Since no current or former Yankees are born on today’s date, I thought it would be an appropriate time to review the Pinstripe Birthday Blog’s five favorite moments of the Yankees 2011 season.
Number 1 – Derek Jeter getting his 3000th hit – Those who’ve read this blog over the three-plus years it has been live know my feelings for the Yankee Captain. I’ve watched Yankee baseball closely for over fifty years and can honestly say that no other player has given me more great memories as a Yankee fan than Mr. Jeter has. He’s a class act. So when the Yankee front office started blabbing to the media about their closed-door negotiations to re-sign the shortstop over the past winter and then when that same New York press started piling on Jeter for his slow start this past season at the plate, I was pretty upset. On July 9, during an afternoon game against Tampa at Yankee Stadium, Jeter once again proved why he is one of the most admired and loved Yankees in franchise history. When that game started, he had needed two hits to reach the 3,000 mark and he went out and got five. And after weeks of listening to and reading idiots write about how Jeter was now just a Punch & Judy singles hitter, Derek’s hallmark hit was a deep home run, pulled to left field. A great moment for a great Yankee. (The answer to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Trivia Question is – Jeter had 162 hits during the 2011 regular season.)
Number 2 – Mariano Rivera getting his 602nd save – Yankee fans have been especially blessed over the past decade and a half because in addition to Jeter, we’ve watched the very best closer in the history of baseball get the last crucial outs in hundreds of Yankee games. On September 19th of this past season, Mo was called in to pitch the ninth inning of an afternoon game against the Twins at the Stadium. He was given a two-run lead and proceeded to pitch a perfect final inning with the record-setting third out coming on a called third strike on Twin first baseman Chris Parmelee. The save was the 602nd of Rivera’s unbelievable career, sending him past Trevor Hoffman to the top spot on the All-Time career Saves list.
Number 3 – Jorge Posada playing in his last Yankee game – This one was bittersweet because you know it breaks Posada’s heart to realize he will almost certainly never take another at-bat in Yankee pinstripes. I was afraid his farewell tour was headed for a disastrous ending when he refused to play in the Boston game after Girardi demoted him in the lineup. But cooler heads prevailed and Jorge sucked it up and reminded everyone why he has become one of the most beloved Yankees of his era. If his solid hitting performance during the Yankees 2011 ALDS versus Texas turns out to have been his Yankee swan song, all I can say is; Hip Hip Jorge! You have been a great Yankee!
Number 4 – The emergence of Ivan Nova – I have to admit that as the 2011 spring training season opened, I did not think this kid was quite ready for prime time but he certainly proved me wrong. He was pretty much phenomenal the whole year and really showed the mettle of a professional when after he was unfairly demoted early in the season, he just kept pitching.
Number 5 (tie) – The emergence of David Robertson – After being spoiled for a decade and a half watching the most dominating closer in baseball do his stuff game after game, I found myself wondering if it was actually possible that his successor was already wearing Yankee pinstripes. That’s how good David Robertson looked on the mound in 2011.
Number 5 (tie) – Curtis Granderson’s outstanding season – I have watched and followed Yankee baseball pretty closely for a very long time and I do not remember a player who conquered a weakness in his game as dominantly as Granderson has overcome his inability to hit left-handers. In my opinion, he was the Yankee MVP of 2011 as he helped fill the power deficit caused by A-Rod’s frequent absences from the lineup, especially against southpaw pitching.
Jaret Wright’s pitching career got off to a great start from the second he was born and found out his Dad was former big league pitcher and 20-game-winner Clyde Wright. Sure enough, the youngster developed into a fireballing right-handed pitcher with a 98 mile per hour fastball and a biting curve to boot. He was in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians by June of 1997, when he was just 21-years-old and he helped that Indian team make it to the World Series by going 8-3 during the second half of the regular season and then beating the Yankees twice in the five-game ALDS. The Indians loved this kid so much that after he won Game 4 of the World Series against the Marlins, they gave him the ball again in Game 7 and Wright responded with a six-plus innings stint of solid pitching giving the bullpen a 2-1 lead in a game Cleveland eventually would lose. Coming out of that season, Wright was considered one of Baseball’s premier young arms.
Wright then went 12-10 in his sophomore season but as the innings mounted, his pitching shoulder started aching. He lost both of his starts in the 1998 postseason and then the bottom pretty much fell out. He spent his final four seasons in Cleveland either pitching in pain or on the DL, winning just 15 decisions over that period while losing 19. The Indians let him walk after the 2002 season and the Padres took a shot with a one-year deal. After a horrible 1-5 start in San Diego, he was dealt to the Braves, a franchise well known for its handling of pitching talent. Atlanta proved to be Wright’s elixir. By 2004, he had learned how to pitch with an 89 mile per hour fastball and finished 15-8. But then he got shelled in that year’s ALDS against the Astros, losing twice and giving up 14 hits and 10 runs in the nine-plus innings he pitched.
It was the Wright who pitched so well in the 2004 regular season that the Yankees thought they were getting when they signed him to a three-year, $21 million contract the following December. That was the same offseason New York also went out and signed Carl Pavano for $40 million. Brian Cashman thought he had fixed the Yankee starting pitching problems with the two deals. Instead, he had made them even worse not to mention much, much more expensive.
Wright’s first year in pinstripes was a disaster. He pitched just 63 innings, spent most of the year nursing a sore shoulder and finished 5-5 with an ERA over six. He did much better in his second regular season in New York, going 11-7 but then for some reason, Joe Torre picked Wright to start game 4 of that year’s ALDS against the Tigers. Detroit held a 2-1 lead in the best of five series and when Wright got shelled, giving up two bombs, and four runs in the 2.2 innings he pitched, both New York’s postseason and the beleaguered pitcher’s Yankee career were over. He was banished to Baltimore, with the Yankees agreeing to pay more than half his $7 million salary for 2007. That turned out to be his final season in the big leagues. He finished with a 68-60 career record during his eleven injury filled seasons of play.
One thing became pretty clear to me as I researched Jim Leyritz for this post. It sounded like he was considered to be a pretty big jerk by most of the guys who managed him in the Yankee organization and also by quite a few of the guys who played with him. Bucky Dent couldn’t stand him and evidently Buck Showalter felt that way too. Joe Torre tolerated him but heck, Leyritz’s game-tying home run off of Atlanta’s Mark Wohlers in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series just may have saved Torre’s job. Don Mattingly nicknamed Leyritz “the King” because he was always telling everyone else how great he was.
Actually, I also sort of already knew that Leyritz was somewhat of a jerk before doing research for today’s post. My son’s good friend was related to a girl who once dated Jimmy boy. My son’s friend attended a family dinner to which Leyritz had also been invited. She told us that she had never met a more conceited human being in her entire life.
So now that I’ve established that Mr. Leyritz will never win any Most Popular Yankee awards, there was no argument about his ability to hit in the biggest of situations. That home run against Wohler was preceded by his two-run game-winner in the 15th inning of the 1995 ALDS against Seattle. He took his “big moment bat” to San Diego in 1998 and hit three huge home runs for the Padres that postseason. He then rejoined New York the following year and his Game 4 home run in 1999 World Series helped New York sweep the Braves.
The Yankees dealt Leyritz to the Dodgers for Jose Vizcaino in June of 2000 and after finishing that season in LA, he never played in another big league game. He played all or parts of nine of his eleven big league seasons in pinstripes and hit 58 of his 90 lifetime regular season home runs as a Yankee. He also hit eight postseason home runs in 28 total games of Fall Ball.
Leyritz has had tremendous problems trying to survive outside of baseball. The most infamous incident was the tragic accident he had the day after his 44th birthday in 2007 in the state of Florida. Leyritz was driving drunk when his car collided with one being driven by a young female who, as it turned out, was also driving while intoxicated. Authorities arrested the ex-Yankee, charging him with vehicular manslaughter. The case finally came to trial in November of 2010 and Leyritz was acquitted of the manslaughter charge.
Shortly after the first draft of this blog post appeared, a friend of Leyritz’s e-mailed me to present a different and more updated perspective of the former Yankee. According to him, Leyritz has been dating his sister for a while and has always treated her and her children great. The e-mailer also assured me that Leyritz is a “great” Dad to his own kids and good friends with his ex Yankee teammates, including David Cone and Bernie Williams.