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|
Shane Spencer had been in the Yankees’ farm system for over eight years when he got a call up to the parent club in September of 1998. He had played in the entire atlas of Yankee minor league towns during those previous eight seasons and the closest he had come to making the big league team was when he crossed the picket lines during the 1994 MLB player strike to attend New York’s replacement player spring training camp. Neither the Yankee front office or Yankee fans were hoping for help from promising prospects when September of ’98 rolled around. That team didn’t need any. It was, without a doubt, the best Yankee team I have ever seen play during the fifty years I’ve been a fan. There were absolutely no holes to fill in their lineup, their bench or their pitching staff. Which is why what Shane Spencer was able to do that September was pretty special.
The only reason Spencer was getting a shot was the fact that he had put together consecutive 30-home run seasons in the minors. If you’re a position player who wants to get noticed in the Yankee farm system, especially when the parent club is winning pennants, consecutive 30-homer seasons is about the only way to do it. Spencer had actually been called up from and returned to Columbus three times during the 1998 season but the fourth time proved to be the charm. That happened on August 31st. Four days later, Joe Torre rested Bernie Williams, started Chad Curtis in center and inserted his rookie in left. In his first appearance against White Sox southpaw Mike Sirotka, Spencer homered to left field. Five games later, his real streak began, when Torre sent him in to replace Paul O’Neill in right field in the sixth inning of a game against Baltimore. He came up in the top of the ninth with the bases loaded and hit his first Major League grand slam. He would hit seven more home home runs that month including two more grand salami’s and provide Yankee fans with one more great Yankee memory in a season that was full of them. Spencer continued his hot hitting in the playoffs against the Rangers in that year’s ALDS, homering two more times. He finally cooled off in that year’s ALCS which resulted in him seeing very little action in the World Series against the Padres.
Spencer played a total of five seasons as a Yankee before getting released after the 2002 season and signing with the Indians. He played well enough during those years to become the team’s regular fourth outfielder but could never break into the starting lineup. He also participated in one of the most memorable plays in Yankee history. It happened in the seventh inning of Game 3 in the Yankee’s 2001 ALDS series against Oakland. The Yankees were ahead 1-0 when with two outs and Jeremy Giambi on first, the A’s Terrence Long hit a ground ball down the right field line past Tino Martinez. Spencer was playing right field and he cut off the ball before it hit the wall but his throw sailed over the heads of two cutoff men and started rolling toward the Yankee on deck circle as Giambi rounded third on his way to scoring the tying run. That’s when Derek Jeter appeared out of nowhere to pick up the ball, and flip it to Jorge Posada who made an incredible sweeping tag that just nipped Giambi.
Spencer isn’t the only Yankee outfielder born on this date who did something bad that resulted in something really good and memorable for his Yankee team. Check out this guy. This one-time Yankee pitcher is also a February 20th pinstripe birthday boy as is this long-ago Yankee catcher and this brand new Yankee catcher
|NYY (5 yrs)||345||1215||1091||148||287||54||7||43||167||5||94||228||.263||.324||.444||.768|
|NYM (1 yr)||74||204||185||21||52||10||1||4||26||6||13||37||.281||.332||.411||.742|
|TEX (1 yr)||55||216||185||16||42||10||0||4||23||0||27||40||.227||.329||.346||.675|
|CLE (1 yr)||64||232||210||23||57||10||0||8||26||2||18||52||.271||.328||.433||.761|
The 1961 New York Yankee team was loaded with talent at every position, except one. They had no closer. Ryne Duren was supposed to fulfill that role but he was a serious alcoholic and by 1961, his drinking and his behavior when drinking had gotten completely out of hand. New York traded the troubled Duren to the Angels and manager Ralph Houk eventually replaced him with a Puerto Rican screwballing lefthander named Luis Arroyo.
At the time Arroyo was already 34-years old. He had made his big league debut seven seasons earlier, with the Cardinals, going 11-8 as a starter in his rookie season and making the 1955 NL All Star team. The following year, Fred Hutchinson was hired to manage St Louis and Old Hutch did not like Arroyo. Instead of getting the opportunity to make his second NL All Star team, Luis first found himself back in the minors as the ’56 season started and then traded to Pittsburgh. He spent the next four years battling a sore arm and developing a screw ball. By the time he joined the Yankees in 1960, his arm had healed and he had perfected his new signature pitch. He went 5-1 in his first season in New York setting the stage for his magical year in 1961.
Arroyo appeared in 65 games that season, finishing 54 of them. He compiled a 15-5 record and saved 29 games. He relieved Whitey Ford 24 times that season and saved 13 of the Yankee aces 25 wins. Arroyo’s ERA was 2.19. Topping that off, he hit .280 that year and pitched four shutout innings and got a win in the ’61 World Series against Cincinnati, gaining some revenge on Fred Hutchinson, who by then was the Reds’ Manager.
Unfortunately for Arroyo, that great screwball he developed has also been described as the reason why he again developed a sore pitching arm. That sore arm limited him to just 27 appearances in 1962 and just 3 the following year. The Yankees released Luis at the end of the 1963 season.
|NYY (4 yrs)||22||10||.688||3.12||127||0||89||0||0||43||199.1||158||77||69||12||91||142||1.249|
|PIT (2 yrs)||6||14||.300||4.69||72||12||19||1||0||1||159.1||187||93||83||24||43||118||1.444|
|STL (1 yr)||11||8||.579||4.19||35||24||6||9||1||0||159.0||162||80||74||22||63||68||1.415|
|CIN (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||3.95||10||0||5||0||0||0||13.2||17||11||6||0||11||8||2.049|