Fernando lands a roster spot

In the wake of my recent column about September call-ups, I received a good deal of e-mail that deserves our attention.

    I wonder if you overlooked Shane Spencer's call-up to the N.Y. Yankees in 1998. On that team that won 114 games and the World Series, in 27 games from Sept. 1 on, he hit 10 home runs, had 27 RBI, and hit .373. While I don't believe he had similarly dominant statistics in the postseason, I am sure he made the postseason roster. Granted that Yankee team didn't require his exceptional September performance to make the postseason, but his performance has to rank among the best call-ups of all time.

I did overlook Spencer, because his September call-up wasn't his first (it was his fourth), and thus those numbers you cite weren't all posted in September. Also, as I discovered with a bit of digging, his September call-up wasn't actually a September call-up. Let me explain:

After eight years in the minors, Spencer made his major-league debut on April 10, pinch hitting for Darryl Strawberry, but didn't actually do anything because Bernie Williams got caught stealing during his plate appearance. A week later, he started at DH, went 0-for-4 with a sacrifice fly, then didn't play again before being sent down nine days later. He was recalled June 9, scored a run and got sent back to Columbus in favor of Derek Jeter (that wound up being a pretty good move). The next call-up was in late July, and this time Spencer actually got to play some. On Aug. 7, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Royals, he went 5-for-5 with a couple of home runs. Still, he got returned to Columbus on Aug. 17, but he finally was recalled for good on ... Aug. 31. Even though he didn't actually play in another game until Sept. 4, officially he wasn't a September call-up.

But what a September it was. In only 14 games and 38 at-bats, Spencer batted .421, hit eight home runs and drove in 21 runs. And of course it didn't mean a thing. When September dawned, the Yankees owned an 18-game lead over the second-place Red Sox, and they finished the season 22 games up. Spencer did help the Yankees set an American League record (which lasted exactly three years) with 114 wins.