Ramiro Mendoza was born on June 15, 1972 in Los Santos, Panama. Los Santos is a small coastal town just a few miles away from the Gulf of Parita, and about 150 miles southwest of the Panama Canal. It seems like a world away as far as baseball goes, but the Yankees indeed found Mendoza in Los Santos, and they signed him as an amateur free agent in 1991. At six-foot-two and 154 pounds, he wasn't the most imposing figure, but he would become a key piece of the Yankees' bullpen throughout the dynasty years.
He put up excellent numbers throughout his minor league career, and he had a 3.21 ERA as a starter at Double-A in 1995. Nicknamed "El Brujo," the witch doctor, his bowling ball sinker gave hitters fits for a decade in the majors. He was just about ready for the call in 1996.
Results: 11 GS, 12 G, 53 IP, 6.79 ERA (74 ERA+), -0.2 rWAR
Even though his Yankee career was quite good, his 1996 performance was not notable at all. He started his career as a starter, and his first start came on May 25th, as he allowed three earned runs over six innings; he got the victory. It didn't take long for the Yankees to realize that Mendoza as a starter was likely a failed proposition. He would spend time at Triple-A Columbus that season as well, tossing 15 starts, but whatever succeeded at the minor league level did not succeed at the major league level. Mendoza did not make the postseason roster that season, and he would ultimately switch over to more of a middle relief/spot starter role.
There was a two-start stretch in June when Mendoza made a difference on the big league club though. David Cone, Jimmy Key, and Andy Pettitte all dealt with various injuries (most notably Cone), and manager Joe Torre had to turn to Mendoza and long man Brian Boehringer to star in a pair of doubleheaders. Mendoza even had to make his starts on three days' rest. Yet on June 21st in Cleveland against the Indians, one of the most powerful offenses in baseball, Mendoza threw five innings of two-run ball; both were unearned. The Yankees swept the doubleheader and Mendoza again started on three days' rest on the 24th in Mineesota. He held the Twins to two earned runs in five innings, salvaging a doubleheader split. Although he regressed shortly afterward, the reprieve was certainly appreciated.
What did he do after?
After 1996, Mendoza had a very successful major league career. For the Yankees from 1997 to 2002 he would put up a 118 ERA+ over 645.2 IP, good for 11.7 rWAR (and averaged 1.9 WAR per season). He would then go on to pitch for the Boston Red Sox and then back to the Yankees from 2003 to 2005, but by that point he was basically replacement level. He won five championships, with both the Yankees and Red Sox, and in 2004 he became the first player in 75 years to win a championship with both of those two clubs.
Mendoza played for Team Panama in the World Baseball Classic in 2006, 2009, and 2013, and he had a brief stint in the Atlantic League, throwing 87 decent innings for the Newark Bears in 2009. He became the model for the "fireman middle reliever," as unfair as the comparison is based on how different relievers are today. He was a crucial part of the Yankees dynasty years, and 1996 was the beginning of it all.