Irv Noren was the fourth Yankee outfielder for five seasons beginning in 1952 and he won three World Series rings in that role during his stay in the Bronx. The Yankees got Noren from the Senators during the 1952 season, giving up top prospect Jackie Jensen and pitcher Spec Shea as part of that deal. Born on this date in 1924, the Jamestown, NY native’s best season in pinstripes was, ironically, the only season the team did not win the AL pennant with Noren on the roster. That was 1954, when Irv hit .319 and drove in 66 runs and was named to the AL All Star team, while backing up starters Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer and Gene Woodling in the Yankee outfield. During the winter of 1957, the Yankees included Noren in a huge trade with Kansas City that brought Art Ditmar, Bobby Shantz and Clete Boyer to New York. Noren played sparingly for four more seasons for four different teams before retiring. He played his entire career handicapped by chronically sore knees.
I still remember Larry Gura’s 1974 initial season with the New York Yankees. The young left-hander went 5-1 as a starter on that squad and two of his victories were impressive complete game shutouts. I thought he was destined to become the next great Yankee southpaw but I was sadly mistaken. After Gura posted a 7-8 record in 1975, the Yankees traded the Joliet, IL native to the Royals for catcher Fran Healy. Kansas City brought him along slowly and by 1978, he was ready to become a regular part of the team’s starting rotation. He went 16-4 that year and achieved double digits in victories for the Royals for seven straight seasons. He would have been a great Yankee starter during that time.
Like Gura, this Yankee starter was born on November 26th but unlike Larry, he was not traded by New York early in his career and instead went on to become one of the franchise’s all-time great pitchers. This former Yankee reliever also shares Gura’s birthday.
Russell Earl Dent was a very good defensive shortstop who helped solidify the middle of the Yankee infield when New York acquired him from the White Sox in an April, 1977 trade. Bucky was one of those players who never seemed to be featured in the headlines or a post game report. He just gave his team solid and steady play both in the field and at the plate, game after game. But in one brief shining moment, Bucky Dent became a pinstripe legend, and gave all Yankee fans a thrill that will forever be cited as one of the top moments in franchise history. His home run against Red Sox starter Mike Torrez in the 1978 playoff game to decide the AL East division race, just cleared the top of Fenway’s Green Monster, simultaneously bringing Boston’s dejected left fielder, Carl Yastrzemski to his knees and millions of Yankee fans, screaming in sheer ecstasy, to their feet. Dent’s blast gave the Yankees a lead they never relinquished and they went on to capture their second consecutive World Championship that season. Bucky remained hot in that Fall Classic against the Dodgers, hitting .417, driving in 7 runs and winning the Series MVP award.
He continued to start at shortstop for New York for the next three and a half years before getting traded to Texas for outfielder, Lee Mazzilli, during the 1982 season. In all, the Savannah, Georgia native played for twelve seasons in the big leagues, retiring in 1984 with 1,114 career hits and a .247 lifetime batting average. He then got into coaching, started a very successful baseball instructional school and actually piloted the Yankees for parts of the 1988 and ’89 seasons. I personally will never forget sitting in front of my television set on that early October afternoon in 1978 and hearing Yankee announcer Bill White call out the words “Deep to left…”
Strangely, Bob Friend almost helped the Yankees win the 1960 World Series. I use the word strangely because Friend did not become a Yankee until 1965. At the time of the ’60 Fall Classic he was still the ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ staff, who had won 18 games during that regular season and would end up winning 192 decisions before being traded by the Bucs to New York for reliever Pete Mikkelsen. The veteran right-hander, who was nicknamed “The Warrior,” started the second and sixth games of the Series and was plastered by the very talented Yankee lineup. Friend pitched a total of just six innings in those two appearances, surrendering thirteen hits and nine earned runs in the process. He would never again pitch in the postseason. When he started his one and only season in pinstripes losing four of his first five decisions, the Yankees sold him to the Mets. The Lafayette, IN native finished that season with a 5-8 record for the Amazin’s and then retired.
As the 2005 season began, Brian Cashman thought he had assembled the starting pitching staff New York would need to recapture the AL pennant from Boston and help Yankee fans forget the horror of the Bronx Bombers’ ALCS collapse to the hated Red Sox, the previous postseason. The Yankee GM had traded for Randy Johnson and signed Carl Pavano during that offseason and was hoping those two veterans would combine with Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown to give New York the type of overpowering rotation a team needed to make it to the World Series. That did not happen. Johnson was good but not great, ditto for Mussina and both Brown and Pavano missed most of that season due to injuries. The Yankees were forced to improvise with their starting pitching and they did so by bringing up Chien-Ming Wang from their farm system, trading for a Pittsburgh starter named Shawn Chacon and using a free agent pitcher they had signed the previous January named Aaron Small. Wang and Chacon won 15 games between them but it was Small’s performance that year that won the AL East Division flag for Joe Torre’s squad. The tall right hander won all ten of his decisions including five big wins in September, giving up just 3.2 runs every nine innings he pitched. Small was a high school teammate of Jason Giambi in Covina, CA. That great performance in 2005 earned him a million dollar contract from New York in 2006 but he would never win another big league game. After losing his third straight decision in 2006, he was sent down to Columbus, where he spent the rest of that year. He ended up retiring after that season with a 25-13 record and four saves during his nine years of big league pitching.
There were a lot of Yankees born on this date which is best remembered as the anniversary of John Kennedy’s tragic assassination in 1963. They include 200-game winner Lew Burdette, who was originally a Yankee before moving onto the Braves and forming one of the best one-two pitching tandems in baseball during the 1950s with Warren Spahn. Today is also Lee Guetterman’s birthday. This 6’8″ former reliever led the horrible 1990 Yankee pitching staff with 11 victories pitching out of Stump Merrill’s bullpen. Remember Wayne Tolleson? He was the Rangers’ starting shortstop for three years during the early eighties and then succeeded Bobby Meacham at that same position for New York in 1986. But if baseball procrastinators are correct, it is a future Yankee who will become the birthday celebrant most recognized on this date. Austin Romine, who was born on this date in 1988, is supposedly the second best minor league catching prospect in all of baseball, but standing in his way is Jesus Montero, the guy many experts believe is the best catching prospect. Both men hope to replace Jeorge Posada as the next great Yankee starting catcher. It should be an interesting competition during the next couple of seasons.
Still another Yankee born on this date hit .600 for New York during the 1998 World Series sweep of the Padres.
There have only been four players in the history of Major League Baseball to have been born in Spain. One of them is today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant. Rios came into this world in Madrid on this date in 1972. He and his parents moved to the US two years later. He played baseball for the University of Miami and was signed by the Yankees in 1993. He was groomed from the beginning as a closer by the Yankee organization and had some really strong seasons in that role for New York’s Greensboro, Tampa and Norwich farm teams. By 1997 he was pitching in Columbus and got his call up to the parent club in May of that season. Unfortunately for Rios, he got shelled by the Red Sox in his first appearance, giving up three home runs and five earned runs during his one and two-thirds inning pitched. That debut performance got him sent back to Columbus and he didn’t make his next appearance in the big leagues until September of that season. This time, in his only lifetime appearance in the original Yankee Stadium, Rios got shelled again, giving up five hits in two-thirds of an inning against the Orioles. Having seen enough, the Yankees released him after the 1997 season. He signed with the Royals the following season, appeared in five games for Kansas City that year and then left the big leagues for good. He landed on his feet in the Korean Baseball Organization, becoming the first non-Korean ever to win 20 games in that league in 2007. That performance earned him a huge contract to pitch in Japan the following year. According to his “Bullpen” profile section at Baseball-Reference.com, Rios tested positive for steroids while pitching in Japan and was suspended.
Another nondescript Yankee pitcher named Ownie Carroll was also born on this date.
This Philadelphia native who was born November 9, 1962, had his best big league season as a Yankee in 1993, when he took over New York’s left field starting position and responded with a career-high .332 batting average. James then opted to become a free agent but nobody signed him. He ended up sitting out the entire strike-shortened 1994 season and when he rejoined the Yankees a season later, Gerald Williams had been given his old left field spot. Dion appeared in six games for New York during their 1996 World Championship season, the final six games of his 11-season big league career.
Dion shares his November 9th birthday with this former Yankee second baseman from the 1940s.
The “Scooter” will always be my all-time favorite Yankee announcer but not because he was a particularly good analyst or play-by-play guy. Quite the opposite, he was petty bad at both. But Rizzuto helped me enjoy Yankee broadcasts regardless if the team won or lost and he wore and flashed his unabashed lack of objectivity on behalf of the Bronx Bombers like a badge of honor.
As much as I enjoyed Rizzuto, I appreciated Jim Kaat. His award-winning commentary taught me things I didn’t know about the game of baseball and how it is played at the highest of levels. He did a great job of explaining technical things to his non-technical audience, like why a curve ball curves, what pitchers have to be prepared for in a suicide squeeze situation, and how the best fielding catchers play the spin of the ball on foul pops.
Unlike Rizzuto, who played his ball before my time during the forties and early fifties, “Kitty” played his rookie season just one year before I became an avid fan of Major League baseball. I loved to listen to him talk about his personal experiences with ballplayers he played with and against, especially during the sixties. Back before you could watch every Yankee game on TV or bring up Major League Baseball’s Web site on the Internet, the only things I knew about players like Bob Allison, Zoilio Versailles, Don Mossi, or Leon Wagner were printed on the backs of the baseball cards that I collected as a kid. Kaat’s vivid memories of the players I grew up watching gave life to the faces on those cards for me.
In addition to announcing for the Yankees for a dozen seasons, Kaat pitched in Pinstripes for parts of both the 1979 and 1980 seasons. He ended his 25-year playing career three seasons later, with 283 career victories. Jim Kaat belongs in the Hall-of-Fame.
The New York Yankees were a very competitive team from 1982 until the wheels came off in 1989. In fact, no team in baseball won more games than New York did during that time but, they failed to make the playoffs in each of those seasons. With Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and Ricky Henderson in their lineup for much of that decade, offense wasn’t the problem for New York but starting pitching and managerial consistency was. It seemed as if every season, the Yankees had at least one new manager and three new starters in their rotation. In 1988, the Yankee front office signed former Pirate ace, John Candelaria to a free agent contract and hoped he would anchor their staff. For half a season, the “Candy Man” did just that, going 8-2 and helping New York get out to a quick start and take the Eastern Division lead for Manager Billy Martin, who was on his fifth tour of duty that year as Yankee skipper. As usual, however, Martin was fired on June 23rd of that season, when Clyde King, George Steinbrenner’s personal scout told the Boss that Martin had behaved unprofessionally by leaving reliever Tim Stoddard in a game in which he was getting shelled. King felt it was because Billy disliked Stoddard. By the time Lou Piniella took over for Martin, Candelaria’s knee was hurting and he won just five of his last ten decisions. The Yankees ended up finishing in fifth place, but were just 3.5 games behind Division winning Boston. That 1988 season really was the straw that ended up breaking the Yankee’s back. The next four Yankee teams finished below five hundred under five different Managers, going through a whole bunch of different starting pitchers. Martin died drunk, when his pickup truck drove off the road and Steinbrenner was actually banned from the game for his role in the Howie Spira episode.
When Candelaria got off to a 3-3 start for New York in 1989, he was traded to the Expos for an infielder named Mike Blowers. The New York City-born southpaw tried to make the Yankees winners again but in the end, the Candy Man couldn’t.