February 6 – Happy Birthday Bob Wickman
I was a fan of Bob Wickman, even if I couldn’t remember his name. Both my sons were avid Yankee rooters growing up and we used to spend many a summer evening sitting in front of our family room television, watching Bronx Bomber games together during the early 1990’s. Whenever a Yankee pitcher began struggling, I’d say to my boys, “They ought to bring in Wickham.” Both Matt and Mike would scream in unison, “Its Wick-MAN Dad, not Wick-HAM!”
This right-handed native of Green Bay, WI was originally a second round draft choice of the Chicago White Sox in 1990. Two years later, the Yankees acquired him, Melido Perez and another minor league pitcher named Domingo Jean in exchange for second baseman, Steve Sax. New York GM Gene Michael was desperate for pitching at the time and he was hoping Perez would become a solid long-time member of the Yankees’ starting rotation. But “the Stick” also liked Wickman a lot as a prospect and was thinking he’d be ready to contribute some wins at the Major League level two years down the road. It happened a lot faster than that.
One guy who didn’t like the deal was Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. He lambasted his GM publicly for getting too little in return for Sax, who had been New York’s only .300 hitter the season before. But it was Michael who was proven right, when Perez developed into the Yankees best starter during that 1992 season while Sax’s batting average was plunging to .234 in the Windy City. Making the trade an even bigger-time win for the Bronx Bombers was Wickman’s surprisingly good 6-1 record after being called up that August and inserted into manager Buck Showalter’s starting rotation.
Wickman had lost part of the index finger of his pitching hand in a childhood farming accident. He credited that partially missing digit as the reason his sinker ball sank so dramatically. He really had that pitch working during his second year in pinstripes, as he went 14-4 over 41 games, including 19 starts. Showalter than converted him into a full-time reliever and he became a workhorse for New York in that role over the next three seasons, appearing in 174 games during that span.
There were times during his years with the Yankees that he struggled with his control and had stretches during which he surrendered a rash of home-runs but for the most part Wickman pitched effectively in the pinstripes. That’s why I can clearly remember being disappointed in late August of 1996, when I first heard the news that the Yanks had traded him and outfielder Gerald Williams to the Brewers for utility man Pat Listach and reliever Graeme Lloyd. Wickman had been a big reason why the Yankees found themselves heading for the AL East crown that season and he was well-liked by his New York teammates. The deal prevented him from pitching in the 1996 World Series but he did receive a World Series ring for his contribution.
By 1998, he had worked himself into the closer’s role with the Brewers. He went on to accumulate over 250 saves during the final nine seasons of his pitching career, including a league-leading 45 with the Indians in 2005.
|CLE (6 yrs)||8||16||.333||3.23||255||0||215||0||0||139||248.1||249||98||89||21||78||197||1.317|
|NYY (5 yrs)||31||14||.689||4.21||223||28||56||1||1||11||419.1||432||212||196||31||183||259||1.467|
|MIL (5 yrs)||21||25||.457||3.20||272||0||174||0||0||79||315.0||292||128||112||23||148||267||1.397|
|ATL (2 yrs)||3||5||.375||2.84||77||0||65||0||0||38||69.2||72||29||22||5||22||60||1.349|
|ARI (1 yr)||0||1||.000||1.35||8||0||1||0||0||0||6.2||6||2||1||0||1||2||1.050|