“I thought we knew we’d get that presence. I’m not sure we all knew how good he was at it,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s really good at it, so I think it’s an added bonus when you get someone of that stature and that character in that clubhouse. And he’s been really helpful.”
In the rebuilding process, Holliday was just the elixir the Yankees needed. With the departure in the last year of Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees needed another poised veteran to lead the younger players.
When Didi Gregorius was brought in to replace the retired Derek Jeter at shortstop and floundered early in the 2015 season, it was Beltran and A-Rod who pulled the youngster aside to tell him how the Yankees did things, to focus.
Girardi isn’t the only one to notice it. Holliday’s impact has gone as far up the front-office ladder as Yankees principal owner Hal Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” Holliday said. “I’ve had a chance to be around a lot of different players and a lot of different scenarios, guys with 14, 15 years in the Major Leagues. I think I’ve learned a lot. I enjoy being around young players and just building a relationship with them where it’s not me necessarily giving them a bunch of advice.
“It’s just, ‘Hey, try this,’ or, ‘This is what I did.’ We have great young guys who are really good people, which makes it easy.”
Holliday was picked by the Rockies in the seventh round of the 1998 MLB Draft and played his first five seasons in Colorado, where Todd Helton was a veteran first baseman to emulate. The pair were mainstays on the Rockies team that was swept by the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series.
Holliday, then 27, had a slash line of .340/.405/.607 with 36 homers, 137 RBIs and a 1.012 OPS that season.
After a brief stop in Oakland, it was on to St. Louis where the superstar was another first baseman, a guy named Albert Pujols, a 602-homer hitter who’s just 107 hits away from the 3,000-mark, now playing for the Angels.
With the Cardinals, Holliday and Pujols teamed to come from behind and defeat the Rangers in a thrilling seven-game World Series in 2011.
Holliday’s St. Louis tenure lasted eight seasons and the Cards were perennial postseason contenders, making it as far as the National League Championship Series four years in a row from 2011-14. A six-game loss to the Red Sox in the ’13 World Series was in the middle of that run.
All this is Holliday’s pedigree.
“It’s pretty cool to have played for the two most winning franchises in baseball history,” Holliday said. “I love the tradition of playing for the Yankees, but I really like the guys. The young guys are cool and I really get along with all the veteran guys. It’s been a really good fit for me and we’ve played really well. To be on a good team and be able to contribute has been fun.”
Defensively, his best years are certainly behind him as Girardi found out this past Tuesday night against the Angels when he tried to sub Holliday for a slumping Chris Carter at first base. Holliday blew an easy pop just across the line in foul territory for an error.
“I just missed it,” Holliday said. “I haven’t had much experience playing there, recently. I’m just trying to get my legs back.”
Holliday started nine games last year for the Cards at first and seven more this season for the Yankees. And though he offered to fill in at that position three or four times a week, Girardi seemed reluctant to put that much stress on Holliday’s body. Since then, Carter was designated for assignment and Austin was recalled from Triple-A.
Holliday will continue to DH. Rightly, Girardi is more concerned with having Holliday’s still-potent bat available. In the same game as the error, Holliday went the other way and drilled a homer into the right-center-field bleachers, a blow that was decisive in helping the Yanks break a seven-game losing streak.
Holliday has 15 homers and 47 RBIs already, on pace to drive in 100 runs for the first time since 2012. Productively, he’s already replaced the fading A-Rod and Teixeira, who combined for 24 homers and 75 RBIs last season before they departed. A-Rod was released on Aug. 13 and Teixeira retired at the end of the season.
Just as significant a factor: Holliday has also replaced the departed vets as a significant voice in the clubhouse.
“One of the coolest things to go from a younger player to a more veteran-type player is that you get to share what you’ve experienced,” Holliday said. “Especially when you get guys who are receptive to it. You see the fruits of helping, and that’s pretty cool.”
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.