Over the last two years, ESPN’s Sam Miller has gone through Major League Baseball history and tried to determine the part of each baseball season that will live on years from now. His 2018 post included potential candidates like gambling’s legalization, the opener strategy and Shohei Ohtani, among other options. It’s more than worth the read.
For the Yankees, 2018 was a memorable but not unforgettable season. There are plenty of moments from 2009 or other years that will live on not just in the current crop of Yankees fans’ memories but in the next generation. Instead, this past year will likely sit as either just a year building up to an eventual title for the current core or a disappointing what-if within a championship drought.
Still, inspired by Miller’s post, I sought to determine what from this season will live on for future Yankees fans. Ranging from memorable debuts, playoff failure or an unexpected breakout, these are my candidates:
1. The Home Run Record
The Yankees set a few home run records in 2018 and none more significant than the all-time single-season mark of 267 homers, surpassing the 1997 Mariners’ total of 264.
There was chatter when Giancarlo Stanton was acquired in Dec. 2017 that the Yankees would break this record, but actually pulling off the feat was a sight to behold. The Bombers unleashed a series of breathtaking dingers on baseball with Giancarlo leading the way with 38, though Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius and Miguel Andujar each hit 27.
Records definitely have some staying power, even combined efforts. We remember win records from the 1998 Yankees and 2001 Mariners and four 20-game winners for the 1971 Orioles. This has the potential to be the record for some time as the league home run total fell by 520 from 2017 to 2018 and it could fall further.
However, there’s a simple reason why this record may not last in everyone’s memories; It might get broken… and soon. The 2019 Yankees could have a full year of Judge to go with an improved Stanton and Gary Sanchez, not to mention Manny Machado. The current juiced ball era leads one to believe home run records can fall and this one is no exception, whether by next year’s Yankees, another team in this era or one in a high-flying future in baseball history. If this doesn’t happen, then this record is the easy answer.
2. Miguel Andujar’s Debut
Miguel Andujar came into 2018 as the overshadowed rookie in the Yankees’ plans, starting the year in Triple-A as Brandon Drury took the reins at the hot corner. However, Drury was soon Wally Pipp’d and Andujar seized the opportunity, nearly winning Rookie of the Year despite his poor defense.
In addition to his 27 homers, which rank third all-time for a Yankees rookie, he broke Joe DiMaggio’s franchise record for doubles by a rookie. Even though Andujar walked infrequently, his palpable impact buoyed the Yankees at times.
Why would Andujar’s year be remembered well into the future? Well, 2018 could be the beginning of an accolade-laden career in the Bronx with Andujar just 23 years old right now. Even though he debuted in 2017, this would be the year the next generation knows, just like how Derek Jeter’s 1996 overshadows his 1995.
Of course, the issue here is that Andujar may not be long for New York. The team’s pursuit of Machado casts doubt on his future on River Avenue and his name swirls in trade rumors as you read this. Even though his rookie season was remarkable, Andujar’s spot in Yankees’ lore is murky without more time.
3. Gleyber Torres’ Debut
When I think about what will live on from the 2016 and 2017 Yankees, it boils down to two people: Sanchez and Judge. Sanchez’s breakout August in 2016 was record-setting for a rookie slugger while Judge’s stature and power simply took over the 2017 season. Perhaps Didi Gregorius’ Wild Card Game homer will be played for years to come, but I can guarantee Judge’s 52 homers in his rookie season will be notable, even if he surpasses that total in subsequent seasons. (For the record, it should have been 53 homers).
And that’s why Torres’ debut, while less flashy than Andujar’s, could be what stands out from 2018. As the Yankees have assembled their current core, each new piece has found a way to stand out in turn and Torres was no exception.
The first of his two walk-off hits pad the case for his 2018 to be remembered. Look at the photo at the top of this piece. Torres pointing back to the Yankees’ dugout after his game-winning three-run homer against Cleveland was the gif/screenshot-able moment that sticks out.
4. Gary Sanchez and What If…
If Sanchez finds his footing and rebounds to the levels he showed in 2016 and ’17, his 2018 will read like a WTF moment. Looking at his Baseball Reference page will cause those unfamiliar with him to immediately ask, “What happened that year? Why did he hit .185 and forget how to hit?” Not that he touches the following players’ levels, but it’s reminiscent of Babe Ruth’s 1922 and Derek Jeter’s 2003.
However, the lasting legacy of Sanchez’s season might actually have been his last plate appearance. Down two, Sanchez hit a towering fly ball to left field at Yankee Stadium, falling 10 feet shy of a walk-off grand slam to win ALDS Game 4. As you surely know, the Red Sox would eliminate the Yankees just one batter later and go on to win the title.
If Yankees don’t win a championship in the next few seasons, there will be a lot of looking back and wondering how they didn’t break through. Fans will examine just how close they came. The Bombers were on the precipice in Game 6 and 7 of the 2017 ALCS in Houston, but Sanchez’s fly ball to nearly beat the archrival Sox could sear into fans’ memories, particularly if Sanchez’s decline further hampers the Pinstripers’ championship hopes in future seasons.
Ugh. Like the last one, I hate to mention this, but the Yankees lost by 15 runs to the Red Sox. At home. In the playoffs.
This game had everything: The first playoff cycle, Austin Romine pitching, Dan Cortese. Within a dominant postseason for the Red Sox, the 16-1 beatdown stuck in the Sox’s minds enough that Alex Cora brought it up at the championship parade.
Why would this not last? Brock Holt getting the cycle instead of a potential Red Sox lifer like Mookie Betts or Andrew Benintendi hurts the case, as does the hectic final innings of Game 4. For some reason, the blowouts often just fade away, particularly if they aren’t the closing game of the series. However, I’m not sure the Red Sox and their fans will willingly let the Yankees faithful forget this savage destruction in the short term.
6. Luke Voit
After coming over at the deadline, Luke Voit tore the cover off the ball for the final two months of the year. He hit 14 home runs in just 39 games and batted .333/.405/.659 before hitting a game-sealing triple in the Wild Card Game. He went from the Cardinals’ third-string first baseman to a fan favorite, getting his name chanted at every home game.
Essentially, Voit was the Shane Spencer for a new generation, albeit more union-friendly and fewer championships. We still remember Spencer two decades later, though he may fade with time. Spencer never hit more than 12 homers in a season after slugging 10 in 27 games in ’98, making his season standout even more. What Voit does remains to be seen.
My Best Guess
If I had to wager what we’ll remember about the 2018 Yankees, I’d say Torres’ rookie season. His stable place on the Yankees’ roster portends a long and storied career and his All-Star 2018 was the start of it all. Andujar and Voit don’t seem destined for Monument Park and could very well be donning new uniforms by Opening Day 2020. Meanwhile, the home run record is bound to be broken.
As for the playoff moments, the Yankees’ championship window remains wide open and 2018’s short run likely concludes as a prelude to something grander. The 16-1 beatdown doesn’t have the staying power of the Red Sox’ Game 4 wins in the ALCS and World Series, or the run as a whole.
I also wouldn’t rule out something not mentioned above. Judge getting showered with cheers during his September return or the Tyler Austin-Joe Kelly brawl or something completely out of left field could surpass all of my suggestions. After all, the history has yet to be written.