Results tagged ‘ designated hitter ’
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.
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This Cortland, NY native spent the last year of his nine-season big league career in pinstripes as a designated hitter and backup third baseman. That was 1980, the season the Dick Howser-managed Yankees won 103 games and reclaimed the AL East crown. It was also the same season the Kansas City Royals finally avenged their three consecutive losses to New York in the AL Championship Series by sweeping the Yankees to capture the team’s first pennant. Soderholm batted .287 that season and hit 11 home runs. His best big league season was 1977 when he came back from a knee injury to hit 25 homers for the White Sox. He finished his career with 102 round-trippers and a .264 lifetime batting average. According to his Wiki article, when his career was over, Soderholm became a ticket agent and played a huge role in lobbying for the legislation that made it legal for ticket selling firms to add huge service fees to ticket prices.Soderholm turns 64 years-old today.
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I was completely against the Yankees signing the then 39-year-old Raul Ibanez as their left-handed DH in 2012. It happened after New York surprised everyone by trading their young hitting prodigy, Jesus Montero to the Mariners. Montero was slated to DH for the Yankees against all pitching in 2012 but after he was dealt, the Yankees re-signed Andruw Jones and began their search for a lefty to platoon with him.
Quite a few names were thrown out there at the time by bloggers like me and the Big Apple media, including former Yankees Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. My personal choice would have been Matsui and I actually felt Jorge Posada should have been asked if he wanted the spot. But in the end Cashman went with this 17-year big league veteran. Believe it or not, my negative feelings for Ibanez stemmed from having him on my fantasy league team a couple of seasons back during his second year with Philadelphia. I’d start him for a week and he’d go 1-for-20 and then I’d bench him and he’d hit a homer and drive in three. I finally put him on waivers.
He got off to a quick start at the plate at the beginning of the 2012 regular season, which helped counteract the slow starts of several of his New York teammates and he was a class act both on the field and in the clubhouse . His swing seemed perfectly suited to Yankee Stadium. But then the Yankees lost Brett Gardner to an elbow injury and the 39-year-old Ibanez suddenly found himself playing every day including lots of time in the Yankee outfield. By the end of August, his average was stuck in the mid .230s and I really thought he was out of gas and would prove less than helpful during the team’s final month stretch drive, as New York tried to hold off the pesky Orioles.
The exact opposite happened. Raul suddenly started hitting again during the last ten days of the season and his clutch home run against the Red Sox on October 2nd helped New York maintain their half game lead over the O’s in the AL East. But he wasn’t done yet. With A-Rod not hitting at all in the postseason, Joe Girardi sent up Ibanez to pinch hit for Rodriguez in Game 3 of the ALDS and he homered off the Bird’s closer, Jim Johnson to tie the game. Three innings later, he hit a walk-off blast off of Brian Matusz. The magic continued for this guy in the first game of the ALCS against the Tigers when his homer off of Detroit closer Jose Valverdi capped a four-run Yankee rally that tied a game New York would go on to lose.
I honestly thought those last four outrageously clutch home runs Ibanez hit as a Yankee guaranteed he’d be back for one more tour of duty in the Bronx in 2013. I was wrong. The Yanks let him sign with Seattle instead.
Ibanez was actually born in New York City but then moved to Miami as a youngster. He broke into the big leagues with the Mariners back in 1996. In addition to the Phillies, he also played three seasons with the Royals.
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Most of the top four occupants of the Yankee’s All-Time leader lists read like a Who’s Who of Baseball’s legends. Except for the all-time single season best winning percentage list for Yankee pitchers with at least ten decisions. For that list you really do need a score card. Tom Zachary is number one with his 12-0 performance in 1929. He’s tied with Aaron Small who went 10-0 for the 2005 Yankees. Alfredo Aceves, who now pitches for the Red Sox, helped the 2009 Yankees win a World Championship with his 10-1 season pitching out of the bullpen. Most Yankee fans of today remember both Small and Aceves. Zachary is a familiar name in Yankee history because he was also the pitcher who gave up Babe Ruth’s 60th home run in 1927. But I’m willing to wager no current Yankee fan has ever heard of the pitcher in third place on this list. His name was Steve “Smokey” Sundra and he is the Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant for March 27th.
Sundra was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Cleveland, where he began his pitching career with area semi-pro teams. He was originally signed by his hometown Indians in 1932 and pitched in that team’s farm system until 1935 when he was made part of a trade that sent him and Monte Pearson to the Yankees for the temperamental pitcher, Johnny Allen. The Yankees assigned Sundra to their Newark farm team and during the next two-and-a-half seasons, he went 32-14 for one of the best minor league clubs in history. That performance helped earn him a spot on the 1938 Yankee roster and he finished his first season in pinstripes with a decent 6-4 record, appearing in 25 games including 8 starts. He ended that ’38 season with four straight victories but did not get to participate in the 1938 World Series, which New York won, to make it three championships in a row for Manager Joe McCarthy’s Bronx Bombers.
You don’t win three consecutive World Series in any era without great pitching and those Yankee teams of the late thirties had as many good arms as any team in history. Just making that staff was a testament to Sundra’s pitching ability and in 1939, he proved it. He appeared in 24 games that year and won his first 11 decisions. With the four straight wins he had to close out his 1938 season, Sundra’s winning streak grew to 15 games just one short of the AL Record. Despite losing Lou Gehrig, that 1939 Yankee team ran away with the Pennant by winning 106 games. They were so far ahead in the standings McCarthy began resting his front line starters in late August by expanding his rotation. Sundra loved the regular turns and won five of six consecutive starts posting a shutout and throwing five complete games during that impressive stretch. But in his last start of the regular season, in the second game of a double-header against Boston, the big right-hander’s streak came to an end when he lost a 4-2 decision to finish the year at 11-1. Despite his late-season excellence and his 11-1 record, Sundra made just one two plus inning relief stint in the Yankees fourth straight World Series victory that October.
When he slumped to 4-6 the following year he was sold to the Senators who traded him to the Browns in June of the 1942 season. Pitching against war-time diluted lineups, Smokey went 25-14 during his one complete and two partial seasons in St. Louis before entering military service. He tried to come back in 1946 but failed. He retired with a 56-41 lifetime record. Unfortunately, Sundra became a victim of a ravaging form of cancer that ended up killing him in 1952 at the age of 41.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was the fifth first round draft choice in Yankee franchise history. Labeled a “can’t miss prospect,” the Yankees didn’t miss Charley at all because they used him as part of a package of players they traded to obtain third base great, Graig Nettles from Cleveland in 1972. Spikes’ entire Yankee career consisted of fourteen games at the end of the 1972 season. He played well for Cleveland during his first few seasons there and stuck around to enjoy a nine-year career in the big leagues, which ended with the Atlanta Braves in 1980. Spikes shares his birthday with this former Yankee first-round draft pick and this one-time Yankee first baseman.
Counting Ty Hensley in 2012, the Yankees have selected 48 total players in the first round of Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft. Here’s my list of the best ten Yankee first round draft choices in franchise history based on the eventual Major League success of the players chosen:
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Long time Yankee fans would like to forget the team’s seasons of the late eighties and early nineties. Everything seemed to fall apart during that era. New York reached the depths of despair in 1990, winning just 67 games that season and finishing dead last in their division. Don Mattingly’s bad back kept him out of 62 games and helped lower his batting average to just .256. The lineup around “Donnie Baseball” was pretty putrid. So bad that Jesse Barfield led the team with just 78 runs batted in. Not one starting pitcher on the 1990 squad achieved double digit wins or finished that season with a winning record. Somehow, the Yankee’s closer, Dave Righetti saved 36 games that season and would have been the only bright spot if it weren’t for the debut of Yankee phee-nom Kevin Maas.
Maas made his first appearance with the Yankees as a DH on June 29, 1990 against the White Sox in old Comiskey Park. He went 1-3, singling to right field in the fourth inning off of Jack McDowell. He drove in his first run the next day and then hit his first big league home run off of the Royals’ Brett Saberhagen on the Fourth of July. He ended up hitting 21 home runs in just 79 games in his rookie season, finishing second to the Indians, Sandy Alomar in that year’s AL Rookie of the Year voting.
My sons and I became big fans of Maas. We had so little else to get excited about that all we could do was hope for the future. We even envisioned Maas and a healthy Mattingly becoming a modern day version of the Yankees M&M boys, a new version of Mantle and Maris for the nineties. Boy were we hallucinating.
Kevin did manage to hit 23 home runs in his sophomore season in the Bronx, but he struck out 128 times and hit just .220. It became clear that the AL pitchers knew how to get him out on a regular basis and by 1993, New York released him. He will always have the appreciation of Yankee fans for giving us something to smile about during the bleak, directionless era of Yankee Manager Stump Merrill. Kevin was born on January 20, 1965, in Castro Valley, CA. He shares his birthday with this USC sports legend and this former Yankee catching prospect.
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I was always a fan of Steve Balboni. Show me a power-hitting paisano in pinstripes with a great nickname and I guarantee I’ll love the guy. Balboni’s nickname was “Bye-Bye,” given to him in recognition of how far and fast squarely hit balls would travel off his bat. The Brockton, MA native was born on this date in 1957. He got my attention during his minor league years in the Yankee farm system by hitting 150 home runs over a five year period. The Yankees needed right hand power back in the early eighties and I thought Balboni would be a star in the Bronx. But by the time he was ready for the big leagues, Don Mattingly had claimed the Yankee first base job and Dave Winfield was providing the right-handed long-ball bat the team needed so Balboni was shipped to the Royals.
As he had done in the minors, Bye-Bye averaged thirty home runs a year during his four year stay in Kansas City but he also struck out about 140 times a season. The Royals released Balboni early in the 1988 season, he got picked up by the Mariners and then released by Seattle at the end of that year. As fate would have it, that spring the Yankees announced Dave Winfield would miss the entire 1989 regular season because of a back injury. New York needed to find a right-handed bat to put behind Mattingly in the batting order. They chose Balboni. Steve’s second tenure in pinstripes lasted two seasons. He hit 17 home runs in each of those years but when he averaged just .192 in 1990, the writing was on the wall. Steve was released on the final day of the Yankee’s 1991 spring training season. Even though his Yankee career did not turn out to be what I had hoped it would, I remember still feeling bad when New York said so long to Bye-Bye.
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Back in the mid-to-late sixties, the Yankees’ big league lineup had fallen apart. All of the great players from their early-sixties dynasty were over-the-hill or out-of-the-game all together and none of the players they traded for seemed to work out. We Yankee fans were left hoping that youngsters from the team’s farm system would be coming up soon to restore greatness to the franchise. But even the team’s prospects from that era seemed grossly over-matched when they reached the big dance. The promises the Yankee front office made about players like Steve Whitaker, Roger Repoz, Ross Mosschito, and Frank Tepedino all ended up being broken.
I thought Tony Solaita would be different. First of all, he was and still is the only native of American Samoa to play baseball. Secondly, he was a left-handed power hitter, perfectly suited for Yankee Stadium. In 1968, he had hit 51 home runs for the Yankees’ A-level affiliate in the Carolina League, and his name started popping up in the New York Daily News whenever Yankees of the future were being referred to. Then there was the home run contest before a Boston Red Sox/Yankee game at the Stadium. Tony competed against Mickey Mantle, Carl Yaztrzemski, Rocky Colavito, Hawk Harrelson and Reggie Smith. Solaita won the thing by hitting four home runs in his ten swings but it was a fifth swing he took that most impressed the fans and press in attendance that day. Solaita drove a ball barely foul down the the right field line that hit the famous facade at the top edge of the Stadium. That seemed to prove we finally had found the next Mickey Mantle. But we had not.
Solaita got just one at-bat in pinstripes, striking out against the Tigers John Hiller. I’m still not sure why, but the Yankees sent him back down to the minors and he seemed to get worse instead of better over the next five seasons. They ended up trading him to the Pirates organization in 1973 and then he was selected by the Royals in the Rule 5 Draft that same year. He finally got a chance to play some big league ball with Kansas City in 1974 but by that time he was already 27-years-old. He became a good backup to Royal first baseman, John Mayberry as well as a DH. After three years with Kansas City he was traded to the Angels and played three more seasons in Anaheim. He eventually went to Japan where he finally once again became a top home run hitter. During his seven years in the Majors, he played in just 525 games and he hit just 50 home runs.
After his playing career was over, Solaita returned to his native Samoa where, with his brother, he began a baseball program for Samoan children. In February of 1990, Tony was tragically shot and killed on the island, during an argument with a man. He was just 43-years-old.
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In 2009, Jason Giambi had concluded a seven year contract with New York that paid him about $120 million. Jason was one of baseball’s self-admitted steroid users. He was also a terrible defensive first baseman. The Yankees made it to only a single World Series during his seven years with the team, after having played in five during the previous six years. So there’s no way you can feel sorry for this guy, right? Wrong, at least according to my lovely wife and passionate Yankee fan, Rosemary.
In June of 2005, Rosie’s birthday present to me was two tickets to a Yankee game against the Pirates. At the time, the Yankees had been playing .500 ball and Giambi was contributing next to nothing. Yankee fans remember that 2004 had been the year they found a tumor on Giambi’s pituitary gland, ending what had already become the worst season of the slugger’s career. During the 2004 post season, reports of Giambi’s admitted steroid use became public and he then issued his famous “sort of an apology”. So when Rosie and I took our seats in the first row of Yankee Stadium’s right field upper deck, Giambi was lost at the plate and New York skipper, Joe Torre, was actually batting him eighth in that day’s lineup. What surprised me a whole lot more was the volume and fierceness of the jeers from the fans that met Giambi when his name was announced before his first at-bat in the bottom of the second inning. That’s when my wife stood up and began screaming “Let’s Go Giambi, you can do it.” When she sat down I asked her when she had become such a huge Giambi fan and she told me she felt sorry for him. On that day, Giambi became her new favorite Yankee. Jason proceeded to smash a hard line drive single to right field.
In his next three at bats he did not reach base and struck out twice but the Yankees did rally from a four run deficit to force the game into extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, Giambi came up with the winning run on second and with Rosemary standing on her feet and screaming at the top of her lungs, smashed a Jose Mesa fast ball into the right field upper deck for a game-winning two-run home run.
Remarkably, Giambi proceeded to go on a tear at the plate. When that day’s game against the Pirates started, Giambi’s batting average was .238 and he had a total of 4 home runs and 17 RBI’s for the season. By the end of that season Giambi had hit 32 home runs, driven in 87 and raised his average to .271. The Yankee record from the day of that game was 63-35 and they captured the 2005 divisional title.
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