clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Remembering Kevin Maas’ breakout with the Yankees

During the summer of 1990, Kevin Maas was one of the best hitters in baseball.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

In the summer of 1990, Yankees fans were struggling through a season where nothing seemed to be going right. Their star first-baseman saw his power evaporate, Dave Winfield was traded out of town, and the team fell out of the race early in the season. Then unheralded prospect Kevin Maas arrived from the minors and went on a hot streak that has became the measuring stick for offensive breakouts until Gary Sanchez’s 2016 outburst.

The Yankees entered 1990 set at first base, as Don Mattingly was coming off six straight All-Star appearances and was among the best players in the game. In addition to his Gold Glove defense, Mattingly produced a 133 OPS+ while playing 158 games in 1989.

Mattingly’s back would betray him early in 1990, stealing his power and sending him to the sidelines as he attempted to manage his injury. The Yankees needed all the offense they could get, as their pitching staff was in the process of giving up the third-most runs in the league.

Maas was off to a hot start for Triple-A Columbus with 13 home runs and a .284/.390/.582 line through 57 games. The team was 15 games behind the first=place Red Sox when Maas got the call. He later said, “There was really no reason to not give me a chance. Maybe I came up in less of a pressure cooker because of that.”

In his major-league debut, Maas lined a single off White Sox starter Jack McDowell in the fourth inning for his first career hit. His first home run would come on July 4th, against another elite pitcher in Kansas City’s Bret Saberhagen.

Maas continued to hit and get on base at a strong clip. His power surge rose to another level when the Yankees headed to Texas at the end of July for a three game set. Maas homered in all three games, victimizing Kevin Brown, Bobby Witt, and the legendary Nolan Ryan on consecutive nights.

Mattingly took notice and said, “He has power to the right-center field gap, and that’s big in our park.” According to Maas, Mattingly even volunteered to take ground balls at third base if it helped get Maas into the lineup that year.

On August 20th, Maas hit a home run to deep right-center field of Toronto starter Todd Stottlemyre for his 15th home run. Combined with three walks on the night, his OPS rose to 1.014 after 42 major-league games.

Maas would never reach that level again, finishing his rookie season with a .902 OPS and 21 home runs. His last home run of the year came off future Hall of Fame pitcher Jack Morris on the final day of the season.

Despite playing only half the season, Maas finished second to Sandy Alomar for the American League Rookie of the Year. He beat out players such as Kevin Appier, John Olerud and Robin Ventura in the voting.

Maas volunteered to play left field the next season for the Yankees, as Mattingly regained his ability to play everyday. Despite hitting 23 home runs in 1991, Maas only produced a .723 OPS, which was league average production, but far below the expectations he created in his rookie year. He played several more seasons for the Yankees, Twins and in Japan before leaving baseball.

Kevin Mass exploded on the scene pumping energy into a franchise that was heading to the bottom of the standings. He was unable to sustain his success long term, but is still remembered 30 years later for his offensive outburst that summer.