Francisco, but it just didn’t work. After a couple years in team minors, he ended up making his way to Mexico, where he was ironically able to put together a highly respectable career, and at age 44 (though it was erroneously announced that he’d retired as a player in 2015), he is still playing pro ball. All of which is to say: nepotism guarantees nothing more than an opportunity most people have to fight hard to get, if they get it at all. But in baseball, there always seems to be some form of redemption.
I saw today that Kenny Singleton will retire from the broadcast booth after this season. He’s had a good run with the Yanks, a welcome, even-handed and amiable presence. We’re certain to appreciate spending one last summer with him.
I haven’t been following spring training too closely—only the quotidian peek to make sure nobody has been terribly injured—but did see the Yanks signed Neil Walker on the cheap. That feels like a nice bit of insurance to have at second base. Left-handed pop, Yankee Stadium, Mmm, mmm, good. Plus, a little more seasoning in the minors could be just what uber-prospect Gleyber Torres needs. Over at The Athletic (subscription required), Marc Carig reports:
“It’s way too early to critique the bat because he’ll get it going when he’s playing every day with a little less pressure,” said one talent evaluator, who said Torres’ spring performance did little to change his belief that Torres could be a special player.
Torres is ranked as the Yankees’ top prospect and No. 5 in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline. He will almost certainly be summoned at some point during the season….
“Any experience he can get to prepare him for his future role is a huge plus,” the evaluator said. “He played defense very well and just needs the ABs.”
Picture by Bags
Well, I did kind of expect this to move along at a faster pace, but then I had to go and do something over the weekend; the lead-up to and the aftermath of which have definitely been one of the most interesting parts of my life to say the least, but then here we are well into March and spring training talking about 1994 >;)
I suppose that is appropriate enough; after all, 1994 is when things got really interesting for the Yanks. The clubhouse demons were being scrubbed away little-by-little, replaced with a mix of developing young stars and aged grit. Stick was fitting pieces of the puzzle to a potential 100-plus game winning team that was practically steamrolling the competition. Jimmy Key, the certified ace of the staff, was on pace to win 24 games. Paul O’Neill was also realizing the potential that Stick saw in him, batting a league-leading .359. They had the best record in the AL, and second best in all baseball. Fans, casual and razed alike, were prepping to see New York favorite Donnie Baseball in his very first post-season series of his storied career.
Baseball came to a complete standstill with the players’ strike. Gone were the post-season aspirations for Mattingly and the Yanks. Gone was the trust and interest in baseball in general; the local teams having scuffled in the early 90s. Gone was a chance to join their brethren NY pros in basketball and hockey to host championship series in the same year, with the Rangers finally getting the Stanley Cup after years of struggles and almost-there’s, while the Knicks were a couple of missed foul calls and a Starks-raving mad hoist-a-thon from winning a long-awaited championship of the own. To the fans, particularly in NY, the players betrayed their trust and their dreams, leaving them with a series of “what-ifs”. Baseball; emotionally at least, was over…
1994 New York Yankees Roster
Ah, there are quite a few names that stand out; Xavier Hernandez, who posted great numbers with Houston in the previous three seasons, but was demoted to middle reliever during his lone season with the Yanks; Terry Mulholland, who was the definition of a journeyman pitcher during his 11-team odyssey through the major leagues (and connoisseur of the pick-off move); Bobby Ojeda, one of the many anti-heroes of the 1986 Champion Mets, who the year before survived a tragic boating accident that claimed the lives of two of his teammates on the Cleveland Indians; Jeff Reardon, who had claimed the title of All-Time saves leader against the Yanks in 1992, up-and-coming rookie 3B Russ Davis; Kevin Elster (another survivor of the 86 Mets team, who was recently out of baseball after a second shoulder surgery and contemplating retirement); Daryl Boston, the former White Sox and Mets (post-championship) outfielder who seemed to always bedevil the Yanks in particular throughout the 80s, and the return of Luis Polonia from NY baseball pariah status, likely due to his solid ability to get on base. Future MLB manager Bob Melvin also made a cameo appearance on the roster. Of all of those players, Davis, Elster and Polonia would make it to 1995, though none of them would reach the end of that season. Polonia, in fact, is the only new player on the 1994 team who would actually experience a championship with the Yanks after a late-season trade in 2000.
Might I bring your attention to the rookie shortstop, Robert Eenhoorn. Who? Really dyed-in-blue-and-pinstripes Yankee fans would know Mr. Eenhoorn; the Dutch-born infielder was a phenom playing in the highest league of professional baseball in the Netherlands at age 16. Six years later, the Yanks drafted him out of Davidson College in North Carolina and began in 1990 by tearing up the NY-Penn League on his way to being named the top prospect in the league. His next few seasons however, were up-and-down; batting well over .300 across two Class-A teams, but struggling in AA, after which he lost his blue-chipper status. However, he would advance to Triple-A for 1994 and was a late-season call-up that year before the strike ended the season prematurely. The next season; his last with the Yankees, Eenhoorn would become the answer to the trivia question favorite, “who was the last starter at shortstop before Derek Jeter?”
For what it’s worth, however, he was a good player in his heyday, and he went on to manage and serve as technical advisor (general manager) with several Dutch national teams, including the one that won the 2011 World Baseball Cup, earning him knighthood. So, he’s more than just a footnote in Yankee lore >;)
Good-bye, Stankie, goodbye Domingo Jean. Goodbye Spike Owen, hello… Sam Horn??? Yeah, that happened. Kevin Maas was released by the Yanks during the offseason, but he would return on a minors contract in 1995 before signing with Minnesota for a little while , then Korea and then across three different organizations in their minors before calling it a career. Reardon and Ojeda were signed as free agents, but were released in early May. Assenmacher gave way to Brian Boehringer from the White Sox. And Greg A. Harris, the switch-pitcher of the Yanks before there was a Pat Vindette, only stuck around for less than two weeks before he was summarily dismissed. Thus was the increasingly micromanaging angst of Buck Showalter, who managed to bring the team to the brink of glory that had been missing since 1981, only for the rug to be pulled out from under him, the Yankees, all of baseball and most importantly, the fans. With all the controversies, ineptitude and general infighting in the sport, it seemed at that point we’d all had enough…
…although if there was one good thing to say about it, it’s that Michael Jordan was forced to realize he was not a top-notch baseball player, so he went back to what he knew… three-peats!