I have to admit, when A-Rod’s steroid use and hip injury were revealed before the 2009 season, I wondered what would have happened if the trade that made Rodriguez a Yankee and Soriano an ex-Yankee never happened. The Yankee team that made the trade had just been defeated for the
second time in a World Series in the past three years and Soriano had played poorly in both Fall Classics, especially at the plate and especially against the Marlins in 2003. He was swinging at pitches against Florida in clutch situations that were nowhere near the strike zone. Those of us who watched Yankee baseball regularly, knew this native Dominican was a streaky hitter but after the Marlin series you had to wonder why he never seemed to be on a hot streak in October.
So when the A-Rod/Red Sox deal fell apart and the Yankees stepped in and grabbed him instead, I like most Yankee fans thought New York had just fixed the problem that was causing them to lose World Series. But instead, it seemed as if all we did was give up one guy who couldn’t hit in October for another. Even worse, the Yankees could not make it back to the World Series since Soriano left, until 2009.
I know there’s a whole bunch of other reasons why the Yankees failed to make it to the Big Dance during that time and I did enjoy watching Rodriguez have two of the most incredible regular season performances any player in Pinstripes has ever had. Plus I realize if Soriano was still a Yankee Robinson Cano probably would not be. But until he signed his big free agent deal with the Cubbies, Soriano had put up some pretty respectable offensive numbers himself for a few years after he left New York, with some lineups that really didn’t come close to offering him the protection he would have enjoyed as a Yankee. And we know if the Red Sox had been successful acquiring A-Rod, the Yankees would have pulled the trigger on some signings they have since passed on. Bottom line would be that if the deal never happened, the worst case scenario as far as World Series titles were concerned is that the Yankees would have been just as successful from 2004 until 2008 with Soriano and without A-Rod and saved perhaps fifty million in salary to boot. But once we won it all in 2009 and could not have done so without A-Rod, I no longer need to wonder if the Soriano-for-A-Rod trade worked out best for New York. Especially since Soriano himself has not been near the same level of player since he signed his own “huge” free agent deal with the Cubs in 2007.
How time flies. Soriano is now a 14-year big league veteran, who turns 37 years old in 2013. He finished the 3012 with 372 career home runs and 1035 lifetime RBIs.
The 1965 season was a “year of discovery” for the Yankee front office and Yankee fans but what they discovered wasn’t pretty. They went into that season thinking the defending AL Champion Bronx Bombers had everything in place on-the-field to win the team’s sixth straight pennant and ended the year realizing their cupboard was bare.
The problems started at the top with GM Ralph Houk. He had proved himself as a solid field manager but he was no George Weiss when it came to general managing. The team’s first-year field skipper, Johnny Keane found out that the veteran Yankee roster did not respond to his “disciplined” approach in the dugout or in the clubhouse. Whitey Ford was near the end of the line and the futures of one-time young stud pitchers Jim Bouton and Al Downing did not look so bright anymore. At first base, an immature Joe Pepitone was proving he’d never be a player the team could depend upon. Behind the plate, Elston Howard was breaking down physically. In the outfield, both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris had awful seasons in ’65. And most shocking of all, the middle of New York’s infield, for decades the core of Yankee dynasty teams, was about to disappear entirely.
Shortstop Tony Kubek had gone to the Mayo Clinic to try and find out the true source of the excruciating pain he constantly felt in his shoulder. The diagnosis was not good. It was a vertebrae problem at the base of Kubek’s neck that could not be resolved. The doctors recommended complete rest and the 29-year-old Kubek went one step beyond and completely retired from the game. His second base partner, Bobby Richardson, also just 29-years-old, was also ready to hang up his cleats after the ’65 season but agreed to play one more year to help break in his own and Kubek’s successors.
Finding Kubek’s successor would prove to be Houk’s most pressing and difficult challenge. The Yankees backup shortstop was actually more of a natural second baseman by the name of Phil Linz. Linz had gained fame for his harmonica playing on the Yankee team bus during the 1964 season. The guy wore glasses and looked almost professorial but he was actually a pretty wild party animal who hung around with the even crazier Pepitone. Linz also couldn’t hit at all.
Houk liked the Yankee’s top minor league shortstop at the time, a kid from Oklahoma named Bobby Murcer, but the GM knew he couldn’t depend on a rookie, so he looked around the big leagues to find out what veteran shortstops were available. Not many were. The one Houk settled on had been the NL Gold Glove winner at the position in 1964, with the Phillies. His name was Ruben Amaro. That ’64 season in Philadelphia had been the highlight of Amaro’s career but the truth was his lifetime average (.241) was five points lower than Linz’s at the time. Houk settled on Amaro because he was a better defensive player than Linz and a much more mature individual as well. When Philadelphia was willing to accept Linz in exchange for Amaro, Houk made the trade.
The 1966 season turned out to be one of the all-time worst years in Yankee franchise history. Amaro’s contribution to that season pretty much ended after just four games. In the first inning of the Yankee’s fifth game of the season versus Baltimore, the Orioles’ Curt Blefary hit a popup off of Al Downing into short left field. Amaro went back and Yankee left-fielder Tom Tresh charged in. The collision tore all the ligaments in the shortstop’s left knee and he wouldn’t play his next Yankee game until September 6th. By then the Yankee record was 62-80 and the team would finish the year in the AL basement.
Amaro came back to play 123 games at short for New York in 1967. Just as Houk expected, he showed a pretty good glove, was a positive influence in the rapidly changing Yankee clubhouse but no help offensively to a lineup that was desperate for assistance. Amaro had hit just .223 and scored only 31 runs. Murcer had already proven he was not a shortstop and Houk’s 1966 experiment to play third baseman Clete Boyer at short had failed as well. Instead Houk went searching for a trade. He tried to get Maury Wills and Luis Aparicio but fell short in both pursuits. All he could come up with was a guy named Gene Michael who, ironically would turn out to be a much better evaluator of player talent for the New York Yankees than Ralph Houk would ever be. Amaro ended up getting sold to the Angels.
Ruben is also the father of the very talented GM of the Philadelphia Phillies, Ruben Amaro Jr. The elder Amaro shares his January 6th birthday with this former Yankee pitcher who played his best ball for the Cincinnati Reds, this other former Yankee pitcher who played his best ball for the Brooklyn Dodgers and this former reliever.
You need to be a pretty good and long time Yankee fan to remember today’s featured player. The 1985 and ’86 Yankees would have been the AL Wildcard playoff team if that postseason format was in play back then. The 1987 squad finished fourth in the super-tough AL East but would have won the West Division crown with their 89 victories. These were good Yankee teams, with offenses anchored by Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and before he was traded, Ricky Henderson. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was a Bronx born outfielder who hoped to join Winfield and Henderson as a starter in the Yankee outfield.
That didn’t happen. Cotto first came to New York in a December 1984 trade with the Cubs.The Yankees got him, catcher Ron Hassey, pitcher Rich Bordi and Porfi Altamirano (that last guy’s name is not misspelled) for pitcher Ray Fontenot and outfielder Brian Dayett. In 1985, Ken Griffey started in left for New York while Cotto, when he was not down in Columbus, hit .304 during his first season in pinstripes, appearing in 34 games. He was supposed to compete for the job the following year but Cotto’s back and forth trips to Columbus continued as Dan Pasqua ended up starting. In 1987, Cotto saw his most action in pinstripes, playing in 68 games, hitting five home runs and driving in 21. But he hit just .235 with a putrid .OBP of just .269 as Gary Ward took over in left for New York.
Cotto had had his three strikes in Yankee Stadium and he was out, when in December of 87, the Yanks traded him and pitcher Steve Trout to Seattle for pitchers Lee Guettermann, Clay Parker and Wade Taylor. That deal turned out to be a Godsend for Henry because the Yankees evolved into a horrible team over the next few seasons and Cotto finally got a chance to start in a big league outfield as a Mariner. He played the next five and a half years in Seattle, until 1993. Though he was never more than an average player, his big league career lasted a decade. He ended up with a .261 lifetime average and 44 big league home runs. He played in Japan in 1994 and then ended up back with Seattle, coaching in the Mariner’s organization.
Cotto shares his January 5th birthday with this 1983 winner of the AL Rookie of the Year Award and this legendary Yankee third base coach.
Talk about the ultimate “can’t win” situation, imagine you’re the guy who’s been selected to replace Babe Ruth as the Yankee’s starting right fielder. That was the role given to this Canadian in 1935 after the Yankee front office gave the Bambino his unconditional release. At first, Yankee fans did not approve. The first Yankee home opener without the Babe in right field drew just 29,000 people to the Stadium, the smallest opening crowd since New York had moved into the place, twelve years earlier. Selkirk responded admirably. He certainly was no Ruth but he did hit over .300 in five of his first six seasons with New York and he drove in 100 runs during two of those years. Most importantly, the Yankees kept winning without their Sultan of Swat. Selkirk earned five World Series rings during his nine years in New York. What really helped take the pressure off of Selkirk was the continued remarkable performance of Lou Gehrig and the just as remarkable emergence of Joe DiMaggio as the next Yankee superstar. George was nicknamed “Twinkletoes” because he walked and ran in a distinctive style, up on the balls of his feet. Unlike Ruth, Selkirk also had a keen mind. He’s credited with coming up with the idea for baseball’s warning track to help cut down on the violent collisions suffered by so many Major League outfielders back in the day. When World War II broke out, Selkirk enlisted in the navy and became an aerial gunner. He never again played in a Major League game. He started managing in the minors, eventually became Kansas City’s Director of Scouting and then the first General Manager of the expansion Washington Senators. He was born in Huntsville, Ontario, in 1909 and died in 1987.
Also born on this date was this fifth starter on the Yankees’ 2001 pitching staff and this former Yankee GM.
AJ Burnett has been driving Yankee fans, including me, crazy since he was signed to that huge $82 million free agent contract in December of 2008. From the very beginning he has proved to be an inconsistent basket case for New York on the mound. In his first Yankee start against arch-rival Boston, he blew a big lead and then the very next time he faced the Red Sox eight weeks later, he got knocked out in the third inning. The inconsistency lasted all season long but his teammates seemed to love the guy (with the possible exception of Jorge Posada) and I have to admit that those whipped cream pies sort of grew on me. Still, a 13-9 record and an ERA over 4.00 no way justified a $16.5 million paycheck.
He then pitched well in his first two 2009 postseason starts but when he gave up those four runs in the first inning of his second start in the Angels series, I was ready to never forgive him. But I did. You want to know why?
I had a choice to attend the first or second game of the 2009 World Series. My work schedule was such that it would be best for me to go to the second game but I knew Burnett was scheduled to pitch and I was worried he would implode and ruin my night. When the Phillies beat Sabathia in Game One, I was even more nervous about Burnett’s composure because, in my opinion, Game Two would be the most important game the Yankees played all year. When my wife and I took our seats in the left-field terrace level of the new Stadium that evening, I honestly thought that with Burnett pitching, there was a good chance New York would be heading to Philly for the third game down 2-0. Instead, I got to watch AJ Burnett earn every penny of that $16.5 million salary and when I left my seat after that game, I knew the Yankees were going to win their 27th World Championship.
But its now been two long years since Burnett pitched that gem against the Phillies and New York has not been back to the World Series since. Burnett’s second and third regular seasons in pinstripes have been disasters and his ERA in both years climbed into the five’s. It has gone from not knowing what to expect when AJ takes the mound to expecting the worst. From having a great shot at getting a win to praying the team doesn’t lose. And just when I’m about to write him off forever and never watch another game in which he starts, he shows up and does what he did to Detroit in the fourth game of the 2011 ALDS.
I am ready to give AJ one more chance to convince me he’s worth rooting for in 2012, but this is it. If he starts throwing those damn curveballs five feet short of the plate and begins walking bottom of the line-up guys I’m through with him. I’m sick of hearing his teammates claim he’s got great stuff. I have to see it with my own eyes, consistently, start after start, for longer than two or three innings.
“Conie” joined the Yankees in 1995 and helped them reach postseason play in each of the six years he wore the pinstripes. A five-time All Star (twice as a Yankee), David had two 20-victory seasons during his 17 years in the big leagues and posted 21 shutouts. The year before he became a Yankee, he had been voted the AL Cy Young award-winner for his 16-5 season with the Royals. The Royals then traded him to the Blue Jays and Toronto traded him to New York after the 1995 All Star break for three Yankee prospects. Cone finished with a 64-40 record as a Yankee and 194-126 lifetime. His best year in New York was his 20-7 season in 1998. His absolute greatest moment in pinstripes occurred on July 18, 1999, when he pitched a perfect game against the Montreal Expos. Does anyone out there remember who made the last out of that game for the Expos? It was Expo shortstop Orlando Cabrera who’s popup was caught in foul territory by Yankee third baseman, Scott Brosius.
Mr. Cone won a total of five World Series rings including four with the Yankees plus one with the Blue Jays in 1993. The right-hander had an overall 8-3 record in the postseason including his six wins and a loss in pinstriped fall ball.
Cone now is an analyst on Yes Network broadcasts of Yankee games. I like him in that role. When Jorge Posada was struggling with his reduced role with the 2011 Yankees, Cone talked about his own personal fight with the fact he could no longer play the game. His final Yankee season in 2000 had been the worst of his seventeen-year big league career, finishing with a 4-14 record and an ERA near seven. When the Yankees did not try to re-sign him, Cone signed with the Red Sox for $1 million and started for Boston during the 2001 season. He actually pitched pretty well for the Yankees’ arch-rivals, finishing the year with a 9-7 record. His best start of that season took place on the second day of September at Fenway Park against his old New York teammates in a classic pitchers’ duel betweeen him and Mike Mussina. I remember watching every pitch of that game. Cone was brilliant for eight innings, striking out eight and holding New York scoreless until Enrique Wilson’s ground ball double scored Tino Martinez with one out in the top of the ninth. Mussina was even better, pitching a perfect game until Carl Everett, pinch hitting for Red Sox catcher Bob Oliver singled with two outs in the ninth. Mussina won the game 1-0 but Cone proved once again that he was a warrior on the mound.
I thought he was gone for good after that season but he reappeared two years later in a Met uniform and won his first start of the 2003 season for the Amazin’s. But then he got hammered in his next three and finally called it quits for good. During that 2011 discussion about Posada coming to terms with the end of his playing career, Cone admitted he wished he had retired after his final year in pinstripes.
This bespectacled first baseman was born in Snohomish, Washington in 1924. He was not the first Earl born there to end up playing Major League Baseball and become known as the “The Earl of Snohomish.” That honor belonged to the hall of fame outfielder Earl Averill.
The young Earl will never get to Cooperstown but he was a solid big league player during his 15-season career. The best of those seasons was 1950, when he led the National League with 120 runs scored, hitting .290 and driving in 87 runs for the Braves, while the franchise was still in Boston. Earl played the final 22 games of his 1,600-game Major League career with the 1961 Yankees. He was a utility infielder for that great Ralph Houk managed team but was released at the end of August of that season after hitting just .091 in 33 pinstriped at bats. Instead of sending him to the unemployment line, the Yankees made Torgeson a coach.
Torgeson later got into politics back home in Snohomish. He died in Everett Washington in 1980, a victim of leukemia. Averill, the original Earl outlived Torgeson by almost three years but also passed away in the City of Everett.