Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant has a name that’s a lot harder to forget than his brief Yankee career. The sky was considered the limit, when the Yankees made Hawaiian born Bronson Sardinha their first round pick in the 2001 Amateur Draft. Just 18 years-old at the time, he became the highest school-boy draft pick (34th overall pick) in the island state’s history and the Yankees signed him to a million dollar deal. A shortstop in high school, that’s where he began his minor league career, with the Tampa Yankees of the Gulf Coast League in 2001. He had a great offensive season that year, hitting .303 but his defensive work at short convinced the Yankee brass to switch him to the outfield the following year. Over the course of the next five seasons, Baseball America had Sardinha rated as a better prospect than both Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang. But unlike those two future stars, the six-foot one-inch , 220 pound Honolulu-born Sardinha could not get over the triple A hump. He did get his shot in the Bronx as a late-season call-up in September of 2007 and though he was used mostly as a pinch-runner, he did get ten at bats, scored six runs and collected three hits. That, however, has turned out to be his only taste of the big leagues. The following December, the Yankees released him and though he has since been signed by three different big league teams, chances are getting slimmer and slimmer that we will see Sardinha back in the big leagues. If he never gets a second shot he will retire with a lifetime Yankee and big league batting average of .300 and Bronson Kiheimahanaomauiakeo Sardinha will remain in first place on the all-time Yankee list for players with the longest middle names.
The 1960 AL Rookie of the Year with Baltimore, Ron spent the 1970 and ’71 seasons with the Yankees as their primary utility infielder. During his first season in pinstripes, Hansen was able to hit .297 in his part-time role but when he slumped to .207 the following season New York released him. In 1968, he became the first player to pull off an unassisted triple play since 1927 and the feat wasn’t accomplished again until 1994 (by Boston shortstop John Valentin.) In a very unique vote, when Hansen won his 1960 AL ROY award, two of his Orioles’ teammates finished second (pitcher Chuck Estrada) and third (first baseman Jim Gentile) in the balloting for the first year honor. Hansen shares his April 5th birthday with this former Yankee reliever and the first starting third baseman in Yankee franchise history.
Hansen hailed from Oxford, NE and is one of 25 members of the Yankee’s All-Time roster to win Rookie of the Year honors, eight of whom did it as Yankees. Here’s my picks for the all-time lineup of Yankees who won the coveted first-year honor. Alongside each player’s name is the year they won the honor and the team they played for at the time:
1B Chris Chambliss (1971 – Indians)
2B Steve Sax (1982 – Dodgers)
3B Gil McDougald (1951 – Yankees)
SS Derek Jeter (1996 – Yankees)
C Thurman Munson (1970 – Yankees)
OF Lou Piniella (1969 – Royals)
OF Darryl Strawberry (1983 – Mets)
OF David Justice (1990 – Braves)
P Dwight Gooden (1984 – Mets)
CL Dave Righetti (1981 – Yankees)
Jon Lieber’s Yankee career was both short and sweet. After the Yankees lost the 2003 World Series to the Marlins they also lost most of their starting pitching staff. Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells were all lost to free agency and a fourth starter, the disappointing Jeff Weaver, was traded to the Dodgers for the guy New York thought would anchor their rotation for the next couple of seasons, Kevin Brown. That same off-season, the Yankees also traded for the Expo fireballer, Javier Vazquez and signed Cuban refugee, Jose Contreras. A year earlier, the Yankees had also signed a then 31-year-old Lieber to a free agent contract. No one paid too much attention because at the time, the Council Bluffs, Iowa native, who had won 20 games for the Cubs in 2001, was recuperating from Tommy John surgery and would miss the entire ’03 campaign.
As we now know, Brown and Contreras were both disappointing in pinstripes and after getting off to a 10-5 start and making the AL All Star Team, Vazquez was just 4-5 during the second half of the ’04 season. When another starter, Mike Mussina went into a bad spell at the same time as Vazquez, the Yankee starting pitching situation looked bleak indeed. But after starting the season 5-5, Lieber’s surgically repaired arm was finally regaining all its strength and he went 9-3 the rest of the way, including five straight wins in September. It was Lieber and a rejuvenated Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez who pitched the Yankees to the 2004 AL East Division title.
Lieber did not pitch well in his first postseason start against the Twins that year but he then came back to beat the Red Sox in Game 2 of that year’s ALCS. He also pitched well against Boston in Game 6, in a losing effort that became part of the greatest postseason collapse in Yankee franchise history. I still believe it was the shock of that collapse that so stunned New York’s front office that they let Lieber get away and sign a free agent contract with the Phillies. Instead, the Yankees got Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano and Jared Wright, three more poor pitching choices, while Lieber won 17 games for the Phillies. He lasted three more seasons, retiring in 2008 with a 131-124 career record. he shares his April 2nd birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and this former Yankee outfielder.
When people ask me who is the best, most loyal Yankee fan I know, I answer without hesitation, Marty Tambasco. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve had the pleasure of discussing Yankee baseball with Marty during the close to half-century we’ve known each other, and I am thrilled to be able to say, we continue to do so to this day. It is only fitting that a man who loves baseball and the Yankees as much as Marty does, celebrates his own birthday as each new season of our National Pastime begins anew. Have a super day Marty!