There are many players who have donned the New York Yankees’ pinstripes over the years. Some reached the Hall of Fame (Ivan Rodriguez), others, the Hall of Shame (Jose Canseco). There have been enemies (Kevin Youkilis) and some who turned out to be friends (Ichiro Suzuki). And, there have been plenty who when you’re told they once played in the Bronx, make you think, “He was a Yankee?” Those are the players that we will be taking a look at today.
He was a Yankee? – Kong
Dave “Kong” Kingman slugged 442 home runs in a 16-year career. Arguably, he’s best known for playing for the San Francisco Giants, New York Mets and Chicago Cubs. But, in mid-September 1977 he put on the interlocking NY as a member of the Yankees.
A loss to Boston on Sept. 15 saw the Yankees’ AL East lead shrink to 2.5 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. Feeling the need for some insurance for the final 15 games of the season, the Yankees acquired Kingman from the California Angels for pitcher Randy Stein and cash.
It had been a very eventful season for Kingman; the Yankees were the fourth different team he played for. He had started out the year as a member of the Mets before being dealt to the San Diego Padres for one Bobby Valentine and pitcher Paul Siebert.
On Sept. 6, the Padres plucked Kingman off of waivers and nine days later sent him back to New York, but this time on the other side of the Hudson.
Kingman appeared in eight games and delivered in his usual Kong-like way – 6-27, with all hits being for extra bases (four HR, two doubles), 7 RBI, 2 BB, 13 K, and a .250/.333/.833 slash line.
The Yankees finished 10-5 to win the division by 2.5 games and went on to capture their first World Series title since 1962.
Kingman, who would have fit right into the approach of today’s game with launch angles, exit velocity, and strikeouts, spent nine more seasons in the Major Leagues (three years each with the Cubs, Mets, and Oakland A’s). Kong was better than a lot of today’s sluggers, only twice striking out more than 150 times in a season.
He led the NL in home runs twice, including 48 dingers for the Cubs in 1979, and hit 35 home runs in his final season in the Majors.
Now you see him, now you don’t
The Mets’ Jesse Orosco can be seen in old World Series highlights, joyously throwing his glove in the air as he closed out the Red Sox to capture the 1986 World Series. The lefty reliever stuck around a long time after that. In fact, he holds the Major League record with 1,252 pitching appearances. 15 of those appearances came as a member of the 2003 Yankees.
In an effort to bolster the bullpen, the Yankees picked him up from the Padres on July 22 for a player to be named later. The ’03 Yanks were headed to a World Series, but not with Orosco on board.
At one time, Orosco was among the best relievers off all time, but when he became a Yankee he was 46-years old and his performance reflected it.
Orosco faced just 24 batters in his role as a lefty specialist. In 4.1 innings pitched, he allowed five earned runs, four hits, walked six and struck out four.
40 days after joining the team, Orosco was dealt to the Minnesota Twins for Juan Padilla.
Mr. AL East
Did the Orioles hate Eric Hinske? After all, the guy played for the Toronto Blue Jays, Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, and Yankees in a 12-year career. The Orioles were the only AL East team that Hinske never played for. What gives?
Hinske’s timing may have been one of the best features of his game. He won a World Series ring as a member of the 2007 Red Sox, went on to the World Series as a member of the Rays in 2008, and a year later found himself on the Yankees.
The 2009 Yankees were a team of destiny, one that captured the franchise’s 27th World Championship in its first year in the new Yankee Stadium.
And, Hinske became a part of the team on June 30, when the Pittsburgh Pirates sent him to the Bronx for Casey Erickson and Erick Fryer.
The 2002 AL Rookie of the Year played both corner outfield positions for the Yankees as well as his original position at the “hot corner.” His batting average (.226) and on-base percentage (.316) were pedestrian numbers, but 10 of his 19 hits were for extra bases (7 HR, 3 doubles), resulting in a .512 slugging percentage.
After making no appearances in the AL Division or Championship Series, Hinske pinch-hit for David Robertson in the fifth inning of a Game 5 8-6 loss. He drew a walk and eventually came around to score on Johnny Damon’s RBI ground out, to make it a 6-2 ballgame.
Two World Series rings for a player that accumulated only four plate appearances in three World Series. Not a bad way to make a living.
Hinske’s final season came as a member of the Atlanta Braves (in the NL East this time) in 2010. The Braves didn’t make it to the World Series, but Hinske once again found himself in the playoffs.
Stay tuned for future episodes of “He was a Yankee?”