Results tagged ‘ december 23 ’
Back when I first became a Yankee fan, the team was in the final six years of a glorious 45 year run that author Peter Golenbock would later so aptly describe with the title of his excellent book “Dynasty.” The Bronx Bombers had dominated baseball during that era, not just with pennants and World Series, but also with record-breaking individual accomplishments. We had Babe Ruth and his home runs, Lou Gehrig and his games played streak, Joe D’s 56-straight and in 1961, the M&M boy’s glorious race to destiny. The Yankee strategy for winning had not changed since the spitball was outlawed, umpires began replacing balls that had been scuffed or gotten dirty and Ruth arrived in New York. The team lived and died by the three-run home-run. Yankee fans considered any form of small-ball to be a sacrilege and as a result, though lightening-quick Yankees like the great Mantle could have stolen 50 bases a year, they didn’t have to. Their orders were to get on a base and stay there until somebody else drove them in. Why on earth argue with success, right?
Well to tell you the truth, the fact that my Yankees were dead last in the American League in stolen bases during their glorious 1961 season bugged the heck out of me. They swiped a base just 28 times that season, 72 fewer than the league-leading Chicago White Sox, who had the great base-stealer, Luis Aparicio on their team at the time. “Little Louie” would turn a single or base-on-balls into a double about fifty times a year and I can remember thinking that as much as I loved Tony Kubek, if the Yankees traded him for Aparicio, it would propel New York to the top of the league’s stolen base chart. It never dawned on me of course that the Yankee offense had no need for stolen bases at the time or that the White Sox wouldn’t have traded their superlative shortstop and future Hall-of-Famer for six Tony Kubek’s.
While waiting for the Aparicio-for-Kubek deal to be consummated, I also remember coming across a list of all-time team records in my Yankee yearbook at the time and finding the name “Fritz Maisel” listed for most steals in a season. In 1914, this native of Catonsville, Maryland set both the big league and the Yankee team record by stealing 74 bases for New York. Ty Cobb would make short-work of Maisel’s league record by breaking it the following season, but those 74 steals by the former third-baseman would remain the all-time single-season mark for the Yanks until Ricky Henderson surpassed it in 1985 with his 80 steals.
Maisel may have been able to break his own record and become one of the great base-stealers in league history. In 1915, he followed up his record-breaking stolen-base season by hitting a career-high .281 and stealing 51 more. But in 1916, he hurt his throwing shoulder and could no longer make the throw from third-to-first. When his shoulder didn’t improve, the Yanks went out and got Frank “Home Run” Baker to play third and tried playing Maisel at second, where the strength of his throwing arm would matter less. The switch failed and not just because of his sore arm. Maisel’s bat also failed him. He hit just .198 during his final season as a Yankee in 1917 and was traded to the Browns. By the way, Ricky Henderson broke his own Yankee single-season stolen-base mark with his 93 steals in 1988, which remains the franchise standard.
When folks my age hear or read the name “Timothy Leary” the three-letter abbreviation that comes to mind is usually not “ERA.” If, however, you were a Met fan in 1980, that name represented the miracle drug the Amazin’s needed to become winners again. Leary was a teenage sensation as a schoolboy and American Legion pitcher in Santa Monica, CA, who went on to a great career at UCLA. He caught national attention when he anchored the USA’s World Cup team in 1978 and the Mets made the tall right hander the second overall pick in Baseball’s 1979 amateur draft.
New York City’s National League franchise was in one of its frequent “dark ages” at the time, so when Leary had an impressive 15-8 first season at the double A level, Met management made the fateful decision to bring him straight to the Majors the following season. In his first big league start in April of ’81, Leary pitched to just seven batters before leaving the game with a strained right elbow. That marked the beginning of another disastrous year for Met fans that was made even worse by a player strike that cut the regular season in half. As 1982′s spring training arrived, the team’s expectations for a healthy Leary rose once again but sadly, Leary’s elbow didn’t even make it out of the exhibition season.
During the next three years, Leary bounced up and down between Tidewater and Shea Stadium, trying to justify all the hype that surrounded his initial signing. That never happened and in January of 1985, convinced it never would, the Mets grew leery of Leary and dealt him to the Brewers. That began a big league odyssey that would take Leary to six different franchises over the next decade. Ironically, by 1990 he would find himself returning to the Big Apple, once again facing big expectations to help a floundering New York City baseball team get back to the top.
The Yankee franchise was in complete disarray at the end of the 1980s. George Steinbrenner was about to be suspended for his behavior in the Winfield/Spira scandal. The Yankees were switching managers as often as Phil Rizzuto would say “holy cow” and every player move the Yankees made seemed to backfire.
The team’s biggest problem back then was starting pitching. They had none. Ron Guidry had grown old and Steinbrenner was emptying the Yankee cupboard of pitching prospects, trading them it seemed, for any veteran hurler he could find who had ever had a decent big league season. That meant guys like Andy Hawkins,Dave LaPoint, Mike Witt and Leary became the Yankees’ 1990 starting rotation. Up until then, Leary’s only winning season had been in 1988 as an LA Dodger. He went 17-11 that season. The Yankees traded for him despite the fact that Leary followed up his career year by going 2-7 for the Reds in 1989.
What followed were three disastrous seasons for both Leary and the Yankees. His overall record in pinstripes was 18-35 with a 5.12 ERA. During his first year as a Yankee he led the AL with 19 losses, which for some reason was good enough to convince New York’s front office to sign him to a new two-year deal for $4 million. Leary’s “return-to-the-Big-Apple-tour” lasted until August of the 1992 season when he was sent to the Mariners for somebody named Sean Twitty.
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.