August 18 – Happy Birthday Mike Ferraro
Mike Ferraro was given two chances to make his living working for the New York Yankees at third base. Neither ended up very successfully. The first opportunity came in the mid sixties, when Clete Boyer was nearing the end of his career in pinstripes. New York had signed Ferraro in 1962 when he was just 17-years-old and the native of Kingston, NY spent the next six years progressing slowly through the Yankee farm system. When the Yankees traded Boyer to the Braves after the 1966 season, the front office did not think Ferraro was quite ready to take over the hot corner and they gave that job to Charley Smith whom New York acquired from St Louis in their Roger Maris trade.
Smith was a bust in 1967 so when the team’s 1968 spring training camp opened, Yankee Skipper Ralph Houk announced that Ferraro would battle future Braves Manager, Bobby Cox for the position. Ferraro had a fantastic spring, leading the Yankees in hitting with a .353 average during the exhibition season. When the team headed north to begin the regular season, everyone figured Ferraro would start at third, everyone except Ralph Houk. For whatever reason, the Major went with Cox and Ferraro got into just 23 games that season with New York. The following April, he was traded to Seattle. After bouncing around a bit for the next few years, he finally got the opportunity to play regularly for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1972. When he hit just .255 in 124 games that year, the Brewers released him. He returned to the Yankee organization as a free agent but instead of playing, he got into coaching. By ’74 he was managing in the Yankee farm system.
During the ’68 season, while Ferraro was sitting on the Yankee bench watching Cox play third, he’d often sit next to another utility infielder on that same team, the veteran Dick Howser. The two became good friends and when Howser was named Yankee Manager in 1980, he made Ferraro his third base coach. That New York team won 103 games that year and captured the AL East Division crown. Even with that level of success, Steinbrenner had ridden Howser and his coaching staff hard all season long. The Yankees had to face the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
New York lost the first game and were behind by a run with two outs the eighth inning of the second contest when Bob Watson hit a ball against Kauffman Stadium’s left field wall with Willie Randolph on first. Wilson played the carom perfectly but overthrew his cutoff man. In the mean time, third base coach Ferraro was signaling Randolph to try and score. KC third baseman, George Brett was in perfect position to field Wilson’s overthrow and he made a perfect relay to catcher Darrel Porter who tagged Willie just an instant before he made contact with home plate. The Yankees ended up losing that game and according to Bill Madden, author of “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball,” the irate Yankee owner ran to the section of seats where the Yankee wives were watching the game and screamed at Ferraro’s wife that “her F’ing husband had cost New York the game.” He wanted Ferraro fired immediately and replaced by Don Zimmer. The whole embarrassing episode convinced Howser he could no longer work for Steinbrenner. Ironically, Ferrarro continued on as Yankee third base coach the following season. He later managed the Indians and Royals.