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1996 Yankees 20th Anniversary Retrospective: Mariano Duncan

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We play today. We win today. Das it.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Background

Mariano Duncan was signed as an amateur free agent by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1982. After three seasons in the minors, the Dominican-born Duncan made his debut on Opening Day 1985. He finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in his first season, and actually received an MVP vote. He probably shouldn't have, but hey, good for him. After a couple more seasons with the Dodgers, he was traded to the Reds in July of 1989. In the 1990 season, Duncan hit .306/.345/.476, helping the Reds win the World Series alongside Paul O'Neill.

After a couple decent seasons with the Reds, Duncan signed with the Phillies as a free agent in December 1991. He was part of the Phillies 1993 NL championship team, playing in all six games of that World Series, recording 10 hits in a losing effort. He made his first and only All-Star appearance in 1994, when he was voted in as a starter. He signed another deal with the Phillies after that season, but was selected off waivers by the Reds in August of '95. Cincinnati won the NL Central but were swept away by the eventual champion Braves in the NLCS. Duncan became a free agent once again after the '95 season.

1996 Performance

Results: 109 G, .340/.352/.500, 34 2B, 8 HR, 114 wRC+, 2.0 WAR

Duncan signed a two-year, $1.6 million contract with the Yankees in December 1995 and rewarded the team with the best season of his career. Through May 4, Duncan was hitting .361/.384/.518. He missed some time after slipping while rounding first base. Then he came back on May 23 and went into a slump that lasted through May and all of June.

After a 1-for-3 game on July 4, Duncan's numbers were down to .295/.318/.420. The next day, Duncan went 3-for-4 with a triple, a home run and two RBI. From that point forward, Duncan raked. For the rest of the season, he hit .382/.383/.575, with 21 doubles.

Duncan struggled in the playoffs for the most part, but without one big playoff hit of his, the World Series run may never have happened. In Game 3 of the ALDS, the Yankees were down a run to Rangers. Hits by Derek Jeter and Tim Raines put runners at the corners. A Bernie Williams sac fly tied the game at two. Cecil Fielder grounded out, moving Raines into scoring position. With Tino Martinez due up, the Rangers decided to intentionally walk him, opting to face Duncan instead. That turned out to be a mistake:

(Duncan's moment comes at 1:14, but hey, treat yourself, watch the whole video.)

Duncan had another RBI the next night as the Yankees clinched the ALDS. He didn't do much for the rest of the playoffs, and actually went hitless in the World Series.

Solid production in the regular season and a big time hit in the ALDS wasn't all that Duncan did in '96. For one, Joe Torre had the veteran Duncan mentor a young shortstop named Derek Jeter. And of course, there's the catchphrase. Before one game, in conversation with Jeter, Duncan said "We play today. We win today. Das it." The saying became the team's slogan. Duncan would have shirts bearing the motto made, which the team wore under their uniforms.

What did he do after?

Duncan regressed hard in 1997. In 50 games with the Yankees that season, he hit just .244/.270/.308 with a 51 OPS+. After having been a part of the nixed Greg Vaughn trade, the Yankees traded Duncan to the Blue Jays for minor league outfielder Angel Ramirez. Duncan didn't do much better for Toronto, and signed with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan for the 1998 season. He went to spring training with the Mets in 1999, but did not make the team. After brief stints in Indy ball and the Marlins' system in 1999, Duncan retired.

A couple years later, he made his way into coaching. He started in the Dodgers' system in 2003. From 2006 to 2010, he was the Dodgers' first base coach. After that, he began working as a coach in the Cubs' system. He served as the hitting coach for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Cubs High-A affiliate, in the 2015 season. Duncan twice has had his World Series' rings stolen. Thankfully, both times, they have eventually made it back to him.

Mariano Duncan was part of three World Series-appearing teams, won two rings, made an All-Star team, and played 12 seasons in the majors. He had a quite successful career. He may not be the most well known name to come from the 1996 Yankees, but it's hard not to remember him fondly. We play today. We win today. Das it.