Eric Chavez hit the game-winning home run in Thursday afternoon's victory over the Detroit Tigers. Ichiro Suzuki drove in five runs in Friday night's win over the Toronto Blue Jays. Freddy Garcia notched his sixth victory of the year, also on Friday. Raul Ibanez is giving the New York Yankees everything they hoped for this season. And Andruw Jones has also contributed despite his aging body. No matter what decade, what era, the Yankees have a knack for picking up players on the back nine of their careers, and playing a productive role on a winning team.
Chavez's biggest problem has not been fading talent but his ability to stay on the field. With Alex Rodriguez on the DL for a few months, Chavez is actually outplaying A-Rod, with an .873 OPS compared to the injured third baseman's .806. And he has 12 home runs to A-Rod's 15 in 158 fewer at-bats. Ichiro only has a .673 OPS in 17 games for the Yankees, but in the last four games, he has six hits and nine RBIs. Ibanez has 15 home runs and 51 RBIs in the equivalent of a half a season of at-bats (288). Jones' average (.220) and OBP (.300) are nothing to brag about, but he does have a .470 slugging percentage with 12 home runs. And Garcia, since returning to the rotation on July 2, has only allowed more than three runs once in his eight starts, and has lowered his ERA from 6.39 to 4.85.
This group has many predecessors, with every player seemingly ending up on the Yankees at one point or another in his career. Going all the way back to 1949, the Yankees purchased first baseman Johnny Mize for $40,000. He was a nine-time National League All-Star with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants, and led the NL in home runs four times and RBIs three times. The Hall of Famer spent the last five seasons of his career in pinstripes, and he helped the team win the World Series each year. He never had more than 350 at-bats in a season with the Yankees, but he contributed to the team in a big way, even hitting 25 home runs with 72 RBIs in 1950, in only 274 at-bats. In five World Series appearances with the Bombers, he had a .909 OPS.
Though he wasn't a star before coming to the Bronx, 33-year-old Luis Arroyo was sold by the Cincinnati Reds to the Yankees on July 20, 1960, and, after a solid half season that year (2.88 ERA, seven saves), he was the key to the World Series-winning '61 Yankees' bullpen, leading the American League in games pitched (65), games finished (54) and saves (29). Arroyo went 15-5, with a 2.19 ERA. He won Game 3 of the World Series that season, throwing two scoreless innings.
In 1977, the Yankees traded for eight-time Gold Glover Paul Blair. He was a two-time All-Star with the Baltimore Orioles and won two World Series with them as well, but in his two full years with the Yankees, the team won the World Series both times. He was a key backup outfielder, often used as a defensive replacement. His most memorable Yankee moment may have been when he replaced Reggie Jackson in right field at Fenway Park just before Reggie and Billy Martin got into their famous dugout brouhaha. The Yankees also picked up guys like Carlos May, Jay Johnstone and Cliff Johnson during that era.
The Yankee heyday for acquiring old-timers was the 1990s and 2000. From Darryl Strawberry to Cecil Fielder and Tim Raines to Chili Davis, David Justice and Jose Canseco, everybody took a turn wearing pinstripes. Veterans who had seen better days elsewhere contributed in the Bronx to help deliver four World Championships from 1996 to 2000. Eric Hinske was the trade-deadliner du jour for the 2009 champs. The former Rookie of the Year belted seven home runs in 84 at-bats after coming over from Pittsburgh.
And now Chavez, Ichiro, Ibanez, Jones and Garcia get their chance at winning a ring with the Yankees. Along with other aging key pieces, such as Derek Jeter, A-Rod and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees are counting on their senior citizens to have enough left in the tank in October. Mize, Blair and Hinske played a combined eight seasons with the Yankees, and they won the World Series all eight times. Will this season's crop have the same luck?