When discussing the New York Yankees, you usually hear the word "underrated" as often as you hear the word "frugal."
The Yankees boast the most recognizable names, receive the most scrutinized media coverage and have one of the largest and most passionate fanbases in the world. Few players will find a way to slip through the cracks while donning the pinstripes.
Yet, still, some members of the Bronx Bombers do end up being underappreciated. Perhaps, their tenure with the team was short, or their playing time was limited or their presence was simply taken for granted. They were valuable nevertheless and deserve their due recognition.
Here are the five players who, in my eyes, were slighted the most during their stay with the Yankees throughout the past 10 seasons.
Backup catchers have one of the toughest jobs of anyone on the roster. They play maybe once a week, but they have as much responsibility as anyone else to stay in shape and maintain a rapport with the pitchers.
John Flaherty steadily fulfilled this role for three seasons with the Yankees, playing behind everyday catcher Jorge Posada. "Flash," as he was known, was solid defensively, throwing out as high as 32 percent of potential base-stealers one season.
He was no slouch with the bat, either. Considering that, for backup catchers, literally any offensive production is considered icing on the cake, Flaherty's occasional pop was worthwhile. He also had one of the biggest hits as far as "Yankees Classics" are concerned: a pinch-hit, game-winning double in the 13th inning of a July 2004 game against the Boston Red Sox (also known as the game featuring Jeter's bloody dive into the stands).
Possibly most importantly, Flaherty developed a solid relationship with enigmatic starter Randy Johnson during the 2005 season. He became The Big Unit's personal catcher that year, which probably prevented us from seeing another 3,700 articles in the New York tabloids concerning the alleged rift between Johnson and Posada.
Unfortunately, most people will probably remember Scott Proctor primarily for the supposed abuse he suffered at the hands of bullpen-happy manager Joe Torre.
Indeed, Proctor did pitch a lot, making 83 appearances in back-to-back seasons. But he also pitched effectively, maintaining around a 3.50 ERA as he held steady his segment of the bridge leading to closer Mariano Rivera—a bridge the Yankees continually struggled to build since the end of the last dynasty. (The Jeff Nelson/Mike Stanton days...boy, were those nice.)
Proctor also performed respectably during his limited postseason experience with New York. During the 2005 and 2006 American League Division Series, he pitched a total of six innings and gave up only one run. Of course, the Yankees lost both those series, so any positive results subsequently went by the wayside.
Proctor had a blazing fastball and a devastating curveball at his best, with a strong slider in his arsenal as well.
Torre was often maligned about his liberal use of the bullpen, highlighted by his treatment of Proctor. Sure enough, in 2008, Proctor (with the Dodgers) spent considerable time on the disabled list, and in 2009, he underwent Tommy John surgery.
Every team should have a player like Miguel Cairo. A true professional, Cairo always came to play, whether or not he was actually in the starting lineup that day.
Cairo was also prepared to play at any position, anywhere in the infield and occasionally in the outfield. He was equally versatile and willing to help the team in any way possible.
That desire to contribute shone through at the plate as well. Cairo was a fair hitter who knew what to do in any given situation. He was typically reliable in providing "productive outs," coming through in 18 out of 34 situations in which such an out could be made during the 2004 season. That comes out to a 53 percent clip, well above the MLB average of 45 percent.
Normally, recipients of $88.5 million contracts don't go underrated, but Mike Mussina wasn't like most pitchers.
"Moose" was more cerebral than instinctive, more intellectual than physical. Often condemned for what was perceived as snootiness, Mussina was just more reserved than other players. But when it came to his performance on the mound, his actions often spoke volumes.
Mussina was nothing if not consistent; he won at least 10 games in an American League-record 17 consecutive seasons. As the Yankees rotation endured monumental changes, from the departure of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte to the arrival of Chien-Ming Wang and Phil Hughes to the return of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, Mussina was a rock, always there, always giving it his all.
Of all the starts that stick out during Mussina's Yankee years, his most noteworthy appearance was arguably one that came in relief. During Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox, Mussina pitched out of a bases-loaded, no out jam without relinquishing a run, keeping the Yankees deficit at 4-0 and allowing his team to eventually come back to win the game and reach the 39th World Series in franchise history.
Later in his career, Mussina was forced to adjust his pitching style, as his once-potent fastball suffered a steep decline in velocity. Mussina responded brilliantly, finishing the 2008 season with his first 20-win campaign. He decided to retire after that year, leaving him 30 wins shy of 300 (and a likely automatic Hall of Fame berth) and rendering his Yankees tenure sandwiched in between championship seasons (2000 and 2009).
These two share the final spot on this list for meeting the similarly harrowing tasks bestowed upon them.
They had to replace two of the biggest names on the Yankees roster—at the beginning of the season.
During the 2003 season opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, Derek Jeter dislocated his shoulder sliding into third base. He went on the disabled list for the next six weeks, leaving 25-year- old Erick Almonte (along with veteran Enrique Wilson) to take his place. Almonte hit a respectable .260 that season.
Prior to the 2009 season, third baseman Alex Rodriguez underwent hip surgery and was destined to miss the first month-plus of the regular season. Ransom was thrust into the starting spot and performed fairly, holding his own until an injury landed him on the disabled list as well in late April.
While neither of these temporary replacements wowed the critics with spectacular play, they both held the fort while their future-Hall-of-Fame teammates recuperated. Most importantly, the Yankees as a whole survived and flourished in each of these seasons, winning the American League pennant in 2003 and the World Series in 2009.
Agree, disagree or have more names to add to the list? Leave a comment in the space below!