May 13 – Happy Birthday Jose Rijo

rijoThose of us who remember the first half of George Steinbrenner’s tenure as principal owner of the Yankees remember the two things he hated most. The first was seeing his Yankees lose a baseball game. The second was seeing his Yankees lose the back-page headlines of New York City’s tabloid newspapers to the cross-town New York Mets.

When the 1984 regular season began, “The Boss” had already enjoyed a decade of dominant Big Apple press coverage. His Yankees had been to five postseasons and won two rings in those ten years. The Mets, on the other hand, after making the World Series that first year of Steinbrenner’s rein had entered into an extended period of losing by 1977. As Opening Day 1984 approached, the Amazin’s were coming off seven consecutive seasons during which they had failed to reach 70 victories.

But as Steinbrenner began his second decade of Yankeedom, there was a definite whiff of change in the air between the Bronx and Flushing. More specifically, it was a nineteen year old Doctor of Whiff’s with a blazing fastball who would almost singlehandedly evict the Bronx Bombers form the back pages of the Daily News and Post. His name was Dwight Gooden and he would electrify baseball with his 17-9 rookie season and league-leading 276 strikeouts. He led that ’84 team to their first 90-win season since the legendary Miracle Mets of 1969 and he would help the club reach that level of success six more times during the next seven years.

The Boss reacted to Gooden’s emergence as only “the Boss” could. He demanded the Yankees find a teenaged phee-nom starter of their own. The unfortunate pinstriped pitching prospect selected for the cloning experiment was a nineteen-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic who was coming off an 18-7 1983 season spent mostly as a starter with the Yankees’ single A team in the Florida League. Never mind he wasn’t yet old enough to drink and had only pitched a month of that season in double A ball, the Mets had a 19-year-old pitching sensation dominating his league and George Steinbrenner wanted one of his own.

The problem that almost became a tragic career blunder was that Rijo, unlike Gooden was nowhere near ready to pitch at the big league level. Manager Yogi Berra let him perform out of the bullpen the first month of that ’84 season but my guess is that the hotter Gooden got starting for the Mets the greater the pressure the Boss put on Berra to start Rijo. Berra began using him as a starter in early May. By June 11th, his record was 1-6 and Yogi put him back in the bullpen. Less than a month later, he was 2-8 and pitching in Columbus. That December, he was one of five Yankees sent Oakland in the trade for Ricky Henderson.

After three mediocre years with the A’s, Rijo signed as a free agent with the Reds and found a home. He was 97-61 during his decade in Cincinnati, during which he won the 1990 World Series MVP award for his two Fall Classic victories against Oakland. Rijo, who was born in 1965, is the son-in-law of Hall-of-Fame pitcher, Juan Marichal.

Rijo shares his May 13th birthday with another Yankee pitching prospect who made his big league debut in May of 2012 and also this current Yankee backup catcher.

1984 NYY 2 8 .200 4.76 24 5 8 0 0 2 62.1 74 40 33 5 33 47 1.717
14 Yrs 116 91 .560 3.24 376 269 43 22 4 3 1880.0 1710 772 676 147 663 1606 1.262
CIN (10 yrs) 97 61 .614 2.83 280 215 22 17 4 0 1478.0 1301 523 464 102 453 1251 1.187
OAK (3 yrs) 17 22 .436 4.74 72 49 13 5 0 1 339.2 335 209 179 40 177 308 1.507
NYY (1 yr) 2 8 .200 4.76 24 5 8 0 0 2 62.1 74 40 33 5 33 47 1.717
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/13/2013.

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