Commentary

Kid who eclipsed Mick a Yankee at last

Andruw Jones joins Bombers 15 years after his home run heroics in '96 World Series

Updated: January 21, 2011, 9:05 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

The first time Andruw Jones played in the Bronx, he was 19 years old and wearing the uniform of the Atlanta Braves.

The next time he plays there, he will be 33 years old and wearing Yankees pinstripes.

Andruw Jones
Stan Honda/AFP/Getty ImagesYankees fans would love to see Andruw Jones do to opposing teams in 2011 what he did to the Bombers in the 1996 World Series.

And everyone who witnessed Jones' first visit has got to be thinking the same thing: What took so long?

On that October night in 1996, people were comparing Jones to Mickey Mantle -- especially since Jones' feat of hitting two home runs in Game 1 of the World Series not only broke Mantle's record of being the youngest player to homer in the Fall Classic by more than a year, it happened on what would have been The Mick's 65th birthday.

Ever since, more than a few New York Yankees fans have no doubt fantasized about what a player like Jones would look like in a Bombers uniform.

Now, 15 years later and arguably five years past his prime, we will all get a chance to find out.

After weeks of gradually intensifying talks, the Yankees reached an agreement with Jones and his agent, Scott Boras, on a one-year deal worth $2 million, but with incentives that could push its value to $3.2 million, two sources with knowledge of the negotiations told ESPNNewYork.com. The deal is contingent upon Jones passing a physical this week.

All Jones has to do to earn that money is play well enough to come to the plate 375 times. If he does, it probably will be the best $1.2 million the Yankees ever spent.

At his best, Jones was a Hall of Fame-caliber player, leading the major leagues with 51 homers in 2005, and the NL with 128 RBIs the same year. Six other times, he hit at least 30 homers in a season, including 41 in 2006.

Since then, his production has steadily declined as his weight ballooned. A two-year, $36 million free-agent deal signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers before the 2008 season will be remembered as one of the worst in baseball history, as Jones played in just 75 games, hitting .158 with three homers and 14 RBIs.

He had knee surgery that year and a falling out with manager Joe Torre, culminating in the Dodgers eating the remainder of the contract and shipping Jones off to the Texas Rangers, where he hit .214 with 17 HRs and 43 RBIs in roughly a half season of work.

Last year, he went to spring training with the Chicago White Sox as a non-roster invite but wound up playing 107 games after Carlos Quentin got hurt, hitting 19 HRs and driving in 48 runs. His batting average remained low, .230, but he did hit the 400th homer of his career in August. Currently, he has 407 career homers and a .256 lifetime batting average.

Now, Boras says Jones "has his legs back under him," and is prepared to play an everyday role with the Yankees, if necessary.

"The Yankees have good players in their outfield, but no superstars," the agent said. "If Andruw Jones plays like Andruw Jones, they got themselves a superstar."

Right now, the Yankees will settle for a suitable replacement for Marcus Thames, last year's right-handed hitting DH whose role Jones is being acquired to assume. In 2010, Thames hit .288 with 12 HRs and 33 RBIs in almost exclusively DH duty, including several dramatic walk-off hits.

Unlike Thames, Jones, a center fielder by trade, can fill in at all three outfield positions, and as a right-handed hitter, could spell Curtis Granderson, the everyday center fielder, against left-handed pitching.

The agreement with Jones most likely ends the Yankees' flirtation with the idea of bringing back Johnny Damon, another Boras client that the team expressed some interest in.

But it rekindles a fascination that Yankees fans have had with Andruw Jones for 15 years, going back to a World Series game in which a precocious teenager came into Yankee Stadium and outhit Mickey Mantle himself.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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