The following two months and postseason will tell whether the Yankees’ late-season acquisitions were worth all the ink it’s been getting both here and in Japan, but there’s a pretty impressive list of some big names – including a small handful of Hall of Famers – that the Steinbrenner-era Yankees have picked up at the end of the season and the end of their careers in an attempt to get the Bombers over the hump and to squeeze the last bit of productivity from these ageing superstars.
There was some precedence in the pre-Steinbrenner years of similar moves: Johnny “Big Cat” Mize and Enos “Country” Slaughter are the names that pop to mind. Mize, inducted to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee, hit the last of his 359 homeruns in pinstripes in 1953. Slaughter, inducted to the Hall in 1985 also by the Veteran’s Committee, came over to the Yankees in 1954 following more than a decade with the Cards, and was a big part of the champion teams of the mid-to-late 1950’s Yankee teams.
But more recently, the Yankees picked up sure Hall of Famer, Ivan Rodriguez at the end of July, 2008. Perhaps giving up Kyle Farnsworth to get very little in return on the waning Pudge was a lesson as the Yanks really have pressed the pause button on these kinds of moves; Ichiro move notwithstanding. New York gave up quite a bit at the end of June, 2000 when we sent Ricky Ledee and Jake Westbrook to Cleveland for David Justice. But Justice hit .305 with 20 homeruns in that second half and was a good part of that World Champion team.
Daryl Strawberry came aboard after being released by the Giants in 1995 and was a frightening, looming presence coming off the bench for a couple of seasons and would have to be regarded as a rather beneficial late-season pick-up as well. Jose Canseco, on the other hand, came over from Tampa in August 2000 on a waiver-wire deal and contributed six of his tainted 462 career homeruns in Pinstripes even though the Yankees did give him a World Series ring.
For a while there was a trend in picking up the discarded first-basemen from rival clubs. Into this category we have George “The Boomer” Scott, who was something of the Big Papi of the late 70s Bosox teams. Scott hit the last of his 271 HRs for a Yankee team that wound up in fourth place. In 2004, late season pick-up, John Olerud, hit .280 for New York, but hurt himself – and the club’s chances – in the ALCS. John Mayberry and Jim Spencer deserve some honorable mention in this category as well.
I have to admit, I had totally forgotten that the Yankees brought back previously banished closer, Goose Gossage, in 1989. Even though I was always much more of a Sparky Lyle man, I seem to have a propensity toward mentioning Goose in my pieces, the one save he contributed to a team that finished under .500 a mere blip and forgettable. Lee Smith, who keeps coming up short for Hall of Fame election despite his 478 saves, came over in August, 1993, got 3 of those saves for the second-place Yankee team and was gone by the next season.
Last, but not least, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my all-time personal favorite pitchers, Gaylord Perry. The Yankees picked up the spit-balling, future Hall of Famer for Ken Clay in August, 1980. Perry contributed an average 4-4 record to go along with a 4.44 ERA as the Yankees took the division, but lost to the Royals in the ALCS.
GM Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees are hoping that the move from West to East and from last to first place helps re-ignite Ichiro Suzuki, who in turn helps the team put a World Series ring on the slap-hitter’s finger. Ichiro hit his first Yankee Stadium homerun last night (Monday) and the 100th of his career and it feels like even though his speed and talents seem to be on the downside, that short porch and his legs could be an element in the 2012 team that helps get the ballclub over the hump and makes up for the loss of Brett Gardner. Time will tell where Ichiro fits with the Yankees and in the storied history; Dave Winfield’s #31 looks pretty good on his back.