Players You Forgot Were Yankees: The 2000s
This week’s look back at the forgotten Yankees of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s has unearthed a cavalcade of notable names, produced a lot of interesting memories, and served as a reminder just how important depth can be when it comes to fielding a Major League Baseball team in any given year.
As we move into the 2000s, there are no Hall of Famers (at least not yet), and only one who even lasted a full season in pinstripes – but what we do have is a former American League Rookie of the Year, two guys who were key elements on a World Series championship squad a few hours north of the Bronx, one pitcher who made his name across the East River, and, finally, another hurler who is still a solid contributor more than a dozen years after debuting in the Bronx.
From an Angel in the infield to the sound of the (Bell)horn, here’s a look at 10 guys you may have forgotten were Yankees in the meat of the Core Four era.
Angel Berroa: The American League Rookie of the Year in 2003, Berroa hit .287 with 17 homers, 73 RBIs and 21 steals for Kansas City that season … and then proceeded to come nowhere close to those numbers the rest of his career. The last hurrah came in 2009 when he signed with the Yankees, but he was released in July after going 3-for-22 in 21 games and finished out his MLB career with 14 more equally forgettable games with the Mets.
Mark Bellhorn: One of the catalysts of the Red Sox offense in 2004, Bellhorn found himself released by the team the following August…and he immediately signed with the Yankees, playing nine games down the stretch as a utility infielder (going 2-for-17 at the plate) and making a pinch-running appearance in Game 5 of the ALDS against the Angels.
Morgan Ensberg: After spending most of his career – including an All-Star 2005 season where he posted a .283-36-101 line and finished fourth in NL MVP voting – in the Astros organization, Ensberg finished out his MLB time with the Yankees in 2008, hitting .208 with one homer in 28 games as a backup corner infielder before being released in July.
Scott Erickson: A 20-game winner and near-Cy Young in his second season with Minnesota, Erickson later became a thorn in the Yankees’ side while with the Orioles from 1995-2002. In 2006, however, he would actually finish out his career in the Bronx, making nine early season appearances (and posting a 7.94 ERA) before being released in June and calling it a career.
Travis Lee: Chances are you forgot Lee, a consistent power source for the Diamondbacks, Rays, and Phillies for several years, because he didn’t get much of a chance in New York; he signed as a free agent in 2004 to help the Yankees fill in for an ailing Jason Giambi, but played in just seven games before tearing the labrum in his left shoulder and missing the rest of the season.
Doug Mientkiewicz: Three years after Lee, it was Mientkiewicz – who famously caught the final World Series out for the Red Sox in that 2004 season – who was called upon to help pick up Giambi’s slack. He did well, hitting .277 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 77 games, but was not re-signed after going 0-for-6 in the ALDS against Cleveland.
Jesse Orosco: Nearly a quarter-century after coming up with the Mets in 1979, Orosco found himself back in the Big Apple in the final year of his career. Traded from San Diego in July 2003, the then-46-year-old southpaw lasted only six weeks in the Bronx, making 15 appearances as a lefty specialist before being traded to Minnesota on August 31.
Jake Westbrook: Despite being left off the postseason roster this year, Westbrook almost won his third World Series ring with St. Louis this past year…but he won his first in the Bronx. Acquired from Montreal in December 1999, the righty made his MLB debut in pinstripes in June 2000, going 0-2 in three appearances as a mid-season call-up; it was enough to earn him a ring, but not a full-time gig, as he was traded to Cleveland that winter for David Justice.
Rondell White: The only one on this list to last a full, active season with the Yankees, White signed as a free agent prior to the 2002 season and spent that year as the regular right fielder, hitting .240 with 14 homers and 62 RBIs in 126 games. He played in just one game in that year’s ALDS, however, and was traded to San Diego during Spring Training the following year.
Mark Wohlers: Perhaps most Yankees fans count their most satisfying memory of Wohlers as him giving up Jim Leyritz’s famous home run in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series – but five years later, the fireballer added to his Yankees legacy by spending the second half of the 2001 season in pinstripes. Acquired from Cincinnati on July 1, Wohlers made 31 appearances out of Joe Torre’s bullpen, pitching to a 4.54 ERA in 34.2 innings and helping the Yankees capture their fourth straight AL East crown.