Given the numbers that Gary Sanchez has put up since his entrance to the majors just a few weeks ago, we are left to wonder if this kid is even human. Through 19 games, he has already smashed nine home runs with 16 RBI. It is must-see TV every time the rookie catcher steps up to the plate. Even behind the plate, his cannon of an arm and incredible lateral movement to keep balls in front of him is beautiful to watch.
This scorching start to the major league career of Sanchez brings back memories of Yankees past, who came storming out of the gate from the minor leagues and captivated Yankees fans. Some continued their torrid start and went on to have successful, even Hall of Fame careers. Others saw their time in the New York spotlight to be short lived. Let’s look back at some of the most memorable entrances to the Bronx, and how their careers turned out.
We will start with the rookie who wound up finding the most success after his incredible start to his major league career. The Yankee Clipper came up as a rookie with plenty of promise in 1936 after tearing up the Pacific Coast League, where he posted a 61-game hitting streak.
Dimaggio would carry over his hot hitting from the west coast to the Bronx, starting with his very first game in pinstripes. Batting third in his major league debut, Dimaggio tallied three hits, including a triple, in a Yankees victory on May 3rd, 1936. In his next game, he recorded three more hits, and never stopped.
He would finish his rookie campaign batting .323 with 29 homers and 15 triples, all at the age of 21. If the Rookie of the Year award was presented back in the thirties, it would have been hard to keep it from him.
Towards the end of arguably the greatest season in franchise history, the Yankees called up a 26-year-old outfielder who had seen small fragments of playing time earlier in the season. Shane Spencer, a 28th round draft pick, had spent nine seasons wandering the minors, looking to find his way to the show. When the Yankees called in September of 1998, he made the most out of his chance, to say the least.
Spencer went 2-4 with a home run on September 4th, and would keep hitting home runs at an alarming rate. In fact, he would become the first rookie to ever hit three grand slams. He would close the 1998 regular season on a nine game stretch in which he slugged SEVEN home runs. That is not a typo.
His incredible hitting was a reason to watch the Yankees down the stretch during a time where they had long clinched their spot in the playoffs. Spencer would finish the season batting .373 with ten home runs, and carried his long ball power into the ALDS, where he homered in games two and three of the series, helping the Yankees clinch the series and eventually their 24th World Series title.
Spencer would play a role in the Yankees title runs of 1999 and 2000 as well before leaving the club in 2002, and would wind up playing overseas two years later.
Remember in 2007 when we were convinced that we had found the next Mariano Rivera? Looking back on Chamberlain’s start in pinstripes, it was hard to write off that theory. Chamberlain was called up in August of 2007 and threw 13.1 jaw-dropping innings before ever surrendering a run. He struck out 17 batters in just over 11 innings during his first month in the majors, and he even had a Rivera-like entrance song from the bullpen when he chose “Shout at the Devil” by Motley Crue.
Chamberlain would finish the 2007 season allowing just one earned run and striking out 34 batters in 24 innings of work, including eight holds to set up Rivera in the ninth. He was an integral part of the Yankees climb back into a playoff spot, before being met by an angry swarm of midges in the ALDS.
Chamberlain would help the Yankees win their most recent title in 2009 before signing with the Tigers in 2013, where he was eventually released. He was most recently released by the Indians in July of this season.
During the dark days of the early ‘90s, a ray of hope came up as a rookie in 1990. Kevin Maas brought his pull-happy swing to the Bronx during a season where the team would suffer their worst record since 1912. Still, fans were able to watch what was certain to be their saving grace, and the successor to the injured Don Mattingly.
Maas, a 22nd round pick, was called up by the Yankees in late June of the 1990 season. All he did was club ten home runs in his first 77 at bats, becoming the fastest player to ever reach that mark. Maas had a field day with the short porch in right field, and finished his rookie season with 21 home runs in just 79 games, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Sadly, Maas would never reach the expectations of his future, and as pitchers adjusted to his swing, Maas proved unable to respond. He would become another “once-upon-a-time” tale, and by 1995 he was out of the majors at just 30 years of age.