Monday, August 2, 2010

Top 10 Guys You Never Expected to See In a Yankee Uniform

The Yankees walked into the dumbest current stadium in Major League Baseball, Tropicana "Field" in St. Petersburg, in 1st place, 2 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, formerly the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. They walked out only 1 game in front, following a weekend series in which they lost on Friday 3-2, won on Saturday 5-4 and lost yesterday, 3-0. They scored 7 runs in 3 games, and that's not good enough.

The Mets should have been so lucky yesterday. They hosted the pathetic Arizona Diamondbacks at Pity Field, and Jon Niese had a no-hitter going after 3 innings. Just when the typical Flushing Heathen was thinking, "This is it, the Mets are finally going to get their first-ever no-hitter," the Snakes scored 2 touchdowns in the last 6 innings, beating the Mets 14-1.

Yes, the Mets scored yesterday, and the Yankees didn't. And, of course, as bad as the D-backs are, their game brought to mind a 1964 incident when, in those pre-Internet days, a man called up a New York newspaper (which one it was depends on who's telling the story) and asked how the Mets did in that afternoon's game. Told, "Great, they scored 19 runs!" he asked, "Did they win?"

But the Mets should have been only as bad as the Yankees yesterday.

The Yankees come home to face the Pesky Toronto Blue Jays. I capitalize "Pesky" not because the old-time Boston Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky has anything to do with them (although his old double-play partner, Hall of Fame 2nd baseman Bobby Doerr, was once part of their coaching staff), but because, when they've been good and when they've been bad, they've always been a tough team for the Yankees to play.

The Mets? They're going on the road to play the Atlanta Braves. Down to the Confederacy, and they don't even need a passport. Well, maybe some of them do.

The poor devils went down to Georgia, they're lookin' for a game to steal, they're in a bind, 'cause they're way behind... and they didn't make a deal.

Kerry Wood in a Yankee uniform? I don't object -- nor do I object to the acquisitions of Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns, especially since we don't seem to have given up much for any of them -- but I didn't realize he was even still in the majors. I thought his injuries had consigned him to the Great What Ifs of Baseball History, along with Smokey Joe Wood, Dizzy Dean, Pete Reiser, Herb Score, Tony Conigliaro, Lyman Bostock, and so on.

Top 10 Guys You Never Expected to See In a Yankee Uniform

Honorable Mention to Bonds and Griffey. That's Bobby Bonds (1975) and Ken Griffey Sr. (1982-86). We think of the sons so much that it's easy to forget how good the fathers were. Griffey Sr. was very good. Bobby Bonds was fantastic for a while, although his one season with the Yankees was not one of his better ones.

10. Jaret Wright, 2005-06. A headhunter with the Cleveland Indians, he really pissed off Yankee Fans in the 1997 and '98 Playoffs. Then injuries set in, and while he had 28 career wins at age 23, by age 27 he'd added only 7 more. Then he had a good season for the Atlanta Braves, and the Yankees signed him as a free agent.

In 2 seasons in Pinstripes, he went 5-5 and 11-7, but had high ERAs and WHIPs. He pitched in 1 postseason game, in the 2006 ALDS, and got rocked by the Detroit Tigers. But it was hardly his fault the Yankees lost that series, and I was surprised the Yanks traded him and some cash to Baltimore for Chris Britton, who did nothing for the Yanks and is now in the San Diego Padres' system. Injuries have kept Wright from pitching in the majors since the end of the 2007 season, but he's only 34, so a comeback wouldn't be a big surprise.

9. Ron Swoboda, 1971-73. Yes, one of the heroes of the 1969 Mets was a Yankee for almost 3 seasons. They were his last 3: He batted .235 as a Yankee (then again, that's not that much lower than the .242 he batted as a Met), and he played his last game in the majors as a Yankee at age 29. Still, no one will ever forget his catch to rob Brooks Robinson (ironic that Brooks should be the victim of such a great play) and preserve a tie, allowing the Mets to win Game 4 of the '69 World Series in 10 innings.

8. David Cone, 1995-2000. It wasn't just that he pitched for the Mets, but also for 2 other teams that have raised Yankee Fans' blood pressure over the years, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals. But when he toed the rubber (to use a great old baseball phrase) for the Yanks, he was as good as Yankee pitchers have ever come. And, while he did win a ring with the Jays (1992), he did not win one with the Mets. (He got there right after the '86 win.) He won 4 as a Yankee.

7. Sal Maglie, 1957-58. It was weird enough for New York baseball fans in the 1950s to see the glowering, headhunting curveball master of the Giants pitch for the Dodgers in 1956 -- and throw a no-hitter no less, the last one ever thrown at Ebbets Field. But for him to go to the Yankees the next season? Alas, '56 was his last good season, and he did nothing in Pinstripes.

6. Jose Canseco, 2000. It was very brief, and we certainly don't want to celebrate it, but, yes, he was a Yankee, and won as many rings with us as he won with all his other teams combined: One. (The other one was with the 1989 A's.)

5. Wade Boggs, 1993-97. Maybe he was never Mr. Red Sox, but, still, Wade Boggs as a Yankee? Now that we've seen him on that police horse, in the victory celebration for the 1996 World Series, we can't think of him any other way. Margo who?

4. Roger Clemens, 1999-2003 and 2007. It's hard to believe now, after the 5 seasons he had as a Yankee (and the extra half-season he had later, far less successfully). But the sight of Clemens in Pinstripes would once have made us get verklempt.

3. Dwight Gooden, 1996-97 and 2000. Doctor K? A Yankee? This may have shocked Met fans more than it shocked us. But he pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees, and got 2 World Series rings, 1 more than he got as a Met. He even started and won a game at Shea Stadium for the Yankees against the Mets in 2000.

2. Darryl Strawberry, 1995-99. If seeing Doc as a Yankee was weird, seeing Darryl as one was even weirder. After all, he was the best offensive player the Mets ever had (possibly since surpassed by Mike "Honestly, I thought the steroids were Claritin" Piazza), and, along with Keith Hernandez, the very symbol of 1980s Mets arrogance. Seeing him in Pinstripes was wack. Seeing him humble was ludicrous. Seeing him solidly contribute to 3 rings as a Yankee, compared to 1 as a Met, was sweeter than sweet -- which is sweet.

1. Randy Johnson, 2005-06. It might be even harder to believe he's in a GEICO commercial now, and playing someone with remorse in it. From his work with the Seattle Mariners in the 1995 ALDS to being the biggest reason the Yankees didn't win the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, The Big Unit was a big talent and a big asshole.

Then, George Steinbrenner decided he had to have Randy Johnson, even though he was too old. (Which one was too old, The Boss or The Big Unit? Both.) Johnson put up 2 seasons in which he won 17 games each time -- probably the 2 most useless 17-win seasons any Yankee pitcher has ever had. And in each season, he started Game 3 of the ALDS, and got beat, by the Angels in '05 and the Tigers in '06.

Goodbye, and good riddance. See you in Cooperstown, and I don't care which cap you wear on your plaque, as long as it's not a Yankee cap.

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