Party Like It's 1996: Yankees Taking Hard Look at Andruw Jones
If you asked me three years ago where Andruw Jones would be in 2011, I would rattle off a thousand different answers before settling on "A Major League baseball field."
Literally, 1,000 different answers. Gas station attendant. Universal Studios tour guide. Dave & Buster's skee ball maintenance man. Grifter. Anything but a big-league ballplayer.
It was three years ago that I last saw him play in person. I was at Dodger Stadium, sitting in the upper deck for an early May matchup between the Dodgers and Astros.
I lived through Carl Pavano. I survived Kenny Rogers. I battled through Danny Tartabull. And I can tell you, I've never seen a fanbase emit vitriol toward a home player that came close to the way Dodger fans went after Jones.
Maybe it was his close ties to the NL rival Braves. Maybe it was all those angry gangbangers in the Dodger Stadium crowd. Maybe it was his physical appearance (Jones was visibly overweight, sporting an XXXL-baggy uniform to hide a physique that had gone from John Basedow to Jonah Hill).
Ultimately, it was probably a combination of all those things...plus the collective realization their team had dropped $36 million on a flabby has-been who seemed intent on setting the record for most three-pitch strikeouts. It was that bad.
Jones lost his starting job shortly thereafter, in route to batting an almost unthinkable .158 for the season. Rather than own up to his failures, Jones hit out (at least he hit something), complaining that Dodger fans "never gave him a chance." After attempting to trade him for a Super Nintendo and bag of beef jerky, Los Angeles admitted defeat the following January, releasing Jones with a year to go on his misbegotten contract.
That's the Andruw Jones I remember. But that's not the way most Yankee fans recall the pride of Curacao.
The majority of Yankee fans hear Jones' name and think back to 1996, when a then 19-year-old rail-thin unknown stole the show in Game 1 of the World Series. He homered twice that game, unseating Mickey Mantle as the youngest player to go deep in the Fall Classic. It was a coming out party for Jones, a night that set the stage for a decade of superstar-level production.
At 33, we know Jones will never be the All-Star he once was with Atlanta. And we can only hope for his sake that he left behind his demons (and KFC Double Down fetish) in Los Angeles.
What you're probably going to get at this point is something in between. That may be good enough for Brian Cashman and the Yankees, who are reportedly interested in bringing Jones aboard as the fourth outfielder.
Jones would essentially fill the role vacated by the deposed Marcus Thames. He'd start against lefties and serve as a pinch-hitter in close-and-late situations. Although Jones isn't half the defensive player he once was—he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves in center field while with the Braves—he's still light years ahead of Thames, who plays the corner outfield positions like a Kardashian sister.
Still, I wonder how Jones would do in New York. It's clear the Dodger fans got to him—though in fairness, those fans would've gotten to a T-1000 the way they carried on. Still, you have to wonder if he has the mindset to survive a slump in the Bronx.
Then again, Jones is only being asked to fill a part-time role. If he struggles, they'll simply replace him. But you wonder if taking a risk on a fading player is a better idea than simply retaining Thames, who thrived in the role last year.
The Yankees no doubt liked what Thames did with the bat, but they seem to be on the hunt for a more well-rounded player. The question is whether Jones actually fits that mold at this stage in his career.
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