Every so often a player will come along in any sport, and set the world on fire. Big plays, clutch performances and wild finishes typically define these players, as they become the talk of the town upon emerging.
The latest player to set the world ablaze: New York Knicks’ point guard Jeremy Lin.
The 23-year-old phenom is a classic feel-good story. Lin was a nobody; just days away from being cut. When the Knicks were scuffling he was given a chance to play – and it’s safe to say he made the most of that opportunity.
Among some of his accomplishments, “Super Lin-tendo” outscored basketball god Kobe Bryant on Friday, netted the game-winning 3-point field goal vs. the Toronto Raptors last night, was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and became the first player in NBA history to score at least 20 points and record seven assists through his first four starts.
“Linsanity” has swept the nation. Even I have caught the fever. I bought this the other day:
Lin is on a roll, but keep in mind, he has only dominated a small number of games – six to be exact. He has certainly shown what he can do, seeing as how the Knicks are undefeated in the so-called “Lin Era.” The question has to be raised however:
Will Lin be a mainstay or just a flash in the pan?
After last night’s dramatics, Lin has me sold. I truly feel he will be a great player for a long time, as he has demonstrated remarkable ability to elevate his team. The Knicks were getting their faces rubbed in the dirt. Lin came along, picked them up, dusted them off, and made them relevant again.
This whole “Lin-credible” craze got me thinking about the Yankees: which Bombers came out of nowhere, made an immediate impact, and lifted the team?
Here are a few names that came to mind…
Never heard of Kevin Maas? Neither did I, until I began my research for this blog entry.
According to what I read, Maas was a first baseman who played for the Yankees from 1990-93. He crushed 10 homers in just 77 at-bats and finished his first season with 24 homers, playing in only 79 games.
A lot of people even went as far as saying Maas was going to be Don Mattingly’s heir.
But it all declined for him. His numbers slowly but surely decreased as the time passed. Despite clubbing 23 homers in ’91, he hit just .220 in 148 games. He only hit 11 homers the following year and nine the year after.
Maas eventually went to the Minnesota Twins in 1995 and was cut after only 22 games. I suppose he will just remain an anomaly; a one-hit wonder who set the baseball world aglow literally right before I started following the Yankees.
I’m actually very surprised I didn’t know about him until today.
In September of 1998, a 26-year-old outfielder who tore apart the minor leagues was called up to the show. Shane Spencer, who in 1997 hit 30 homers and knocked in 86 runs for the Columbus Clippers (the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate at the time), took New York by storm.
Unexpectedly, Spencer smacked 10 home runs in the month of September, in only 67 at-bats. Of those 10 homers, three of them came with the bases loaded. A lot of the veteran Yankee players and fans were right behind Spencer, on the edge of their seats every time he stepped up to the plate.
Much like the barrage of Lin nicknames, fans in the crowd held signs that read,
“Shane Brings da Pain!” Not to mention even the Sports Illustrated recognized his outburst.
Unfortunately for Spencer, in a lot of ways, he was just a one-hit wonder. Aside from his spectacular “September to Remember” he didn’t accomplish much else of note, save for a few accolades. Spencer did collect three World Series rings, being with the Yanks from ’98-00, and hit two home runs in the ‘98 ALDS vs. Texas.
He also smacked a home run in the 2001 Fall Classic vs. Arizona, while only securing a .222 batting average in eight postseason series.
It’s kind of sad what happened to him after the hype vanished. Spencer got in some off-the-field trouble for drunk driving and reports surfaced that he had problems with the Florida police around Spring Training, 2004.
Nevertheless, his late-season spark of the ‘98 Yankees may never be forgotten by the most devout pinstripe faithful.
In 2005 the Yankees were coming off arguably the worst time in their franchise history. The 2004 Boston Red Sox rallied back from an 0-3 ALCS deficit to not only beat them, but also embarrass them.
Boston made history. The Yankees became history.
The following season however, the Bombers re-tooled by signing the overpowering southpaw Randy Johnson, as a lack of solid starting pitching was cited as their 2004 playoff downfall.
But the Big Unit couldn’t do it all by himself. Other starters had to step up.
Cue Aaron Small, a 34-year-old right-handed journeyman. Small had stints with six other ball clubs before finding his way to the Bronx. He emerged at just the right time, filling a hole in an injury-ravaged starting rotation. He made his first start on July 20, 2005, beating the Texas Rangers.
Small would go on to win 10 games in 2005 – without ever losing. In fact, he became the first Yankee to win his first nine decisions since Tommy John (1979) and just the fourth player in MLB history to win 10 games without recording a loss.
He turned Yankee Stadium into “Smallville,” I guess you could say.
The Yankees began the ’05 season with a lopsided 11-19 record through their first 30 games. Considering where they were, it’s not crazy to say Small played a huge role in terms of getting his team back into the playoff hunt.
Much like Spencer, Small’s success didn’t last. He recorded the loss in Game 3 of the 2005 ALDS vs. the Los Angeles Angels, and went on to go 0-3 in three starts for the Yanks in 2006. Small was designated for assignment on June 17, 2006 and signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2007 season.
He was released by the Mariners in May and shortly after called it a career.
Small’s contribution in ’05 was remembered by the Yankee brass, as he has been honored at two Old Timer’s Days (2008, 2011). Before his appearance at Old Timer’s Day ’08, Small won a battle with encephalitis, which had put him in a coma for eight days.
To me, Small will always be remembered as a winner; a player who stepped up when everyone else was struggling. If you ask me, by no means is that a bad way to be remembered.
Much like Small, Shawn Chacon emerged at the right time. The Yanks’ starting rotation in ‘05 was in disarray and the starters needed to step it up. The 28-year-old righty was having a rough go of it in Colorado, going 1-7 for the Rockies before being dealt to the Yanks for minor leaguers Ramon Ramirez and Eduardo Sierra.
He came to the Yankees with low expectations, but went above and beyond what anyone could have hoped for. Right from the get-go Chacon made a splash, tossing six innings without surrendering a run to the Angels in his first start in pinstripes. Although he didn’t get the decision, the Yanks beat the Halos behind Chacon, 8-7.
Chacon ended 2005 with a 7-3 record for New York while notching a 2.85 ERA. He also picked up Small, winning Game 4 of the ALDS vs. the Angels. The Yanks went on to lose the ALDS, yet many baseball analysts felt Chacon was going to continue to pitch well in 2006, and become a key member of the Yankee rotation.
Not so much.
He started ’06 off slowly, though he began to pick up the pace in late April. Chacon started the infamous “Crazy Tuesday vs. Texas” game, giving up seven runs to the Rangers – a game Jorge Posada eventually won in dramatic fashion for New York. He eventually landed himself on the disabled list, and after a brutal game vs. the Cleveland Indians on July 4, was sent to the bullpen.
By the 2006 trade deadline Chacon was swapped for Pirates’ left-handed bat Craig Wilson, thus ending his Yankee tenure. He was last seen pitching for the Houston Astros in 2008 and to my knowledge is not currently signed by any MLB team.
My best memory of Chacon actually came in virtual reality. I was throwing a perfect game with him in MLB 2006 for PlayStation 2. It didn’t end well. You can read more about that sad story here, if you’d like.
The 2007 baseball season was mostly known for one thing: the unrealistic, clutch season that belonged to third baseman Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod put the Yankee team on his back and carried them to win after win, hitting unfathomably long home runs that would have probably left Mickey Mantle in disbelief.
But midway through the year a career minor leaguer came up by the name of Shelley Duncan. At the time his father Dave was the pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. His brother Chris was an outfielder, also with the Cards.
A second generation player, Duncan was called to the show on July 20, 2007 and ignited the Yankees. In his first game, he recorded his first hit and his first RBI against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The next day he crushed his first home run, and then followed with a multi-home run performance the day after.
Duncan became such a fan-favorite for his enthusiasm. He would give hard high-fives to his teammates and even injured clubhouse reporter Kim Jones, smacking her hand as hard as he could in celebration of a Yankee win during a postgame interview.
A website even surfaced: Shelley Duncan Facts, a play off the famous “Chuck Norris Facts” site.
At the end of ’07, Duncan had 19 hits in 34 at-bats, including seven home runs on his ledger. He registered 17 RBIs while securing a .257 batting average and an on-base percentage of .329.
Did “Duncan-Mania” survive? No, it didn’t.
In 2008 Duncan had just one homer in 57 at-bats for the Yanks and batted a measly .175 through 23 games. He was reassigned to the minors and never really became what the Yankees might have hoped for; never made the same amount of noise he made throughout the second half of 2007.
Before 2010 Duncan signed with the Cleveland Indians, where he is today.
Unlike the other players on the list, Joba Chamberlain still has a chance to shed his status as a flash in the pan. The 26-year-old right-handed hurler has life left in him, but only time will tell if he can go back to what he was when he was first called up.
Go back to August of 2007 for a second. Chamberlain made his MLB debut in a game the Yanks played vs. the Toronto Blue Jays, fanning the first batter he faced. He went on to throw two scoreless frames in a Yankee win.
But the brass didn’t want to ruin his arm at such a young age. Being only 22 years old at the time, the Yankees put him on the “Joba Rules” – a system which didn’t allow Chamberlain to pitch on consecutive days, and if he pitched in multiple innings, he would have that many days off.
For example, if he tossed two innings, he wouldn’t be available pitch again for another two days.
Chamberlain finished the ’07 regular season with a tiny ERA of 0.38 out of the ‘pen, getting all of the Yankee fans behind him. Whenever he raced in from the bullpen, the crowd would go absolutely bananas.
And he was just as fired up.
After every strikeout, Chamberlain would aggressively pump his fists, charged up by the emotion of the moment. Unfortunately he was the victim of a vicious attack by midges in Cleveland during the ’07 ALDS vs. the Indians, a series the Yanks went on to lose.
From there, it’s extremely difficult to describe what happened to Chamberlain. Under new manager Joe Girardi in 2008, he began the season in a relief role then was made into a starter. He only made one noteworthy start in ’08, a brilliant nine-strikeout performance in Boston, outdueling Josh Beckett in a 1-0 Yankee win.
Not long after that game, Chamberlain injured his shoulder, and was placed on the 15-day DL. When he came back he was a reliever again. His role was just never defined – and it got even more confusing in 2009.
Beginning the season as one of the starting five, the “Joba Rules” were rewritten to accommodate the rotation. Girardi would only pitch Chamberlain for a few innings, and then when applicable, would use him on six days rest. It seemed to disrupt his mental balance, to say the least.
The Yanks thought about demoting him to the minors and leaving him off the postseason roster, but ultimately decided to keep him. During the playoffs he took on the role of reliever yet again, and captured a Game 4 victory over the Phillies in the ‘09 Fall Classic.
A good end to a rather turbulent season.
Since then Chamberlain has not made a start. In 2010 he went 3-4 out of the bullpen with a 4.40 ERA, and opponents hit .429 off him. On a light note, his strikeout total went up, as he K’d 77 batters in 71 2/3 innings pitched.
Despite a 2-0 record with a 2.83 ERA this past year, 2011 marked another setback period for Chamberlain. He was sidelined with a torn ligament in his throwing arm in June, ending his season and forcing him to undergo Tommy John Surgery.
This off-season the Yankees and Chamberlain agreed on a one-year contract worth $1.675 million. With that in mind, this could be his last chance to keep wearing the pinstripes. If he continues to scuffle and his arm problems draw on, I don’t see the Yankees holding onto him beyond 2012.
However, if he can rekindle that spark – the spark he lit in 2007 – he will be fine.
To Chamberlain, I can only say good luck and I hope it works out for him. To the rest of the players on this list, I guess I can only say one thing:
It was fun while it lasted.