The past week felt like the “Bizarro Yankees” world. (Thank you Superman and Seinfeld.) For the first time in the Steinbrenner era, the Yankees were big-time sellers at the MLB trade deadline. Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Ivan Nova were all sent to new homes.
In contrast, the 1996 Yankees were big-time buyers on their way to their first championship in nearly 20 years. One of the players the team brought in was a former Yankees third baseman Charlie Hayes.
One of the lasting memories of that magical season was the final out of the World Series. Mark Lemke’s foul pop nestled neatly in Hayes’ glove and he squeezed it tightly for the third and final out in the 9th inning. To help commemorate the 20th anniversary of the championship team, I spoke with Charlie Hayes about the 1996 squad, his sons, and what the future holds.
BP: There are a lot of Yankees fans that don’t realize you were with the team in 1992 and then you were lost in the expansion draft. At the time Colorado drafted you, were you upset about leaving New York or did you think it was a great opportunity to be an original member of the Rockies?
CH: I wouldn’t say upset but I was surprised. Buck Showalter had told me that I had a good year considering that we didn’t win. It was an honor to be selected to play in Colorado. Plus, it gave me confidence to be a better player and work harder, because in this game you can do good but still get traded.
BP: When you went to bed on August 29, 1996, your Pittsburgh Pirates were in last place in the NL Central. When you turned in the next night, you were on the New York Yankees and held a four game lead in the AL East. What was that like going from worst to first and suddenly being part of a pennant race? How did you feel about going back to play in New York?
CH: The people there (Pittsburgh) taught me what blue collar was. “The Grind with no excuses”. Jim Leyland was awesome. He let you go play.
That night I went to sleep thinking about how and what I needed to do to help the team more going forward. I graded myself after each game to be a positive each night rather than a negative. Later to find out that I had been traded to the Yankees. My mind was going fast. First, thinking “why?” They had Mr. (Wade) Boggs. Plus I loved Pittsburgh. Then I thought about what an opportunity it was to get to be in a pennant race. We all want to win a ring.
BP: Your play was pivotal down the stretch in 1996 – 13 RBI in 20 games. Did the team’s attitude change at all in the clubhouse once the double-digit lead in the AL East was down to 2.5 games in mid-September?
CH: We had a good group of guys in that clubhouse – everyone liked each other and all made sacrifices to do whatever it took. 25 strong. As Mr. (Mariano) Duncan said, “We play today. We win today…Das It.”
BP: You had never been in the postseason in the first eight years of your career. On September 25, 1996 the Yankees clinched the division. What was that like for you?
CH: I was excited. Finally getting to see what playoff ball was all about. I liked it.
BP: The Yankees beat the Rangers and the Orioles to reach the World Series for the first time in 15 years. Then you dropped the first two games at home to Atlanta. Joe Torre is famously quoted as telling George Steinbrenner, “…But we’ll go to Atlanta, we’ll win three there, and I’ll come back and win it for you on Saturday night.” But what was the clubhouse like? Was it still positive? Did any players fire the team up with a speech?
CH: Like I said, we were a TEAM, 25 strong. The Braves jumped on us, but we knew we hadn’t played YANKEE ball. Going to Atlanta I think was a good place for us. Less responsibilities. No speeches.
BP: The Yankees were up 3-1 in the 7th inning of Game 6 when you entered the game for defensive purposes. How far ahead of time did you know you were going to enter the game, and how did you prepare to come in off the bench?
CH: My routine never changed. Every inning that you are not playing you do something to stay ready for when an opportunity may come up.
BP: Every kid who has ever played baseball dreams of getting the game-winning hit or making a spectacular play to end the game. The Yankees were up 3-2 in the 9th with closer John Wetteland on the mound. One run had already scored and the Braves had two men on and two men out.
Mark Lemke hit a pop up in foul territory for what could have been the final out. You and Joe Girardi gave chase, but the ball ticked off the end of your glove, and you and the ball fell into the Braves’ dugout. When you got back in position were you still focusing on how close you had been to ending the game or were you immediately focused on the next pitch?
CH: The next pitch.
BP: Lemke gave you another shot with another foul pop. This time you had plenty of room and you squeezed your glove around the baseball for the final out. Pandemonium in the Bronx. In that moment, did you even think of anything or were you just overwhelmed by sheer joy?
CH: Happy for first time…last TEAM standing. Ring! Underdogs did it.
BP: Twenty years later, there are more Hayes men trying to make it in the Major Leagues. Your son, Tyree, played in the Rays’ and Reds’ organizations and your son Ke’Bryan was a first round draft pick of the Pirates last year. How easy or difficult is it to watch your sons try to make it to The Show?
CH: As a parent you always want your kids to be successful, so it’s nerve-wracking just watching. But they know I’m there if they have questions. I, for the most part, stay out of the way and keep my mouth closed. They know what it takes.
BP: The Yankees’ 2016 first-round draft pick, Blake Rutherford, played with your son Ke’Bryan on the 2014 18U National Team. What can you tell us about him?
CH: Very good player, even better person. Great family.
BP: You’ve given a lot back to the game since you retired. You and your son, Charlie Jr., run the Big League Baseball Academy in Texas. Do you have the desire to manage or coach in the Major or minor leagues at some point?
CH: I hope to get back into ball at that level soon. If it happens that would be great, but I’m enjoying what I’m doing and would be content with that.
Bronx Pinstripes would like to thank Charlie Hayes for taking some time out to reflect on the past, and talk about the present and future. Be sure to take a look at our daily series, “Relive 96“, and tune in or listen to Yankees baseball on August 13, when the Yankees celebrate the 20th anniversary of the great 1996 squad.