March 12 – Happy Birthday Raul Mondesi
On the afternoon of July 27, 2003, the Yankees were in Boston trying to win the rubber game of a three-game series against the Red Sox. All was going well for Joe Torre’s pinstriped minions up until the home half of the seventh inning. Yankee starter, Jeff Weaver was shutting out the Red Sox up to that point and New York had scored three runs off of Boston starter, Derek Lowe. But the seventh inning stretch proved to be the turning point that afternoon in Beantown. With one out, Weaver walked and then hit the next two Boston batters. Torre brought in Chris Hammond to relieve Weaver. Hammond immediately gave up back-to-back bombs to Jason Varitek and Johnny Damon and suddenly the Yankees were losing 4-3. The lead would expand to 6-3 before Boston made the final out of that inning and you would have to believe that Joe Torre, as calm as he always looked, must have been stewing.
In the top of the eighth, with a man on first and nobody out, Torre sent up Todd Zeile to pinch hit for Robin Ventura. Red Sox manager, Grady Little countered by bringing in right hander, Mike Timlin to pitch to Zeile. Torre countered Little’s move by calling Zeile back to the bench and sending left-hand-hitting Karim Garcia to the plate. When Garcia struck out looking, Torre called on switch-hitter Ruben Sierra to pinch hit for the right-hand-hitting Raul Mondesi, who had started in right-field for New York that day. That move failed as well and the Yankees lost that game and that series to the Red Sox. As it turned out, they also lost Mondesi.
Claiming Torre had disrespected him, the disgruntled Dominican immediately left the dugout after being removed from the game, got dressed and drove back to New York City. The real problem with that was that while Mondesi was motoring to the Big Apple, the rest of the Yankee team was flying to California to play a series against the Angels. After spending the night in New York, Mondesi flew to Anaheim to rejoin his team in time for the first game, at which point he found out his team wasn’t his team any more. He had been traded to the Diamondbacks.
According to Mondesi, it wasn’t the fact that Torre pinch hit for him that was disrespectful. Instead, the outfielder was insulted because Torre did not personally deliver the message that Sierra was taking his place. And once Mondesi was traded, he was more than willing to share his dislike for Torre and the Yankees with the world. He claimed Torre discriminated against Dominicans and always showed favoritism to home-grown Yankees. That was not the first time a player had accused Torre of playing favorites and discriminating against players from the Carribean. Seven seasons earlier, another Latino outfielder made the same charges and was also traded by New York as a result. Ironically, that player’s name was Ruben Sierra.
In any event, Mondesi faded fast after that trade, going from the Diamondbacks to the Pirates, to the Angels and then the Braves in a desperate and unsuccessful struggle to keep his big league career going. The 1994 NL Rookie of the Year ended that career with 271 home runs and a .273 lifetime average. He played a total of 169 games with New York during the 2002 and ’03 seasons, hitting 27 home runs and driving in 92 during that span. In my humble opinion, the word “respect” has become one of the most misused and misunderstood words in our society.
Like Mondesi, this other former NL Rookie of the Year outfielder, this former NL All Star and this one-time Yankee center-fielder also had a March 12th birthday.