When I was a kid, we’d eat dinner at my Grandmother’s house most Sundays with our entire extended family. As a result, I watched plenty of Sunday afternoon televised Yankee games with my uncle. I was a much more passionate Yankee fan than he was and once the Yankee dynasty crumbled in 1965, he would annoy me by making snide derogatory comments about how bad the team was playing. For example, if a Yankee starter faltered and a reliever was inserted, no matter who came out of the bullpen I could count on my uncle to exclaim, “Not this guy for God’s sakes, even I can hit this guy!”
I’ll never forget the game in late June during the 1970 season when that statement was actually made truthfully. Steve Hamilton had been a very good bullpen pitcher for New York since he was acquired from the Washington Senators in a 1963 trade for Jim Coates. He was 6’7″ tall and a superb athlete, good enough to have played two seasons of NBA basketball in the late fifties for the Lakers. He had performed a variety of pitching roles for New York during his career in pinstripes. He pitched parts of eight seasons for the Yankees, accumulating a 34-20 record, with 36 saves and a 2.78 ERA in 486 innings of work. Manager Ralph Houk would give the big guy a start every now and then and in 1968, used him as New York’s closer and Hamilton led the team with 11 saves that year.
On this particular June day, Sam McDowell and the Indians were killing the Yankees. Houk put Hamilton into pitch the top of the ninth. Hamilton, who was born in Columbia, KY in 1935, was a very funny guy in the clubhouse and on that day, with the game already lost, he decided to have some fun on the field as well. The first hitter he faced was Tony Horton. He had been working on a blooper pitch, which had been nicknamed the “Folly Floater” and had used it against Horton successfully in an game earlier that same season. He decided to employ the pitch again against the Indian first baseman. Hamilton threw Horton two straight folly floaters and Horton almost came out of his spikes trying to hit the softly tossed lobs. Horton fouled both of them off weakly and Thurman Munson caught the second one for an out. Horton’s reaction was hilarious as he tossed his helmet high in the air and actually crawled back into the Indian’s dugout on his hands and knees.
I was amazed to find out that the above clip of this event was actually available on You Tube. Take a look for yourself and see why I finally could agree that a Yankee pitcher threw a pitch even I could hit.
|NYY (8 yrs)||34||20||.630||2.78||311||7||140||2||1||36||486.0||389||163||150||36||150||389||1.109|
|WSA (2 yrs)||3||9||.250||3.95||44||10||13||1||0||2||109.1||108||54||48||10||41||84||1.363|
|CHC (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||4.76||22||0||12||0||0||0||17.0||24||9||9||1||8||13||1.882|
|CLE (1 yr)||0||0||3.00||2||0||0||0||0||0||3.0||2||1||1||0||3||4||1.667|
|SFG (1 yr)||2||2||.500||3.02||39||0||16||0||0||4||44.2||29||15||15||4||11||38||0.896|
|CHW (1 yr)||0||0||6.00||3||0||0||0||0||0||3.0||4||2||2||0||1||3||1.667|
Yankee Universe got really excited when this kid made his Yankee Stadium big league debut in September of 2011. In 18 end-of-the-season games, he hit .328 with 4 HRs and 12 RBIs and exhibited the opposite field power a right hand hitter needs to prosper in “the new house that Jeter helped build.” He then went 2-for-2 in his only postseason appearance in the Yankee’s Game 4 ALDS victory over Detroit. I joined thousands of other Yankee fans thinking we might really be witnessing the next home-grown pinstriped impact player. But that vision turned out to be a mirage.
If Jesus is going to turn out to be a team’s savior in the next few years, the team that will benefit will be the Mariners. That’s because Brian Cashman rolled the dice after the 2011 playoffs and sent Montero to Seattle with pitcher Hector Noesi in exchange for big Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.
Even though he had a disappointing 2012 season for Seattle (15 HRs, 62 RBIs, .260 ave. and .685 OPS) Montero produced much more for Seattle than Pineda did for NY since the pitcher ended up injured and on the DL the entire year. But Montero also confirmed the doubters who said he hadn’t yet developed the level of catching skills he would need to start at that position in the big leagues. Combine that with his less-than-acceptable .228 average against right-handed pitching last season and you’ll understand why Yankee fans are feeling a lot less bitter about the deal than they would have if Montero had been able to turn his Mariner debut into a breakout performance.
The 6’5″, 225 pound Montero turns just 23-years-old today and barring a blockbuster type deal. Former Yankee receiver Butch Wynegar, who managed Montero in the Minors is pretty confident that this Venezuelan will evolve into a competent Major League receiver. He’s already proved he has the stroke to average .300 against southpaws and I remain confident he will hit 30 home runs per year at the Major League level so I’m really hoping Pineda or Campos does at some point become a significant contributor to the Yankee pitching fortunes.
|SEA (2 yrs)||164||663||616||52||155||21||1||18||71||0||37||120||.252||.293||.377||.669|
|NYY (1 yr)||18||69||61||9||20||4||0||4||12||0||7||17||.328||.406||.590||.996|
When Jorge Posada’s shoulder injury put him on the injured reserve list during the early part of the 2008 season, the Yankees hoped the replacement combination of Jose Molina and Chad Moeller would be enough to get them into the playoffs. The duo was OK defensively but their offensive shortcomings left a glaring hole in the Yankee lineup. New York tried to fill that hole when they sent reliever Kyle Farnsworth to Detroit for I-Rod after the All Star break. Unfortunately, the move backfired. Rodriguez hit just .219 during his 33-game stint in pinstripes and the absence of Farnsworth hurt the late-inning relief pitching effectiveness of the Yankee bullpen. Rodriguez has won a World Series (Marlins 03), an AL MVP (1999), thirteen Gold Gloves and has been named to 14 All Star teams. His next major honor will be his almost certain entry into Cooperstown. Ivan was born in Manati, Puerto Rico on November 27, 1971.
|TEX (13 yrs)||1507||6166||5754||866||1747||352||28||217||842||81||309||781||.304||.341||.488||.828|
|DET (5 yrs)||611||2523||2382||300||709||140||17||62||300||30||106||418||.298||.328||.449||.777|
|WSN (2 yrs)||155||558||522||46||133||25||1||6||68||2||26||94||.255||.291||.341||.632|
|NYY (1 yr)||33||101||96||11||21||4||0||2||3||4||4||15||.219||.257||.323||.580|
|HOU (1 yr)||93||344||327||41||82||15||2||8||34||0||13||74||.251||.280||.382||.662|
|FLA (1 yr)||144||578||511||90||152||36||3||16||85||10||55||92||.297||.369||.474||.843|
His real name was Vernon Louis Gomez. He was born in Rodeo, CA. If he was still alive, today would be his 103rd birthday. He was part Irish and part Portuguese. His second nickname was “El Goofy” and if I was alive back in the thirties he would have been one of my favorite Yankees. Why? Because by all accounts, Lefty was not just one of the great pitchers of his day he was also the guy who kept the Yankee clubhouse loose.
Yesterday I wrote about how Joe DiMaggio turned into a bitter man but that was only after Gomez retired and could no longer room with him or drink with him. Lefty forced DiMaggio not to take himself so darn seriously all the time. For example, he’d always tell reporters he made DiMaggio famous because nobody knew he could go back on a ball until he started playing behind me.
My favorite Gomez story was when Bill Dickey came out to the mound to ask Gomez what he wanted to throw to Red Sox slugger Jimmie Foxx, who had just come up to the plate. Gomez told Dickey, “I don’t want to throw him nothing. Maybe he’ll get tired of waiting and just leave.”
Despite his sense of humor and his affinity for Manhattan’s nightlife, Lefty was an incredibly good pitcher. He was a four-time twenty game winner and he went a perfect 6-0 in the World Series. After hurting his arm in 1940, Gomez struggled through the final few years of his career and was coldly sold by the Yankee front office to the Boston Braves in January of 1943. His lifetime regular season record in pinstripes was 189 and 101 and included 28 shutouts. The Veterans Committee voted Lefty into the Hall of fame in 1972. He passed away in 1989, at the age of 80.
|NYY (13 yrs)||189||101||.652||3.34||367||319||31||173||28||9||2498.1||2286||1087||927||138||1090||1468||1.351|
|WSH (1 yr)||0||1||.000||5.79||1||1||0||0||0||0||4.2||4||4||3||0||5||0||1.929|
Missing the playoffs for the first time in thirteen years was certainly not the right way to close down the old Yankee Stadium. And since it was evident that George Steinbrenner was not calling the shots any more, we Yankee fans were left to wonder how his heirs would react to the failure. Within a few short postseason months we had our answer. We got Sabathia, we got Burnett and then we got Teixeira. It was powerful three part testimony that even though there had been a changing of the guard at the top, the Yankees were still in it to win it regardless of cost. So why I asked myself were we starting the 2009 season with a guy named Nick Swisher as our starting right fielder?
Since I had been a kid, the Yankees were most successful when they had studs playing right field. Roger Maris from 1960-’64, Reggie from ’77-’81, O’Neill from ’93-2001 and then Sheffield and Abreu. These guys were all third-in-the-lineup type hitters who could carry a team on their backs for long stretches. Nick Swisher was simply not that type of player. Fortunately, he did not have to be.
The 2009 Yankees’ offense was designed to be generated by its $100,000,000 infield. Throw in the rejuvenated starting pitching staff and the cutter-throwing legend in the bullpen and Brian Cashman was figuring he could play Luis Polonia in right field and still make fall ball happen in the new Yankee Stadium that October. New York had traded for Swisher in November of 2008, sending Wilson Betemit and two pitching prospects to the White Sox in exchange for the then 28-year-old switch-hitter. The deal took place before New York decided to go hard after Teixeira and their original intent was to play “Swish” at first base. Once they signed “Tex,” Swisher became part of that year’s outfield mix which included the veteran Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera and the youngster, Brett Gardner.
Fortunately for Swisher, he started the 2009 season on fire, averaging over .400 with four home runs just two weeks into the season. And although his bat cooled off, his defense, hustle, and clubhouse charisma helped keep him in the lineup and he ended up playing a pivotal role in that glorious 2009 Yankee championship run.
He followed that first season in pinstripes up with a great regular season performance in 2010, hitting a career high .288 with 29 home runs and 89 runs batted in. Then for the second straight season, Swisher’s bat pretty much went silent in the postseason, especially against Texas in the 2010 ALCS. After another solid regular season performance in 2011, Swisher’s postseason blues continued against the Tigers that year as well, when he hit just .211 and failed to deliver at some critical moments with runners in scoring position.
Swisher began his final year in New York knowing that no matter how well he did during the regular season, he needed to produce in October if he was to have any chance of securing a lucrative long-term deal with the Yankees. He went out and had arguably his finest year in pinstripes but then joined just about the entire Bronx Bomber lineup in another postseason offensive hibernation.
The pressure of failing to produce in the fall finally permeated Swisher’s always cheery and optimistic exterior. After being booed at home during the Tiger series, he took his frustration out by criticizing Yankee fans when questioned by reporters after the game.
As I see it, Swisher was a gigantic plus for New York during his four years there and his acquisition should be considered one of the better deals in franchise history. He played above expectation from the moment he put on the pinstripes and even though he struggled in October, he helped New York get to four straight postseasons. Its also worth noting that without Swisher, New York missed the playoffs in 2013 while his new team, the Indians did not.
|NYY (4 yrs)||598||2501||2127||331||570||134||4||105||349||5||327||531||.268||.367||.483||.850|
|OAK (4 yrs)||458||1924||1617||267||406||96||4||80||255||4||260||404||.251||.361||.464||.825|
|CLE (1 yr)||145||634||549||74||135||27||2||22||63||1||77||138||.246||.341||.423||.763|
|CHW (1 yr)||153||588||497||86||109||21||1||24||69||3||82||135||.219||.332||.410||.743|