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Yankees Magazine: Rookies Of The Years

As Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar vie for 2018 honors, we examine the Yankees' previous award winners and contenders
Yankees Magazine

In 1940, the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America decided to honor the owner of the White Sox by bestowing the J. Louis Comiskey Memorial Award upon the top rookie in the Majors. This practice continued for seven years, with four National Leaguers and three American Leaguers -- including Yankees third baseman Billy Johnson in 1943 -- receiving the award.

But in 1947, the chapter decided to relinquish its autonomy, inviting all members of the BBWAA to vote. According to Total Baseball's Bill Deane, a group of 39 baseball writers were asked to name five rookies in order of preference, with votes distributed on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis. Jackie Robinson -- who broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947, and went on to bat .297 with 125 runs scored and an NL-best 29 steals while handling unfathomable hardships with class and dignity -- took home the first official award, topping Giants pitcher Larry Jansen, 129-105, in the voting. Forty years later, during the 1987 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductions, the award was officially renamed the Jackie Robinson Award.

In 1940, the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America decided to honor the owner of the White Sox by bestowing the J. Louis Comiskey Memorial Award upon the top rookie in the Majors. This practice continued for seven years, with four National Leaguers and three American Leaguers -- including Yankees third baseman Billy Johnson in 1943 -- receiving the award.

But in 1947, the chapter decided to relinquish its autonomy, inviting all members of the BBWAA to vote. According to Total Baseball's Bill Deane, a group of 39 baseball writers were asked to name five rookies in order of preference, with votes distributed on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis. Jackie Robinson -- who broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947, and went on to bat .297 with 125 runs scored and an NL-best 29 steals while handling unfathomable hardships with class and dignity -- took home the first official award, topping Giants pitcher Larry Jansen, 129-105, in the voting. Forty years later, during the 1987 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductions, the award was officially renamed the Jackie Robinson Award.

The practice of naming just one Rookie of the Year ended in 1949, when the BBWAA split it into AL and NL awards. And in the decades since, Yankees rookies have contended for the AL hardware on numerous occasions. Nine Yankees have won the award -- three in the 1950s, two in the 1960s, one each in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, and, most recently, Aaron Judge in 2017. The Bombers have never had back-to-back winners, but that could potentially change this year, as second baseman Gleyber Torres and third baseman Miguel Andujar both produced outstanding rookie seasons.

While awards are nice, the impact that many of these fine ballplayers have had is of even greater import. When a roster is infused with exciting young players who bring energy and enthusiasm, the team as a whole stands to benefit. And with Yankees players garnering eight of 13 AL Rookie of the Month Awards starting in August 2016 -- after an 11-year drought -- there's a bumper crop of recent farmhands making hay in the Bronx right now.

As we await next week's 2018 AL ROY announcement, let's take a look back at some of the top rookie seasons in Yankees history since the advent of the award.


After the Jackie Robinson-led Montreal Royals ousted Yogi Berra and the Newark Bears from the 1946 International League playoffs, the two future icons and Hall of Famers produced strong rookie seasons in 1947. But while Berra would bat .280 in 83 games and deliver the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history, the top rookie performer on the Yankees that year was a 26-year-old Connecticut native dubbed "the Naugatuck Nugget." Frank "Spec" Shea had been injured in World War II, but he took the American League by storm in '47, starting the season 11-2 with a 1.91 ERA to earn a trip to Wrigley Field, where he became the first rookie to win an All-Star Game.

Shea, hampered by a neck injury in the second half, finished the season 14-5 with a 3.07 ERA, then won Games 1 and 5 of the World Series. After Brooklyn won Game 6, Yankees manager Bucky Harris tabbed Shea to start Game 7 on just one day rest. The rookie right-hander recorded only four outs in that game, but the Yankees' bullpen got the job done thanks to five innings of one-hit ball from "Fireman" Joe Page.


While winning five straight World Series from 1949 to 1953, the Yankees continuously bolstered their roster with rookies such as Hank Bauer, who hit 10 home runs in '49, and 21-year-old Whitey Ford, who would start (and nearly finish) the clinching game of the 1950 World Series.

With the team looking up at the Tigers in the standings, the Yankees summoned the brash young southpaw from Triple-A Kansas City in July to fortify the pitching staff. Ford's first eight appearances (four starts) did little to foreshadow the Hall of Fame career that lay ahead; his pitching line featured more earned runs (17) than strikeouts (16). But beginning with a 9-0 shutout at Washington on Aug. 15, something clicked. Ford started eight games down the stretch, completing and winning seven of them. The boost he provided vaulted the Yankees into first place. Ford finished second to Boston's Walt Dropo (.322, 34 home runs, 144 RBI) in the AL Rookie of the Year race, but earned the distinction of starting Game 4 of the Fall Classic against Philadelphia. Looking to finish off the sweep, Ford took a five-hit shutout into the ninth inning. But with the tying run coming up to the plate with two outs, manager Casey Stengel beckoned Allie Reynolds from the bullpen -- much to the dismay of the home fans, who wanted to see their new rookie hurler finish what he had started.

Video: Yankees Retired Number: No. 16, Whitey Ford


The middle year of the Yankees' unparalleled run of five straight world championships saw the swan song of one superstar (Joe DiMaggio) and the arrival of another: Mickey Mantle. But while the Commerce Comet would be sent down to the Minors, dejected and teary-eyed, in mid-July of his rookie season, it was instead Commerce (California) High School product Gil McDougald who was the '51 Yanks' sterling rookie.

After hitting above .335 in each of his three Minor League seasons and showing that he could play multiple infield positions, McDougald quickly became one of manager Casey Stengel's favorites. What began as a platoon mission -- filling in for third baseman Bobby Brown and second baseman Jerry Coleman -- ended up as a Rookie of the Year campaign for McDougald: In 131 games, he collected 123 hits and recorded more walks (56) than strikeouts (54). On a loaded championship team with DiMaggio, Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer and such, McDougald was the only player to hit better than .300 during the regular season. He started all six games of the 1951 Fall Classic against the Giants, with his Game 5 grand slam contributing to his team-high seven RBI in the Series.

BOB GRIM, 1954

If Moose Skowron had played every day in 1954, he might have been a Rookie of the Year contender; the platoon strategy that manager Casey Stengel was so fond of employing limited him to 87 games, in which he batted .340 with 41 RBI and a whopping .969 OPS. Instead, in a rookie class that included Al Kaline, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks, it was 24-year-old right-hander Bob Grim and St. Louis' Wally Moon who won the ROY awards. Grim was the first rookie to win at least 16 of his first 20 decisions -- a feat matched by Ivan Nova in 2011 -- and he remains the only rookie in Yankees history to win 20 games other than Russ Ford, who won 26 in 1910. The Rookie of the Year ballots since 1949 were cast by three BBWAA writers in each of the leagues' eight cities, and the AL writers gave Grim -- who finished 20-6 with a 3.26 ERA in 37 games (20 starts) -- 15 votes to Jim Finigan's eight and Kaline's one.


If Gleyber Torres is not named 2018 AL Rookie of the Year and Miguel Andujar is, it wouldn't be the first time in Yankees history that one rookie was an All-Star and another won the award. Bobby Richardson was an All-Star as a rookie in 1957, but the versatile, slick-fielding Tony Kubek -- who played more than 20 games at four different positions -- would be named AL Rookie of the Year. In fact, Kubek's 1957 AL selection was technically unanimous, as the lone dissenting vote went to Bronx-born Red Sox third baseman Frank Malzone, who had 103 at-bats in 1956. Until 1957, voters used their judgment to determine who was a rookie and who wasn't. But in September of '57, the Baseball Rules Committee established criteria that disqualified Malzone. The 21-year-old Kubek had a 17-game hitting streak from June 30 to July 21 that raised his average to .309; he'd finish at .297 as the Yankees won their 23rd American League pennant. In the World Series against the Braves, Casey Stengel tabbed the Milwaukee native as his starter in left field over the veteran Enos Slaughter, and the youngster rewarded his manager by homering off the Braves twice in his hometown in the Game 3 win.


With his thick, dark glasses and tendency for wildness on and off the mound, Duren was the most talked-about pitcher in baseball in 1958. A flameout as a starter and employed by his fifth different franchise, Casey Stengel moved the 29-year-old flamethrower to the bullpen, where Duren led the AL in saves (though not an official stat yet at that time) and held opponents to a .157 average, allowing just 40 hits in 44 games (752⁄3 IP). Duren's 33 games finished and 19 saves remain Yankees rookie records, and he is one of only five pitchers in history to record eight or more strikeouts in a World Series relief performance, a Game 6 win at Milwaukee. That outing was a sweet bit of redemption for the All-Star rookie, who allowed a walk-off 10th-inning single to Bill Bruton in Game 1, and it proved to be a crucial performance as the Yankees became the first American League team in history to rally from a 3-games-to-1 World Series deficit.


When shortstop Tony Kubek's National Guard unit got called into active duty, manager Ralph Houk tabbed 23-year-old Tom Tresh to step in and join the defending world champs. The switch-hitter started at short on Opening Day (the next rookie to do so for the Yankees would be Derek Jeter in 1996) and soon developed a great double-play chemistry with second baseman Bobby Richardson. Tresh became an All-Star, relieving Luis Aparicio at short and recording an RBI double in the game at Wrigley Field, and he took over left field duties for the Yankees when Kubek returned to the lineup in August. Tresh would finish second on the team in hits (178), OBP (.359) and RBI (93), while leading all American League rookies with 20 home runs, becoming the Yankees' fourth AL Rookie of the Year Award winner. The greatest moment of his season -- and career -- came in Game 5 of the '62 World Series against the Giants, when his three-run homer broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth and helped the Yanks take a 3-games-to-2 lead back to San Francisco. Tresh came up with another huge play -- snaring a Willie Mays liner to left in the seventh inning of the Yanks' 1-0 Game 7 win at Candlestick Park -- and led the Yankees in average (.321), hits (nine) and runs (five) in the Series.


With the formidable triumvirate of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat long gone, and with Whitey Ford entering the twilight of his career, the Yankees needed to retool their starting rotation in the 1960s. A trio of promising rookies came along, beginning with left-hander Al Downing, who led all Major League pitchers in H/9 (5.8) and produced double-digit strikeouts in eight games -- a franchise record for rookies -- in 1963. A hip injury to Ford led to Mel Stottlemyre's call-up in August 1964, and the 22-year-old helped the Yankees emerge from a three-team race with the White Sox and Orioles to capture their fifth straight pennant. Stottlemyre led the Yanks in ERA and showed he could hit, too, collecting five hits in a game. In Game 2 of the 1964 World Series, the right-hander defeated Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals. "The kid's got the best sinker and curve I've seen," said Cardinals third baseman and NL MVP Ken Boyer. "There isn't a pitcher in the National League with this kind of stuff." Stottlemyre and Gibson locked horns again in Game 5, putting up zeroes for four innings until the Cards scored twice off the rookie in a 5-2 win. On two days' rest, Stottlemyre and Gibson dueled a third time in Game 7, with the Cards winning.

But as far as rookie seasons go, neither Downing nor Stottlemyre could top Stan Bahnsen's 1968 campaign. While balancing Army Reserve duties that relegated him to pitching only on weekends for part of the season, Bahnsen went 17-12 with a 2.05 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP, joining Bob Grim as the only Yankees pitchers to be named AL Rookie of the Year to that point. Bahnsen finished sixth in the AL in ERA and innings pitched (2671⁄3), with 10 complete games on his record. His 34 games started remains a Yankees rookie record.

Downing, Stottlemyre and Bahnsen went on to long and successful careers, combining for 44 seasons and nearly 7,500 innings among them. But the team success that their predecessors enjoyed eluded them: None won a World Series as a player.


When the Yankees jumped from a fifth-place, 80-win team in 1969 to a second-place, 93-win team in 1970, a hard-nosed young catcher named Thurman Munson played a key role.

After a short stint in the bigs at the end of '69, Munson went to the Puerto Rican Winter League and batted .333, prompting Crabbers teammate Roberto Clemente to tell him that any season in the Majors in which he hits below .280 should be deemed a failure. That next season, despite a slow start, the Yankees' backstop batted .302 and led all Major League catchers with 80 assists.

Munson would garner 23 of 24 votes for the AL Rookie of the Year Award, joining 1968 NL Rookie of the Year Johnny Bench as the only catchers to take home the hardware up to that point. "I'm glad to see the catchers are finally getting more recognition," Munson said that November. "I think the catcher holds the club together, but a lot of the things we do go unnoticed." The gap in the lineage of great pinstriped receivers -- since Elston Howard's departure, no Yankees catcher had topped 30 RBI in a season -- had been filled; Munson would go on to become a seven-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glover, an MVP and the Yankees' first captain since Lou Gehrig. When he died tragically in a plane crash on Aug. 2, 1979, the baseball world mourned as it had when Clemente died in similar fashion nearly seven years earlier. But Clemente's analysis had been spot-on: Munson finished with a lifetime batting average of .292.


In 1971, the formal guidelines that we use today to determine rookie status -- a player who has not exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched or spent more than 45 days on the active 25-man roster -- were adopted. So even with 16 relief appearances and one start across 1975 and '76, Ron Guidry's 31 2⁄3 innings were well shy of the threshold.

The first time the Yankees ever faced the Seattle Mariners -- on April 29, 1977, at Yankee Stadium -- they had to scramble to find a starting pitcher. Mike Torrez, acquired two days earlier from the Oakland A's, had failed to report, so manager Billy Martin looked to his bullpen. He called upon the 26-year-old left-handed Guidry, thus beginning one of the great rookie seasons -- and pitching careers -- in Yankees history. "Gator" spun 8 1⁄3 scoreless innings in his "spot start" that night, and he would go 15-7 with a 2.84 ERA in 25 starts that season, including a stretch from Aug. 10 through Sept. 25 in which he went 8-0 with a 1.76 ERA in nine starts. In October, the Yankees won all three of Guidry's postseason starts as they ended a 15-year World Series championship drought.

Guidry -- who would go on to win the 1978 American League Cy Young Award and etch his name alongside Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez as the greatest pitchers in Yankees history -- did not merit any attention in the 1977 Rookie of the Year voting (won by Baltimore's Eddie Murray), but he did finish seventh in the Cy Young vote, which went to Yankees reliever Sparky Lyle.

Video: Guidry introduced, celebrated at Old-Timers' Game


After leaning on Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle during their '77 title run and adding Goose Gossage for the '78 championship season, the Yankees knew the importance of having a quality bullpen. Lyle's departure in November '78 opened up a spot for reliever Ron Davis, whose 2.85 ERA and Major League-best .875 winning percentage (14-2) led to a fourth-place finish in the 1979 AL ROY voting.

Lyle had gone to Texas in a 10-player deal that brought back, among others, a 19-year-old southpaw from California named Dave Righetti. And while "Rags" would go on to have a great career as a closer, he burst onto the scene as a starter during the strike-shortened 1981 season.

After going 5-0 at Triple-A Columbus to start the year, Righetti earned a call-up in late May and went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four starts before the strike hit. He picked up where he left off when the season resumed in August, finishing second in the Majors to Houston's Nolan Ryan in H/9 (6.4) and ERA (2.05), and allowing just one home run all year (105 1⁄3 IP). Righetti then went 3-0 with a 0.60 ERA in the AL playoffs, including six scoreless frames in the ALCS Game 3 clincher against Oakland. Pitted against Dodgers rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela in Game 3 of the World Series, Righetti lasted just two innings -- his final postseason action as a player. He did, however, win the AL ROY handily (the last Yankees pitcher to do so), and would go on to win three World Series as a pitching coach for the Giants.


After Righetti, there was a dearth of impact rookies as the Yankees relied more heavily on veteran players. Brian Fisher, who saved 14 games in 1985, finished sixth in AL ROY voting, and Kevin Maas, who bashed 21 homers in 79 games in 1990, finished runner-up to Cleveland's Sandy Alomar. But something was brewing down on the farm, and the next crop of young Yankees began yielding major results.

A slender right-hander from Panama named Mariano Rivera and the tall Texan, Andy Pettitte, both made their debuts in 1995. While Rivera would go on to have the more legendary career of the two, his rookie season (5-3, 5.51 ERA in 19 games; 10 starts) paled in comparison to Pettitte's -- which, itself, got off to a rough start.

Beginning his career as a 22-year-old lefty option out of the bullpen, Pettitte debuted on April 29 at Kansas City and gave up two runs in 2⁄3 of an inning. It didn't get much better from there, and after posting a 5.14 ERA in five relief appearances, Pettitte was optioned to Columbus in mid-May to make room on the roster for Rivera.

Pettitte was recalled two weeks later, this time as a starter. He performed well in his first start, allowing one earned run in 5 1⁄3 innings at Oakland, and in his next start he tossed the first of his 26 career complete games. Pettitte got red hot in September, going 5-1 in six starts, and earned a no-decision in the Yankees' 7-5, 15-inning win in Game 2 of the ALDS against Seattle. Finishing third in the AL ROY voting, Pettitte led the AL in pickoffs (12) and led AL rookies in wins (12) -- the start of a great career and a golden era in the Bronx.


When first-year Yankees manager Joe Torre declared that 21-year-old Derek Jeter would be his shortstop out of the gate, it didn't take long for the youngster to prove that it was a wise decision.

Jeter hit his first Major League homer and made a dazzling catch on Opening Day, beginning a terrific season and a legendary career. The New Jersey-born Jeter would lead the team he grew up rooting for in hits (183) and games played (157) in 1996, and the 17-game hitting streak he authored in September was the longest by a Yankees rookie since Tony Kubek's 17-game streak in 1957. Jeter would finish with a .314 average, and his 78 RBI led all Major League rookies.

Under the spotlight of October baseball in New York, Jeter shined even brighter, posting an on-base percentage of .400 or higher in all three postseason series. His fan-aided eighth-inning home run in the ALCS opener was part of a four-hit night, and the run he drove in off of Atlanta's Greg Maddux in Game 6 of the Fall Classic helped end the Yankees' 18-year World Series drought. In all, Jeter collected 22 hits and scored 12 runs in 15 postseason games. After his first parade up the Canyon of Heroes (there would be four more to come), Jeter was named the Yankees' first Rookie of the Year since 1981 and just the fifth unanimous AL ROY in history (not counting Tony Kubek).


The Yankees' run of success during the late 1990s and early 2000s was buoyed by rookie contributors such as Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez -- the 32-year-old who debuted on June 3, 1998, after making a dangerous escape from Cuba less than six months earlier and went 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA that postseason, including a pivotal win at Cleveland in Game 4 of the ALCS -- and Alfonso Soriano, who in 2001 led the three-time defending world champs in games played (158) and steals (43, a Yankees rookie record). Soriano's walk-off homer -- the first by a rookie in postseason history -- in Game 4 of the ALCS against the mighty Mariners began a string of clutch heroics: After batting .400 in that series, he delivered a 12th-inning walk-off single against Arizona in Game 5 of the World Series and an eighth-inning homer in Game 7.

But in 2003, Hideki Matsui arrived and made an even bigger splash. After an iconic 10-year career in Japan -- he won his third Central League MVP Award in 2002, batting a career-high .334 with a career-best 50 homers -- "Godzilla" announced his arrival with a grand slam in his Yankee Stadium debut (a first in Yankees history). He was named AL Rookie of the Month for June and was the starting center fielder for the AL in the Midsummer Classic. Matsui hit safely in a Yankees rookie-record 16 straight home games (eclipsed by Aaron Judge's 17 in 2017), and his 13 outfield assists were second-most in the AL. After collecting 106 RBI (tops in the Majors by a rookie that season), Matsui drove in 11 runs in 17 postseason games, yet finished a close second behind Kansas City's Angel Berroa in ROY voting.

Video: MIN@NYY: Matsui hits a grand slam in the fifth


The Yankees got strong rookie seasons from starting pitchers in 2011, when Ivan Nova went 16-4 and was undefeated in his last 16 starts (12-0, 3.25 ERA), and 2014, when Masahiro Tanaka started the season 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA in his first 14 starts and became the only rookie in Yankees history to notch back-to-back double-digit strikeout games.

A strong case could be made, though, that reliever Dellin Betances authored the finest rookie season of any pitcher in Yankees history. The native New Yorker broke Mariano Rivera's franchise record for strikeouts by a reliever (130 K in 1996), and no Yankees rookie pitcher (min. 50 IP) has posted a lower ERA (1.40) or batting average against; opponents slashed a meager .149/.218/.224 against Betances in 2014. Half of his outs came via the strikeout, and his 4.60 H/9 set an American League record (min. 75 IP). In 10 appearances (15 1⁄3 IP) from May 10 to June 1, Betances did not allow a walk, and his punchout of six consecutive Mets on May 15 helped him reached 50 K's faster (28 2⁄3 IP) than any pitcher in Yankees history.

Tanaka and Betances became the first Yankees duo -- and the first teammates from any pitching staff -- to be named All-Stars as rookies.


While Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez put together impressive late-season performances in 2015 and '16, respectively, and Luis Severino posted the lowest ERA of any rookie starter in the Majors (min. 60 IP) in 2015, no Baby Bomber burst onto the scene quite like Aaron Judge did in 2017. Simply put, Judge produced the greatest rookie season in Yankees history -- and one of the best in baseball history. After a 27-game stint in 2016 during which he batted just .179, Judge came out swinging in 2017, powering the Yankees to within one victory of the World Series and finishing second in the MVP voting. A unanimous choice for AL Rookie of the Year and the first Yankees rookie to win a Silver Slugger Award, the 25-year-old became one of the biggest superstars in the sport. At 6-foot-7, 282 pounds, the hulking slugger broke Joe DiMaggio's record for home runs by a Yankees rookie on July 7 when he homered for a third straight game to reach 30 for the season. The youngest player to lead the AL in All-Star voting since 24-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. did so in 1994, Judge became the first rookie to win the Home Run Derby outright and is the only player to win both the NCAA and MLB derbies. He would go on to break Mark McGwire's rookie single-season home run record (49 in 1987), joining Ted Williams (1939) as the only players in history with 100 RBI, 100 walks and 100 runs scored in their rookie seasons. Among right-handed batters in Yankees history, only Alex Rodriguez's 54 home runs in 2007 topped Judge's 52 in 2017. In October, Judge etched his name alongside Lou Gehrig as the only Yankees with multiple RBI in three straight postseason home games, with five of his six hits in the ALCS going for extra bases. When all was said and done, Judge led the Majors in WAR (8.2) -- and jersey sales.


Gleyber and Migui. Migui and Gleyber. Either way, it has a nice ring to it, and Yankees fans hope to hear a lot more from Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar in the coming years. Neither infielder broke camp with the team out of Spring Training in 2018, but by the end of April, both had stepped into starting roles on a team with World Series aspirations and became major contributors. Torres, regarded as the top prospect in the Yankees' system, arrived with more fanfare -- and he did not disappoint. The 21-year-old second baseman batted .325 with 24 RBI in May and became the youngest player in AL history to homer in four straight games, earning AL Rookie of the Month honors. He was slowed by a hip strain in early July that prevented him from playing in the All-Star Game, but he picked it back up in August and September.

As impressive as Torres' offensive output was, Andujar's was even better. The 23-year-old third baseman was the Yankees' most consistent hitter in 2018, ranking second on the team in games played and first in batting average among regulars. The AL Rookie of the Month for June and August, Andujar led all Major League rookies in hits, doubles and RBI, breaking the franchise rookie record of 44 doubles set by Joe DiMaggio in 1936 and tying the American League rookie record of 47 set by Fred Lynn in 1975.

So will Andujar make it two straight Rookie of the Year Award winners for the Bronx Bombers? We'll soon find out. And we'll see just how big of an impact he, Torres, Judge, Severino and the rest of the Baby Bombers will have during this exciting and promising era of Yankees baseball.

Nathan Maciborski is the executive editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees, Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres

Yankees Magazine: Home Sweet Home Away From Home

On Nov. 17, Notre Dame and Syracuse will renew their rivalry in a familiar setting
Yankees Magazine

On a steamy and hot day in upstate New York, the Syracuse Orange football team has just concluded its afternoon practice. Training camp is in full swing for Dino Babers' squad, which won four games in each of his first two seasons as head coach.

A few minutes after the workout, Babers has found his way back to his office and changed into dry clothes. After walking past a bronze bust of Syracuse football hero Jim Brown, he sits down on a couch.

On a steamy and hot day in upstate New York, the Syracuse Orange football team has just concluded its afternoon practice. Training camp is in full swing for Dino Babers' squad, which won four games in each of his first two seasons as head coach.

A few minutes after the workout, Babers has found his way back to his office and changed into dry clothes. After walking past a bronze bust of Syracuse football hero Jim Brown, he sits down on a couch.

"That's quite a conversation piece," Babers says. "When I was growing up, my dad told me in no uncertain terms that Jim Brown was the greatest football player in history. Not one of the greatest, the greatest. He was the original G.O.A.T."

Babers isn't shy about his passion for tradition and history, especially when it relates to football, and so it's not surprising that his team's upcoming game against Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 17 has already seeped into his thoughts.

"Football coaches aren't supposed to look too far ahead," Babers says. "And November is like a lifetime from now. But, we're talking about Yankee Stadium. It's been fun to think about how special it will be to take the field where the Yankees play. Long after our players are done playing the game, they will find themselves sitting around with their children and grandchildren, and the Yankees are going to be on TV. They will be able to share the story of playing at Yankee Stadium, and that's pretty special.

"For me, I think about the fact that I will be coaching against some of the best collegiate athletes in the world," he continues. "They are going to be well coached, and the game will be viewed by millions of people. Hopefully, there will be a few moments during the game where I can relax a little bit and just reflect on where I am."

While Babers is happy to concede that no one will ever match the legendary status of Brown at the university, the thought of etching his name and the names of his players into Syracuse's football history moves him every time he walks past the statue of the former running back.

"When you think about the history of this program and what it has done in the past, it makes you want to succeed here," says Babers, who previously served as the head coach at Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois. "Having the opportunity to play a role in bringing it back to relevance is really what motivates me."

Since its inception in 1889, the football program has been relevant and successful in more seasons than not. Starting in the early 1920s, the team became a powerhouse, losing just five games from 1922-25. A few decades later, Brown arrived on the rural campus and ran the team to a Cotton Bowl berth in his senior season of 1956.

Three years later, another all-time great arrived. In three seasons at Syracuse, Ernie Davis dazzled the loyal fan base with his running and receiving prowess, and in 1959, he led the team to an 11-0 record and a national championship. In Davis's final season of 1961, he won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first African-American player to take home college football's most prestigious honor.

Syracuse hasn't made it back to the top since '59, but it has earned 18 bowl game appearances since 1979 and -- under the direction of Doug Marrone, now the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars -- the Orange captured victories in the 2010 and 2012 New Era Pinstripe Bowls at Yankee Stadium.

The two New Era Pinstripe Bowl victories are just a small part of Syracuse's history in the Bronx. In 1923, the Orangemen (as they were called until 2004) took on Pittsburgh in the first football game ever played at the original Yankee Stadium.

"Did we win the game?" Babers asks after getting a brief lesson about his team's Yankee Stadium pedigree.

To Babers' delight, Syracuse did win the game, 3-0. In fact, the school won a whole lot in the Bronx. Although not as extensive as Notre Dame's history at Yankee Stadium, Syracuse owns a 7-1 record at the original and current Yankee Stadiums. Its most memorable win came against the Fighting Irish on Thanksgiving Day 1963, only six days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

"I like when we win," Babers says. "We need to get those stats to the team. They need to understand our history there, and we need to keep it going."

Babers may not know his team's entire history at Yankee Stadium, and he's admittedly "not a big baseball fan." But in anticipation of the game in the Bronx, he has been studying up on all things Yankees.

"A few days ago, we had a player who was hurt and just started practicing again," Babers says. "I was trying to encourage him, and I said, 'You've got to get back out there and work hard. You don't want to end up like Wally Pipp.' He asked me who Wally Pipp was, and I explained that he was the player who Lou Gehrig filled in at first base for one day, and Gehrig didn't miss a game for almost 15 years after that. So, it's been fun to get the players thinking about how special it will be to take the field where the Yankees play."

Following Marrone's departure to the NFL after the 2012 season -- he coached the Buffalo Bills for two seasons -- Syracuse has had just one winning season in the last five years. But going into this season, Babers is confident that things are moving in the right direction.

"We have the opportunity to play 12 games this season," he says. "If we play those games really well, we'll get to play a 13th game or maybe even a 14th or 15th. You never know what's going to happen during the season, but you have to keep your mind clear and continue to work toward the best outcome. That's what we're doing."

As the blue sky above Syracuse gives way to dark clouds, Babers speaks about what it would mean to the loyal fan base in upstate New York if he is able to turn around the football program and get the team to a bowl game, or, in an ideal scenario, return it to national championship contention.

"Everyone is hungry for something good," Babers says as he looks out of a floor-to-ceiling window and watches heavy rain pour onto a granite Syracuse Football sign surrounded by orange marigolds. "There's something to be said for eating whatever is on the table, and that's what they've been doing here for a while. But our fans are looking to eat something that they really enjoy, and if we give it to them, they will be crazy about it. That's what I want to see."


Taking a 3-mile walk around the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Indiana, on a clear autumn day can stay with a person for a long time. The concrete pathways that weave from one brick building to another are surrounded by perfectly manicured grass. There are recognizable landmarks and monuments that celebrate the history and tradition of the 176-year-old university on each corner of the campus and in the middle of the school's grounds.

Not far from the university's famed Golden Dome sits Notre Dame Stadium, the storied football team's home since 1930. Since the stadium opened, the Fighting Irish have won nine of their 11 national championships. Knute Rockne, the team's coach when the stadium opened and whose name is as synonymous with football lore as any throughout history, is celebrated with a statue just outside one of the stadium's gates -- which, itself, is named after him. In gold letters, the marble base of the statue reads, "Knute Rockne, Head Coach. 1918-1930. 105 Wins, 12 Losses, 5 Ties. National Champions: 1924, 1929, 1930.

Although Rockne captured many of those 105 victories in South Bend, one moment that has been passed down from one generation to the next took place at the original Yankee Stadium. It was there that the coach made a halftime speech -- immortalized more than a decade later by Ronald Reagan in the film Knute Rockne, All American -- imploring his team to make a comeback against an undefeated Army squad in a late-season game in 1928.

Almost a decade before the game, George Gipp, a star player at Notre Dame, had been hospitalized with pneumonia. Rockne spoke of his visit with Gipp, during which the young man told the coach to use his fatal illness as a rallying cry when the team was down.

In Rockne's "Win One for the Gipper" speech, the coach did just that. Notre Dame emerged from the Yankee Stadium locker room and won the game, 12-6.

In the nearly four decades between when Reagan earned the moniker "Gipper" for his poignant acting role and his election as the 40th president of the United States, Notre Dame played in several other signature games at the old Yankee Stadium.

The Rockne statue at Notre Dame faces the Hesburgh Library, separated by a few hundred yards of grass and a reflecting pool. The south panel of the library tower features the Word of Life mural commemorating "Christ and the Saints of Learning." The 132-foot-tall image depicts Jesus surrounded by theologians, doctors and teachers. The mural, with its religious and educational implications, fits perfectly on the campus of the esteemed Catholic university. Football fans, though, know the mural as "Touchdown Jesus," a name that became popular as soon as the 1964 masterpiece was dedicated. From several places within Notre Dame Stadium, "Touchdown Jesus" serves as a backdrop, and it is frequently visible on television during games.

Ara Parseghian was the first Notre Dame coach to roam the sidelines under the shadow of "Touchdown Jesus." He won two national championships between 1964 and 1974, and he finished his career in South Bend with a 95-17-4 record.

Not far from "Touchdown Jesus," in a second-floor office of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, Brian Kelly runs the show these days.

In 2010, Kelly took over a program that had been mired in mediocrity since Lou Holtz led the team to its last glorious run in the early 1990s. His focus has been to return Notre Dame football back to its old glory, and although Kelly has yet to bring the Fighting Irish its 12th national championship (and first since 1988), he has accomplished more than any coach since Holtz.

Kelly, who came to Notre Dame following a four-year tenure with the University of Cincinnati highlighted by an Orange Bowl berth, has posted winning records in all but one season since taking over the program, and he brought an undefeated 2012 team into the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama.

"I feel like I'm upholding the tradition of Notre Dame football," Kelly says from his office on a late-September morning. "Bringing this program back to prominence is so important because that's what our history is all about. We have a history of winning, and I'm happy that we've been able to return the program to that tradition."

Although Kelly has made Notre Dame football relevant again, he's quick to point out that his goals each season go beyond that.

"We really only have two missions at Notre Dame," Kelly says. "To graduate all of our players and win a national championship. We don't play in a conference, so what else is there to play for? If we were in the American League East, our goal would be to win our division, win the pennant and then win the World Series. But we don't have that here at Notre Dame, so really, it's all about winning a national championship. It's about living up to a standard each and every week and then building off of that."

In the early part of this season, Kelly had the Irish pointing in the right direction. As of late September, the team was 4-0, and going into its Sept. 29 game against Stanford, the Irish were ranked eighth in the nation in both major polls.

"We're an emerging team," Kelly says. "We're a young team, especially on the offensive side of the ball where we have a few freshman starters who are just beginning to figure out who they are as college football players. We have a veteran presence on defense, and they've shown that early on as we continue to develop offensively. We are really starting to see signs of everything coming together, and I really believe that our best football is ahead of us."

In what Kelly describes as a lifetime ago -- although it has only been eight years -- Notre Dame returned to the Bronx for a game against Army. Including Rockne's 1928 victory at the old Yankee Stadium, Notre Dame had amassed a 15-6-3 record at the Yankees' former home, but this was the Fighting Irish's first appearance at the new ballpark.

Tweet from @CuseFootball: 📽 | Take a look at last time we played Notre Dame in Yankee Stadium... Nearly 55 years to the day prior to the 2018 game.

"The old Yankee Stadium was a big part of the formative years of Notre Dame football," Kelly says. "Before we took the field at the new Yankee Stadium, right in the shadows of the old Stadium, I wanted every player to know why that venue was important to us. It was important that they knew why we were playing there, and how that game brought us back to our historical roots."

Notre Dame won that game -- the second installment of the Shamrock Series -- 27-3. Since its inception in 2009, Notre Dame has played eight scheduled home games on neutral sites. In addition to Yankee Stadium, Notre Dame has played at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas; Boston's Fenway Park; and Chicago's Soldier Field, among other sites.

"The venues we've played the Shamrock Series games in have all been special," says Kelly, who has emerged victorious in all seven of the games he's coached in the series. "But the opponents have really mattered also. When we played Army at Yankee Stadium, there was a reverence to the game. Playing Boston College at Fenway Park also made that a highly impactful game. We've done a great job of matching up compelling opponents with the unique stadiums the games have been in."

Kelly believes that this season's Shamrock Series contest against Syracuse has the makings of another special day.

"You have a team that's in the state of New York, and that will likely be playing for a high bowl game opportunity," Kelly says. "The game will be on national television and at Yankee Stadium. I think there will be a lot of excitement surrounding this game. Syracuse has already knocked off a really good team with a great tradition in Florida State, and they are going to be a really good opponent and one that is going to be difficult to play."

Kelly is also aware of how taking the field against Notre Dame increases the level of motivation for his opponents.

"We recognize that each and every week, we carry that moniker or that label," Kelly says. "Because of that, we bring in players who want those bright lights on them. They expect to get the very best from their opponents each week. We carry that with a great amount of pride, and that's why it's important for us to play to a standard more so than anything else on a day-to-day basis."

A few seasons after defeating Army at Yankee Stadium, Notre Dame won the 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl over Rutgers, improving its record on the new ballpark's gridiron to 2-0. The experience of working with the Yankees on those occasions left an impression on Kelly, and have made him anxious to return to the Bronx on Nov. 17.

"It starts with the Yankees and their tradition, history and iconic brand," Kelly says. "We feel like we are pairing with a partner that is so much like Notre Dame. The Yankees and Notre Dame both have tremendous brand power, and we do things in a similar fashion. The second thing is that makes it special is the fact that we have such a strong alumni base in the New York area. So you take an organization like the Yankees, which has so many similarities in terms of its history and tradition as a sports organization, and you take the New York metropolitan area, and you have a great partnership."


A few hundred feet from Babers' office, several Syracuse players are in a dining hall, finishing lunch and enjoying what little downtime they have during training camp.

Like so many other players in the room, Kielan Whitner, a senior linebacker and one of the leaders on the team, is anxious for this season to start more so than any other in his career.

"There's definitely a different feeling around here this season," he says. "It takes a little time for coaches to get their cultures set and set their expectations and get everyone on the same page. But now, everyone knows what to do and how to do it. The culture has shifted, and we are headed in the right direction. We just have to put all of the pieces together."

One of the pieces that Babers and his team seem to have figured out already is how to beat ranked teams. In Babers' first season, Syracuse knocked off Virginia Tech, the eventual ACC Coastal Division champions. That win was the Orange's first against a ranked opponent in four seasons, and it was just a precursor to last year, when Syracuse defeated College Football Playoff semifinalist Clemson at the Carrier Dome.

"We have a great college town here," Whitner says. "The atmosphere in the Carrier Dome during both of those games was electric. It was truly the Loud House. The fans were into it from beginning to end, and long after both games ended. Those were great days to be a Syracuse football player and to be part of this community. We want more experiences like that."

Syracuse's struggle to win late in the season has hampered the team in recent years. After the big win against Clemson last season, the Orange failed to come out on top in any of their final five games. But this year's squad hopes that is all in the past.

"We hope that we're sitting in a good spot when it's time to make the trip to Yankee Stadium," Whitner says. "The games in November are the ones that stand out the most, and that's where we've struggled the most. We began talking about that on our first day of training camp this year. We need to prepare ourselves to play well in November so that we have a chance to play in December."

Whitner is aware that beating Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium will be perhaps the biggest challenge for Syracuse this November. But he also understands what a victory on that stage would mean.

"As a Syracuse athlete, there is so much great history that came before me," Whitner says. "Guys like Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little wore the same uniform, and I try to carry that legacy every time I put my jersey on. The fact that Syracuse teams from long ago and not so long ago won games at Yankee Stadium means a lot. We want to uphold that tradition. We want to put on a good show like the players who wore our uniform before us did. Doing that will create memories that will live on forever."


Tweet from @NDFootball: The Fighting Irish.The @Yankees.Two Iconic Brands.One Uniform.One Night.Yankee Stadium.November 17 - 2:30pm.#GoIrish ������ #ShamrockSeries

 A few doors down the hall from Kelly, Brian Polian is busy preparing for his team's Sept. 29 game against Stanford, but ever since it was announced that Notre Dame would be playing at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 17, that game has been on his mind.

The recruiting coordinator/special teams coordinator and son of Bill Polian -- the Hall of Fame executive who built the early 1990s Buffalo Bills teams that won four consecutive AFC championships and the Indianapolis Colts' Super Bowl XLI championship team -- was born in the Bronx and lived there until he was 6 years old.

"I was so excited," Polian says. "I just made my first trip to the new Yankee Stadium this summer, and when I walked in, I told my wife that I couldn't believe that we would actually be playing there. It's almost surreal."

When he was growing up, Polian was at the old Yankee Stadium frequently, and afternoons watching the Yankees play there remain some of his favorite childhood memories.

"I've been to the old Stadium dozens of times, and I have a great appreciation for how iconic it was," he says. "But I also recognize how iconic the new Stadium already is. I feel like I will look back at the end of my coaching career and be proud that I got to coach a game in that building."

By the time he was a teenager, Polian and his family had relocated to Buffalo, and he was frequently on the sidelines next to Marv Levy, assisting the Hall of Fame coach. Despite the distance from Buffalo to the Bronx, Polian still followed the Yankees closely, as did his family.

"I know I'm going to have to come up with a lot of tickets for family members," he says.

As excited as Polian is about the game itself, he's also enthusiastic about the special uniforms Notre Dame will be donning in the Bronx. The design of those uniforms combines the pinstripes and Yankees script with Notre Dame's iconic interlocking ND logo.

"The combination of the Yankee pinstripes and Notre Dame written across the front is both stunning and symbolic," Polian says. "We feel like we're the New York Yankees of college football. Not everyone loves us, but everyone knows who we are. Both brands are universally recognized, and these uniforms bring that together."


"The last time it happened, the Beatles were hot. The last time it happened, the '66 Mustang was the baddest thing on the road. I'm telling you now, you just put yourselves on the map."

That's how Babers begins an impassioned postgame speech in the home locker room of the Carrier Dome following his team's 30-7 rout of Florida State on Sept. 15.

The victory over the Seminoles -- Syracuse's first over the longtime national power since 1966 -- further validated Babers' preseason proclamation that his team was about to turn the corner in 2018, and a victory against Connecticut a week later gave the Orange a perfect 4-0 record to start the season.

Syracuse's early-season success only heightened the anticipation for the game at Yankee Stadium. The university's director of athletics, John Wildhack, was certainly excited about the game from the moment it was scheduled. But the idea of bringing a contending team to the Stadium to take on Notre Dame -- for a game that he firmly believes the Orange can win -- represents something far greater for Syracuse's student athletes, alumni and fan base.

"It will be a great experience for our team and our fans, and it will be a really great experience if we win," Wildhack says. "To play at a venue like Yankee Stadium puts our program on a very visible stage. We're building a program under Coach Babers, and we have a really good culture and great leadership. We are looking forward to playing Notre Dame."


Notre Dame vice president and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick and the university's vice president for campus safety and event management Michael Seamon have been at the forefront of planning out the Shamrock Series from its earliest days.

When the idea first began to gain traction, Seamon knew that in order for the event to reach its potential, it would have to be much more than just a football game.

"Bringing the team to an alternate location is one thing," Seamon says from the Notre Dame campus. "But for the Shamrock Series games to be true home games, we felt that we had to take all of the elements that we showcase and celebrate in South Bend, and bring them to the sites."

With that direction, Swarbrick and other members of the athletic department identified venues that were most appealing to Notre Dame.

"We've played in some great venues throughout the series," Swarbrick says. "Yankee Stadium is at the top of the list, and we are thrilled to return there this time around. The Yankees have integrated the history of the franchise everywhere you go there. The most famous players in Yankees history and the traditions of the Yankees are celebrated in the Stadium, and we wanted to come back to that."

Besides the game, there are several other elements that Seamon believes will make the upcoming installment a special experience for the Notre Dame faithful and for football fans in and around New York City.

"We will be bringing our marching band of 400 people," he says. "We'll have academic lectures with our professors and academic symposiums. We'll celebrate Mass on gameday at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and we will have a wide variety of social events, like pep rallies, concerts, receptions and tailgate parties. Our goal is to take all of the elements that people normally come to South Bend to experience, and we replicate them in these special places."

Since 2009, the reception from the cities that have hosted the Shamrock Series, as well as from loyal Notre Dame followers, has been overwhelming.

"The hunger that our fans have for this game has been unprecedented," Seamon says. "For many of our fans, this will be the one away game they go to each year. It has become a ritual for many of them, and they immerse themselves in all the things going on in these cities. It has really has caught on in the cities we have been in, as well. People who wouldn't normally be interested in college football find themselves getting caught up in the excitement."

The enjoyment among fans of Notre Dame has been matched by that of the student-athletes.

"We love to take our players to places that have a tradition like ours," Swarbrick says. "We like to bring them to venues associated with iconic franchises. It's great for our players to walk into the Yankees' clubhouse and get dressed in front of the nameplates of so many famous and highly accomplished players on the Yankees. That will be an experience they never forget."

Alfred Santasiere III is the editor-in-chief of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: Icing on the Cake

With a huge October, Scott Brosius helped cement the 1998 Yankees' place in baseball history
Yankees Magazine

To this day, Scott Brosius insists that you could choose any player on the 1998 Yankees who was just as, if not more, deserving of the World Series MVP Award than he was.

Nevertheless, Brosius walked away with the hardware after a Fall Classic -- and, in fact, an entire season and postseason -- in which he far surpassed anyone's expectations.

To this day, Scott Brosius insists that you could choose any player on the 1998 Yankees who was just as, if not more, deserving of the World Series MVP Award than he was.

Nevertheless, Brosius walked away with the hardware after a Fall Classic -- and, in fact, an entire season and postseason -- in which he far surpassed anyone's expectations.

Acquired by the Yankees in November of 1997, Brosius was coming off a dreadful year with the A's and wasn't even sure what his role with the Yankees would be. In Oakland, Brosius had never tasted October baseball. Now, shipped across the country and thrust into the New York spotlight on a team with its sights set on a championship, the third baseman promised himself that no matter what happened, he would try to enjoy the ride.

Twenty years later, and now the Mariners' third base coach, Brosius still looks back on the 1998 season fondly -- and still tries to deflect any credit for the Yankees' historic run. From one of his favorite haunts near his home in McMinnville, Oregon, Brosius spoke with Yankees Magazine senior editor Hilary Giorgi about his first year with the Yankees and what a wild and exhilarating ride it was.

How confident were you going into the 1998 postseason, both personally and as a team?

I'll tell you a conversation that really helped me. It was early September, and I had been struggling a little bit offensively. My average had dipped under .300, and I was just kind of grinding. Don Zimmer walked over to me while I was taking grounders at third base. He pulled me aside and goes, "I can see your frustration. Look, I don't know if you're going to hit .300 this year or not, but you need to know something. You're one of the reasons that we're in this place. If you can't enjoy a season like this, you'll never enjoy any season because this season is special." And that was kind of what I needed to hear at the time. From that point on, I let myself get back to enjoying this game and playing hard. I started swinging the bat good again at the end of the year, and so for me personally going into the playoffs, I was confident. I think our team certainly had confidence based on the games that we were winning and how we finished. And you looked at the guys we were throwing out on the mound -- when you've got those guys, you feel like you can win every single game that you're playing.

It was your first taste of the postseason. Any jitters or butterflies the night before your first playoff game?

No, it was excitement. For me it was just like, this is dream-come-true kind of stuff. This is what you dreamed about doing, so enjoy the ride. Obviously, you're going to play hard and play to win, but make sure you look around. Make sure you enjoy the festivities. Make sure you enjoy just being introduced. Enjoy it, and have fun with the experience. Ultimately, I just wanted to make sure that I was appreciating something that I dreamed my whole life of having a chance to do.

There's definitely a different feel in the playoffs. There's a different intensity and focus about it. The clubhouse was loose, but at the same time you could see the underlying sense of, "It's go time." It's getting used to the mental ups and downs, and going from the high-intensity feelings to telling yourself to relax and go to sleep so you can get up and do it again. It's emotionally draining.

Were you worried at any point?

The scariest series is the first one because it's best three out of five. You have that one game that could go the wrong way, and all of a sudden it puts you behind the eight ball. In '98 we swept the American League Division Series, but they were tight, close games with Texas. Obviously, being down 2-games-to-1 in the ALCS was the first time we kind of had our backs against the wall. But even at that point, you still have confidence. I remember after Game 3 we were going back to the hotel, and on the streets in Cleveland they were just going crazy -- they were celebrating and all that. I remember seeing it and looking around the bus and saying to the guys, "Gosh, I didn't realize this was best two out of three. I thought this was four out of seven, and as far as I know we're not even close to being out of it. Look at these guys. They're celebrating like they won it already." Then El Duque goes out and does his thing in Game 4, and from that point on it was kind of unstoppable.

It must help to get off to a good start though, which you did in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rangers. You knocked in the first run of the game -- which also wound up being the winning run -- in the second inning. How important was it to get yourself and the team going quickly?

On the personal side, there's no question that it makes you relax. If you have some success early and get a hit, you relax, and it puts you into a flow. But it goes the other way, too. You see guys where the postseason starts tough for them, and it starts to snowball because there's so much more attention put on it. And during playoff games, you know that every run is golden. You don't know how the games are going to play out, and with the Rangers they were all tight, low-scoring games, so every run really mattered.

The Yankees wound up sweeping Texas and moving on to face Cleveland. How did you feel when you knocked off the Rangers?

After the first series win, it's kind of weird because you haven't really won anything yet; you've just sort of moved on. The first round is really just a first step. But for me personally, sweeping them meant there was an opportunity to heal up. I had rolled my ankle in the last game of the series when Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez) picked me off first, so I was pretty gimpy. If we had had a Game 4, I would have been really questionable because I woke up really sore the next day. It was good to spend a few days getting treatment and trying to get my ankle back and ready to go for the next series.

The Indians had knocked out the Yankees the year before. You obviously weren't there for that, but was there any extra sense of, "We need to get these guys"?

There was extra intensity, no question. Like you said, I wasn't there for it, but I think it was still raw. When a team ends your season like the Indians did to the Yankees in '97, that was still talked about. Of course, you're playing for your own motivations, and you're playing for an opportunity to get to the World Series, but to be able to beat the team that got you the year before definitely added another level of intensity to that series.

You punched your ticket to the World Series at Yankee Stadium. Going into that game, did you have any doubt that you were going to win?

No. I think you have to go in saying, "This is ours, now, and we're going to win it." That's how we felt. As the game went on and the score started to dictate thoughts of, "Hey, if we get a few more outs, we're going to win this," that's when the excitement starts to grow a little bit. So that celebration, for me, meant something. We had won the American League, and we were going to the World Series, and I was like, "No way." Punching that ticket, that dog pile, that celebration was fun.

People were going nuts. It's so cliche, but it really is the stuff you dream about. You think, "This is what the big leagues should be." You hope for it. You dream about it your whole life, and then you realize, "Wow, I'm actually going to get the chance to play in a World Series."

Heading into the World Series, what did you know about the Padres and what did you expect facing them?

We knew they beat two good teams to get to the World Series, so we had all the respect in the world for them. We knew they were a good team and could beat good teams offensively, plus they were really balanced on the mound. They had Kevin Brown and Sterling Hitchcock; a great closer in the 'pen with some good guys in between. So, we felt like we were playing the best from that league, and we felt like it was going to be a battle.

After winning the first two games in the Bronx, what's the confidence level on the plane ride to California?

Winning Game 1, to come from behind like that, that was a big win. Tino [Martinez] had the big home run, and it was huge to find a way to win that game against Kevin Brown, who was really good, really nasty. And in Game 2, we swung the bats well and took advantage of some mistakes. Any time you can leave home up 2 games to none, you feel great. But you also know how a series can turn, and you've watched enough playoff series to know that when you get a team to their home field, the series is far from over. So, we certainly didn't feel like it was over. We were treating every game like it was the most important game of the Series, because it was.

Take me through Game 3 in San Diego.

I think Sterling and Coney (David Cone) both had no-hitters going through the first four or five innings. So, it was a close game. But the thing that Joe Torre talked about all year long was, just grind. That was what we always talked about, how we had to keep grinding -- that's how you get through the season and these close games. That kicked in, and you're just hoping that you'll be the first one to crack the door.

Instead, San Diego got on the board first, scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth, and then you're the guy leading off the top of the seventh. What was your approach?

I was seeing the ball pretty well off of Sterling, and to me it was just about getting on base. Just get on base and try to get an inning going. You kind of have to stay away from the thinking of, "Geez, we only have nine outs left," and instead think, "Let's score some runs."

So, the count went to 3-2, and as he should with a three-run lead, he didn't want to walk the leadoff hitter. I got a fastball to hit, and I just put a good swing on it.

Video: WS1998 Gm3: Brosius comes up big with two homers

How did the trip around the bases feel after that home run? Was there a bit of a spark?

It was kind of cool, but we were still down, and we knew we had a ways to go. But at the same point, it's like, "Wow, I just hit a World Series home run." It was a cool feeling, and a run is a run. The game was still close, and so to get one run closer it was great to feel like you'd helped. But there was no question I was rounding the bases thinking, "This is pretty cool." The little kid takes over.

In the next inning you come up again, this time against Trevor Hoffman, who, like Mariano Rivera, was a future Hall of Famer. How did you feel facing him?

That inning was a heck of an inning for our whole offense. If you look at some of the at-bats even before I got up, you'll remember that Tino had a great at-bat, Bernie [Williams] had a great at-bat, so there were a bunch of good things that led up to me coming to the plate. I had seen Trevor earlier that year -- he had struck me out in the All-Star Game -- and actually I think that helped me because at least I had seen him. I wasn't facing him totally for the first time. Going up to the plate I certainly wasn't thinking home run, though. I just wanted to get a pitch to hit and hit the ball hard and see what happens.

And then …?

And then he gave me a fastball, and I hit it good. When I hit it, I was thinking, "Is it going to be enough?" I was just worried about if it was going to carry. As I'm running down the line, I was waiting to see if it makes it over the fence or not. When it does, I think that's when the hands go up, and it's that initial reaction of, "Yes!" No question, that was probably my No. 1 highlight. To hit a home run to put you ahead, and at that point you see the dugout and the guys coming out, and you can't wait to get to home plate and high-five everyone.

In Game 4, you're facing Kevin Brown again, their ace. How confident is the team now that you're one win away from a World Series victory?

I think it was Tony Gwynn in an interview after Game 3 who said something like, "They're a great team over there, but I can't hand them the title until they win four, and they haven't won four yet." And he was exactly right. We knew this thing was not over. The thought process is, treat it like a must-win. And Kevin was tough. He was good that day, and we were struggling to score. But Andy Pettitte was good that day, too, and it was just another one of those close games.

You had a 1-0 lead going into the eighth inning when you come up with the bases loaded. How badly do you want to knock in a couple of insurance runs there?

Definitely. The infield was in, and I was fortunate because Brownie had a ton of movement on his ball that day -- he was throwing hard with a lot of sink. Typically, my approach off him was to pull something because everything was running in on you. I was able to get just enough barrel on something to get the ball into the outfield.

You knocked in one run, then the team added another and you knew you had the greatest closer of all time waiting in the bullpen. Are you counting the minutes and seconds at that point?

You're definitely counting outs.

The last batter of the game, Mark Sweeney, comes up, and hits a grounder to you. Are you thinking anything at that point, or is it just muscle memory?

What's funny is when I got traded over, (third base coach) Willie Randolph would hit me ground balls every day. And for the last ground ball of the day, I would always say to myself, "OK, it's two outs in the World Series." I'd tell myself that every single day. "Two outs in the World Series, last out of the season, make the play." I don't know why I did that. I guess I figured we were going to be in the playoffs so maybe I was trying to get myself used to the feeling, but it was just something I would tell myself. So, when the ball was hit to me I was like, "No way!" I started jumping in the air when I didn't airmail the throw. And then it's pandemonium.

Describe the rush of feelings in that moment.

I can't speak for the other guys, but for me it was just pure joy. My family told me the way I was jumping around, I looked like Tigger. And I was like, "I was jumping around?" I didn't even know. It's just joy, and you don't even know what you're doing. You can't wait to jump and hug guys -- it's the coolest feeling ever.

What do you remember feeling when you were named MVP of the World Series?

It was like icing on the cake. I saw it as a really awesome award to get, but it didn't matter because we won, and that's all I cared about. When they announced it, I remember I was wearing a hat, but I looked at it and it was the World Series champions hat. I gave it to someone and put on our team hat instead because we -- the team -- won the World Series, and that's what it was about. It was cool, and it was something I was proud of, but a lot of guys did their job and could have gotten that award.

What kind of bond do you share with those guys? How does a season like that connect you?

I think as time goes on you realize more and more how special it was. When you're in the middle of it and you're still playing and winning, you don't really think about it in those terms. When '99 comes you just say, "Let's do this again." Same thing in 2000. But now that we're separated from it, you can look back and say, "Wow, that was a pretty special year."

This interview is part of a season- long series of Q&A's with the 1998 Yankees and has been edited for clarity and length.

Hilary Giorgi is the senior editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: Split Personality

For five successful seasons, Masahiro Tanaka has balanced impeccable command and a fiery competitiveness on the field with a playful, positive attitude off it
Yankees Magazine

On the days he starts, Masahiro Tanaka leans back in his chair in the spacious Yankees clubhouse. His legs are tilted straight up at an angle to the floor, feet perched flat against the glass partition that separates one locker from the next. Or, in Tanaka's case, the glass offering privacy from the open doorway that leads out of the clubhouse toward manager Aaron Boone's office and that of equipment manager Rob Cucuzza.

While the pitcher often has headphones on while he lounges during the hours prior to game time, today he is enjoying (or more likely ignoring) the rap mix Aaron Judge has blasting in the locker room. The soon-to-be 30-year-old is fixated on his iPad with the No. 19 displayed upside-down on the back cover. It's unclear if the few intermittent yawns are because he's tired, bored or just so focused on what he's doing that it is draining him. Regardless, there's no worry that he'll have a narcoleptic episode while on the Yankee Stadium mound tonight. Out there, this laid-back, chilled-out Tanaka transforms into something entirely different.

On the days he starts, Masahiro Tanaka leans back in his chair in the spacious Yankees clubhouse. His legs are tilted straight up at an angle to the floor, feet perched flat against the glass partition that separates one locker from the next. Or, in Tanaka's case, the glass offering privacy from the open doorway that leads out of the clubhouse toward manager Aaron Boone's office and that of equipment manager Rob Cucuzza.

While the pitcher often has headphones on while he lounges during the hours prior to game time, today he is enjoying (or more likely ignoring) the rap mix Aaron Judge has blasting in the locker room. The soon-to-be 30-year-old is fixated on his iPad with the No. 19 displayed upside-down on the back cover. It's unclear if the few intermittent yawns are because he's tired, bored or just so focused on what he's doing that it is draining him. Regardless, there's no worry that he'll have a narcoleptic episode while on the Yankee Stadium mound tonight. Out there, this laid-back, chilled-out Tanaka transforms into something entirely different.

"Masa in the clubhouse is quiet, goes about his business," says catcher Austin Romine. "He'll be loose and joke around a little bit, but he's just quiet. When he gets on the mound, it's a complete flip. He's locked in. Every movement he has is for a reason. He's animated at times, and he expects a lot. I think that flows over into the game."

"On the mound, he's serious," Luis Severino adds. "He's thinking about his job; he's focused. Sometimes when he's coming off the mound, I'll try to look in his eyes, but he's so focused he can't even see me. He's two different people."

That focus was clearly on display Aug. 27. While this particular contest didn't have quite as much riding on it as some of the others Tanaka has pitched (his 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 3 of the 2017 American League Division Series comes to mind), his determination on the mound never wavers.

In the top of the fourth inning of a scoreless game against the White Sox, Tanaka had loaded the bases with nobody out. The Yankees -- looking to notch their fifth straight win despite a depleted lineup missing the names Judge, Sanchez and Gregorius -- had managed just one hit against Chicago's emerging ace, Carlos Rodon. Tanaka knew he had to at least limit the damage in this inning, or his team would be in a tough spot.

"I think No. 1 is just going batter by batter and then pitch by pitch," Tanaka says, assisted by Major League interpreter Shingo Horie. "You can't let your mind get caught up in, 'Bases loaded, no outs, oh my God!' You've got to look at it small and basically look at it one pitch at a time and try to execute that pitch. That's obviously an important thing. The other important thing really comes down to the strong burning desire to want to get out of that inning. You really have to want that result."

Tanaka struck out the next two batters, then induced a ground ball up the middle that ricocheted off his glove and right to Gleyber Torres, who fired the ball to first to end the inning. Tanaka roared as he walked off the mound. In the bottom of the frame, after a Miguel Andujar walk and a Luke Voit flyout, Torres crushed his 20th home run of the season to straightaway center field to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Although three errors would contribute to an eventual 6-2 loss, that fourth-inning execution was quintessential Tanaka. He is calm and soft-spoken off the mound and disarmingly witty. On the hill, he is an intense competitor with a burning desire to be perfect and an arsenal unlike many others in Major League Baseball. And it's been his honor to put both sides of himself on display for Yankees fans these last five years.


Heading into 2014, CC Sabathia was coming off a down season; his years as an ace seemed behind him. The Yankees were in the market for a young arm to anchor their pitching staff, and the seven-year, $155 million pact to which they signed 25-year-old Tanaka implied that he was just the man for the job.

When Tanaka made the decision to leave stardom in Japan for an uncertain future in America, he brought with him a 24-0 record and championship ring from his last season as a Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagle. Along with those achievements, though, came huge expectations that likely incurred some baggage fees on the flight over to the States.

Five years into the deal, Tanaka has mostly lived up to those expectations. The pitcher made the All-Star team in 2014 and finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. He has started three Opening Days for the Yankees and has racked up double-digit wins every year.

The control specialist has been a stabilizing force in a rotation that has seen 27 pitchers (including Tanaka) take the mound to start for the Yankees since 2014. Sabathia is the only other holdover from that first year. Despite trips to the disabled list in 2014, '15, '17 and '18, Tanaka has made at least 20 starts every season. In his lone year without a DL stint, the right-hander went 14-4 and placed seventh in the 2016 American League Cy Young Award voting.

Through the beginning of September this year, Tanaka was 62-33 lifetime with a 3.60 ERA and 773 strikeouts in 128 regular season games. And while the numbers are impressive, where Tanaka has truly thrived has been in the biggest moments. Whether it's a marquee matchup with an entire country watching (such as his outing against countryman Yu Darvish last year) or a postseason tilt with the Yankees' season on the line, Tanaka seems to rise to the occasion when it matters most.

"Being able to have that on/off switch is important to me," Tanaka says. "But I think it's something that happens naturally."

That natural propensity to get to another level has produced enviable results in the most important of circumstances. In Tanaka's mind, when that switch is turned on to "compete mode," the spotlight is squarely on him -- a feeling that endures whenever he's on the mound.

"I think he treats every situation like a big game so when that situation comes around, it's nothing he's not used to," Romine says. "He treats every pitch like it's the biggest pitch of the game, and I think that's why he has success. I think that's why he's so good at locating. His focus is there on every pitch, and when you practice that over and over like he does, when the moments come where it's actually like that, I don't think he knows anything other than, 'I'm just trying to make this pitch.' I think that fact that he treats every pitch like a high-leverage situation, when those high-leverage situations come, he's good to go."

It's in those situations that Tanaka comes alive, and the fierce competitor explodes from his body. His devastating splitter/slider combination -- part of a repertoire he has spent his entire life perfecting and learning to execute with precision -- becomes almost unfair to opposing batters.

"He's almost surgical in the way he works," Romine says. "He has pinpoint control at times. His slider and his splitter, when they're both on, can be pretty devastating. He knows what he's trying to do, he knows where he's trying to throw the ball, and he commands it. He expects a lot of himself, and you'll see him get frustrated on the mound because he expects to be perfect every time he goes out. He's one of the more fun guys to catch on this team just because he can put it where he wants, and he can move it the way he wants."

When both pitches are working -- along with a two-seam fastball, sinker and the occasional curve -- watching Tanaka outsmart hitters is like witnessing the most intricate ballet at The Met.

The pitcher moves easily yet methodically on the mound. In the batter's box, hitters watch helplessly as a pitch that looks straight as an arrow for 55 feet suddenly disappears, leaving them swinging wildly and pirouetting back to the dugout as Tanaka racks up another strikeout.

"I'm approaching my 30s, and on top of that, you look around the league and you see all these huge guys, and I can't compete with them when it comes to the velocity of the pitches or the velocity of the fastball," Tanaka says. "It has to be somewhere else where I approach the game, and for me that is to command the ball well. I think the most important aspect of being able to command the ball well really comes down to the mechanics; being able to repeat the exact mechanics is when you get good results on the pitches. That's obviously the key to it, but it's that hard part of doing it on the other hand. But just to be able to work on the mechanics, knowing where the flaws are at times, and being able to adjust that helps me in being a better command pitcher consistently."

Last year, Tanaka had batters swinging at 37.8 percent of his pitches outside the strike zone, the highest rate in the Majors. Through Sept. 21 of this year, batters were chasing his pitches just as frequently, and Tanaka was relying on his slider and splitter more than ever before. According to Brooks Baseball, he opted for the slider 33.7 percent of the time and the split 30.7 percent. He induced swings on 47.5 percent of the sliders and 63.5 percent of splitters, with a 15.2 and 22.6 whiff percentage, respectively.

"Everything comes out the same, so it's hard to pick up, especially for a right-handed hitter," says first baseman Luke Voit. "A right-handed splitter or change-up can be very effective because you think it's a fastball, and then it flops off the table."

Far from blowing people away, Tanaka is fooling them with movement and control in a way rarely seen in today's game, which is becoming more and more reliant on speed and power.

Video: DET@NYY: Tanaka fans 6 over 7 innings of 1-run ball

"I think the difference is all about how you grow up when you're playing," Severino explains. "In Japan, it's about mechanics and how you're moving the ball. In the Dominican, you just throw the ball -- throw it down the middle as hard as you can. I think Tanaka is one of the greatest and smartest pitchers in baseball. When his stuff is on, when he's got the good stuff, his split-finger, his sinker, he'll throw like 25 pitches -- all sinkers and sliders and splits -- wherever he wants. He can go right or left, and that's something you don't see that often -- a guy who can throw the pitch exactly when and how they want to. It's unbelievable."

"I think it's a God-given talent," Romine says. "If everybody could do it, there would be more guys doing that. But he was born with the ability to throw the ball and do what he wants with it. I couldn't tell you why."

Tanaka will tell you there is no miracle happening; it is a game of constant adjustment and toying with the minutiae of finger pressure, arm slot, focus and confidence. But more than anything, the pitcher says it's about knowing exactly who you want to be on the mound, then doing whatever you need to do in order to become that person.

"In between starts, you're thinking about this ideal pitch form or mechanics," he says. "You have it in your mind, and you're visualizing it and trying to get to that leading up to the start. Once you get to the start, it's not necessarily there. There might be some aspect of it that might be off, so it's more trying to be able to adjust to be able to control the ball and just looking at trying to locate it where the glove is more than anything. So, the first part, the in-between starts part of it, is about going for the ideal mechanics. And the second part, the in-game part, is just making the adjustments you need to in order to get through that game."


If it seems like Tanaka has lived two lifetimes, it's because he kind of has. Between playing seven seasons professionally in Japan and five years in the Majors, Tanaka has made more than 300 career starts, winning better than 70 percent of them, and has eclipsed 2,000 strikeouts. He has succeeded, and he has failed. He has gained knowledge and doled some out, too. "He's young, but he's one of the veterans here," Severino says.

Tanaka has pitched in the Olympics, the Japan Series and under the October lights in Yankee Stadium. He has come through in each situation.

But the man who was on the mound then is nothing like the one at his locker right now. It's two days after his last start, 48 hours before his next, and he smiles as he leans against the glass partition. Tanaka has just walked off the field, past the Yankees' batting cages and into the clubhouse. He stealthily approaches a member of the Japanese press corps from behind and, very gently, bends his knee into the back of the reporter's knee, causing the scribe to lurch forward. Tanaka, the reporter and the staffers nearby all laugh.

But the switch is about to be flipped, if only for a moment.

Tanaka is reminded of last year's playoff run, of how close his team came to World Series glory and how, shortly thereafter, he chose to decline an opt-out clause in his contract in order to remain with the Yankees and continue his pursuit of a championship in pinstripes. The pitcher is asked to think about what it all means to him, and to visualize what it would feel like to blend the two careers and the two personalities into one Tanaka who achieves the ultimate success.

"Experiencing what we experienced last year, going through those playoff games and really soaking in what really happened and being a part of that, you feel like you want to go there again," he says. "I feel fortunate to be on this team because of all the players and all the staff I've been fortunate enough to be able to work with. I feel good about the decision to stay here, and if we're able to, number one go to the World Series and number two win the World Series, it will obviously be one of the highlights of my baseball career."

Hilary Giorgi is the senior editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka

Yankees Magazine: A Man With a Plan

A revelation since arriving in the Bronx this summer, J.A. Happ has fortified the Yankees' rotation with a style all his own
Yankees Magazine

His Yankees debut on July 29 -- a 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals -- could best be described as a workmanlike performance for J.A. Happ. The southpaw didn't quite dominate. He competed and won, allowing one run over six innings with Salvador Perez's solo home run accounting for the only blemish on his afternoon.

Happ effortlessly located his four-seam fastball -- down and away to righties, up in the zone, in on both lefties and right-handed batters -- and got ahead of hitters. Again, nothing flashy. A 12-year veteran, Happ isn't a must-see attraction on the mound the way some other hurlers are. He doesn't hit triple-digits on the radar gun like Luis Severino. He's not Masahiro Tanaka, a wizard moonlighting as a starting pitcher who can make the baseball dip, dive and bend at will. And he doesn't carry the prestige and pedigree that CC Sabathia brings to the hill each time out. J.A. Happ is a capital-P Professional. Assured. A man with a plan.

His Yankees debut on July 29 -- a 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals -- could best be described as a workmanlike performance for J.A. Happ. The southpaw didn't quite dominate. He competed and won, allowing one run over six innings with Salvador Perez's solo home run accounting for the only blemish on his afternoon.

Happ effortlessly located his four-seam fastball -- down and away to righties, up in the zone, in on both lefties and right-handed batters -- and got ahead of hitters. Again, nothing flashy. A 12-year veteran, Happ isn't a must-see attraction on the mound the way some other hurlers are. He doesn't hit triple-digits on the radar gun like Luis Severino. He's not Masahiro Tanaka, a wizard moonlighting as a starting pitcher who can make the baseball dip, dive and bend at will. And he doesn't carry the prestige and pedigree that CC Sabathia brings to the hill each time out. J.A. Happ is a capital-P Professional. Assured. A man with a plan.

"The thing about him is that he knows what he wants to do and is very confident in how he wants to do it," says Neil Walker, Happ's teammate with the Pirates in 2015 and now again in the Bronx following the July 26 deal that brought the left-hander to New York in exchange for infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney.

A word about Happ's confidence: After arriving a day late in New York due to a delayed flight out of Chicago, Happ met with catcher Austin Romine and pitching coach Larry Rothschild on the morning of his debut. To prepare for the meeting, Romine watched video from Happ's final start with the Blue Jays. He also looked back at his own at-bats against Happ; Romine had gone 2-for-9 with one strikeout against the Peru, Illinois, native.

Romine prefers getting to know his pitchers before working together. He likes learning about their mindset. "Who they are and how they like to pitch and what they like to do," the catcher says. "A lot of times, you have to figure out how they think so you can call a game to their strengths." The CliffsNotes version of his scouting report would read: pinpoint control and "sneaky" fast with a 93-94 mph fastball that plays like 95-96 due to a smooth delivery. But when it came time to devise a game plan, Romine didn't offer much input. He just listened to his new batterymate.

Happ remembers the meeting as such: "We sat down in the conference room, and I just briefly said, 'Hey, this is how I like to do things and what I'd like you to trust in.'"

Like Walker said, J.A. Happ knows what he wants to do and is very confident in how he wants to do it.


Doing it his way has worked out just fine for Happ, who turns 36 this month. As of mid-September, he was 6-0 with a 2.70 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in eight starts since arriving in New York and 16-6 with a 3.75 overall on the season. During a time when injuries and inconsistencies plagued the Yankees' pitching staff, Happ emerged as the team's most effective starter even as he navigated his way around a strange clubhouse and a big, unfamiliar city. Then again, midseason moves are nothing new for Happ; 2018 was the fourth time in nine seasons that he was traded at or near the deadline.

It's the off-the-field stuff, Happ says, that makes relocating difficult. He's a husband and a dad now. Family takes precedent. "Gotta worry about them," he says. "If they are going to be comfortable where we live, how they are going to get to and from the game, stuff like that. Those are the stressful parts of it."

Happ didn't take it so well the first time he was traded. The Phillies drafted Happ in 2004 and he rose through the ranks of the organization, making his big league debut on June 30, 2007, at Citizens Bank Park in an 8-3 loss to the Mets. Paul Lo Duca and David Wright took him deep in the top of the first. A Carlos Beltran home run ended Happ's day in the fifth inning as he departed to an ugly line: five earned runs in four innings. Welcome to The Show, rook. He wouldn't throw another inning for the Phillies that season.

But Happ would contribute to the Phillies' 2008 World Series title run and was a member of the vaunted rotation that carried the team back to the Fall Classic in 2009, when the Phillies fell to the Yankees in six games. Philadelphia had become his home, and so it hurt when he was traded to the Houston Astros on July 29, 2010, the main chip in a package that netted Roy Oswalt, a three-time All-Star who finished in the top five in National League Cy Young Award voting five times.

"It was emotional," Happ says of leaving Philadelphia. "That's all I had known. I had gone to two World Series with them. That's where I wanted to be. That was emotional, but with each subsequent [trade] you start to understand the business part of it. You just kind of move on, and now it's a little bit easier to handle."

From Houston, he was shipped to Toronto near the 2012 Trade Deadline, and then on to Seattle following the 2014 season. A midseason trade to the Pirates in 2015 would turn his career around. With Pittsburgh, he focused on two pitches: the fastball down and away to righties and the breaking ball to lefties. He also eliminated the arch from his delivery, simplifying it in order to consistently repeat the same motion.

Happ was Pittsburgh's best pitcher down the stretch, going 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts and leading the Pirates to the NL Wild Card Game, which they lost to the Cubs. "He was huge for us," Walker says. "He came in and took the proverbial bull by the horns and gave us a chance every single time he went out there. Obviously, his numbers showed that. It's just a shame we weren't able to go farther [in the postseason] because it would have been a lot of fun seeing him go."

After signing with Toronto following the 2015 season, Happ flourished north of the border. He helped lead the Blue Jays to the ALCS in 2016, going 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA and finishing sixth in the AL Cy Young Award voting. In 2018, he was named to the American League All-Star team, a first time All-Star at the age of 35. But with Toronto struggling this season -- and Happ's impending free agency -- the southpaw was the subject of trade rumors throughout the spring. Happ's performance suffered as the scuttlebutt grew, and he posted a 6.03 ERA in his final six starts with Toronto. In the Blue Jays' 8-5 loss to the Yankees on July 7, Happ allowed six earned runs in 22⁄3 innings.

"He pitched against us up there, and I was just like, man, that's hard when you know you are going to be traded and you're waiting for it to happen," Sabathia says. "That weighs on you more than anything. It's hard to pitch like that. I wasn't worried about him coming here with his numbers struggling before."

Video: TEX@NYY: Happ strikes out 9 to earn his 12th win

Happ, however, insists that the trade rumors didn't affect him. "I don't really know how to pinpoint it," Happ says. "Sometimes you are just the victim of circumstances in a game -- and that's not to deflect any results. I own the results. But crazy stuff happens in this game. I don't feel it was indicative of the way I was throwing."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and the front office agreed and traded for the impending free agent in hopes he would stabilize their rotation. He did that, and more.


With the trade, Happ stepped into a familiar atmosphere: the heat of a pennant race. And when he took the mound for the Yankees on July 29 against the Royals, he felt the difference. "It's fun to have that little extra bit," he says. "We are prepared and ready regardless. It's still our job. It's fun and we love doing it, but when you have that little bit of extra energy from the Stadium, from the crowd, just the reality of what these games mean, that's stuff that can lift you up a bit."

Happ officially earned his pinstripes after the 6-3 win when Didi Gregorius used a personalized emoji to refer to Happ in his postgame victory tweet. Gregorius selected the bull's-eye for Happ. "I like it," Happ says, stroking his chin upon learning of the emblem. "I didn't know that, but I like it."

And if you listen to the people who know best, the emoji is, well, on target.

"Oh, he throws the ball wherever he wants," Sabathia says.

"Catching him, I was pleasantly surprised with how well he locates the ball," Romine says. "I figured out a lot that first game. I figured out how he liked to pitch, where his misses are, what he likes to do late in counts, stuff like that. He's an easy pitcher [to catch]. He knows how to pitch. He knows where to put the ball. He knows how to get guys out."

A bout with hand, foot and mouth disease, a children's virus characterized by sores around the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet, then landed Happ on the 10-day disabled list. Highly contagious, he was quarantined from the club and his family, confined to a hotel room in Manhattan. "It was boring," Happ says. "A lot of room service and bumming around during the afternoon."

But he showed no ill-effects from the virus upon rejoining the club. Happ went six strong innings for the win in his return from the disabled list and would go on to become the first Yankees pitcher to start and win his first five appearances with the team since "Bullet" Bob Turley in 1955.

With the Yankees closing in on an American League Wild Card berth, Happ turned his eye toward October once again. He got his first taste of postseason baseball as a rookie in Game 3 of the 2008 NLCS, pitching three innings in relief and allowing one run in the Phillies' 7-2 loss to the Dodgers. Philadelphia would eliminate Los Angeles in five games and then defeat the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series, although Happ did not pitch in the Fall Classic. He allowed one earned run in two relief appearances against the Yankees the following year, a lasting experience even in defeat.

"I was so lucky to go to two World Series during my first two years," Happ says. In 10 postseason appearances, including three starts, Happ is 1-1 with a 3.72 ERA. "All the veterans on the team were like, 'You need to realize how rare this is and how special this is. People go their whole career without making it to a playoff game.' Ever since then, I've realized how hard this is. Having the opportunity to be in the hunt is exciting."

And so, as the Yankees enter the stretch run, Happ will take the ball and give his team a chance to win. He will compete, turning each at-bat into a one-on-one clash with personal stakes attached to it. And in the midst of battle, he will throw that sneaky fast four-seamer either chest high, low-and-away or up and in, wherever he darn well pleases. More often than not, it will hit the bull's-eye.

This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees, J.A. Happ

Yankees Magazine: The Take And The Give

CC Sabathia's big league success is hard-earned, but he is still cognizant of the debts he owes to those who made it all possible
Yankees Magazine

We begin where we'll finish, on the grounds of Vallejo High School on June 2, 1998. It's just two years since the naval shipyard in town closed down, burying the city under a strain of unemployment, boarded-up windows and crime. So much crime. The shuttered Mare Island is just one example of years of downward neglect, as a hard place kept getting harder. And Vallejo, California -- never exactly a Garden of Eden in the Golden State -- fell. Hard.

Today is the day, though. A favorite son will get his spin on life's wheel of fortune as 30 Major League teams take turns picking their futures. They'll make millionaires out of high schoolers, seeking out Hall of Famers while they try their best to avoid tomorrow's no-names. It's a calculated crapshoot, but such is life.

We begin where we'll finish, on the grounds of Vallejo High School on June 2, 1998. It's just two years since the naval shipyard in town closed down, burying the city under a strain of unemployment, boarded-up windows and crime. So much crime. The shuttered Mare Island is just one example of years of downward neglect, as a hard place kept getting harder. And Vallejo, California -- never exactly a Garden of Eden in the Golden State -- fell. Hard.

Today is the day, though. A favorite son will get his spin on life's wheel of fortune as 30 Major League teams take turns picking their futures. They'll make millionaires out of high schoolers, seeking out Hall of Famers while they try their best to avoid tomorrow's no-names. It's a calculated crapshoot, but such is life.

No one would have minded if CC Sabathia had spent the day at home, nestled in the swell of his family and friends' loving support. This is the biggest day of CC's young life, the day that he's going to get out, at least symbolically, of a place that has chewed up and swallowed a lot of kids who don't have his gifts.

"He said he couldn't take it," his mother, Margie Sabathia-Lanier, recalls. "He said, 'I'll just wait for your phone call. I can't sit at home, Mom.'"

So he went to school, and while he was there, the call did come, of course, a life- altering conversation that somehow managed not to change CC Sabathia at all. Now, 20 years later -- a generation for laymen, a lifetime-plus for athletes -- he has shown few signs that he's planning to retire, and he has proven that he can fight off the precariousness of aging. But there is a clock ticking, and Sabathia is not immune.

So, he engages in the give and the take that has defined his entire life, the generational link between two special days at Vallejo High School. Sabathia can't go back to that day 20 years ago, not emotionally or physically, but he can and does give back on its account. This year, for the third time in his career, he was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award, which honors philanthropy as well as on-field excellence. Even at 38, the two are in balance for Sabathia. It's about how he was raised, and, yes, where he was raised. But it's also who he is, a decorated and celebrated superstar who attributes everything to the love he got, and the love he has to give.


About 25 miles south of Vallejo High School sits Oakland- Alameda County Coliseum, and that's where Sabathia finds himself laboring on Labor Day 2018. It's a bad start, one that drops the pitcher's record to 7-6 on the year. But Sabathia is six weeks past his 38th birthday, and there were always going to be some bad starts this year. And besides, "I'm actually used to losing here," the pitcher says over breakfast the next morning in San Francisco, alluding to his 5-8 record and 5.38 ERA in 17 career starts at the Coliseum.

It's a famous story, but one that bears repeating here. Dave Stewart won 20 games in four straight seasons for the A's beginning in 1987, and he spoke at the Vallejo Boys and Girls Club when Sabathia was 9 years old. Stewart, himself an East Bay native, had come through the club as a young child, and he felt a need to return and speak with the next generation. "My only motivation was to just hope to touch somebody," Stewart says.

Chatting in the home clubhouse at the Coliseum nearly 30 years later, Stewart recalls his own youth. "I can't say that my childhood life was unhappy because it wasn't. I had my sisters and my brothers. I had a good foundation. My parents. But there was a lot around me that was going on." Stewart lists all the sports leagues and organizations that he participated in as a way of staying out of trouble. "If I didn't have any of those things, I think that my outcome could have been drastically different." That was the message he remembers passing on to kids such as Sabathia. "That my beginnings and my growth was similar to theirs," Stewart says. "And that good things had happened for me, and they could happen for them."

These chance encounters form the upward rise of Sabathia's arc. The pitcher had strong role models -- his mother, his coaches, even his peers. So, he vowed to become one. In the first decade of this century, and a bit beyond, too, Sabathia repaid those who had taken chances on him with wins. When he retires, he'll have more strikeouts than all but two left-handers in baseball history: Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton. The payback in 2018 is different, though. His primary currency is his wisdom. His experience. The heart of a man who actually does care.

But that passion is what Paul Cogan saw right from the start, when he was a Cleveland Indians area scout based in Northern California. "There were times when I felt like, 'What are we looking at?'" the scout, now with the Dodgers, recalls. "It happens every so often in a career, and not to say people didn't think CC was good. But why he was even a consideration outside the first round just baffled me. It really did. So, you end up questioning yourself a little bit. And in this case, I didn't. I swear, I didn't even care in this case. Throws hard. Got a breaking ball. And he's a friggin' off-the-charts competitor. It's in front of our face." But Cogan was also wowed by the structure around the massive pitcher -- the loving mother, who sometimes acted more like his sister; the father who wasn't around much, but who managed, before he passed away too young, to make sure his son knew how much he loved him; the friends and teachers and even the strangers who saw potential in young CC.

"I guess I grew up bad, but I didn't think so," Sabathia says, echoing Stewart's similar self-assessment. "People grew up in way worse situations than I did. I had love. I had a loving family. I had support. … I feel like I had a good upbringing, man. I was in a difficult situation a lot of times, and I grew up in a bad neighborhood, but I had the love of my family and support, so I always felt like I was in a little bubble."

The bubble analogy is astute and self-aware. Sabathia was always getting pulled out, lifted up, pushed forward. There are the examples that every young baseball player has, the stories of Ellis Burks buying him suits as a rookie, the same way that Jim Rice and Oil Can Boyd had done for Burks. But there is also the history more personal to Sabathia, a boy from notoriously tough waters that somehow parted for him. Sabathia grew up in Vallejo's Country Club Crest neighborhood, which was where the bad stuff happened in town, sometimes right under the young pitcher's nose. "There's guys that are incarcerated, there's guys that are dead," Abe Hobbs, Sabathia's high school baseball coach, says somberly. "There's times when there was a murder in front of his house, and he couldn't come to school because they had it taped up. The things that were going on in his neighborhood, it's pretty easy for somebody to steer you in the wrong direction. But there were not just adults, there were some peers that went out of their way to look out for him many times. If something was getting a little funky, they got him out of there."

When Cogan emphatically reported back to his bosses, practically screaming about this kid throwing 92 to 95, it struck a chord with the Indians' front office. "I think it was Paul's conviction about CC's character, and how special Margie was, in concert with his talent and athleticism," says Mark Shapiro, now the Toronto Blue Jays' president, but in 1998 the Indians' assistant GM. The 20th pick in the first round, while valuable, is no sure thing. Shapiro says that you're expecting a big league regular in that slot. An average Major Leaguer, which is no dig. In Sabathia, the team got so much more. A leader. A winner. His Cy Young season in 2007 also saw the team reach the brink of the World Series. Sabathia recognizes that the years that followed represent life as a cashed-in golden ticket -- a midseason trade the next season, then a record- setting free-agent contract to come to New York, where he threw the first pitch at the new Yankee Stadium and celebrated a World Series win in his first year. "When I got drafted, I didn't have mechanics or anything -- I was just raw," he says. "I think it was the best-case scenario for everyone. For the Indians, who drafted me and were able to get me for six, seven, eight years, however long it was. For me, to be able to come to New York. For me, my family, my life, it's been the best-case scenario for everybody. I couldn't even have dreamt this."

Cogan saw the whole board, reading Sabathia's future as he watched the kid pitch. Did he see nearly 250 big league wins? Almost 3,000 strikeouts? Of course not; that type of decoder ring doesn't exist. But although he was scouting a boy, he saw a man. "I think he felt a responsibility to his mother, to his community, to his teammates," Cogan says. "And I think he took it and put that weight on his shoulder. He was going to do whatever it took."


Sitting in the dugout of Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Florida, Charlie Manuel saw a tough conversation looming. It was March 2001, and Sabathia had just Houdini'd his way out of danger in a Spring Training game, loading the bases and then striking out the next three hitters. The Indians' manager was convinced. This kid didn't need to go to Triple-A. He was ready. And Manuel was going to fight for him.

"At the time, Dick Pole was my pitching coach," Manuel says, "and they told Dick and me at the meetings, 'OK, you're accountable for this.' Because they thought he hadn't pitched enough."

Seventeen years later, Shapiro mostly shrugs. "I'm a player-development guy," the executive says. "I'm always trying to fight for more time to develop and build a strong foundation. That's just my nature." But in pushing for a chance to pull the young pitcher out of the Minors a year early, Manuel just continued the trend of spotting the greatness in Sabathia's nature -- and taking a stand on his behalf. Sabathia, who turned 21 that July, responded by going 17-5.

"And actually, in his first year, I felt like not only did we handle him right, but you could see that CC would be around for a long time," Manuel adds. Two All-Star Games followed in his next three years, and Sabathia fell in love with Cleveland, and the city with him. He had left Vallejo an untraveled 17-year-old, crying to his mother on the phone. "I was shell-shocked," he says. "I had never washed clothes. I was a sheltered kid. My mom, my grandmother, did everything for me." But in Cleveland, he began to grow up, learning the hard way about partying too hard, too ostentatiously. One night at a hotel downtown, the pitcher was robbed at gunpoint, losing nearly $45,000 in cash and jewelry. It was a hard lesson, and sad, too. Everyone wants to keep a piece of home with them when they move away, but there are parts of The Crest that were better left behind. "It's just growth as a man, as a young man," Sabathia says.

On the field, things were easy, but Sabathia kept messing with success in all the best ways. The fastball was a weapon; the slider, too. So, he worked with pitching coach Carl Willis to develop a change-up. He went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA in 2007, but saw the World Series slip away in Game 7 of the ALCS. The next year, he proved Cogan right. He was going to show that he would do anything in his power to go deeper.

At midseason, the Indians were out of contention, and they shipped the free agent-to-be to Milwaukee for the stretch run. Over the next three months, the pitcher was a man possessed. He made 17 starts for the Brewers, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA. He completed seven games, and with the Wild Card race going down to the season's last day, Sabathia made his last three starts on three days' rest. He won two of them, allowing just two earned runs in 211⁄3 innings as the Brewers clinched a postseason berth on the last day with Sabathia, naturally, going the full nine innings.

"I just felt like that was what everybody always expected me to do, from the time I was 9 years old," Sabathia says of his bulldog display. "I was always the pitcher. That was always my thing. Being able to be put in that spot and being able to succeed was awesome."

But as much as fans and even other players around the league fell hard for this guy who demanded the ball every day, the pitcher kept tooling. During his months in Milwaukee, pitching coach Mike Maddux taught Sabathia a two-seamer that quickly became a weapon to induce ground balls. That was the funny thing about Sabathia, even back then. People saw the huge frame, the huge fastball, the terrifying strikeout numbers. But he could still sneak things past them. Manuel recalls when his Phillies faced Sabathia in the 2008 National League Division Series. All of a sudden, he noticed that the pitcher was trying to establish his change-up more than the fastball, defying the scouting report. But Sabathia had been falling in love with the off-speed pitch for a while. "My change-up was really, really good back then," he says. "I don't think people really realized that. I think that was my second-best pitch, and I think a lot of people thought it was my slider. But honestly, from the year when I won the Cy Young, from '07 to 2012, my change-up was a huge key for me that people didn't really realize."

And it would matter in the years to follow, when Sabathia signed a then-record $161 million contract with the Yankees. This was financial security for generations to come. His first year in pinstripes ended with 19 wins and a World Series parade. The next year, he won a career-best 21, before adding 19 more the next year. But as the accolades piled up, so did the signs of aging. Sabathia had his first knee surgery in 2006, and barely a day goes by that he doesn't feel the effects, whether of that particular operation, or of the subsequent procedures in 2014 and '16.

But still, recall the best-case scenario Sabathia mentioned. Here he was, by the end of 2011. He had won a Cy Young. He had signed a borderline unimaginable contract. He had won a World Series, and even 20 games, joining an exclusive group of African-American pitchers to have done so, a club called the Black Aces that Sabathia honored with special cleats during Players' Weekend in August. Has he done it all? "I don't have a win in the World Series," Sabathia offers. "I need that."

Video: TEX@NYY: Sabathia dazzles with 6 1-hit innings

If that sounds like winning a huge poker pot but still wishing you'd had a better hand, then so be it. Nothing about Sabathia as he ends his first decade in pinstripes suggests complacency. The wins come harder now, but he adapts. Watch him on the mound today, and he's different, but the same. He has a less explosive drive down the mound, relying on a tighter motion that allows him to land easier and control the strike zone. "If your knee is bothering you," says Rob Friedman, a guru who breaks down pitching repertoires and evolutions on his popular @pitchingninja Twitter account, "not being able to use your lower half is definitely going to decrease your velocity, but it also means he can take advantage of pitching with more control and getting hitters to chase, and doing other things that people consider pitching instead of throwing." But Sabathia's arm slot remains consistent, allowing him to thrive on deception and location. And he has the mental game mastered.

"Facing somebody like him," says veteran teammate Neil Walker, "you know if you see five pitches in an at-bat, you're going to have maybe one that's a good pitch to hit. He's going to work his cutter back door and hit the edges, and he might mix in the change-up and a slider. It's not an easy at-bat anytime you face him. You have to hit pitches that are mistakes." Everything smarts more at 38 than it did at 18 or 28. So Sabathia fights it with smarts. He plays around with the strike zone. He sees a fastball sign and chooses on the fly whether it's going to be a four-seamer or a cutter. It's usually a cutter -- the straight stuff isn't what it used to be -- because the cutter is funky and weird. He loves that change-up, but at some point, he noticed that rather than diving glove-side, away from right-handers, the pitch was cutting over the plate like a batting practice pitch. So, he modified his grip, creating some sort of hybrid two-seamer/change-up. He also recalls a recent game when his cutter started betraying him. It had "too much action," Sabathia explains, "and I couldn't really control it, so I started throwing my four-seamer. And it was cutting like this. So, it was working just like my cutter."

"He's morphed into a different style of pitcher," says Yankees pitching coach Larry Rotshchild, who has been coaching Sabathia since 2011, "but the nature of his competitiveness is the same, and that's why he's been able to do what he's done. … It's not a huge difference delivery-wise, but pitch selection-wise, and what he can do with the baseball, it's changed."


The repertoire has changed, but so has the pitcher's identity. At 38 years old, the years of taking are, naturally, mostly over. Yet with CC Sabathia, the giving is hardly new. Over the years, Sabathia has had his share of rough outings, and he endured a public struggle with alcohol. But his successes -- on a baseball and a personal level -- have far outweighed the negatives.

Andrew McCutchen recalls when he made an all-star team in the low Minors, and he and his fellow stars were honored by the Pirates in a pregame ceremony in Pittsburgh. The team was playing the Indians that day, and McCutchen saw Sabathia in the dugout. "I believe he was starting that day," McCutchen says. "And I saw him in the dugout kind of sitting there, probably preparing, getting himself ready. We just spoke really quick. But I was like, 'Man, that's CC. That's the guy.' Now, years and years later -- I might have been 19 at that time -- 11 years later, I'm here, and we're teammates." You could fill an encyclopedia with similar stories. There are scores of players around the league (and certainly in the Minors) who have taken from the inspiration Sabathia has given.

Part of it, of course, is that the big big league pitcher has a lot of teddy bear to him. Sabathia is always laughing, he's always chatting. He sits with young lefty Jordan Montgomery during most games he doesn't pitch, offering advice and insight. He has taken Dellin Betances under his wing as a little brother. And notably, he might be the least precious starting pitcher in the league. He works like crazy to get his arm and knee game-ready, but on days he starts, Sabathia still holds court in the clubhouse, chatting with teammates and even occasionally reporters. "He was a guy that I would always ask teammates that played with him, 'How's CC?'" says recent import J.A. Happ. "I always kind of wondered. And everybody, across the board, was like, 'Great teammate, one of the best teammates I ever had.' So, I was like, 'OK …' Then I come over here, and I feel the same way already after just a couple weeks."

Teammates watch and admire the way a 38-year-old pitcher adapts and adjusts, taking inspiration for what their own end games might look like. But more than that, they just seem to feed off his example Rothschild insists that there are soft benefits to his presence; he says that the team simply plays worse when Sabathia is on the disabled list than it does when he's active -- even on the four days he doesn't pitch. And manager Aaron Boone -- who played with Sabathia for a short time in Cleveland and sometimes feels more like the pitcher's peer than his boss, is equally appreciative. "He's certainly one of the glue guys in that clubhouse," Boone says. "I think CC does as good a job as I've ever seen as a veteran player with the kind of stature that he has of kind of connecting with different people -- young, old, different backgrounds. He's just got a way about him that's approachable. I think he makes guys feel comfortable."

Sabathia doesn't shy away from the role -- or the perception. He knows that the work he does with the young players will pay off down the road, even after he's gone. It's a different kind of legacy that the 18-year veteran is after. Talk to him about the things he'll eventually miss in retirement, and he laughs off the question. He's mainly excited to be a bit lazier, and determined to avoid any type of livelihood that requires him to wear a collared shirt. His fear isn't being 40 and aimless; it's seeing all that he built come crashing down. "It'll bother me if I retired or played somewhere else and I heard that these guys were fighting in the clubhouse or stuff was going on," he says. Betraying his habit of swatting away talk of the Hall of Fame, on this morning he mentions that the thing he'd enjoy most about the honor -- more so than a bronze plaque -- would be the annual trip to Cooperstown to hang out with his peers. After all, he says, "I'm the ultimate get-together guy. I love to get people together. If I can get in that get-together, that would be fun." His wife, Amber, meanwhile, plays her part as the matriarch of two families, leading the players' wives and girlfriends in all manner of events and activities. She also puts the women to work; in late September, a collection of Yankees-in-law supported the Sabathia's PitCCh In Foundation by running the New Balance Bronx 10 Mile race, among them Rosmaly Severino, Elizabeth Torres and Morgan Happ.

The fact remains that Sabathia can't change who he is. He's still the goofy, misshapen ace, his hat askew and his smile charmingly gap-toothed. He's CC -- grinning from pole to pole when he's happy, throwing his glove in frustration when he's not. If he's sometimes embarrassed by the emotional displays on the mound, he's also comfortable enough in his skin to know that it's just who he is, and that he gets as much from the passionate explosions as he gives.

But he's also the guy island-hopping during the offseason, shuttling from place to place in a private jet. He lives in one of New Jersey's ritziest towns, and he somehow has to teach his four kids that this isn't how most people grow up -- it's certainly not how he and Amber did. "He's obviously become more sophisticated," says Coach Hobbs, who knew both of them as teenagers. "He's become more of a Renaissance man in terms of the finer things in life because of what his stature is now. But he's still pretty much the same guy."


And so we return to Vallejo High School, 20 years later and at least that much wiser. Amber noticed a quirk in the schedule this year, an off-day after a series in Oakland, and she pounced. Today is going to be about the PitCCh In Foundation. It's going to be about the pieces of their hearts that still consider Vallejo home. "That dude started talking to me at 13 years old and told me that he was going to make it, and he'll never forget where he was born and raised," CC's mother, Margie, says. "And that's amazing. He's doing it!"

For years, the PitCCh In Foundation has been working with kids in Vallejo and New York, refurbishing ballfields and providing backpacks filled with school supplies. Today will be the first event the foundation does for high school students, as all 1,700 kids at CC and Amber's alma mater pack into the football stadium for a unique assembly. The Sabathias look right at home here, and they should. The next field over, where Vallejo's baseball team plays, is named for CC, and Josh Ramos, the school's athletic director, says that the local hero's presence goes well beyond a sign on the scoreboard. You want proof? During the event, at which other prominent Vallejo natives such as former UFC fighter Mark Muñoz and the up-and-coming hip-hop quartet SOB x RBE chatted with and performed for the students, the city of Vallejo unveiled a proclamation declaring Sept. 6, 2018, as CC and Amber Sabathia Day.

"CC Sabathia is the one name at this high school that everybody knows," says Ramos. "It doesn't matter if you're a freshman or a senior. This school's been around for 150 years. And he's the one name that everybody in the city of Vallejo knows."

So today is about giving, a familiar feeling for Vallejo's first couple. But it's also about showing up, about making sure that the kids in the stands get more than just a sweet Jordan Brand backpack. They need to see what it looks like to be active participants in the world. As Amber is fond of saying, anyone can write a check, and that's doubly true for CC, who has earned more than $250 million over his career. Time, though, is precious.

It's the connection that bonds Jim Rice and Oil Can Boyd to Ellis Burks to CC Sabathia and beyond. Days earlier, upon hearing what the Sabathias had planned at the high school, Stewart beamed at the idea that he played a role in making it happen. Years ago, he had just wanted to inspire someone, and by association, he's impacting the lives of 1,700 high school kids he'll probably never meet. That's the give and take, though -- a positive, mutually beneficial arrangement. Amber looks at her husband, and of course she knows that she's looking at an extraordinary Major League pitcher. But that's not what grabs her attention. "I see a very confident man that knows what he wants to do and knows where he is in life," she says, and she smiles at the import, the memory of the high school boy that she and her friends kept out of trouble, in ways that the big man on campus never even realized. "The CC way back then probably wouldn't have done something like this because he didn't live the life to see what Vallejo did for him. It was such an impactful part of his life, but he didn't know that then. Now he does. Him coming back and being here, it means more than him going out there and pitching."

Back when he could get outs without even trying, he needed help getting out. These days, the outs come harder. But the off-field work, getting kids out of the situations that he defeated, that stuff comes easily. It's a cycle, ever continuing. Dave Stewart inspired him as a young kid? He devotes himself to doing the same. Charlie Manuel and Dick Pole and Mark Shapiro got him out of the Minors, and Ellis Burks made sure he kept his head above water, so he takes his youngest teammates, fresh off the buses, and shows them how to live like big leaguers.

And as for Amber, for Margie, for Coach Hobbs and all the people who helped him survive? CC takes them with him in his heart wherever he goes. Because of them, his life is a best-case scenario. And even as he has evolved, he's still totally recognizable as CC Sabathia, barely changed from two, even three decades ago. "If you see me [showing emotion] out on the field," he says, "just think, if you'd watched a Babe Ruth game or a Little League game, the whole game was like that -- everybody on the field was like that. I'd be out there screaming and yelling. It was good competition. We had some great players come out of that city. But it was a show. And the way I am, I represent that city. It's just in me.

"That's why when you asked me if I ever could have dreamt this about my career, no! I never would have thought that I'd be third under Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton. That's crazy. I'm a kid from Vallejo. Only person to get out of there."

Jon Schwartz is the deputy editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees, CC Sabathia

Yankees Magazine: Whoa, Nellie!

As the bridge to Mariano Rivera, Jeff Nelson locked down the late innings for the 1998 Yankees
Yankees Magazine

Jeff Nelson had a very specific role on the 1998 Yankees: Protect the lead until Mariano Rivera entered the game. A 6-foot-8 right-hander with a wipeout slider, the Maryland native was more than up for the job, and along with Mike Stanton, he formed a dynamic late-inning bridge to the greatest closer of all time for perhaps the greatest team of all time.

But the 1998 season was also a frustrating one for the reliever nicknamed Nellie. After initially pitching through a back injury, Nelson went on the disabled list from late June until early September. The Yankees had clinched a playoff berth by the time Nelson returned, but he did his part in September with nine consecutive scoreless appearances. For the season, he went 5-3 with a 3.79 ERA in 45 games.

Jeff Nelson had a very specific role on the 1998 Yankees: Protect the lead until Mariano Rivera entered the game. A 6-foot-8 right-hander with a wipeout slider, the Maryland native was more than up for the job, and along with Mike Stanton, he formed a dynamic late-inning bridge to the greatest closer of all time for perhaps the greatest team of all time.

But the 1998 season was also a frustrating one for the reliever nicknamed Nellie. After initially pitching through a back injury, Nelson went on the disabled list from late June until early September. The Yankees had clinched a playoff berth by the time Nelson returned, but he did his part in September with nine consecutive scoreless appearances. For the season, he went 5-3 with a 3.79 ERA in 45 games.

Nellie then played an integral role during the Yankees' World Series run, appearing in eight of the team's 13 postseason contests. The most critical moment came in Game 4 of the Fall Classic against San Diego. With the Yankees staked to a 3-0 lead, Nelson struck out the dangerous Greg Vaughn with two on and one out in the bottom of the eighth inning. He then handed the ball to Rivera. Four outs later, the Yankees were champions once again.

Nelson would go on to star for another prolific team, the 2001 Seattle Mariners. But while they won 116 regular season games, breaking the '98 Yankees' AL record, the Mariners lost the American League Championship Series in five games to the Yankees.

Last month, Nelson -- now an analyst for Marlins baseball on Fox Sports Florida -- spoke with Yankees Magazine associate editor Thomas Golianopoulos about the 1998 team.

Aside from the team's dominance, what other storylines from the 1998 season have stuck with you?

How we started the season. We went to the West Coast and started 1-4. I know Mr. Steinbrenner wasn't very happy with that, especially after getting knocked out the year before in the Division Series. Then all of a sudden you look back, and you won 114 games; it's pretty incredible.

How would you characterize the team's style of play?

As far as how we won, I don't think there was a way we didn't win. We weren't one-dimensional. We scored in multiple ways, whether it was stealing a base or hitting a home run. Then you had the starters, who would typically go deep in the game, and our shutdown bullpen. I think it was the most complete team I ever played on.

How about off the field? Was it a tight-knit group?

It was. Guys would go off in their own groups; like three or four guys would go out to dinner. But at the end of the night, 15 guys would all meet up.

Who was in your crew?

David Wells and David Cone. We had our bullpen catcher and bullpen guys like Graeme Lloyd. We would hang out, and then next thing you would have Tim Raines and Darryl Strawberry.

What was the dynamic like in the bullpen during the games?

For the first five innings, we would talk, do practical jokes, kept everything real light. Then after the fifth inning it was like, "OK." We would start looking at the scoreboard. But we did all kinds of crazy things, kept it as light as possible. I was one of the biggest practical jokers. We were so far away from anyone, it was almost like we were isolated. We had to make it fun. The game is so serious.

Let's discuss some of your teammates. Hideki Irabu seemed to have a rock-star aura about him. How did he fit into the clubhouse?

He was built up to be a rock star, the next Nolan Ryan. He was really quiet because he really didn't speak the language. It seemed like we were closer with his interpreter than we were with him. He was a quiet guy. He went about his business. When you don't succeed in New York it kind of gets to you, and maybe it got to him a little bit. There were teams he really dominated, though. He had a nasty splitter.

Then El Duque (Orlando Hernandez) joined the team in June.

Where he came from, nothing intimidated him. Once he got to New York, it was nothing. When you are coming from Cuba and how he got over here, you knew there wasn't a time, place or situation that he would be afraid of. He was fun to watch. He was so incredibly dominant out there, always wanted the ball and never wanted to come out of the game. His wind-up was so deceiving to hitters, it seemed like he was also making up pitches out there. We had great starters, but it seemed like when we had a big game and he was on the mound, he managed to come through. He was an incredible addition.

Who was an unsung hero on the '98 Yankees?

Chili Davis was one of the best teammates you could have. He was so smart. He was almost an extra hitting coach. In a lot of ways, he was like an extra pitching coach, too, because he had so much wisdom of the game.

While the Yankees were on this record pace, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire's home run chase garnered so much national attention. Did the team benefit from that?

I don't know. When you play in New York and you play for Mr. Steinbrenner, there is always pressure. It's not like, "Oh, hey, there is a distraction here." There was none of that. There was really only the distraction of winning. Winning the World Series was all that mattered in New York. We knew what we had to do. The pressure was still there.

You missed two months with a back injury. What was it like watching the team's historic run from the sidelines?

I hated it. I injured my back in that brawl with Baltimore. I threw it out and tried pitching through it. I went to Tampa, and Mr. Steinbrenner had me see the chiropractor. I had epidurals, you name it, to try to fix it. I could never get better. I tried pitching through it, but I couldn't bend over to tie my shoe. I started seeing this chiropractor and got better, and then I broke my toe walking in the damn hotel, and that put me behind a little bit. You hate it. You hate the idea that you're on the DL and had to watch. You watch the success, and you want to be a part of it.

The team had clinched a playoff berth by the time you returned on Sept. 4, but the Yankees went 16-11 that month, their worst stretch of the season. How did you feel about yourself and the team going into the postseason?

In New York and playing for Mr. Steinbrenner, you could never be complacent or satisfied with what you've done. As for me, I was back and ready for the playoff push. I wanted to win another World Series.

Moving on to the postseason, let's discuss Game 2 of the ALDS against the Rangers. Eighth inning. You're pitching with a 3-1 lead. You get two outs, but allow a single. Mark McLemore is up next -- good hitter, but not Pudge Rodriguez or Juan Gonzalez -- and Joe Torre goes to Rivera. Was that a quick hook? Were you annoyed?

You're handing it over to a Hall of Famer. You never want to come out of the game, but he's a guy who could get four outs. Stanton and I and Graeme Lloyd tried to eliminate as much as we could as far as him getting those four outs, but when you win 114 games, the expectations are you have to go to the World Series. Obviously, Torre is going to do everything he can to win. And he had done it in the past, so it wasn't anything we were surprised about.

It's this weird paradox. Mo was the ultimate safety net for the team, but did his presence put pressure on the set-up guys? You knew Torre would remove you if you allowed a baserunner.

You use it as motivation. We tried our best to eliminate as many outs for him, but Torre would often go to him for four outs. That's just the way it was. It wasn't something you would get mad at.

What did it feel like going into the ALCS against the Indians, who had eliminated the Yanks in '97?

A little redemption obviously. They were such a good team; look at that lineup! Weren't they ahead against us?

Yeah, up 2-games-to-1 until El Duque evened the series in Game 4.

When they had us down, a sense of urgency started to creep through the clubhouse, but Joe Torre was a guy who never panicked. It was like, "If our manager isn't showing panic, then why should we feel it?" Once we tied it up, we knew we were going to win, and I think the Indians thought the same thing.

You were on the mound for one of the strangest moments in Yankees postseason history -- when Chuck Knoblauch stopped playing to argue with an umpire and allowed the go-ahead run to score. What do you remember about the 12th inning of ALCS Game 2?

It was really bizarre. The ball is sitting there. I think I can remember Tino yelling at him, "Get the ball!" Knoblauch is sitting there yelling at the umpire while the ball is rolling. It's still a live ball, and those guys are running around [the bases]. It was just one of those things that you have to get over.

Did anyone confront Knoblauch about it afterward?

Maybe Torre might have said something to him like, "Hey, we can't worry about the umpire." None of the players ever said anything. It's one of those things. Players make mistakes all the time, and it's not one of those things like, "Oh, you lost the game."

On to the World Series against San Diego. You were warming up in the bullpen when Tino Martinez hit a grand slam off Mark Langston on a 3-2 pitch, giving the Yankees a 9-5 lead in the seventh inning of Game 1. The 2-2 pitch, of course, looked like a strike. What did you see in the bullpen?

We didn't have a video board, so we didn't know until afterward. It's funny because I still see Langston every once in a while. He still talks about that pitch. Everyone in the world knew it was a strike, but it wasn't called, and Tino hits the next pitch into the upper deck. It always seems like something good happens in Yankee Stadium. It's almost like the monuments came alive and helped us out. It was one of those calls that kind of changed everything.

Video: WS1998 Gm1: Tino hits a grand slam in the seventh

What else stands out about that series? The Vaughn at-bat in Game 4?

I always wanted to pitch in every tight situation. I never wanted to be a spectator. I had really good numbers against right-handed hitters, and Torre used me all the time. I always wanted to pitch. We went out to San Diego, and even though interleague play started in '97, we knew nothing about them. There wasn't that much video back then. You just relied on your scouts. We went out to San Diego up 2-games-to-none and felt pretty confident that we were going to beat these guys.

How different was it clinching the Series 2,500 miles away as opposed to clinching it at home in '96?

It was a little disappointing because everything shut down at 1 in the morning. We win the World Series, then we go back to the hotel because Torre had something for everyone there, and that lasted till 12:45. Everyone wanted to continue celebrating, so we go out on the town. David Wells is from there, and we are getting all over him like, "Hey, what kind of town is this?" It wasn't like New York where everything is open until 5. Well, we made up for it once we got back. It was still special.

You played for the 2001 Mariners team that won 116 games but lost to the Yankees in the ALCS. What were some similarities and differences between those two teams?

Similarities were, once we walked onto the field, we knew we were going to win. We had Lou Piniella as our manager and the expectations were through the roof, and you wanted to run through a wall for him. The chemistry on both teams was through the roof. In 2001, we had a lot of guys who had career years. You could probably name every starting pitcher on the '98 team. 2001 Mariners? If I hadn't played on the team, I probably couldn't do it. In 2001, just like '98, we won in every different way, and all 25 guys contributed. Differences? We didn't win the World Series. We barely got by Cleveland in the Division Series. I think we were a No. 1 or No. 2 starter away from beating the Yankees.

What about the mentality of the team? After the Yankees won the first two games at Safeco Field, did that Mariners team believe it could win the series?

When you are with New York, you always felt you could win. It never felt like we were out of any series. With the Mariners we were down 2-games-to-none, which was a shock. Lou took it really hard. Down 2-0 we felt like our backs were against the wall, but then we won Game 3. Game 4 was 0-0, and I pitched the seventh inning. Next thing you know, [Bret] Boone hits a home run in the top of the eighth and we're winning 1-0. Then [Arthur] Rhodes gives up a home run to Bernie Williams and [Kazuhiro] Sasaki gives up a home run in the ninth, and we lose the game, 3-1, and are down 3-games-to-1 [in the series]. From being on the other side, I knew it was only going one more game. I stayed out till the sun came up.

I walked around that city, maybe hit up a couple of establishments, and at about 6 in the morning I finally made it back to the hotel. We had a great year, but I had been on the other side, and when the Yankees had a chance to close out a series, they were closing it out. I sat in the bullpen the next night, propped my feet up on the cement wall, and I watched Aaron Sele and us lose. I knew it was going to happen.

The '98 Yankees are mentioned as one of the greatest teams ever. What's it like knowing you were an integral part of such a special team?

It's pretty special because you always have bragging rights, whether it's the Oakland A's who won three in a row or the Big Red Machine. If anyone says they were the best team, it's like, "No, no, no, no, no. We won 125 games that year and had to go through an extra playoff series."

So, best team ever?

Oh yeah, absolutely!

This interview is part of a season- long series of Q&A's with the 1998 Yankees and has been edited for clarity and length.

Thomas Golianopoulos is the associate editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: End Game

By acquiring Zach Britton at the deadline, the Yankees are playing their part in a bullpen revolution
Yankees Magazine

This is a bullpen story, and we're going to talk about bullpens, so just bear with us. But let's spend a minute or two with the 2018 Yankees' batting order, the one that simply could not be stopped during the first half of the season. Opposing pitchers were hopeless. If the Yankees gave up five runs, they would score six. Rookies? No problem! Miguel Andujar showed up and became an extra-base-hit machine. Gleyber Torres came to town and seemed to find a way to hit three-run bombs even with the bases empty.

The point is, offensive might doesn't just show itself in what individual batters do; it registers in the cumulative, as well. Each successive dominant offensive player Aaron Boone could write into the lineup meant less of a breather for the opposing pitcher, which in turn made each hitter more effective. From one through nine, it didn't matter if any individual Yankees hitter slumped, or if another was on some sort of downswing. Compared to the other 14 AL teams, the Yankees were hitting 5.2 more homers per batting spot, including nearly doubling the average for both the two- and nine-holes.

This is a bullpen story, and we're going to talk about bullpens, so just bear with us. But let's spend a minute or two with the 2018 Yankees' batting order, the one that simply could not be stopped during the first half of the season. Opposing pitchers were hopeless. If the Yankees gave up five runs, they would score six. Rookies? No problem! Miguel Andujar showed up and became an extra-base-hit machine. Gleyber Torres came to town and seemed to find a way to hit three-run bombs even with the bases empty.

The point is, offensive might doesn't just show itself in what individual batters do; it registers in the cumulative, as well. Each successive dominant offensive player Aaron Boone could write into the lineup meant less of a breather for the opposing pitcher, which in turn made each hitter more effective. From one through nine, it didn't matter if any individual Yankees hitter slumped, or if another was on some sort of downswing. Compared to the other 14 AL teams, the Yankees were hitting 5.2 more homers per batting spot, including nearly doubling the average for both the two- and nine-holes.

It calls to mind the old joke about making entire planes out of the indestructible black box material. What if you could build a whole team that same way, a never-ending, relentless leviathan? In particular, what if the majority of the bullpen stopped being a destination for filler pitchers, arms not good enough to start or close?

You don't have to wonder. In Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees have a dominant closer, the hardest-throwing pitcher in Major League history. In Dellin Betances, they have a dominant closer, who uses his 6-foot-8 frame and wipeout slurve to attack all comers. In David Robertson, they have a dominant closer, whose cutter-curveball-change-up repertoire and Houdini-like escape artistry vexes batters and has helped him accumulate 134 saves over 11 solid seasons. "We get to the fourth, fifth inning and we've got a lead -- in my head, it's game over," Aaron Judge says. "I know once we get to that bullpen, with the type of arms we have, there's really no shot, you know?"

Baseball is changing; it always has, and it always will. Fielders shift on seemingly every pitch, there are fewer balls in play than ever before and pitching staffs are reconfiguring themselves right before our eyes. So at this year's trading deadline, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman went out and acquired Zach Britton to fill an obvious need for an always-evolving game: a fourth dominant closer.


Adding elite relievers on top of elite relievers isn't a totally new thing for the Yankees. In 2011, despite having Mariano Rivera -- the greatest closer in baseball history -- the Yankees went out and signed Rafael Soriano as a free agent. Then before the 2015 season, after Betances had put together an All-Star campaign as Robertson's set-up man (before Robertson departed for the White Sox), Cashman nonetheless added Andrew Miller as a free agent. The next year, even the combination of Miller and Betances wasn't enough; the Reds were offering Chapman for pennies on the dollar, and Cashman pounced.

It's not hard to understand why any team would want to add a pitcher of Britton's caliber. We're just two years removed from a campaign in which the left-hander converted all 47 of his save chances for the Orioles, allowing just four earned runs over 67 innings. His ERA for the season was 0.54, the best figure ever posted by a pitcher who threw at least 50 innings.

"He's obviously had an amazing career, great ability, a lot of success, and that's combined with what I understand is a great work ethic, great teammate," Cashman said after acquiring the 30-year-old reliever. The Orioles drafted Britton in 2006, then moved him to the bullpen in 2014. Britton became an elite closer, one who -- like Rivera -- relied almost entirely on a single, unhittable pitch to dominate. The pitcher had been toying with a sinker since around 2007, but once he moved to the 'pen and could rely on a less-robust arsenal, the pitch really took off.

"It was really good when I was a starter, but I didn't use it the same way," Britton says. "I knew I had a good one in the Minors, it was just a matter of going to the bullpen and realizing that I could dominate with just the one pitch. That was the first time I've had that experience because I used other pitches when I was a starter."

Ironically (and perhaps fittingly for a member of the bullpen Rivera led for so long), Britton never set out to dominate with a sinker, which, as the name implies, goes 50-plus feet in a straight line, then dives as it approaches the plate. The team had actually been trying to teach him a cut fastball. "It kind of just did the opposite of what they wanted it to do, and I just stuck with it," he says, laughing. The pitch, when it's working, is a magic trick, 95 to 97 mph of heavy and deceptive terror. Even when batters expect it (and they always expect it), there's just not much they can do; at best, if they make contact, they're probably going to smash the ball straight down. But most of the time, they're swinging at air. David Ortiz, Britton recalls, once mentioned that he couldn't make sense of the pitch. "Your ball starts here, and then it's gone," the slugger told him.

Britton ruptured his right Achilles during a winter workout, an injury that required surgery and forced him to miss much of this season's first half. By the time he was back, Baltimore was fully in sell-off mode, and despite having very little time to show that he was still the All-Star pitcher he had been in 2015 and '16, the Yankees' GM saw enough to make his play. The Yankees seemed in desperate need of a starting pitcher, but when the market wouldn't come to Cashman, Cashman went to the market.

"It's just another dominant guy," first baseman Greg Bird says of the newest toy in the bullpen, the southpaw who struck out the left-handed Bird in both of their meetings. "It's not an average guy. He's dominant. So just add one more dominant guy to the list." Also, add one more example of a sport that's determined to keep evolving -- and a team more than willing to help push it along.


On April 25, 1876, a few months shy of America's centennial, Joe Borden stepped on the hill for the Boston Red Caps, today's Atlanta Braves. Three days earlier, he had pitched all nine innings, winning the first game in National League history. Facing the New York Mutuals, Borden surrendered five runs in the first four-plus innings, leading manager Harry Wright to call for Jack Manning to assume pitching duties. It was the first time in NL history (and, as such, Major League history) that a relief pitcher -- then known as a "change pitcher" was used.

That season, pitchers completed 472 of the league's 520 games; the eight teams combined to use just 34 pitchers all season. So you could say that times have changed, even if the process was slow. Just 74 years after Wright summoned Manning to step in and pitch a game he hadn't started, Philadelphia's Jim Konstanty threw 152 innings in relief, twice going nine frames in extras. He would win the 1950 National League MVP Award, then pitch 15 innings in a World Series that his Phillies lost to the Yankees. Nineteen years later, the league officially adopted a version of the save rule that The Sporting News' Jerome Holtzman had been using in his baseball stories, and about two decades after that, Tony La Russa introduced fans to the thrilling delight of constant mid-inning pitching changes. The game, and all too often managers who preferred to follow accepted wisdom, began to fetishize routine and regularity. There were mop-up pitchers, LOOGYs (lefty one-out guys), set-up men and closers. Pitchers made millions of dollars throwing to one batter every other game or so. Everyone had a defined role.

And realistically, it's not like that has totally changed. There are still roles and routines, even in the 2018 Yankees' bullpen. But it's easy to point to the 2016 postseason as an inflection point that began to turn heads and change minds. Andrew Miller -- traded to the Indians at midseason -- pitched Cleveland to the World Series by defying all contemporary convention. The tall lefty appeared in 10 postseason games that year, a throwback performance in which he averaged just under two innings per outing. He entered in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings, never throwing less than an inning and a third. Along the way, he allowed just three runs and earned ALCS MVP honors, the first time the award had ever gone to a non-closing reliever.

To be clear, there's nothing totally revolutionary about managers deploying elite relievers differently in October than they would in the previous six months. Rivera, who recorded more than three outs in 21 percent of his 1,105 career regular season relief appearances, saw that figure rise to 60 percent in his 96 postseason appearances. But in Cleveland, manager Terry Francona and Miller showed a mutual willingness to step away from the norms of treating the ninth inning as the be all and end all. Cody Allen -- the Indians' closer at the time of the Miller trade -- maintained his role, but when the highest-leverage moments arose in the middle innings, Francona didn't hesitate to call for his best weapon, and Miller was up to the occasion. "When I was in Baltimore and we acquired Andrew Miller," Britton says of the 2014 trade that brought Miller to the Orioles at midseason, "he really opened up some guys' eyes to how dominant a reliever could be in certain situations -- you know, extended periods of time."

Video: NYY@TB: Boone, Betances on Britton's value in bullpen

And Britton had, in that same 2016 postseason, seen the other side of that coin. In the AL Wild Card Game, the Orioles lost to the Blue Jays in 11 innings. Britton, coming off his remarkable season, warmed up, but never entered the game. The Orioles lost with their best pitcher sitting in the bullpen because the mores of reliever management meant that you didn't bring your closer into a tie game on the road.

The Yankees were 29 games over .500 when they sent three pitching prospects -- Dillon Tate, Josh Rogers and Cody Carroll -- to Baltimore for a closer who wouldn't close in New York. Cashman's team certainly looked the part of a playoff contender. But the general manager, even with a bullpen stocked three deep in elite closers, saw an investment opportunity. When elimination looms and the temperature on the mound starts getting hotter, top-flight bullpen arms can make all the difference. "You saw what happened in last year's Wild Card game," the GM says.

Let's talk about that 2017 Wild Card Game -- or actually, both Wild Card Games. The Yankees, facing Minnesota in the AL Wild Card Game, sent their ace, Luis Severino, to the mound to get things started. He wouldn't even last an inning. The Yankees needed to rely on their bullpen for 82⁄3 frames in the eventual win, including 31⁄3 from Robertson, who had been closing games on the South Side of Chicago just three months earlier. Across the diamond, the Twins got just two innings from their starter, Ervin Santana. And over in the National League, the Rockies and Diamondbacks got just five innings combined from starters Jon Gray and Zack Greinke. Four outstanding starting pitchers on the biggest stage, and their contributions to their teams' most crucial game of the season to that point added up to just 71⁄3 innings.

"I think it really changed with Miller, how he got used in the playoffs," says Yankees reliever Chad Green, who helped put out Severino's fire in the 2017 AL Wild Card Game, throwing two strong innings. "Everybody was watching that and how they were using him, and I kind of was watching that and was like, 'Man, more teams are gonna try to get a guy like that.' Because it's really important. Sometimes the games are won and lost in the fifth and sixth inning."


Chapman ranks fourth on the active career saves list. Britton checks in at No. 12, followed by Robertson at 13. Meanwhile, Betances has already been to four All-Star Games in his career, and while he didn't earn a trip to Washington for this year's Midsummer Classic, he went on an unfathomable run beginning on May 12, allowing just two earned runs and nine hits over his next 331⁄3 innings.

"Nothing like it," Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey says of his 2018 staff, unable to compare it to anything he has seen in his two-plus decades coaching pitchers. "The way this bullpen has been constructed, I think it's where bullpens are going these days. With starters going less deep in games, it's probably going to be a necessity."

It's not just anecdotal. MLB starting pitchers were on pace to throw about 61 percent of teams' innings in 2018, down from 68 percent in 1998, the last time the league expanded, and starters' innings are on the decline for a fifth straight year. Managers, seeing clear data about the drop in reliability for pitchers when they face a lineup for a third time around, are becoming ever-less hesitant to call for relief. "I think the game is relying a lot on back-end guys that can close down games in any situation," Betances says.

Fans may begrudge the lack of complete games and a supposed over-reliance on pitch counts, but facts are facts. "Our preference would be to have a strong starting rotation that pitches deep into games, and then you can turn it over to a fresh, usable, high-ceiling, high-leverage caliber type bullpen," Cashman says. "That would be the perfect recipe, but I know it doesn't play out that way. It's hard to keep everybody healthy, it's hard to acquire and secure and maintain that type of perfect equilibrium between your rotation and your bullpen. We have strength in the rotation, and we have strengths obviously in the bullpen. Right now our bullpen is really strong, and I trust Aaron Boone and Larry Rothschild and Mike Harkey will utilize that to their advantage when necessary."

The natural question, though, is how to identify that advantage. Harkey insists that the ninth inning is a special, unique beast, that the last three outs are the hardest to get (especially in Boston). Other pitchers and analysts aren't so sure. But what's undoubtable is that, at least in the present, the game elevates those who occupy that closer role, both in prestige and also in money. Britton is excited about his new role on the Yankees, ready to do whatever is asked of him. He even says that he considers it to be a valuable piece of the pitch that he'll make as a free agent this coming offseason, when he can show potential suitors that he handled different roles well. And yet despite all that, and despite what he saw from Miller both in Baltimore and then when he watched Cleveland in the World Series, Britton is, unsurprisingly, expecting to eventually sign with a team that will slot him into the ninth inning.

The pitcher is philosophical about what lies ahead of him, not brash. "I have the American League record for consecutive saves," he says somewhat sheepishly, trying to explain why the ninth inning is his preferred destination, even at the end of a conversation during which he pointed out all the high-leverage moments that come earlier in games. "It's just something that I'm good at." Even still, many people involved with the Yankees expect the philosophies -- and the financial incentives -- to keep evolving in the years to come.

"You've already started to see non-closers making as much as fourth and fifth starters," Harkey says. "And I think it's probably only going to change more. You're going to find that bullpens' salaries are higher than starters' salaries. That's just the way it's going to be. When you're able to pitch the best pitcher on your team three to four days a week, as opposed to once a week, when you think about it, you're doing pretty good. So these guys are going to continue to demand more and more."


The thing about the Yankees bullpen's strength, though, is that each individual power arm benefits the rest of the group. Forget about the fact that on most teams, any of Robertson or Britton or Betances would certainly be closing. Boone is also able to call for arms such as Green, Jonathan Holder or any other rostered reliever as he wishes, knowing that most teams would see pitchers of that quality locked into specific late-game roles. And if a Chapman or a Green isn't available on any given night? No problem at all. "I think one of the things about our bullpen, and now adding Zach to the mix, they really protect each other, hopefully," Boone says. "Especially in the regular season, there'll be nights when we feel like we want to stay away from a guy or rest a guy, and obviously we're going to have really good options elsewhere on that given night." And as for October, Boone adds, "the team that wins the championship, a lot of times you look back and it's a result of having a bullpen that you can really hang your hat on."

Harkey believes that the younger Yankees relievers also stand to benefit from being able to pitch under a slightly dimmer spotlight. On a lot of teams, he says, a pitcher such as Green would constantly be auditioning for a closer role. A few blown saves in a row, and fans and writers would start wondering when Green would get the chance. On this roster, though? It's just not part of the conversation. And Harkey expects Green, Holder and other young relievers to benefit in the same way that he says Robertson did from developing under Rivera. "He had those years of time to sit behind Mo, to learn from Mo, and be able to take that into games," Harkey says. "And I think, within the organization, the fact that we have three or four guys that can close at any time, it gives us time to develop the Holders, the Greens; time to get their confidence going and work on repeating deliveries in high-leverage situations."

Video: Chapman, Green lead Yanks to Bullpen of Week honors

And the trickle down is no different from what the team saw from the batting order in the first half. Adding a great arm to a collection of great arms means that you never have to summon a middling reliever. Philosophically, it's quite a play if you're able to make it.

Yankees relievers struck out 653 batters in 2017; it was the first time the bullpen had ever broken 600, and its 10.92 strikeouts per nine innings set a new big league record. Through Aug. 12 of this year, the bullpen was on pace to strike out more than 740 hitters, a figure that barely even accounts for Britton's arrival. That's not a small jump. Meanwhile, the relievers were allowing the third-fewest runs per game in the AL, more than a half-run better than the league average.

When Cashman added Giancarlo Stanton to an already-awesome lineup, it didn't just impact Stanton's own at-bats. He makes every hitter around him better by making pitchers work harder, by being on base, by lurking in the on-deck circle. "He was brought in to fit into what was already a great clubhouse with a lot of high-quality and highly capable, talented players in their own right," Cashman says. "And I think the benefit of all that, when you have that many people with that type of representation in terms of ability … it gives each other cover."

And as for the relievers? "I've been a GM now for 21 years, and so the evolution of how this 'pen looks now is a lot deeper and stronger than it's ever been. I do every now and then wonder what it's going to look like in a few years because you can't maintain something to this level. It's performed so well for us, and the job is kind of to constantly have that fierce system coming and pushing it and adding to it. But this is a pretty impressive crew that we have had to deploy over the last number of years, and we're thankful for their clear contributions to that win column. We're hoping that we can keep relying on that type of performance as we move forward because it is obviously a major strength."

Britton didn't have a Spring Training this year, and there are some who surmise that the Orioles might have strategically and understandably accelerated his rehab so they could boost his trade value. But as the pitcher works to regain his once-otherworldly form, he's surrounded by an astounding collection of talent for which his mere presence will do a world of good. "We're looking forward to him joining this band of merry men and seeing where it takes us," Cashman says.

Jon Schwartz is the deputy editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: The Ultimate Comeback

After 9/11, sports played a huge role in helping the country heal
Yankees Magazine

No, the Yankees did not win the World Series in 2001. There were no world championship celebrations or parades up the Canyon of Heroes. And yet it's hard to come up with a more memorable postseason run, not just for Yankees fans, but also the country as a whole.

In part it's because of the epic comebacks and the walk-off outcomes, up to and including the heartbreaking Game 7 breakdown that lifted the Diamondbacks to the mountaintop by just the slimmest of margins. But the 2001 Yankees also remain embedded in our memory because of what was going on in the United States at that time.

No, the Yankees did not win the World Series in 2001. There were no world championship celebrations or parades up the Canyon of Heroes. And yet it's hard to come up with a more memorable postseason run, not just for Yankees fans, but also the country as a whole.

In part it's because of the epic comebacks and the walk-off outcomes, up to and including the heartbreaking Game 7 breakdown that lifted the Diamondbacks to the mountaintop by just the slimmest of margins. But the 2001 Yankees also remain embedded in our memory because of what was going on in the United States at that time.

The devastation and tragedy at Ground Zero was still raw as the World Series got underway, the scars of 9/11 still visible in the smoldering wreckage of the Twin Towers. When two hijacked airplanes hit the skyscrapers, killing thousands of innocent people, the world stopped. Every part of it -- including sports -- ground to a halt. Nearly every game, match, practice and event was canceled or postponed in the immediate aftermath. America was busy trying to put itself back together, and the games would have to wait.

Eventually, though, play resumed. Football players put their pads back on, and baseball players ran back onto the field. In those moments, the nation began to heal. When Major League umpires instructed the teams to play ball, for just a few hours, fans were given permission to breathe normally, albeit briefly. It felt good to smile.

It's easy to say that sports are just games, but in the days and weeks after the tragedy of Sept. 11, sports offered a safe space for an entire population to come together, to grieve and to celebrate simultaneously. Spontaneous moments of unity emerged amid the smoke and ash. Minutiae such as flag-emblazoned hats and ceremonial first pitches became poignant symbols of national pride and resilience.

After 9/11, the world changed. But sports stayed mostly the same. And that comfort and consistency was so crucial in a time of distress.

To commemorate the role sports played in helping the healing, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum created a special exhibition called "Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11," which takes visitors through the timeline of events in the days and months after the attacks, shows how sports provided a way for people to connect, and illustrates how arenas and stadiums became places of healing. The exhibit also tells a bigger story about the role sports have always played in the history of the country.

"Comeback Season" opened to the public on June 27 and is just the second temporary exhibition to be housed at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. It took a year to arrange and construct, and it is expected to remain open until at least summer 2019. Filled with artifacts, photographs and archival video, the exhibit takes visitors through the full timeline of sports-related events surrounding 9/11. It moves from the moment the planes hit the towers, to the ESPN coverage about how the sports world -- as well as the rest of the country -- would be taking some time off to process what had happened and try to figure out the best way forward, to telling the story of how New York City played host to the World Series and a marathon just weeks after the attacks.

There are displays remembering "A Prayer for America," the memorial service that took place at Yankee Stadium. Another commemorates the first game played in New York City after the attacks -- a Mets contest against the Braves at Shea Stadium in which Mike Piazza homered -- and a remembrance of how the Rangers started their season on the ice by paying tribute to the FDNY and NYPD.

"There's another part to the story," says Alice M. Greenwald, the president & CEO of the museum, "which is how we literally came together in the aftermath of this whole event and began to support each other in ways that were remarkable and palpable and surprising. Sports was one of the places -- and probably the most visible place in the society -- where people felt they could come together safely.

"The arena literally became the place where we expressed gratitude to the first responders and expressed commemorative recollections of those who had died and honored their families."

Video: BAL@NYY: Yankees unveil September 11 monument in 2002

The Yankees obviously play a role in the exhibit, too, with displays about the 2001 World Series, President George W. Bush's ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium prior to Game 3, and a case containing a glove Derek Jeter gifted to the daughter of one of the pilots who died when his plane crashed into the South Tower.

Brielle Saracini was only 10 years old when she wrote to Jeter three days after losing her father. In her grief, she reached out to her favorite baseball player for comfort:

"As you have heard, there was a horrible accident that involved the Twin Towers, there was a hijacking on a plane. Terrible people are in this world, but you and I both know that! Out of respect I would love it if you would pay me a visit because that horrible hijacking happened to be my father. My father was the pilot, Captain Victor J. Saracini. My family is experiencing pain that comes and goes … My dad was a great father to me and he would want me to concur [sic] my dream, meeting you…"

Jeter received the letter and acted almost immediately. He invited the Saracini family to Yankee Stadium and spent the day with Brielle and her sister.

"That was really kind of an eye-opener because it gave us an insight into how athletes responded," says Clifford Chanin, executive vice president and deputy director for museum programs. "It's how people who have been bereaved in those first moments thinking about what would make them feel better -- it was to reach out to an athlete, and then the athlete was touched by the story and responds. It's a microcosm of the whole thing."

"The story itself is so heartwarming," Greenwald says. "It's that idea of whatever you do in your profession, whatever you do in life, you can put a hand out to somebody in need and make a difference."

In terms of difference-makers, none mattered more than the first responders. Search and rescue missions that began in the moments after the disaster occurred were ongoing weeks later. Every day, firemen and police officers were working at Ground Zero with a singular focus: Find anyone still missing.

"I remember the trip we all took over to the first responders at Ground Zero; they were so diligently working, trying to find and save lives," says former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, who was on hand at the opening of the exhibit. "They hadn't even thought about what they were doing until we showed up and they stopped and they talked, and a couple of the guys would break down and start crying. It was amazing how they hadn't processed what they were doing."

The Giants were far from the only organization to take time out to visit the site. Each New York team found itself at Ground Zero to lend a hand, offer a hug or bring supplies, including the Yankees.

"I remember thinking, 'We're just baseball players, and this is the game of life,'" Joe Torre, the Yankees' manager at the time, said while attending an event at the 9/11 Museum & Memorial in 2016. He remembered being presented with photos of lost Yankees fans by their grieving families, and it was then that he realized that there was something he and his players could offer in return. "There was something for us to do, and that was to try to distract them.

"The 'NY' on your hats represents more than just the Yankees," Torre told his players. "It represents the city of New York."

At the exhibit, the Yankees' famous interlocking "NY" is everywhere, from the video boards displaying a rotation of hand-painted signs fans brought to the Stadium, to the frying pan mounted on a piece of wood carried by legendary Yankees fan Freddy "Sez" Schuman. Its message: "N.Y. Yankees and America We're With You!"

It was a statement with meaning -- they all were. Every moment mattered. Every athlete, coach and fan played a role in helping the county heal.

Rivalries persisted on the field. Folks in the stands were encouraged to root for their teams and their guys. A World Series was on the line in the Bronx, and Yankees fans were as caught up in that battle as they were with anything else. But what came through in those moments and throughout every game -- and indeed throughout the exhibit -- was that behind all those on-field battles was something more.

"I think that authentic sense of, 'We're in this together, we are one, this is one team. Yes, we play games against each other, but what really matters is the fabric of our society and who we are,'" Greenwald says. "Sports does that better than anything else in our society. It just does it in ways that everybody can relate to."

Walking through the museum now is an emotional experience. As a whole, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum does an excellent job of paying tribute to the tremendous loss suffered that day. With "Comeback Season," a brief respite is provided. Just like sports did at the time, the exhibit allows museum visitors an opportunity to breathe -- to remember the unity, relive the touching moments and truly believe that things get better. The world moves on.

Healing is a slow and painful process. And no one will ever forget. But we will persist.

In sports and in life, at Yankee Stadium and in Lower Manhattan and all around the world, folks continue to lace up their cleats and shoes and just try to do their jobs. In the wake of 9/11, those guys in cleats and on skates and in basketball sneakers had a little bit more added to their job descriptions, though. They became healers in their own way, and they did it with grace.

The Yankees didn't win the 2001 World Series. But seeing them take the field and battle back from the brink over and over was a metaphor for how America could do the same thing. The country fared better than the guys in pinstripes -- but truthfully, we all came out on top.

To learn more about "Comeback Season," the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, or to purchase tickets, visit

Hilary Giorgi is the senior editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

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