Over the course of a season, any successful team is going to have tangential figures who briefly become essential. Players who seem like early mistakes, but who grow to gain the fans' trust and love over the course of a surge, then lose it again when times get tough.
It may feel like a lost piece of some long ago stretch when the 2023 Yankees' season ends, but in the month of May, when everything was going well for this mismatched group, Willie Calhoun was actually an essential folk hero.
Seemingly from the moment Aaron Boone assured us all that Willie could bang, he began to. Penciling Calhoun into the middle of the order, which felt like a hilarious joke in April, became all too real -- and earned -- in May and early June. After posting a .532 OPS in the season's first month, Calhoun hit .252 with an .805 OPS in May, continuing to hit in 11 June games (.730 OPS, game-winning homer against Boston) before he was felled by a muscle injury in a victory over the Mariners.
At that time, Calhoun's departure felt like it could be the end of the road, with Billy McKinney approaching and a logjam en route. With Aaron Judge's return looming and precious few roster spots to go around, it seems likely that Calhoun's current line (96 OPS+ in 44 games) will represent his final Yankees numbers. The folk hero was returned from a rehab assignment healthy on Friday and DFA'd immediately thereafter.
Yankees DFA Willie Calhoun; Aaron Judge returning?
At least his Yankee career lasted beyond Carlos Rodón drilling him on the elbow the afternoon following his heroics against Boston. Just barely, but it did.
Calhoun's Yankees legacy will always begin with being one of Brian Cashman's spare parts, in a season where New York really could've used a bonafide starting left fielder. Luckily, though, it'll end on a happier note. Calhoun, McKinney and Jake Bauers have all made the best of being placed into an unfavorable situation, and the former Rangers and Dodgers top prospect earned his triumphant moment against Boston with his hustle and rising hard-hit percentage.
Stay tuned to see what's next for the Yankees, who still have too many outfielders, and for Calhoun, who just might clear waivers and head to Scranton.