The Ballad of Charlie Hayes

Fan Confidence Poll: February 6th, 2012
Tex should focus on pitch recognition from the left side, not bunting
(Kathy Willens/AP)

While the early 90s Yankees struggled in many ways, one position they perpetually struggled to fill was third base. In the mid 80s Mike Pagliarulo capably filled the position, producing above-average offensive numbers for his first four years in the bigs. But his production dipped considerably in 1988, and the Yanks traded him the following year. They then struggled to fill the position*, inserting decidedly below-average hitters such as Mike Blowers, Randy Velarde, Pat Kelly, and even a utility player named Jim Leyrtiz. They clearly needed an upgrade at the position.

*For some reason, Velarde was a somewhat beloved player among kids from my generation. I’m fairly certain it’s because he hit .340 in 1989, after the Yanks had traded Pags. While he did perform a bit better in the mid 90s, I definitely remember thinking he was good in the early part of the decade, despite his actually horrible performance.

In 1991 the position hit something of a low mark. The Yankees started the season using 26-year-old Mike Blowers and 25-year-old Torey Luvullo, but both performed horribly. Jim Leyritz got some reps there, but not many (only 91 PA on the season). Eventually they settled on 23-year-old rookie Pat Kelly, a second baseman blocked by Steve Sax. Overall their third basemen produced a 65 OPS+ in 1991, 13th in the AL and far closer to the basement than to 12th. While pitching was clearly the priority during that period, an upgrade at third base was absolutely necessary.

For most of the off-season it was unclear what the Yankees would do at third. Luvullo’s performance put him out of the picture; he spent all of 1992 in Columbus before being granted free agency. They had traded Blowers during the 1991 season (for a player to be named later). The spot appeared to be Kelly’s again, but in early January they shipped Sax to Chicago, leaving second base open for Kelly. It seemed that Velarde was the starter by default. But two days before the Sax trade, the Yankees made a trade that would later net them their third baseman for 1992. They traded Darrin Chapin, whose name I vaguely remember, to Philadelphia for a player to be named later. More than a month later, after pitchers and catchers reported, the Phillies sent Charlie Hayes to the Yankees.

(Apparently the holdup was a technicality. The Yankees didn’t have any open spots on the 40-man roster, and so they held off on officially announcing Hayes. They eventually designated Alan Mills for assignment.)

If the internet had been around at the time of the trade, we’d have thought little of it. Hayes was a largely unremarkable third baseman. He had been the Phillies starter for the previous two and a half seasons, following a trade from San Fran. In his career he had produced a .276 OBP and a 78 OPS+. Still, that was an improvement over what the Yankees had thrown out there in previous years. The position wasn’t his to lose, though; Hensley Meulens was in the running for the job. Their competition lasted all spring, with Hayes emerging as the winner at the very end. Muelens spent the season playing third at AAA.

Hayes turned out to be a revelation. His overall numbers might not have looked impressive — .257/.297/.409, a 97 OPS+ — but he represented a massive improvement over the previous years’ third basemen. With some quality backup work from Velarde and Leyritz, the Yankees moved from 13th to 4th in offensive production from third base, posting a combined 107 OPS+ at the position. That went along with an overall five-win improvement over 1991, a success for Buck Showalter in his first year at the helm.

I remember growing attached to Hayes that season, probably because he was simply so much better than his predecessors. I had only vague memories of Pags, and most of them were of his fading production in the late 80s. I had been used to dreck, so watching someone serviceable was quite the thrill. It came as a great disappointment, then, when I read the newspaper on November 18th, 1992. Major League Baseball had just held an expansion draft for the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins, and the Rockies selected Hayes with their third pick.

Less than a month later, though, I had forgotten all about Hayes. On December 15th the Yankees signed Wade Boggs to man the hot corner. This was exciting not only because he was Wade Freaking Boggs, but because he was my best friend’s favorite player. (Despite my best friend being as die-hard a Yankee fan as I was at the time.) Lo and behold, Boggs, even at age 35 and coming off a colossally disapointing season, delivered the first above-average performance for a primary Yanks third baseman since Pags in 1987. You’d think Hayes would have become an afterthought, but that was not the case.

As it turns out, 1993 was a career year for Hayes. He played in 157 games for the fledgling Rockies, and he belted out a league-leading 45 doubles at Mile High Stadium. He ended the season with a .305/.355/.522 line, thereby producing his first season with an OBP over .300. He played in only 113 games the next season, with a .348 OBP but a bit less power. It was still better than almost any other season in his past. After the 1994 season he reached free agency, signing back on with the Phillies, where he produced essentially average numbers. Yet again, though, he produced a .340 OBP.

Before the 1996 season Hayes found a job with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Maybe it was the change of parks that killed his numbers, but he was pretty terrible through most of August, producing a .301 OBP and a 73 OPS+. Then, just days before the waiver trade deadline on August 31st, the Pirates flipped him to the Yankees for a guy named Chris Corn. Hayes got some playing time down the stretch, though he performed at less than optimal levels — essentially, he had turned back into his pre-1992 self for the whole 1996 season. He also did a whole lot of nothing in the playoffs, going 5 for 28, all singles, with three walks.

Of course, most of us most prominently remember Hayes for a single moment during those 1996 playoffs, his catch to end the World Series. Odd how that works. A guy who did absolutely nothing for the team during the season and in the postseason gets featured on every highlight reel. But we’ll all remember that moment, and so we’ll all remember Hayes.

He did stick around for the 1997 season — he had apparently signed a four-year deal with the Pirates — and in 398 PA he hit .258/.332/.397, a 90 OPS+. After the season, however, the Yanks planned to move in a new direction, and once again Hayes was involved in a funky player to be named later scenario. In early November the Yankees unloaded Kenny Rogers on the A’s for a player to be named later. On November 17th they dealt Hayes to the Giants, and then the next day they received Scott Brosius as the player to be named from Oakland.

In many ways, Hayes represented the plight of the early 90s Yankees. Here was a decidedly below-average player who represented an improvement. When he came in and produced almost-average numbers, it was a revelation. It was actually disappointing to see him go after the season, though the Wade Boggs acquisition headed that wound pretty quickly. And then, in his return trip, he turned in a performance that in no way could be described as remarkable, yet he’s front and center in one of the most iconic moments in recent team history.

And that, my friends, is the ballad of a man they call Charlie Hayes.

A previous version erroneously cited Coors Field as the Rockies’ home in 1993.

Fan Confidence Poll: February 6th, 2012
Tex should focus on pitch recognition from the left side, not bunting
  • HyShai

    Anyone remember Hayes’ diving stop in the seventh inning of David Cone’s 7 inning no hitter (first start after coming back from aneurysm) in ’96?

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    If only Mike Pagliarulo had stopped disappointing the Yankees after 1989…..

    • Gonzo

      Kei Igawa?

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona


  • vin

    Mike Blowers did end up having a decent career, but it took him until age 28 (his first full season) to finally show he could compete.

  • AC

    Pags had his best in 87′ I think. 32 HRS? Wasn’t that the year of the juiced up baseball too? A lot of players in 87′ had big HR seasons. Page had a great glove reminded some fans of Nettles a bit. He went on to Minn and won a ring too.

    • Jimmy

      Heh. I remember that was the season that the TV crews made such a big deal over that little rubber thumb spacer Pags and Mattingly were using on their bats. Like that was what was getting them all the home runs.

      • Mister Delaware

        I had to use something similar in 2nd grade because I held my pencil funny. Didn’t work.

  • Tipsie

    Let’s not forget Hayes’ 3 for 5, including singles in both 3 run rallies in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series. That game changed the course of the franchise. Lose it, down 3-1, having to face Smoltz, Maddux, Glavine again, likely over.

    Remember, Torre played Hayes and Fielder because Boggs and Tino weren’t doing anything (although Boggs later had the huge pinch-hit bases-loaded walk to win Game 4).

  • Pat D

    I had the exact same reaction when Hayes was taken in the expansion draft. I was pretty horrified and I couldn’t believe they left him unprotected.

    But as soon as they signed Boggs, I forgot all about Hayes.

    • Steve (different one)

      They also left Mo unprotected….

  • Bon Scott

    The Rockies didn’t play at Coors Field in 1993, they were at Mile High Stadium.

  • Joel R

    Charlie also gained a little TV immortality when he was mentioned in a Seinfeld episode. In “The Letter”, where Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer attend a Yankees game, Kramer heckles Charlie: “You better catch it here, Charlie, ’cause this isn’t Philadelphia — .230’s not gonna cut it in this town, babe!”

    • gageagainstthemachine

      Man. I’m a huge Seinfeld fan and know that exact line and episode. Can’t believe I never made the connection that it was Hayes he was heckling.

  • viridiana

    Pretty good glove too. Much better, as I recall, than Blowers and Leyritz. Wouldn’t mind having him now to back up A-Rod.

  • JohnC

    Remember the play Hayes made in the 9th inning of game 5 on Javy Lopez’s smash with the infield in to hold the tying run at 3rd for the 2nd out and keep it 1-0. That preceded Luis Polonia’s classic battle with Wettland where Polonia’s shot to right was flagged down by a gimpy Paul O’Neill to end the game

  • James d.

    Velarde was really only terrible in 1990 and 1991. From 1992-95, he put up a 106 OPS+ and 7.5 bWAR/8.6 fWAR in 1,456 PA. Perhaps not the starter they envisioned, but a hell of a super-sub.

    On the other hand, I remember loving Velarde unconditionally, certainly without knowing all that. Maybe Phil Rizzuto talked him up and the younger generation (e.g., me) soaked that up?

    • STONE COLD Austin Romine


      That’s exactly what it was.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I really never saw Velarde as anything more than a solid backup IF, and this was during a time where I judged players on emotional connection more than anything else.

    Ah, my beloved ’91 Yankees. You keep even the modern-day Yankee fan honest at all times.

    • Mrs. Peterson-Kekich

      Velarde was a pretty decent player. Above-average D at several positions – wOBA in ’93-’95 was .362, .341, .351. Still a fave — wish we had someone like him now.

  • gc

    Did anyone else get a bad feeling in the pit of their stomach on the pitch right before the last pitch of that World Series? Lemke hit a pop-up in nearly the same exact location where Hayes eventually caught the last out, only this time, it was closer to the dugout and a guy wearing a Braves uniform and jacket got in Charlie’s way as he tried to make the play and kind of interfered with him getting to the ball. I don’t think he would have caught it, it would have been interesting, but I do remember thinking that these kinds of things (giving a batter a second chance) sometimes come back to bite you in the ass. Thankfully it all worked out fine and Charlie got to make that catch to win the series.

  • MannyGeee

    “. And then, in his return trip, he turned in a performance that in no way could be described as remarkable, yet he’s front and center in one of the most iconic moments in recent team history.”

    sounds an awful lot like the last sentence in the post Mike is going to write in 2018 about Johnny Damon…

  • Bulasteve

    Pat Kelly was my first prospect infatuation. I remember getting Yankee Magazine and reading about him in Columbus.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      It was guys like Kelly that took the bullet in order to get this franchise to a better place.

  • Jameso

    I absolutely love reading about the late 80’s/early 90’s Yankees. All that stuff went on when I was too young to really grasp any of it. Such a great post!

    • Robinson Tilapia

      It was a hard time to be a fan, but a unique time. I was too young, or not around at all, for the late 60’s and early 70’s, so this was my only taste of realizing that this franchise actually can struggle. It makes you not take things for granted.

      I love names like Jeff Johnson – players who only seemed to exist in baseball history because they were on the early 90’s Yankees.

      • Darren

        Jeff Johnson, Scott Kaminiecki and Wade Taylor.

        The three starting pitchers who were supposed to be our aces.

        After Guidry was done, we didn’t have one bona fide ace until Jimmy Key until 93, correct?

        Scott Sanderson (a/k/a 5 and fly) was the closest we came.

  • JGS

    He played in 157 games for the fledgling Rockies, and he belted out a league-leading 45 doubles at Coors Field

    Well, Mile High. Coors didn’t open until 1995, but the Coors Effect was in full bloom:

    .338/.387/.601/.989 (.601!!) at home, .271/.319/.437/.756 on the road.

  • mike

    I remember the panic when Hayes was picked in the draft – and i remember that the yanks tried to trade for him back right after he was chosen because of what was thier miscalculation as to the draft and his real value to the team as explained by the post.

    Also, signing Boggs was neither a foregone conclusion or even likely at the time – he was thought to be washed up, poor defense, selfish, had issues with Mattingly, was another lefty, had zero power outside Fenway (Hayes was helpful in that he was a righty balance)and he also wanted a long-term deal.

    Alls well that ends well, bit for those few weeks ( and for a few months afterwards until Boggs showed he could play and get along with teammates/Donnie) this was a really difficult situation

  • goterpsgo

    Jeter looks like a pixie stick in that picture.

  • Tom Q

    My recollection of Hayes in that ’96 Series was that he was involved in a remarkable set of key moments — the final catch, of course (after just missing it on the previous pitch, which reminded many of Yogi’s second-chance pop-up in the Allie Reynolds no-hitter), but also he hit a dribbler in Game 4 that somehow stayed fair and was key to the Yankees’ scoring to get closer (setting up the Leyritz home run), and I believe it was he who hit the ball that Marquis Grissom misplayed in Game 5, getting to second base, from which he scored the game’s only run.

    The ’96 Series was pretty much a luck-Series for the Yanks, and I thought Hayes typified that luck, making it fitting he caught the final out. (And the best part of that video is how Jeter starts celebrating before the ball even hits Hayes’ glove)

  • James Smyth

    He also played a huge role in the first postseason victory of the Torre era.

    After dropping the ALDS opener against Texas, the Yanks were quickly down 4-1 in Game Two before mounting a comeback. Trailing 4-2 in the seventh inning, Hayes pinch hit for Boggs and cut the lead in half with a sacrifice fly. Cecil Fielder singled home the tying run an inning later and the game went into extras.

    After Brian Boehringer worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 12th, the Yanks started the bottom of the frame with a Derek Jeter single and a Tim Raines walk.

    Hayes was called on to bunt the runners over to second and third and he laid down a beauty up the third base line. 3B Dean Palmer had to rush to try to get Hayes at first and threw the ball away, sending Jeter home with the winning run. The Yankees won the next two games in Arlington and the rest is history.

    That game was only the fourth time that a postseason game ended on an error: Game 3 of the 1914 WS, Game 4 of the 1969 WS (The J.C. Martin play) and Game 6 of the 1986 WS (Buckner). Game 2 of the 2009 ALCS later joined the list when the Yankees beat the Angels in the 13th inning when 2B Maicer Izturis’ errant forceout attempt brought home Jerry Hairston with the game winner.

    Wow, that was a lot more than I intended to write. Well Charlie Hayes was the man.