October 5 – Happy Birthday Andy Kosco
After the Yankee dynasty crumbled in 1965, the next two seasons were outright disasters in the Bronx. New York finished last in the AL in 1966 and next-to-last in ’67 and every single one of the starting position players from their 1964 World Series team either experienced precipitous declines in their playing skills or were traded away for players who then failed miserably in pinstripes. New York’s starting outfield was a perfect example. The hope was that veteran but still young Yankees Joe Pepitone and Tom Tresh would handle center and left respectively, while promising newcomer Bill Robinson, who had been obtained from the Braves for Clete Boyer, would become the new right fielder. Tresh hit just .219 in 67, Pepitone contributed just 13 home runs that year and Robinson was a complete bust, averaging just .196.
So as the Yankees approached their 1968 spring training, Manager Ralph Houk was contemplating inserting some new blood in the Yankee outfield. The top three candidates were young Yankee prospects Steve Whitaker and Roy White plus a guy the Yankees had picked up from Oakland in the Rule 5 Draft. His name was Andy Kosco.
Kosco had been an outstanding three-sport athlete in high school, who had scholarship offers from top colleges around the country in baseball, basketball and football. He also had a contract offer from the Detroit Tigers that included a $45,000 bonus. Since baseball was Kosco’s favorite sport, he decided to sign with the Tigers. The young switch-hitter spent the next four-plus seasons struggling to make his way up the Tigers’ minor league ladder. Before he could do so, Detroit traded him to the Twins who sent Kosco to the team’s Bismarck farm team. There he met a coach named Vern Morgan who talked Kosco into giving up switch-hitting and to only hit from the right side. He also got rid of the upper cut in his swing and taught him to pull the ball. Andy ended up hitting right around .350 and two years later found himself playing for the Twins. Actually he was wearing a Twins’ uniform but instead of playing he was sitting in the dugout watching Twins outfielders, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison and Jimmy Hall do all the playing. The Twins sent him to Oakland where crazy Charley Finley forgot about him and left him off the A’s 40-man roster and the Yankees snagged him in November of 1967.
At first Houk used him as his fourth outfielder on that ’68 Yankee team but by the end of April, he was starting Kosco in right. In his first game as a regular he hit a home run into the old Yankee Stadium’s almost impossible to reach left field upper deck. He homered in his next game as well. When Houk moved Tresh to shortstop and inserted Roy White in left, the Yankees started winning some games and the two new corner outfielders were getting a fair share of the credit for the team’s success.
Although Andy’s hitting tailed off significantly after that year’s All Star break, his 15 home runs were third best on the team and his 59 RBI’s were second best to Roy White’s 62 that season. That 1968 Yankee team finished 83-79 and ended up in fifth place, a great improvement over the previous two seasons. I remember thinking that Kosco was at the beginning of a solid career in New York. Little did I know that the Yankee front office had different plans. A few weeks before Christmas in 1968, Kosco was traded to the Dodgers for pitcher and famed future wife-swapper, Mike Kekich. He ended up spending all or parts of ten seasons in the big leagues, with seven different teams. 1974 was his final year in the Majors.