The 1998 New York Yankees were, quite simply, one of the greatest teams in the history of baseball. They had terrific players at almost every position and an elite pitching staff that ranked among the best in the game. While such productivity was expected out of many of them, like Bernie Williams and David Cone, there were several pleasant surprises on that team, like Orlando Hernandez and Shane Spencer. Perhaps the biggest shock was the All-Star season of third baseman Scott Brosius.
The Yankees acquired Brosius in November of 1997 in a trade with the Oakland Athletics. The purpose of the deal was to unload disappointing free agent acquisition Kenny Rogers, who struggled to an ERA of 5.11 in the first two seasons of the four-year, $20 million deal he signed with the Yankees prior the the '96 season. He bombed in all three of his playoff starts in '96, then was so abysmal in '97 (5.65 ERA and 128 ERA- in 145 innings) that he was left off the playoff roster. The Yankees wanted to try a young starter in Rogers's rotation spot instead, so they dealt him to Oakland for a player to be named later shortly after the season on November 7th. A week and a half later, that player was revealed to be Brosius.
The 31-year-old had been in the Oakland organization for his entire career thus far and spent time at every regular position except catcher. Oakland understandably used him as a utilityman until he won the starting job at third in '94, though he was still used at multiple positions from time to time. Brosius gradually improved until he hit a career-high 22 homers in 114 games to go along with a .304/.393/.516 triple slash, a .392 wOBA, and a 131 wRC+ with sterling defense in '96. He earned a $1.58 million raise in arbitration, and he promptly rewarded the Athletics with the worst season of his career in '97. His slump was startling, as he fell by at least 100 points in nearly every major category to .203/.259/.317, a .258 wOBA, and a terrible 50 wRC+ in 129 games. He wasn't sure where his career was going, but the Yankees offered him another chance. After letting Wade Boggs and Charlie Hayes depart, they were really only looking for a stopgap at the major league level while top third base prospect Mike Lowell spent more time at the AAA level (he had been promoted from AA to AAA midseason and hit .276/.347/.562 with 15 homers down the stretch in '97).
The Yankees hoped that Brosius would return to '96 form in a new environment, and fortunately for them, he did. He felt less pressure buried at the bottom of a deep lineup that mostly included fellow newcomers Chuck Knoblauch and Chili Davis, rising stars Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, and established veterans Williams, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Darryl Strawberry, and Tim Raines. Brosius was only really expected to play a good third base and at least improve his hitting to the levels of catcher Joe Girardi and outfielder Chad Curtis. Brosius far and away exceeded expectations with a .300/.371/.472, 123 wRC+ season while playing in a career-high 152 games. The fact that the Yankees had a player who hit 19 homers while often batting ninth in the lineup made handling the offense a scary proposition. The offense supplemented the already-strong pitching staff with 965 runs and the team won a then-American League record 114 games, running away with the AL East title one year after being forced to settle for a Wild Card.
Brosius kept hitting throughout the playoffs as the Yankees swept the Division Series against the Texas Rangers and recovered from a 2-1 deficit to capture the ALCS in six games over the defending AL champion Cleveland Indians, the team that knocked them out of the '97 playoffs. Now, both the Yankees and Brosius had redemption from the previous campaign. Between the two rounds, Brosius hit .333/.364/.567 in nine games with a pair of homers. The Yankees would take on the underrated San Diego Padres in the World Series, who stunned the National League by nearly sweeping the powerhouse Atlanta Braves in the NLCS. Former Yankee starter Sterling Hitchcock was named the NLCS MVP for outdueling Cy Young Award winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in two starts with a 0.90 ERA, the latter of the two starts coming in Game 6 after the Braves had become the first team to ever trail a best-of-seven 3-0 and force a sixth game. He halted Atlanta's rally in its tracks, and he sought to stop his old teammates when he got the ball in World Series Game 3.
The Yankees rallied from down 5-2 in the seventh inning of Game 1 at Yankee Stadium with Padres ace Kevin Brown on the mound to take the opener 9-6, and after collecting a hit in the first game, Brosius went 3-for-5 in the team's Game 2 victory. The series switched coasts to San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium with the Yankees holding a commanding advantage. Another win would put the Padres on the brink of a sweep, but a loss to Hitchcock would put the Padres right back in the series with the next two games at home. For the first six inning, Hitchcock again outpitched another Cy Young Award winner in Cone, and the Padres took a 3-0 lead in a rally sparked by Hitchcock's leadoff single, which was the Padres' first hit off Cone.
The first batter Hitchcock faced after running the bases in the bottom of the sixth was Brosius, who had reached in his previous at bat on an infield single. The third baseman had a great at bat against Hitchcock and forced him to a full count before connecting on a solo homer over the left field wall. The Yankees were on the board, and a double later, Hitchcock departed the game. Reliever Joey Hamilton gave up another run as the Padres' defense betrayed them with a passed ball and an error on third baseman Ken Caminiti that allowed the second run to score. Although the Padres carried the slimmest of leads into the eighth inning, they were confident that they could pull out a win now that they had a late lead. That meant All-Star closer Trevor Hoffman would soon be in the game.
Hoffman had a tremendous season in '98, the best of the future Hall of Famer's career. The man who would one day became the first closer to save 500 and 600 games saved 53 in '98 and used his devastating changeup to pitch to a 1.48 ERA and 37 ERA-. His season was so impressive that he finished second in the NL Cy Young voting behind Glavine that year and even earned more first-place votes than Glavine. Opposing batters hit just .165/.232/.229 against Hoffman in '98. O'Neill led off the eighth with a walk against reliever Randy Myers, and that brought Hoffman into the game as the crowd went crazy with the awesome chords of "Hell's Bells" by AC/DC blaring in the background. He did not have his best stuff today though. Williams connected on a long fly ball to deep right that was caught at the warning track, and Martinez walked to bring up Brosius with two men on.
On a 2-2 count, Brosius made great contact with a bad pitch from Hoffman, a 91 mph fastball up and sent it high in the air to deep center field. Steve Finley went back to the wall, but it was gone; Brosius thrust his hands into the air in joy. The Yankees had beaten San Diego's best and took a 5-2 lead. It was the pinnacle moment of a World Series MVP performance from Brosius, who later said, "This is the type of thing that you've dreamt about as a kid. I've done this in my backyard a hundred times." Though Mariano Rivera allowed a run to score in relief of Ramiro Mendoza, the Yankees' own future Hall of Fame closer kept his lead and the Yankees won the game 5-4 thanks to Brosius's multi-homer game. They won the next game over Brown 3-0 and finished their sweep of the Padres to complete arguably the greatest season in the history of baseball--125 wins. Brosius hit .471/.471/.824 in the sweep and as previously mentioned, won the World Series MVP.
The Yankees traded Lowell and re-signed Brosius after the season and won two more championships in a row with him, but he never had a season like '98 again, then retired after the Yankees lost in the 2001 World Series. Meanwhile, Lowell went on to have a fine 13-year career with the Florida Marlins and Boston Red Sox while none of the three players he was traded for panned out for the Yankees.
Still, Brosius's moment 14 years ago today lives on in the memories of many Yankee fans who will never forget him for his World Series heroics.