Opening Day of the 1982 season marked the official beginning of the second fall of the Yankee Dynasty. At that point, George Steinbrenner’s team had played in five of the previous six postseasons and split their four World Series appearances. But fall ball would become a memory for the franchise as the ’82 regular season commenced. It would be fourteen seasons before the Yanks made it back to the playoffs and fifteen years before they once again were participants (and victors) in a Fall Classic.
The 1981 strike and the Yankees’ loss to the Dodgers in that year’s Series seemed to push the Boss a bit over the edge. He became even more directly involved in the team’s personnel decisions. Convinced that his Bronx Bombers needed to convert to a small ball offense, he began drafting and trading for pieces that he thought fit that scheme. He also seemed intent on seeking revenge on Yankee players who had disappointed him. In the process, he created a hodge-podge roster that floundered in the AL East.
One of the players he was pissed at was Yankee starting catcher Rick Cerone. The Boss and the receiver had gotten into a highly publicized locker-room argument after Cerone’s base-running blunder cost the Yankees a game during the 1981 ALDS. Enflaming that situation was Steinbrenner’s anger over the fact that Cerone had taken him to salary arbitration before that ’81 season and won. So when the catcher had a horrible ALCS and World Series, the Yankee owner had the excuse he needed to go out and get another starting catcher. That turned out to be Butch Wynegar, who after a strong first couple of years behind the plate in Minnesota, had evolved into a very ordinary big league receiver.
In late May of the 1982 season, the Yankees made the deal to bring the Twins’ catcher and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant to New York. Like Wynegar, Roger Erickson had gotten his big league career off to an excellent start in Minnesota with a 14-win rookie season in 1978 and like his battery mate, it had been pretty much downhill for him ever since. A tall slender right hander and a native of Springfield, Illinois, Erickson’s father Don had pitched one game for the Phillies and his Uncle and two cousins had all pitched for a time in the minors.
He got off to a horrible start as a Yankee losing his first four decisions, but then rebounded during the month of July to win four consecutive starts. That’s when he hurt his right shoulder and was pretty much shelved for the rest of the season. In the mean time, that 1982 Yankee team went through three managers and finished in fifth place in the AL East.
The following spring, a healthy Erickson was looking forward to getting back into New York’s starting rotation but instead was told he’d start the 1983 season pitching for Columbus. The bitterly disappointed pitcher told the team he would retire if he was sent back to the minors. The Yankees tried to assure him he was part of their future and in a classic retort, the pitcher told them he didn’t want to be part of their future because “Its frustrating enough being part of your present.” That just about sums up what it must have felt like for plenty of the players who came and went from the Bronx during that fourteen year period of post-seasonless play. A team owned by a ship-builder that ironically seemed to be operating without a rudder.
Eventually, Erickson did accept the demotion and then got called back up that September. Three months later, he was traded to the Royals with Steve Balboni for two guys you probably never heard of. Erickson never threw another pitch in the big leagues.
|MIN (5 yrs)||31||47||.397||4.10||114||106||2||24||0||0||712.0||769||375||324||62||226||321||1.397|
|NYY (2 yrs)||4||6||.400||4.43||21||11||3||0||0||1||87.1||99||44||43||6||25||44||1.420|
Joe McCarthy first laid eyes on Billy Johnson in the spring of 1943, during a snowy morning at a Newark Bears’ training camp in Asbury Park, NJ. Marse Joe evidently liked what he saw because just a few short weeks later, the 24-year-old native of Montclair, NJ opened the 1943 season as the starting third baseman for McCarthy’s Yankees.
The “Bull” justified his manager’s faith in him by putting together a great rookie season at the hot corner. He played in every single game that season and drove in 94 runs, hit .280, played great defense and actually finished fourth in that year’s AL MVP voting. He followed that up with a strong performance in the 1943 World Series. He hit .300 against the Cardinals and his three run triple in the eighth inning of Game 3 erased a 2-1 St. Louis lead, as the Yanks went on to beat the Red Birds in five games.
Johnson then entered the armed services and did not play another big league game until the middle of the 1946 season. By 1947, he was an AL All Star. That year he hit .285 and drove in a career high 95 runs. That fall he won his second ring, when New York beat Brooklyn in a seven-game Fall Classic. He would end up winning a total of four rings during his seven seasons in pinstripes.
Johnson was one of the many ex-Yankees who did not play himself out of a job but was instead pushed out by the constant influx of high quality prospects produced by baseball’s best minor league system. It also didn’t help that Billy was constantly haggling with the Yankee front office about his contract. In 1948, then Yankee skipper, Bucky Harris began platooning Johnson at third with a young Bobby Brown. Brown was a better hitter than Bull was but he was also a terrible fielder. When Gil McDougald was ready for the big leagues a couple of seasons later, New York traded Johnson to St Louis. I’d compare Johnson’s career as the Yankee starting third baseman with that of Scott Brosius. It didn’t last long but it was very good while it lasted.
|NYY (7 yrs)||735||2831||2524||344||694||107||30||45||388||7||266||219||.275||.349||.395||.743|
|STL (3 yrs)||229||828||729||75||188||34||3||16||99||6||81||71||.258||.339||.379||.718|
The Yankees signed Johnny Lindell in 1936 as a pitcher and during the next six seasons he developed really well in the New York farm system, culminating with an outstanding 23-4 record with the 1941 Newark Bears. He deserved a shot at the big show but the only problem was that Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy’s team was already loaded with good pitchers at the time and he simply didn’t need another one. So instead, he asked Lindell if he’d like to try the outfield. Johnny had always been a good hitter, averaging close to .300 in the minors, so the 6’5″ native of Greely, CO gave it a shot. By 1943, with WWII raging and the regular Yankee outfield disrupted by military service, Lindell became New York’s regular center fielder. He had his best big league season in 1944 when he averaged .300, poked 18 home runs, drove in 103 and led the AL in triples for the second straight year.
Off the field, Lindell was a party animal. It was rumored that Yankee GM George Weiss spent more money on private detectives he hired to keep night-time tabs on his outfielder than he paid Lindell in salary. By 1945, it was Lindell’s turn to serve his country. When he returned to the Yankees in 1946, New York’s regular outfielders and prospects had all returned from military service and Lindell gradually moved into the role of the team’s fourth outfielder.
Johnny had some great moments as a Yankee. He hit .500 and drove in seven runs during the Yankees 1947 World Series victory over the Dodgers. In 1949, he hit a huge home run in New York’s final regular season series against Boston, enabling the Yankees to move into a tie with the Red Sox. But as each year passed, Lindell found himself playing less and less and during the 1950 season, Weiss sold him to the Cardinals. When St. Louis released him at the end of that season, Lindell decided to go back to pitching and returned to the minors to work on his knuckle ball. He put together an amazing 24-9 season in the Pacific Coast League in 1952 and the Pirates promoted him to their starting rotation the following year. But Lindell couldn’t throw his knuckle ball over the plate for strikes and the more patient big league hitters simply waited him out. He finished the ’53 season with a 5-16 record and led the NL in walks. By the following year he was out of the big leagues for good.
|NYY (10 yrs)||742||2850||2568||371||707||112||45||63||369||17||250||322||.275||.343||.428||.770|
|PHI (2 yrs)||18||31||23||3||8||1||0||0||4||0||8||5||.348||.516||.391||.907|
|PIT (1 yr)||58||109||91||11||26||6||1||4||15||0||16||15||.286||.404||.505||.909|
|STL (1 yr)||36||131||113||16||21||5||2||5||16||0||15||24||.186||.287||.398||.685|