A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column on one of my favorite “forgotten” Yankees, Steve Sax. Using the term “forgotten” may be a bit of an overstatement, as Sax played 3 years with the Yankees, making the All Star Team twice. He may be “forgotten” by today’s fans though I doubt anyone watching the Yankees between 1989 – 1991 has actually forgotten about Steve Sax.

Today I am writing about a Yankee who may be forgotten by the majority of fans. This player was only a Yankee for the second half of the 2003, playing in 21 games, making a total of 15 starts. This player, David Dellucci, may be the definition of a “Forgotten Yankee”.

I want to be perfectly clear, David Dellucci did have a major league career, playing in parts of 13 seasons but anyone that remembers David Dellucci would likely remember him for his time in Arizona, Cleveland, Texas, and Philly. However, a die hard Yankees fan like myself vividly remembers his brief stint with the Yankees in 2003. 

Twenty one games is a very small sample size but in that short span of time, Dellucci really won over myself and a few of my friends with his balls to the wall approach to the game of baseball.

Paul O’Neill retired from the Yankees after the 2001 season, having been their right fielder from 1993 – 2001. Following the retirement of Paul O’Neill, the Yankees struggled to find a good replacement in right field. Between 2002 – 2003, right field was basically a black hole for the Yankees.

During this time, The Boss, George Steinbrenner was still running the team, Brian Cashman was the General Manager, Gene Michael was a senior advisor, Steve Swindell, the son in law, had a major role in the team but at the end of the day, decisions were made by The Boss.

Following Paul O’Neill’s retirement, the Yankees started the 2002 season thinking they could use a righty-lefty platoon in right field of Shane Spencer and John Vander Wal. This did not play out as successfully as Yankees fans hoped. And anyone that remembers this era, the only person with less patience than the average Yankees fan, was the Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

The Boss decided he needed a “star” right fielder to replace our favorite Warrior. Around the Trade Deadline, The Boss traded for a former Rookie of the Year Winner with a cannon of an arm to play right field, Raul Mondesi. However, in a typical George move, he brought in the wrong guy for the Bronx. Mondesi did not fit in with the Joe Torre era Yankees. Mondesi was known as a “me first” guy which did not play into the clubhouse that was built by Joe Torre and Derek Jeter. By mid-2003 Mondesi was on his way out of the Bronx.

Enter David Dellucci. Delucci was traded to the Yankees from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Raul Mondesi. It was a nondescript trade at the time.  Dellucci wasn’t a star player and wasn’t very well known to Yankees fans. If anything, this was mostly seen as a “get Raul Mondesi out of New York trade”.

To be fair, the Yankees themselves probably felt the same way. Dellucci never became the Yankees everyday right fielder. During the end of the 2003 season the Yankees tried out everyone and anyone to play right field. Ruben Sierra was brought back. Karim Garcia had a chance to play right field. Juan Rivera was trotted out there on occasion. No one really, outright won the right field job.

My friends and I however felt the job should have been David Dellucci’s. Dellucci was a left handed hitter with speed. But it wasn’t his bat that impressed us. Nearly every game that he played in, it seemed like Dellucci was making catches in the outfield that he shouldn’t have been making. Whether it was having a natural instinct and a great jump to get to balls that should have been over his head or making diving catches in the outfield for balls that should have been dropping for extra bases. It seemed like he was always in the right position at the right time. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe it was a game in Baltimore, late in the season where he made a diving catch on the warning track. Bloodying himself in the process but still making the catch. That was the play that endeared him to me and my friends forever. It was the type of gritty play that resulted from 110% hustle. To us, this guy was all heart and should have been manning right field for the Yankees. 

I scoured YouTube looking for this catch, I was unable to find it but you can appreciate this video instead, it still gets the point across.

Sadly, David Dellucci left the Yankees as a free agent after the 2003 season. The Yankees decided to sign Kenny Lofton as a free agent, a borderline Hall of Famer but at the time in the twilight of his career. The Yankees also chose to move forward with Bubba Crosby as their 4th/5th outfielder. There wasn’t any room on the roster for Dellucci who moved on to Texas as a free agent, slugging 17 home runs in 2004 and 29 in 2005. Would he have been able to at least match, if not surpass those home run totals in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium? 

I really enjoyed watching David Dellucci in his short time as a Yankee. Watching the highlights of a few of his catches really reminded me of why he was so well liked despite playing in only 21 games. Tough nosed gamers will always win over the hearts of baseball fans, David Dellucci is a great example of a hard nosed player that was going to sacrifice his body to make the catch. I’m not sure what he is doing now but I certainly wish him all the best.

By JMo

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