Jobu takes a trip down memory lane to leaner, but more fun times.
I’m kind of at a loss for words when it comes to writing about the Yankees right now. They’re just not fun to watch right now, and haven’t really been fun to watch all season. They are currently languishing in last place in the AL East, something many of today’s younger fans have never seen before, and some older ones never thought they would see again. The one good thing that came from this awful stretch of play is that it has reminded me of the last time I saw the Yankees finish in last place, and I actually enjoyed it.
The year was 1990. I had been watching the Yankees since my family had moved to the US in late 1987. I still have the baseball cards to prove it (although many were lost in a big flood we had several years ago). But, aside from some grainy and distorted images of Dave Winfield in 1988 (we didn’t have MSG back then, so we had to watch the games the same way I would later sneak and watch the playboy channel with my little friends), my first real memories as a Yankees fan came in that 1990 season.
That was the year Don Mattingly’s back gave out. My hero was never the same with the bat after that, and that injury pretty much sealed the Yankees’ last place finish (not that they were going to win anything anyway). The pitching staff that year was made up Tim Leary (19 losses), Andy Hawkins (12 losses), Dave Lapoint (10 losses), Chuck Cary (12 losses) and a combination of Pascual Perez, Mike Witt, Clay Parker, Dave Eiland, Steve Adkins, Mark Leiter (not even Al) and Jimmy Jones. Excuse me while I clean out my puke bucket after writing all those terrible names.
The starting lineup wasn’t much better either, with the only real bright spots being Roberto Kelly, Steve Sax and Jesse Barfield, while a cast of clowns made up the rest (including my father’s all-time favorite player, Steve Balboni).
The best part of that season was when the front office decided that, if the team was going to finish last anyway, it was going to finish last while rebuilding for the future. The key decision was made to let “the kids” take the reigns, and the Yankees called up their top prospects to give them a shot at the big leagues and to entertain the fans. There was only one problem. The Yankees didn’t really have any good prospects ready to go in the minors. Instead, they called up Kevin Maas, Jim Leyritz and Oscar Azocar.
Only one of those names is going to be recognizable to non-Yankees fans, and that’s Leyritz. Leyritz was hitting .289 with 8 HR and 32 RBI in 59 games at AAA Columbus when the Yankees called him up. Maas was at .284, but had 13 HR and 38 RBI in his 57 games, and Azocar came up a little later in the year, having played 94 games at AAA and hitting .294 with 5 HR and 52 RBI when he was called up.
While Leyritz went on to have the best career out of these guys (Maas and Azocar were out of baseball after only a few seasons), Maas was the one who had the most immediate impact. He went on a home run tear like none that he had ever had at any level (or ever would again). He became, at the time, the fastest player to ever reach 10 HR (I want to say it was 71 ABs), and ended up with 21 dingers in 254 at bats on the season. It was like every time he got a fastball, he hit it over the short porch in right.
One of my clearest memories of that year was a game against the powerhouse Oakland Athletics where Mattingly and Maas hit back to back home runs and the Yankees ended up beating the A’s. It was a completely inconsequential game, but I still remember how Mattingly reacted more vehemently to Maas’ home run than he did to the one he had just hit himself. It was a great moment in a season that didn’t feature too many great moments.
As I said before, the player with the best legacy from that group was Leyritz. We all remember the wonderful memories “The King” gave us as Yankees fans, and so does Mark Wholers (ouch). Even Azocar shone a bit, and I remember when he first got called up he hit over .400 for what seemed like a month, before pitchers realized he couldn’t hit breaking balls, which is actually pretty much the same thing that happened to Kevin Mass (straight ball I hit it very much).
The Yankees finished 67-95 that year, and it was a lot of fun to watch. Maybe it was because I was eight years old and didn’t know any better. Maybe I just loved baseball that much as a kid, and since I was still learning the inner workings of the game, everything was more fun to watch. I just know that watching a bunch of kids losing 95 games back then was way more fun than watching a bunch of crybaby millionaires lose 21 of the first 42 games of 2012. I’m tired of watching batter after batter strike out with men on base and head back to the dugout like it’s no big deal. I miss the more innocent days of the last place Yankees. Today’s version is just no fun to watch.
So someone kind of recreated the game I was talking about on MLB the Show… ish
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