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The Bizarro Yankees

The Bizarro Yankees: loosely defined, they are the complete opposite of the New York Yankees. They live in the backwards, Bizarro World – up is down and down is up. They say hello when they leave and goodbye when they arrive. Common misconception: Bizarro World goers say badbye when they leave, but that is wrong… don’t be fooled. Refer to this link if you are utterly confused from what you just read.

As a 28-year old Yankees fan I am extremely fortunate to have rooted for a team that has been a “winner” — i.e. finished above .500 — for my entire baseball-watching life. Since 1996, the unofficial start to my fandom, the Yankees have 110 more wins than the Atlanta Braves, baseball’s second best team by win percentage over that span. That is a season-plus worth of dominant baseball wins.

Despite their success, the Yankees are not immune to trotting-out bizarre, some may call them obscure, players. In fact, it probably makes their success that much more remarkable. Throughout the years I have been rooting, the Yanks have had some doozies. Let’s take a look:

C, Ivan Rodriguez: 2008

Pudge, the only (soon-to-be) Hall of Famer on this list, came to New York at the 2008 trade deadline after Jorge Posada went down with a shoulder injury on July 21. The initial signs that we were entering the Bizarro World was Posada’s trip to the DL. It was the first of his career — an amazing fact considering Posada averaged 130 games behind the dish from 1998 to 2007.

Jorge was coming off his best year when he finished 6th in the 2007 MVP voting with a .970 OPS. To fill the massive void left at catcher, Cashman acquired Pudge Rodriguez on July 30 in exchange for the reviled Kyle Farnsworth.

The deal made sense at the time; the Yankees needed a catcher and Pudge was having another steady season in Detroit. Farsnworth, ever erratic, was expendable because the Yankees had built a solid bullpen around Mariano Rivera and the on-again off-again reliever Joba Chamberlain.

Yankees fans quickly learned that it is next to impossible to plug-in a new starting catcher during a season’s final stretch. Pudge never got going, hitting just .219/.257/.323 (career lows for any team throughout his career) in 33 games. In addition to his unimpressive box scores, he just looked wrong in Yankee pinstripes.

I remember the narrative that Pudge was proud to be a Yankee because growing up in Puerto Rico the Yankees were a representation of American baseball. But Pudge was not a Yankee. He was a hated foe with Texas, Florida, and then Detroit.

1B, Andy Phillips: 2006

By 2006, Jason Giambi was just about the worst fielding first baseman in baseball. He could barely move, and when he did stumble his way into fielding a ball, you prayed he did not have to throw to a base because it had a better than 50-50 chance of not reaching it’s intended destination. His only saving grace was that he could still mash — Giambi belted 37 homers with a .413 OBP as the Yankees DH in ’06.

Giambi’s ineptitude at 1B is what allowed us to enter the Bizarro World. Andy Phillips debuted for the Yankees in 2004 and played sporadically in 2005 before becoming their primary first baseman in 2006. That season he played 110 games, 94 of which were at 1B. NINETY FOUR Yankees games that featured a guy with 2 first names. If that’s not bizarro, I don’t know what is.

Phillips had all the makings of a feel good story — scrappy ballplayer fights his way through the minors to finally break through and play a key position for the New York Yankees — if not for the delusion that Andy Phillips actually had a future on the team. Phillips was never going to be the Yankees everyday first baseman, which is why they brought in Doug Mientkiewicz (runner-up bizarro first baseman) the following season.

2B, Tony Womack: 2005

The Yankees traded-away second baseman Alfonso Soriano following the 2003 season (I can’t seem to remember who they got in return for some reason). Miguel Cairo was a nice stopgap at 2B in 2004; he batted .292 in over 400 plate appearances. Brian Cashman knew the team had to get better at 2B, which is why they signed Tony Womack to a one-year deal (which immediately drudged-up bad 2001 memories). When it was clear Womack’s career was toast, the Yankees called up rookie Robinson Cano on May 3, 2005.

We all know what Cano went on to do as a Yankee, but what makes Womack so bizarro is that the Yankees brought him in to be their primary second baseman and leadoff hitter in ’05. It’s as if they had no clue they had an MVP-caliber second baseman lurking in the minors.

Have you noticed anything these players have in common yet?

3B, Eric Chavez: 2012

Chavez started 88 games (including 6 in the postseason) at third base for the Yankees in the two seasons he was in NY. Why is this bizarro? Well, the Yankees had another pretty famous third baseman on the roster during that time, yet Chavez continued to get playing time.

Chavez had a resurgence with the Yankees. In 2012 he hit .281/.348/.496, arguably his best season since 2005. He went on to finish his career in Arizona, having played just the right amount of time with the Yankees to solidify his place in the Bizarro World.

SS, Eduardo Nunez: 2013

By now you should have noticed, right? So far every player on this list wore number 12. I wasn’t even trying to seek out number 12’s, it just happened. Like water finding it’s level, bizarro Yankees wear number 12. It is their destiny. Further proof that the Bizarro World is real, and it is spectacular.

Nunez only wore number 12 during his rookie season, 2010. I wouldn’t call him a Yankees shortstop at that time since Derek Jeter had the position under lock. But three years later when Jeter was hobbled, Nunez batted second and played shortstop on Opening Day 2013. It was as if Joe Girardi erased Derek Jeter’s name, scribbled Eduardo Nunez’s, and went on with his merry day in the Bizarro World.

What cements Nuney’s place in Yankees bizarro lore is that he went on to Minnesota where in 2016 he hit .296 and represented the Twins in the All Star Game. You read that right. Eduardo Nunez, whose Yankees legacy can be summed-up with a lone helmet on the infield dirt, was an All Star. Up is down, down is up.

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LF, Vernon Wells: 2013

2013 was officially the year of bizarro. It was the saddest collection of Yankees in my lifetime. I mean, just look at this roster.

Vernon Wells, fresh off two disappointing seasons in Anaheim after Toronto discarded him, was one of the many flyers Brian Cashman signed before the 2013 season. April was kind to Vernon, who slashed .300/.366/.544 for the month, seemingly rejuvenated by the Yankee pinstripes. His season quickly went south, making 2013 his last in the majors.

Oh, by the way, Wells wore number 12 before changing it mid-season after the Yankees traded for old friend Alfonso Soriano. Sori, who wore 12 from 2000-03, put an end to the Twilight Zone nightmare that was the number 12.

Wait a minute. I just realized who currently wears number 12 for the Yankees…

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CF, Bubba Crosby: 2005

First of all, Bubba Crosby is a great baseball name.

When you think centerfield for the New York Yankees, you think Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer, and Bernie Williams. Towards the end of Bernie’s career, when it was evident he could no longer man the position, things got weird. Enter: Bubba Crosby.

Bubba, listed at an inflated 5’11” actually started 26 games for the Yankees over 3 seasons. That may not sound like much, but he is the equivalent of Drew Henson starting at Quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. What, that actually happened? Never mind.

RF, Raul Mondesi: 2002

The Yankees struggled to replace fan-favorite Paul O’Neill after he retired following the 2001 season. Joe Torre used a revolving door of right fielders like Shane Spencer, Juan Rivera, and John Vander Wal (who?) before acquiring Mondesi from Toronto. Incidentally, it marks the most recent trade between the Yankees and Blue Jays, which is why rumors of Brett Gardner being traded to Toronto is unlikely.

Mondesi, the former Rookie of the Year, was mediocre in New York. His .777 OPS was certainly not worth rumored clubhouse issues, and the Yankees quickly moved on from Raul at the 2003 trade deadline when they shipped him to Arizona. Mondesi was a minor blip on the Yankees outfield radar, forever present in the Bizarro World.

P, Aaron Small: 2005

Aaron Small in 2005 was so ineffable, so celestial, so impossible to explain that if I were not there to see it myself, I would not believe it really happened.

Aaron ‘the chin’ Small started 15 games for the Yankees and went 10-0 with a 3.20 ERA. Without him, the Yankees probably miss the postseason. In his previous 7 big league seasons over 10 years, Small’s ERA was 5.49. But as it turns out, history doesn’t matter in the Bizarro World.

The chariot turned back into a pumpkin for Small in the Division Series vs Anaheim. He started, got shelled, and only pitched 27 more major league innings before disappearing into the abyss.

That is how things go in the Bizarro World. Trying to understand it or predict it is foolish. Just accept it for what it is and enjoy that you were able to witness it.

 

Follow me on Twitter @Andrew_Rotondi.

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