I remember being somewhat excited by the news that the Yankees had acquired Kittle in a trade with the White Sox, after the 1986 All Star break. He had been named AL Rookie of the Year just three seasons earlier, when he belted 35 home runs and drove in 100 for Chicago. Even though he was a right-handed hitter who would not be able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, the guy had impressive power and I thought he’d make a decent contribution if then Yankee Manager, Lou Piniella could find a place to play him. That turned out to be the problem. Piniella had too many DHs and outfielders on his roster already and he couldn’t give Kittle the volume of at bats streaky hitters like him needed to get hot. What the Yankees really needed back then was starting pitchers. I still can’t believe a Yankee lineup that featured Dave Winfield, Ricky Henderson and Donnie Baseball, all in their primes, never made it to the postseason. Ron did play the entire 1987 season with New York, getting in 59 games and hitting 12 home runs but the Yankees ended up releasing him after that season. Kittle was born in Gary, Indiana on January 5, 1958.
The Yankees obtained pitcher Ted Lilly as a player to be named later in a 2000 trade that sent Hideki Irabu to Montreal. Although he was just 8-12 during his one and a half seasons in pinstripes, I remember liking the way the young left hander conducted himself on the mound. In one of his final starts as a Yankee, Lilly threw a complete game, three-hit shutout against the Padres and I was certain he was about to become a solid winner in the Yankee rotation. Shows you how astute I was about Yankee baseball. Just two weeks after that shutout, New York traded away Lilly in a three-team deal that put pitcher Jeff Weaver in Pinstripes. Irabu left baseball in 2003. Weaver never became the big winner experts thought he would. Meanwhile, Lilly has won 122 games since he left the Bronx with his best year coming in 2008, when he went 17-9 for the Cubs. Lilly was born January 4, 1976, in Torrance, CA.
Luis Sojo was one of my favorite Yankees. He had that wonderful ability to sit on the bench for most of a game and then grab his glove and instantly make a difficult play look easy from any infield position. I also would get a kick out of his rumpled appearance in a Yankee uniform, which always reminded me sort of the way Yogi Berra looked in pinstripes. The Yankees first got him off waivers from Seattle during the 1996 season and the following year, the native Venezuelan took over the starting second base position from Mariano Duncan. When the Yankees acquired Chuck Knoblauch from the Twins to play second in 1998, Sojo became the team’s reliable utility infielder. After the 1999 season, Luis signed as a free agent with the Pirates but when Knoblauch’s strange throwing problems peaked, New York traded to get Sojo back in August of 2000, setting up his most magical moment as a Yankee. That came in the ninth inning of the fifth and final game of that season’s Subway Series. With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth, Sojo came to bat for the first time after being inserted to play second base in the previous inning. His ground ball single through the middle off of Al Leiter scored Jorge Posada from second. Scott Brosius also scored on the play when the throw home trying to nail Posada was way off the mark and the Yankees were once again World Champs. I was thrilled for Sojo. The guy won four rings as a Yankee. He then became New York’s third base coach for a couple of seasons and until last year, managed the Yankees Tampa Minor League club.