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The 25 Most Surprising Seasons in Yankees History

Which players rose to the occasion and delivered way more than the team ever dreamed that they possibly could?

Dan Brink

Every year, hundreds of potential MLB players report to spring training across the country hoping to hit the big time. For a small percentage of them, success is simply expected; for the majority of the rest they will either never find it or only experience some level of mediocrity. (This is not to disparage them — championship teams need plenty of average contributors, too.)

But there is an even tinier percentage of players than the ones behind Door No. 1. These are the guys who reported to camp and didn’t envision setting the world on fire, or even if they had high expectations, no one thought that they would utterly upend the sport as a whole. There are countless examples across other franchises. Think about when José Bautista went from unknown journeyman to one of the best Blue Jays of all-time, or across town when R.A. Dickey rode a knuckleball and a prayer to a shocking Cy Young Award. Delightful!

The Yankees have been fortunate enough to experience quite a few of these seasons, too. They are priceless gems, and those who saw them live (or simply read about them) will never forget them. The word “surprising” allows us to run the gamut of different varieties of “surprise,” and we are going to take advantage of that leeway to have some fun as we await the start of the exhibition season.

There’s so much to explore and remember! We hope you enjoy the walk down memory lane with us, in chronological order.

1904 Jack Chesbro
1920 Babe Ruth
1932 Red Ruffing
1943 Spud Chandler
1944 Snuffy Stirnweiss
1950 Phil Rizzuto
1968 Roy White
1976 Willie Randolph
1984 Don Mattingly
1990 Kevin Maas
1996 Mariano Rivera
1998 Scott Brosius
2005 Aaron Small
2006 Chien-Ming Wang
2008 Mike Mussina
2011 Bartolo Colon
2014 Dellin Betances
2015 Alex Rodriguez
2016 Gary Sánchez
2017 Aaron Judge
2019 DJ LeMahieu
2019 Gio Urshela
2022 Matt Carpenter
2022 Nestor Cortes
2022 Jose Trevino

Best of the Rest
1927 Wilcy Moore
1961 Johnny Blanchard
1962 Tom Tresh
1993 Mike Stanley
2019 Mike Tauchman