The Buck Showalter era in Yankee franchise history began in 1992. New York was coming off of three straight losing seasons under Stump Merrill and I remember wondering if this new guy was the right choice to turn the team around. The Yankee lineup that year featured a potpourri of well-travelled veterans like Danny Tartabull, Mel Hall and Charley Hayes, home grown kids like Roberto Kelly, Pat Kelly, Kevin Maas and Andy Stankiewicz and of course, Donnie Baseball. But it was two role players on that squad, who I thought Showalter took a particular liking to; Randy Velarde and a former Oakland A named Mike Gallego.
Gallego became that team’s primary backup at second and short and Velarde did the same at every other position on the field besides catcher. Neither put together glittering statistics. Velarde averaged .272, Gallego just .254 but whenever I watched a Yankee game that season, one or both of them seemed to make some sort of hustling play or put together a particularly good at bat. That ’92 Yankee team finished ten games under .500 but I clearly remember thinking they were finally on the right track.
The following year, the Yankees finished 14 games above .500 and Showalter started Gallego in 119 games at second, short or third. The Whittier, CA native put together his best big league offensive season, hitting .283 and knocking in 54 runs. By the following year, he had become New York’s de facto starting shortstop. That ’94 Yankee team was running away with their division race when a strike halted play and ended the season. At the time, Gallego’s average was just .239. and the three year free agent contract he had signed with New York was ending. When the strike finally ended and play resumed in 1995, Tony Fernandez was the Yankee shortstop and Mike Gallego was back playing for Oakland.
|OAK (8 yrs)||772||2151||1863||230||432||63||9||23||168||21||205||295||.232||.313||.312||.625|
|NYY (3 yrs)||261||1023||882||126||231||44||3||19||109||3||108||133||.262||.347||.383||.730|
|STL (2 yrs)||78||205||186||18||37||4||0||0||5||0||13||37||.199||.254||.220||.474|
The 2009 Yankee team would not have challenged for a World Championship without a group of relievers who had a knack for holding down the opposing team’s offense while the Yankee lineup got their bats untracked and took the lead. The combined 2009 won-lost record of Alfredo Aceves, Jose Veras, Brian Bruney, Phil Hughes, Phil Coke and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was 35-9.
Albaladejo had become a Yankee via a December 2007 trade that sent the promising Tyler Clppard to the Nationals. A native of Puerto Rico, this right-hander’s huge 6’5″ 250 pound frame made him an imposing site on the mound and his ability to throw a fastball in the mid-to-high nineties made him even more intimidating. He spent most of his first season in the Yankee system on the DL and then pitched himself onto the Yankee roster during the 2009 spring training season.
He would put together several stretches of spot-on pitching during the 09 season, but it seemed as if once a month, his control would abandon him and he’d get shelled. Girardi called on him 32 times that year and he held the opposition scoreless in 24 of those appearances. But even though he finished the regular season with a 5-1 record, he was left off the Yankees’ postseason roster. He was then demoted to Scranton-Wilkes Barre in 2010 but he sucked it up and pitched brilliantly as that team’s closer, saving 43 games. The problem for this guy was that the Yankees already had Mo Rivera and Rafael Soriano on their roster so they released Albaladejo and he ended up pitching in Japan during the 2011 season. Meanwhile, Tyler Clippard blossomed into a very effective closer for the Nationals in 2012.
|NYY (3 yrs)||5||2||.714||4.70||49||0||12||0||0||0||59.1||65||34||31||8||30||42||1.601|
|ARI (1 yr)||0||0||9.00||3||0||0||0||0||0||3.0||5||3||3||1||0||2||1.667|
|WSN (1 yr)||1||1||.500||1.88||14||0||1||0||0||0||14.1||7||3||3||1||2||12||0.628|
The 1970 Yankees had surprised everyone including me by finishing in second place in the AL East with the impressive total of 93 wins. That unexpected success put a lot of pressure on manager Ralph Houk to not only prove his team was that good but to also come up with a plan for making up the 15 games that had separated the second place Bronx Bombers from their division foes, the 1970 World Champion Baltimore Orioles.
The New York skipper was telling the press that the Yankee bullpen was one of the league’s best, thanks to the righty/lefty duo of veterans Jack Aker and Lindy McDaniel. He felt Mel Stottlemyre, Fritz Peterson and Stan Bahnsen were as good as any team’s first three starting pitchers. He touted Bobby Murcer, Roy White and 1970 AL Rookie of the Year Thurman Munson as the foundation of an efficient run-producing lineup. His goals that spring were to find a fourth starting pitcher and a corner infielder with some home run power. He also expected today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant to replace Gene Michael as the Yankees’ starting shortstop.
It wouldn’t be the first time the franchise was counting on a “Frank Baker” to help the team compete for an AL Pennant. Over a half century earlier, the Yankees had purchased the contract of Hall of Famer Frank “Home Run” Baker from the Philadelphia A’s. By the time that Frank Baker retired after the 1922 season, he had helped the Yankees make it to the franchise’s first two Fall Classics.
The “Frank Baker” Houk was introducing was a sleek fielding shortstop who had spent the previous four seasons playing that position brilliantly for the Yankee’s Syracuse Chiefs. But I had the same question everyone else had about Baker. Could the guy hit?
The shortstop he was replacing was Gene Michael. Nicknamed “Stick,” Michael was a mediocre switch hitter who would average just .229 lifetime, but he had somehow managed to hit a career high .272 during the 1969 season. That blip caused the Yankees to keep Michael at short instead of Baker for the 1970 season. When Stick reverted to form by averaging just .214 the following year, Houk was determined to move forward with the switch. Baker had been a career .250 hitter at the minor league level and had hit at that same level during a 1970 call-up from Syracuse. I remember clearly thinking that he would not make a huge impact offensively for the Yankees in 1971 and I was correct. In fact, he was so unimpressive in that year’s spring training season that Houk kept Michael as the team’s starting shortstop. Baker ended up seeing action in just 43 games that year and his batting average was a putrid .139. He found himself back in Syracuse the following year and was then traded to the Orioles in 1973. Meanwhile, Gene Michael kept starting at short for New York until 1974, finally losing the job to Jim Mason.
|NYY (2 yrs)||78||231||196||15||38||6||1||0||13||4||30||48||.194||.306||.235||.540|
|BAL (2 yrs)||68||103||92||13||17||2||2||1||11||0||10||12||.185||.262||.283||.545|