The worst team in Yankee franchise history was probably the 1912 Highlanders. They finished at the bottom of the American League standings with a 50-102 record and no New York team before or since has ever won that few games in a full regular season. Only the St Louis Browns scored fewer runs than New York did that year and the Highlander pitching staff led the league in earned runs allowed. Pat Maloney, a 24-year-old outfielder born in Grosvenordale, CT, was on that Highlander team. He appeared in 22 games that year, batting just .215. That was Maloney’s first and last season of Major League play as he spent the next seven years in the minors interrupted by his service in WWI. That 1912 season was also the last year New York’s American League franchise was known as the Highlanders. In 1913, they moved to the Polo Grounds and became the New York Yankees.
“Popeye’s” original connection to New York City baseball was over half a century ago when he was being groomed to replace the great Pee Wee Reese as the Brooklyn Dodger starting shortstop. That never happened. A terrible beaning Zimmer suffered as a minor leaguer in the Dodger organization left him unconscious for three weeks and resulted in a metal plate being inserted in his head. The incident left him a different player. He still had the shotgun arm his teammates raved about but he would never become a productive big league hitter. He played three part-time seasons in Brooklyn and two more in LA before he was dealt to the Cubs after the 1959 season. He got quite a few at bats in Chicago but never got his batting average above the .250’s and the Mets drafted him in the NL expansion draft of 1961. Zimmer lasted only 14 games with the Amazins and retired as a player in 1965. He then began the most successful part of his Major League baseball career.
He got his first big league managerial assignment with the Padres, replacing Preston Gomez twenty games into the 1972 season. The Padres lost 190 games during Zim’s almost two season tenure, which lost him that job. During the 1976 season, he was named the Red Sox Manager, replacing Darryl Johnson. The four and a half seasons he spent calling the on-the-field shots in Fenway were the most successful of his career. His Boston teams finished 411-304 but couldn’t get past the Yankees to make the playoffs. Zimmer then got managing jobs for the Rangers and the Cubs. In 1996, he became the fiery bench coach for Joe Torre’s four-time World Champion Yankees. His most famous moment in pinstripes came when he went after then Red Sox ace, Pedro Martinez in the third game of the 2003 American League championship series, after the teams exchanged brush-back pitches.
Zim left the Yankees, livid at George Steinbrenner’s treatment of Yankee manager Joe Torre and his fellow Yankee coaches. I enjoyed his colorful behavior both on and off the field.
I was always a fan of Steve Balboni. Show me a power-hitting paisano in pinstripes with a great nickname and I guarantee I’ll love the guy. Balboni’s nickname was “Bye-Bye,” given to him in recognition of how far and fast squarely hit balls would travel off his bat. The Brockton, MA native was born on this date in 1957. He got my attention during his minor league years in the Yankee farm system by hitting 150 home runs over a five year period. The Yankees needed right hand power back in the early eighties and I thought Balboni would be a star in the Bronx. But by the time he was ready for the big leagues, Don Mattingly had claimed the Yankee first base job and Dave Winfield was providing the right-handed long-ball bat the team needed so Balboni was shipped to the Royals.
As he had done in the minors, Bye-Bye averaged thirty home runs a year during his four year stay in Kansas City but he also struck out about 140 times a season. The Royals released Balboni early in the 1988 season, he got picked up by the Mariners and then released by Seattle at the end of that year. As fate would have it, that spring the Yankees announced Dave Winfield would miss the entire 1989 regular season because of a back injury. New York needed to find a right-handed bat to put behind Mattingly in the batting order. They chose Balboni. Steve’s second tenure in pinstripes lasted two seasons. He hit 17 home runs in each of those years but when he averaged just .192 in 1990, the writing was on the wall. Steve was released on the final day of the Yankee’s 1991 spring training season. Even though his Yankee career did not turn out to be what I had hoped it would, I remember still feeling bad when New York said so long to Bye-Bye.
|KCR (5 yrs)||566||2201||1999||232||459||89||6||119||318||1||175||568||.230||.294||.459||.752|
|NYY (5 yrs)||295||858||766||75||164||23||4||41||116||0||75||219||.214||.286||.415||.701|
|TEX (1 yr)||2||5||5||0||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.600||.600||.600||1.200|
|SEA (1 yr)||97||376||350||44||88||15||1||21||61||0||23||67||.251||.298||.480||.778|