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|
Velarde started his big league career with the Yankees in 1987 and was the team’s top utility infielder for the better part of nine seasons. He looked like a movie star and as each year passed he seemed to get his body more ripped. His best seasons in pinstripes were 1992, when he played in 121 games and hit .272 and 1992, when he batted .301. When the Yankees finally made it back to the playoffs in 1995 after missing the postseason for the previous fourteen years, Velarde was an important and versatile part of that team’s infield. When the Yankees lost in the first round of the playoffs to Seattle however, Velarde hit just .200 in that series. An overreacting George Steinbrenner then fired Manager Bucky Showalter and also replaced starters Mike Stanley, Don Mattingly, Pat Kelly and Velarde, who became a free agent. Randy then signed a pretty nice four-year deal with the Angels for right around $4 million. He had the three best years of his career as an Angel before being traded to the A’s during the 1999 season. He joined the Yankees a second time in 2001 but appeared in just 15 games. He retired after the 2002 season.
|NYY (10 yrs)||673||2232||1981||267||518||102||10||43||209||24||191||395||.261||.332||.388||.720|
|ANA (4 yrs)||283||1260||1094||168||315||55||8||27||128||27||147||216||.288||.376||.427||.803|
|OAK (3 yrs)||239||987||873||152||250||41||3||21||77||23||96||169||.286||.363||.412||.775|
|TEX (1 yr)||78||334||296||46||88||16||2||9||31||4||29||73||.297||.369||.456||.825|