Jack Clark loved being a Cardinal and after hitting 35 home runs and driving in 106 for Manager Whitey Herzog’s 1987 Pennant-winners, the New Brighton, PA native had every reason to believe he’d be staying in St Louis for the next few seasons. One word explains why that didn’t happen, collusion. That was the off season when big league owners decided to band together to reverse the upward spiral of salaries during the free agency era and star players in their prime, like Clark, paid the price. The Cardinals actually asked their All Star first baseman to take a cut in pay so instead, his agent got him an offer from George Steinbrenner and Clark came to New York for the 1988 season after playing thirteen seasons in the National League, including the first ten with the Giants. He belted 27 home runs and drove in 93 during his single season in Pinstripes. He then signed with the Padres. During his eighteen-year big league career, Clark hit 340 home runs. Since leaving the game, Clark has become a vociferous critic of players who took steroids. He has said that players like Mark McGuire, A-Rod, Bobby Bonds and Roger Clemens are all “cheaters” who belong in a “Hall of Shame” but “not baseball’s Hall of Fame. Clark has also experienced personal financial setbacks since leaving the game. According to accounts I’ve read, his addiction to expensive cars forced him into personal bankruptcy, in 1992.
Also born on this date was this Yankee starting pitcher who tied Jimmy Key for second in most regular season wins on the team’s 1996 pitching staff.
Robinson Cano is the latest in a long and illustrious line of great New York Yankee second basemen. The first was Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri and then Joe Gordon. Later on, both Billy Martin and Bobby Richardson became All Stars for New York at that position, as did the great Willie Randolph. One name not on that list is Jerry Priddy and the late, great Phil Rizzuto was always astonished by that omission. Why? Because Scooter was Priddy’s teammate and double-play partner during their climb through the Yankee’s Minor League organization. During his days in the broadcast booth, Rizzuto would often tell listeners that Priddy had been a much better all-around player than he was and that he could not believe his Los Angeles-born former teammate did not make it big in pinstripes.
Priddy and Rizzuto were so good that when they joined the Yankees in 1941, Manager Joe McCarthy moved Gordon from second base to first so that the two rookies could take over the middle of New York’s infield. Rizzuto held his own at short but Priddy struggled to hit big league pitching. The Yankees might have been more patient with a less cocky rookie, but Priddy was anything but. He told Gordon in spring training that he was a better second baseman than the future Hall of Famer so when he got off to a slow start, his veteran teammates offered no assistance, shed no tears and spared no criticism of the outspoken rookie.
Priddy hit just .213 in 56 games during that rookie season. He did better the following year, hitting .280 as Gordon’s backup but when he complained about a lack of playing time, the Yankees decided to give up on their loud-mouthed prospect and traded him to Washington. He had a good year there and then spent the next three seasons in military service. When he returned, Jerry did evolve into one of the league’s better second baseman, playing eleven seasons in all and averaging .265 lifetime. In the mean time, Scooter played himself into the Hall of Fame and was left wondering why his old teammate wasn’t in there with him.
This outfielder put together a surprising .332 batting average for the Yankees during the strike-shortened 1994 season and was also born on November 9.
The Yankee front office was a busy place after New York won the 2000 World Series. For the most part, the team wasn’t looking to add new players as much as they were focusing on keeping the ones they already had, which was not a surprising priority for a franchise that had just won its fourth Fall Classic in the last five years. Mariano Rivera’s agent was pushing hard for a three year deal for “the Sandman” and Derek Jeter wanted the Yankees to commit to him as their starting shortstop for the next decade. The Yankees were also looking to avoid arbitration with catcher Jorge Posada. So amongst all these negotiations with their existing players, reporters covering the team were a bit surprised to learn the Yankees were also trying to sign outfielder Henry Rodriguez.
The 33-year-old Rodriguez had by then put together a rather impressive big league resume. He had come up with the Dodgers in 1992, but didn’t become an everyday player until he was traded to the Expos during the 1995 season. In his first full year north of the border, the Dominican native belted 36 home runs, drove in 103 and made his only All Star team. Expo broadcaster Rodger Broulette began shouting “Oh Henry” whenever Rodriguez homered and Montreal fans took to tossing Oh Henry candy bars on the field whenever Rodriguez went into one of his frequent home run trots. After his power numbers dropped off in 1996, he was traded to the Cubs and became Chicago’s cleanup hitter, batting behind the prodigious chemically and cork enhanced home run factory named Sammy Sosa. The power duo’s combined 91 home runs propelled the Cubbies into the 1998 postseason. Once again however, Rodriguez’s power numbers would shrink during his second year with a new team and once again, he would be traded before he could complete a third season. This time, the destination was Florida, where he played out the final year of his contract in 2000, becoming a free agent.
What made the Yankees interest in Rodriguez surprising was the fact that they already had a bunch of outfielders under contract. They included Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Shane Spencer, David Justice and Glenallen Hill. All these guys had comparable power to Rodriguez and all but Hill were better than he was defensively. Since Rodriguez hit from the left side, the Yankee front office was thinking he’d be a better fourth outfielder option than the righty-swinging Hill. Whatever the rationale, the Yankees gave him a guaranteed two year deal worth $1.5 million. He then failed to make the Yankee roster in spring training and began the ’01 season in Columbus. He was called up in May and saw action in five games, going hitless in eight plate appearances. That June, the Yankees released Rodriguez explaining at the time that they needed to replace him with an outfielder who could play center. That turned out to be Darren Bragg. “Oh Henry ” took his 1.5 million Yankee dollars and ended up back in Montreal, where he appeared in the last 20 games of his big league career in 2002.
The only other former Yankee born on this date is this Hall of Famer who managed the Yankees to a World Championship.
The Yankee organization of the mid 1980′s had not yet completely given up home-growing their own pitchers. One of them, a quickly aging Ron Guidry was still their ace starter and another, Dave Righetti had become the master closer in the team’s bullpen. When the 1985 season opened, New York’s front office was still counting heavily on prospects like Bob Tewksbury and Doug Drabek. While they were waiting for those prospects to fully develop however, New York patched their starting rotation with veteran pitchers like Phil Niekro and Ed Whitson. The knuckle-balling Niekro had been a particularly successful pickup. He was a 16-game winner for the Yankees in both 1984 and ’85 and his final win of that ’85 season was also his 300th career victory.
It was the success his older sibling was enjoying in New York and the opportunity to continue pitching on the same team as him that had convinced Joe Niekro to sign a two-year deal to keep pitching in pinstripes. The Yankees had acquired the younger Niekro from Houston the previous September and he had won two of his three year-end decisions for New York. Though he had spent the first ten years of his career pitching deep in the shadow of his older brother, he had found his own groove with the Houston Astros in 1977. Not coincidentally, it was right around that same time that Joe decided to join Phil and begin using the knuckleball their Dad had taught them both as kids, as his primary pitch. For the next ten years he was one of the most effective starters in the National League. He won 20 games twice during that span and helped the Astros reach the franchise’s first two postseasons.
I can distinctly remember thinking (more accurately hoping) as the Yankee 1986 spring training camp opened, that the Niekro boys were going to make a big contribution to that year’s team. Instead, in what was a bitter disappointment for both brothers, Yankee skipper Lou Piniella waited till the very end of that exhibition season to inform Phil Niekro he was being released. New York had decided to go with the youngsters Tewksbury and Drabek in their season opening rotation, leaving Joe’s brother as the odd man out. A violently angry Joe Niekro demanded to be traded and when his request was not fulfilled, he spent the next-season-and-a-half pitching unhappily in pinstripes. He went 9-10 in 1986 and was 3-4 for New York, in June of 1987, when he was traded to the Twins for catcher Mark Salas.
Joe Niekro retired after the 1988 season with a lifetime record of 221 – 204. When added to Phil’s 318 career wins, the Niekro brothers’ combined victory total of 539 set the record for big-league siblings (10 more than the Perry brothers won.) Joe Niekro died of a brain aneurism at the age of 61 in 2006.
This former Yankee catcher and this one-time Yankee relief pitcher and YES game announcer share Niekro’s November 7th birthday.
When the Yankees tried to make up for the retirement of Paul O’Neill by adding Rondell White to their outfield in 2002, I was one of many Yankee fans who sort of swallowed the hype that White would be gangbusters in pinstripes. He wasn’t. A disappointed Yankee front office then traded him to the Padres for Bubba Trammell. Right up until that trade was made I had been under the mistaken impression that Bubba was the son of the very talented former Tiger shortstop, Alan Trammell. That’s probably because Bubba had originally been drafted by the Tigers and made his big league debut in Motown, in 1997. He then spent two and a half seasons with Tampa Bay, before getting traded to the Mets at the 2000 All Star break. He hit just .232 for the Amazin’s but he made the postseason roster when that 2000 Met team qualified as the NL Wild Card. In that year’s World Series against the Yankees, Trammell got just five at bats but made the most out of them with his two hits and three RBIs. I still remember his clutch and painful two-run pinch hit single off of Andy Pettitte in Game 1 of that Fall Classic.
That December, the Mets traded Trammell to the Padres for reliever Donne Wall and Bubba put together his best big league season in 2001 for San Diego. He set career highs with 25 home runs and 92 RBIs and that effort got him a three-year, eight million dollar contract extension from the Padres. But when he slumped the following year, San Diego went shopping and approached the Yankees about White. The Yankees told the Padres they’d make the deal only if San Diego would also include their organization’s top pitching prospect at the time, a guy named Mark Phillips. They agreed and Trammell became a Yankee.
I thought he had an outside shot to join Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams as a starter in the 2003 Yankee outfield but he never really did. He was a right-handed hitter, which was a negative in Yankee Stadium and the Yankees had a plethora of outfielders on their roster that year. So many in fact that even though he went 4-4 during one of his first appearances in pinstripes, he didn’t get his next at bat until eight days later. It was clear that Bubba was not high up on Yankee manager Joe Torre’s outfielder depth chart. By late June he had started in just 16 of the team’s first 80 games, he was averaging an even .200 and had yet to hit his first Yankee home run. He never would.
Trammell was certainly unhappy with his Yankee situation, but he was also going through a very difficult breakup of his marriage. He simply stopped coming to games. That’s right. It happened on June 29, 2003. Torre had ironically penciled the Knoxville, TN native in to start that evening’s game only to learn that Trammell was not in the clubhouse. His agent contacted Yankee GM Brian Cashman and told him that Trammell was leaving town and requesting a trade. The Yankees countered by asking the commissioner’s office to void Trammell’s contract. Bubba’s agent would later claim he was suffering from clinical depression. I’m still not exactly sure how the contractual issues between the player and team were settled, but Trammell never again played in a big league game.
Author’sNote: Bubba Trammell was kind enough to comment on this post in an effort to clarify the circumstances surrounding his departure from the Yankees. You can read his comments below.
I could not help it! Whenever I saw or thought of Johnny Damon, the first thing that popped into my head was that grand slam dagger he drove simultaneously into both the right-field upper deck of Yankee Stadium and my chest, during the final game of the disastrous 2004 Yankees-Red Sox playoff series. Since he signed as a Yankee free agent , nothing he did on-the-field during his first four seasons wearing the Pinstripes erased that nightmare from my mind. In fact, he just didn’t seem to be as comfortable playing for New York as he did for Boston.
He was able to put good back-to-back regular season offensive performances together in 2008 and ’09, but that would not have been enough. Whenever I’d see Damon, I’d see him nailing that first pitch from Javier Vasquez high and long into the Bronx night and my stomach would start to churn.
But that vision of Damon was officially replaced on the evening of November 1, 2009 in Citizens’ Bank Park in the City of Brotherly Love. It was replaced by a series of images that began with Damon’s incredible nine-pitch grinding at bat with two outs in the top of the ninth against the Phillie’s Brad Lidge, continued with his base-hit and brainy double-steal and concluded when he crossed home-plate after A-Rod’s double. That sequence of plays was just as much of a dagger to the Phillies’ chances to win that 2009 Fall Classic as Damon’s grand slam was to the Yankee hopes of winning the 2004 ALCS. I finally became a fan of Johnny Damon on that night because of that play.
The Yankees probably made a mistake letting Johnny Damon sign with Detroit for $8 million in 2010, choosing instead to sign Nick Johnson for $3 million less. Damon probably made a mistake by not asking Cashman for his best offer, early on in that year’s signing period. Johnny’s numbers dropped that year with the Tigers and he failed to reach the 90-run mark for the first time in thirteen years. But he could have helped the 2010 Yankees and I wish he had stayed in pinstripes for at least one more year. He then went to Tampa Bay in 2011, after the Rays lost Carl Crawford to free agency. Damon actually did much better in Tampa than Crawford did in Beantown, hitting .261 while collecting his 2,700th career hit. But he also turned 38 years old at right about the same time he found out the Rays had no intention of bringing him back for 2012. Last April, for the first time in 15 years, a Major League Opening Day came and went without the name “Johnny Damon” on a big league roster. The Indians would sign him a month later and in 2012, he appeared in 64 games for Cleveland, hitting just .222.
I’m pretty certain Damon has played his last big league game. The ironic thing is, I think the guy can still hit better than some of the players in the starting lineups of some AL and NL teams. But he turned 39 year’s old today and the only reason he would want to go on would be to reach the hallowed 3,000 career hit mark. I don’t think he’s going to make it to 3,000 but I will never forget that game in October of 2009, when he did make it safely to third.
I also want to wish my daughter Michela “Mitchie” Hugo a wonderful birthday today.
Today’s birthday boy won 21 games as the ace of the staff for one of baseball’s best teams in 1937. The problem was, that team was not in the Major Leagues. Instead, Joe Beggs was pitching for the Yankee’s Newark Bears farm team in the International League, a team that won 109 games that season and would probably have been good enough to finish in the upper division of either big league. Neff was 26 years-old at the time patiently waiting for his turn to pitch for Joe McCarthy’s Yankee team. That chance came in 1938 when Beggs got nine starts on the big stage and won three of five decisions. That wasn’t enough to keep him out of Newark the entire season. Nor did it earn him a spot on the Yankee’s winning World Series roster. But it did garner the attention of big league scouts and in 1940, the Reds acquired the right hander and made him their bullpen ace. He went 12-3 that first year in Cincinnati and saved seven games to boot as the Reds won the 1940 series. During those first four years with the Reds, he was one of the premier relief pitchers in the National League before entering military service in 1944. Cincinnati put him in their starting rotation when he returned in 1946 and Beggs went 12-10. He pitched until 1948, retiring with a 48-35 career record and 29 saves. Beggs was born on this date in 1910 in Rankin, PA. He passed away in 1983.
The only other Yankee born on this date is this former spare outfielder on the 2000 World Championship team.
I was a sophomore in high school when I realized that David Halberstam was a brilliant historian. I had just finished his epic book, The Best and the Brightest about how the US got entangled in the Vietnam War. It wasn’t until about two decades later that I realized Halberstam knew his baseball too. His book, October 1964, is a detailed and entertaining dissection of that season’s World Series between the Cardinals and the Yankees. In it, Halberstam describes how on the plane ride home from the seventh game of the Series, losing manager, Yogi Berra asked his all star second baseman, Bobby Richardson if he should be bold enough to ask the Yankees for a two-year contract. That’s how certain Berra was that he was going too be re-hired. But when he walked out of Yankee GM Ralph Houk’s office just a few days later, he was the stunned ex-manager of the only team he had ever worked for.
Houk had made the decision to fire Berra much earlier during the 1964 regular season, when certain Yankee players had approached him to complain that Yogi had lost control of the team. A few weeks later, he found out that Gussie Busch intended to fire Johnny Keane. Houk felt the Yankees needed a disciplinarian to replace the easy-going Berra and in his mind, Keane fit that description perfectly. So just minutes before Busch began a post Series press conference to announce he had decided to rehire his team’s skipper, Keane handed the Cardinal owner his resignation letter. He had accepted Houk’s offer to replace Berra as manager of the Yankees. Even though I was just ten years old at the time, I distinctly remember feeling sorry for Berra and angry with Houk for what I felt was a low class double-cross of a Yankee legend.
Keane proved to be a horrible fit with the Yankees from the start. His brand of discipline was geared toward young players and the veteran-filled Yankee roster had few of those. Players like Mantle, Maris, Clete Boyer, Joe Pepitone and Whitey Ford basically ignored the new rules introduced by their new field boss and that disrespect quickly permeated through to just about the entire team. When the Yankees reached the 1965 All Star break with a 41-46 record, Yankee fans like me were in shock. It was beyond the realm of possibility that our favorite team was not going to compete for the AL Pennant and we fully expected a turnaround in the second half.
The team did better, going 46-39 in the second half, but that was only good enough for an unforgivable fifth place finish. Keane should have been fired at the end of that ’65 regular season and probably would have been if the team hadn’t been owned by CBS at the time. The gigantic entertainment network paid little attention to the Yankees day-to-day operations, enabling Houk to delay the inevitable and let Keane stay on to open the 1966 season. Houk was hoping that Keane had just needed time to get the Yankee roster to buy into his management style. But when the Yankees opened the 1966 season by losing 16 of their first 20 games, Houk knew Keane was in over his head and mercifully fired his beleaguered skipper. In less than a year, the dismissed manager was dead, a victim of a heart attack at the age of 55.
A native of St. Louis, Keane had spent fifteen years playing in the Cardinal farm system as a a middle infielder, without ever appearing in a big league game. He then spent another 13 years coaching and managing in the St. Louis farm system. The Cardinals made him their big league skipper in July of 1961, when he replaced the fired Solly Hemus. His three-and-a-half season managerial record with the Cards was a very respectable 317-249. He should have never left St Louis.
Sidney Ponson was one of baseball’s great opportunists. After going 1-7 with the Royals in 2009, his 12-year record as a big league pitcher was 91-113. He had a winning record in only two of those seasons. In 2003 he was 17-12 and in 2008 he finished 8-5. So you have to consider it pretty amazing that he was able to earn over $24 million during his career, including an $8.5 million salary from Baltimore in 2005, when he finished 7-11 for the season. Sidney pitched in pinstripes first in 2006, when he was 0-1 and then again in 2008, when he went 4-4. He was born on November 2, 1976, in Noord, Aruba, one of only four big leaguers and the only Yankee to be born in that island nation.
He shares his November 2nd birthday with this former Yankee infielder.
Born in Chicago on November 1, 1893 to a well-to-do family, Burr became a pitching star at Williams College. At the time, the elite Massachusetts school employed the services of a trainer for their athletic teams by the name of Charles “Doc” Barrett. Barrett was also the trainer of the New York Yankees which helps explain why several of Williams’ best ballplayers back in that era ended up signing with the Yankee organization. Burr was a big hard-throwing right-handed pitcher who struggled with his control. He pitched well enough, however, during the Yankees’ 1914 spring training camp that he convinced then New York Manager, Frank Chance to bring the kid north to start the regular season. As it turned out, Burr got into just one regular season game with the Yankees and it wasn’t even as a pitcher. Chance inserted him as a pinch runner in the late innings of an April 1914 game against the Senators and was then forced to put his young pitcher in center field the next inning. The following month the Yankees sold Burr to the Eastern League franchise in New London, CT. At first, Burr was determined to pitch his way back to the big leagues but instead, it appears as if he decided to go back to school. When America entered World War I, Burr enlisted in officer’s training school and was sent to France to attend flying school. It was while training to be a war pilot in October of 1918, that his plane collided with another being flown by a fellow student flier and both men were killed. Less than one month after the fatal accident, the War was over. Burr was one of five Major League players to lose their lives in WWI and he is the only member of the Yankee All-Time roster to have made the supreme sacrifice.