My all-forgotten Yankees team

I have always been fascinated by incongruity, oddity and anachronism. Things how they should not be. Things we should not see. The Starbucks record label, for instance, or that time ESPN tried to launch a flip phone. For me, sports conjure by far the most entertaining anomalies in this regard, and no sub-genre is more beguiling than forgotten Yankees.

Of course, forgotten is an ambiguous term. It means different things to different people. Things you have forgotten – about baseball or life – may reside in my cherished memory bank, just as things I have forgotten may be indispensable to your nostalgia. Therefore, compiling a list of the greatest forgotten baseball players to represent a particular team is a thankless task. More accurately, it is an impractical and imperfect exercise bound to inspire consternation. In a world where we cannot agree to stop wars or end hunger, reaching consensus on bygone ballplayers is a vacuous mirage. And yet, these things still interest me, so here we are.

In this context, by forgotten, I do not refer to those obscure players who played a handful of games for the Yankees then disappeared. Hello, Ben Gamel. Where have you gone, Dustin Fowler? Rather, by forgotten, I mean perfectly memorable players more closely associated with other teams. Familiar faces in unfamiliar places, if you will. Iconic folk heroes synonymous with certain teams yet mired in pinstriped irrelevance.

Without further ado, then, here is my tribute to the unheralded guys who once patrolled that big ballpark in the Bronx. Here is my All-Forgotten Yankees team – a group that will always reside in my heart, if not in Monument Park.

Lineup

C: Iván Rodríguez
Yankees tenure: 2008 – 33 G, .219 AVG, 2 HR 

Arguably the greatest catcher of baseball’s modern age, Rodriguez spent half a season spelling the injured Jorge Posada behind the dish in New York. An experiment to forget for all involved.

1B: Lance Berkman
Yankees tenure: 2010 – 37 G, .255 AVG, 1 HR

Inextricably linked with Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and the 2000s Houston Astros, Berkman’s bat went limp in the Bronx. The Yankees dumped Berkman following the 2010 season, only for him to win Comeback Player of the Year – and a World Series ring – with St Louis in 2011. How is your luck?

2B: Mark Bellhorn
Yankees tenure: 2005 – 9 G, .118 AVG, 1 HR

The annoying embodiment of Red Sox serendipity, Mark Bellhorn morphed from average utilityman to unlikely postseason hero in 2004 as Boston toppled the Evil Empire en route to a curse-busting world championship. Eventually released by the Sox, Bellhorn joined the dark side – quite unthinkably – before washing up in San Diego. Utterly random.

3B: Kevin Youkilis
Yankees tenure: 2013 – 28 G, .219 AVG, 2 HR

A beloved avatar of the gutsy Red Sox, Youkilis had just as many disabled list stints as home runs in the Bronx before being excommunicated to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan. Sayonara.

SS: Troy Tulowitzki
Yankees tenure: 2019 – 5 G, .182 AVG, 1 HR 

Long touted as an ideal replacement for Derek Jeter as Yankees shortstop, Tulowitzki finally signed for New York in 2019 – on the downslope of an injury-riddled career. A player I would have loved to see healthy, in pinstripes, in his prime. Alas, it was not written in the stars, which makes Jeter’s longevity even more impressive.

LF: Andrew Benintendi
Yankees tenure: 2022 – 33 G, .254 AVG, 2 HR

Iconic – if under-appreciated – Red Sock who wound up in a pennant race with the Yankees. Sweet swing, good makeup. A guy who should have been kept around.

CF: Andruw Jones
Yankees tenure: 2011-2012 – 171 G, .220 AVG, 27 HR

Arguably the greatest defensive centre fielder of his generation, Jones bottomed out with the Yankees. Like Youkilis, he swapped New York for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Brian Cashman seemingly had a pact with the NPB franchise, giving it first dibs on broken Yankee castoffs.

RF: Vernon Wells
Yankees tenure: 2013 – 130 G, .233 AVG, 11 HR

A dynamic force during his prime, Wells joined the Yankees in 2013, back when Cashman gave a job to anyone with a pulse amid an unprecedented injury crisis. Acquired, designated, released and retired within one year.

DH: Travis Hafner
Yankees tenure: 2013 – 82 G, .202 AVG, 12 HR

Another former star who plugged a gap for the 2013 Yankees then retired due to a lack of interest from big league teams. Man, how did that 2013 team post a winning record?

Bench

Edwin Encarnación
Yankees tenure: 2019 – 44 G, .249 AVG, 13 HR

I actually saw Encarnación play for the Yankees, in London, with my own very eyes. And I still struggle to believe it happened.

Richie Sexson
Yankees tenure: 2008 – 22 G, .250 AVG, 1 HR

A hulking 6-foot-7 slugger who broke down with the Yankees and subsequently retired.

Jay Bruce
Yankees tenure: 2021 – 10 G, .118 AVG, 1 HR

Jay Bruce may not even remember Jay Bruce playing for the Yankees.

Matt Holliday
Yankees tenure: 2017 – 105 G, .231 AVG, 19 HR

A slightly underrated Yankee, Holliday is nevertheless forgotten. A good guy whose body betrayed him in pinstripes.

José Canseco
Yankees tenure: 2000 – 37 G, .243 AVG, 6 HR

Controversy personified, Canseco wound up in pinstripes when Brian Cashman claimed him on waivers to prevent similar moves by the Athletics, Red Sox and Blue Jays amid a chaotic pennant race. “The worst time of my life,” Canseco once said when asked to summarise his Yankees tenure. And for a guy who drops scandal into his morning coffee, that says a lot.

John Olerud
Yankees tenure: 2004 – 49 G, .280 AVG, 4 HR

Wore a batting helmet while playing first base. Iconic Blue Jay and Mariner. Footnote New York Yankee.

Starting rotation

Bartolo Colón
Yankees tenure: 2011 – 29 G, 4.00 ERA, 8 W

A forgotten chapter in the bizarre ballad of Big Sexy. Most recognisable with Cleveland, Anaheim, Oakland or the Mets, Colon enjoyed something of a resurgence with the Yankees, only to be demoted from the rotation come October. The ace of my forgotten Yankees staff.

Kerry Wood
Yankees tenure: 2010 – 24 G, 0.69 ERA, 2 W

Once a flame-throwing phenom who struck out 20 batters in a game for the Chicago Cubs, Wood burned out, broke down and stumbled into the Yankees bullpen. A surprisingly reliable bridge to Mariano Rivera, Wood was nevertheless released when the Yankees declined his contract option. Kerry is forever 20 in my mind, dominating hitters with unprecedented filth. He is forever a Cub, too, destined to be forgotten in the Bronx.

Derek Lowe
Yankees tenure: 2012 – 17 G, 3.04 ERA, 1 W

A stalwart Red Sock, Lowe won the clinching game of every postseason series for Boston in 2004 – including the nightmarish ALCS from which New York is yet to recover. Later resurfaced, somewhat paradoxically, as a Yankees reliver, though the relationship never quite clicked. Very strange indeed.

Luis Tiant
Yankees tenure: 1979-1980 – 55 G 4.31 ERA, 21 W

The charismatic Tiant pitched eight seasons for the Red Sox, then signed with the Yankees on a controversial free agent deal. Mediocre over two years in New York, which did not embrace his showman antics. All told, El Tiante should have stayed in Boston.

Kevin Brown
Yankees tenure: 2004-2005 – 35 G, 4.95 ERA, 14 W

Once the richest pitcher on earth, Brown was 39 when he landed in pinstripes. Punched a wall after one humiliating defeat, then lost Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS to Boston – a dark dénouement in Yankees infamy.

Bullpen

Mark Melancon
Yankees tenure: 2009-2010 – 15 G, 4.87 ERA, 0 SV

Once a potential heir to the great Rivera, Melancon instead finds himself ensconced in this pantheon of forgotten Yankees.

Octavio Dotel
Yankees tenure: 2006 – 14 G, 10.80 ERA, 0 SV

The Yankees paid Octavio Dotel $2 million to yield almost three baserunners per inning pitched. I could have done that, and I’m a lazy British slob.

Jake Westbrook
Yankees tenure: 2000 – 3 G, 13.50 ERA, 0 SV

A good, occasionally brilliant pitcher for Cleveland, Westbrook made his major league debut for the Yankees in 2000. Somehow earned a World Series ring that year, despite only appearing in three games and posting an astronomical ERA. Eminently forgettable.

LaTroy Hawkins
Yankees tenure – 2008 – 33 G, 5.71 ERA, 0 SV

The quintessential journeyman reliever, Hawkins famously pitched for 11 teams in a 21-year major league career. One of those seasons came with the Yankees, who randomly gave him the #21 jersey that had been left vacant since the retirement of beloved stalwart Paul O’Neill. When Yankees fans chanted O’Neill’s name as Hawkins pitched in a home game, the team quickly switched LaTroy to #22. Hawkins was then designated for assignment midway through his lone Yankee season.

Joe Borowski
Yankees tenure: 1997-1998 – 9 G, 6.94 ERA, 0 SV

A capable fireman, Borowski led the American League in saves with Cleveland in 2007. A decade earlier, he was reared in a formidable Yankees bullpen featuring Rivera, Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton. They obviously taught him well – even if he took a while to matriculate.

Manager

John McGraw
Yankees tenure: 1901-1902 – 118-153

Legendary manager of the New York Giants for more than 30 years, McGraw was technically the first manager in Yankees history. Sure, the embryonic franchise was located in Baltimore and nicknamed the Orioles during his reign, but few associate McGraw with pinstripes, nevertheless.

Notable snubs

Bobby Abreu, Ralph Branca, Jay Buhner, Billy Butler, Starlin Castro, Eric Chavez, Tony Clark, Rocky Colavito, Ron Coomer, Ike Davis, Doug Drabek, David Dellucci, Morgan Ensberg, Jeff Francis, Jaime Garcia, Tom Gordon, Sonny Gray, Jerry Hairston, Raul Ibanez, Dave Kingman, Corey Kluber, Al Leiter, Jon Lieber, Ted Lilly, Kenny Lofton, Mike Lowell, Sal Maglie, Russell Martin, Andrew McCutchen, Doug Mientkiewicz, Raul Mondesi, Kendrys Morales, Xavier Nady, Dioner Navarro, Phil Niekro, Lefty O’Doul, Lyle Overbay, Gaylord Perry, Martin Prado, Tim Raines, Mark Reynolds, Juan Rivera, Brian Roberts, Kenny Rogers, Deion Sanders, Ruben Sierra, JT Snow, Tanyon Sturtze, Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Tomko, Javier Vazquez, Paul Waner, Jeff Weaver, Randy Winn, Tony Womack, Todd Zeile.


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