May 14 – Happy Birthday Dave LaRoche
The Yankees signed Dave LaRoche ten days after the start of the strike-shortened 1981 season. The left-hander had been released by the California Angels two and a half weeks earlier. When he joined the Yanks, he had eleven big league seasons already on his resume, during which he had established himself as a better than average reliever.
His first year in pinstripes was his best as he went 4-1 with a 2.49 ERA and pitched an inning of scoreless relief for New York in the 1981 World Series. I often refer to that 1981 season as George Steinbrenner’s tipping point as a Yankee owner. The players strike coupled with the Yankee defeat to the Dodgers in that year’s Fall Classic seemed to turn the Boss from a hard-to-work for egomaniac into an impossible to please tyrant. Under his complete control, the Yankee front office began making a series of spur-of-the-moment personnel decisions that undermined the team’s field management and filled the roster with anxiety.
Laroche became a victim of that calamity in 1982, when he began being bounced back and forth between the Bronx and Columbus, as the Yankee front office made roster moves with alarming frequency. Despite all the frequent flier miles, the Colorado Springs native continued to pitch effectively for New York, compiling a 4-2 record in his second season with the team. But even LaRoche had limits. When the team tried to send him back to Triple A at the end of the ’83 exhibition season, LaRoche quit instead. At the time his wife was undergoing a very difficult pregnancy and LaRoche wanted a guarantee that if he did go to Columbus, he could remain with the Clippers until the baby was born. When the Yankees refused that request, LaRoche left baseball to be with his wife.
Unable to land a steady job, LaRoche contacted the Yankees after the baby’s birth to see if they still wanted him to pitch for the organization. He returned for one final go-round in 1983, appearing in seven games for Columbus and just one for the parent club.
I remember LaRoche’s Yankee days very well, primarily because he frequently threw a slow, high arching eephus pitch his Yankee teammates had nicknamed La Lob. After he finished his pitching career, the Yankees hired him as a minor league pitching coach and he has spent the last quarter century working in that role for a number of minor league teams. He is also the father of two big league players. They are the Washington National’s slugging first baseman Adam LaRoche and the former Dodger and Pirate infielder, Andy LaRoche.
|CAL (6 yrs)||35||32||.522||3.65||304||10||170||1||0||65||512.1||462||223||208||51||204||386||1.300|
|CLE (3 yrs)||8||9||.471||2.51||135||0||95||0||0||42||197.1||133||64||55||10||113||216||1.247|
|NYY (3 yrs)||8||3||.727||3.12||52||1||30||0||0||0||98.0||94||37||34||8||27||55||1.235|
|CHC (2 yrs)||9||7||.563||5.17||94||4||43||0||0||9||146.1||158||91||84||16||76||83||1.599|
|MIN (1 yr)||5||7||.417||2.83||62||0||43||0||0||10||95.1||72||33||30||9||39||79||1.164|