Heading into the winter after the 1997 season, the New York Yankees were in need of a third baseman. Longtime starter Wade Boggs had played just 76 games at the hot corner and 103 overall that year and was entering his age-40; rather than re-sign him, the team opted to let him walk in free agency, where he would wind up signing with the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The player who spent the most time manning third base that year, Charlie Hayes, had a career triple slash of .266/.313/.406. Soon after the season ended, on November 11, 1997, the Yankees sent him to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Chris Singleton and minor leaguer Alberto Castillo.
Seven days later, the Yankees filled that hole by sending veteran starter Kenny Rogers to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for a player to be named later: 31-year-old third baseman Scott Brosius. At the time, the deal was an exchange of players who had underperformed in 1997 relative to their career norms: Rogers had posted an ERA above 5.50 in 1997, while Brosius’s 50 wRC+ ranked dead last among 144 qualified hitters.
Although the Yankees clearly hoped that Brosius would bounce back from his disastrous campaign, the goal of that deal was simply unloading Rogers’ contract. They did not enter the season anticipating a return to the version of himself that posted a 121 OPS+ across 237 games in 1995 and 1996. On Opening Day, Brosius found himself slotted into the No. 8 spot in the lineup, ahead of only catcher Joe Girardi; when Jorge Posada was behind the plate, he would bat ninth. Joe Torre was determined to give Brosius an extended look, even with veteran Dale Sveum also on the team to provide depth at the hot corner, and the Oakland castoff started all but two games through Memorial Day.
Brosius spent the vast majority of the season in these two spots in the lineup — he batted eighth 75 times and ninth 60 times, and seventh just ten times (almost exclusively in National League ballparks). This, however, was less due to his own performance and more due to the sheer depth of the Yankees’ lineup: Brosius slashed .300/.371/.472 with 19 home runs and 98 RBIs, earning his first and only career All-Star appearance in the process.
While most teams would slot that performance right into the heart of the order, the 1998 Yankees had five starters with an OPS+ higher than his 121.
Making his postseason debut, Brosius carried his strong performance into October. Were ALDS MVP awards something that existed, he would have been a strong candidate to receive it, as his performance (4-for-10 with a homer) surpassed everybody with the possible exception of Paul O’Neill, who went 4-for-11 with a home run and two doubles. He continued his hot hitting in the ALCS as well, going 6-for-20 with a home run and a team-leading six runs batted in to help overcome Cleveland in six.
But the 1998 World Series was when Brosius established himself into the annals of Yankee lore. After going 1-for-4 in Game 1, the third baseman had back-to-back three-hit nights. Game 3 in particular was the Scott Brosius Show (see Matt’s entry yesterday for a more detailed account). He led off the top of the seventh inning with a solo home run that put the Yankees on the board and cut the Padres’ lead to two. The next inning, facing San Diego closer and future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, Brosius deposited a 2-2 pitch over the wall in straightaway center field to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 lead.
Brosius would add another hit and an RBI to his World Series total in Game 4 with a bases-loaded single in the top of the eighth to give the Bombers a 2-0 lead and power them to a sweep. It was only appropriate that he assisted on the final out, a grounder to third by Mark Sweeney off Mariano Rivera. In the end, the third baseman led the Series in hits with eight, home runs with two, and runs batted in with six. On the back of this performance, he went home not only with a World Series championship, but the World Series MVP.
Brosius never again replicated his regular season performance from 1998, and that did cost the Yankees a bit when they chose to bring him back on a three-year deal and traded future All-Star third baseman Mike Lowell to Florida for a package of prospects that didn’t pan out. Nonetheless, Brosius remained a valued member of the clubhouse who dazzled with his defense at the hot corner and still had his share of memorable playoff hits ahead. The magic began in 1998.
And with one last tip of the cap to Scott Brosius and company, that will do it for our 1998 Yankees retrospective! As Andrew said earlier today, we appreciate you following along with us to remember that special season from 25 years ago. It was one for the ages and should never be forgotten.