With the Bronx Bombers in another postseason, fans will hear the name of Yankee batting coach, Kevin Long mentioned several times during New York’s current playoff run. This year, he’s being credited with helping Curtis Granderson get more effective at bats against lefthanders and helping Derek Jeter end his long slump in the second half of the just completed regular season. Last night during his post game interview, the great Andy Pettitte indicated that Yankee teammate Lance Berkman told him that he had spent some time with Long the last few days and adjusted his hitting stance. Berkman then went out and hit a homer and double to help put New York up 2-0 in their 2010 LDS against the Twins.
Giving hitting coaches credit and press is relatively new in baseball. I believe it really got started with Charley Lau. Lau coached hitting for several teams, including the Yankees but he seemed to gain most of his attention when he tutored hitters in the very good Kansas City Royal lineups that used to challenge New York for the AL Pennant every year in the mid-to-late seventies. Before that, about the only time you might have heard or read a hitting coach’s name in the media would have been when they were hired or fired.
The 1961 Yankees were considered by many to be one of the great offensive teams of all times. So who was the hitting coach for that powerful bunch of home-run hitting sluggers? You have to be a pretty loyal and long-time pinstripe fan to remember him. His name was Wally Moses and the most remarkable thing about him coaching hitting on that particular team was that Wally himself was a singles hitter during his 17 year career as an AL outfielder with the A’s, White Sox and Red Sox. But upon closer inspection, even though he averaged just 7 home runs per year during his career, he did figure out how to develop a power stroke in 1937, when he hit 25 round-trippers for Philadelphia. The Yankee hitters he coached absolutely loved Wally because he made them feel so good about themselves as hitters. A grateful Ralph Houk once begged him never to leave.
If one of the reasons today’s Yankees are winning postseason series is because they’ve learned to play “Long” ball, I guess you could also say that Moses helped lead those 1961 Yankee bats to the promised land. Wally was born on October 8, 1910 in Uvalda, GA and passed away in 1990.
There were two reasons why I liked Ruben Sierra. First of all, he looked exactly like a guy who used to umpire Little League games back when I was a coach for my two sons’ teams. Secondly, Ruben could hit. After the Yankees traded Danny Tartabull to Oakland for him during the 1995 season, Sierra drove in 44 runs for New York in the 56 games he played for them that year. Yes he could be moody, mouthy and sometimes too flamboyant, but I loved to watch his at bats, especially his eyes when he glared out at an opposing pitcher. Unfortunately for Ruben, Joe Torre did not like or appreciate him as much as I did. Four months into Torre’s inaugural 1996 season as Yankee skipper, New York dealt Sierra to the Tigers for slugging first baseman, Cecil Fielder. Ruben was hurt by the trade and said some unkind and exaggerated things about Torre’s managing style. The two eventually patched things up and Sierra rejoined Torre and the Yankees in June of 2003. I was amazed to find out that Ruben played for nine different teams during his 20-year big league career and hit 306 home runs. My question is, has there ever been another player who hit so many home runs playing for as many teams as Sierra did? Ruben was born in Puerto Rico on this date in 1965.
Another Yankee born on today’s date is former pitcher Steve Kline. Do you remember which Yankee playoff hero became a Yankee in a trade involving Kline? Find out here. Also born on October 6th is Yankee pitcher Freddie Garcia.
The sky was supposed to be the limit for Andre when he first joined the Yankees in 1981. He had good speed, a decent bat and was a great fielder. Some Big Apple sports pundits were calling him the next Rizzuto. By the summer of 1983 he appeared to be coming into his own. He had officially taken over the starting shortstop position from the veteran Roy Smalley and seemed to be growing more comfortable and confident in both the field and batters box with each game he played.
Then after a thirteen-inning August night-game loss to the White Sox, Robertson went home to his Fort Lee, NJ apartment and called a lady friend who happened to be visiting from Robertson’s home state of Texas. Neither could sleep so they decided to meet and go dancing at Studio 54 and then take pictures of the Statue of Liberty. It was on their way to lower Manhattan on the West Side highway that Robertson crashed his car. He broke his neck and his friend sustained injuries that have paralyzed her for life. Although Robertson’s neck healed, the tragedy derailed his baseball career and by 1985 he was out of the game for good. Robertson was born in Orange, TX. He is 53 years-old today.
Ron Blomberg appeared in his first Yankee game on August 23, 1968. Incredibly, he was just the second Jew ever to wear a Yankee uniform. The first was today’s birthday celebrant, Jimmy Reese. Reese doesn’t sound like a Jewish name does it? That’s because the second baseman had changed it from Soloman when he was a teenager, knowing he would have better luck making it as a baseball player if he hid his heritage.
In 1929, Reese hit .337 for the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast league. The Yankees paid Oakland $125,000 for the contracts of Reese and his Oakland teammate and double play partner, Lyn Lary. While Lary became the Yankees’ starting shortstop in 1930, Reese sat on the bench behind future Hall of Fame second baseman, Tony Lazzeri. Yankee skipper, Bob Shawkey did manage to get Jimmy into 77 games that year and Reese responded by hitting .346. He also became Babe Ruth’s roommate on the road and one of the Bambino’s best friends and biggest admirers. Ruth’s first question walking into the Yankee clubhouse would often be “Where’s the Jew.” He’d take Reese home for dinner, play cards with him on the long train rides during Yankee road trips, and pull all sorts of pranks on his adoring roommate. When Reese’s average fell to .241 in 1931, the Yankees sold him to the American Association franchise in St. Paul, MN. After a 90-game trial with the Cardinals in 1932, Reese’s big league playing career was over and he headed back to the Pacific Coast League.
After coaching in the Minors for decades, Reese asked the California Angels for a job and was made the team’s conditioning coach in 1972, when he was 71 years old. He spent the next 22 years in that role, becoming one of the most popular personalities ever to wear the Halos’ uniform. He was best known for his incredible skills with a fungo bat. He could hit a ball wherever he wanted to with that bat and would even sometimes pitch Angels’ batting practice with it, hitting one line drive after another right over the plate. The Angels retired his uniform number when he died in 1994. I wonder if that number would have been retired if this New York City native had not made the decision to change his name from Soloman to Reese all those many years ago?
Also celebrating his birthday today is the player the Yankees traded for outfielder Paul O’Neill and this one-time closer who retired with 365 saves.