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2012 Bench Reminiscent of ’96

In 1996, the Yankees went to the World Series for the first time in 15 years. A team with a mix of youth and veteran leadership, the team persevered against a heavy favorite Atlanta Braves team in six games, culminating in a World Series Championship in the Bronx, the first since 1978. That year, especially in the postseason, the Yankees called on veteran bench players to deliver. Manager Joe Torre pushed all the right buttons as everything he touched turned to gold. This year’s version of the Yankees hopes to do the same thing. The bench has played an important role all season, and Joe Girardi hopes that continues in the fall.

Now I’m not saying in any way shape or form that the following players from 1996 and 2012 are the same. However, their roles are very similar and their experience is of equal value to the team. Both managers, Torre and Girardi, used their resources in a good way. How will 2012 end up?

In 1996, the Yankees had Wade Boggs at third base, an eventual hall-of-famer and 3,000 hit club member. Boggs hit .311 in 574 plate appearances that year. New York acquired Charlie Hayes, a third basemen from Pittsburgh, to help platoon against righties and lefties. Hayes hit .284 with two homers in 67 at-bats the rest of the year for New York. Whenever Torre felt like benching Boggs, he could easily plug in Hayes and not miss a beat, since Boggs was toward the end of his career. Hayes and Boggs split time in the postseason that year: Boggs with 38 at-bats, Hayes with 43. Boggs hit .279 in the World Series and had some huge at-bats, while Hayes was a good righty-bat to have in the lineup. He made the last out of the World Series, catching a foul-pop off Braves’ Mark Lemke.

In 2012, Alex Rodriguez of course has gone down with an injury and won’t be due back until probably mid to late September, but fear not. Joe Girardi has plugged in Eric Chavez against righties, Casey McGehee for lefties. Chavez is a former all-star and Gold Glove winner with valuable postseason experience, while McGehee finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2009 with a .301 average, 16 homers and 66 RBI. Chavez is hitting .300 with 13 homers and 31 RBI in only 202 at-bats this season. As the postseason nears, Girardi will have a nice problem to have deciding on who plays third and who get to DH against a lefty or righty.

In ’96, the Yankees had a platooned left field with the likes of Tim Raines and Daryl Strawberry; Raines known for his defense and speed, Strawberry known for his immense lightower power. Raines played in just 59 games that season, having just come over from the Chicago White Sox. Raines had 45 at-bats in the playoffs while Strawberry had 33. Strawberry hit .417 in that year’s ALCS with three homers and five RBI.

This year, with Brett Gardner sidelined with an injury, the Yankees used Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones in left. At the deadline, they acquired future hall-of-famer Ichiro Suzuki to help out in left with Jones. Ichiro will play mostly against righties, while Jones will hit against lefties. Jones is a multiple Gold Glove winner and all-star, as is Ichiro. While Ichiro has the speed and defense still, he is not what he was offensively. With Jones of course, you have a pure fastball hitter able to take a pitcher out of the park. It will be interesting to see how Girardi uses these guys come playoff time.

Another big acquisition in ’96 was Cecil Fielder. A perennial power hitter, Fielder was acquired at the deadline from the Tigers and ended up hitting a combined 39 homers between New York and Detroit. Fielder was the primary DH, and even played first base in the World Series in place of a struggling Tino Martinez. Fielder hit .391 in the World Series, with two doubles and two RBI.

Raul Ibanez has been the DH this year quite a bit against right handed pitchers. He came to the Yankees in the offseason from Philadelphia where he was an all-star. Ibanez is hitting .246 with 15 homers and 51 RBI. He’s arguably been one of the Yankees’ most clutch hitters this season. He is a dangerous hitter for Girardi and the Yanks late in big situations.

In 1996, the Yankees had Luis Sojo as their utility guy. This year, it seems as if it’s become Jayson Nix, who had a big hit against the Red Sox on Friday night. Both players were/are valuable to their team in the sense that they can fill in anywhere and do a solid job.

Like Joe Torre did in 1996, Joe Girardi will have a lot of options and matchups to look at in the playoffs. If the results are anything like they were in ’96, the Yankees and their fans should be happy.

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