If you asked most Yankee fans if the shortstop Rafael Santana played for the Yankees their likely response would be, “No, he played for the Mets.” That’s because the native of the Dominican Republic did spend the vast majority of his six-season big league career with the Amazin’s and he was the starting shortstop on their 1986 World Championship team. What most of us forget is that the Yankees traded for Santana before the 1988 spring training season and he became the team’s starting shortstop for then Manager, Billy Martin. Martin, as usual got fired during the 1988 season and was replaced by Lou Piniella, who stuck with Santana at short for the rest of that year. Rafael hit just .240 for that season and his on base percentage was a putrid .289. He also played very mediocre defense. He then suffered an elbow injury that caused him to miss the entire 1989 season, making it an even easier decision for the Yankee front-office to release him when his contract expired at the end of that year. That explains why Yankee fans have a hard time remembering Santana played in pinstripes.
This hardly remembered but very effective Yankee pitcher from the late 1950s and this current Yankee outfielder prospect were both also born on January 31..
Berroa was awful during his 21-game, early-part-of-the-season tenure with the Yankees in 2009. This Dominican’s best years were spent with the Royals. In fact, he was the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year with Kansas City, when he hit .287, smacked 17 home runs, stole 21 bases and drove in 87 runs as the team’s first-year starting shortstop. With New York during their championship season, he was hitting just .136 when he was released that July. He was quickly picked up by the Mets, enabling him to finish his 2009 season in the same city it began.
Though they were also referred to as the Americans, their Highlanders’ nickname fit them well because they played their home games in a place called Hilltop Park, which was located on one of the highest points on Manhattan island. The team landed there in 1903 when Ban Johnson’s upstart American League relocated its Baltimore Oriole franchise to the Big Apple. It was a forced move that caused tons of bad blood and hostility. As a result, just about the entire Orioles roster either refused to make the move or were not offered the opportunity to do so. This forced the Highlanders to throw a team together in a helter skelter fashion, that included boozers, brawlers, gamblers and a few talented ball players thrown in for good measure. They played as erratically as the evolution of the team’s roster. They finished 4th, 2nd, 6th, 2nd, 5th, last, 5th, 2nd, 6th and last during their first decade in their new home. They battled helplessly for the attention of city’s baseball fans and baseball press in those early years with John McGraw’s mighty Giants. Things really didn’t get better for the team and its fans until the franchise was purchased by a couple of very wealthy colonels named Rupert and Huston in 1915.
Earle Gardner joined the team in 1908. He was a five foot eleven inch, 160 pound second baseman from Sparta, IL, who during three previous seasons in the minors had developed a reputation with his fancy glove work. He was also a decent hitter, averaging right around .300 in three different classes of farm league ball. It took him two-and-a-half seasons to claim the starting second-baseman’s job and he was only able to hold onto it for just a year-and-a-half. He hit .263 in 1911, his only full season as a starter and then he gave way to Hack Simmons in 1912.
Just 28 years-old at the time he lost his starting position, Gardner returned to minor league ball and never again played in a big league game. He ended up with a .263 lifetime average during his five seasons in New York. He continued playing in the minors until 1918. He died in 1943 at the age of 59.
The Yankees began wearing numbers on their uniforms during the 1929 season. At the time, the numbers were assigned based on the player’s batting position in the lineup. This explains how Babe Ruth got the number three and how Yankee cleanup hitter, Lou Gehrig secured number 4. The first Yankee to wear number 5 during that 1929 season was the talented but very moody outfielder, Bob Meusel. In 1930, it was assigned to the great second baseman, Tony “Poosh em Up” Lazzeri. Frank Crosetti was then given the number in 1932 and Lazzeri was switched to number 6. Crosetti wore number 5 for the next four seasons except for a short time, during the 1935 season, when the Crow got hurt and couldn’t play. The Yankees called up Nolen Richardson to take Crosetti’s spot. Richardson was a middle infielder who had played a bit of big league ball for the Tigers before he joined the Yankee organization. Since he was replacing Crosetti, the Yankees gave him uniform number 5. The 32-year-old native of Chattanooga, TN did not see much action in that uniform, appearing in just 12 games that season before getting sent down to New York’s Newark Bears farm club. He became a popular member of the Bears and was the Captain of the 1937 team that is still considered to be one of the greatest teams in minor league history, winning the International League’s pennant that season by 25 1/2 games.
Joe DiMaggio did not get number 5 until 1937, his second season in pinstripes. Crosetti kept the number until 1936. Joltin Joe wore number 9 as a rookie in 1936. Incredibly, the Yankees didn’t even keep number 5 in mothballs during the WWII when Joe D served in the military. Instead, New York’s wartime first baseman, Nick Etten got the number in 1943 and kept it until the Yankee Clipper returned for the 1946 season.
The New York Yankee team of 1994 was 6.5 games ahead of second place Baltimore in early August of that season, when Major League baseball players walked off the job to begin what would become the longest strike in League history. That Yankee team had a starting pitching staff of Jimmy Key, Jim Abbott, Melido Perez, Terry Mulholland and Scott Kamieniecki. So even though I was disgusted with both the players and the owners at that time, I do remember being slightly excited when I learned the Yankees had acquired the 1993 AL Cy Young Award recipient and two-time twenty-game winner, Jack McDowell, from the White Sox in December of 1994.
They called the lanky right-hander “Black Jack” and he was one of those free spirits that graces the game every now and then. He was a grunge musician. He was never happy about his contract and he could care less what anybody said about him and that included Yankee fans and the cannibalistic Big Apple Sports Media. This explains why, when he was lifted after getting bombed in the second game of a mid July double-header against his old team the White Sox, McDowell flipped the bird to booing Yankee Stadium fans as he walked back to the dugout. He actually had a decent season in New York, leading the staff in victories with 15 and shutouts with 2. But his pinstripe future was sort of sealed when he gave up the walk-off two-run double to Edgar Martinez that knocked New York out of the 1995 playoffs. His middle finger and his lack of postseason success convinced the Yankee front-office that they could afford not to offer McDowell another contract and he ended up signing with the Indians.
The son of long-time Cardinal second baseman Julian Javier, Stan Javier was named after his dad’s storied St. Louis teammate, Stan Musial. Originally signed by the Cardinals in 1981, when he was just 17-years-old, he and Bobby Meacham were traded to New York the following year. The younger Javier was an outfielder who played well enough at each level of the organization’s farm system to advance quickly up the ladder. Invited to the Yankees 1984 spring training camp, Manager Yogi Berra announced Javier would be on the team’s Opening Day roster, but would remain in the Bronx only until Oscar Gamble recovered from an injury.
He appeared in seven games for New York during that first month of the 1984 season, mostly as a late-inning outfield replacement. He only managed seven plate appearances but he got his first big league hit off of Cleveland’s George Frazier and scored his first big league run. He was sent back down to the minors at the end of April and then the following December, he was included in the five-player package the Yankees used to get Ricky Henderson from Oakland. Javier went on to put together a very decent 17-year big league career. He played for seven big league teams collected 1,358 hits and finished with a .269 lifetime batting average and a .345 on base percentage.
His December, 2004 free agent signing turned out to be one of the worst moves in Yankee front-office history. After paying him $40 million to pitch the next four seasons, the right hander left New York at the conclusion of that contract, having appeared in just 26 games in pinstripes with a 9-8 won-loss record. That equates to more than $1.5 million per start or a bit more than $4 million per victory. Rubbing just a bit more salt in the Yankee’s wounds, Pavano then won 31 times in his first two post Yankee seasons, including a 17-11 record with the Twins in 2010 that had Brian Cashman even considering bringing the guy back to the Bronx in 2011. That didn’t happen and Pavano went 8-11 last season, after once again signing with the Twins. He was born in New Britain, CT on this date in 1976.
Known as “the Big Cat,” Mize was an outstanding hitter and first baseman in the National League with the Giants and Cardinals for a decade, before joining the Yankees in 1949 and helping Casey Stengel win five straight World Championships. Mize had that rare ability to hit for power without striking out a lot. His career on base pecentage as a National Leaguer exceeded .400. He won a batting title with St. Louis in 1939 along with four NL home run titles and three NL RBI crowns. He was also a very good defensive first baseman and an outstanding base runner. The Yankees purchased Mize from the Giants during the 1949 season for $40,000. He became the team’s best pinch hitter. The highlight of his Yankee career was the 1952 Series against the Dodgers, when Johnny hit three home runs, batted .400 and was named MVP in New York’s seven-game victory. He retired after the 1953 season. His career Slugging Average of .592 places him 17th on the All-Time List. It took a while after he retired, but in 1981, the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee finally recognized just how good this guy’s numbers were and put him in Cooperstown.