Author Archives: Dan H.

On This Day in History | 1926

Ruth at Comiskey Park in 1926 (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Ruth at Comiskey Park in 1926 (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

On this day 87 years ago, the Yankees pounded The Big Train, Walter Johnson, in an 18-5 drubbing at Griffith Stadium. Babe Ruth led the charge against the future Hall of Famer, going 5-for-6 with a double, homer, and 6 RBIs. The offense tallied 22 hits and 18 runs, tagging the Train for 7 runs on 8 hits. It was the most runs he would give up all season.

Urban Shocker shone for the Bombers, yielding just 3 earned runs over 8 innings before giving way to Hank Johnson to finish the job. The Senators threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Yanks, using a 20 different players throughout the game, but they could not stem the tide of the eventual American League Champions.

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On This Day in History | 1978

Reggie Bar

“When you unwrap a Reggie bar, it tells you how good it is.” — Catfish Hunter (Photo courtesy of GottaHaveIt.com)

On this day 35 years ago it rained candy bars in the Bronx.

In the 1978 home opener the Yankees celebrated “Reggie Candy Bar Day,” handing out Reggie! candy bars to the 44,667 fans in attendance.  Adding to the buzz in the Stadium that day Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were honored before the game.

In the first inning, Chicago’s Wilbur Wood got himself into a jam, yielding a leadoff walk to Willie Randolph and a single to Mickey Rivers, bringing “the straw that stirs the drink” to the plate.  Reggie Jackson dug in and took the first two pitches for balls.  Then, Jackson connected with a 2-0 knuckleball, sending it deep over the right-center field wall.  As soon as the ball disappeared from sight it began to rain orange squares as the crowd threw the free Reggie! bars all over the field while chanting, “Re-ggie! Re-ggie!”  For several minutes the chocolate and peanut confection fell from every corner of the Cathedral, covering the hallowed ground of Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees went on to win the game 4-2 behind a complete game performance from Ron Guidry.  Afterwards Jackson said of the event, “I just appreciated it. It was a nice gesture.” Yankees manager Bob Lemon was less forgiving of the fans quipping, “People starving all over the world and 30 billion calories are laying on the field.” The other astonishing part of the feat was that along with Jackson’s 3 home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, this round-tripper gave him a home run in 4 consecutive at bats.

I was concerned the people didn’t like it.  Standard Brands and Curtiss Candy out of Chicago, they thought it was the greatest PR thing they ever could’ve dreamed of because they got like two and a half minutes of airtime on national television. They really thought that it was wonderful.  I was nervous that people didn’t like it.

| Reggie Jackson |

The Ol’ College Try: The Yanks’ History vs. Amateurs

Ruth & Gehrig at West Point in 1927 (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Ruth & Gehrig at West Point in 1927 (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

On March 30th the Yankees will travel to West Point for a final exhibition game before their season opener with Boston on April 1st, reigniting a familiar matchup that has occurred nearly two dozen times over the years.  The first meeting between the two fabled institutions occurred on May 26, 1927 when the Murderers’ Row Yankees of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Earle Combs beat the cadets 2-0.  Ruth’s Yankees returned to the academy six times over the next seven years. In 1934, during his final game at Doubleday Field, the Sultan hit a colossal 500-foot blast over the right field wall, still regarded as the longest ball ever hit at West Point.

The closest the Pointers came to besting the professionals was in the 1966 tilt when the Yanks eked out a 1-0 victory thanks to a first inning RBI groundout by an aging Mickey Mantle. Between 1927 and 1976 the Yankees played the cadets twenty-one times, winning each contest:

  1. 5/26/1927 | 2-0
  2. 5/3/1928 | 20-9
  3. 5/23/1930 | 20-2
  4. 4/17/1931 | 15-1
  5. 5/31/1932 | 9-3
  6. 4/10/1933 | 9-0
  7. 6/11/1934 | 7-0
  8. 4/22/1935 | 5-1
  9. 6/1/1936 | 6-2
  10. 4/19/1937 | 19-4
  11. 5/8/1944 | 14-0
  12. 4/14/1961 | 14-0
  13. 5/7/1962 | 8-4
  14. 4/22/1963 | 15-2
  15. 4/27/1964 | 8-2
  16. 4/29/1966 | 1-0
  17. 5/9/1968 | 9-0
  18. 5/22/1969 | 4-0
  19. 4/27/1972 | 10-1
  20. 4/23/1974 | 7-0
  21. 4/19/1976 | 2-0

Over the years the Yanks have played a number of amateur squads, including last season’s victory over the University of South Florida. Perhaps the most legendary matchup between the Yanks and an NCAA club occurred on March 26, 1951 when the Bombers faced the University of Southern California during a pre-season, west coast barnstorming tour. During the contest a young, relatively unknown ballplayer from Commerce, Oklahoma began his 17-year foray on pitching with two blasts that remain an indelible part of Trojan lore.

In the first inning the fresh-faced, 19-year-old outfielder strode to the plate and cracked a right-handed moonshot that left the stadium via left field, soared over a street and hit a house. In the 6th the rookie dug in against the Trojans’ Tom Lovich. On the fateful pitch the catcher, John Burkhead, thinking it was a wild pitch, dove to his left but found nothing but dirt. The batter, stepping out of the box and across the plate, had sent the ball hurtling toward right-center field. When the projectile finally came to rest it had cleared Bovard Field, entered the football team’s practice field, and rolled into the huddle. After the game a relief pitcher named Ed Hookstratten walked off the shot and placed its distance between 600 and 650 feet. The 3,000 in attendance were stunned by the raw power of the lithe teenager and wouldn’t soon forget his name.

Before the game’s end, Mickey Mantle added a bases-clearing triple to the deepest part of center field in the 7th and showcased his blinding speed in the 9th, beating out a routine grounder to shortstop. His final line:

5 AB | 4 H | 2 HR | 1 3B | 1 1B | 7 RBI

Rod Dedeaux simply christened it, “The greatest show in history.” The next morning’s Los Angeles Times led with the headline, “One for the Mantle, Yanks Dismantle Troy.” Though it came against a college team, Mantle’s display was so dazzling that it may have been what finally convinced the Yankee brass to place him on the big league roster. When the Mick arrived for spring training, manager Casey Stengel was looking to groom him for another year to become Joe DiMaggio‘s successor in center field. Mantle was not expected to make the squad, but after putting together a string of solid play during their west coast swing, punctuated by his offensive explosion in Los Angeles, it was clear that the kid was ready for a crack at the big time. Mantle made the roster for the 1951 season and hit 13 home runs while manning right field. The rest, as they say, is history.

On March 30th the Yankees will add another chapter to their longstanding tradition of competing against amateurs. Who knows? We may just see some fireworks.

Sandman Returns

Mo (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Mo (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

298 days.

That’s how long it had been since Mariano Rivera faced live batters until throwing a batting practice session yesterday. On April 30, 2012 Mo picked up his fifth save of the season in a 2-1 victory over Baltimore at the Stadium. Three days later he tore his ACL shagging flies in Kansas City. The 20-pitch effort is a small body of work, but Rivera was optimistic afterwards saying to MLB.com’s Adam Berry, “[It was] the first BP that I threw in almost a year, so I’m real happy with the results. It will get better. The longer I keep throwing, it will get better… It’s good, man. I feel real good. I feel real good with the results.”

Others at Yankee camp voiced similar optimism after witnessing the Sandman take the mound. Manager Joe Girardi said he looked “like what you expect him to look like, which is a good thing. Delivery, the ball movement, the strikes he’s throwing, he’s throwing it where he wants to, not taking a lot of time in between pitches — he looked normal to me.” Jorge Posada may have spoken the four most prolific words of spring training when he said, “The cutter’s still cutting.”

Rivera’s outlook has remained entirely positive since first throwing a bullpen session on February 13th. After that 25-pitch performance in front of some 40 reporters, Newsday’s David Lennon quoted Mo at a press conference saying he was a “9 out of 10″ and would be a 10 by the start of the season. During his entire time in Tampa Mo has reported feeling no discomfort, has not appeared to be favoring his left knee at all, and by all accounts seems to be back to his old self, right down to his pinpoint accuracy.

For those of us who have watched Mariano during his 17-year, Hall of Fame career the positive news is what we were hoping for last May, but were not sure was possible. Seeing him writhing on the warning track in pain was almost more than we could bear, because if you’ve watched Mariano for any amount of time, you become a fan not only of his supreme talent but of who he is as a person. There is simply not a classier player in baseball. While a cold-blooded assassin on the mound, Mo is a humble and quiet man off of it, always ready to deflect praise to God or his teammates. He has built churches both in his native Panama and locally in New Rochelle and has given back in a myriad ways through his Rivera Foundation.

We wanted him to come back healthy not just for the service of his beguiling cutter, but because hurting his knee while shagging flies would have been a far too ignominious end for one of the best players and people in baseball history. For those of us that are fans of Mariano, beyond our own selfishness to have the best closer in baseball back in the bullpen, we simply wanted him to be able to go out on his own terms. If the early reports from Tampa hold true it appears he will be able to do that, if only for one Mo go around.

On This Day in History | 2004

A-Rod strokes his 600th HR (Photo courtesy of Flickr)

A-Rod strokes his 600th HR (Photo courtesy of Flickr)

On this day 9 years ago the Yankees finalized a deal that brought Alex Rodriguez to New York for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later.  The framework of the deal included Texas agreeing to pay $67 million of the $179 million left on his contract, giving A-Rod roughly $16 million a year, or $14,403 per nine innings.

Has it really been 9 years?

During that span we have seen one of the greatest players of all-time (even if you don’t like the guy you have to admit this) win two MVPs, destroy everyone in the 2009 postseason, and hit his 400th, 500th, and 600th career home runs. We have also seen him disappear in more than a few postseasons, admit to taking PEDs, date Madonna, and slap the ball out of Bronson Arroyo‘s glove. Has there ever been a more schizophrenic career in the history of baseball? (Don’t say Milton Bradley because he may have actually been schizophrenic.)

There are two interesting subplots to this story that are often forgotten. The first is that the Yankees were not even in the market for a third baseman until Aaron Boone tore his ACL during a pickup basketball game in late January, an unfortunate injury that not only ended his season but violated his contract with the Yanks. All of sudden there was a hole to fill.

Secondly, Boston blew it. They had A-Rod locked up and I spent most of the ’04 Christmas season petrified that A-Rod would end up with Sox and hit pop flies onto Lansdowne Street for the next ten years; but Boston couldn’t get out of its own way. They nearly landed Rodriguez in December, but a proposed deal fell through that would have sent Manny Ramirez to Texas. Boston was golden until the Players’ Association stymied their attempt to restructure Rodriguez’s monster $252 million contract that apparently would have lowered its value by roughly $32 million. Ten months later the Sox didn’t look so foolish as they wrapped up their World Series sweep, giving them their first title in 86 years, nevertheless, it’s an interesting backdrop to one of the biggest trades in Yankee history.

What are your favorite/least favorite A-Rod moments? Share them in the comments section below.

Hop Aboard the A-Rod Coaster

Rodriguez in 2008 (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Rodriguez in 2008 (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

If a roller coaster was created with the same sharp rises, abrupt plunges, and spine-bending curves of Alex Rodriguez’ Yankee career, its G-Forces would kill anyone foolish enough to ride it.  Here are some of the rises and falls of A-Rod’s nine seasons in pinstripes. [Rises in bold]

  • Feb. 15, 2004 | Traded to NY from the Rangers.  He chooses #13.  No one finds this ominous.
  • July 24, 2004 | Brawls with Jason Varitek at Fenway
  • Oct. 9, 2004 | Finishes ALDS with .421 BA
  • Oct. 19, 2004 | Swats the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove in Game 6 of the ALCS
  • Apr. 26, 2005 | 3 HR and 10 RBIs vs. the Angels
  • Nov. 14, 2005Wins 2nd AL MVP, 1st with the Yanks
  • May 30, 2007 | Shouts while passing a Toronto 3B, causing him to drop a pop up
  • Aug. 4, 2007 | 500th HR
  • Oct. 8, 2007 | Dating back to Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS he is 0 for 29 with RISP in the postseason.
  • Oct. 28, 2007 | Opts out of his contract.
  • Nov. 19, 2007 | Wins his 3rd AL MVP, 2nd with the Yanks.
  • Feb. 9, 2009 | Admits to using steroids from 2001-2003
  • May 8, 2009 | Returns after missing first month of the season, hitting a 3-run HR on 1st pitch.
  • Aug. 7, 2009 | Walkoff 15th inning HR vs. Red Sox
  • Oct. 9, 2009 | Ties Game 2 of the ALDS with a 2-run HR in the 9th inning
  • Oct. 17, 2009 | Ties Game 2 of the ALCS with a 2-run HR in the 11th inning
  • Oct. 31, 2009 | HR off a camera in RF in Game 3 of the World Series
  • Nov. 4, 2009 | Wins World Series, finishing postseason with 18 RBIs
  • Aug. 4, 2010 | Hits 600th HR
  • Sept. 29, 2010 | Record 13th straight season with 30 HR/100 RBI
  • Oct. 22, 2010 | Finishes ALCS with .190 BA
  • July 11, 2011 | Undergoes arthroscopic knee surgery
  • Aug. 4, 2011 | ESPN reports he participated in illegal, underground poker games
  • Oct. 6, 2011 | Finishes ALDS with .111 BA
  • June 12, 2012Hits record-tying 23rd grand slam
  • July 24, 2012 | Breaks hand on HBP
  • Oct. 13, 2012 | Reportedly hits on female fans during Game 1 of the ALCS
  • Oct. 18, 2012 | Finishes 3 for 25 in the postseason
  • Jan. 16, 2013 | Has surgery on his left hip
  • Jan. 29, 2013 | Linked to PEDs again through his connection to a Florida clinic
  • Jan. 30, 2013 | The Yanks look into voiding his contract

It’s anyone’s best guess what tomorrow will hold.

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Follow Dan on Twitter @161st_and_River

A Chat with Jim Abbott

Abbott while pitching for the Calgary Cannons in 1998 (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Abbott while pitching for the Calgary Cannons in 1998 (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The word “perseverance” is thrown around a lot in the world of sports.  Any time an athlete plays through an injury or attains a height they have previously failed to achieve, we laud them for their ability to endure–and rightfully so; but few have had to overcome more than Jim Abbott.  In a sport that requires incredible dexterity and hand-eye-coordination, Abbott was able to succeed at the highest level despite being born without a right hand.

Abbott was born in Flint, Michigan and went on to attend Flint Central High School where he was a standout pitcher and quarterback for the Indians.  He was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 36th round of the ’85 MLB Draft, but decided to forgo his entry into professional baseball in order to attend the University of Michigan.  During his three years with the maize and blue he was a 2-time All-American, won the 1987 Golden Spikes Award as the top amateur baseball player in the nation, and in 1988 was both the Big Ten Player of the Year in baseball and the Big Ten Athlete of the Year. His name is peppered through the Wolverine career record book: wins (5th), ERA (6th), complete games (8th), and strikeouts (13th).

In 1988 Abbott took the mound in the gold medal game of the Summer Olympics, helping the United States earn the victory over Japan.  He was selected 8th overall in the ’88 MLB Draft by the Angels and pitched for California over the next four seasons, finishing 3rd in the 1991 Cy Young vote.

Abbott came to the Yankees in 1993 where he quickly became a fan favorite.  On September 4, 1993 he turned in the most memorable performance of his career, no-hitting the Cleveland Indians in a 4-0 victory at Yankee Stadium.  In 1994 his 9 wins were tied for second-highest on the team as the Yanks built a 6.5 game AL East lead before the strike cut the season short in August.  Though he only wore the pinstripes for two seasons, he is still fondly remembered in New York for his courage and humility as well as his inspiring gem against Cleveland.

Since retiring from the game in 1999, Abbott has received a number of honors and has continued to use his story to inspire and encourage others.  In 2004 he was enshrined in the University of Michigan Hall of Honor and in 2007 he was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame.  In 2009 his #31 was retired by the University of Michigan.  In 2012 his autobiography Imperfect was published and he continues to travel the country as a motivational speaker.

Jim was kind enough to briefly answer a few of my questions amid his busy life as a father, husband, and speaker.

*     *     *     *     *

Carlos Baerga grounds out on September 4, 1993. What’s the first thing that goes through your head?

It’s hard to describe my feelings. There was just this huge rush of adrenaline along with a disbelief that this could actually be happening!  It felt like an electrical current was going through my body.

What was your favorite part about your time in New York?

Playing in Yankee Stadium in the pinstripes with a sold-out crowd.

What teammate were you closest with during your time in New York?

Scott Kamieniecki and Jimmy Key.  Although I loved many of the great characters on those teams.  [Don] Mattingly, [Paul] O’Neill, [Mike] Stanley, [Wade] Boggs, [Mike] Gallego.  It was a really fun group of guys.

What did it feel like to have the strike end the ’94 season when you had helped the Yanks claim 1st place in the AL East?

I was really bummed.  That team was very good.  I think we would have made the playoffs and maybe started the Yankee run one year earlier.

What have you been doing since retiring in ’99?

I have been doing motivational speaking and raising a family in California.  I released a memoir last year called Imperfect.  The structure of the book revolves around the 9 innings of the no hitter in ’93.

What does it mean to you to be able to share your story and inspire others?

I have come to appreciate the connection we all feel to the game.  The fact that I played a little differently helps me to tell the story a bit differently but in the end it is still a baseball story.  I cherish my connections with the game.

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Follow Jim on Twitter @jabbottum31.
Follow Dan on Twitter @161st_and_River.

On This Day In History | 1955

Dec. 1941 | DiMaggio and his signature bat (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress)

Dec. 1941 | DiMaggio and his signature bat (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress)

On this day 58 years ago the immortal Joe DiMaggio was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America.  Incredibly, after a career in which he slugged 361 home runs, batted .325, won 3 MVPs, and recorded a 56-game hitting streak, the Yankee Clipper was enshrined in his third year of eligibility.  His deferment can be partially explained by the fact that during the early fifties there was such a bottleneck of greats that even transcendent players like DiMaggio had to wait their turn.  For example, the 1950 ballot famously included Mel Ott, Bill Terry, Jimmie Foxx, Paul Waner, Al Simmons, Harry Heilmann, Dizzy Dean, and Bill Dickey, yet that year Cooperstown opened its doors to no one.

In 1953, DiMaggio’s first eligible year, he received just 44.32% of the required 75% vote for admission.  In 1954 he received 69.44% of the vote, but Rabbit Maranville, Bill Dickey, and Bill Terry were the only ones elected.  Now, before we storm the ivy-covered walls of Cooperstown over DiMaggio’s snubs, the Hall enacted a special “DiMaggio Rule” in 1954, the same year they installed the 5-year waiting period before retired players could be eligible.  Out of respect for the Clipper, they allowed him to remain on the 1955 ballot while his contemporaries had to wait the requisite five years.  He was admitted on the 1955 ballot, becoming the only player from the 1950s to also be enshrined in the 1950s.  Here is the 1955 ballot:

  1. Joe DiMaggio | 88.84%
  2. Ted Lyons | 86.45%
  3. Dazzy Vance | 81.67%
  4. Gabby Hartnett | 77.69%
  5. Hank Greenberg | 62.55%
  6. Joe Cronin | 53.78%

DiMaggio found out about his greatest honor in an unceremonious way.  While entering the Bronx on a return trip from Boston, a truck driver beside DiMaggio yelled out, “Congratulations,” and added something about the Hall of Fame.  As DiMaggio remembered, “I didn’t know what to believe, so I turned on my car radio and sure enough, it was true.”

He was enshrined on July 25, 1955 in front of the biggest crowd since 1939.  In his induction speech Joltin’ Joe famously said, “Now I’ve had everything except for the thrill of watching Babe Ruth play.”  The humbled hero added, “I’m proud indeed to be put alongside Lou, Bill Dickey, my other old teammates, and those other great players of my time and before.”

The Milwaukee Journal recounted the day in an article on July 26, 1955:

Joe DiMaggio stole the spotlight here Monday when he and five other former baseball stars were inducted into the Hall of Fame.  The former New York Yankee outfielder received a long ovation when he was introduced by baseball commissioner Ford Frick.

“This is a happy day for me,” DiMaggio said after he was presented a replica of the plaque which will hang in the Hall of Fame.  DiMaggio, 40, told the crowd he had tried to pattern himself after the late Lou Gehrig.

“I watched every move Lou made on and off the field,” Joe said.  “Also I’d like to thank Joe McCarthy, my first manager, for the early training he gave me.”

Remembering the ’62 Classic on National Hat Day

Richardson (hatless) runs towards his swarming teammates after the final out while the ump admires his gift (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

Yesterday was National Hat Day–don’t ask me who comes up with these things–and that gives us an occasion to remember an interesting story about an old Yankees cap.

On a Tuesday afternoon at Candlestick Park the Yankees carried a 1-0 lead into the 9th inning of Game 7.  The Bombers had taken the lead in the 5th when Bill Skowron scored from third after Tony Kubek grounded into a double play.  Ralph Terry, in a masterpiece, had allowed just 2 hits over the previous 8 innings, but ran into trouble as the Giants attempted to stave off elimination.  Matty Alou led off with a single, but Terry was resilient as he struck out Felipe Alou and Chuck Hiller.  Down to their last gasp, the Giants sent Willie Mays to the plate who doubled to right, putting the tying and winning runs into scoring position for Willie McCovey, who had 1 of San Fran’s 4 hits.  Terry, who in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series yielded the iconic home run to Bill Mazeroski, dealt to the Giants’ slugger who roped what for a moment looked like the winning hit.  Bobby Richardson, who had moved to his left after McCovey had pulled a ball down the right field line, stuck his glove just over his left shoulder to snare the screaming liner and preserve the 1-0 Yankee victory and a 20th World Championship.  However, what happened just prior to the final pitch of the 1962 Fall Classic is just as noteworthy.

When I spoke to Richardson over the phone several weeks ago he recalled the moments leading up to one of the most important defensive plays in Yankee history.  “What I remember most is McCovey was up, Hiller was on 3rd, Mays was on 2nd and I walked over to 2nd to talk to Kubek,” recollected the 8-time All-Star.  “We talked a lot.  Kubek says to me, ‘I hope he doesn’t hit it to you!’  I asked, ‘Why?’  He said, ‘Because you already made one error.’  We both laughed.”  He also remembered a strange request by a National League umpire standing near him.  “The other thing I remember is right before the pitch the ump turned to me and asked for my hat for his little cousin.  So I caught the ball and flipped the hat to him.”  What shines through in this anecdote is more Richardson’s class than the umpire’s audacity, adding yet another interesting fragment to the annals of Yankee lore.

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