March 7th, 2013
When Dallas Green took over as Yankee manager after the 1988 season he told New York’s front office that the Yankee pitching staff had grown ancient and he wanted some good young arms added to the roster. Bob Quinn, the Yankee GM complied by sending slugger Jack Clark to San Diego for a promising young starting pitcher named Jimmy Jones and a hard-throwing right-handed reliever named Lance McCullers. Mission accomplished, right?
Nope. Ten months later, New York was about to disappear from the AL East Division race, Jones was pitching in Columbus, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had an ERA over five and Green, who knew he was about to be fired, was probably wishing he still had Clark who was well on his way to a 26 HR, 94 RBI first-year performance with the Padres.
McCullers was a native of Tampa, Florida who had been a second-round draft pick of the Phillies in 1982. The Padres got him in a multi-player deal in 1984 and brought him right up to the big leagues in ’85. He had pitched impressively during his four years in San Diego for some pretty mediocre Padre teams and since he was only 25-years-old when the Yankees got him, it really did look like he’d be a valuable asset in New York’s bullpen for a long time to come.
But according to Green, McCullers still hadn’t learned how to pitch. The Yankee skipper told the media his new reliever depended to heavily on his fastball and unless he started throwing his slider and change up more, Green insisted his reliever would never be a successful big league pitcher. McCullers did at least outlast Green as a Yankee.
He went 4-3 during his one and only full season in pinstripes. He also earned 3 saves and had an ERA of 4.57. Things were definitely looking better for McCullers as he approached his second year in the Big Apple. Green had been replaced by Bucky Dent as Yankee skipper and during the 1989 offseason, the Yankees signed Lance to a new contract and gave him a $170,000 raise. But almost as soon as the 1990 regular season began, McCullers name was being bandied about in all kinds of trade rumors. Those rumors became true in early June, when the reliever was traded to the Tigers for catcher Matt Nokes. He would end that year pitching in the minors and after one more five-game stint with the Texas Rangers in 1992, McCullers big league career was over at the age of 28. His son Lance was the Houston Astros first round pick in the 2012 MLB amateur draft.
It certainly was not one of the better trades in Yankee franchise history. Goose Gossage had just bolted the Bronx Zoo via free agency and George Steinbrenner’s front-office minions were desperately seeking candidates to replace him. As is usually the case when teams are desperate, New York made a deal they would later regret. Mike Armstrong was a tall, right-hander from Long Island who had pitched well enough for the University of Miami to become the Cincinnati Reds’ first round pick (24th overall) in the 1974 MLB amateur draft. Five years later, while still in the minors, he was traded to the Padres for an outfielder named Paul O’Neill. After a couple of unimpressive big league trials with the Padres, Armstrong was sold to the Royals, where he quickly evolved into an effective member of the supporting staff of Kansas City’s All Star closer, Dan Quisenberry. He had his best season in 1983, when he went 10-7 in 53 appearances, with 3 saves and an ERA of 3.86.
Those numbers caught the attention of the Yankees and they wanted Armstrong badly enough that they agreed to give the Royals their young slugging prospect, Steve Balboni, in exchange. The trade was completed in December of 1983 and a few short weeks later, Armstrong reported to his first Yankee spring training camp with a sore pitching arm. As it turned out, the Royals had actually told the New York front office that Armstrong had a tender elbow before finalizing the deal, but the now Goose-less Yankees shrugged off the news. They would quickly regret their lack of follow-up.
Turned out that in addition to a glove, his spikes and a ball, Armstrong needed a steady diet of cortisone injections and anti-inflammatory pills in order to take the mound. His right elbow was so bad that the Yankees actually asked the MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to look into the possibility that the Royals had knowingly dealt them damaged goods. Kuhn never issued a ruling on the case and Armstrong didn’t make his Yankee debut until the middle of June of the 1984 season. He didn’t pitch badly. He went 3-2 during the second half, appearing in 36 games, with 1 save and a 3.48 ERA. But during the next two years he would only pitch in a total of 16 big league games before being released by New York. Fortunately for the Yankees they did not need to depend on Armstrong to replace Gossage because Dave Righetti proved to be more than up for that challenge. Unfortunately for New York, the guy they gave up for Armstrong would hit 117 home runs during his first four seasons with the Royals. Armstrong for Balboni turned out to be a terrible trade for the Yankees.
Armstrong shares his March 7th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder.
|NYY (3 yrs)||3||3||.500||4.06||52||1||27||0||0||1||77.2||69||35||35||14||33||62||1.313|
|KCR (2 yrs)||15||12||.556||3.51||110||0||58||0||0||9||215.1||174||98||84||20||88||127||1.217|
|SDP (2 yrs)||0||2||.000||5.81||21||0||7||0||0||0||26.1||30||19||17||4||24||23||2.051|
|CLE (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||8.68||14||0||2||0||0||1||18.2||27||18||18||4||10||9||1.982|