Would you believe our photo archive contains a good dozen shots of Clay Bellinger?
The 2000 New York Yankees were the last champions in Joe Torre’s run with the team despite seven more years of trying, and at 87-74 one of the weakest.
The offense was poor before Brian Cashman executed midseason trades for Glenallen Hill and David Justice (we will politely avert our eyes from the accidental acquisition of Jose Canseco).
The pitching staff also disappointed, with David Cone reaching the end of the line and July addition Denny Neagle laying an egg—his days of effectiveness were suddenly and permanently over the moment he joined the Yankees.
Cashman hadn’t learned to pay much attention to his bench in those days, which meant that sometimes the Yankees ended up giving a relative ton of playing time to fringe types who shouldn’t have been in the majors with a team of the Yankees’ resources.
One such player was Clay Bellinger. This is not hindsight; looking back at my Pinstriped Bible archives, I find that on May 8, 2000, I wrote, “Any team where Clay Bellinger might get 200 at-bats is by definition weak.”
On April 19, 2000, Bellinger was the hero.
That day, the Yankees put a seven-game winning streak on the line at Texas. They took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but Mariano Rivera blew the save, allowing a two-run, pinch-hit homer to Ivan Rodriguez.
With one out in the top of the 10th, Bellinger, who had earlier entered the game as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement, cracked a solo shot off of Jeff Zimmerman. Rivera made the score stand up in the bottom of the frame, and the Yanks had won their eighth in a row.
More than a year later, Bellinger actually hit another game-winning home run. On that occasion I remarked:
When Clay Bellinger hit a two-run game-tying home run on Sunday, Yanks radio play-by-play man John Sterling said, “That’s one of the biggest hits of Bellinger’s career.” It also happens to be one of the only hits of Bellinger’s career, but why quibble?
I admit, this is snarky. I was young and full of snark then.
Nevertheless, Bellinger, who was a 31-year-old rookie at that point, was a bad player, a career .250/.312/.400 minor-league hitter who was on the roster because the Yankees hadn’t planned ahead.
Bellinger would hit .207/.288/.370 in 98 games that year. The next season, he was one of the Yankees’ only options off the bench in the postseason. In Game 6 he struck out against Randy Johnson, which was unfair to everyone.
Unfortunately, a couple of heroic moments such as Bellinger’s game-winners typically mean that the player is rewarded with more time on the field in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle. Managers, having won a hand with a pair of deuces, push their luck and lose.
The fact remains that sometimes a team just can’t quit on a player who isn’t helping them, either because they have no choice or they don’t realize the injury he is doing them. Bellinger was that player for the Yankees in 2000. Who is your team’s self-destructive impulse?