I don’t remember what my exact reaction was back in July of 2004, when I learned that the Yankees had traded Jose Contreras for this tall Mexican right hander, but I don’t think I was too disappointed. Loaiza was coming off a twenty-one win season with the White Sox in 2003 and was 9-5 thus far in 2004 when he became a Yankee. In addition to sending Contreras to the Windy City, New York also had to include lots of cash. Although Contreras had not been a total bust in New York, Steinbrenner had spent over $30 million to outbid the Red Sox for the Cuban defector and the Yankee front office predicted he was ready to win big at the big league level, right away. When that didn’t happen, disappointed Yankee fans started booing and Contreras’ $8.5 million annual salary became an even heavier albatross around New York’s neck. So the Yankees jumped at the chance to replace the Cuban with Loaiza who’s annual salary was $4 million at the time.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, they jumped a bit to soon and the White Sox ended up getting the best part of the deal by a country mile. Loaiza went just 1-2 in pinstripes the rest of that 2004 season and got absolutely hammered in most of his starts. New York released him that October. Contreras would go on to find his bearings at US Cellular Field. In 2005, Jose went 15-7 and then 3-1 in the postseason to help the White Sox capture their first World Series title in over 70 years. Loaiza actually rebounded to pitch well for the Nationals in 2005 and did OK with the A’s in 2006. He’s been out of the big leagues since 2008 and had a 126-114 lifetime record during his 14-season career with eight different big league clubs.
Another Yankee born on the last day of the year was this pitcher who lost the final game of the 1955 World series to Brooklyn.
Since no current or former Yankees are born on today’s date, I thought it would be an appropriate time to review the Pinstripe Birthday Blog’s five favorite moments of the Yankees’ 2012 season.
Number 1 – Rafael Soriano replacing Mariano Rivera as the Yankee Closer - In my humble opinion, Soriano deserves to be acknowledged as the Most Valuable Yankee of the 2012 season. Originally skipped over as Rivera’s replacement in favor of David Robertson, all this guy did was save 42 games in 46 chances from May 10th onward and shockingly make this impossible to believe statement true; “If Mariano Rivera was injured in May and couldn’t pitch another game this season, the Yankees would not miss him at all.”
Number 2 – Derek Jeter leads all of baseball in regular season hits with 216 - The Captain may not be immortal but a hits title and batting .316 as a 38-year-old cements his super hero status in my book. He has been a phenomenal Yankee and we are so lucky to have had this opportunity to watch him play the game at his level for so long.
Number 3 – Raul Ibanez ties Game 3 of the ALDS -He pinch hits for a struggling A-Rod in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS versus Baltimore and homers against the Major League saves leader Jim Johnson to tie the game.
Number 4 – Ibanez wins Game 3 of the ALDS – with a twelfth-inning walk-off home run off of Baltimore’s Brian Matusz.
Number 5 - Ibanez’s walk-off HR versus the Red Sox on October 2 - With the Yankees’ AL East lead over Baltimore down to just a half game, Raul Ibanez hit a walk-off home run against the Boston Red Sox reliever, Andrew Miller. The Yankees would win the next day and clinch the AL East division flag.
Honorable Mentions - Andy Pettitte’s return to the rotation; Curtis Granderson becoming the first Yankee outfielder since Babe Ruth to put together back-to-back 40-home run-100 RBI seasons; Robbie Cano going 24-43 (.558) during the last nine games of the 2012 regular season, driving in 15 runs and scoring 11 during that span to help New York hold-off the Orioles in the Division race.
Five members of the Yankee all-time roster passed away in 2012.
Bill “Moose” Skowron
Born: December 18, 1930
Died: April 27, 2012
Years with Yankees: 9 – 1954-1962
Born: June 16, 1923
Died: April 2, 2012
Years with Yankees: 1 – 1947
Born: May 17, 1952
Died: November 1, 2012
Years with Yankees: 2 – 1990-1991
It would have been nice to have had this big guy in pinstripes at the beginning of this past decade instead of toward the end of it. He hit 306 home runs during his dozen seasons in the big leagues. They included two 45-home run seasons with the Brewers and six years of driving in over 100 runs. But only one of those home runs and just six RBIs were produced after the Mariners released him in June of 2008 and the Yankees picked him up. I remember thinking it was a good acquisition at the time, hoping the then 33-year-older would be rejuvenated by the pinstripes and motivated to possibly play himself into contention to replace New York’s Jason Giambi, who’s contract was expiring that season. But Sexson, who was also in the final year of a $50 million deal he had signed with Seattle, never really got it going during his short stay in the Bronx, becoming just another move that didn’t work out during New York’s very disappointing 2008 season.
For the first four years of his big league career, Bill Hall was a utility infielder for the Milwaukee Brewers who, despite his propensity to swing at bad pitches showed decent offensive potential. The native of Tupelo, Mississippi got a break when JJ Hardy, Milwaukee’s starting shortstop was injured for much of the 2006 season. Manager Ned Yost gave the job to Hall and he responded with a 35 home run, 85 RBI, .899 OPS breakout year. That performance earned him a four year $24 million contract with the Brew Crew and since he signed it, Mr. Hall’s HR, RBI and OPS numbers have been on a steady downward trend.
By August of 2009, he was hitting just .201 for Milwaukee when he was traded to the Mariners for a minor league pitcher. The following January, Seattle sent him to Boston for first baseman Casey Kotchman. The Red Sox let him walk him after the 2010 season and the Astros took an expensive gamble by signing him to a $3 million one year deal. It proved to be a bad bet. By June of the 2011 season, Hall was hitting just .224 for Houston and was released. He finished that year with the Giants.
Then in February of 2012, Brian Cashman was on the hunt for a right-hand hitting DH and he gave Hall a minor league deal that included an invitation to make New York’s big league roster with a good spring training performance. Throughout the exhibition season, Hall insisted he was impressing the Yankee brass enough to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster but his .212 batting average and his 11 strikeouts in 33 at bats did not correspond well to that level of optimism. The Yanks released him at the end of the camp so he could try and catch on with another big league team and he did sign with Baltimore, three weeks later.
Hall’s name is being mentioned again this offseason as a possible Yankee spring-training invitee. He shares his birthday with a former Gold Glove third baseman, who unlike Hall, did see a bit of regular season action as a Yankee.
When Joe Girardi made a pitching change in the bottom of the eighth inning with the Yankees trailing by five runs in a September 27th game against Tampa in 2012, there was only one thing especially noteworthy about the move. It marked the first time in two years and eight days that David Aardsma made an appearance in a big league ball game. The six foot three inch, right-handed native of Denver had been one of the American League’s most effective closers, saving 69 games for the Mariners during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, when he injured both his left hip and his right shoulder, requiring surgery on both joints.
The Yankees signed him during the 2012 preseason knowing he might never pitch an inning for them. New York GM, Brian Cashman called the signing and “R&D move,” At the time, Mariano Rivera was hinting around that 2012 might be his final season and the Yanks were looking at Aardsma as a possible set-up guy for the 2013 season, taking over either David Robertson’s or Raffie Soriano’s slot, depending upon which of the two succeeded the great Rivera as the new Yankee closer. Cashman gave Aardsma a $500,000 one year deal with incentives and an option for a second season.
In a twist of fate, it is Soriano who won’t be pitching in New York in 2013, after he exercised an option in his contract and became a free agent after a superb 2012 season as Yankee closer. Rivera than announced he will be returning in 2013 and the Yanks have exercised their option on Aardsma and are bringing him back as well. In about five or six months we will know if Cashman’s R&D investment returns any big league dividends. Aardsma’s situation brings back memories of Jon Lieber. The Yankees signed the former Cub and 20-game winner in 2003 knowing he would miss that entire year recovering from arm surgery. Lieber than won 14 games as a starter for New York in 2004. Will Aardsma be another Lieber? Yankee fans certainly hope so.
Jay Tessmer was a tall, Pennsylvania-born, 19th-round Yankee draft-choice in 1995, who had the misfortune of being one of the organization’s top bullpen prospects during an era when New York’s bullpen featured Mo Rivera, Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson and Ramiro Mendoza. So even though the side-arming former University of Miami reliever saved 176 games in the minors, he couldn’t pitch well enough to become a permanent part of the parent club’s bullpen during the prime years of his career.
He got his first call-up to the Bronx in August of the 1998 season, when both Stanton and Mendoza were hurting and he enjoyed immediate success. Joe Torre had used all of his available stalwart relievers in a Thursday night game against the Angels and the score was tied 5-5 going into the top of the eleventh inning. He called on Tessmer, who had just arrived from Columbus that same day to take the mound. The 26-year-old retired the three hitters he faced, striking out both Phil Nevin and Darin Erstad in the process. In the bottom of the inning, Bernie Williams hit a walk-off double, driving in Derek Jeter and Tessmer had a win in his big league and Yankee debut. That would be his first and last big league victory and his only career decision. He would get three more shots during the 1999, 2000 and ’02 seasons but fail to stick more than seven games in any of them.
Tessmer shares his day-after-Christmas birthday with this former first baseman who hit one of the most dramatic home runs in Yankee franchise history.
Only two New York Yankees have led the American League in stolen bases three times while wearing pinstripes and both celebrate their birthdays on Christmas day. Today’s birthday celebrant accomplished it in consecutive seasons beginning in 1931.
Chapman began his big league career in 1930, when Bob Shawkey made the rookie the Yankees’ starting third baseman. The Nashville native had a terrific first year, hitting .316 and driving in 81 runs. When Joe McCarthy took over as New York manager the following season, he switched Chapman to left field, where he teamed with Babe Ruth and Earle Combs to give the Yankees one of their best outfields in franchise history. Chapman was more than just a base-stealer. He drove in 327 runs during the next three seasons while the Bambino had 403 RBIs of his own during that same span. Chapman later replaced Combs as the Yankee starting center fielder.
During his seven seasons in the Bronx, Chapman averaged .305 and played great defensively. So why did the Yankees trade such a talented ballplayer to the Senators for a guy named Jake Powell just before the midway point of the 1936 season? There were actually two reasons. The first was a young center fielder named Joe DiMaggio, who showed up in the Bronx in 1936. But perhaps the biggest reason Chapman was dealt was because he also happened to be one of the meanest and most unfriendly Yankees to ever put on the uniform. He got into fights with everybody, umpires, opponents, teammates, it didn’t matter who. He insulted Babe Ruth, was suspended for hitting an umpire and told his first wife he wanted a divorce just two months after they were married. Worst of all, Chapman was also considered by many to be a vocal racist and an anti-semite. And he must of got meaner as he got older because once the Yankees got rid of him, Chapman was traded seven more times during the next dozen years. His meanest and lowest moments came after he retired as a player when in 1947, while he was manager of the Phillies, Chapman became infamous for his relentless and unusually cruel hazing of the great Jackie Robinson.
Chapman was definitely the Yankee Grinch who stole a lot of bases.
You can read about the Yankees’ other Christmas Day-born base-stealing champion here.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to any and all readers of the Pinstripe Birthdays Blog.
This big right-hander was coming off the worst season in his 14-year big league career, when the Yankees signed the Gastonia, North Carolina native to a free agent minor-league contract just before the 2011 season opened. Millwood’s 4-16 record with the Orioles in 2010 had scared away most big league teams but his 159 lifetime wins and the uncertainty of New York’s own starting rotation convinced Brian Cashman to grab the former NL All Star and hold him in reserve. The Yanks assigned Millwood to their Scranton-Wilkes Barre Triple A team. If either Freddie Garcia or Bartolo Colon had failed to perform for the parent club during the opening weeks of the 2011 season, New York intended to use Millwood as their replacement.
Millwood pitched well during his opening month in the minors but both Colon and Garcia were doing likewise with the Yankees. Instead of waiting around for circumstances to change, Millwood chose to opt out of his Yankee contract and sign with the Red Sox. By that August, Millwood was 7-2 for the season in Triple A but with no hope of getting called up by the Red Sox either. When the Rockies were looking for a starter, he got Boston to release him and he ended up in Colorado’s rotation during the last two months of the 2011 regular season, going 4-3. He pitched the 2012 season with the Mariners.
The only member of the Yankee all-time roster who actually played for the big league club is this former outfielder who lived to be 100 years-old.
Back when I first became a Yankee fan, the team was in the final six years of a glorious 45 year run that author Peter Golenbock would later so aptly describe with the title of his excellent book “Dynasty.” The Bronx Bombers had dominated baseball during that era, not just with pennants and World Series, but also with record-breaking individual accomplishments. We had Babe Ruth and his home runs, Lou Gehrig and his games played streak, Joe D’s 56-straight and in 1961, the M&M boy’s glorious race to destiny. The Yankee strategy for winning had not changed since the spitball was outlawed, umpires began replacing balls that had been scuffed or gotten dirty and Ruth arrived in New York. The team lived and died by the three-run home-run. Yankee fans considered any form of small-ball to be a sacrilege and as a result, though lightening-quick Yankees like the great Mantle could have stolen 50 bases a year, they didn’t have to. Their orders were to get on a base and stay there until somebody else drove them in. Why on earth argue with success, right?
Well to tell you the truth, the fact that my Yankees were dead last in the American League in stolen bases during their glorious 1961 season bugged the heck out of me. They swiped a base just 28 times that season, 72 fewer than the league-leading Chicago White Sox, who had the great base-stealer, Luis Aparicio on their team at the time. “Little Louie” would turn a single or base-on-balls into a double about fifty times a year and I can remember thinking that as much as I loved Tony Kubek, if the Yankees traded him for Aparicio, it would propel New York to the top of the league’s stolen base chart. It never dawned on me of course that the Yankee offense had no need for stolen bases at the time or that the White Sox wouldn’t have traded their superlative shortstop and future Hall-of-Famer for six Tony Kubek’s.
While waiting for the Aparicio-for-Kubek deal to be consummated, I also remember coming across a list of all-time team records in my Yankee yearbook at the time and finding the name “Fritz Maisel” listed for most steals in a season. In 1914, this native of Catonsville, Maryland set both the big league and the Yankee team record by stealing 74 bases for New York. Ty Cobb would make short-work of Maisel’s league record by breaking it the following season, but those 74 steals by the former third-baseman would remain the all-time single-season mark for the Yanks until Ricky Henderson surpassed it in 1985 with his 80 steals.
Maisel may have been able to break his own record and become one of the great base-stealers in league history. In 1915, he followed up his record-breaking stolen-base season by hitting a career-high .281 and stealing 51 more. But in 1916, he hurt his throwing shoulder and could no longer make the throw from third-to-first. When his shoulder didn’t improve, the Yanks went out and got Frank “Home Run” Baker to play third and tried playing Maisel at second, where the strength of his throwing arm would matter less. The switch failed and not just because of his sore arm. Maisel’s bat also failed him. He hit just .198 during his final season as a Yankee in 1917 and was traded to the Browns. By the way, Ricky Henderson broke his own Yankee single-season stolen-base mark with his 93 steals in 1988, which remains the franchise standard.