Each week I look back through my baseball card collection and remember past Bombers and memorable moments.
Player: Domingo Jean
Set: 1994 Score
Card #: 256
If you happened to be mired in George Washington Bridge traffic on the sun-soaked morning of August 14, 1993, you may have witnessed a lithe Dominican man rocketing down the sidewalk in abject panic. Had you seen him, you likely wouldn’t have thought to yourself, “I wonder if that guy’s pitching at the Stadium today…”
But he was, and thus begins the Ballad of Domingo Jean.
Jean arrived in the Bronx in January 1992, a part of the White Sox package sent over in exchange for Steve Sax. He split the ’92 season between Class-A Fort Lauderdale and Class-AA Albany-Colonie and made three minor league stops in ’93 before his major league debut on August 8 in Minnesota, a no decision. On August 14 he was scheduled to make his second major league start, on Reggie Jackson day, with 52,598 swelling the ol’ ballpark, in the heat of a division race.
Numerous questions swirled around the humid Bronx air that morning. Would the Yanks keep pace with first place Toronto? Could Mattingly continue his surprising power resurgence? Would the rookie pitcher “toeing the slab in the Boogie Down Bronx”–as David Cone might put it–subdue a Baltimore lineup that lurked just 2.5 games back in the standings? A question that was not bouncing around the el train, or the corner hot dog cart, or Stan’s Sports Bar that morning was whether or not that pitcher would even show up.
The answer to that unasked question was still in doubt as poor Domingo Jean pounded the pavement 212 feet above the Hudson River.
Jean’s odyssey began at around 10 a.m. in Englewood, N.J. when he stepped out of a hotel and into a cab, four hours ahead of his 2 p.m. start. Jean’s pace was likely unhurried since the distance between his hotel and his venerated office was a mere 7 miles–a 20 minute ride most days. A brisk walk would have gotten him there in plenty of time. Perhaps he even paused to relish a warm inhale of morning air, nervous energy charging through him as he considered taking that fabled mound of clay for the first time. But the eternal and unrelenting quicksand that is the George Washington Bridge looked upon his conservative arrival time and laughed derisively.
Just 3.5 miles into their trip, Jean and his yellow, coughing steed slammed into a wall of tail lights that choked the entrance to New York. The minutes ticked by and as his fare mounted, Jean nervously fingered the $50 he had in his pocket, and decided it prudent to alert the cab driver to his true identity, lest the cost of the ride outpace his present means. The conversation went as you might expect.
“I told the driver who I was,” Jean told the New York Times after the game. “He said he didn’t believe me.”
So, our Clark Kent remained hopelessly cloaked in his street clothes. But as the meter approached the $50 mark and the minutes toward his scheduled start accelerated forward, he stepped out of the cab on the Jersey side of the bridge to race toward his true identity and a metropolis in need of a victory. After charging across the nearly mile-long span of concrete and metal, the man described as “fiercely competitive” on the back of his 1994 Score card frantically searched nearby houses for someone who could take him the rest of the way. That’s how a man identified only as “Chino from Venezuela” came to occupy the strange and esteemed footnotes of Yankee history beside Jeffrey Maier, Dave Winfield’s seagull, and a 17-man bowling squad. The Good SamarVenezuelan dropped Jean near the ballpark and he ran the rest of the way, arriving just 45 minutes before his start.
After the dust cleared from the celebration of Reggie’s recent Hall of Fame induction–which saw his number 44 become the 13th retired by the Yankees–Jean pitched a clean first inning, needing just 11 pitches to induce a trio of ground outs from Brady Anderson, Mark McLemore, and Mike Devereaux. He labored a bit more in the second, walking Ripken and Tim Hulett, before Harold Reynolds flew out to left. Jean may have considered adding a GW Bridge jog to his pregame routine after retiring the O’s in order in the third and registering a pair of ground outs to open the fourth. Cal broke up the no-hitter with a two-strike infield single before Jean walked the bases loaded, but Reynolds lined out on the first pitch as Jean ended the inning unscathed.
In the fifth, Jean earned two quick outs but a McLemore single preceded a Devereaux home run to left center that put the Bombers in a 2-0 hole. Jean finished the fifth before giving way to that classic Yankees bullpen juggernaut of Monteleone-Assenmacher-Wickman-Farr, who, courtesy of RBI singles from Mattingly, Pat Kelly, and Mike Gallego, secured a key 4-2 win that kept the Yanks tied with the Jays atop the AL East.
Considering his harried moments before the game, Jean’s performance is pretty remarkable. Though he fired just 41 strikes in his 85 pitches, walking four, he got several key outs to stem rallies and stop bleeding in front of the second largest crowd of the season. I hope he had some moments after the game, in a quiet corner of the clubhouse, perhaps in the manner of the photo adorning the back of 1994 Score #256, to look into the distance, scratch his head, and ask himself, “What the hell just happened?” He finished the season 1-1 with a 4.46 ERA before shipping down to Houston that November, tragically 24 years shy of reveling in the self-loathing mirth of a stolen World Series.
Aside from his bridge jaunt, Jean also occupies a place in Yankee history for being the last Bomber to don #42 before a converted shortstop with a mystifying cutter took up Jackie’s mantle in 1995.