January 19 – Happy Birthday Jeff Juden
One of the amazing things about the on-the-field dominance of the Yankee teams during the late nineties was the fact that off-the-field, the franchise’s player personnel decision making process was in disarray. I like to call the reason for that disarray “the Boss’s Tale of Two Cities.” The ball club George Steinbrenner owned played in New York but he lived and made his base of operations in Tampa, Florida. The Yankee GM and Manager were based in the Big Apple while the team’s administrative personnel, including Steinbrenner’s unofficial cabinet of baseball advisors operated out of the central Florida city. The eccentric Yankee owner loved to create conflict among his upper-echelon staff because he felt it fostered a competition to out-do each other and keep everyone in line. But if you asked Brian Cashman and Joe Torre if they enjoyed fighting every Yankee player move with a bunch of George’s yes men located 1,500 miles away, you’d have received a much different opinion.
A classic example of this two-headed management battle is today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, pitcher Jeff Juden. A 1989 first round draft pick of the Houston Astros, the 6 foot 8 inch, 265 pound right-hander had pitched for seven different teams during his first seven big league seasons. One of the reasons this Salem, Massachusetts native was hiring moving vans every season was because he was purportedly not a nice guy. Prior to him signing as a free agent with the Yankees in February of 1999, Juden had a long history of not getting along with opponents on the field or teammates in his own clubhouse. It has been alleged that when Juden was pitching for Montreal in 1996, some Expo players actually told management they would no longer play if Juden wasn’t banished from the team. The Expos got rid of him, even though he had an 11-5 record at the time. But as George Steinbrenner’s on-again, off-again love affair with the cantankerous Billy Martin had proven, the Boss had a special place in his heart for fight-loving trouble-makers and the Yankees signed Juden.
The pitcher was assigned to New York’s triple A Columbus affiliate to begin the 1999 season. Sure enough, he got into trouble in his new clubhouse almost immediately in an incident with Clipper teammate, Andy Stankiewicz. His on-the-field performance was nothing to write home about either. In 26 starts with Columbus, he was 11-12 with a 5.56 ERA. Despite it all, Juden was promoted to the big league roster that September, with the Yanks still battling the Red Sox for the AL East flag. It became apparent to the Yankee press pool that the huge hurler’s ascension had been the decision of the Tampa-side of Yankee management, when Torre responded to their questions about the new arrival by telling reporters he didn’t know why the pitcher was there because neither he or Yankee M Cashman had requested him.
Juden’s only start as a Yankee was ruined by an error by first baseman Jim Leyritz that led to five unearned runs and an 0-1 lifetime Yankee record for the controversial pitcher. Ironically, the Tampa committee had convinced Steinbrenner the Yankees should reacquire Leyritz earlier that same season over the objections of both Torre and Cashman. The Tampa connection brought Juden back for spring training the following season but it was no surprise to any one that Torre chose to go north without him. The Yankees released him and after a few more years of trying to regain his form and control his temper in the minors, he retired with a 27-32 lifetime record.
The only other Yankee born on this date is this long-ago outfielder.