Up until the 2009 World Series, one of my most frequent Yankee related “What if…” questions was “What if the Yankees never traded Alfonso Soriano for A-Rod.” Then A-Rod finally put together an outstanding postseason that year and led my favorite team to its 27th World Championship. At the same time, Soriano had just struggled through his third straight regular season as a Cub and had been horrible in the two postseasons he played in for Chicago. So I stopped playing the “What if…” game.
Since that 2009 World Series however, A-Rod has emphatically confirmed all of his maddening insecurities that negatively impact his play and make it so hard to root for him. Soriano, on the other hand, has taken advantage of an unexpected return trip to the Bronx to remind us all of just how amazing a ballplayer he can be when he goes on one of his patented “hot streaks.” So I again find myself asking the question, “what if that trade in February of 2004 had never been made?”
If the deal never went down, worst case scenario would be that the Yanks would have failed to win that 2009 title. Rodriguez also put some monster years together during his time in pinstripes especially in ’05 and ’07 so you have to wonder if without him, New York might have missed postseason play all-together in a couple of those seasons. But Soriano’s body of work during that same period of time was not too shabby either and don’t forget the Yanks would have probably used the many extra millions they paid A-Rod to sign at least one other impact free agent. The biggest benefit of getting rid of Soriano was that it opened up the opportunity for Robbie Cano to become New York’s starting second baseman. If you remember, when Soriano was traded to the Nationals from Texas, he fought Washington’s desire to move him from second base to the outfield. Knowing how the Yanks operate, the chances are pretty good they would have dealt a young Cano to another organization because they would have kept Soriano at second.
Oh well, we will never really know the true consequences but it’s fun to surmise. Meanwhile, Soriano turns 38-years-old today and is once again being counted on to help New York win a World Series. The Yankee brain-trust had to force GM Brian Cashman to make the deal with the Cubs that brought this native Dominican back to New York in late July of the 2013 season and thank God they did. At the time the Yankee offense was sinking like the Titanic in the AL East pennant race. Soriano desperately wanted to wear the pinstripes again and willingly waived the no-trade clause in his Cubs contract to make it happen. Then he went out and put the Yankee lineup on his back and just about single-handedly kept the team in contention for fall ball up until the final few weeks of the regular season.
With the free agent signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, Soriano’s role in the Yankees’ 2014 plans remains unclear. They have a glut of outfielders and DH’s on their current roster. But I’m hoping he gets a chance to start somewhere in the Yankee lineup because I don’t want to ask myself any more “What if the Yankees had kept Alfonso Soriano” questions.
|1998||Did not play in major leagues (Did Not Play)|
|CHC (7 yrs)||889||3696||3403||469||898||218||13||181||526||70||245||829||.264||.317||.495||.812|
|NYY (6 yrs)||559||2393||2229||363||627||132||10||115||320||129||112||497||.281||.323||.504||.827|
|TEX (2 yrs)||301||1340||1245||179||341||75||6||64||195||48||66||246||.274||.316||.498||.814|
|WSN (1 yr)||159||728||647||119||179||41||2||46||95||41||67||160||.277||.351||.560||.911|
I remember being somewhat excited by the news that the Yankees had acquired Kittle in a trade with the White Sox, after the 1986 All Star break. He had been named AL Rookie of the Year just three seasons earlier, when he belted 35 home runs and drove in 100 for Chicago. Even though he was a right-handed hitter who would not be able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, the guy had impressive power and I thought he’d make a decent contribution if then Yankee Manager, Lou Piniella could find a place to play him. That turned out to be the problem. Piniella had too many DHs and outfielders on his roster already and he couldn’t give Kittle the volume of at bats streaky hitters like him needed to get hot. What the Yankees really needed back then was starting pitchers. I still can’t believe a Yankee lineup that featured Dave Winfield, Ricky Henderson and Donnie Baseball, all in their primes, never made it to the postseason. Ron did play the entire 1987 season with New York, getting in 59 games and hitting 12 home runs but the Yankees ended up releasing him after that season. Kittle was born in Gary, Indiana on January 5, 1958.
|CHW (8 yrs)||657||2433||2183||292||517||83||3||140||374||14||201||606||.237||.307||.470||.777|
|NYY (2 yrs)||89||262||239||29||63||7||0||16||40||2||17||59||.264||.309||.494||.803|
|CLE (1 yr)||75||254||225||31||58||8||0||18||43||0||16||65||.258||.323||.533||.856|
|BAL (1 yr)||22||64||61||4||10||2||0||2||3||0||2||14||.164||.203||.295||.498|
Luis Sojo was one of my favorite Yankees. He had that wonderful ability to sit on the bench for most of a game and then grab his glove and instantly make a difficult play look easy from any infield position. I also would get a kick out of his rumpled appearance in a Yankee uniform, which always reminded me sort of the way Yogi Berra looked in pinstripes. The Yankees first got him off waivers from Seattle during the 1996 season and the following year, the native Venezuelan took over the starting second base position from Mariano Duncan. When the Yankees acquired Chuck Knoblauch from the Twins to play second in 1998, Sojo became the team’s reliable utility infielder. After the 1999 season, Luis signed as a free agent with the Pirates but when Knoblauch’s strange throwing problems peaked, New York traded to get Sojo back in August of 2000, setting up his most magical moment as a Yankee. That came in the ninth inning of the fifth and final game of that season’s Subway Series. With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth, Sojo came to bat for the first time after being inserted to play second base in the previous inning. His ground ball single through the middle off of Al Leiter scored Jorge Posada from second. Scott Brosius also scored on the play when the throw home trying to nail Posada was way off the mark and the Yankees were once again World Champs. I was thrilled for Sojo. The guy won four rings as a Yankee. He then became New York’s third base coach for a couple of seasons and until last year, managed the Yankees Tampa Minor League club.
|NYY (7 yrs)||274||791||737||90||192||26||3||6||86||7||35||68||.261||.294||.328||.623|
|SEA (3 yrs)||242||861||799||102||209||35||5||14||77||8||41||57||.262||.300||.370||.671|
|CAL (2 yrs)||219||793||732||75||194||26||4||10||63||11||28||50||.265||.297||.352||.650|
|TOR (2 yrs)||52||139||127||19||26||5||0||1||15||1||9||7||.205||.255||.268||.523|
|PIT (1 yr)||61||189||176||14||50||11||0||5||20||1||11||16||.284||.328||.432||.760|
“Conie” joined the Yankees in 1995 and helped them reach postseason play in each of the six years he wore the pinstripes. A five-time All Star (twice as a Yankee), David had two 20-victory seasons during his 17 years in the big leagues and posted 21 shutouts. The year before he became a Yankee, he had been voted the AL Cy Young award-winner for his 16-5 season with the Royals. The Royals then traded him to the Blue Jays and Toronto traded him to New York after the 1995 All Star break for three Yankee prospects. Cone finished with a 64-40 record as a Yankee and 194-126 lifetime. His best year in New York was his 20-7 season in 1998. His absolute greatest moment in pinstripes occurred on July 18, 1999, when he pitched a perfect game against the Montreal Expos. Does anyone out there remember who made the last out of that game for the Expos? It was Expo shortstop Orlando Cabrera whose popup was caught in foul territory by Yankee third baseman, Scott Brosius.
Mr. Cone won a total of five World Series rings including four with the Yankees plus one with the Blue Jays in 1993. The right-hander had an overall 8-3 record in the postseason including his six wins and a loss in pinstriped fall ball.
Cone now is an analyst on Yes Network broadcasts of Yankee games. I like him in that role. When Jorge Posada was struggling with his reduced role with the 2011 Yankees, Cone talked about his own personal fight with the fact he could no longer play the game. His final Yankee season in 2000 had been the worst of his seventeen-year big league career, finishing with a 4-14 record and an ERA near seven. When the Yankees did not try to re-sign him, Cone signed with the Red Sox for $1 million and started for Boston during the 2001 season. He actually pitched pretty well for the Yankees’ arch-rivals, finishing the year with a 9-7 record. His best start of that season took place on the second day of September at Fenway Park against his old New York teammates in a classic pitchers’ duel between him and Mike Mussina. I remember watching every pitch of that game. Cone was brilliant for eight innings, striking out eight and holding New York scoreless until Enrique Wilson’s ground ball double scored Tino Martinez with one out in the top of the ninth. Mussina was even better, pitching a perfect game until Carl Everett, pinch-hitting for Red Sox catcher Bob Oliver singled with two outs in the ninth. Mussina won the game 1-0 but Cone proved once again that he was a warrior on the mound.
I thought he was gone for good after that season but he reappeared two years later in a Met uniform and won his first start of the 2003 season for the Amazin’s. But then he got hammered in his next three and finally called it quits for good. During that 2011 discussion about Posada coming to terms with the end of his playing career, Cone admitted he wished he had retired after his final year in pinstripes.
Also born on this date was this Yankee middle reliever who led the AL in appearances in 2006.
|NYM (7 yrs)||81||51||.614||3.13||187||169||4||34||15||1||1209.1||1011||472||421||91||431||1172||1.192|
|NYY (6 yrs)||64||40||.615||3.91||145||144||0||7||1||0||922.0||829||431||401||98||398||888||1.331|
|KCR (3 yrs)||27||19||.587||3.29||68||57||5||10||4||0||448.1||364||176||164||37||181||344||1.216|
|TOR (2 yrs)||13||9||.591||3.14||25||24||0||5||2||0||183.1||152||69||64||15||70||149||1.211|
|BOS (1 yr)||9||7||.563||4.31||25||25||0||0||0||0||135.2||148||74||65||17||57||115||1.511|
This bespectacled first baseman was born in Snohomish, Washington in 1924. He was not the first Earl born there to end up playing Major League Baseball and become known as the “The Earl of Snohomish.” That honor belonged to the hall of fame outfielder Earl Averill.
The young Earl will never get to Cooperstown but he was a solid big league player during his 15-season career. The best of those seasons was 1950, when he led the National League with 120 runs scored, hitting .290 and driving in 87 runs for the Braves, while the franchise was still in Boston. Earl played the final 22 games of his 1,600-game Major League career with the 1961 Yankees. He was a utility infielder for that great Ralph Houk managed team but was released at the end of August of that season after hitting just .091 in 33 pinstriped at bats. Instead of sending him to the unemployment line, the Yankees made Torgeson a coach.
Torgeson later got into politics back home in Snohomish. He died in Everett Washington in 1980, a victim of leukemia. Averill, the original Earl outlived Torgeson by almost three years but also passed away in the City of Everett.
Also born on New Years Day was this one-time Yankee fireballing phee-nom who graduated from Harvard, won a Bronze Star in WWII and walked away from the pinstripes for a career in banking.
|BSN (6 yrs)||720||3001||2476||428||657||116||19||82||377||80||478||294||.265||.385||.427||.812|
|CHW (5 yrs)||397||984||788||143||201||26||5||28||131||22||183||141||.255||.392||.407||.800|
|PHI (3 yrs)||293||1204||1019||150||277||52||17||17||135||16||160||129||.272||.370||.406||.776|
|DET (3 yrs)||236||831||668||124||181||21||5||22||97||15||151||86||.271||.400||.416||.817|
|NYY (1 yr)||22||26||18||3||2||0||0||0||0||0||8||3||.111||.385||.111||.496|
Tommy Byrne didn’t really have a nickname but if he did, it probably would have been “Wild Man.” This southpaw had a blazing fastball and a great biting curve but he had a real tough time throwing either of them over the plate with any consistency. Over his thirteen season big league career, the Baltimore native averaged just under seven walks for every nine innings he pitched, led the American League in that department three straight seasons and in one of them, 1951, he walked 150 batters in just 143 innings. And when Byrne didn’t walk a batter, chances were good that he’d hit him instead because the guy led the AL in hit batsmen five different times. So how did a pitcher who was so wild stay in the big leagues? There were two reasons really.
The first was that despite his aversion to the strike zone, Byrne would win games. He started pitching full time for the Yankees in 1948 and over the next three seasons his record was 38-21. He was a very effective fourth starter for New York, behind their legendary Raschi, Reynolds, Lopat triumvirate. The second reason the Yankees kept him was his ability to hit. Byrne was one of the best hitting pitchers in all of baseball. He averaged .326 in 1948 and .272 two seasons later. He was such a good stick that he was frequently used as a pinch hitter and actually had 80 pinch hits during his career.
So Manager Casey Stengel, Byrne’s Yankee teammates and even most Yankee fans would tolerate the left-handers mind-numbing spurts of wildness because he kept winning games and the team kept winning pennants in spite of them. Unfortunately for Byrne, the one guy who couldn’t tolerate it any longer turned out to be Yankee co-owner Dan Topping. On June 15th, 1951, Topping engineered a trade that sent Byrne to the Browns for another southpaw pitcher named Stubby Overmire. I read that Stengel was livid with Topping when he learned of the trade after it had already been consummated.
The Yankees didn’t miss Tommy at first because they still had the big three in their starting rotation along with a new young southpaw named Whitey Ford. Byrne, on the other hand did not find pitching for the lowly Browns anywhere near as enjoyable as pitching for the mighty Yankees. He went 11-24 during his two seasons in St. Louis and then was traded to the White Sox.
In addition to being wild, Byrne turned out to be pretty lucky too. By 1954, Raschi was gone and Reynolds and Lopat were nearing the end of their careers. Byrne in the mean time, had been sold by the White Sox to the Senators and then released. He spent most of the 1954 season pitching for Seattle in the PCL League, where he went 20-10 on the mound and hit .296 at the plate. That performance caught the attention of the Yankees and the then-34-year-old pitcher suddenly found himself back in pinstripes at the close of the 1954 season. The following year, Byrne rejoined the Yankees’ starting rotation and went 16-5 to lead the AL in winning percentage. He also pitched very well in the 1955 World Series against the Dodgers. Bryne got a complete-game 4-2 victory in Game 2 and also drove in the winning runs with his two-run single. He then held the Dodgers to just one run for five-plus innings of Game 7 before being lifted by Stengel in a game the Yankees would go on to lose.
Byrne pitched two more seasons for New York and then went back to college at Wake Forest. He ended his career with an 85-69 overall record and 72-40 as an eleven-year Yankee. He ended up getting into politics and served as Mayor of the college town for fifteen years. He passed away in 2007, at the age of 87. One of the things I learned about Byrne doing research for this post was that he was considered to be a flake. He was known for talking to opposing hitters during the game and according to Yogi Berra, Byrne’s chit chatting would drive all stars like Ted Williams and Al Rosen absolutely crazy. Often times, he would tell the hitter what pitch he was about to throw. The talking combined with his sharp biting curve ball and lack of control made Byrne Yogi’s choice as the toughest pitcher he ever had to catch.
Byrne shares his last-day-of-the-year birthday with this other former Yankee starting pitcher.
|NYY (11 yrs)||72||40||.643||3.93||221||118||65||42||10||12||993.2||799||480||434||74||763||592||1.572|
|SLB (2 yrs)||11||24||.314||4.35||48||41||7||21||2||0||318.2||286||173||154||21||226||148||1.607|
|WSH (1 yr)||0||5||.000||4.28||6||5||0||2||0||0||33.2||35||17||16||3||22||22||1.693|
|CHW (1 yr)||2||0||1.000||10.13||6||6||0||0||0||0||16.0||18||18||18||0||26||4||2.750|
The first A-Rod to play third base for the New York Yankees was born in Cananea, Mexico, in 1947. His 79 games in pinstripes during the 1980 and ’81 seasons, however, were just a blip in this defensive wizard’s seventeen-year big league career. Most of those years were spent playing the hot corner in the uniform of the Detroit Tigers. Lifetime, he was just a .236 hitter but he earned his paycheck with his remarkable glove and accurate arm. He won just one Gold Glove in 1976 but should have won a few more. Back then, American League managers and coaches were enamored with the much more celebrated Brooks Robinson at Gold Glove voting time. A-Rod hit .389 during the Yankee’s 1981 postseason run and was traded to the Blue Jays two months later.
He left the big leagues after the 1983 season and returned to play several more productive years in his native Mexico. He was treated as a National hero in his home country and after he was tragically struck and killed by an out-of-control driver while walking on a sidewalk during a visit to Detroit in September of 2000, thousands of Mexicans attended his funeral.
Rodriguez shares his birthday with this infielder, who signed a free agent contract with the Yankees but didn’t make their big league roster.
|DET (9 yrs)||1241||4649||4352||417||1040||193||31||85||423||13||207||589||.239||.274||.356||.631|
|CAL (4 yrs)||281||1051||977||81||232||32||6||9||80||6||54||151||.237||.278||.310||.588|
|NYY (2 yrs)||79||237||216||18||54||8||1||5||22||0||9||45||.250||.280||.366||.646|
|CHW (2 yrs)||140||298||277||25||66||16||1||4||32||0||11||38||.238||.270||.347||.616|
|WSA (1 yr)||142||596||547||64||135||31||5||19||76||15||37||81||.247||.300||.426||.726|
|SDP (1 yr)||89||183||175||7||35||7||2||2||13||1||6||26||.200||.227||.297||.524|
|BAL (1 yr)||45||71||67||0||8||0||0||0||2||0||0||13||.119||.130||.119||.250|
You would think that with a last name like Otis, this guy would at least have had an “up and down” career with the Yankees parent club and their farm system. Unfortunately for Bill, his entire big league experience consisted of just four games for the 1912 New York Highlanders (the team’s name before they became the Yankees.) He got just one hit in seventeen at bats that year but that one hit came off the immortal Hall-of-Famer, Walter Johnson. He is the only current or former Yankee to be born on Christmas Eve. He’s also the only native of Scituate, MA to play Major League baseball. When he died in 1990 at the age of 100, he was the oldest living former MLB player on the planet.
The only other member of the Yankee family to be born on Christmas Eve is this former NL All Star pitcher who was signed by New York in 2011 but only pitched for their Triple A team in Scranton.
Back in 2005, starting pitchers were dropping like flies for manager Joe Torre’s Yankees. Carl Pavano, Jared Wright and Chien Ming Wang were already on the disabled list when in late July, the mercurial Kevin Brown joined them. The Yankee front office responded by going on a starter acquisition blitz. They went out and got Al Leiter, Hideki Nomo and Shawn Chacon.
Of the three, Yankee fans expected the least from Chacon. His big league career up until that point had been weird to say the least. During his first three seasons in the Majors he had been a starter for Colorado. After going 11-21 his first two years, he had 11 victories by the 2003 All Star break but then did not win another game that season. Then he became the Rockie closer, finishing 2004 with 35 saves but a horrible 1-7 won-lost record.
Chacon ended up being one of the best pitchers on the Yankee staff during the second half of 2005. He won seven of ten decisions with a sparkling 2.85 ERA. He and another journeyman starter, Aaron Small, actually saved that Yankee season, with both guys pitching better than the millionaire’s club of starters the Yankees started that year with.
He got off to a good start for New York in 2006 as well but he got hurt early in the season and then got traded to the Pirates. He ended up with the Astros, in 2008 where he made headlines and got suspended when he scuffled with Houston GM Ed Wade. The right-hander has not pitched a game in the big leagues since. Chacon was born on December 23, 1977 in Anchorage, Alaska and given up for adoption, four years later.
|COL (5 yrs)||24||45||.348||5.20||150||83||60||0||0||35||552.1||543||338||319||82||293||385||1.514|
|PIT (2 yrs)||7||7||.500||4.44||73||13||11||0||0||1||142.0||142||74||70||21||75||106||1.528|
|NYY (2 yrs)||12||6||.667||4.69||31||23||0||0||0||0||142.0||143||80||74||18||66||75||1.472|
|HOU (1 yr)||2||3||.400||5.04||15||15||0||0||0||0||85.2||88||52||48||16||41||53||1.506|
If you’re a long time Yankee fan, it was one of those multi-player trades you just don’t forget, the likes of which will probably never be seen again. Back in the 1950s, trades involving two big league teams and six to ten players were not unusual but they normally took place between a team in a pennant race and a team outside of one. In June of the 1976 season, the Yankees were battling Baltimore for supremacy in the AL East, when the two clubs announced a pretty stunning deal.
New York sent their backup catcher, Rick Dempsey, veteran starter, Rudy May, a young left-handed reliever named Tippy Martinez, pitching prospect Scott McGregor and starter/reliever Dave Pagan all to the Birds. In exchange, the Yankees received starting pitchers Ken Holtzman and Doyle Alexander, reliever Grant Jackson and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Elrod Hendricks. Baltimore definitely got the best of this deal long term, as Dempsey became their starting catcher for the next decade, McGregor turned into one of the league’s premier starters and Martinez evolved into one of the best relievers in all of baseball. Even Rudy May paid dividends, going 29-21 during his two seasons with the Orioles. But the most immediate benefit went to the Yankees. During the second half of that season, Holtzman, Alexander and Jackson won an incredible 25 decisions between them, helping New York beat out the Birds for the AL East and capture the team’s first AL Pennant in over a decade.
Elrod Hendricks became the forgotten man in that transaction. He only got into 18-regular season games as a backup to the very durable Thurman Munson during his first half season in the Bronx. In 1977, the ten year big league veteran actually agreed to go down to the Yankee’s triple A team in Syracuse for most of the season, ceding his backup receiving role with the parent club to Fran Healy. But baby boomer aged fans like me remember when Hendricks caught those great Baltimore pitching staffs of the late sixties and early seventies. He was a solid receiver with a great arm. Hendricks is a native of the Virgin Islands who was born on this date in 1940. He passed away on the day before his 65th birthday in 2005.
|BAL (11 yrs)||658||2031||1781||191||395||63||7||56||214||1||213||299||.222||.306||.359||.666|
|NYY (2 yrs)||36||68||64||7||15||2||0||4||10||0||3||12||.234||.265||.453||.718|
|CHC (1 yr)||17||56||43||7||5||1||0||2||6||0||13||8||.116||.321||.279||.600|