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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees slugger Luke Voit, on and off field, speaks volumes

Luke Voit #59 of the Yankees connects on

Luke Voit #59 of the Yankees connects on his second inning two run home run against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Luke Voit Experience never performed on the playoff stage last year at Target Field and Minute Maid Park. Those tour dates were cancelled by the tangled mess of torn ligaments in his midsection. Once the Yankees were eliminated, Voit spent the rest of that October getting his core stitched together again.

Apparently, those docs did a good job, because Voit returned to hit more homers (22) than anyone in the majors and is mostly whole for this year’s postseason run, aside from what’s going on with that foot. Even with the limp, Voit was at first base and batting cleanup for Tuesday night’s Game 1 against Cleveland at Progressive Field.

"Super-ready," Voit said, "and super-stoked."

His teammates better be, too. Because if there’s one thing the Yankees have learned about Voit in his three years wearing pinstripes, he doesn’t hold back when asked for an honest assessment of the team’s performance.

While it’s hard to define the intrinsic value of a player going rip city on his own clubhouse, as Voit did repeatedly during the Yankees’ 5-15 slide this season, at least you get the sense somebody inside is paying attention. Maybe a few pointed words don’t help as much as a three-run homer, but not everyone is willing to use those tones when necessary -- or risk whatever backlash comes with such commentary.

The Yankees have benefited from charismatic leaders throughout their history, some more vocal than others. Derek Jeter, the last captain, was more in the mold of his predecessor, Don Mattingly -- two lifelong Yankees who led by example between the lines, but were more measured in their criticism.

CC Sabathia expanded his leadership role after Jeter’s retirement and had the street cred in the game to back it up. But once CC walked, that left somewhat of a void. Brett Gardner, as the longest-tenured Yankee, often acts as a spokesman, as well as Aaron Judge, whose time missed due to injuries has limited that influence to some degree.

Voit arrived in the midst of the Yankees’ transition period, and just by his nature, had no problem seizing the microphone. Back in those pre-pandemic days when the clubhouse was still open to media, Voit was a go-to guy on whatever issue came up, but this year he’s really hit his stride as the Yankees’ conscience.

When the Yankees’ tailspin continued in Buffalo, it wasn’t Brian Cashman parachuting in for a pep talk that ended the nosedive. Not until Voit called the team’s play "embarrassing" and suggested that opponents no longer feared them. He talked about "getting back to what the New York Yankees are," something that Voit seemed to grasp fairly quickly for the relatively short time he’s called the Bronx home.

"There’s no question that he has a strong voice, and his candor -- kind of telling it how it is -- and shoot from the hip is something that we love about him," manager Aaron Boone said. "And I just think he's had a presence since he got here. When he came in here, he was himself right away, as a young player with not a lot of Major League experience.

"That’s something that we certainly encourage here, but I do feel like there's more of a veteran presence about him now. He's definitely a strong personality in our room and obviously a key figure to our success."

Voit’s swagger doesn’t really fit the Yankees’ corporate persona. While he’s clean-shaven in accordance with club policy, Voit usually has the top two or three buttons of his jersey open, gold chain swinging. Before Tuesday night’s game, Voit appeared at the digital podium in a white tank top, wearing a thick blue headband, and of course the ubiquitous neck chain. He looked like the guy racking plates next to you at Gold’s Gym, not the Yankee playing first base later that night.

As for throwing around criticism like 50-pound dumbbells, Voit says that’s just how he is. It’s not a show. And if the Yankees need the same kick in the pinstriped pants at some point this October, Voit will gladly speak up.

"I’ve always been an outspoken guy," Voit said. "And now that I’m getting put more in the media, I’m not going to lie to you guys. I’m going to sit here and be truthful about what's going on. And sometimes it sucks. So you just got to say what it is. Hopefully the good times are rolling during this postseason and there's not a lot of that. But whatever it takes to just get the boys rolling."

Voit has the bat to do that. He became only the eighth Yankee to lead the majors outright in homers and the 22 this season was one better than his previous career high, which took him 118 games last year. The Yankees needed Voit’s muscle to make up for the lengthy absences of both Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, but the MVP flex -- 52 RBIs, .948 OPS -- was beyond expectations.

"The power of presence that he brings, and the energy, and the intensity he plays the game with, I’m glad he's in this position this year," Boone said.

Voit will make that presence felt, one way or another.

New York Sports