For the last couple of months Jesse Barfield’s name has been one of the most frequently mentioned when baseball trades were a topic of conversation.
It wasn’t completely by accident either, because the New York Yankees’ right fielder suggested the possibility on more than one occasion. But not necessarily because he wanted to get away from the confusion and controversy that goes with the Yankees as naturally as pinstripes.
Barfield just wasn’t able to accept the fact that he had to share playing time with the best defensive back in the American League. Deion Sanders’ neck may be worth its weight in gold, but his baseball ability wasn’t honed to the point it could turn Barfield’s bat to dust.
Now that Sanders has taken his act back to the Atlanta Falcons, Barfield has returned to right field on a permanent basis, rather than being restricted to mostly platoon duty against left-handed pitchers.
One of the teams reportedly interested in Barfield was the Orioles, who could use his power. But Phil Bradley wasn’t enough to swing the deal unless it included a young prospect or two, so General Manager Roland Hemond opted for Ron Kittle instead.
With only two days left for a traded player to be eligible for postseason play, Barfield still hears his name being mentioned. But he no longer is hoping for a new address.
“To be honest with you,” he said after going 4-for-4 with a home run and four RBI during the Yankees’ 11-3 win over the Orioles Tuesday night, “I’d be surprised if I got traded.”
He didn’t have to explain why other clubs would want him, however. For all of his difficulties earlier in the year, he leads the Yankees with 20 home runs and 60 runs batted in (in 373 at-bats) going into Wednesday night’s game, and is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. The Yankees aren’t in last place because they have an abundance of people who can do the things Barfield can do.
“I don’t think about that (trade talk),” said Barfield. “It’s not at the top of my list. I come here expecting to play, expecting to be a Yankee. If they (the front office) do something, that’s out of my control. I don’t want to go anywhere. I just want to play.
“In all fairness, it (his earlier desire to be traded) wasn’t because I didn’t like the city of New York, and it wasn’t because I didn’t like the Yankees. It was because I wanted to play. The big thing is -- if I’m playing, I’m fine, if not it’s a waste of time ... and talent.”
Now Barfield is playing every day, the Yankees are playing better (they were 9-3 in their last 12 games, 21-13 in their last 34 prior to Thursday night) and last place is no longer a lock. “We’re playing for something -- to get out of last place, and for personal pride,” said Barfield. “It’s a matter of personal pride, both individual and team-wise.”
Yankees Manager Stump Merrill is inclined to dismiss trade talk as part of the trade. “It’s that time of year,” he said. “Teams (contenders) are looking for people who can hit the ball out of the park and help them win games. It (the speculation) is going to happen to teams in situations like ours.”
Merrill says that Barfield’s improvement hasn’t been as sudden as his wrecking-crew act the last two nights might indicate. “His pitch selection has improved, and this has been going on over a period of time,” said the manager. “He leads the team in walks (59).”
Barfield credits Yankees hitting coach Darrell Evans with helping his resurgence and said his mechanics now are “as sound as they’ve ever been.” He’ll get no argument from Manager Frank Robinson, who has seen Barfield hit at a .518 clip (14-for-27) against the Orioles this season.
“We haven’t made real good pitches to him, but he’s hit everything hard,” said Robinson. “He looks like he’s back to where he was in Toronto (before being traded to the Yankees last year). There wasn’t any doubt about the home runs he hit.”
In the two games prior to Thursday night Barfield had two home runs (he’s connected in three straight games), two walks, a triple, two singles, has driven in five runs and scored three.
“I think my lifetime average is over .300 against them,” said Barfield. “This is a good park to hit in, and I’m in a good groove right now. It seems that whenever we see Baltimore I’m swinging the bat pretty good.”
In that regard Barfield has a lot of company at the present time because the Orioles’ young arms haven’t dazzled anybody lately. But, in right field, Barfield no longer has any company.
That’s just the way he likes it and Jesse would be satisfied if the Yankees continue the arrangement.