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Yankees 1996 Anniversary Retrospective: Charlie Hayes

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It's funny how memory warps reality around the most inconsequential of things. In baseball that can turn bit players into mountainous heroes, and for me, no one fits that bill more than Charlie Hayes. One of my first real baseball memories is Hayes catching the last out of the 1996 World Series and for some reason that image has stuck with me, turning an otherwise forgettable participant into an icon. It's only been in my adulthood that I've been able to realize the truth and laugh about how silly my mind has portrayed him.

Background

Hayes was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the fourth round of the 1983 MLB Draft, the same year as Roger Clemens and (just for fun) only a few picks before Mike Trout's dad, Jeff Trout, was selected. As a high school pick, it took Hayes six years to reach the majors, hitting .280/.331/.391 with 40 home runs in the minors before getting a September call-up at the age of 23 in 1988. That year he had hit .307/.348/.419 in his first year at Triple-A, but because of the presence of third basemen Kevin Mitchell and Ernie Riles he was never given a chance in San Francisco. He spent 10 games in the majors with the Giants between 1988 and 1989 before being shipped off, along with young starting pitchers Dennis Cook and Terry Mulholland, to the Phillies for closer Steve Bedrosian and Rick Parker.

He played in Philly for the next three seasons, never OPSing higher than .700, but at least partaking in some baseball history. In a 1990 game, Hayes committed an error that ended up costing Mulholland a perfect game, however he did manage to preserve the no-hitter by snaring a line drive on the last out of the game. By 1992, he was sent to the Yankees for the young Darrin Chapin, in what would be his first stint in New York. The 27-year-old Hayes was the starting third baseman for a 76-86 team that year. He hit .257/.297/.409 with 18 home runs and was worth 2.2 WAR, which ranked him seventh on the team (not a good thing). He played alongside the likes of Don Mattingly, as well as Bernie Williams, Pat Kelly, and Jim Leyritz, who he'd see again in a few years. After the season, he was taken by the new Colorado Rockies franchise as their third pick in the expansion draft.

In 1993, he benefitted greatly from the increased altitude, hitting .305/.355/.522 with 25 home runs and playing in a career-high 157 games, in what was easily the best season of his career. Unfortunately, he fell back to Earth as a below-average bat, hitting a still-respectable .288/.348/.433, but with only 10 home runs in what would be the strike-shortened 1994 season. He was eligible for free agency for the first time in 1995, returning to the Phillies on a $1.5 million one-year deal. His offense slipped even further, but managed to score a four-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit .248/.301/.368 for the Pirates in 1996 before being moved to the Yankees in a salary dump for Chris Corn, a pitching prospect who never made it to Triple-A.

1996 Performance

Results: 20 G, .284/.294/.418, 2 HR, 13 RBI
By 1996, the 38-year-old Wade Boggs had developed quite a platoon split, struggling against left-handed pitching, so the Yankees decided to acquire the right-handed hitting Hayes as a platoon partner. With only a month of the season to go after coming over from Pittsburgh, Hayes only made it into 20 games. He didn't do much with the bat in the regular season and between him and Boggs, neither hit very well in the postseason.

The 31-year-old Hayes only collected one hit in the ALCS against the Texas Rangers, but still managed to contribute. By the seventh inning of Game Two, the Yankees were losing by two. After being called upon to pinch hit for Boggs, he was able to hit a sac fly to bring New York within one before Cecil Fielder tied the game in the eighth. The game continued into the 12th before Hayes laid down a bunt with two on and no outs. It looked like a simple sacrifice before Rangers third baseman Dean Palmer threw the ball away in what would be a walk-off error.

Hayes was a non-factor in the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles, but managed to play a part in the 1996 World Series. In Game Four, Hayes helped get the offense going in the sixth when the Yankees were down 6–0 against Denny Neagle. That inning Cecil Fielder was able to bring in two runs with Hayes coming up behind him to drive another in. That inning set up Jim Leyritz for his eighth-inning, three-run home run to tie the game and send the game into extras. In the 10th inning, Wade Boggs managed to break the tie with a bases-loaded walk against Steve Avery and Hayes tacked on another run when the Braves' first and second basemen miscommunicated and allowed the ball to drop between them on a pop fly.

Hayes was again involved when in Game Five, with Andy Pettitte and John Smoltz trading zeroes, he reached on another error and was knocked in by Cecil Fielder in what proved to be the only run of the game. In Game Six, with the Yankees up 3–1 in the seventh inning, Hayes was brought in as a defensive replacement behind Mariano Rivera. Closer John Wetteland entered in the ninth, and in what was his first play of the game, Hayes managed to catch the last out of the World Series–a drifting foul ball close to the stands off the bat of second baseman Mark Lemke. It is an image ingrained into the back of my eyelids.


What did he do after?

Hayes remained with the the Yankees in 1997, continuing his platoon with Wade Boggs. That year he hit .258/.332/.397 with 11 home runs in just shy of 400 plate appearances and did an incredible job against left-handers with a .900 OPS against. In the playoffs, Hayes went 5–15 against the Cleveland Indians before the team was ultimately eliminated in the first round. Once Boggs left to play for the Devil Rays, the Yankees opted to acquire a full-time third baseman instead of relying on Hayes. They sent Hayes back to San Francisco in exchange for prospects Alberto Castillo and Chris Singleton, neither of whom ever reached the majors with the Yankees. Just a few days after the deal, New York sent Kenny Rogers to the Oakland Athletics for Scott Brosius, who would be the team's starting third baseman for the next four years.

Hayes would finish out the remainder of his four-year deal with the Giants before signing on with the Mets for the 2000 season. They ended up releasing him in spring training and he spent the year with the Milwaukee Brewers instead. He finally finished out his career in 2001, his age-36 season, when he OPSed just .533 in 31 games with the Houston Astros before being released in June.

Since retiring, Hayes went on to operate his own baseball facility in Texas. His son Tyree Hayes pitched professionally for a number of years before retiring without ever reaching the majors. His younger son Ke'Bryan Hayes, however, was a 2015 first-round draft pick of the Pirates and seems poised to be an even better third baseman than his father. Hayes has since been welcomed back into the Yankee fold, participating in Old Timers' Day since 2009. I can't help but think that Charlie Hayes did pretty well for himself in the long run, but I wonder how history would have remembered him if someone else had caught that ball.