August 7 – Happy Birthday Steve Kemp
Steve Kemp was a college star at USC and the overall number one draft pick in MLB’s 1976 amateur draft. After just one year in the minors, the Detroit Tigers brought Kemp up to the big leagues and he responded with an 18-home run, 88-RBI rookie season in 1977. Over the next three seasons, he became one of the upper tier outfielders in the AL and an All Star in 1979, when he belted 26 home runs, drove in 105 and hit .318.
The problem with Kemp was his defense. He was a below average left-fielder with limited range and one of the league’s weakest outfield arms. So when he slumped at the plate during the strike-shortened season of 1981, the Tigers traded him to Chicago for outfielder Chet Lemon. Kemp had a strong year in the Windy City, hitting 19 HRs and driving in 98. When he became a free agent at the end of the ’82 season, White Sox owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn offered Kemp a contract worth $800K per year.
But back in 1983, George Steinbrenner was on a free agent spending spree. He seemed to want to sign anybody who ever hit .300 or won 20 games in a season. He gave Kemp a $5.5 million, five-year deal and Reinsdorf and Einhorn howled publicly in protest. They claimed Kemp wasn’t worth those kind of dollars and that “The Boss’s” stupid spending would ruin baseball’s salary structure. They turned out to be half-right anyway.
Kemp became one of the many Steinbrenner signings from that era to fail on the Big Apple stage. During his two seasons in pinstripes he hit just .264 and averaged 9 home runs and only 45 RBIs per season. Yankee Stadium favored left handed pull hitters but not lefties who hit the ball with power into the gaps. Pop ups down the line in the old Stadium were home runs while 400 yard drives to right-center were usually just long outs. Kemp’s power was to that cow-pasture-like gap in right center. His defensive shortcomings were also highlighted by the Stadium’s tough left field.
By 1984, Steinbrenner had seen enough. He OK’d a trade that sent Kemp to Pittsburgh for Yogi’s kid, Dale Berra and a prospect named Jay Buhner. Kemp’s skills faded fast in the Steel City and he was out of the big leagues for good by 1987. He was born in San Angelo, TX on August 7, 1954. Kemp certainly wasn’t a perfect Yankee but he shares today as a birthday with this former Yankee pitcher who on one brilliant October day in 1956, was. Today is also the birthday of this one-time Yankee reliever.