The Steve is the thing

Steve Sax is probably the best Steve in Yankee history, and that's not saying much.

When it comes to great Bens in Yankee history, they are few and far between. In fact, other than a fleetingly brief and utterly forgettable 11-inning stint by Ben Ford in 2000, the last Ben to play on the Yankees was Ben Chapman in 1936. His real first wasn’t even Ben. Rather, Benjamin was his middle name, and William his birth name.

As namesakes go though, there are more boring comps than Ben Chapman. Vehemently opposed to racial integration of the game, as a manager of the Phillies, Chapman and his team’s harassment eventually led to increased support for Jackie Robinson during 1947. As a Yankee for parts of seven seasons from 1930-1936, Chapman hit .305/.379/.451 and made the All Star team four times. Before Chapman was Benny Bengough (born Bernard) and Ben Paschal, a superb fourth outfielder actually born Benjamin.

So in nearly 110 seasons, only two players in Yankee history have been named Benjamin, and they have amounted to not much. That’s hardly however the biggest name failure in Yankee history. But who cares? What’s this all about anyway?

While searching for a topic for this post, I asked my followers on Twitter for ideas, and Jesse Spector, now the national hockey writer for The Sporting News, offered up a name-based suggestion. Talk about, he said, “lousy Yankees named Steve through history.” I hadn’t ever given it much thought, but when I looked up the history of pinstriped Steves, more than a few rotten eggs came up.

The most recent Steve to take the field for the Yankees was Mr. Garrison earlier this year. The 24-year-old New Jersey native made just one appearance and retired both batters he faced. As Yankee Steves go, it was a rather triumphant appearance. The previous Steve to pitch for the Yanks went by the surname Karsay, and his failures weren’t really his fault. Signed by the Yanks to a four-year contract prior to the 2002 season, Karsay suffered at the hands of Joe Torre. He made 78 appearances in 2002, missed all of 2003 and appeared in just 13 more games for the Yanks before he was released in 2005.

Prior to Karsay, the most recent Yankee Steves were of the Howe Farr variety in the mid-1990s. Steve Howe and Steve Farr provided a rather dynamic relief duo. For the Yanks, Howe made 88 appearances over six seasons as drug suspensions and injuries cut short his career. He was terrible in the 1995 playoffs and was cut by the Yanks a few months before their 1996 World Series championship. As the closer to Howe’s set-up man, Steve Farr racked up 78 saves in three years, but these two were just behind the curve. After they left, the Yanks’ bullpens improved tremendously.

That era of mediocre and downright awful Yankee teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s played host to a few other Steves as well. Steve Sax played just three seasons with the Yanks, but they were his three best offensive years. As a second baseman, he hit .294/.342/.376 in 472 games while also making 30 errors in the process. The Yanks eventually traded him to the White Sox for Domingo Jean, Melido Perez and Bob Wickman. Steve Balboni in 1989 and 1990 brought his brand of all-or-nothing baseball to the Bronx as well. After starting his career in the early 1980s in the Bronx, he returned for a 226-game encore and hit .216/.294/.435 in the process. He was the DH on the last Yankee team to finish in seventh place in the AL East. That 1990 also featured Steve Adkins for five awful starts.

Beyond that motley group of early 1990s Steves, the other players in Yankee history to don that name made small marks on the franchise. Sundra, Peek, Roser, Souchock, Kraly, Whitaker, Hamilton, Barber, Blateric — they bounced around the bigs, they came and went. Of them all, only Steve Sax was an All Star. One day, a great Steve may come through the Yankees’ system. Perhaps we’ll see our own Garvey, Bedrosian or even a Carlton. For now though, Steve, like my name, isn’t a great one for Yankee history.