This is not the switch-hitting Bobby Brown who played a lot of outfield for the Yankees in 1980. This is the Bobby Brown who was a decent hitting, terrible fielding utility player for New York in the late forties and early fifties. This is the Bobby Brown who shined in four Fall Classics as a Yankee and holds a .439 lifetime World Series batting average. This is the Bobby Brown who gave up baseball to become a cardiologist and then gave up his medical career to become a front office executive for the Texas Rangers and then President of the American League. This is not the Bobby Brown who married Whitney Houston.
The Yankees 1981 World Series defeat to the Dodgers was an almost tragic turning point for George Steinbrenner. He had spent loads of Yankee dollars to put together an offense that was driven by home runs only to see that offense sputter and fail in both the second half of the strike-induced split season and the last four games with Los Angeles. He then let his anger over the strike and the pain of that Dodger defeat drive a series of player decisions that would keep the Yankees out of postseason play for the next fifteen years. No move symbolized Steinbrenner’s inept over-reaction more than the signing of Dave Collins.
At the time, Collins was a singles-hitting, base-stealing outfielder who slap-swung his bat from both sides of the plate. He had hit .300 for the Reds in both 1979 and ’80 but what really captured the Boss’s attention was the 79 bases Collins stole during that 1980 season. Steinbrenner was convinced the guy would be a perfect lead-off man for the new small-ball offense he envisioned for his ball club so he blew him over with a three-year, two-and-a-half million dollar free agent offer that was probably twice as much and at least a year-more than any other team would have offered Collins.
A month before that signing the Boss had approved a trade for Collins’ Cincinnati teammate and fellow outfielder, Ken Griffey. Then just before spring training, Steinbrenner must have been feeling sentimental because he gave both Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, two more outfielders, three-year contract extensions. The Yankees also already had Dave Winfield, Jerry Mumphrey and Oscar Gamble under contract for the 1982 season. That added up to seven outfielders which didn’t add up to a very confused Bob Lemon, who as Yankee manager was given the responsibility of figuring out where and when to play all of them. When Collins reported to spring training, Lemon told him to work out at first base. As Bill Madden explained the situation in his excellent biography of Steinbrenner, “The Last Lion of Baseball,” Collins spent all that spring asking every reporter who covered the team “Why in the world did they sign me?”
He ended up playing first base in 52 games for New York and split 60 more pretty evenly as the Yankee left, right, and center fielder. He hit just .253 that year, stole only 13 bases and was probably one of the most uncomfortable Yankee players in the history of the franchise. Steinbrenner’s 1982 small ball Yankees finished the season next-to-last in their division with a 79-83 record. New York then mercifully traded Collins to the Blue Jays, where, feeling much more wanted, he averaged .290 and 50 stolen bases during the final two years of the contract he had originally signed with New York. But just to make Steinbrenner regret his signing of Collins even more, the Blue jays insisted that the Yankees include a youngster named Fred McGriff in the trade for Collins
Even though the 1981 Yankees made it to the World Series, the majority of Yankee fans old enough to remember that team will tell you it was a horrible year to be a Yankee and baseball fan. The regular season was split by a strike and the only reason New York made the postseason was they had their Division’s lead when the players walked off the job on June 12 of that year. When they came back in August, already assured of a postseason spot because of their pre-strike division lead, the Yankees played horribly and finished fifth in their division’s second-half standings.
The Yankees had acquired the 6’5″ Frazier from the Cardinals that year and by the second half of that season, he was pitching a lot of effective baseball for New York and had joined Goose Gossage and Ron Davis to give the team a very strong bullpen. That bullpen pitched very well in both the ALDS and ALCS as the New York advanced to the World Series against the Dodgers. Then, after winning the first two games at Yankee Stadium, the series shifted to Los Angeles, where the Yankees lost three straight one-run games with Frazier on the losing end of the first two of those decisions. He then also got the “L” in the Dodgers’ 9-2 Game-6 blowout victory back in New York.
That disastrous year ended with the Yankees decision not to re-sign Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner publicly ridiculing Jackson’s heir apparent, Dave Winfield, for choking in the postseason.
Frazier spent two more seasons in the Yankee bullpen before being traded to Cleveland. He will forever be remembered as the Yankee pitcher who lost three games in the same World Series.
October 8 is not a date on which fans of New York Yankee birthdays have lots to celebrate about. Bernie Williams, the former outfielder, celebrates a birthday today but he’s the Bernie Williams who played for the Giants and Padres back in the early 1970′s and not the “Bern Baby Bern” who won four World Series rings and a batting championship with the Yankees. Catfish was also born on October 8 but this one’s last name was Metkovich and not the late great Yankee pitcher named Hunter. There was also an old Yankee hitting coach named Wally Moses who was born on this date. I remember Wally looked like he was eighty years old when he was fifty and I remember wondering back then why New York’s management expected the power-hitting Yankee roster of the early sixties to take batting instructions from a perennial singles-hitter that Moses was throughout his own playing career. Also born on today’s date is Ping Bodie, the Yankees’ first Italian American player.
The only former Yankee player who I personally saw play that celebrates a birthday on today’s date is a utility infielder named Bryan Little. Little played very little in Pinstripes, appearing in 14 games at second base during the 1986 season. Bryan, who was born in Houston, turns fifty-years-old today.