There was a time last year when a large faction of Yankees fans wanted Austin Romine to be the everyday starting catcher for the Yankees. The same Romine who entered 2018 with a career .220/.263/.314 batting line and seven home runs. The same Romine who had previously been designated for assignment by the Yankees and went unclaimed by the rest of baseball in the process. The same Romine who had lost his job seemingly to every other catcher in the Yankees system and a bunch of journeymen catchers they had picked up throughout his time in the organization.
That’s how bad things were for Gary Sanchez in 2018. Despite finishing second in Rookie of the Year with only 53 games played in 2016 and then hitting 33 home runs with 90 RBIs as an All-Star in 2017, the Austin Romine Fan Club (the Rominers) were quick to forget Sanchez’s talent level and abilities. Sanchez struggled to a .186/.291/.406 line in only 89 games, while battling injuries, but still managed to slug 18 home runs and drive in 53 runs. But the perception of the one-time face of the franchise prior to Aaron Judge’s emergence had become that he was lazy, fat, lacked hustle, was poor defensively and didn’t give 100 percent. At the same time, there was a perception that Romine was better than him defensively, could hold his own offensively and was the type of player the Yankees needed. Mike Francesa went as far to say Austin Romine deserved to start somewhere in the league, if not with the Yankees.
It was bad enough the Yankees front office continued to believe Romine was the best possible option as a backup for the team that having fans and the media think he was better than Sanchez was unfathomable. The 2018 perception of both players was completely wrong. Thankfully, 2019 has fixed it.
Sanchez has returned to his pre-2018 form this season, batting .263/.336/.653 with 14 home runs and 30 RBIs, even after a two-week absence for a leg injury suffered in Houston in April. He is winning games and breaking open games the way he did for the last two months of 2016 and all of 2017. He’s once again the power threat he was against the Indians and Astros in the 2017 postseason and the game-wrecking force he was when he single-handedly won the only game of the ALDS last season. As the President of the Gary Sanchez Fan Club, and someone who stuck by him through last year’s lost season, I couldn’t be happier to have the Yankees’ biggest advantage back.
Sanchez presents such a huge advantage offensively at his position over every other team it’s inexplicable any fan could have wanted to bench him or trade him for someone like the overly-coveted J.T. Realmuto, who is two years older than Sanchez, and through today has 20 career home runs less in 1,072 more plate appearances. During Monday’s game YES relayed the fact that since arriving in August 2016, Sanchez has the most home runs in baseball for a catcher, and that was before he went deep again on Tuesday. Since Aug. 3, 2016, Sanchez has 85 home runs and Yasmani Grandal has 65. That stat is impressive even before you realize Sanchez missed a month of 2017 and 45 percent of 2018.
The Romine over Sanchez “debate” has completely halted this season, not only because Sanchez is mashing home runs and has tightened things up defensively, especially when it comes to passed balls, but also because Romine has been nearly unplayable, hitting a paltry .191/.203/.265. Fortunately for Romine, the only other catching option is Kyle Higashioka and he’s not an upgrade. Romine isn’t going anywhere because there isn’t another option and because the organization loves him, which they have proven by bringing him back time and time again, turning down better options. The Sanchez-Romine controversy was never about Romine though, he just happened to be the subject idiot Yankees fans were defending. I want Romine to succeed and always have, and I would like for nothing more than for him to be a serviceable option at the plate on days when Sanchez is off.
Now that the unintelligent idea Romine ever deserved to play over Sanchez has been put to rest, I think every Yankees fan who ever said Romine should be the starting catcher for the Yankees should send a handwritten formal apology letter to Sanchez. Then they should shut up, sit back and watch the Yankees’ biggest lineup advantage and appreciate that one of the best hitting catchers of all time is on their team.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!