Results tagged ‘ designated hitter ’
The Yankees 1981 World Series defeat to the Dodgers was an almost tragic turning point for George Steinbrenner. He had spent loads of Yankee dollars to put together an offense that was driven by home runs only to see that offense sputter and fail in both the second half of the strike-induced split season and the last four games with Los Angeles. He then seemed to have let his anger over the strike and the pain of that Dodger defeat drive a series of player decisions that would keep the Yankees out of postseason play for the next fifteen years. No move symbolized Steinbrenner’s inept over-reaction more than the signing of Dave Collins.
At the time, Collins was a singles-hitting, base-stealing outfielder who slap-swung his bat from both sides of the plate. He had hit .300 for the Reds in both 1979 and ’80 but what really captured the Boss’s attention was the 79 bases Collins stole during that 1980 season. Steinbrenner was convinced the guy would be a perfect lead-off man for the new small-ball offense he envisioned for his ball club so he blew him over with a three-year, two-and-a-half million dollar free agent offer that was probably twice as much and at least a year-more than any other team would have offered Collins.
A month before that signing the Boss had approved a trade for Collins’ Cincinnati teammate and fellow outfielder, Ken Griffey. Then just before spring training, Steinbrenner must have been feeling sentimental because he gave both Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, two more outfielders, three-year contract extensions. The Yankees also already had Dave Winfield, Jerry Mumphrey and Oscar Gamble under contract for the 1982 season. That added up to seven outfielders which didn’t add up to a very confused Bob Lemon, who as Yankee manager was given the responsibility of figuring out where and when to play all of them. When Collins reported to spring training, Lemon told him to work out at first base. As Bill Madden explained the situation in his excellent biography of Steinbrenner, “The Last Lion of Baseball,” Collins spent all that spring asking every reporter who covered the team “Why in the world did they sign me?”
He ended up playing first base in 52 games for New York and split 60 more pretty evenly as the Yankee left, right, and center fielder. He hit just .253 that year, stole only 13 bases and was probably one of the most uncomfortable Yankee players in the history of the franchise. Steinbrenner’s 1982 small ball Yankees finished the season next-to-last in their division with a 79-83 record. New York then mercifully traded Collins to the Blue Jays, where, feeling much more wanted, he averaged .290 and 50 stolen bases during the final two years of the contract he had originally signed with New York. But just to make Steinbrenner regret his signing of Collins even more, the Blue jays insisted that the Yankees include a youngster named Fred McGriff in the trade for Collins
|CIN (7 yrs)||697||1981||1774||272||504||70||16||9||126||147||168||231||.284||.349||.357||.706|
|CAL (2 yrs)||192||775||684||86||181||25||5||7||57||56||76||110||.265||.337||.346||.684|
|TOR (2 yrs)||246||943||843||114||245||36||19||3||78||91||76||108||.291||.355||.389||.744|
|STL (1 yr)||99||74||58||12||13||1||0||0||3||7||13||10||.224||.366||.241||.608|
|OAK (1 yr)||112||418||379||52||95||16||4||4||29||29||29||37||.251||.303||.346||.648|
|NYY (1 yr)||111||393||348||41||88||12||3||3||25||13||28||49||.253||.315||.330||.646|
|SEA (1 yr)||120||447||402||46||96||9||3||5||28||25||33||66||.239||.299||.313||.613|
|DET (1 yr)||124||476||419||44||113||18||2||1||27||27||44||49||.270||.340||.329||.670|
If you’re a Yankee fan who is at least twenty years old, you probably remember Cecil Fielder well. He was born on today’s date in 1963, in Los Angeles. The Yankees acquired the slugging first baseman from Detroit during the 1996 season in a move designed to get some right-handed power on their bench. Fielder filled that role perfectly, blasting 13 home runs and driving in 68 in just 98 games.
When starting first baseman, Tino Martinez slumped in the AL playoffs and New York fell behind 2-0 in the ’96 World Series against the Braves, Joe Torre started Fielder at first in the DH-less games in Atlanta and benched Martinez. Cecil responded with an overall .391 average in that Series and because Tino ended up hitting just .091 against Atlanta, many Big Apple sports pundits predicted Fielder would see a lot more action at first base for New York, in ’97. That rumor gained even more traction during the off-season, when the Yankee front-office let it be known that they were considering offering the big guy a three-year contract extension.
That’s when Fielder and his agent over-played their hand and started making some hefty demands involving dollars. The Yankees backed off and New York fans responded to Fielder’s whining by turning on the huge slugger when the 97 season got underway. Fielder’s Yankee fate was sealed when he broke his thumb that July while Martinez was simultaneously in the process of putting together the season of his life, hitting 44 homers and driving in 141 runs. The Yankees’ released Cecil following their playoff loss that year to the Indians.
Since that time, published reports alleging Fielder had severe gambling problems certainly help explain why Fielder seemed to behave so greedily during that 1996 off-season negotiation. We also have since learned that Cecil’s look-alike son Prince, now a big league slugger in his own right, had pretty much disowned the elder Fielder years ago, disgusted with his Father’s gambling habits and resulting money problems. I read one article that claimed Cecil took half of Prince’s bonus money when his son signed with the Brewers.
Too bad for the Fielders and too bad for Major League Baseball. After all, these two guys are the only father and son combination to both hit fifty home runs in a big league season. They should be doing commercials together. Cecil earned close to $50 million playing the game and Prince will probably quadruple that amount by the end of his own career. Ordinary fans struggling to pay their property taxes, health insurance premiums and grocery bills have a real difficult time comprehending how money ever gets to be a divisive issue with athletes who have so God darn much of it, especially when those athletes are father and son.
In any event, the Yankees might not have won that 1996 World Championship without Cecil Fielder. I hope he gets his priorities and his problems straightened out and finds some peace in the years ahead.
Fielder shares his September 21st birthday with another former big league star who got traded to the Yankees late in his career and who also had to do battle with a debilitating personal demon. This long-ago Yankee outfielder was also born on this date.
|DET (7 yrs)||982||4252||3674||558||947||141||4||245||758||2||519||926||.258||.351||.498||.849|
|TOR (4 yrs)||220||558||506||67||123||19||2||31||84||0||46||144||.243||.308||.472||.781|
|NYY (2 yrs)||151||653||561||70||146||23||0||26||98||0||75||135||.260||.352||.440||.793|
|CLE (1 yr)||14||37||35||1||5||1||0||0||0||0||1||13||.143||.189||.171||.361|
|ANA (1 yr)||103||439||381||48||92||16||1||17||68||0||52||98||.241||.335||.423||.757|
George Steinbrenner loved the game of football and the toughness of football players. He also loved taking shots at reclamation projects. When the Yanks acquired former Red Sox starting third baseman, Butch Hobson from the Angels just before the ’82 season opened, ”the Boss” probably was the happiest guy in the team’s front office.
Born in Tuscaloosa, AL on August 17, 1951, I surmise that one of the reasons Hobson was forced to become as tough a guy as he did was because his parents named him Clell Lavern. It wasn’t too long I’m sure, before the nickname “Butch” took hold as Hobson became a legendary high school athlete in his home state. He ended up going to the University of Alabama and played football under the legendary Bear Bryant plus started for the Crimson Tide baseball team. On the gridiron, he was a starting safety and a backup quarterback but after three years of playing both sports, he gave up the pigskin his senior year to focus on baseball.
The Red Sox selected him in the 8th round of the 1973 draft and after three and a half seasons of minor league ball and one cup-of-coffee look-see during the 1975 season, Hobson went to Boston for good in June of 1976.
He eventually replaced Rico Petrocelli as the Red Sox’ starting third baseman, becoming a favorite of then new Boston skipper Don Zimmer. His breakout season came in 1977, when he smashed 30 home runs and 112 RBIs, while playing on joints that had been banged and bruised from an entire lifetime of football. He slumped a bit in 1978, the year of Bucky Dent’s blast and the Red Sox’ infamous late-season collapse to the Yankees. He had one more good season in Boston in 1979 before injuries cut more deeply into his playing time in 1980. That was the same season Zimmer was let go by the Red Sox and in 1980, Hobson and shortstop Rick Burleson were traded to the Angels for outfielder Rick Miller, third baseman Carney Lansford and pitcher Mark Clear.
His ’81 season in California was a nightmare. He hit just .235, was constantly playing hurt plus the players strike that year disrupted play. The following March, he became a Yankee. At the time, Graig Nettles, New York’s All Star third baseman was getting up there in age (37) and getting more and more on Steinbrenner’s nerves with his biting criticisms of the owner’s management style. Yankee fans back then just knew nothing would please old George more than being able to replace Nettles with Hobson as New York’s starter at the hot corner.
That didn’t happen. Nettles cooperated by hitting just .237 that year with only 55 RBIs but Hobson hit a putrid .172 and his throwing shoulder was so damaged he didn’t see an inning of play at third base. His Major League playing career was over, but Hobson wasn’t ready to quit. He played three more full seasons for the Yankee Triple A Columbus Clipper farm club, he became a minor league manager in the Mets’ system and then the Red Sox. In October of 1991, Boston hired him to replace Joe Morgan as the parent club’s skipper.
He would last three losing seasons as Red Sox field boss. According to Don Zimmer, his old skipper and his Red Sox bench coach during the 1992 season, Hobson’s drinking during his time as Boston manager had gotten out of hand. As everyone would later find out, alcohol wasn’t Butch’s only demon. The Red Sox fired him after the 1994 season, replacing him with Kevin Kennedy. It was during the 1996 season, while managing for the Phillies Scranton-Wilkes Barre team that he was arrested for possession of cocaine. Hobson later admitted he had been a user of that drug.
Hobson is still managing in the independent Atlantic League for the Lancaster Barnstormers. He turns 62 years old today.
|BOS (6 yrs)||623||2429||2230||285||561||98||19||94||358||10||147||495||.252||.296||.439||.735|
|CAL (1 yr)||85||310||268||27||63||7||4||4||36||1||35||60||.235||.321||.336||.657|
|NYY (1 yr)||30||60||58||2||10||2||0||0||3||0||1||14||.172||.183||.207||.390|
The first and only time I attended a game at Fenway Park was a July 17, 1996 night game between the Red Sox and the Yankees. As I settled into the most incredibly uncomfortable seat I had ever been in, the Yankees were surprisingly running away with the AL East Pennant, holding a nine game lead at the time over the Orioles and a full fifteen-game margin over third place Boston. Unfortunately, Kenny Rogers was on the mound for New York and he was facing Boston’s Tom Flash Gordon, who was in his last year as a starter. As usual when he wore the pinstripes, Rogers was not very effective that evening. He was knocked out in the fifth inning after loading the bases, with Boston leading 3-2. Joe Torre brought in Jim Wickman and the right-hander promptly gave up a bases-clearing double. When Wickman put two more Red Sox on base in the sixth, Torre replaced him with big Jeff Nelson.
The first batter Nelson faced was Jose Canseco, who had began his big league career as one of the Oakland A “Bash Brothers” with an end-of-the-season call-up in September of 1985. The following year he hit 33 home runs and was named AL Rookie of the Year. Two seasons later he led the league with 42 home runs and 124 RBIs plus he hit .307 and stole 40 bases becoming the first member ever of MLB’s 40-40 club. He also won the AL MVP that year. During those early years of his career, he was considered one of baseball’s greatest rising stars but as we later learned, that rise was being fueled with human rocket fuel.
Canseco’s string of injuries and DL stays began in 1989. By ’92, the A’s decided he was expendable and they traded him to Texas for Jeff Russell, Ruben Sierra, Mike Witt and money. He spent large portions of his two plus years with the Rangers on the DL. Boston then signed him as a free agent after the 1995 season and again he couldn’t seem to stay healthy. That’s what confused me about Canseco’s later admission of steroid use. I always thought steroids helped athletes not just train harder but also overcome injuries quicker. Jose must have been getting some bad drugs, no?
In any event, Canseco was not on the DL that night I visited Fenway and he had worked the count to 3-2 against the curve-balling Nelson. I will never forget the results of the next pitch. Canseco hit it on a line toward the green monster. I swear, as it passed my eye level, I could hear the ball swoosh. It was still rising when it went over the Green Monster. It remains to this day the hardest hit baseball I have ever seen in my lifetime. To put it in perspective, think back to all those famous bombs Mark McGuire hit during the All Star Home Run Derby contest held at Fenway in 1999. Canseco’s cannon shot was hit harder and travelled further than every one of them. Canseco’s three run blast made the score 9-2 and half of the Fenway crowd got up and left, thinking the game was over. We were able to move to much more comfortable seats behind home plate and as soon as we did the Yankees mounted a comeback. In fact, New York scored nine runs over the last three innings to take the lead. But John Wetteland failed to hold it and Boston ended up with a 12-11 victory in what turned out to be one of the most exciting baseball games I’ve ever seen live.
That home run turned out to be Canseco’s last one of the 1996 season and his final one as a Red Sox. A few weeks later he was again on the DL. The final five years of his career were spent playing for five different teams. They included the Yankees, in 2000. He had been placed on waivers by Tampa Bay that year and New York had picked him up. He appeared in 37 games as a Yankee and hit six of his seventeen-year career total of 462 home runs while wearing the pinstripes. He has since become one of the most controversial ex-big-leaguers of all time.
Update: The above post was originally written in 2010. It has become pretty clear since Canseco’s playing days ended, that his life has turned into a publicity hunting freak show. His long baseball career has become pretty much an afterthought in the memory of most fans who when they think of Jose now, see him testifying in front of that congressional committee hearing in 2005. But like it or not, Canseco changed the course of baseball history. As baseball fans around the world marveled at the almost superhuman achievements of modern day ballplayers like McGuire and Bonds, Jose pulled back the curtain on their games and showed us all that a critical component of their magic came from a needle or from an ingredient in a rubbing cream. Jim Bouton did it with amazing skill forty years earlier and Canseco’s story-telling paled by comparison, but both men simply told the truth about how those who played the game lived their lives while doing it.
Canseco shares his July 2nd birthday with this former Yankee reliever.
|OAK (9 yrs)||1058||4531||3970||662||1048||186||8||254||793||135||469||1096||.264||.344||.507||.851|
|TEX (3 yrs)||193||849||733||126||197||37||3||45||151||22||100||200||.269||.363||.512||.874|
|TBD (2 yrs)||174||766||648||106||176||33||1||43||125||5||99||200||.272||.373||.525||.898|
|BOS (2 yrs)||198||882||756||132||225||47||2||52||163||7||105||175||.298||.389||.571||.960|
|NYY (1 yr)||37||137||111||16||27||3||0||6||19||0||23||37||.243||.365||.432||.797|
|CHW (1 yr)||76||306||256||46||66||8||0||16||49||2||45||75||.258||.366||.477||.843|
|TOR (1 yr)||151||658||583||98||138||26||0||46||107||29||65||159||.237||.318||.518||.836|
One of the key reasons the Yankees were not successful reaching the postseason for a dozen seasons after 1981 was their lack of a strong all-around catcher during that time span. From Dickey-to-Berra-to Howard-to-Munson, those Yankee teams that regularly reached fall ball had catchers who could hit well, field well, and lead their pitching staffs. When the Yankees signed Mike Stanley as a free agent before the 1992 season, I thought we had the makings of the next great Yankee receiver. He did well enough offensively in pinstripes but the Yankee front-office ended up replacing him with a better defensive catcher.
Stanley started his Yankee career as a backup for Matt Nokes. He took over as starter in 1993 and had a great offensive season, hitting 26 home runs, driving in 84 and averaging .305. He continued to hit well in 1994 as the Yankees became the best team in the League under Buck Showalter. When the disastrous strike ended that season, it also marked the peaking of the Yankee careers of both Showalter and Stanley. Even though New York made the postseason in 1995, Stanley’s batting average took a 30-point dip and after the Yankees got knocked out of the playoffs by the Mariners in the first round, Yankee fans could feel the Steinbrenner-induced winds of change blowing. Showalter was fired and replaced by Joe Torre. They let Mattingly retire and Stanley was not re-signed. The Yankees traded for Tino Martinez and Joe Girardi instead.
Update: The above post was originally written in 2009. Stanley did rejoin the Yankees during the latter half of the 1997 season. At the time, Yankee GM Bob Watson had been looking for a right-handed bat to replace the one lost when Cecil Fielder broke his thumb just before the All Star break that year. He traded coveted Yankee pitching prospect Tony Armas Jr to the Red Sox to bring Stanley’s opposite field power back for a second go-round in the Bronx. At the time the deal was made, Watson told the press he intended to re-sign the returning player to a longer term deal, but even though Stanley hit .287 in the 28 games he played down the stretch of that ’97 regular season and a .388 on-base-percentage, the Yankees let him walk when the year ended.
During the 1995 season, Stanley became the 13th Yankee in history to homer three times in the same regular season game. Here’s a list of the 20 Bronx Bombers who have accomplished this feat during their pinstriped careers: Tony Lazzeri (1927, ’36) Lou Gehrig (1927, ’29, ’30, ’32*) Babe Ruth (1930) Ben Chapman (1932) Joe DiMaggio (1937) Bill Dickey (1939) Charley Keller (1940) Johnny Mize (1950) Mickey Mantle (1955) Tom Tresh (1965) Bobby Murcer (1970, ’73) Cliff Johnson (1977) Mike Stanley (1995) Paul O’Neill (1995) Darryl Strawberry (1996) Tino Martinez (1997) Tony Clark (2004) Alex Rodriguez (2005) Mark Teixeira (2010) Curtis Granderson (2012)
*Gehrig went on to hit a fourth home run in the 1932 game.
Stanley shares his June 25th birthday with this former Yankee long reliever.
Here are Stanley’s Yankee and career playing stats:
|TEX (6 yrs)||452||1164||987||114||248||43||4||16||120||6||147||215||.251||.348||.352||.699|
|BOS (5 yrs)||459||1703||1425||224||391||76||1||73||254||3||234||293||.274||.381||.483||.864|
|NYY (5 yrs)||426||1604||1372||227||391||81||2||72||263||2||201||314||.285||.377||.504||.882|
|OAK (1 yr)||32||113||97||11||26||7||0||4||18||0||14||21||.268||.363||.464||.827|
|TOR (1 yr)||98||405||341||49||82||13||0||22||47||2||56||86||.240||.353||.472||.825|
There was no doubt in my mind that the Yanks were going to re-sign Raul Ibanez to once again serve as their left-handed DH for the 2013 season. After all, the guy had just hit four of the most clutch home runs in franchise history last fall and even though he turned 40-years-old yesterday, he had proven he was in great physical condition by handling an almost full-time outfielder’s slot after Brett Gardner went down with an injury last spring. So I was certain GM Brian Cashman would sit down with Ibanez sometime over the winter and work out a new one year deal. I was dead wrong.
Evidently, Cashman did not think those four huge home runs warranted a $1.6 million dollar raise for Ibanez because that’s what he got when he signed with the Mariners in December. Five weeks later, the Yankees signed Travis Hafner to a one-year deal for $2 million, which was $750,000 less than the Mariners agreed to pay Ibanez.
I had always liked Hafner’s bat during the 11 seasons he played in Cleveland, but what I didn’t like about his signing was the fact that he was strictly a DH. Coming into the 2013 season, Hafner had played in a total of 1,043 big league games and served as the DH in all but just 71 of them. On top of that, even though all he did was swing a bat and run when he hit the ball, this native of Jamestown, North Dakota had become injury prone. He averaged just 86 games played per year during his last five seasons with the Indians.
If I’d finished this post about Hafner just one month ago, its tone would have most certainly been different. That’s because “Pronk” got off to a great start with New York and by the end of April he was hitting .319 with six home runs and 19 RBIs. With high-paid Yankee hitters like A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira and Granderson on the DL at the start of the season, Hafner’s hot bat was crucial to the team’s surprising early success. But now, as the 2013 season enters its third month, both Hafner and the Yankees have cooled off considerably. He’s striking out more and hit just two home runs during the month of May. A couple of weeks ago, he underwent an MRI that showed tendinitis was again flaring up in his shoulder. Hopefully, as more injured Yankees return to action, this guy will get both the days off and protection in the lineup he probably needs to optimize his value to the team. Like thousands of anxious Yankee fans, I got my fingers crossed hoping the Hafner honeymoon in the Bronx isn’t over and like Ibanez, this guy will have the opportunity to pay some postseason dividends.
Pronk turns 36-years-old today. He was originally drafted by the Texas Rangers in the later rounds of the 1996 draft. He had some huge years in the minors but the Rangers hardly seemed to notice because they didn’t bring him up for a look-see until 2002 and then that December, they traded him to Cleveland.
Hafner shares his birthday with this former Yankee catcher.
|CLE (10 yrs)||1078||4413||3734||582||1039||238||11||200||688||9||558||882||.278||.382||.509||.890|
|TEX (1 yr)||23||70||62||6||15||4||1||1||6||0||8||15||.242||.329||.387||.716|
|NYY (1 yr)||44||159||135||21||33||5||1||8||25||2||22||42||.244||.358||.474||.833|
If you ask any native of the Dominican Republic currently playing big league ball which of their countrymen did the most to pave the way for them to play in the majors, their answer would be Felipe Alou. Actually, they might say Felipe Rojas. (His Dad’s last name was Rojas and his Mom’s was Alou.) Ozzie Virgil was the first Dominican to play in the MLB, when the New York Giants brought him up in 1956 but Virgil had migrated to the US as a youth and attended high school in New York City. Alou became the second native of his country (and the first to have lived there all his life) to play big league ball the following year as a member of that same Giants organization.
He was born in the Dominican Republic on May 12, 1935 to extremely poor parents. Felipe was an outstanding athlete and an outstanding student, who had been accepted in the pre-med program at the University of Santo Domingo. But he also played on his country’s baseball team that competed in 1955 Pan American Game. When he led the Dominican Republic to a victory over the US in the finals of those Games the MLB scouts came calling and he signed with the Giants.
It took awhile because the Giant organization in the late fifties was loaded with outstanding black and latino prospects, but Alou finally became a starter in San Franciso’s outfield in the early sixties. His younger brothers Matty and Jesus later joined him there and the three made history when they became the first three siblings to ever play in one team’s outfield at the same time, in September of 1963.
That was also Alou’s last year with the Giants. After the ’63 season, he was traded to Milwaukee in a seven-player deal. Felipe played for the Braves for the next six seasons, including 1966, when the team relocated to Atlanta and he put together his best year in the big leagues, with 31 HRs, a .327 batting average and leading the league in hits (218) and runs (122.)
He was traded to the A’s in 1970. By then he was 35-years-old and his best playing days were behind him. During the first week of his second season with Oakland, he was traded to the Yankees for pitchers Rob Gardner and Ron Klimkowski, where he was reunited with his brother Matty to become the first set of siblings to wear the pinstripes together since Bobby and Billy Shantz had done so in 1960.
Ralph Houk, the Yankee skipper at the time of the trade loved Felipe and put him in the lineup as a first baseman or outfielder 131 times during his first season in the Bronx. Alou responded with a .289 batting average and 69 RBIs that year. He continued to play a lot for Houk the following year, but his run production took a nose dive. Still, when the Yankees 1973 spring training season came around, Felipe was hammering the ball and Houk was telling the press that the elder Alou would share the brand new DH position with Ron Blomberg and also play a lot of first base. But on September 6th of that season, with his average hovering in the .230′s, Alou was put on waivers and picked up by the Expos. On that same day, the Yankees sold his brother Matty to the Cardinals and the Yankees were suddenly Alou-less.
Felipe Alou would retire as a player the following year and became a minor league manager in the Expos organization. He would later become a highly successful big league skipper of the Expos and also manage the Giants. His son Moises became a big league all star outfielder who played for his Dad with both Montreal and the Giants.
|SFG (6 yrs)||719||2478||2292||337||655||119||19||85||325||51||138||308||.286||.328||.466||.794|
|ATL (6 yrs)||841||3604||3348||464||989||163||20||94||335||40||188||284||.295||.338||.440||.778|
|NYY (3 yrs)||344||1145||1065||110||289||50||7||18||133||6||63||76||.271||.311||.382||.694|
|OAK (2 yrs)||156||627||583||70||158||26||3||8||55||10||32||32||.271||.307||.367||.674|
|MON (1 yr)||19||50||48||4||10||1||0||1||4||0||2||4||.208||.240||.292||.532|
|MIL (1 yr)||3||3||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.000||.000||.000||.000|
If you’ve been a Yankee fan for at least eighteen years, used to be that whenever you heard the name “Andruw Jones”, a bad memory crept into your head. Your mind shifted back to that opening game of the 1996 World Series in old Yankee Stadium on a Sunday afternoon in October. Your Yankees had finally made it back to the Promised Land after a decade and a half of roaming through the regular season desert, but every Yankee hater you knew was telling you that New York had no chance to beat the powerful Atlanta Braves. You would laugh off their taunts but secretly you were worried. The experts always said that the best starting pitching won in the playoffs and nobody had better starters than the Braves’ big three of Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine. Plus, Bobby Cox had some studs in that ’96 lineup. Chipper Jones and Ryan Klesko both had thirty-homer seasons and Fred McGriff, Marquis Grissom and catcher Javy Lopez had each hit over twenty of their own. So when the Game One Yankee starter, a young left-hander named Andy Pettitte was able to retire the first three Atlanta hitters in the top of the first inning you breathed a sigh of relief. But that sense of relief would not last long.
In the visitors half of the second inning, with two outs and Lopez on first, you saw the name “Andruw Jones” flash up on your TV screen and your first thought is “That’s supposed to be an E, not a U.” Whoever was broadcasting the game kept making a big deal of the fact that this sleek-looking athlete with a bat in his hand was just nineteen years old, as he quickly worked Pettitte into a full count. Then suddenly, Bam! This kid with the misspelled first name hits Andy’s sixth pitch into the Stadium’s left-field stands and the Braves took a quick 2-0 lead. Your stomach got a bit queazy but heck, you’d seen that ’96 Yankee team bounce back from deficits all season long. Pettitte retired the next hitter and as he headed back to the dugout, you hoped that pitch to Jones would be his only mistake of the game. Unfortunately, in the very next inning, this Jones kid would reemerge from the Braves dugout and take Pettitte even deeper and that three-run home run would drive a very long nail into the Yankees’ hopes of winning Game 1.
Sixteen years later, Andruw was a Yankee. He was no longer a nineteen year old rookie about to begin a career that would result in over 400 big league home runs. Instead, he’d played 15 big league seasons and was on the back end of a very good big league career. He had become a baseball nomad, the Yankees were his fourth different team in four years. But as he proved in his very first at bat in pinstripes against the Twins Brian Duensing, he could still take southpaws deep and he could still display moments in the outfield filled with that unique style and grace that was so fun to watch. I was hoping that before his Yankee career ended, Andruw would have a Johnny Damon-like “pinstripe redemption moment.” Until Damon made that famous double-steal against the Phillies during the 2009 Series, all I could think of when I saw him wearing a Yankee uniform was that grand slam he hit off of Jeff Weaver to complete Boston’s amazing comeback against New York in the ’04 ALCS. But Jones never really had that a-ha moment for New York that served to instantly eradicate the image of him hitting those two bombs off of Pettitte from my head. But he did have enough good moments wearing those pinstripes to dull that image and make me wish the Yankees could have picked him up earlier in his career.
He actually had his best stretch for New York during the first couple of months of the 2012 season, when he and Raul Ibanez were forming the two halves of the Yankees’ most effective run producer but he stopped hitting completely in the second half of that year. The Yankees ended up signing Travis Hafner as their right-handed DH for the 2013 season and it looks as if Andruw Jones very good big league career is over. Happy 37th birthday Andruw.
This not-very-well-known other former Yankee who celebrates a birthday today is one I happen to remember real well.
|ATL (12 yrs)||1761||7276||6408||1045||1683||330||34||368||1117||138||55||717||1394||.263||.342||.497||.839||113|
|NYY (2 yrs)||171||491||423||54||93||15||0||27||67||0||0||57||133||.220||.322||.447||.769||106|
|TEX (1 yr)||82||331||281||43||60||18||0||17||43||5||1||45||72||.214||.323||.459||.782||100|
|LAD (1 yr)||75||238||209||21||33||8||1||3||14||0||1||27||76||.158||.256||.249||.505||35|
|CHW (1 yr)||107||328||278||41||64||12||1||19||48||9||2||45||73||.230||.341||.486||.827||120|
At Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings in December of 1973, the American League owners voted to make the designated hitter rule a permanent feature of Junior Circuit play. As soon as the votes were counted, the Yankees made a trade with the Kansas City Royals acquiring Lou Piniella, who many considered a near-perfect DH role-model. But Sweet Lou, had slumped to a .250 batting average the previous season, so just in case he did not return to his .300-hitting ways, New York hedged their bet by also acquiring on that same day, the switch-hitting Bill “Suds” Sudakis from the Rangers.
The then 28-year-old native of Joliet, IL had broken into the big leagues impressively as a third baseman with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1968. But some serious knee problems during his first few seasons in LA, turned him into a role player. LA had released him in 1971 and after a short-time with the Mets, he had landed in Texas in ’73, just in time for the AL’s one-year DH experimental season.
He hit 15 HRs for Texas but only DH’d nine times. He also played a lot of third and first for that Ranger team and even went behind the plate for nine games. That versatility and his two-way hitting caught the attention of Yankee GM Gabe Paul, who was able to negotiate the outright purchase of Sudakis’s contract from Texas.
Suds would play just one season (1974) in pinstripes. Under the direction of skipper Bill Virdon, the Yanks made a surprising run at for the AL East title that year, finishing just two-games behind the Orioles. Sudakis got into 89 games, mostly as a DH and first baseman. He averaged just .232, but he also hit 7 home runs and drove in 39. His biggest impact on that year’s pennant drive however, may have occurred in the lobby of a downtown Milwaukee hotel.
The Yanks were scheduled to fly to Brewer town after a road-series with the Indians to play the last two games of their regular season, but their flight out of Cleveland was delayed for three hours. During those three hours, many of the Yankees did what many big league ballplayers do when they have lots of idle time in an airport, they headed to the bar. Well evidently Sudakis and Dempsey started getting on each other before they left Cleveland and the verbal sparring continued between the two all during their now very late flight. By the time the team departed their bus and entered the lobby of their downtown hotel, Dempsey had reached the boiling point and went after Sudakis like a madman. Yankee players at the scene later verified the ensuing fight was a knockdown drag-out classic with furniture overturned and pictures knocked off the walls. It took quite a while for their Yankee teammates and hotel security to separate the two and when they finally did, it was star outfielder Bobby Murcer, who had gotten the worst of it. Somebody stepped on his hand and broke his finger and that injury kept him out of the next day’s lineup against the Brewers. The Yankees lost that game while the Orioles won their contest against the Indians, clinching the division for the Birds.
I’m not 100% certain his role in that fight is the reason the Yanks traded Sudakis to California for pitcher Skip Lockwood that December, but it sure didn’t help to prevent it. Sudakis played one more season of big league ball before returning to the minors in 1976.
While researching this post I came across some compelling evidence that Sudakis was a bit crazy. For example, he once offered to add some bounce to Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles bat. He sawed the top off, drilled into the barrel and inserted some super balls and then reattached the sawed-off bat top with Elmer’s Glue. Then Yankee shortstop Gene Michael asked Sudakis how he had reassembled the doctored bat and when he got to the Elmer’s Glue part, “the Stick” warned him the glue would not hold. Sudakis assured him it would and one week later, after homering with it in his previous at bat, Nettles hit one off the the end of the modified piece of lumber and sure enough, the bat-top pops off and the rubber balls come rolling out the end of it, getting Nettles ejected.
Jack Clark loved being a Cardinal and after hitting 35 home runs and driving in 106 for Manager Whitey Herzog’s 1987 Pennant-winners, the New Brighton, PA native had every reason to believe he’d be staying in St Louis for the next few seasons. One word explains why that didn’t happen, collusion. That was the off season when big league owners decided to band together to reverse the upward spiral of salaries during the free agency era and star players in their prime, like Clark, paid the price. The Cardinals actually asked their All Star first baseman to take a cut in pay so instead, his agent got him an offer from George Steinbrenner and Clark came to New York for the 1988 season after playing thirteen seasons in the National League, including the first ten with the Giants. He belted 27 home runs and drove in 93 during his single season in Pinstripes. He then signed with the Padres. During his eighteen-year big league career, Clark hit 340 home runs. Since leaving the game, Clark has become a vociferous critic of players who took steroids. He has said that players like Mark McGuire, A-Rod, Bobby Bonds and Roger Clemens are all “cheaters” who belong in a “Hall of Shame” but “not baseball’s Hall of Fame. Clark has also experienced personal financial setbacks since leaving the game. According to accounts I’ve read, his addiction to expensive cars forced him into personal bankruptcy, in 1992.
Also born on this date was this Yankee starting pitcher who tied Jimmy Key for second in most regular season wins on the team’s 1996 pitching staff and this long-ago outfielder, who hit the second home run in Yankee postseason history.
|SFG (10 yrs)||1044||4300||3731||597||1034||197||30||163||595||60||497||556||.277||.359||.477||.836|
|STL (3 yrs)||322||1371||1093||198||299||61||6||66||216||3||264||288||.274||.413||.522||.935|
|BOS (2 yrs)||221||907||738||107||174||29||1||33||120||1||152||220||.236||.366||.412||.778|
|SDP (2 yrs)||257||1036||789||135||199||31||2||51||156||10||236||236||.252||.423||.490||.914|
|NYY (1 yr)||150||616||496||81||120||14||0||27||93||3||113||141||.242||.381||.433||.815|