By Peter Schwartz
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John Sterling’s radio call still resonates.
“Once again it will be a 3-2. The stretch and pitch. Swung on and popped up again off third. Hayes has room. Hayes … makes the catch! Yankees win! The Yankees win! The New York Yankees have won the 1996 World Series!”
The date was Oct. 26, 1996. The opponent was the Atlanta Braves.
It’s quite clear that the baseball gods wanted Charlie Hayes to be one of the main contributors to the Yankees’ 23rd world championship.
Just before John Wetteland fired the pitch that Mark Lemke popped up to end Game 6, Hayes was unable to snare a ball hit in basically the same spot. It fell just out of his reach into the Braves’ dugout.
“It’s weird,” Hayes told WFAN.com at Old Timers’ Day back on June 12 in the Bronx. “I guess that ball was meant for me to catch because on two consecutive pitches, (I) actually get an opportunity to catch that ball.”
As it turned out, Hayes got hurt on the first attempt.
“I think I broke my finger and I didn’t even know it until after the game,” he said. “So it would have been very interesting to see what would have happened if that ball was hit on the ground and I would have had to throw it to first base.”
Luckily for Hayes, the Yankees, and their fans, the short fly ball landed in Hayes’ glove to ignite a championship celebration on the field. He became one of the Yankees’ World Series heroes even though he wasn’t on the team when the season started.
Hayes became a Yankee for the second time when he was acquired from the Pirates on Aug. 30 for a player to be named later that turned out to be Chris Corn. Hayes played in 20 regular season games after the trade and hit .284 for the Yankees with a pair of home runs and 13 RBI.
The trade was controversial at the time because it created a third base platoon situation with Wade Boggs. Manager Joe Torre was concerned that Boggs was tired, as his slow bat seemed to indicate. Boggs was not happy about the trade and made no bones about it.
”You don’t ask questions around here,” Boggs said in Anaheim on the day of the trade. ”You look at the lineup card and you go out and play. You don’t ask questions. I’ll get 3,000 hits somewhere.”
Boggs may have been upset about losing some playing time, but he seemed just fine when he took that horse ride around the Yankee Stadium field after winning the World Series. He actually started Game 6 and went 0-for-3 against Greg Maddux before Hayes came in as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning.
Hayes’ first tour of duty with the Yankees came in 1992 when he was acquired as the player to be named later in the trade that sent Darrin Chapin to Philadelphia. After that season in the Bronx, Hayes was lost to the Colorado Rockies in the expansion draft.
Four years later, he was back in pinstripes and, eventually, a world champion.
“I think every kid dreams of being a Yankee and I wasn’t any different,” Hayes said. “To actually get to do it twice is very special.”
Hayes was back with the Yankees in 1997 and hit .258 with 11 home runs and 53 RBI in 100 games. In the ALDS against the Indians, Hayes hit .333 (5-for-15) with an RBI. After the season, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Alberto Castillo and Chris Singleton.
Hayes was only a Yankee for a little more than two seasons, but he said when he thinks back on his career, his time in the Bronx was pretty meaningful. He said he enjoyed putting on the Yankee uniform again for Old Timers’ Day and will be back on Aug. 13 for the 20th anniversary celebration of the 1996 world championship team.
“It’s been an unbelievable ride for me,” Hayes said. “Getting to see Paul O’Neill and all those guys that I normally don’t get to see. I’m just so happy to get this opportunity to come back here and I really appreciate everything that happened to me because of the Yankees.”
As that championship-clinching pop-up was in the air, Hayes said he looked up at the ball and couldn’t help but think of something that went through the mind of Derek Jeter on May 14 of that season when the rookie shortstop caught the final out of Doc Gooden’s no-hitter.
“If I dropped the ball, I would’ve been banned from ever playing in New York,” Jeter told the Daily News that night.
Hayes was actually more worried about ramifications from an even higher power.
“That’s what I was thinking, too,” Hayes recalled. “Don’t drop it. I would have hated to face Mr. Steinbrenner if I had dropped that ball.”
Had Charlie not caught that ball, Boggs may not have been able to take that victory ride and Hayes might have had to ride his horse out of town pretty quickly.
For more coverage of the 1996 Yankees celebration, please click here.
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