If you were a young prospect in the Yankee organization back in the eighties, you usually were not one for very long. That’s because George Steinbrenner treated the franchise’s top minor league talent as currency for the sole purpose of being used to acquire older, more experienced big league veterans. Today’s birthday celebrant was a good example of that philosophy.
Back in 1983, Otis Nixon was considered the top outfield prospect in the Yankee organization. He had been New York’s top selection and third overall pick in the 1979 amateur draft and moved steadily up the alphabet ladder of the team’s minor league affiliates. Though he had little power, Nixon had blazing speed and a great batting eye and he raised the eyebrows of the entire Yankee organization when he stole 107 bases during the 1982 minor league season. His lowest on-base-percentage during his five year climb through the team’s farm system had been .391. New York brought Nixon up for a cup of coffee look in September of 1983. He got into 13 games, got his first two big league hits, scored his first two runs and stole his first two bases.The following February, the Yankees had to include Nixon in the deal they made with Cleveland for veteran third baseman Toby Harrah. Harrah ended up playing one season and 88 games in pinstripes. Nixon ended up playing sixteen more seasons of big league ball which included tenures with nine different teams. He collected 1,379 hits, stole 620 bases, batted .270 and had a lifetime on base percentage of .343.
Nixon was born on January 9, 1959 in Evergreen, NC. He shares his birthday with another former Yankee outfield prospect who had a long big league career away from New York, with this long-ago co-owner of the Yankee franchise and also with this former Yankee 20-game winner.
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|CLE (4 yrs)||277||407||365||85||78||8||1||3||19||57||32||54||.214||.276||.266||.542|
|MON (3 yrs)||335||861||760||134||180||21||6||1||56||133||89||111||.237||.316||.284||.600|
|TOR (2 yrs)||228||1039||897||141||247||27||2||2||55||101||123||122||.275||.362||.317||.678|
|MIN (1 yr)||110||500||448||71||133||6||6||1||20||37||44||56||.297||.361||.344||.705|
|BOS (1 yr)||103||461||398||60||109||15||1||0||25||42||55||65||.274||.360||.317||.677|
|LAD (1 yr)||42||191||175||30||48||6||2||1||18||12||13||24||.274||.323||.349||.671|
|TEX (1 yr)||139||656||589||87||174||21||2||0||45||50||58||85||.295||.357||.338||.695|
|NYY (1 yr)||13||15||14||2||2||0||0||0||0||2||1||5||.143||.200||.143||.343|
In 2009, Jason Giambi had concluded a seven year contract with New York that paid him about $120 million. Jason was one of baseball’s self-admitted steroid users. He was also a terrible defensive first baseman. The Yankees made it to only a single World Series during his seven years with the team, after having played in five during the previous six years. So there’s no way you can feel sorry for this guy, right? Wrong, at least according to my lovely wife and passionate Yankee fan, Rosemary.
In June of 2005, Rosie’s birthday present to me was two tickets to a Yankee game against the Pirates. At the time, the Yankees had been playing .500 ball and Giambi was contributing next to nothing. Yankee fans remember that 2004 had been the year they found a tumor on Giambi’s pituitary gland, ending what had already become the worst season of the slugger’s career. During the 2004 post season, reports of Giambi’s admitted steroid use became public and he then issued his famous “sort of an apology”. So when Rosie and I took our seats in the first row of Yankee Stadium’s right field upper deck, Giambi was lost at the plate and New York skipper, Joe Torre, was actually batting him eighth in that day’s lineup. What surprised me a whole lot more was the volume and fierceness of the jeers from the fans that met Giambi when his name was announced before his first at-bat in the bottom of the second inning. That’s when my wife stood up and began screaming “Let’s Go Giambi, you can do it.” When she sat down I asked her when she had become such a huge Giambi fan and she told me she felt sorry for him. On that day, Giambi became her new favorite Yankee. Jason proceeded to smash a hard line drive single to right field.
In his next three at bats he did not reach base and struck out twice but the Yankees did rally from a four run deficit to force the game into extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, Giambi came up with the winning run on second and with Rosemary standing on her feet and screaming at the top of her lungs, smashed a Jose Mesa fast ball into the right field upper deck for a game-winning two-run home run.
Remarkably, Giambi proceeded to go on a tear at the plate. When that day’s game against the Pirates started, Giambi’s batting average was .238 and he had a total of 4 home runs and 17 RBI’s for the season. By the end of that season Giambi had hit 32 home runs, driven in 87 and raised his average to .271. The Yankee record from the day of that game was 63-35 and they captured the 2005 divisional title.
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|NYY (7 yrs)||897||3693||2934||515||764||134||2||209||604||9||619||706||.260||.404||.521||.925|
|COL (4 yrs)||230||518||420||48||104||20||0||22||86||2||79||124||.248||.375||.452||.827|
|CLE (1 yr)||71||216||186||21||34||8||0||9||31||0||23||56||.183||.282||.371||.653|
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, this long-ago Highlander starting pitcher and this former reliever.
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|NYY (3 yrs)||191||543||481||34||103||13||0||1||20||3||52||57||.214||.292||.247||.540|
|STL (1 yr)||40||82||76||8||17||2||1||0||0||0||5||8||.224||.272||.276||.548|
|CAL (1 yr)||41||36||27||4||6||0||0||0||1||0||4||6||.222||.323||.222||.545|
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.
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|NYY (3 yrs)||137||300||285||36||69||14||0||7||32||8||11||64||.242||.272||.365||.637|
|CHC (1 yr)||105||160||146||24||40||5||0||0||8||9||10||23||.274||.325||.308||.633|
|FLA (1 yr)||54||142||135||15||40||7||0||3||14||11||3||18||.296||.312||.415||.727|
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, this former Yankee reliever and this former Yankee GM.