I faintly remember being confused about the trade. Just before Opening Day of the 1986 baseball season, the Yankees and Red Sox exchanged DH’s. New York sent Don Baylor to Boston for Mike Easler. Later on, I learned that Baylor had demanded to be traded because Lou Piniella, the Yankee Skipper at the time had announced he intended to platoon him with Ken Griffey during the ’86 season. As is the case still today, trades between the arch-rival franchises were not frequent occurrences. In fact the Easler for Baylor deal was the first trade between the two teams since New York got Sparky Lyle from Boston in exchange for Danny Cater fourteen seasons earlier. I could only hope that this deal would end up being as one-sided in favor of the Yankees as that one was. it wasn’t.
In 1984, Easler had belted 27 home runs for Boston, driven in 91 and averaged .313. Even though all those numbers decreased the following year, there was a lot to like about Easler in pinstripes. He was a bonafide three-hundred hitter who’s nickname was “Hit Man.” He was a left-handed hitter with good pop in his bat which I hoped meant perhaps 25-to-30 home runs per season aided by Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch. Easler would be joining a Yankee lineup that included superstars Don Mattingly, Ricky Henderson and Dave Winfield. There would be lots of protection surrounding him in the batting order which also meant less pressure to produce in every at bat. I fully expected that Yankee team to win their Division.
They came close, winning 90 games but Boston, with plenty of help from Baylor (31 HRs and 94 RBIs) won 95 and ended up in the World Series. Easler did hit .302 for New York but he managed just 14 home runs and 78 RBIs. But offense was not the problem for the 1986 Yankees. Instead, starting pitching was their achilles heel. It was a case of Ron Guidry and Joe Niekro being too old and Doug Drabek and Bob Tewksbury not being old enough. The Yankees traded Easler to the Phillies for pitcher Charles Hudson that December and then got him back in another trade the following June. He played his final 65 big league games in Pinstripes during that 1987 season and then gave Japanese ball a try. During his 14 season career in the Majors, Easler hit .293.
Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1973, Ledee was another prospect from the Yankee farm system who could not catch on permanently with the parent club, despite some flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in pinstripes. I know I won’t forget the great World Series he had in 1998 against San Diego. His .600 batting average and four RBIs helped New York sweep the Padres. He had his best regular season for the Yankees the following season, when he hit .276 in 88 games of action. He was hitting just .221 the following year when he was one of the three players Brian Cashman sent to Cleveland for David Justice. That deal ended up winning the 2000 Pennant for New York when Justice went on an unbelievable tear in the second half of that season. Ledee played until 2007, seeing his last big league action in a New York Met uniform.
Armando Benitez provided several memorable moments in Yankee history, but none of them took place during the short time the fire-balling right hander wore a Yankee uniform. It was Benitez who gave up the famous Derek Jeter - Jeffrey Maier home run during the 1996 ALCS that helped the Yankees beat Baltimore for the AL Pennant that year. Then two seasons later, after Bernie Williams hit a huge three-run late-inning home run off of him, Benitez not only hit the next batter, Tino Martinez, he then openly challenged the Yankee dugout to a fight, setting off one of the most memorable brawls in pinstripe history. Then when Benitez joined the Mets in 1999, he eventually took over the closer role from John Franco. During his three full seasons in that role, Benitez saved 117 games while Mariano Rivera was saving 114 for the Yankees. The “who had the better closer” argument became one of many dramatic sub-titles to the 2000 Subway World Series. So as a Yankee fan, I have lots of Armando Benitez memories but I almost forgot he actually pitched in pinstripes for nine games during the 2003 season. The Yankees had got him from the Mets for three minor league prospects hoping he would be the eighth inning setup guy for Rivera. When he faltered in that role, the Yankees traded him to Seattle for former Yankee set-up specialist, Jeff Nelson. Through 2008, the last season he saw action in the Major Leagues, Benitez compiled a career total of 289 saves.
Armando was born on November 3, 1972, in the Dominican Republic. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher who never seemed to get a chance to pitch, this former Yankee manager and this former Yankee reliever who got way too many opportunities to do so.