Rochester-born but Rhode Island-raised Michael King grew up as a fan of the Yankees and adored fellow pitcher Mariano Rivera, the nearest Hall of Fame. Of course, King was amazed when the Yankees first called him to the major leagues on September 19.
But another surreal moment awaited him a day later – and a week before he became the 54th Yankee to appear in a game this season – when he received a marker and asked to sign a hidden navy blue wall inside the club at Yankee Stadium, a which featured not only Rivera's signature but also dozens of other franchise legends, from Mike Mussina to Yogi Berra and Paul O'Neill to Whitey Ford.
"It was humiliating," said King, who found himself staring at the wall. "I feel like I really didn't do anything when I look at all these names."
The dominant theme of the Yankees' 2019 season was injuries – and victories despite them. The club set a major league record by sending 30 different players to the injured list, many of them stars played in much of the season. However, they still emerged from the regular season of 162 games with 103 wins, an Eastern American League title and a home field advantage in the post-season first round match against Minnesota Twins, which starts Friday at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees' potent mix of resources (a payroll of over $ 230 million, the third largest in baseball, and large investments in player development) and development acumen (from scouting to scouting) helped them build a list. talented and deep, and to fix it when the injuries took their toll.
In return, many new players have earned the right to adhere to a tradition. Any player who participates in a Yankees game – from the longest serve (formerly Derek Jeter) to the lowest (King) – can write his name on the team history wall. Of the 54 players used this season, 22 made their Yankees debut, including some crucial additions: striker Mike Tauchman, field player D.J. LeMahieu and Gio Urshela, and pitchers Adam Ottavino and James Paxton.
"It's a nice tradition, whether you have a day like Yankee or 10 or 18," said relief pitcher Zack Britton. "It's cool, especially for those guys who haven't spent much time here. For example, maybe one day when they retire they'll come to the club and show their grandchildren their names on the wall."
Few franchises reveal in their history the way the Yankees. They are seeking the 28th World Series title. The idea of collecting signatures came when the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009 with the navy blue wall, in a hallway adjacent to the unadorned locker room. Clubhouse staff took advantage of the possibilities and assistant equipment manager Joe Lee suggested that players sign up.
The goal is to get all live Yankees players to sign; about 500 have already done so. (Since 1903, the Yankees used over 1,700 players.) If a former player is in town, he can stop to sign the wall. Even players who have appeared in just one Yankees game this season – such as pitchers Joe Mantiply, Brady Lail and Adonis Rosa, none of whom are on the main league list anymore – have the right to add their name.
First baseman Luke Voit, who was acquired in an unannounced trade in July 2018 but proved to be a useful hitter, signed the wall the first day he was summoned last season and then spent several minutes perusing the story. "You forget the guys who played here," he said.
Some signatures on the wall are easily recognizable: Willie Randolph, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and Don Mattingly. Some look more like indecipherable scribbles. Several are a bit faded, such as C.C. Sabathia and Brett Gardner, the two remaining remnants of the last Yankees World Series winning team in 2009.
Only the Hall of Famers can sign inside the huge Yankees logo in the middle of the wall. There are 11, including Joe Torre, the Hall of Fame manager, who never played for them. Mussina and Rivera have signed twice: before and after entering this year's Hall of Fame.
There are also names that could have been forgotten by less diehard fans, such as catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who played 33 games for the Yankees in 2008, near the end of his Hall of Fame career; field player Torey Lovullo, who appeared in 22 games for the 1991 Yankees and became the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and Tyler Lyons, a southpaw who signed a minor contract with the Yankees in mid-August and played almost nine times.
"It's an honor to wear this shirt, and you take every chance you get," said Lyons. "You may never do that again."
Even top scorer Aaron Judge felt the same way on his first day in the major leagues – August 13, 2016. When he was taken to the wall and saw the autographs of Goos Gossage and Reggie Jackson, the judge said, "Are you sure? do you want me to sign? "
The wall is egalitarian: although he has remained one of baseball's biggest stars, the judge has as much room in his name as Gleyber Torres, an All-Star field player; Cameron Maybin, an important addition in the season that propelled a decimated outdoor field; and Dave Winfield Hall of Fame.
"It's a special group," said the judge. "I've always been amazed and always like to look at him. The wall is filling, though.
This is especially true this year with all new faces. To reach this point, the Yankees had to find reinforcements from minor leagues and other teams to overcome the nightmare of injuries.
Additions from outside the organization before and during the season proved vital: first base and designated striker Edwin Encarnacion (acquired in one trade), LeMahieu (signed as a free agent), Tauchman (trade), Maybin (trade), Paxton (trade) ) and Ottavino (free agent). They were reinforced by players developed in the minor Yankees leagues who made their major league debut this year, such as first baseman Mike Mike and infielder Thairo Estrada.
"Although it was sad that we suffered so many injuries, it is nice that everyone who came to do their job," Torres said.
The Yankees relied so heavily on their AAA Class affiliate, Scranton / Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, that the minor league team broke a franchise record, with 84 players appearing in a game in 2019, including the playoffs. Of the 2019 major league post-season teams, only Tampa Bay Rays (57) used more players than Yankees 54 during the regular season. (The Yankees record is 58, set in 2014.)
"I don't think anyone expected us to use so many players," said Tauchman, who helped propel the field to his calf injury at the end of the season in early September. “Really good teams need a lot of players, mostly. That speaks more to the way baseball is now. "
Teams increasingly rely on younger, cheaper players, especially those with smaller league options that can be moved around to plug holes. The Yankees have called up Scranton pitchers Stephen Tarpley and Nestor Cortes Jr. a total of 15 times this season.
"It's never fun being sent down," Tarpley said. He then smiled as he displayed a pair of socks in his closet, featuring the bounty hunter character in the "Star Wars" movies. "But I feel like a hired weapon, in a sense, like a Boba Fett."
Tarpley made a point of signing the wall, but not every 2019 Yankee did. LeMahieu didn't remember to sign it yet, but said, "This year will take up a lot of space." Telling the tradition, Urshela said he needed to add his name soon. Ford said it was waiting to be asked to do so.
"We may need a new wall," he said.