Terrence Long was the Number 1 pick of the New York Mets (and 20th overall) in the 1994 MLB Amateur Draft. At the beginning of the 1999 season, the Mets brought the young outfielder north with the team after spring training but he appeared in just three games with the Amazin’s before getting sent back down to the minors. That July, the Mets traded Long to Oakland for veteran pitcher Kenny Rogers. Long made the A’s big league roster the following year and quickly became the team’s starting center fielder. He put together an outstanding rookie season, averaging .288, scoring 104 runs, with 168 hits, 18 home runs and 80 RBIs. That performance earned him a second place finish behind Seattle’s first-year closer, Kazuhiro Suzaki, in the 2000 AL Rookie of the Year voting. Long then pretty much disappeared in his first postseason, hitting just .158 in the A’s five-game loss to the Yankees in that year’s ALDS.
Terrence would then put together another solid regular season in his sophomore year with the green & gold in 2001. He hit .283 with 178 hits and 85 RBIs. He then had an outstanding ALDS against those same Yankees in the 2001 postseason. He hit .389 in that series, going 7-18 in that five-game affair including 2 home runs but it would be a double he hit in the the third game that would begin a play that will forever be part of Yankee lore. New York was down 2-games to none in that series and facing elimination. Mike Mussina had pitched brilliantly in Game 3 and New York was hanging onto a precarious 1-0 lead as the teams entered the bottom half of the seventh. After two quick outs, Oakland’s Jeremy Giambi singled. Long then hit a ball down the right field line that Shane Spencer fielded. When Spencer’s subsequent throw sailed over two Yankee cutoff men, a scrambling Derek Jeter grabbed it at the first-base foul line and famously flipped the ball to catcher Jorge Posada just in time to nip Giambi before his foot touched the plate with the tying run. The Yankees would go on to win the game and the series.
Long remained the A’s center fielder for the next two seasons but in both years, his average was down in the .240s. The A’s again reached the ALDS in both seasons and failed to advance. After their fourth straight first round postseason elimination, the A’s traded Long and Ramon Hernandez to the Padres for Mark Kotsay. He did well as San Diego’s fourth outfielder in 2004, hitting .295. After that one season, the Padres traded him to the Royals, where he started in left field in 2005 and hit .279. The Royals released him following that year and he failed to stick with the Reds. In May of 2006, he signed a minor league deal with New York and when Hideki Matsui broke his wrist, the Yankees brought up Long. He appeared in just 12 games in pinstripes that season and hit only .167. He never again appeared in a big league contest.
I was watching a well-done sports documentary about Bob Hurley Sr. on ESPN this past weekend when the name and image of Willie Banks appeared on my television screen. Hurley is the legendary high school basketball coach at St Anthony’s High School in Jersey City New Jersey. You can add up all the World Series won by Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel and Joe Torre and the total doesn’t exceed the number of New Jersey State Basketball Championships St. Anthony’s has won since Hurley became coach of the program. All of his players graduate, most go to college, a bunch get full rides to do so and quite a few, like Hurley’s own son Bobby Jr. make it to the NBA.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant graduated from St. Anthony’s and played basketball for Hurley Sr. on the same team Bobby Jr played. But basketball was Willie Banks’ second best game. He also played baseball and when he was a student athlete at St Tony’s, Banks’ right arm could already throw a baseball from the pitchers mound to home plate at speeds over ninety miles per hour. In 1987 he became the highest ever draft pick for a New Jersey high school-er when he was selected in the first round (third pick overall) of the 1987 MLB Amateur Draft by the Minnesota Twins. He made the big leagues for the first time in 1991 and in January of 1997 he signed a minor league contract to pitch for the Yankee organization. He spent most of that season in Columbus where he was used primarily as a starter and went 14-5. In September, with the Yankees close to clinching the AL Wild Card spot, Banks was called up to the big leagues and pitched brilliantly, finishing with a 3-0 record and a 1.93 ERA. That strong performance earned him a spot in New York’s bullpen to open the ’98 season. Unfortunately for Banks, he was not able to begin his second season in the Big Apple as effectively as he had finished his first and with an ERA of over ten, he was traded to the Diamondbacks that June for two guys I’ve still never heard of.
Banks kept pitching both in the Majors and minors until 2005 and then stopped when his Mom passed away. She had raised Willie and his brothers by herself in the toughest projects in Jersey City. Banks was extremely close to her and went into a deep depression upon her death. He credits his former Yankee teammate, Tim “Rock” Raines with giving him a reason to live again. Raines was managing the Newark Bears in 2009 and he convinced Banks to come pitch for the team. Willie spent the next two years doing so, finally retiring in 2010 at the age of 41. His big league career record ended up at 33-39 with 2 saves and a 4.58 ERA. By the way, if you get a chance to see that ESPN special about St. Anthony’s, I recommend it highly.
|MIN (3 yrs)||16||17||.485||4.61||52||45||5||0||0||0||259.2||287||152||133||24||127||191||1.594|
|BOS (2 yrs)||2||1||.667||2.72||34||0||19||0||0||1||49.2||37||19||15||5||18||36||1.107|
|CHC (2 yrs)||8||13||.381||6.18||33||23||2||1||1||0||150.0||166||111||103||21||68||100||1.560|
|NYY (2 yrs)||4||1||.800||6.04||14||1||6||0||0||0||28.1||29||19||19||4||18||16||1.659|
|ARI (1 yr)||1||2||.333||3.09||33||0||8||0||0||1||43.2||34||21||15||2||25||32||1.351|
|LAD (1 yr)||0||2||.000||4.03||6||6||0||0||0||0||29.0||36||21||13||2||16||23||1.793|
|FLA (1 yr)||2||3||.400||4.32||9||9||0||0||0||0||50.0||43||27||24||7||30||30||1.460|
By the early nineties it had become pretty evident that Don Mattingly was never going to regain the stroke that had made him the very best hitter in baseball during the first half of his career. The Yankees would need to find a new first baseman in the very near future and the question became would they go the free agent route, make a trade or was their a prospect down in the minors who had the game to at least attempt to fill “Donnie Baseball’s” hard-to-fill cleats. The best first base prospect at the time in New York’s farm system was today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant.
Jack Thomas Snow, better known as “J. T.” had the genetics of a professional athlete. His Dad was the great All-Pro receiver for the LA Rams, Jack Snow. The younger Snow played his college ball at the University of Arizona and the Yankees had selected him in the fifth round of the 1989 Amateur Draft. I saw him play for the Albany Colonie Yankees in the Eastern League in 1991. He had both a good bat and a fine glove. By 1992 he had made it to the top rung of New York’s farm system and put together a strong season for the Columbus Clippers, averaging .313 with 15 home runs and 78 RBIs. That was also the year that Snow made his big league debut via a seven-game call-up with New York in late September.
As it turned out, the Yankees needed started pitching back then more than they needed a replacement for Mattingly. In December of ’92, they went after the Angels one-handed starter, Jim Abbott. New York had to include Snow in the deal to close it. Getting a chance to watch the remarkable Abbott pitch regularly was certainly a thrill for me but California had gotten the best player in that trade. Snow started at first immediately for the Angels. By 1995, he had won his first Gold Glove and also hit 24 home runs and drove in 102 for California. But when he slumped at the plate the following season, the Halo’s traded him to the Giants, where he would play for the next nine years. His best years in San Fran were his first four, when he won the Gold Glove for first basemen each year while averaging 22 home runs and 94 RBIs per season. By then, Tino Martinez had also replaced Mattingly in New York. Martinez would prove to be the better choice for the Yankees but I’ve always felt J.T. Snow would have handled the job pretty well, himself. We’ll never know.
Snow shares his birthday with this former and pretty famous Yankee third-string catcher and this Yankee pitcher from the roaring twenties.
|SFG (10 yrs)||1183||4497||3822||561||1043||228||15||124||615||14||565||806||.273||.369||.438||.807|
|CAL (4 yrs)||488||1984||1761||231||455||64||4||65||256||6||182||323||.258||.330||.410||.740|
|BOS (1 yr)||38||53||44||5||9||0||0||0||4||0||8||8||.205||.340||.205||.544|
|NYY (1 yr)||7||19||14||1||2||1||0||0||2||0||5||5||.143||.368||.214||.583|
I absolutely loved watching Paul O’Neill play baseball for the Yankees. I do admit, however, I had my doubts about the deal New York made with Cincinnati to bring him to the Bronx. To get O’Neill in the November 1992 transaction, the Yankees had to give up their starting center fielder at the time, Roberto Kelly. I’m sure there are some of you who have just read the previous line and are asking yourself one of two questions: “Roberto who?” or “Is this guy kidding?” Not so fast.
If you can remember the Yankee team that was on the field in the very late eighties and very early-nineties than you know how really bad that team was. In 1990, for example, New York finished dead last in the Major Leagues with a .241 batting average. Their lineup cards back then could have been mistaken for a list of players who had just cleared waivers. The only bonafide superstar they had was Don Mattingly and by then his crippled back had forever changed his once classic swing. The only player in their starting lineup who could run, hit, hit with power, field, and throw was Kelly. Perhaps his five tools may not have been of the Craftsman variety, but the guy was the very best all-around player on that Yankee team and I admit I cringed when I read they had just traded him away for Paul O’Neill.
Of course I knew little about O’Neill. I remembered him a bit from the 1990 playoffs. I was rooting for the Reds in that postseason because Sweet Lou Piniella was their manager at the time. O’Neill had a very good NLCS against the Pirates that October but then disappeared and was hardly a factor in Cincinnati’s surprising four-game sweep of the A’s in the World Series. A review of his stats during his time playing with the Reds also underwhelmed you. He hit just .259 during his eight years there and I clearly remember thinking that Piniella was pulling a “get-even” fast one on his old employer by helping to convince the Yankees to trade O’Neill for Kelly.
Simply put, if I were the Yankee GM in November of 1992, I would not have made that deal. (I was so bad at judging the talent of baseball players that my brother-in-law, who co-managed a Little League baseball team with me when both our sons played, would tell me the annual player draft began at 8:30 PM when it actually started two hours earlier.)
In any event, Paul O’Neill went onto become not just a great Yankee but one of my all-time favorite Yankees. He and Bernie Williams took over their starting outfield positions together on that 1993 team and within a year, helped transform New York into perennial postseason participants who would go on to capture four World Series flags. Getting the opportunity to watch O’Neill play regularly, I was amazed at how good he was defensively out in right. I also quickly realized how perfect his swing was for Yankee Stadium. The .259 career hitter as a Red became a .303 hitter during his nine seasons in pinstripes. We could count on him to provide 20 homers and right around 100 RBIs every season.
Though he was so instrumental in turning the Yankees into winners, ironically it was during a Yankee defeat that I feel O’Neill gave us his greatest moment in pinstripes. It was the dramatic five-game 1997 ALDS between New York and Cleveland. In the opener, O’Neill’s homer contributed to an 8-6 Yankee victory. He then hit a grand slam and drove in five runs in Game 3 to once again give New York a one-game edge. Then in Game 5, with New York down by a run and just a single out from elimination, O’Neill came to the plate and faced Cleveland’s ace closer, Jose Mesa. Every Yankee fan watching that day can still picture O’Neill’s bullet-like drive hitting Jacobs Field’s center field wall, just inches from becoming a game-tying home run. But it was O’Neill’s harrowing slide into second base on that play, just ahead of Marquis Grissom’s outstanding throw, that I will always remember. I thought he had knocked himself out during the slide but he stood himself up and when he saw a pinch-runner heading toward second, he angrily tried to wave him back to the dugout. That pinch-runner did not score and Cleveland won that game and the Series, but with that one play, O’Neill proved he was indeed a “Warrior” in pinstripes.
One of the things I’ve truly missed since O’Neill retired is watching him go nuts on himself in the Yankee dugout after a bad at bat and seeing his Yankee teammates try to keep from laughing at his antics. Hearing New York fans serenade him with their “Paul O’Neill” chant during the final Yankee home game in the 2001 World Series was also an absolute great moment in Yankee franchise history.
|NYY (9 yrs)||1254||5368||4700||720||1426||304||14||185||858||80||586||710||.303||.377||.492||.869|
|CIN (8 yrs)||799||2961||2618||321||679||147||7||96||411||61||306||456||.259||.336||.431||.767|
I was a huge Elston Howard fan when I was a kid. He never seemed to get the amount of media attention accorded to his more famous Yankee teammates but he certainly got the attention of Yankee opponents. In 1961 he hit .348, a ridiculously high average for an everyday big league catcher. In 1962 he drove in 91 runs from the six-hole of the Yankee lineup. In 1963, he was selected the AL MVP and in 1964 he played in 150 games, hit .313 and was named to his seventh consecutive AL All Star team.
The Yankees were slow to integrate their team, waiting till 1956 to do it with Howard, who by then was already 26 years old. Compounding Ellie’s delayed development was a Yankee roster loaded with talent and his first Yankee manager, Casey Stengel’s platoon system, which combined to relegate Howard to less than 375 at bats in five of his first six big league seasons.
It wasn’t until Ralph Houk replaced Stengel in 1961 that Howard became a full-time part of the Yankee lineup and by then, he was already 32 years old. Give him those 450 at bat seasons beginning when he was 22 or 23 and Howard would have hit closer to 300 lifetime home runs instead of 167, he’d have easily added perhaps 700 more hits to his career total of 1,471, he’d have seven world series rings instead of four and perhaps he’d be in Cooperstown today.
|NYY (13 yrs)||1492||5488||5044||588||1405||211||50||161||733||8||342||717||.279||.324||.436||.760|
|BOS (2 yrs)||113||358||319||31||66||7||0||6||29||1||31||69||.207||.279||.285||.564|