August 9 – Happy Birthday Fred Sanford
In my lifetime, there have been numerous Yankee starting pitching acquisitions that were considered “big busts” after joining my favorite team. There were many instances when I disagreed with how big of a bust the guy was in pinstripes but when a long-time Yankee fan like me hears names like, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, Eddie Whitson, and just about every starting pitcher the Bronx Bombers traded for during the decade of the 1980’s, the phrase “disappointing as a Yankee” comes to mind. The very first “disappointing as a Yankee” pitcher I can remember was the big Dodger right-hander, Stan Williams, who New York got for Moose Skowron in a 1963 trade. Yankee fans were told he was going to become a consistent 20-game winner in New York. Williams ended up winning a total of just ten games over the next two seasons before he was traded to Cleveland.
What is often overlooked when a pitcher performs poorly in Pinstripes by both merciless Yankee fans and the even more merciless Yankee media, is the toll it takes on these guys. Professional athletes are dependent on confidence and when that confidence is shaken by persistent boos and bad press, it can be mentally devastating. That’s why today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant called the two full seasons he pitched for the Yankees “the worst two years of my life!”
The Yankees wanted Fred Sanford badly. The young right hander had made the St Louis Browns starting rotation two years after returning from service in the Pacific during WWII and though he led the league with 21 losses in 1948, lots of scouts loved his stuff and thought he’d be a big winner on a better club than the lowly Browns. The Yankees agreed and gave up $100,000 and a package of three decent prospects to bring Sanford to New York, just before Christmas in 1948.
Sanford’s 1949 inaugural season in New York was also Casey Stengel’s debut year as Yankee manager. The Old Perfessor had the luxury of inheriting three of the best starting pitchers ever to appear in the same rotation, in Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat. That left Stengel with one decision to make. Who would be the team’s fourth starter? Casey went with a left-hander, Tommy Byrne and put Sanford in the bullpen, using him for spot starts and long relief.
The Utah native actually did pretty well in that role. He went 7-3 in 29 appearances with a 3.87 ERA. That ’49 Yankee team did even better. They won the AL Pennant and the World Series. But Sanford didn’t get to throw a single pitch in that 1949 Series and after he went 5-4 as a spot starter again the following season, he didn’t get to pitch in the 1950 Fall Classic against the Phillies either. And though he was on the mound at the end of Yankee games 23 times during his first two years in New York, not one of those appearances was in a save situation. It was clear Stengel lacked confidence in the pitcher and the fans and press piled on. When New York Daily News’ columnist, Joe Trimble described Sanford as the Yankees’ “$100,000 Lemon” the label stuck and the pitcher’s days in the Bronx were numbered.
Those days ended on June 15, 1951, after Sanford had started his third Yankee season with an 0-3 record and experienced his first blown save under Stengel. The Yanks traded their deflated hurler to the Senators in a deal that brought reliever Bob Kuzava to the Bronx.
|SLB (5 yrs)||23||42||.354||4.42||91||66||14||21||3||6||472.1||499||254||232||42||203||158||1.486|
|NYY (3 yrs)||12||10||.545||4.18||66||25||13||5||0||0||234.2||218||124||109||20||161||115||1.615|
|WSH (1 yr)||2||3||.400||6.57||7||7||0||0||0||0||37.0||51||27||27||5||27||12||2.108|