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 >;)
- Opening Day Starters: underline
- Also Played: #
- Regulars On Roster: blank
- Renowned From Other Teams: bold
- Unheralded Rookie/Prospect: *
- Unheralded Vet: italics
- Rookie Season (became regulars): ~
1996 New York Yankees Roster
- 41 Brian Boehringer
- 29 Ricky Bones
- 59 Billy Brewer
- 36 David Cone
- 39 Paul Gibson
- 11 Dwight Gooden
- 57 Steve Howe
- 52 Mark Hutton*
- 28 Scott Kamieniecki
- 22 Jimmy Key
- 27 Graeme Lloyd
- 54 Jim Mecir
- 57 Ramiro Mendoza
- 43 Jeff Nelson
- 47 Dave Pavlas
- 46 Andy Pettitte
- 56 Dale Polley*
- 42 Mariano Rivera~
- 17 Kenny Rogers
- 52 David Weathers
- 35 John Wetteland
- 55 Wally Whitehurst
- 27 Bob Wickman
- 25 Joe Girardi
- 13 Jim Leyritz
- 60 Tim McIntosh
- 55 Jorge Posada~
- 12 Wade Boggs
- 18 Mariano Duncan
- 20 Robert Eenhoorn
- 45 Cecil Fielder
- 26 Andy Fox*
- 33 Charlie Hayes
- 38,99 Matt Howard*
- 2 Derek Jeter~
- 14 Pat Kelly
- 24 Tino Martinez
- 19 Luis Sojo
- 20 Mike Aldrete
- 39 Dion James
- 21 Paul O’Neill
- 31 Tim Raines
- 28 Rubén Rivera
- 39 Darryl Strawberry
- 51 Bernie Williams
- 29 Gerald Williams
- 39 Matt Luke*
- December 4, 1995: Jalal Leach was drafted by the Montreal Expos from the New York Yankees in the 1995 minor league draft.
- December 7, 1995: Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock were traded by the Yankees to the Seattle Mariners for Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson and Jim Mecir.
- December 11, 1995: Mariano Duncan was signed as a free agent by the Yankees.
- December 21, 1995: David Cone was signed as a free agent by the Yankees.
- December 28, 1995: The Yankees traded a player to be named later to the Chicago White Sox for Tim Raines. The Yankees completed the deal by sending Blaise Kozeniewski to the White Sox on February 6, 1996.
- February 20, 1996: Dwight Gooden was signed as a free agent by the Yankees.
- February 24, 1996: Tim McIntosh was signed as a free agent by the Yankees.
- March 31, 1995: Rafael Quirico was released by the Yankees.
- June 4, 1996: 1996 Major League Baseball draft
- Nick Johnson was drafted by the Yankees in the 3rd round. Player signed June 14, 1996
- Scott Seabol was drafted by the Yankees in the 88th round. Player signed June 25, 1996.
- June 12, 1996: Rich Monteleone was traded by the Yankees to the California Angels for Mike Aldrete.
- June 12, 1996: Wally Whitehurst was selected off waivers by the Yankees from the Montreal Expos.
- July 4, 1996: Darryl Strawberry was purchased by the Yankees from the St. Paul Saints.
- July 31, 1996: Rubén Sierra and Matt Drews (minors) were traded by the Yankees to the Detroit Tigers for Cecil Fielder.
- July 31, 1996: Dave Weathers was traded by the Florida Marlins to the New York Yankees for Mark Hutton.
- August 22, 1996: Luis Sojo was selected off waivers by the Yankees from the Seattle Mariners.
- August 23, 1996: Bob Wickman and Gerald Williams were traded by the Yankees to the Milwaukee Brewers for Pat Listach, Graeme Lloyd and a player to be named later. The Brewers completed the trade by sending Ricky Bones to the Yankees on August 29.
- August 30, 1996: The Yankees traded a player to be named later to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Charlie Hayes. The Yankees completed the deal by sending Chris Corn to the Pirates on August 31.
- September 6, 1996: Robert Eenhoorn was selected off waivers from the Yankees by the California Angels.
- September 12, 1996: Wally Whitehurst was released by the Yankees.
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 >;)