Our next Pinch Hitter, Vincent Capone, wants to stress that, although he first became a Yankees fan in 1996 – he was 8 years old at the time – his allegiance was set before the team upset the Braves and won the World Series. Vincent’s father was a baseball coach, but Vincent wrote, “My mom was the first one to teach me to throw and hit. When I was 6, I started going to my dad’s high school games and practices. When I learned to keep the scorebook, Mom and I became Dad’s official scorekeepers and we were at every game together. Our greatest achievement was in 2001 when Dad and I got Mom to follow the Yankees as closely as we did.”
Vincent is currently a real estate agent and an aspiring novelist. He’s still a volunteer baseball coach and writes postgame reports for a local high school sports website. For his post, a guy who got used to the numbers of a scorebook wrote about the numbers on the players’ jerseys.
People seem to have an inherent love for underdogs. When I was eight years old growing up in Hamilton, New Jersey, my barely-developing baseball loyalties lay with the … wait for it … Atlanta Braves.
When I was young, my mother and I would take annual trips to visit my grandparents in Newnan, Ga. Driving past Atlanta Fulton County Stadium on the way there and watching Braves games on TV with my grandfather were enough for me to support the perpetually victorious Bravos, who were fresh off their 1995 World Series title.
There was just one problem. In 1996, I learned that there was an upstart baseball team that played its home games a mere 60 miles away from where I lived. Despite a postseason berth in 1995, this team had come out of nowhere and seemed to have no shot against mighty Atlanta in the ’96 World Series. Naturally, my 8-year-old sense of justice was aroused; I thought it was pretty unfair that nobody was giving these New York Yankees a shot. It was then I decided to root for the team with the teen idol shortstop, the soft-spoken “clueless” manager and the blowhard owner.
Ironically enough, that was probably the last time that the words “underdog” and “Yankees” were ever used in the same sentence. Despondent after the Yankees fell behind 6-0 in Game 4, I was trudging up the steps to bed, a heart-broken kid, when my father called after me, “Don’t worry, they’re going to win this one 8-6!” True story. The rest was history. From that point on, for the next 16 years, the Yankees were everything from champions, to winners, to big spenders, to an Evil Empire. My loyalties never wavered, but I’ve found myself leaning toward the little guys on the Yankee roster every year, individual microcosms of those ’96 dreamers, who had just enough heart, and naivete, to believe they could knock off the unbeatable Braves.
Every season, the Yankee roster turns over, but some names have been there through it all. Jeter’s #2, Posada’s #20, Pettitte’s #46, Rivera’s #42, and Williams’ #51 have become omnipresent in the Yankee Universe. Still, I was always intrigued by those “forgotten numbers” – the 11s, 17s, 19s, 22s, 33s – little guys that had just as much influence in the latest Yankee dynasty; the good, the bad, and the strange.
11 – Buck Showalter wore it as the Yankees climbed out of obscurity and into the playoffs in 1995. Former Met Dwight Gooden brandished it as he was carried off the field in 1996 after throwing a no-hitter. From 1998-2001, Chuck Knoblauch set the table atop the lineup for four pennants and three titles. Gary Sheffield ripped holes in the very atmosphere for three seasons with his vicious swing. If you could tell me that Mitch Seone acted as first-base coach for one game in 2008 wearing #11, shortly before Brett Gardner would return from Triple-A to seize it for good, congrats.
17 – Without Kenny Rogers dropping the Yankees into a 6-0 hole in Game 4 of the ’96 World Series, Jim Leyritz may have been a footnote in Yankees history. John Flaherty hit one of the most famous doubles in Yankee-Red Sox lore in 2004 to win the “Derek Jeter Catch” game. In 2007, Shelley Duncan brought “Bash Brothers” mania to the Bronx.
19 – No. 19 was part of one of the biggest hits in recent Yankee history. Three words – Wakefield, Boone, Knuckleball. It was the number of dynasty role player Luis Sojo from 1996-2001, though when he got the game-winning dribbler base hit in Game 5 of the 2000 World Series, he was wearing #14. Al Leiter took #19 when he came home to the Yankees in 2005.
22 – Jimmy Key set the stage in Game 6 of 1996 with 5.1 innings of 1-run ball. It was the last of 4 numbers Jorge Posada wore before he finally took #20 for more than a decade. Homer Bush apparently wore it in the storybook season of 1998. I don’t know for sure – he was always running too fast. Roger Clemens wore it for the entirety of his Yankee career. Robinson Cano wore it in 2005 before settling on #24.
33 – Charlie Hayes caught the final out of the 1996 World Series. Javier Vazquez had an all-star season with #33 in 2004…that is until Game 7… uh, Johnny Damon…never mind. But who could forget two of the most colorful, eclectic, and outlandish Yankees ever to wear #33? Had David Wells and Nick Swisher ever shared the same Yankee clubhouse, Queen Elizabeth would have felt quite comfortable in the company of the 1970’s Bronx Zoo.
In two months we’ll see the next Yankee class of ever-brief but ever-memorable “forgotten numbers.”
Associated Press photos