After playing college baseball for the Kentucky Wildcats in 1985, Jim Leyritz was signed as an amateur free agent by the Yankees. Five years later, at age 26, Leyritz made his Major League debut on June 8th, 1990. Leyritz played 92 games for the Bombers that year, batting .257/.331/.356 with five home runs and 25 RBI. That year, he split time at third base, catcher, and all three outfield positions. While never really earning a full time role anywhere on the field, Leyritz's value came from his ability to play a little bit of everything, which allowed the Yankees to plug him in wherever they needed him.
In 1995, Leyritz hit what would be the first of his postseason home runs, and while he only hit eight of them, postseason home runs still became his trademark.
"You could send this guy to a resort in the spring and summer, as long as he comes back for October."
- Bob Costas after Leyritz's home run in Game 4 of the 1999 World Series
In the 1995 ALDS against the Seattle Mariners, Leyritz hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 15th inning of Game 2 to give the Yankees a 2-0 series lead. Unfortunately, they'd lose the next three and the series, but Leyritz's home run was a reason the Yankees even had a chance of advancing to the next round. Between 1990 and 1996, Leyritz never played in more than 95 games, and yet without him, the outcome of the 1996 World Series could have been vastly different.
Results: 88 G, .264/.355/.381, 10 2B, 7 HR, 40 RBI, 86 OPS+
Leyritz played 88 games in the 1996 season while playing in seven different positions. Mostly backing up current Yankee skipper Joe Girardi as a catcher (55 games), Leyritz also helped out at 3B, 2B, OF, and DH (and people think Ben Zobrist is versatile). Not really starting at any one position, and primarily only seeing playing time as a backup (he did serve as Andy Pettitte's personal catcher in 1995 and that continued in 1996), one would never expect Leyritz to be one of the heroes of a World Series. Yet in 1996, that's exactly what he was for the Yankees.
New York lost the first two games of the Series to the Atlanta Braves, and narrowly won Game 3 thanks to a solid starting performance by David Cone and Bernie Williams giving the Yankees some breathing room in the 8th inning. Even though the Yankees won, the Braves did not lose hope and came out fighting in Game 4. They chased starter Kenny Rogers early from the game and eventually took a 6-0 lead after five innings. Thanks to a lucky dropped pop-fly by Jermaine Dye, Derek Jeter led off the 6th inning with a single and the Yankees scored three runs that inning to get themselves back in the game.
With a three run lead and not wanting to take any chances, the Braves elected to bring in their closer Mark Wohlers for a two inning save in the eighth. Charlie Hayes led off the inning with a single and Darryl Strawberry followed him with a single of his own to put two men on base. Mariano Duncan grounded out in the next at-bat to bring up Jim Leyritz for his first plate appearance of the night.
Leyritz tied the game at 6-6 in the eighth inning, and the Yankees went on to win Game 4 by a score of 8-6 in the 10th inning. Without Leytriz's home run, though, it's not certain whether the Yankees come back to win this game, or even the series. His home run was the difference between a 3-1 series deficit and a momentum changing 2-2 series tie.
Leyritz also caught Andy Pettitte and John Wetteland's combined 1-0 shutout in Game 5 of the series, which gave the Yankees a 3-2 series lead, before they clinched the series in Game 6.
What did he do after?
After the 1996 season, Leyritz did some traveling as the Yankees traded him to the then Anaheim Angels. In July of 1997, the Angels traded Leyritz to the Texas Rangers where he finished the season. The Rangers then proceeded to trade Leyritz to the Boston Red Sox before the 1998 season, and the Sox traded him to the eventual NL Champion San Diego Padres in the middle of the '98 season. Coincidentally, in the '98 World Series, Leyritz faced the team he helped win a World Series with two years prior. While not on purpose, he actually helped the Yankees win another championship that year by going 0-for-10 in the Series.
After starting 1999 with the Padres, he was traded back to the Yankees at the deadline, where he'd go on to play in his second consecutive World Series. While not as momentous or iconic, Leyritz hit another home run in Game 4 of the '99 World Series, which provided the Yankees with some insurance as they finished their World Series sweep of the Braves. Fun fact: This home run actually ended up being the last one of the century, so remember that for the next trivia night!
In June 2000, the Yankees traded Leyritz to Los Angeles again, this time to the Dodgers, where he finished the season and his career. After his playing days were over, Leyritz did not do his best to remain out of the spotlight. During a radio interview in 2006, Leyritz admitted to using amphetamines during his playing career; at the time they were not banned. Then in 2007, Leyritz was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and vehicular homicide. The case eventually went to trial in November of 2010, where he was acquitted of the manslaughter charge, but convicted of driving under the influence. He was sentenced to one year's probation and a $500 fine with his insurance company settled a civil lawsuit where the family of the victim was paid a sum of $350,000.
While his post-playing life has been messy, Leyritz will always have a place in Yankees history.
*Season statistics provided by Baseball-Reference.