Buck Showalter was on his way back to the home dugout of former Yankee Stadium when he heard the loudness and intensity of the crowd. He had pulled out the starting pitcher in the fifth inning of the second game of the doubleheader, and the Yankee manager didn’t want to turn around to see why the noise had changed.
So Showalter asked Jim Leritz what was happening as catcher Jack McDowell was following his return to the dugout after he had given up 13 hits and nine runs in 4 ²/₃ innings.
“It’s no good, Buck,” said Leritz.
McDowell gave a middle finger salute to the rioting home crowd on the evening of July 18, 1995, provoking public anger to the point of disgust.
It was easy to miss the day almost exactly 28 years later when, on July 19, 2023, Carlos Roden struck out after 4 ¹/₃ innings and six runs, blowing a mocking kiss at Yankee fans joking behind the visitor’s dugout at Angel Stadium.
The similarities do not end here.
Rodan, like McDowell after the 1994 season, was the big Yankee addition of the offseason, acquired as a key to ending a long championship drought. McDowell was selected fifth overall by the White Sox in the 1987 draft. The organization has had a higher selection only once since then, when Chicago took Alex Fernandez fourth overall in 1990 and Rawdon third overall in 2014.
But for the purposes of here and now, perhaps the most relevant comparison is how the Yankees felt around that moment in 1995 and now. McDowell’s poor outing ensured that the Yankees lost the doubleheader for the eighth time in 12 games and fell to 33–40, 7 ¹/₂ games out of the AL East and eight out of the only wild card, the first season in MLB to have any type of wild card.
But then the Royals came to town and the Yankees swept them in seven games in a row. This prompted the owner, George Steinbrenner, to break the impasse between his minor leaguers in Tampa, who did not want to move some prospects, notably a starter named Marty Janzen, and the New York major league group that did so. Steinbrenner largely brokered a deal with Blue Jays president Paul Beeston that brought David Cone to the Bronx.
Still, it’s late until August. 26, the Yankees were only 53–58 in a season shortened to 144 games due to a labor impasse. He was being bullied for being overpaid and underperforming and was seen as a hopeless mess. However, Showalter now remembers what inspired the MLB-best 26–7 finish that enabled the Yankees to secure the wild card on the final day of that season: “I can tell you many different things, but we just started better pitching.”
In those final 33 games, Cone, McDowell, Sterling Hitchcock, Scott Kamieniecki and Andy Pettitte made 32 starts, averaging 7 ¹/₃ innings while going 24–5 with a 3.30 ERA. The only game he did not start in that time frame was the final start of Mariano Rivera’s career in September. 5 vs Mariners.
The 2023 Yankees are being criticized for being worse than their 1995 forerunners, but it has to do with the all-new megaphone to express outrage — can you imagine a McDowell incident with social media and one screaming cable show after another?
To resolve this, these Yankees will have a full 162 games and are not as far away from the wild card (3 ¹/₂ games) as they were in 1995 on this date. The royals are coming to town. Can the Yankees start a winning streak against them? Could Brian Cashman, assistant GM in 1995, and Hal Steinbrenner, a non-unit in the organization at the time, make a deadline acquisition similar to Cone’s? Can Rawdon match the prowess of McDowell, who was responsible for the missteps of snapping his fingers but, more importantly, pitched extremely well the rest of that season, including with a bum shoulder late in the season?
Can Rodan, Luis Severino, a healthy Nestor Cortes and ace Gerrit Cole pitch late like their 1995 forerunners? Can the offense ever wake up and hit like Bernie Williams, Ruben Sierra (another helpful trade-deadline acquisition), Don Mattingly and Wade Bogues expanded that year?
Nothing the Yankees have done so far will inspire that confidence — but 1995 felt the same way, especially in that moment when an expected ace saluted fans with the middle finger. However, that 1995 club should be a signal to the current club that it is fit to exist. But does Roden and his group have the same tenacity as McDowell and his group?