November 29 – Happy Birthday Otto Velez
Dick Williams had just won his second straight World Series as Oakland A’s manager in 1973, when he abruptly quit the job, angered over Charley Finley’s embarrassing attempt to get Mike Andrews kicked off the team’s World Series roster after the second baseman had made two errors in Game 2. George Steinbrenner immediately signed Williams to become the Yankees’ new field boss but Finley screamed foul and demanded New York give him their organization’s best pitching and hitting prospects as compensation for stealing his team’s disgruntled skipper. Those prospects respectively were southpaw Scott MacGregor and today’s Puerto Rican born Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, outfielder Otto Velez.
Steinbrenner refused to do so and Velez was returned to the roster of the Yankees Triple A farm team back then, the Syracuse Chiefs. Velez had belted 29 home runs and driven in 98 for Syracuse the season before and he had also walked 130 times, so the Yankees were justified in not giving him up. He would fail to make a memorable impression in three straight cup of coffee call ups to the Bronx in 1973, ’74 and ’75, but by 1976, Billy Martin had become Yankee manager and he put Velez on his team’s season-opening roster. Velez responded with a .266 batting average in 49 games that year and an impressive .410 on base percentage. He became a favorite of the fiery Martin, which explains why the Yankee manager fought fiercely to keep Velez’s name of the unprotected list for the 1976 American League expansion draft. He lost that argument and a few weeks later the Yankees lost Velez, when “Otto the Swatto” became the 53rd player selected in that draft and was headed to Toronto.
Velez would spend the next six years playing first base, the outfield, and doing some DH-ing for the Blue Jays. His best year was probably 1980, when he reached the 20-homer mark for the only time in his 11-year big-league career. His final season in the Majors was spent in Cleveland in 1983. He than played in Mexico. He hit 78 home runs during his career, with a lifetime batting average of .251.