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1996 Yankees 20th Anniversary Retrospective: Graeme Lloyd

Lloyd came from the land down under, armed with sliders to baffle the Braves.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images


There were many different contributors to the 1996 Yankees, but perhaps none had as unexpected a path to the dogpile in Game 6 as Graeme Lloyd. He was born in Geelong, Australia; no one from down under had ever pitched in the major leagues. Baseball was simply not that common in Australia. As SABR's Rory Costello recounted, Lloyd didn't play baseball until he was 10 years old and a sister's boyfriend introduced him to the game. Lloyd said "I had a go at cricket in school and I played Australian Rules Football for a couple of years, but I always came back to baseball. It was what I was best at."

Lloyd played for some amateur clubs in Geelong, Melbourne, and Sunshine, then participated in the country's biggest baseball showcase, the Claxton Shield tournament. Eventually, Lloyd caught the eyes of the Toronto Blue Jays, who had sent some scouts to seek out unknown talent abroad. Impressed by the movement on Lloyd's pitches, Toronto's Wayne Morgan signed the 6'7" lefty in January of 1988.

Already 21 when he made his professional debut, Lloyd faced an uphill battle proving himself at competition far beyond his previous experience. He was undeterred and pitched successfully enough in the Blue Jays' system to be taken by the Phillies in the Rule 5 Draft in December 1992. Philadelphia promptly traded him the next day to the Milwaukee Brewers, who put him on their Opening Day roster.

On April 11, 1993, just two days after Lloyd's 26th birthday, he made history as the first Australian to pitch in the major leagues. He pitched well for three and a half years in Milwaukee, recording a 3.67 ERA (77 ERA-) and holding lefties to a .212/.267/.275 triple slash in 155 games. Then in August of 1996, the Yankees came calling.

1996 Performance

Results: 13 G, 5.2 IP, 17.47 ERA, 6 K, 6.00 FIP, -0.1 fWAR

All season long, Joe Torre and the Yankees sought a reliable lefty reliever without much success. They felt that the people who had the best idea about who to target would be their top lefty hitters: Wade Boggs, Paul O'Neill, and Tino Martinez. When asked by assistant GM Brian Cashman, they agreed that Lloyd was among their toughest foes, as his size and wicked slider gave them fits in the batter's box. So on August 23, 1996, GM Bob Watson pulled the trigger on a trade of outfielder Gerald Williams and reliever Bob Wickman for Lloyd and outfielder Pat Listach.

At first, the trade was an absolute disaster. Listach never played a game in pinstripes, as he was soon revealed to have a broken foot undetected by initial X-rays (he was later returned and the Yankees received pitcher Ricky Bones as compensation). The even more concerning matter was Lloyd, who looked nothing like the pitcher the All-Star hitters had advertised. He struck out the first batter he faced, then was rocked the rest of the season. His elbow was killing him, and he told the Yankees that he took a cortisone shot for it nine days prior to the trade--something else the team did not know. Steinbrenner was absolutely furious:

"Day after day and several times a day, the Boss reminded Watson of this failure, often belittling him in front of other team employees. 'They pulled your pants down, Bob,' was a regular putdown, or 'Bob, you were a good player, but you are a horseshit executive.'" - Joel Sherman, Birth of a Dynasty

It was a bit of a surprise when Lloyd made the Yankees' playoff roster, but Torre simply had no one else he really trusted (Lloyd's biography wasn't even included in the Yankees' postseason media guide). He gambled on Lloyd's potential.

In 5 1/3 innings over eight playoff games, Lloyd threw scoreless ball, allowing just one baserunner while striking out five batters. The Braves had no answer for him in the World Series, as the tall lefty stranded five inherited runners and held the 92-homer trio of Fred McGriff, Chipper Jones, and Ryan Klesko to an 0-for-7 skid. No out was bigger than when he induced a double play out of McGriff in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4; a single would have given the Braves a 3-1 series lead. It was a remarkable turnaround for the first Australian in World Series history, who went from Yankee Stadium boos at the playoff home opener to an ovation in the clinching Game 6. Baseball is beautiful.

What did he do after?

Lloyd paired with newcomer Mike Stanton to give Torre a pair of potent bullpen southpaws over the next two seasons. He notched a 2.60 ERA over 96 games and continued to dominate in the playoffs as the Yankees won another World Series in 1998. Over 13 postseason games, Lloyd never allowed a walk or a single run to cross the plate. He also endeared himself to Yankees fans by defying his normally calm demeanor to attack Armando Benitez in a brawl with the Orioles following a hit by pitch.

When the Yankees traded for Roger Clemens on the first day of spring training in 1999, Lloyd was among the three players sent to the Blue Jays. He was fine that season, but 2000 was an utter nightmare for him, as he needed rotator cuff surgery, a tornado destroyed his home in Florida, and his wife Cindy tragically passed away at age 26 due to complications from Crohn's disease. (Gracious.) While that awful year might have ruined some people, Lloyd amazingly persevered, as he pitched in a career-high 84 games with a 95 ERA- for the Montreal Expos, winning the Tony Conigliaro Award for overcoming adversity.

Lloyd pitched two more seasons with the Marlins, Mets, and Royals before finishing his career in 2003. He returned to Australia, where he played on their silver medal-winning Olympic baseball team in the 2004 Athens games. Nowadays, he is a pitching coach in the Australian Baseball League for his old team, the Perth Heat. No matter how far he is from the Bronx, Yankees fans will remember his surprising contributions to that '96 championship teams.