December 30th is one of the few days of the year on which no Yankee,
past or present was born. So last year on this date, I presented this
“Top Ten Yankees of the Decade” post. This year, I thought I’d condense
that a bit and discuss who the five players are who’ve contributed the
most to Yankee baseball over the past five years.
1. Derek Jeter - this list has to start with “The Captain.” Despite
his first-ever mediocre year in 2010 and the needless and very
derogatory comments made about him by the Yankee front office during
his just-completed contract negotiation, Jeter remains the classiest
act in all of baseball and is still the straw that stirs this Yankee
team. I’m predicting he will be back better than ever in 2011.
2. Robinson Cano – His awesome 2010 regular season performance and
the fact that he finally put together some offense in a postseason has
convinced me that this guy has the entire package necessary to be
baseball’s best second baseman for at least the next five years.
3. Mariano Rivera – The only reason he is not number two on my list
is the inability of the rest of New York’s pitching staff to get him
any save situations in this year’s ALCS against Texas. The best closer
4. Alex Rodriguez – Has become the all-time greatest third baseman
in Yankee franchise history but his recent injuries and longer term
power outages may be evidence of the magic of performance enhancing
pharmaceuticals happening right before our eyes.
5. You decide who belongs in this slot and let the rest of our
readers know by posting your answer in the “comments” section below.
Candidates include Pettitte, Sabathia, Matsui, Teixeira, Damon, Posada,
Over the years, there have been several Yankee players who had brothers who were also big leaguers. The great Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio had siblings Dom and Vince. Matty and Felipe Alou were Yankee teammates for a while when their younger brother Jesus was also playing in the Majors. Clete Boyer’s older brothers Ken and Cloyd preceded the good-fielding Yankee third baseman to the big leagues. But no player on the franchise’s all-time roster could top long-ago Yankee outfielder Frank Delahanty when it came to baseball-playing brothers.
James and Bridget Delahanty immigrated to America from Ireland in 1865, the same year the US Civil War ended. The couple settled in Cleveland and while James took on a variety of jobs, his wife turned their home into a boarding house. They lost their first child in infancy, but the second, a boy named Edward James would grow up to become one of baseball’s first great sluggers and a Hall of Famer. Their next three boys, Tom, Joe and Jim would also become big leaguers as would their youngest, Frank, who would be nicknamed Pudgie.
The youngest Delahanty made his Yankee (actually Highlander) debut in 1905, when he was just 22-years-old. The following season, he became New York’s fourth outfielder, starting 92 games and setting a career high with 41 RBIs. That ’06 Highlander team won 90 games and finished second in the American League. Manager Clark Griffith thought his team could win the Pennant the following year if he could improve his starting rotation. In an effort to do so, Frank Delahanty was traded to Cleveland for former twenty-game-winner Earl Moore.
Both Delahanty and Moore were complete flops with their new teams in 1907 and by July of 1908, Delahanty found himself back with the Highlanders. He became one of the team’s better hitters during the second half of that season but instead of re-signing with New York, he jumped to the Buffalo Buffeds in the upstart Federal League. What are Buffeds?
“Rippin Roy” was one of the few bright lights in the dreadful Yankee lineups of the late sixties. In eighteen years with New York, this speedy, switch-hitting outfielder appeared in almost 1,900 Yankee games, smacking over 1,800 career hits. I will never forget White’s performance during the 1970 season. The previous year, the Yankees had finished next-to-last in their division during the inaugural season of Major League Baseball’s switch to divisional play. With Roy leading the way with 180 hits, 109 runs scored, and 94 runs batted in, the 1970 club won 93 games, finishing second to a very strong Oriole team. That was the same year Thurman Munson earned the AL Rookie of the Year award. When Bobby Murcer broke out as an offensive force the following season, my beloved Yankees became fun-to-watch again, ending the nightmare performances of the late sixties.
It was a special treat for Yankee fans to see Roy play well enough long enough to take part in the Pennant and World Series winning Yankee teams of the late seventies. Roy was born in Los Angeles and turns 68-years-old today.
Until Bernie Williams came along, White was the second most productive switch hitter in Yankee franchise history. Let’s take a look at my All-Time Yankee lineup of switch hitters:
Note: Gene Michael played just a few games at third for New York during his Yankee career but deserved this spot because the only switch-hitting starting third baseman in pinstripe history was an old Highlander named Pepper Austin who hit even worse than “Stick.”
Back in 2005, starting pitchers were dropping like flies for manager Joe Torre’s Yankees. Carl Pavano, Jared Wright and Chien Ming Wang were already on the disabled list when in late July, the mercurial Kevin Brown joined them. The Yankee front office responded by going on a starter acquisition blitz. They went out and got Al Leiter, Hideki Nomo and Shawn Chacon.
Of the three, Yankee fans expected the least from Chacon. His big league career up until that point had been weird to say the least. During his first three seasons in the Majors he had been a starter for Colorado. After going 11-21 his first two years, he had 11 victories by the 2003 All Star break but then did not win another game that season. Then he became the Rockie closer, finishing 2004 with 35 saves but a horrible 1-7 won-lost record.
Chacon ended up being one of the best pitchers on the Yankee staff during the second half of 2005. He won seven of ten decisions with a sparkling 2.85 ERA. He and another journeyman starter, Aaron Small, actually saved that Yankee season, with both guys pitching better than the millionaire’s club of starters the Yankees started that year with.
He got off to a good start for New York in 2006 as well but he got hurt early in the season and then got traded to the Pirates. He ended up with the Astros, in 2008 where he made headlines and got suspended when he scuffled with Houston GM Ed Wade. The right-hander has not pitched a game in the big leagues since. Chacon was born on December 23, 1977 in Anchorage, Alaska and given up for adoption, four years later.
If you’re a long time Yankee fan, it was one of those multi-player trades you just don’t forget, the likes of which will probably never be seen again. Back in the 1950s, trades involving two big league teams and six to ten players were not unusual but they normally took place between a team in a pennant race and a team outside of one. In June of the 1976 season, the Yankees were battling Baltimore for supremacy in the AL East, when the two clubs announced a pretty stunning deal.
New York sent their backup catcher, Rick Dempsey, veteran starter, Rudy May, a young left-handed reliever named Tippy Martinez, pitching prospect Scott McGregor and starter/reliever Dave Pagan all to the Birds. In exchange, the Yankees received starting pitchers Ken Holtzman and Doyle Alexander, reliever Grant Jackson and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Elrod Hendricks. Baltimore definitely got the best of this deal long term, as Dempsey became their starting catcher for the next decade, McGregor turned into one of the league’s premier starters and Martinez evolved into one of the best relievers in all of baseball. Even Rudy May paid dividends, going 29-21 during his two seasons with the Orioles. But the most immediate benefit went to the Yankees. During the second half of that season, Holtzman, Alexander and Jackson won an incredible 25 decisions between them, helping New York beat out the Birds for the AL East and capture the team’s first AL Pennant in over a decade.
Elrod Hendricks became the forgotten man in that transaction. He only got into 18-regular season games as a backup to the very durable Thurman Munson during his first half season in the Bronx. In 1977, the ten year big league veteran actually agreed to go down to the Yankee’s triple A team in Syracuse for most of the season, ceding his backup receiving role with the parent club to Fran Healy. But baby boomer aged fans like me remember when Hendricks caught those great Baltimore pitching staffs of the late sixties and early seventies. He was a solid receiver with a great arm. Hendricks is a native of the Virgin Islands who was born on this date in 1940. He passed away on the day before his 65th birthday in 2005.
The 1974 season turned out to be a pleasant surprise for Yankee fans. George Steinbrenner had replaced Ralph Houk as Yankee manager with Bill Virdon after the 1973 season and the former Pirate outfielder was determined to make the Bombers his team. He boldly moved fan favorite Bobby Murcer from center to right field, inserted Lou Piniella in left in place of Roy White and named Elliott Maddox as his everyday center fielder. Neither Murcer or White were happy with the moves but they did not complain publicly and the new outfield began producing and preventing runs almost immediately. Maddox had been purchased by Gabe Paul from the Rangers during that preseason. He was an outstanding defensive center fielder and he had a great year offensively as well, averaging .303 with a .393 on base percentage. Murcer turned out to be an excellent right fielder, Piniella hit .305 and White got into 135 games as a DH and fourth outfielder. The Yankees surprised all of baseball by finishing second in the AL East with an 89-73 record, just two games behind a very good Baltimore team. So when the Yankees traded Murcer for Bobby Bonds and signed Catfish Hunter during the winter of 1974, most Yankee fans including myself thought 1975 would be the year the Yankees returned to the postseason.
That did not happen and perhaps a key reason why was that Maddox slipped on a wet Shea Stadium outfield in a June game against the White Sox and suffered an injury to his knee that not only ended his 1975 season but also took away some of his speed. In a famous court case, Maddox later sued both the Yankees and the Mets for forcing him to play on a field they knew was in an unsafe condition. Elliott lost the case in the New York State Court of Appeals. After appearing in just 18 games during New York’s 1976 Pennant-winning season, the Yankees traded their damaged outfielder to Baltimore for Paul Blair the following January. The following year he signed a free agent deal with the Mets. He spent his last three big league seasons back in the Shea Stadium outfield. He was released by the Mets after the 1980 season and never appeared in another big league game. Maddox was born in East Orange, NJ, in 1947.
Like Maddox, this slugger also played for both Big Apple baseball teams and currently ranks fifth on the Mets’ all-time career home run list. Both he and this one-time Yankee infield prospect was also born on December 21st.
Walt Williams got his nickname from Paul Richards, the one-time GM of the old Houston Colt 45s. Richards and Houston coach, Eddie Robinson were meeting with all of Houston’s prospects during spring training and when Willams walked into his appointment, Richards supposedly said, “Look Eddie, this guy’s got no neck.” Despite the lack of an important anatomical appendage, Williams did OK on a baseball field. Born in Brownwood, TX, in 1943, he was a steady big league performer for ten seasons. A .270 lifetime hitter, Walt ended his career as a Yankee reserve outfielder during the 1974 and ’75 seasons. His Yankee teammates enjoyed the affable, always optimistic Williams. When no other big league team wanted him, Walt went on to play in both Mexico and Japan.
My Dad was a full blooded Italian who for some reason, took a liking to country music. Some of my favorite memories of him occurred when I’d be sitting in the living room of his home and he’d be shaving in the bathroom and I would listen to him sing a few select lines from some of his favorite country tunes. He used to love the old Hank Williams’ tune, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” , and Eddie Arnold’s “The Last Word in Lonesome is Me.”
I’m sharing this with you as part of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Blog post because I still remember the first time I saw today’s birthday celebrant play a game in a Yankee uniform, even though it happened over nine years ago and he ended up appearing in just four games in pinstripes. There’s three reasons for my ability to still recollect such a nondescript Yankee and the first one is my Dad. One of his all-time favorite country & western shaving tunes was called “Kiss an Angel Good Morning.” It was sung by Charley Pride, who was a huge C&W recording artist during the 1970s and one of the greatest Texas Ranger fans in the history of that franchise. So when I heard Curtis Pride’s name mentioned the first time during that 2003 televised Yankee/Red Sox contest, I immediately associated him with Charley Pride, which immediately made me picture my Dad singing the tune “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” while shaving in front of the steamed up mirror of his medicine cabinet.
The second reason I still remember Pride’s first Yankee game was because during his first at bat, the game announcers revealed that he had been born deaf. After attending special schools until the seventh grade, Curtis’s parents insisted he go to regular schools and learn how to survive in the mainstream world with his handicap. Pride was up to the task and he also developed into a superb athlete, attending William & Mary on a basketball scholarship, while also playing minor league baseball. He broke into the big leagues with the Expos in 1993, was released by Montreal in ’95 and was then signed by the Tigers. During the next two seasons he saw more playing time with Detroit than he would see with any of the other five teams he played with during his 11 years as a big leaguer.
The Yankees signed him in May of that 2003 season and sent him to their Triple A farm team in Columbus. That July, Yankee outfielders Bernie Williams and Raul Mondesi both went down with injuries and Pride was called up to the Bronx as a temporary replacement just in time for a four game series with the Red Sox. New York had started that series with a four game lead in the AL East over second-place Boston. That lead had been cut in half after Boston had won the first two games. New York was leading the third game 3-1 when Pride led off the top of the sixth and gave me my third reason for remembering his debut. He hit a long home run over the old Yankee Stadium’s center field wall off of Boston right-hander John Burkett and the Stadium went wild, standing and cheering as Pride circled the bases. At the urging of Manager Joe Torre, Pride emerged from the dugout for a curtain call and you could see tears coming down his cheek when he tipped his cap to the cheering fans. He later admitted he couldn’t hear the crowd’s cheers.
The next afternoon, Pride came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 1-1 game with the bases loaded and one out and hit a ground ball to Red Sox second baseman, Todd Walker. Walker bobbled the ball, eliminating his chance to turn it into a game-ending double play. His throw to the plate sailed over the head of Jason Varitek, allowing Hideki Matsui to score the winning run. Pride was mobbed by his Yankee teammates as the Stadium once again went wild with cheers that Pride could not hear.
Curtis Pride would appear in just two more games for New York before he was sent back to Columbus in late July to make room on the Yankee roster for reliever Jesse Orosco. He would catch on with the Angels in 2004 and play portions of three more big league seasons. Pride shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and this other one too.
After spending his first five big league seasons with the Mariners, this speedy utility player was signed as a free agent by the Yankees in 2003. He saw little action during that year and was released by New York that September. His only two hits while in pinstripes and the first of the two RBIs he drove in as a Yankee came off then Toronto ace Roy Halladay.
The most significant pinstripe moment of the only other Yankee to be born on this date also involved a star player. This outfielder actually replaced Mr. October in the third inning of an October Yankee game.
Today’s pinstripe birthday celebrant was part of an exclusive club. He was the second player in Major League history to play for a team being managed by his father. The year was 1985 and Yogi Berra started that season as Yankee skipper. The previous December, New York had traded outfielder Steve Kemp and shortstop Tim Foli to the Pirates in return for a young power hitting prospect named Jay Buhner, a seldom used pitcher named Alfonso Pulido and Yogi’s youngest son, infielder Dale Berra.
Dale had been a good enough player in high school to be selected by the Pirates with the twentieth overall pick in the 1975 Major League Draft. He bounced up and down between the Minor Leagues and Pittsburgh’s big league roster for five seasons before sticking as the parent club’s starting shortstop in 1982. He wasn’t a great hitter, averaging just .238 during his tenure in the Steel City. By 1984 his weak bat and a rumored cocaine habit convinced the Pirates to give up on him.
Berra immediately thrived playing for his Dad, hitting in the high .300s during the first two weeks of the 1985 season. Unfortunately, the rest of the Yankees did not follow suit and when the team’s early-season record fell to 6-10, Steinbrenner fired Yogi, replaced him with Billy Martin, who used Bobby Meacham as the team’s shortstop for the rest of that season. The younger Berra remained in pinstripes until the 1986 All Star break when he became the second member of his family to receive his walking papers from Steinbrenner. In an embarassing prelude to that season, Berra and a bunch of ex Pirates had been suspended for their use of cocaine during the early eighties. His problem with drugs evidently continued because he was also picked up in a 1989 drug raid in his home state of New Jersey and eventually indicted.
The first MLB player to play for a club managed by his Dad was Connie Mack’s son Earle, in 1937. Others that followed Berra were Cal and Billy Ripken, Brian McRae and Moises Alou.