July 5 – Happy Birthday Curt Blefary
It took eight years but the New York Yankees finally gave up on their trouble-prone first baseman, Joe Pepitone. When they did, New York traded the Brooklyn born slugger they signed out of high school for another Brooklyn born slugger they signed out of high school. The deal took place between the Yankees and Astros and the new guy was Curt Blefary. Nicknamed “Clank,” Blefary became a great high school ballplayer in Mahwah, NJ. The Yankees gave him an $18,000 bonus to sign and agreed to pay his college tuition. Like Pepitone, Blefary came with some baggage, lots of cockiness and a very hot temper. It might have been the reason New York’s front office did not do everything it could to protect Blefary from being stolen by the Orioles in what was known as a first-year waivers transaction.
He quickly worked his way through the Orioles system and joined the Big Birds in 1965. He enjoyed immediate success, belting 22 home runs, driving in 70 and beating out the Angel pitcher, Marcellino Lopez for that season’s AL Rookie of the Year Award. Originally a catcher, he was converted into an outfielder in Minor League ball but he also caught and played some first base with Baltimore. He was not very good defensively at any of those spots.
He helped the Birds capture the 1966 World Series with a solid sophomore season and then had his third straight 20-HR year in ’67 while also driving in a career-high 81 runs that year. But when his batting average fell to .212 in 1968, the new Orioles’ manager, Earl Weaver told the press that Blefary would have to compete for a starting position in 1969. Curt’s resulting complaining probably helped get him traded to the Astros in the deal that brought Mike Cuellar to Baltimore.
Blefary played one season in Houston and had an OK year but the spacious Astrodome was not conducive to his left-handed pulling stroke. Astro manager, Harry Walker tried to convince his new outfielder to hit to all fields but as usual, Blefary resisted the advice.
So the December 4, 1969 trade of Pepitone for Blefary was a case in which each team was sort of getting rid of a “problem personality.” The big difference was that Pepi really did not want to leave Yankee Stadium and Blefary couldn’t wait to get there. The old Stadium’s right field porch was perfect for Blefary’s swing and he had hit bunches of home runs (12) when he played there as a visitor with Baltimore. Unfortunately, he did not produce the same results as a member of the home team. He hit just .212 with nine home runs in 99 games during his first season as a Yankee. After an even worse start the following year, he was traded to the A’s for pitcher Rob Gardner.
Blefary shares his July 5th birthday with this Hall of Famer who became one of the Yankee’s greatest relievers and this one-time Yankee starting pitcher from the 1930′s.