Jim Leyritz will forever be remembered as the man who changed the momentum of the 1996 World Series. With one swing of the bat, Leyritz became an immortal legend in the hearts of Yankees fans everywhere. Jim joined YGY contributor Marcus Guy to discuss his legacy, the Yankees ‘Core Four’ dynasty, and the evolution of the game of baseball.
Thank you for joining us!
Thank you for having me!
The highlight of your career was on October 23rd, 1996, game four of the World Series. What are your recollections of that event?
When you look back on it now, it has a completely different meaning than it did at that moment. At the moment, it was a huge home run that tied up the game, shifted the momentum of the game, and the series. When I look back on it now, I see what a huge home run that was because if we would have gotten beat by Atlanta in ’96 and they would have lost to Cleveland as they did at ’97, Joe Torre would’ve been fired, Mariano Rivera would have been traded and the amazing seasons that were 1998 and 1999, would not come to be.
That home run basically started the dynasty for the Yankees. But it also made me think about the ’95 walk-off that I hit (against the Seattle Mariners during the ALDS in the 15th inning. The Yankees ended up losing the series), that if we didn’t win it in ’96, it would just become another footnote in Yankee history like the ’95 home. Once we won that game, we not only won the World Series, but it became a tangible moment that people could look at that which altered the momentum of the entire series.
What were you thinking when you were walking up to the plate? Were you thinking long ball?
No, I wasn’t. I can tell you this much. First of all, I hit the home run with Darryl Strawberry’s bat because I only had two bats left and I had to face John Smoltz the next day when Andy Pettitte was pitching and Strawberry had a box of bats sitting in the dugout. I asked Darryl if I could borrow one of his because I had heard this guy throws a hundred miles an hour. So I got the bat from Darryl, (a brand new bat, I took it right out of the box) walked up the steps and then looked at Don Zimmer and said, “Zim, what’s this guy got?” And Zim says, “Hey, he throws a hundred miles an hour. Just get ready.” And that’s what I did.
I have always wondered- and I have never gotten the chance to ask Joe Torre, but I always wanted to, if there was a third catcher on the roster, would he pinch hit for Jim Leyritz in that spot? I’m always curious about that, because Wade Boggs was on the bench, and if there was a third catcher who could field for me, and Boggs would be able to hit in that big spot.
What do you think?
I think he would’ve. The ‘Legend of Jim Leyritz’ hadn’t really begun by then. After the ’95 home run, people thought that I was merely a lucky one-hit-wonder. Even during that game, I went 0-6 and during the season, I only had 265 bats. I wasn’t an everyday player. I honestly think that Joe Torre would’ve pinch-hit Wade Boggs for me in that situation.