The New York Yankees could soon be adding to their impressive list of members in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. Becoming eligible for the first time in 2018 are Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones and Kerry Wood. They join Gary Sheffield, Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens as former players looking to attain baseball immortality.
Here’s a look back at their accomplishments in pinstripes and Hall of Fame chances:
Affectionately known as “Godzilla,” Matsui burst onto the scene in 2003. He started out with a bang, smashing a grand slam against the Minnesota Twins on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium in 2003. Matsui was also an AL All-Star and should’ve won AL Rookie of the Year. During the postseason he delivered a clutch double in the eighth inning rally against Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS, plus he became the first Japanese player to hit a home run in the World Series, homering off Mark Redman of the Florida Marlins in Game 2.
Matsui followed with an All-Star campaign in 2004 and hit a career-high 31 home runs. When the rest of the lineup stopped hitting during the 2004 ALCS, Matsui hit at a .412 clip.
A career .292 hitter with the Yankees and .312 in the playoffs, Matsui’s career culminated with a title and World Series MVP in 2009. Helping dethrone the Philadelphia Phillies, Matsui batted .615 with three home runs and eight-RBI, six of which came in the Game 6 clincher, tying a record held by former Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson.
While he had a late start to his career and didn’t reach his 50 homer heights from his days in Japan, Matsui was as clutch and beloved as they come in pinstripes.
Perhaps more known for his theatrics against the Yankees, Damon would’ve been a logical choice to replace Chuck Knoblauch atop the New York order in 2002 but eventually came to the team in 2006. Playing four seasons in the Bronx, Damon hit .285 with 77 home runs, 410 runs scored and 93 stolen bases.
During the 2009 postseason, Damon hit .300 in the ALCS against the Los Angeles Angels and .364 in the Fall Classic against the Phillies. His heads-up steal of second and third in the ninth inning of Game 4 was memorable in how hard he played the game.
It seemed as soon as he endeared himself to New York fans, Damon was gone just as fast. While some players have seen a signature moment vault them into the Hall, Damon’s 2,769 hits may render him slightly short of Cooperstown.
A premier defender in the prime of his career, Jones, who burst onto the scene as a teenager in the 1996 World Series, spent the last two seasons of his career in the Bronx. Jones was a five-time All-Star, ten-time gold glove winner and the NL home run champ with the Atlanta Braves in 2005.
With the Yankees, he was mostly relegated to the bench, batting .220 with 27 home runs.
While Jones’ Braves accolades and his overall career numbers on defense, coupled with 434 career home runs might be enough, one wonders how much he’ll be judged against what he could’ve been after signing a big contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Known best for his accolades with the Chicago Cubs, Wood spent the second half of 2010 with the Yankees. With Phil Hughes in the starting rotation, New York needed more stability in the setup role, behind closer Mariano Rivera. Acquired from the Cleveland Indians, Wood went 2-0, pitching to a 0.69 ERA with 31 K’s in 26.0 innings pitched.
Wood carried over his numbers to the postseason, pitching to a 1.50 ERA in the ALCS against the Texas Rangers.
Although injuries beset his career, the two-time All-Star and 1998 NL Rookie of the Year had a scaled down John Smoltz/Dennis Eckersley type career.