For the summer months of 2019, the entire Yankees dugout was on eternal hug watch — not because of a frantic front office but due to the effervescent joy of Cameron Maybin, who simply loved to celebrate.
After every home run during that humid summer, Maybin served as a counterargument for those against chemistry. He was instant energy with a 4-WAR smile. He was an infusion of pop, speed, and prospect pedigree, sure, but more importantly, he was living proof that the Yankees, desperate for warm bodies during a difficult summer power-packed with injuries, had chosen the right man for the job, and not just any man.
Of all the “Next Men Up” that year, it’s possible Maybin was the most important, as evidenced by his eventual role as the “Last Man Up Standing” by the time the ALCS rolled around.
He wasn’t just a mascot, of course. He could really hit, and his bat played a pivotal role in an underrated season, perhaps even more enjoyable than 2017.
This season began with higher expectations, sure. But with an injured list that eventually grew to read like the credits of “Avatar,” almost any other team would’ve folded after being inundated with disappearances.
Not the 103-win Yankees, who made it all the way to Game 6 of the ALCS before the magic ran out.
The regular season, though, is how we’ll always choose to remember Maybin, who retired from the game of baseball on Monday evening, turning over a new leaf in the new year.
Yankees fans remember Cameron Maybin after his retirement
Maybin helped make a regular season that could’ve been a disastrous slog feel worthwhile, using both intangibles and very tangible counting numbers to make his case.
Acquired on what seemed like a whim from Cleveland’s Triple-A team, Maybin would go onto post a remarkable 127 OPS+ and a triple-slash of .285/.364/.494 with 11 bombs, along with beyond-adequate defense — some may remember his introduction to the Bronx, a spectacular leaping catch in an otherwise snooze-worthy loss to the Twins on May 4. He finished with 11 dingers on the year, and when he hit double-digits on Sept. 24, that made him the record-setting 14th Yankee to hit that mark during the campaign.
During the summer and into the fall, Maybin was at the center of far more rallies than anyone could’ve expected; specifically, he memorably helped catapult the Yanks forward in their summer sweep of the Red Sox that all but officially buried the defending champions in August.
Of course, Maybin’s fairytale tenure with the Yankees in 2019 hit two distinct snags, both of which were classic for that particular team in that particular season, which was uniquely blessed but also cursed.
First, he hit the IL with a calf strain suffered after scoring a run against the Astros on June 21, literal moments after the team chose to keep him on the roster as Aaron Judge readied for a comeback. Literally, these two events took place on the same day; Maybin was deemed essential, and then just like that, he, too, was lost.
Then, in October, he shined in the ALDS with a Game 3 home run against Minnesota, but found himself starting in the ALCS when Giancarlo Stanton mysteriously went down during his elite Game 1. Maybin was the perfect fifth outfielder, but without both Mike Tauchman (lost in Sept. against Boston) and Stanton, the Yankees had finally found their roster weakened to a point where no amount of enthusiasm could carry them past the relentless Astros. Maybin and the Yankees deserved a different ending, especially against a team like that. Especially after DJ LeMahieu’s homer off Roberto Osuna. They didn’t get it. Postseason baseball is cruel in the same way that regular season baseball is joyful.
Despite the depressing close that encapsulated all our worst fears about what can happen in the playoffs, the 2019 regular season was worth every hour we devoted to it, thanks in large part to Maybin.
From his first-ever home run as a Tigers top prospect off Roger Clemens at the old stadium to his charmed year in the spotlight at the new digs, Maybin has always seemed comfortable in the Bronx. The Lost Ring of 2019 will always sting, but there’s a reason I recall rooting against the regular season ending harder than ever before as the fall chill crept in that particular September. I loved that team. Loved LeMahieu, loved Tauchman, loved May Luke Voit. Loved going to London, loved tearing the heart out of Alex Cora, loved seeing him scramble to blame Carlos Beltran for his own failures. Loved Didi’s grand slams, a sea of white greeting the Twins again, and Luis Severino’s way-too-short but still full-of-screams comeback.
And perhaps I loved Maybin most of all.