Between 1984 and 1986, Ron Hassey went back and forth via trades between Chicago and New York more times than the Amtrak Cardinal. Hassey’s Windy City to Big Apple and back moves began in 1984, when the Cubs traded him and three other players to the Yankees for Brian Dayett and Ray Fontenot. A year later, New York sent Hassey and pitcher Joe Cowley to the White Sox to acquire starting pitcher, Britt Burns. Two months later, just before the 1986 Yankee spring training camp opened, they got the catcher back as part of a seven-player deal with the White Sox. And finally, in July of 1986, Hassey again was packed off to the White Sox in the trade that put pinstripes on Ron Kittle, Joel Skinner and Wayne Tolleson.
Why was Hassey dealt so many times? During his one and only complete season in New York in 1985, the Tucson, AZ native had proved his left-handed swing was a real nice fit for Yankee Stadium. He had smashed 13 home runs in just 92 games, driven in 42 and averaged over .290. The Yankees liked his bat. They were not that impressed, however, with his catching ability. In just 69 games behind the plate that year, Hassey had led the American League by allowing 15 passed balls. He also lacked the game management skills of New York’s starting catcher that season, Butch Wynegar. So even though Hassey’s bat had a lot more pop than Wynegar’s, the Yankees continued to find him expendable whenever a deal was in the making.
That of course didn’t sit too well with Hassey. He loved playing in New York, he adored Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch and he wanted to remain a Yankee. He could not have been that bad a game-managing receiver either because he remains the only big league catcher in history to have caught two perfect games. The first was Len Barker’s 1981 gem as a Cleveland Indian and the second was the Dennis Martinez perfecto which Hassey caught in 1991, with the Expos. That ’91 season turned out to be the swan song for Hassey’s fourteen-year big league playing career. He was born on February 27, 1953.
Also celebrating a birthday today is this former Yankee reliever who led New York in appearances during the 1991 season, this former Yankee catcher/coach and this former Yankee reliever who went undefeated during his first season in pinstripes.
|CLE (7 yrs)||569||1929||1690||168||458||80||5||26||226||9||196||181||.271||.345||.370||.716|
|OAK (3 yrs)||298||949||845||79||198||34||0||17||90||3||81||116||.234||.302||.335||.637|
|NYY (2 yrs)||156||517||458||54||136||30||1||19||71||1||52||37||.297||.374||.491||.865|
|CHW (2 yrs)||98||339||295||37||84||20||1||6||32||0||39||22||.285||.372||.420||.792|
|MON (1 yr)||52||135||119||5||27||8||0||1||14||1||13||16||.227||.301||.319||.620|
|CHC (1 yr)||19||37||33||5||11||0||0||2||5||0||4||6||.333||.405||.515||.921|
You’d have to be about my age to remember when Al Downing was a young and very good starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. When most fans hear Downing’s name they remember him for giving up Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. Instead, I remember a a fire-balling young southpaw who won 13 games for the pennant-winning Yankee teams of 1963 and ’64 and hearing Downing’s name makes me also think about today’s birthday celebrant. Why? Because in 1969, the Yankees traded Downing to Oakland for Danny Cater. Cater was a good line drive hitter with not much power when he joined the 1970 Yankee team. He hit .301 during his first year in pinstripes, usually batting fifth or sixth in the lineup and he drove in 76 runs. It was a key contribution to a not very robust Yankee offensive attack and it helped that ’70 team win 93 games that season. The following year, Cater’s average slumped to .271 and his run and RBI numbers dropped too. So when Boston was ready to trade their bullpen ace, Sparky Lyle to New York for Cater, the Yankees made the deal. It turned out to be one of the great trades in the franchise’s history. Cater played sparingly in Beantown for three seasons. He retired after the 1975 season with a .276 lifetime batting average. Cater was born on this date in 1940, in Austin TX. He is not the most famous Yankee born on this day. That honor belongs to this guy. This former Yankee manager was also born on February 25th.
When he made his debut with New York in 1980, I was hoping I was looking at the next great Yankee outfielder. Why? Joe Lefebrve had been one of the top sluggers in the Yankee farm system the previous two seasons. He then hit home runs in each of his first two games in pinstripes and started his Yankee career with a six-game hitting streak. At the end of his first month in the big leagues, his average was .357. At the same time that Lefebvre was white hot, the Yankee’s starting center fielder that season, Ruppert Jones was ice cold, mired in a terrible offensive slump that would end up lasting the entire season. I figured Lefebvre would soon replace Jones in the Yankee starting lineup. Dick Howser, who was the Manager of that Yankee team, did end up starting Lefebvre almost the entire month of June, but he alternated the Concord, NH native in left field and right. By the end of that month, Mighty Joe’s batting average had plummeted by over 100 points and when his slump continued into July, he lost most of his playing time to another first year Yankee outfielder, a switch-hitter named Bobby Brown. Lefebvre ended up getting dealt to the Padres after his first Yankee season. He was a good enough big league hitter to stick around for six seasons. He ended up hitting just .227 during his one and only season in New York but his lifetime batting average in the Majors was a more respectable .258. He became a coach after his playing days and now works in the front office of the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants.
|PHI (3 yrs)||167||503||436||56||122||29||8||11||56||5||5||88||.280||.367||.459||.825|
|SDP (3 yrs)||206||572||505||57||125||22||4||12||53||6||4||86||.248||.323||.378||.702|
|NYY (1 yr)||74||178||150||26||34||1||1||8||21||0||0||30||.227||.345||.407||.751|