Yankees uniform seems to bring best out of newcomers

Lyle Overbay of the Yankees flies out in

Lyle Overbay of the Yankees flies out in the fourth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium. (May 16, 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Is it the laundry? Former strangers continue to arrive in the Bronx -- almost daily, it seems -- clothe themselves in Yankees pinstripes and proceed to supply unforeseen heroics. Cast-offs, minor-leaguers, fellows nowhere to be seen on the team's offseason radar have figured so prominently in the Yankees' 2013 first-place push that Sarasota baseball reporter Doug Fernandes last week wondered when we "all are finally going to agree on the transcendental power of that uniform . . . "

The famous pinstripes -- and their road grays -- are made of the same double-knit polyester as every other major- league uniform, and have been since 1973, when the wool duds of old were completely phased out. Yet the legend persists that there is magic in those threads.

And the reality of the Yankees' 27-16 record, conjured from a cobbled-together roster that still was taking on new shapes before Sunday's rainout against the Blue Jays, provides significant evidence.

"I don't know. It's weird how you kind of put this uniform on and you feel confident," Lyle Overbay said. However discouraging it was to be released by Boston in March, after 12 years with five previous teams, to be wanted by the 27-time World Series champions appears to have convinced Overbay he was fully capable of replacing injured first baseman Mark Teixeira.

"It's like, OK, we are good. I am good," said Overbay, second on the team with 24 RBIs. "I think it's just the level of excellence that comes with wearing the pinstripes, and that's from so much history. Guys come in here, and they're relaxed , and I think players help each other, and it kind of snowballs."

To Travis Hafner, who spent one season with Texas and 10 with Cleveland, there is "something special about wearing the Yankee uniform that brings out the best in people," and the designated hitter has backed up that belief with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 100 at-bats in 33 games.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon recently declared that "any player who puts on that uniform is going to be a better player" because "there is going to be a higher accountability within those players to that uniform."

Reid Brignac, queried about a belief in the pinstripes' mysterious properties on his first day as a Yankee, said: "That would be great. I hope that's true."

A sixth-year major-leaguer, Brignac had just arrived at Yankee Stadium Sunday morning, "a little upset with the circumstances" of being let go by Colorado. But no sooner had the Yankees obtained him for cash than he was written into the lineup at shortstop (before the rainout). That occurred just four days after David Adams was called up from Triple-A and started at third base, whereupon he hit safely in his first three games.

Such sudden elevation of players previously wandering in a baseball purgatory might present a certain fantasy camp feel to the Yankees' clubhouse. Except that pinstripes keep coming through in the clutch.

Vernon Wells, who has called it an "honor" to don the Yankees' uniform in his 15th season, is hitting 13 points over his career average at .286, with 10 homers and 23 RBIs in 41 games.

The boost may be "more the atmosphere than anything" of playing at Yankee Stadium "in front of an emotional crowd,'' Wells said. "But at the same time, this uniform travels. There's Yankees fans everywhere, and I think that's one of the biggest differences. And from the players' standpoint, knowing what the organization's all about, and the expectation when you put on that uniform, I think that takes guys' games to another level."

Wells said a "good thing" about the Yankees is that "you don't have to worry about multiple uniforms. There's just one pinstripe and one gray you're putting on." And both appear to be strong medicine.

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