Results tagged ‘ march 13 ’
George Steinbrenner was not the first Yankee owner of German extraction who liked to wheel and deal his way to a pennant. That honor belonged to millionaire brewer, Jacob Rupert, who purchased the New York AL franchise in 1914. He considered every day his baseball team made the headlines as free advertisement for his beer and since the teams that made it to the World Series got the most headlines, old Jake was determined to turn the Yankees into winners as quickly as possible.
His first big move in that direction was the acquisition of Baseball’s first famous slugger. Frank Baker’s nickname was “”Home Run”". He had led the American League in home runs four straight times as a Philadelphia Athletic from 1911 through 1914, during which he hit 11, 10, 12 and 9 round trippers, respectively. He then got into a contract dispute with Connie Mack and sat out the 1915 season. The Hall of Famer spent the last six of his thirteen-year big league career with New York and hit half of his 96 career round trippers as a Yankee. When he retired for good in 1922, he had helped New York make it to the franchise’s first two World Series.
I do remember getting pretty excited when New York acquired this veteran right-hander from the Dodgers after their 2003 World Series defeat to the Marlins. They had to give up Jeff Weaver to get him but Weaver had been unimpressive in pinstripes. New York also had to pay Brown’s salary of $15 million per year but the Yankees had the cash.
Brown’s initial season as a Yankee was filled with disappointments. First, his chronically sore back prevented him from pitching well over an extended string of starts. Next, a frustrated Brown injured his hand punching a concrete wall, angering his teammates. Finally, Brown pitched terribly in the seventh and deciding game of the disastrous 2004 ALCS against the Red Sox, sealing his reputation as a disappointment with Yankee fans. He then went 4-7 in 2005 and retired with a career record of 211-144.
Legendary Yankee GM, George Weiss was not one to judge a ballplayer’s talent by his physical appearance but he made an exception when it came to Cliff Mapes. Originally signed by the Cleveland Indians before WWII, the Yankees had picked up the outfielder in the 1946 supplemental draft. If a Hollywood casting agent put out a call for an actor to play a ballplayer, Mapes would have got the part on first look. He was 6’3″ tall and a chiseled 205 pounds of muscle. His problem was he couldn’t hit very well but Weiss was determined to keep him. He would tell anyone who asked about Mapes that he didn’t know if the Sutherland, Nebraska native would ever evolve into a big league ballplayer, but if he did, Weiss was determined it was going to be as a Yankee.
Mapes had seen his first action as a Yankee in 1948, hitting .250 in 88 at bats. He got his big opportunity at the beginning of the 1949 season, when Joe DiMaggio’s sore heals prevented him from playing. Casey Stengel started big Cliff in place of the Yankee Clipper in center and he fielded and hit just well enough to keep the job until DiMaggio returned. He had his best season in pinstripes in 1950, when he set career highs with 12 home runs and 61 RBIs as New York’s fourth outfielder. The following year, both Mickey Mantle and Jackie Jensen were added to the Yankee roster so when Mapes got off to a slow start that season, Weiss’s reluctance to let him go vanished and he was sold to the St Louis Browns. He would hit .274 during his half-season with St Louis and then got traded to Detroit. When he hit just .195 for the Tigers in 1952 he was released and rejoined the Yankee organization at the Minor League level. He never again played a big league game.
Mapes became sort of famous for the Yankee uniform numbers he wore. He was the last Bronx Bomber to wear number 3, before it was retired forever upon Babe Ruth’s death. He then donned jersey number 13 for the rest of the 1948 season before getting number 7 in 1949 and wearing it until he was sold to the Browns in 1951, at which time it became the property of Mantle. Mapes passed away in December of 1996 at the age of 74.
He shares his March 13th birthday with the starting second baseman on the Yankees 1996 World Championship team and the starting third baseman on the first two Yankee teams to compete in a World Series.
By the time the Yankees signed Mariano Duncan as a free agent in December of 1995, the Dominican middle infielder was already a 32-year-old, 11-year veteran of the big leagues. The Yankees expected to play their rookie, Derek Jeter at short in 1996 and were going to move switch-hitting Tony Fernandez from short to second. They wanted Duncan to serve as a backup for both positions. That plan fell apart when Fernandez got hurt in spring training and was shelved for the year. Manager Joe Torre gave Yankee rookie Andy Fox every chance to win the second base job but the youngster could not get his average up to .200. Then Torre gave Duncan a try. He responded with the best season of his career.
Mariano hit .340 in 109 games that year. He became a leader in that Yankee clubhouse and his popular pre-game pronouncement, “We play today, we win today…dassit” became the slogan of that amazing club. When the Yankees won the 1996 Pennant and World Series, I was pretty certain Duncan would be back to start at second again in 1997. But George Steinbrenner did not feel the same way. He did not think Duncan was good enough defensively and when the Boss’s feeling became public, Mariano was angry and demanded to be traded. The Yankees tried to grant him that wish by reaching a deal with the Padres that would send Duncan and pitcher Kenny Rogers to San Diego in return for slugger Greg Vaughn. When Vaughn failed his physical and the deal was voided, Duncan became even more vocal about his dislike for Steinbrenner. Finally, after the All Star break, the Yankees traded Duncan to Toronto. He played his final 39 big league games as a Blue Jay and then tried Japanese baseball for a year before retiring for good.
Yankee fans will always remember Mariano’s great year in 1996 and he has a ring on his finger to prove it. This former Yankee slugger shares a March 13 birthday with Mariano as does this former outfielder who was the last Yankee to wear uniform number 7 before Mickey Mantle made it famous.