The summer of Kevin Maas

The first few games for Kevin Maas did little to foretell of things to come. The  25-year old was called up in the midst of his fifth season of minor league ball. He had an OPS of .973 in Triple-A after making a fast rise through the system for a 22nd Round draft pick in 1986. Maas started his first few games as the designated hitter. The position was not a good one for the Yankees that season as seventeen different batters hit in the DH spot that season including an aging Dave Winfield and a sideshow named Deion Sanders.

Maas started his first game on June 29, 1990. It was the Yankees’ 71st game that season and they were already headed in a bad direction with a 27-44 record. Bucky Dent had already been fired as manager after just 49 games and Stump Merrill had taken over. It made little difference. Maas batted seventh in a game the Yankees lost, 1-0, to the White Sox. Jack McDowell got the win by shutting down the Yankees. Bobby Thigpen recorded his 26th save en route to his record-setting 57 that season. The White Sox lineup that day was fascinating. A young Sammy Sosa led off. Ozzie Guillen batted ninth. Robin Ventura batted second and Ron Kittle won the game with a solo homer.

The day was only notable for Maas as he collected his first major league hit, a single. Maas singled again in his second game and once more in his third. After ten at bats, he was batting .300 and had a .300 slugging percentage. He went without a hit in his fourth game but walked once. Still, no one saw what was about to happen in New York in the summer of Kevin Maas.

The first inkling came in his fifth game on July 4, twenty-three years ago yesterday. The Yankees were bombed out that day by the Royals in Kansas City, 13-6. Bo Jackson hit a big three-run homer. The Yankees outhit the Royals, 18-14, but still finished the game seven runs in the negative. But the game is notable as Kevin Maas hit his first major league homer, a solo shot in the sixth inning off of Bret Saberhagen. It was Maas’ only hit of the game, but he also walked twice.

Maas started two days later in the second game of a double-header against the Twins. He went two for four with his first major league double. A day later, again against the Twins, he hit is first Yankee Stadium homer, a three-run job off of Kevin Tapani in the second inning. The Twins also intentionally walked him that day…strange for a rookie.

Maas would not start for another week and did not get another chance to start a game until July 14 against the White Sox at the Stadium. It was probably this game that started the hysteria in the city. Maas, as the designated hitter, hit two homers off of Adam Peterson, the first in the second inning with a man on and the second in the fourth with no runners on base. But he was not done of the day. The Yankees were down 7-4 going into the bottom of the seventh. Maas delivered a bases loaded single to score two more in a rally that saw the Yankees tie the score. Even though the Yankees eventually lost, the legend of Kevin Maas was beginning to grow.

Maas now had four homers in 35 plate appearances and sported a gaudy 1.195 OPS helped greatly by his .767 slugging percentage. Maas was held in check for his next five games and was limited to singles. But then the Yankees traveled to Arlington, Texas, to face the Rangers. Two things made this a great thing for Maas. First, the ball flew in Texas and secondly, the Rangers had a perennially bad pitching staff. Kevin Maas hit a homer in the first game of the series. He hit another in the second game. And he hit his third in his third straight game. Maas had hit seven homers in his first 19 games in the majors. It is somewhat comical to note that the Yankees lost all three games to those Rangers.

Maas went without a hit in a three game series in Cleveland, but had a big game when the Yankees returned to the Stadium on July 31 against the Tigers. Maas went three for three in the game with a homer, two runs scored and two runs batted in. Two days later, Maas went three for six against those same Tigers and hit two solo homers. The pair gave him legend status and set a major league record for the fewest at bats (72) to get to the first ten homers of his career. Maas would later set the record for the quickest to reach thirteen homers and then again to get fifteen homers.

Kevin Maas went on to hit eight homers in July, eight more in August and five in September. All told, he hit 21 homers in 79 games and finished the season with a 150 OPS+ (.902 OPS). He came in second in Rookie of the Year Award voting to Sandy Alomar, Jr. To get an idea just how hot he was that summer, as a rookie, he was intentionally walked ten times.

Maas would get a nearly full time shot at the DH position the following season. He played 148 games and received 590 plate appearances. His season was deemed by all to be a disappointment. He did hit 23 homers, but his slugging percentage of .390 wasn’t what anyone expected after the wild ride of 1990. On-base percentage was little appreciated back then and Maas’ 83 walks that season are impressive.

Kevin Maas’s last two seasons with the Yankees saw less and less opportunities for him and the Yankees finally released him in before the start of the 1994 season. Maas banged around the minors for a few more organizations and made a short appearance with the Twins in 1995. Those were his last major league at bats. After a couple more seasons in the minors, Maas played his final season in Japan.

Maas played 406 games in the majors and hit 65 total homers. He hit ten homers in his first 25 games and 55 in his next 381. Maas did finish with a .323 lifetime on-base percentage which was more impressive than his batting average of .230.  His lifetime OPS+ was 106. But Maas could never live up to his first season and that was not the least of his troubles. He was not a good fielding first baseman and made 22 errors there in just 140 games. And the standards for a DH were much higher then than they are now.

But still, for one summer, Kevin Maas was the most popular player in New York. In a season without hope and a team that tarnished Yankee tradition and tested George Steinbrenner’s patience, Maas gave the fans something to get excited about. To this day, all rookies that get off to fabulous starts are compared to Kevin Maas and what he did in 1990. It was a magical run that summer of 1990–the summer of Kevin Maas.

12 thoughts on “The summer of Kevin Maas

  1. David

    Out of sheer curiosity — how does The Summer of Maas compare against The Fall of Spencer (1998)?

    • williamjtasker

      Great question. Shane Spencer, eight years after Maas, got to his first ten homers in fewer at bats than Kevin Maas. He hit ten homers in just 67 at bats in 1998.

      • And he airmailed the cutoff man to enable The Flip. So there's that, which is nice. Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

        • David

          Are you saying that, on his deathbed, he'll have total consciousness?!?

          • Precisely. Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

    • h.sevush

      It lasted longer and was more impressive.

      Also you have to remember that the Yankees stunk back then and he was a ray of promise for the future – all the bleaker when the hope proved premature. Spencer was a sideshow to the winningest team of all time, everything was positive about the Yanks in'98 and when he flashed into the spot lite during their one slump of the season he was more novelty than saviour. Maas was closer to Roger Repoz and Steve Whitaker in the late 60's, – both guys who were supposed to follow Mantle in center and lead the Yanks back to the promised land. You can guess what happened to them.

      • David

        I have no doubt; I just didn't live through it. Not to make anyone feel old, but I was at Summer Camp (in Red Sox land — NH) in 1990. I have no recollection except perhaps the tail-end when I got back, as Maas' first game was likely 4 days or so after I left.

        Shane Spencer, on the other hand, I distinctly remember Torre directly comparing to Roy Hobbs during the TEX ALDS series. So I was curious how that lined up with previous things like this.

  2. yankees2012

    One thing about Spencer though, he did carry his streak into the ALDS and hit vs Texas. He did contribute in that series before he cooled off in the ALCS. He also hung around longer.

    The biggest difference was Maas was all we had in 1990. He was making appearances, promoted as a future star and big things were hoped for, where everyone saw Spencer as a hot player destined to be a fourth OF

    One note: Maas did carry the fairytale into early 1991 before it crashed and burned, he hit a home run vs Chicago Opening Day that triggered curtain call (of course we lost), and hi slash big moment was vs Oakland in may: A year after going 0-12 vs the A's in 1990, the first game in the Bronx in 91, the Yankees were trailing late, mat tingly hit a HR to tie it, then Maas went yard right after to give us a lead we actually held on to. Seems quaint now, but back then that may have been the biggest moment fans saw at home in 3 or 4 years

  3. TannerBoyle

    Good times. Anyone remember the frenzy for that Upper Deck card pictured in the article? The market in Kevin Maas rookie cards foretold the dot com IPO market.

    I also bought a Kevin Maas autographed ball on ebay for $6 a few years ago. My most prized baseball possession.

  4. yankees2012

    I remember the card, along with an Upper Deck Gregg Jefferies card around the same time, were considered investments in your future! Didn't quite turn out that way.

  5. Timarimba

    I vividly remember the 'Summer of Kevin Maas'.. Wasn't it also the summer of Oscar Azocar?

    • williamjtasker

      It was indeed and he was terrible.

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