A few weeks back, I was watching coverage of Old-Timers Day at work when Michael Kay introduced Aaron Small to a generous ovation. My colleague — a Red Sox fan and staunch Yankee hater — started cackling wildly then made a condescending remark about Old-Timers Day not being what it used to be in the Bronx.
In a way, he was right. With the exception of Reggie, Yogi and Whitey, all the team's icons of yesteryear have joined The Boss at that big ballyard in the sky. (The only other living Yankee great who can electrify the Stadium happens to be trapped in baseball Siberia as manager of the Dodgers. Ugh.)
This has created a transitional period for Old-Timers Day, a period that will abruptly end when Andy Pettitte's Core Four pals join him in retirement, grow out the necessary guts and double chins and begin attending the event themselves.
As for my Red Sox fan colleague, I gently reminded him that Ted Williams has been turned into a RoboCop security guard in Scottsdale, Ariz. We didn't talk much the rest of that day.
But back to Small.
Before my Teddy Ballgame frozen-head riff, I explained that Small is one of those guys that Yankees fans will always remember fondly. For whatever reason, we love referencing mediocre players from the past — the likes of Andy Stankiewicz, Horace Clark, and Homer Bush get brought up in bars and around T.V. sets far more than logic would dictate.
Small, of course, was a savior of the 2005 Yankees in much the same way Bartolo Colon has rescued the current Yankees. Calling Small a journeyman is a slight to journeymen: The right-hander played for more than 20 teams at various levels before getting called up to the Yankees in July 2005. Incredibly, he proceeded to go 10-0 in 15 games (nine starts), helping to dig New York out of a deep early hole to win the American League East.
That Yankees team entered the postseason riding high ... only to be eliminated in five games by the Anaheim California Angels of Los Angeles County Angels in the ALDS. Small entered Game 3 in relief and took his only loss of the season.
There could be a lesson to be learned there for this year's Yankees, as the '05 and '11 teams share similar DNA strands. If Colon is Small, then Freddy Garcia is Shawn Chacon, another drifter who became a stalwart in the back end of the rotation. Both team's had a veteran offensive core with most key players in their 30s. Both leaned on their aces (CC Sabathia and Randy Johnson) in an excessive way. Both had veteran No. 2 guys (Mike Mussina and A.J. Burnett) who struggled to be consistent on a start-by-start basis.
The great Sabathia over a decaying Big Unit is the biggest advantage the current Yankees enjoy, though this team also has substantially inferior versions of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada ... not to mention a less-sturdy edition of Mariano Rivera.
Brian Cashman should remember that 2005 team as the trade deadline approaches this season. Given the landscape of the AL this season, it's likely the Yankees will win the 93 or so games necessary to advance. But are they built for the postseason?
There are certainly question marks: Can Rafael Soriano be counted on to be productive once he returns? Is Boone Logan really going to be depended on in big spots? Should we assume Phil Hughes can get back to being Phil Hughes? How about that veteran Yankee lineup? Is A-Rod expected to be good-as-new once he returns from knee surgery? Is Derek Jeter going to be suddenly rejuvenated by 3,000 as so many people seem to think?
The Yankees have put together a half-season worthy of our respect, especially in light of the injury issues they've managed to overcome. That said, it's hard to shake the feeling that this is merely a very good team masquerading as a great one. Cashman shouldn't let a cushion in July dictate whether the team should be improved for October.
Dan Hanzus is a regular contributor to Pinstripe Alley. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @danhanzus.