2. Jimmy Key
The New York Yankees don’t start their dynasty without Jimmy Key.
How many Yankees starting pitchers from the ’90s do you have to name before you get to Jimmy Key?
There’s Andy, El Duque, and the Rocket. David Wells, Coney, and — erroneously — you probably name Mike Mussina, too.
But without Jimmy Key, who helped usher in the late-90s success by establishing the team as legitimate contenders from 1993-95, they don’t capture Game 6 of the 1996 World Series. And without the first domino, what do you have, really?
Key, a crafty lefty who was born into the perfect era, filled with big swings and overeager whiffs, fronted the Yankees rotation after Greg Maddux spurned their services in free agency. He went 18-6 and 17-4 in two dominant seasons in ’93 and ’94, prior to struggling immensely in 1995, falling apart to the tune of a 5.64 ERA in just five starts. He underwent shoulder surgery in mid-July, and it was theorized the 34-year-old might never pitch again.
Of course, he did. After a 4.68 ERA regular season, spent getting his bearings, Key ironically outdueled Maddux himself to put the Yankees back on top and usher in the first of many dogpiles.
Key went to Baltimore after the ’96 season, but no hard feelings. His bulldog nature vindicated the ’93 Yankees’ braintrust right when it mattered most.