Highly-touted No. 1 prospect Jesus Montero made his major league debut for the Yankees on Sept. 1, but even before that he was one of the most popular subject for fans in the Bronx.
His name had been in the headlines before amongst trade rumors, most notably of the near-deal to the Mariners for Cliff Lee, but somehow he managed to stay put right down in the Yankees' minor league system. He clearly had a lot of pressure on him when he finally got the call, as expectations were high.
So, I was thinking, with the rich history of the Yankees, there must have been other players who were brought up, or traded for, or signed who had what must of felt like the weight of the world on their shoulders.
After all, Hall-of-Famers have to be replaced eventually, and usually the Yankees do all they can to try to make those transitions as seamless as possible.
When I think of the players with even bigger expectations than the others, 10 players come to mind. These 10 guys were tasked with replacing all-time greats or carrying a team in desperate need of some help.
After what can only be described as a train wreck of a season in 2008, when the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993 thanks to the reigning world champion Red Sox and the worst-to-first Rays, everyone knew it was time for a change in the Bronx, literally.
The Yankees had just closed their old home in September, and they would be damned if their shining new stadium didn't see October baseball in its first season. So, they set out on a mission to use that year's star-studded free agent market to immediately make themselves World Series favorites.
They made three huge signings totaling near half a billion dollars in total salary. Now, A.J. Burnett pitched well in 2009, and Mark Teixeira has been invaluable to the team, but the real prize of that offseason was the big man, CC Sabathia.
CC was signed to act as the Yankees ace, and essentially to pitch better than anyone in the AL for the duration of his contract. He was the one expected to lead the Yankees to their first championship since 2000, and he didn't disappoint.
CC has pitched better overall than anyone in the AL over the last three seasons, and he was one of the main factors of the 2009 championship. He came to the Bronx with massive expectations, and he has actually been better than anyone could have hoped for.
After an offseason accident during a pickup basketball game, 2003 ALCS hero Aaron Boone was lost to the Yankees. And with the Yankees being the Yankees, there was only one player that Brian Cashman wanted to replace him with, and that was Alex Rodriguez. Eventually A-Rod was acquired from Texas, and as the "best player in baseball," the expectations were higher than normal.
A-Rod had some trouble fitting in with the team-oriented Yankees, but eventually shed his self-centered exterior and started to play for the championship, not for his stat line. He had some fantastic years before winning it all in 2009, but until he got that ring, he had not met the expectations Yankee fans had had of him.
Now the only thing left is that home run record...
It was the middle of the late '90s dynasty, and the Yankees couldn't seem to do anything other than win, but George Steinbrenner was not satisfied. He wanted former Red Sox', and at that time Blue Jays', ace Roger Clemens, and he wanted him badly.
Finally, he struck a deal with Toronto packaged around the man who had pitched a perfect game the year prior, David Wells, and the Rocket was a Yankee.
Everyone knew what Clemens was capable of being, as he had won the Cy Young Award and Triple Crown in his past two seasons pitching against the Bombers in the AL East. With the Yankees fresh off arguably the greatest single season of all time in 1998, the pressure was on for Roger to fit in and not mess up the team chemistry that had led the '98 team to 125 wins.
He had a bit of an adjustment period, but he eventually found his way in pinstripes, winning two championships in the Bronx as well as a Cy Young Award.
When Hideki Matsui signed with the Yankees prior to the 2003 season, there was literally a parade down the streets of Tokyo celebrating his joining the storied franchise. Reporters and photographers actually followed him to the MLB.
Matsui was a superstar in Japan, and everyone loved him, so his move to New York was expected to generate a lot of exposure for the MLB in Japan, with all of the Yankees' games being broadcast there. The expectations for him were insane to say the least.
However, Matsui met just about every single one of them. It took a year for him to get accustomed to MLB pitchers, and in 2003 his power numbers were not present as he only hit 16 home runs, but the next year he almost doubled that total when he hit 31 and returned to his "Godzilla" status.
During his last year as a Yankee, Matsui helped the Yankees capture their 27th World Series title, earning himself World Series MVP honors with his fantastic performance in the series-clinching Game 6. When he returned to Yankee Stadium for the 2010 home opener as a member of the Angels, Yankees fans gave him a standing ovation when he was awarded his World Series ring.
Igawa dons the pinstripes every February for picture day in Tampa
When Kei Igawa was brought over from Japan, he was supposed to be one of the best pitchers in the Nippon Professional Baseball league. However, his numbers had been on the decline in Japan for a few seasons before being posted.
While that should have been enough of a red flag for most teams to steer clear, for some reason beyond my understanding it wasn't for the Yankees. They submitted a winning bid of around $26 million, then signed Igawa to a five-year deal worth $20 million. He made his MLB debut in 2007.
Obviously, Igawa was a massive mistake. He never once showed any kind of potential to even be a fifth starter-type pitcher on the Yankees. The expectations were for Igawa to be the dominant pitcher who had consistently led the Central League in NPB in strikeouts.
Everyone was excited for his debut, especially after the Yankees' first experience with Japanese success with Hideki Matsui. However, despite the unfair expectations, Igawa was still a total failure. If he had been an average pitcher, the Yankees would have been disappointed, but at least his name wouldn't have gone down in infamy in the organization.
Yankees fans are some of baseball's most loyal fans. If a player leaves and joins another team, they will welcome him back during his visits to Yankee Stadium with cheers and applause. There are really only three things a player can do to tarnish his name as a Yankee.
First, the obvious one, is that he can join the hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox. Generally, Yankees fans aren't too thrilled with traitors. Second, he can play absolutely horribly. Even if he's bad, they'll forgive him as long as he doesn't single-handedly blow a postseason series. Finally, Yankees fans will despise a player if he steals from the team, and no one has done this more so than Carl Pavano.
Now tell me, how many of you readers that are Yankee fans read that name and silently cursed his name? I'll bet most of you. Carl Pavano signed with the Yankees just one year removed from shutting them down in the 2003 World Series.
Yankees players and fans alike remembered how dominant Pavano was when playing for the ultimate prize, so he seemed like a perfect fit for the pinstripes. He was expected to be a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher for the Yankees, and one who could help them silence the new world champion Boston Red Sox.
These were some lofty expectations, but Pavano seemed to go out of his way to not meet a single one of them. In fact, over the course of his four-year contract, he didn't even pitch a full season's worth of games. Injury after injury led to Pavano making only 28 starts for the Yankees, and fans have yet to forgive him for essentially stealing $40 million from their team.
The late Hideki Irabu was the Yankees' first experiment with Japanese players, so needless to say, they were expecting great things. Irabu had been one of Japan's best pitchers the three season's prior to his joining the Yankees, with him leading the league in wins once, ERA twice and strikeouts all three times.
The Yankees actually made a trade for Irabu instead of buying him outright, as Irabu had told the media that he only wanted to pitch for them, rejecting an offer from the Padres first. His debut was highly publicized with him being the first Japanese player to join the Yankees, as fans were excited to see this new foreign pitcher.
Irabu had mixed success in the MLB. He was an alright pitcher, but he was not reliable and was only awarded one postseason start despite being a member of both the 1998 and 1999 World Series-winning New York teams.
George Steinbrenner despised him for not living up to his expectations, and it is widely known that he called Irabu a rather inappropriate and unflattering name. After 1999 he was traded to the Montreal Expos, and didn't have much success from then on.
*Sadly, Hideki Irabu was found dead in his home near Los Angeles on July 27, 2011 in what is thought to have been a suicide. He left behind a wife and two children. The Yankees had a ceremony at Yankee Stadium in his honor in the days following his death.
When the great Mickey mantle was first called up, he had in front of him the task of overcoming the shadow of the Yankee Clipper, Joltin' Joe DiMaggio. Obviously, DiMaggio was an American superstar, but playing in the last season of his illustrious career. Mantle was essentially auditioning for the role of DiMaggio's successor, and with that came some lofty expectations. DiMaggio was a living legend, so to replace him, Mantle had to be just as good, if not better, than one of the game's best players of all time.
Turns out he was just as good, if not better.
Mantle played 18 seasons, all with the New York Yankees, winning seven World Series titles, three MVP Awards, and being named to 20 different All-Star teams (from 1959-1962 there were two All-Star Games each year).
On top of his MVP and World Series ring from 1956, Mantle also captured the Triple Crown, one of only 15 times in history that a player won the hitting version of the award. Mantle would eventually have his number retired by the Yankees and have a monument erected in his honor out in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.
Mickey Mantle had some pretty unfair expectations coming in, but he went so far above them that people today forget he succeeded DiMaggio. They only think of him as one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
The late Bobby Murcer first came to the big leagues playing in the shadow of the great Mickey Mantle. After serving some time in the military, he returned to baseball with a much larger role on the Yankees, replacing the Mick.
Just as Mantle had been tasked with replacing a living legend in the person of Joe DiMaggio, Murcer had to do the same with Mantle. n fact, Murcer was hyped up to be "the next Mantle," further increasing the expectations for him.
Murcer was no Mantle, and he didn't meet the extraordinary expectations set for him as the supposed third straight Hall-of-Famer in the Yankee outfield, but he was a great player. He was a five-time All-Star, and although he never won a championship, he will always be remembered for his leadership following the death of Yankee captain Thurman Munson.
Jesus Montero has been on his way to the Bronx for what feels like forever. Constantly ranking near the top of Baseball America's annual list of top prospects, Montero placed third overall this season, behind only Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Mike Trout of the Angels.
As I previously mentioned, Montero's name has been floating around in trade rumors for the past two years, and never in anything but potential deals for All-Star players.
The Yankees thought very highly of him, and originally envisioned him as a possible replacement for Jorge Posada behind the plate. While he did end up replacing Posada, it hasn't been behind the plate. Montero has made all of his starts as the designated hitter, as the Yankees do not want to disrupt the relationships already established with their current rotation and catchers Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli.
So, this put on additional pressure for Montero to do the one thing the Yankees knew he could, and that's hit. So far, he hasn't disappointed and has been driving the ball quite nicely. While the Yankees have been starting him against lefties, he will likely earn himself the everyday DH duties as he has shown that he can hit right-handers well, hitting his first two home runs of a right-handed pitcher.
Montero is being asked to turn a once-amazing lineup into an elite one, and if he's up to the challenge, it could mean a parade in the Bronx this October.