After a nine-year career as a star outfielder for Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, Ken Griffey Sr. was signed as a free agent by the Yankees after the 1981 season. That was right after the fractious players strike, the crazy split-season format caused by the work action and New York’s loss to the Dodgers in the 1981 World Series. All three of those events impacted George Steinbrenner’s ownership philosophy to a point where he stopped listening to his baseball people and started making baseball decisions and deals on his own. Nothing symbolized the Boss’s going rogue better than the signing of Griffey and the trade for his Cincinnati outfield teammate, Dave Collins. The Yankees ended up with six outfielders on their 1982 roster making it difficult for Griffey and completely impossible for Collins to feel like they fit in. A solid but not spectacular player, Griffey later admitted to Baseball Digest that he felt much more comfortable playing in the National League. He lasted four and a half seasons in the Bronx, averaging .285 during that span. Just before the 1986 All Star break, the Yankees traded Griffey and shortstop Andre Robertson to the Braves for Claudell Washington and Paul Zuvella. Griffey couldn’t wait to get back to the Senior Circuit.
He would end up playing nineteen seasons in the big leagues, finally retiring in 1991, with a lifetime average of .296 and 2,143 hits. He was the second best ballplayer to be born in Donora, PA behind Stan “the Man” Musial and the second best ballplayer to be born in his own family behind his superstar son and former Mariner teammate, Ken “the Kid” Griffey.
This former Yankee, also born on April 10th, was New York’s starting DH in the Opening Day lineup of Griffey’s first game in pinstripes in 1982.
|CIN (12 yrs)||1224||4716||4206||709||1275||212||63||71||466||156||455||549||.303||.370||.434||.804|
|NYY (5 yrs)||551||2169||1977||275||563||99||10||49||251||27||158||210||.285||.336||.419||.755|
|ATL (3 yrs)||271||976||884||122||252||44||4||28||115||17||83||123||.285||.345||.439||.784|
|SEA (2 yrs)||51||188||162||23||53||9||0||4||27||0||23||16||.327||.410||.457||.866|
When Mariano Rivera tore his ACL shagging fly balls during a Yankee batting practice in Kauffman Stadium’s outfield in May of 2012, I thought David Robertson’s moment with destiny had arrived. I was sure it would be D-Rob and not the much higher-salaried Rafael Soriano who would be given the opportunity to replace the greatest closer ever to play the game and I was right. The next day it was Robertson who Joe Giardi summoned to pitch the ninth inning of a CC Sabathia 6-2 victory over Kansas City. Back at Yankee Stadium against the Rays a few days later, it was again D-Rob who got the call in the ninth inning, this time in a save situation. I can distinctly remember wondering how Soriano felt that night watching Robertson walk to the mound in a save situation against the team Raffie had left to take millions of Yankee dollars.
Robertson got the save that evening but it wasn’t pretty. He walked two batters and gave up a hit. Yankee fans had gotten use to seeing Robertson put men on base and then wiggle his way out of it. But that was when he was Rivera’s set-up man. Now, as closer, that wiggle room seemed a lot less spacious to Yankee fans and maybe Robertson noticed the difference too. The next night he got shelled for four runs against the same Tampa team, blowing the save and losing the game. The following night, Girardi turned to Soriano to close out the final game of the series and you could feel the torch being passed. A couple nights later, Robertson finished a game in Seattle (a non-save-situation) and the a few days later he was placed on the DL with a strained muscle in his rib cage, which could have been the result of a young pitcher trying too hard in his effort to replace a legend.
When Soriano opted out of his Yankee contract after the 2012 season, Robertson was again the favorite to replace Mariano, who announced in spring training that the 2013 season would be his last one. I believed D-Rob would benefit from his first attempt at closer and be much better prepared mentally to take over the role the next time he was given the opportunity. He then put together another very strong year as Mo’s eighth-inning set-up guy in 2013, and sealed the deal that he would succeed the greatest closer of all time.
Robertson got his first two saves of the 2014 season without much of a problem but he also suffered a groin injury in the process of earning that second one, which put him back on the DL. I became officially concerned about this guy’s physical frailty. Did he have the strength and stamina to withstand the rigors of being a big league closer? He most certainly did.
D-Rob came back from that injury and pitched close to Mo-like relief for the Yankees the rest of the way, ending the 2014 season with 39 saves and great strikeout to walks and innings pitched ratios. The question then became would the Yankees offer their now-free agent closer the huge contract he was looking for? They did not and Robertson signed with a team that did, the Chicago White Sox.
Robertson was born in Birmingham, AL, on April 9, 1985. He was a 17th round pick for New York in the 2006 draft.
Ten years before Robertson joined the Yankee bullpen, this lefty reliever, also born on April 9th, was a key member of New York’s relief corps. This long-ago starting pitcher also shares D-Rob’s birthday.
I was not a big fan of Bob Watson when he became the Yankee’s starting first baseman in 1980. The biggest reason for this was that I had been a big fan of the starting first baseman Watson replaced that season for New York, Chris Chambliss. In my humble opinion, the historic home run Chambliss had hit to get the Yankees into the 1976 World Series earned him the right to remain in pinstripes for the rest of his playing career. Instead, the Yankees had dealt him to the Blue Jays to get Toronto catcher, Rick Cerone. New York then signed Watson as a free agent to take over at first.
Watson was actually a very similar player to Chambliss. He averaged about 16 home-runs per season, drove in close to 90 and hit close to .300. He wasn’t as good defensively as Chambliss was, but few were. He had a good first year in pinstripes, hitting .307 and helping New York make the playoffs. He slumped badly in 1981, hitting just .212 during that strike shortened season. He then surprised me and every other Yankee fan by putting together an outstanding 1981 postseason. He hit .438 against the Brewers in that year’s ALDS and then had 2 home runs and 7 RBIs in the Yankees’ 6-game loss to the Dodgers in the ’81 World Series. That didn’t prevent the Yankees from trading the LA native to the Braves in April of the following season. Watson then spent the final three years of his 19-season big league career, backing up the same first baseman he had replaced as a Yankee starter in 1980.
After retiring in 1984, Watson became a coach with Oakland, then an assistant GM at Houston and in 1993, he was promoted to GM by the Astros, becoming the first black man in Major League history to hold that position. George Steinbrenner then hired Watson as GM of the Yankees in October of 1995 where he remained until Brian Cashman replaced him in February of 1998. Watson found out very quickly that working as GM for the Boss could be hazardous to one’s health. Steinbrenner would not let Watson make any decisions by himself, which still did not prevent the Yankee owner from berating his new GM’s every action. George even refused to congratulate Watson after the Yankees’ 1996 World Series win. The stress of working for Steinbrenner was so bad that the guy who’s nickname had been “the Bull” during his playing days, ended up in the hospital in April of 1997 with high blood pressure and orders from his doctors to reduce his Yankee GM workload by 25%.
Also born on this date was this father of one of baseball’s all-time great home run hitters.
|HOU (14 yrs)||1381||5496||4883||640||1448||241||30||139||782||21||22||508||635||.297||.364||.444||.808|
|ATL (3 yrs)||171||394||348||34||92||16||1||13||71||1||3||41||55||.264||.338||.428||.766|
|NYY (3 yrs)||196||725||642||80||181||31||6||19||83||2||1||75||73||.282||.355||.438||.793|
|BOS (1 yr)||84||347||312||48||105||19||4||13||53||3||2||29||33||.337||.401||.548||.949|
His real name was James Leslie Vaughn. He was born in Texas, the son of a stone mason and after playing ball for his high school team, he began a career as a minor league pitcher in 1906. The New York Highlanders took notice of him after he went 9-1 for a club in the Arkansas State League and signed Vaughn to a contract. He made his big league debut in June of 1908 as a reliever but after just two appearances he was sent back down to the minors for more seasoning.
He reappeared at the Highlander spring training camp in 1910 and pitched so well there that not only did he go north with the team, he was also given the Opening Day starting assignment. At just 22 years of age, he was and still is the youngest Opening Day starter in Yankee franchise history. In that game, he faced off against the Red Sox Eddie Cicotte in New York’s Hilltop Park and battled the Beantown knuckleballer to a 4-4 tie after 14 innings, when the contest was called because of darkness. Vaughn would go on to pitch brilliantly for Manager George Stallings ball club, finishing his rookie season with a 13-9 record and a sterling ERA of just 1.83. It looked as if the big young southpaw was on his way to an outstanding career and he in fact was. The unfortunate thing was that the best part of that career would not take place in New York.
Vaughn’s Hilltopper team was in complete disarray. Its star player, first baseman Hal Chase had been accused of throwing games by George Stallings, the team’s manager. The team’s owner sided with his accused first baseman, fired Stallings and made Chase the new skipper. Under Stallings, the team had finished in second place in 1910 with an 88-63 record. They fell to sixth place the following year under Chase and Vaughn finished the 1911 season with a disappointing 8-10 record. Chase was fired but that move did nothing to prevent Vaughn from getting off to a horrible start in his third full season in New York. His record was just 2-8 and he had been relegated to the bullpen, when New York put him on waivers in June of the 1912 season. He was claimed by Washington.
He pitched OK for the Senators but still got sold to the minor league Kansas City Blues and the demotion seemed to help Vaughn recover his mound mojo. The Chicago Cubs purchased his contract from the Blues in June of the 1913 season and for five of the next six years, Vaughn was a 20-game winner for the Cubbies and became the top left-handed pitcher in the National League. If the Yanks had kept Vaughn long enough, his pitching may have helped them win their first AL Pennant a few years before they actually did and Vaughn would have certainly had a happier ending to his big league career.
Vaughn ran into two big problems while pitching in the Windy City. The first was his weight. Always heavy, which is how the nickname Hippo originated, by some accounts the six foot four inch Vaughn ballooned up to 300 pounds during the latter part of his career. His second problem arose when Chicago made their volatile infielder, Johnny Evers the team’s player manager at the beginning of the 1921 season. Imagine Joe Girardi telling the press that CC Sabathia was too fat and too lazy to keep winning in the big leagues? That’s what Evers was saying about Hippo, when Vaughn got off to a horrid start during the 1921 season, going just 3-11. After a disastrous appearance against the Giants that July, Evers pulled Hippo in the third inning and the dejected pitcher didn’t just leave the field, he got dressed and jumped the team. The Cubs then suspended him and Vaughn would never again pitch in a big league game. He finished his thirteen year Major League career with a 178-137 record, a lifetime ERA of just 2.49 and 41 shutouts.
|CHC (9 yrs)||151||105||.590||2.33||305||270||31||177||35||4||2216.1||1971||789||575||35||621||1138||1.169|
|NYY (4 yrs)||23||29||.442||3.18||73||54||10||33||6||1||432.2||415||217||153||4||153||229||1.313|
|WSH (1 yr)||4||3||.571||2.89||12||8||4||4||0||0||81.0||75||33||26||0||43||49||1.457|