Friday, July 26, 2013

Alfonso Soriano and the Longest Gaps Between Yankees Stints
Alfonso Soriano is coming back to the Bronx. The former Yankee farmhand that played in two World Series, clubbed a would-be title-clinching homer in 2001, finished third in the A.L. MVP vote in 2002 and was dealt to Texas for Alex Rodriguez in 2004 was traded from the Cubs to the Yankees today in exchange for a Class A pitching prospect, Bob Nightengale reports.

He's 37 now (?!) and has been an average player this year in Chicago, but looking at the Yankees offense he sure can't make matters worse.

Soriano was an old favorite and it made me wonder who had the longest span between stints with the Yankees. After Excel-ing my way through the franchise player and pitcher registers on Baseball-Reference I've found that Soriano will be the 20th player to leave the Yankees and play at least five seasons with another club(s) before coming back:

Player First Tenure Full Seasons Away Return
Al Leiter 1987-89 15 2005
Rube Oldring 1905 10 1916
Alfonso Soriano 1999-2003 9 2013
Chris Chambliss 1974-79 8 1988
Marcus Thames 2002 7 2010
Rey Sanchez 1997 7 2005
Roberto Kelly 1987-92 7 2000
Urban Shocker 1916-17 7 1925-28
Cliff Markle 1915-16 7 1924
Nick Johnson 2001-03 6 2010
Ruben Sierra 1995-96 6 2003-05
Jack Quinn 1909-12 6 1919-21
Javier Vazquez 2004 5 2010
Homer Bush 1997-98 5 2004
Randy Velarde 1987-95 5 2001
Sterling Hitchcock 1992-95 5 2001-03
Rich Gossage 1978-83 5 1989
Steve Balboni 1981-83 5 1989-90
Doyle Alexander 1976 5 1982-83
Mike Hegan 1964, 66-67 5 1973-74

Only two players have gone longer than Soriano's nine seasons between pinstripe tenures. Al Leiter came up in 1987 and made 22 starts over the course of three injury-plagued seasons before being traded to Toronto for Jesse Barfield in 1989. He resurrected his career, winning championships with the Blue Jays and Marlins, along with another pennant with the Mets.

The Yankees struggled badly out of the gate in 2005, going 11-19 to start the year and they sat six games out of first in July. The Yankees picked him up from the Marlins more than 16 years after his last game with the team, and he made his return in a Sunday Night Baseball game at Fenway Park. Leiter held the Red Sox to one run in six and one-third innings as the Yanks won to pull within a half-game of first-place Boston. They passed the Sox the next day and eventually won the division title thanks in part to fellow scrap-heap acquisitions Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon.

His last appearance on a big league mound was in Game Four of the 2005 ALDS at Yankee Stadium against the Angels. New York trailed the series and the game 2-1 when Leiter came in to face Darin Erstad with one on and one out in the seventh inning. He induced a 4-6-3 double play to end the frame and he picked up the win when the Yankees came back in the bottom of the inning. They evened the series, but lost the deciding fifth game the next night in Anaheim.

The player between Leiter and Soriano bookended a long, successful run with the Athletics with brief cameos in New York. Deadball-era outfielder Rube Oldring played eight games with the New York Highlanders in 1905 and was taken in the Rule 5 draft by Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. Oldring would man center field for the 1911 World Series winner before sliding to left for back-to-back pennant winners in 1913 (another title) and 1914 (stunningly swept by the Miracle Braves in the Fall Classic). Mack began dismantling his first dynasty in 1915 and during the fire sale released Oldring the following year. Rube signed with the Yankees a couple of weeks later, but only played 43 games before being let go again and retiring. He returned to the A's in 1918 for 49 games, then hung it up for good.

And then there's Soriano, third on the list once he takes the field as a Yankee for the second time. The club's hitting is in dire straits, and while he likely won't be the savior, he still has some power and it's nice to have an old friend back.

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