BOSTON — Brett Gardner isn’t a big hugger. Yet, like all of the Yankees this season, he has grown accustomed to the enveloping embrace of Cameron Maybin after a trip around the bases.
So after Gardner smashed a solo blast on Friday against the Boston Red Sox, he expected Maybin to pull him in for a hug in the dugout. But Maybin, who was worried his hugs-for-homers tradition had become a bit much, went in for a high five instead.
“He said, ‘Bring it back. I want a hug,’” Maybin recalled, adding, “Everybody else is still coming up to me, giving me hugs, so I guess we’ll keep going.”
Maybin, 32, is one of the fill-in players who helped power the Yankees (95-51) through an injury-filled season that has particularly decimated the outfield, with stars like Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge missing significant time. Maybin figures to remain a key player, especially after a season-ending calf injury to outfielder Mike Tauchman over the weekend and a lingering elbow injury that has jeopardized Hicks’s availability.
Acquired for cash from the Cleveland Indians’ Class AAA team in late April, Maybin has enjoyed a late-career resurgence thanks to changes he made to his swing before and during the season. Despite a left wrist injury slowing him in recent weeks, Maybin was hitting .287 with eight home runs entering Thursday with an .843 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage — his highest mark in any major-league season other than an eight-game cameo for the Marlins in 2008, when he was 21.
Maybin’s impact, though, has extended beyond the field, to the doses of cheerfulness he brings to the clubhouse.
“It’s one of the coolest things we have as a team, that when something good happens, you’ll be received with a hug,” the All-Star infielder Gleyber Torres said.
And the Yankees have had a lot of opportunities for hugs this season. With less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, they have sent 276 balls over the fence, smashing the team record of 267 they set last season. More than 230 have been hit since Maybin joined the Yankees.
“I was gone for a little bit, but I easily gave out that many hugs, and not just for homers,” said Maybin, referring to the 27 games he missed over the summer with a calf injury. Fans have also taken to the hugging tradition, and it’s even inspired several T-shirts sold online, with the proceeds going to Maybin’s charity to support a charter school in Harlem.
As silly as Maybin’s hugs may sound, there is research supporting the connection between physical contact and success. According to a 2010 study from three researchers at the University of California-Berkeley who studied an N.B.A. season, teams that engaged in the most high fives, chest bumps, head slaps and hugs also cooperated more, played better and won more.
For Maybin, a first-round pick of the Detroit Tigers in 2005, hugs have been important since childhood. He said they were the standard way of saying hello in his hometown, Asheville, N.C., but especially in his family.
“If I bring you to Thanksgiving dinner, you getting hugs from everybody,” he said. “It ain’t no handshakes.
“Hugging just makes people feel good. Everybody needs a good hug sometimes. Even when you don’t think you want one.”
Large men on the baseball field, too. But it wasn’t until he became teammates with Braves star first baseman Freddie Freeman in Atlanta in 2015 that Maybin brought his embraces to the workplace. Instead of high fives or handshakes during games, Freeman hugs. Maybin said Freeman’s hugs — “he holds you, pulls you in, rests his head on your shoulder and takes a deep breath” — not only made him laugh but made him feel good, too.
“A hug is really personal,” Maybin said. “If you give a teammate or someone a hug, it lets them know you really care.”
So Maybin adopted the practice himself, and continued it during tough stretches of his life.
During a poor spring training with the San Francisco Giants that led to his release, Maybin was arrested on March 1 for driving under the influence of alcohol in Scottsdale, Ariz. He apologized and, according to court records, struck a deal in July in which he pleaded guilty to one charge while the others were dismissed, paid fines and entered an alcohol screening program. After landing in Columbus, home of the Indians’ top minor league team, Maybin still dispensed hugs to any teammate who hit a home run. Even as he was worrying about his mother battling breast cancer and undergoing surgery for it earlier this year, Maybin continued his cheerful tradition.
Soon after the Yankees acquired him in late April, Maybin began hugging his new teammates, several of whom he had gotten to know as opponents over his 13 years in and out of the majors with eight different teams. “That’s how I break the ice immediately,” he said. “I’m going to take you out of your comfort zone and make you feel a little uncomfortable.”
Even hug-averse teammates have grown to love Maybin’s embraces. The normally reserved D.J. LeMahieu, an All-Star infielder, opts for a quick side-hug at the hip with Maybin. Asked if he liked hugs, LeMahieu paused before saying, “Only from Cam.”
Among the teammates who truly enjoy Maybin’s hugs the most: third baseman Gio Urshela, starting pitcher Domingo German, Torres and Judge. “He likes when I pick him up because he’s so big,” said Maybin of Judge, who is four inches and nearly 70 pounds bigger than him. “Not many people pick A.J. up.”
“A veteran player that still has that fire and energy as if he was 22 years old, that’s special,” Judge said of Maybin. “It fires us all up. It’s something to look forward to after you hit a home run, you know he’s going to be waiting at the end of the dugout.”
It’s part of a welcoming atmosphere that many new arrivals to the Yankees this season have cited as helping them thrive. Zack Britton, a Yankees’ standout relief pitcher, said Maybin has helped make coming to work every day fun. When the tension ratchets up during the postseason in October, his hugs may become more important than ever.
“Giving somebody a hug creates good energy,” Maybin said. “Especially when you’re around a group of guys for eight months like we are, you want to keep the energy as good and as upbeat as possible all year. When I came, I just wanted to add something new.”