It is, perhaps, the worst-kept secret in all of Yankees' camp this spring. Coming off consecutive playoff-less seasons for the first time in over two decades, the Bombers are relying upon a number of players to rebound from injury-riddled and/or underwhelming 2014 campaigns. This list includes, but is not limited to: Carlos Beltran, Stephen Drew, Ivan Nova (at some point?), Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira.
Even though the first pitch of the 2015 season has yet to be thrown, you don't quite need to be Nostradamus to predict that New York's season more or less hinges on the ability of these players to replicate, or at least come close to replicating, their former selves. Conventional wisdom would suggest to avoid expecting too much, but there are examples throughout franchise history of pretty impressive bounce-back seasons. Here are some of the best:
Mariano Rivera, 2013
When Rivera tore his ACL shagging fly balls in Kansas City in early May of 2012, many thought that was how the future Hall of Famer's legendary career would come to a close. After all, he had hinted at retirement earlier in the year, and few athletes had ever come back from an injury that severe at the age of 42 and been serviceable going forward, let alone compete at an All-Star level. The day after the injury, Rivera made it known he would be back for one last go, and in 2013, he was every bit as good as he was before. At the age of 43, Mo saved 44 games and was named MVP of the All-Star Game (a decoration that might've been more of a lifetime achievement award than anything, but hey, who's counting?). Rivera was named American League Comeback Player of the Year as a cherry on top. And he also got a lot of cool, totally unusable gifts!
Mike Mussina, 2008
Like Rivera's, Mussina's bounce-back season doubles as a tremendous swan song. In 2007, Mussina posted the worst ERA of his career (5.15), and in early September, was actually removed from the starting rotation in favor of Ian Kennedy (here's a funny article about that). The '08 season began with nearly everyone questioning how much Mussina had left in the tank, and the right-hander responded with an unforgettable farewell. For the first time, Mussina, whose career had been defined by nearly's and almost's, reached the 20-win plateau. recording the previously unattainable number 20 on the season's final day. It proved to be the last appearance in a career that should eventually commemorated in Cooperstown.
Jason Giambi, 2005
If Jason Giambi's first two seasons in New York were Godfather I and Godfather II (I know, a blasphemous comparison, but stay with me), then his third, 2004, was Godfather III. Giambi was named an All-Star by the fans' vote, but it was a brutal year for the Giambino on and off the field. He appeared in just 80 games, due in part to a benign tumor that landed him on the disabled list. He hit just .208, easily the lowest mark of his career to that point. Following the season, Giambi's 2003 grand jury testimony regarding BALCO, in which he admits receiving and taking performance enhancing drugs, was made public. In 2005, Giambi rebounded to hit 32 home runs while leading the American League in walks and on-base percentage. The 34-year old slugger was named AL Comeback Player of the Year, while simultaneously rebuilding--if even just slightly--his damaged image.
Ron Guidry, 1985
"Louisiana Lightning" won 20 games three times throughout his career, but none of those campaigns were less anticipated than his output in 1985. The year prior, the southpaw was just 10-11 with a 4.51 ERA, the highest of his career in a season in which he made at least one start. For the first time since breaking into the league, Guidry looked to be a below-average pitcher, but similar to Mussina in '08, he proved critics wrong in a major way. '85 saw Guidry compile his best overall season in six years, as he won 22 games, walked few hitters and gave up less hits per nine innings than he did the year before, and placed second in AL Cy Young voting. To this day, it remains a mystery how Guidry's year was overlooked by Bowling for Soup.
Tommy Byrne, 1955
Byrne's story may not be totally well known by younger fans, but it's a pretty remarkable one. Byrne broke into the league with New York in 1943 and, while talented, he had trouble overcoming one flaw: he couldn't throw strikes. The righty led the league in walks three years running from 1949 through 1951, issuing a free pass to a remarkable 489 hitters in just 542.3 innings, while somehow winning 36 games over that span (including an All-Star appearance!). Byrne's wildness caught up with him, as he spent most of the 1953 and 1954 seasons in the minors. In his age-35 season, Byrne had easily the best season of his career. The command issue had been curbed (just 87 walks in 160 innings), enabling Byrne to win 16 games and post a 3.15 ERA. To boot, Byrne was the team's best pitcher in that year's World Series loss to the Dodgers, as he won Game 2 and went nearly pitch-for-pitch with Johnny Podres in the Game 7 defeat. Byrne pitched with the team until 1957.
Babe Ruth, 1926
The Bambino? On a list of players coming back from down years? Ruth's time with the Yankees is the stuff of legend(understatement, I know) but his 1925 campaign pushed the team's patience with him as far as it ever had gone. The Babe reported to camp overweight and right before the season began, was diagnosed with an ulcer and ultimately wound up missing the team's first 41 games recuperating (the ulcer diagnosis stemmed from the "Bellyache Heard 'Round the World" incident). The rest of the season wasn't quite Ruthian either, as he posted a .290/.393/.543 slash line, which most players in the era would've killed for, but was by far his worst season with New York to that point. Ruth responded with a huge 1926 in which he led the league in runs scored (139), home runs (47), RBI (153), walks (144), OBP (.516), slugging percentage (.737), OPS (1.253) and OPS+ (225). Unfortunately for the Yankees, their season would end in the World Series with Ruth's infamous caught stealing resulting in the final out. Regardless, Ruth's year in '26 did a good job of reminding everyone exactly who he was.