There was no doubt in my mind that the Yanks were going to re-sign Raul Ibanez to once again serve as their left-handed DH for the 2013 season. After all, the guy had just hit four of the most clutch home runs in franchise history last fall and even though he turned 40-years-old yesterday, he had proven he was in great physical condition by handling an almost full-time outfielder’s slot after Brett Gardner went down with an injury last spring. So I was certain GM Brian Cashman would sit down with Ibanez sometime over the winter and work out a new one year deal. I was dead wrong.
Evidently, Cashman did not think those four huge home runs warranted a $1.6 million dollar raise for Ibanez because that’s what he got when he signed with the Mariners in December. Five weeks later, the Yankees signed Travis Hafner to a one-year deal for $2 million, which was $750,000 less than the Mariners agreed to pay Ibanez.
I had always liked Hafner’s bat during the 11 seasons he played in Cleveland, but what I didn’t like about his signing was the fact that he was strictly a DH. Coming into the 2013 season, Hafner had played in a total of 1,043 big league games and served as the DH in all but just 71 of them. On top of that, even though all he did was swing a bat and run when he hit the ball, this native of Jamestown, North Dakota had become injury prone. He averaged just 86 games played per year during his last five seasons with the Indians.
If I’d finished this post about Hafner at the end of his first month as a Yankee, its tone would have most certainly been different. That’s because “Pronk” got off to a great start with New York and by the end of April he was hitting .319 with six home runs and 19 RBIs. With high-paid Yankee hitters like A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira and Granderson on the DL at the start of the season, Hafner’s hot bat was crucial to the team’s surprising early success. But by his third month in pinstripes, both Hafner and the Yankees cooled off considerably. He was striking out more and his power disappeared. He underwent an MRI that showed tendinitis was again flaring up in his shoulder, but because the Yankees were in the midst of an unbelievable epidemic of position player injuries, Girardi kept writing Hafner’s name in the lineup. By the end of the season, his average was down to .202 and his Yankee days were over.
Pronk turns 37-years-old today. He was originally drafted by the Texas Rangers in the later rounds of the 1996 draft. He had some huge years in the minors but the Rangers hardly seemed to notice because they didn’t bring him up for a look-see until 2002 and then that December, they traded him to Cleveland.
Hafner shares his birthday with this former Yankee catcher.
|CLE (10 yrs)||1078||4413||3734||582||1039||238||11||200||688||9||558||882||.278||.382||.509||.890|
|TEX (1 yr)||23||70||62||6||15||4||1||1||6||0||8||15||.242||.329||.387||.716|
|NYY (1 yr)||82||299||262||31||53||8||1||12||37||2||32||79||.202||.301||.378||.679|
If you ask any native of the Dominican Republic currently playing big league ball which of their countrymen did the most to pave the way for them to play in the majors, their answer would be Felipe Alou. Actually, they might say Felipe Rojas. (His Dad’s last name was Rojas and his Mom’s was Alou.) Ozzie Virgil was the first Dominican to play in the MLB, when the New York Giants brought him up in 1956 but Virgil had migrated to the US as a youth and attended high school in New York City. Alou became the second native of his country (and the first to have lived there all his life) to play big league ball the following year as a member of that same Giants organization.
He was born in the Dominican Republic on May 12, 1935 to extremely poor parents. Felipe was an outstanding athlete and an outstanding student, who had been accepted in the pre-med program at the University of Santo Domingo. But he also played on his country’s baseball team that competed in 1955 Pan American Game. When he led the Dominican Republic to a victory over the US in the finals of those Games the MLB scouts came calling and he signed with the Giants.
It took awhile because the Giant organization in the late fifties was loaded with outstanding black and latino prospects, but Alou finally became a starter in San Franciso’s outfield in the early sixties. His younger brothers Matty and Jesus later joined him there and the three made history when they became the first three siblings to ever play in one team’s outfield at the same time, in September of 1963.
That was also Alou’s last year with the Giants. After the ’63 season, he was traded to Milwaukee in a seven-player deal. Felipe played for the Braves for the next six seasons, including 1966, when the team relocated to Atlanta and he put together his best year in the big leagues, with 31 HRs, a .327 batting average and leading the league in hits (218) and runs (122.)
He was traded to the A’s in 1970. By then he was 35-years-old and his best playing days were behind him. During the first week of his second season with Oakland, he was traded to the Yankees for pitchers Rob Gardner and Ron Klimkowski, where he was reunited with his brother Matty to become the first set of siblings to wear the pinstripes together since Bobby and Billy Shantz had done so in 1960.
Ralph Houk, the Yankee skipper at the time of the trade loved Felipe and put him in the lineup as a first baseman or outfielder 131 times during his first season in the Bronx. Alou responded with a .289 batting average and 69 RBIs that year. He continued to play a lot for Houk the following year, but his run production took a nose dive. Still, when the Yankees 1973 spring training season came around, Felipe was hammering the ball and Houk was telling the press that the elder Alou would share the brand new DH position with Ron Blomberg and also play a lot of first base. But on September 6th of that season, with his average hovering in the .230’s, Alou was put on waivers and picked up by the Expos. On that same day, the Yankees sold his brother Matty to the Cardinals and the Yankees were suddenly Alou-less.
Felipe Alou would retire as a player the following year and became a minor league manager in the Expos organization. He would later become a highly successful big league skipper of the Expos and also manage the Giants. His son Moises became a big league all star outfielder who played for his Dad with both Montreal and the Giants.
|SFG (6 yrs)||719||2478||2292||337||655||119||19||85||325||51||138||308||.286||.328||.466||.794|
|ATL (6 yrs)||841||3604||3348||464||989||163||20||94||335||40||188||284||.295||.338||.440||.778|
|NYY (3 yrs)||344||1145||1065||110||289||50||7||18||133||6||63||76||.271||.311||.382||.694|
|OAK (2 yrs)||156||627||583||70||158||26||3||8||55||10||32||32||.271||.307||.367||.674|
|MON (1 yr)||19||50||48||4||10||1||0||1||4||0||2||4||.208||.240||.292||.532|
|MIL (1 yr)||3||3||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.000||.000||.000||.000|
If you’ve been a Yankee fan for at least eighteen years, used to be that whenever you heard the name “Andruw Jones”, a bad memory crept into your head. Your mind shifted back to that opening game of the 1996 World Series in old Yankee Stadium on a Sunday afternoon in October. Your Yankees had finally made it back to the Promised Land after a decade and a half of roaming through the regular season desert, but every Yankee hater you knew was telling you that New York had no chance to beat the powerful Atlanta Braves. You would laugh off their taunts but secretly you were worried. The experts always said that the best starting pitching won in the playoffs and nobody had better starters than the Braves’ big three of Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine. Plus, Bobby Cox had some studs in that ’96 lineup. Chipper Jones and Ryan Klesko both had thirty-homer seasons and Fred McGriff, Marquis Grissom and catcher Javy Lopez had each hit over twenty of their own. So when the Game One Yankee starter, a young left-hander named Andy Pettitte was able to retire the first three Atlanta hitters in the top of the first inning you breathed a sigh of relief. But that sense of relief would not last long.
In the visitors half of the second inning, with two outs and Lopez on first, you saw the name “Andruw Jones” flash up on your TV screen and your first thought is “That’s supposed to be an E, not a U.” Whoever was broadcasting the game kept making a big deal of the fact that this sleek-looking athlete with a bat in his hand was just nineteen years old, as he quickly worked Pettitte into a full count. Then suddenly, Bam! This kid with the misspelled first name hits Andy’s sixth pitch into the Stadium’s left-field stands and the Braves took a quick 2-0 lead. Your stomach got a bit queazy but heck, you’d seen that ’96 Yankee team bounce back from deficits all season long. Pettitte retired the next hitter and as he headed back to the dugout, you hoped that pitch to Jones would be his only mistake of the game. Unfortunately, in the very next inning, this Jones kid would reemerge from the Braves dugout and take Pettitte even deeper and that three-run home run would drive a very long nail into the Yankees’ hopes of winning Game 1.
Sixteen years later, Andruw was a Yankee. He was no longer a nineteen year old rookie about to begin a career that would result in over 400 big league home runs. Instead, he’d played 15 big league seasons and was on the back end of a very good big league career. He had become a baseball nomad, the Yankees were his fourth different team in four years. But as he proved in his very first at bat in pinstripes against the Twins Brian Duensing, he could still take southpaws deep and he could still display moments in the outfield filled with that unique style and grace that was so fun to watch. I was hoping that before his Yankee career ended, Andruw would have a Johnny Damon-like “pinstripe redemption moment.” Until Damon made that famous double-steal against the Phillies during the 2009 Series, all I could think of when I saw him wearing a Yankee uniform was that grand slam he hit off of Jeff Weaver to complete Boston’s amazing comeback against New York in the ’04 ALCS. But Jones never really had that a-ha moment for New York that served to instantly eradicate the image of him hitting those two bombs off of Pettitte from my head. But he did have enough good moments wearing those pinstripes to dull that image and make me wish the Yankees could have picked him up earlier in his career.
He actually had his best stretch for New York during the first couple of months of the 2012 season, when he and Raul Ibanez were forming the two halves of the Yankees’ most effective run producer but he stopped hitting completely in the second half of that year. The Yankees ended up signing Travis Hafner as their right-handed DH for the 2013 season and it looks as if Andruw Jones very good big league career is over. Happy 37th birthday Andruw.
This not-very-well-known other former Yankee who celebrates a birthday today is one I happen to remember real well.
|ATL (12 yrs)||1761||7276||6408||1045||1683||330||34||368||1117||138||55||717||1394||.263||.342||.497||.839||113|
|NYY (2 yrs)||171||491||423||54||93||15||0||27||67||0||0||57||133||.220||.322||.447||.769||106|
|TEX (1 yr)||82||331||281||43||60||18||0||17||43||5||1||45||72||.214||.323||.459||.782||100|
|LAD (1 yr)||75||238||209||21||33||8||1||3||14||0||1||27||76||.158||.256||.249||.505||35|
|CHW (1 yr)||107||328||278||41||64||12||1||19||48||9||2||45||73||.230||.341||.486||.827||120|
At Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings in December of 1973, the American League owners voted to make the designated hitter rule a permanent feature of Junior Circuit play. As soon as the votes were counted, the Yankees made a trade with the Kansas City Royals acquiring Lou Piniella, who many considered a near-perfect DH role-model. But Sweet Lou, had slumped to a .250 batting average the previous season, so just in case he did not return to his .300-hitting ways, New York hedged their bet by also acquiring on that same day, the switch-hitting Bill “Suds” Sudakis from the Rangers.
The then 28-year-old native of Joliet, IL had broken into the big leagues impressively as a third baseman with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1968. But some serious knee problems during his first few seasons in LA, turned him into a role player. LA had released him in 1971 and after a short-time with the Mets, he had landed in Texas in ’73, just in time for the AL’s one-year DH experimental season.
He hit 15 HRs for Texas but only DH’d nine times. He also played a lot of third and first for that Ranger team and even went behind the plate for nine games. That versatility and his two-way hitting caught the attention of Yankee GM Gabe Paul, who was able to negotiate the outright purchase of Sudakis’s contract from Texas.
Suds would play just one season (1974) in pinstripes. Under the direction of skipper Bill Virdon, the Yanks made a surprising run at for the AL East title that year, finishing just two-games behind the Orioles. Sudakis got into 89 games, mostly as a DH and first baseman. He averaged just .232, but he also hit 7 home runs and drove in 39. His biggest impact on that year’s pennant drive however, may have occurred in the lobby of a downtown Milwaukee hotel.
The Yanks were scheduled to fly to Brewer town after a road-series with the Indians to play the last two games of their regular season, but their flight out of Cleveland was delayed for three hours. During those three hours, many of the Yankees did what many big league ballplayers do when they have lots of idle time in an airport, they headed to the bar. Well evidently Sudakis and Dempsey started getting on each other before they left Cleveland and the verbal sparring continued between the two all during their now very late flight. By the time the team departed their bus and entered the lobby of their downtown hotel, Dempsey had reached the boiling point and went after Sudakis like a madman. Yankee players at the scene later verified the ensuing fight was a knockdown drag-out classic with furniture overturned and pictures knocked off the walls. It took quite a while for their Yankee teammates and hotel security to separate the two and when they finally did, it was star outfielder Bobby Murcer, who had gotten the worst of it. Somebody stepped on his hand and broke his finger and that injury kept him out of the next day’s lineup against the Brewers. The Yankees lost that game while the Orioles won their contest against the Indians, clinching the division for the Birds.
I’m not 100% certain his role in that fight is the reason the Yanks traded Sudakis to California for pitcher Skip Lockwood that December, but it sure didn’t help to prevent it. Sudakis played one more season of big league ball before returning to the minors in 1976.
While researching this post I came across some compelling evidence that Sudakis was a bit crazy. For example, he once offered to add some bounce to Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles bat. He sawed the top off, drilled into the barrel and inserted some super balls and then reattached the sawed-off bat top with Elmer’s Glue. Then Yankee shortstop Gene Michael asked Sudakis how he had reassembled the doctored bat and when he got to the Elmer’s Glue part, “the Stick” warned him the glue would not hold. Sudakis assured him it would and one week later, after homering with it in his previous at bat, Nettles hit one off the the end of the modified piece of lumber and sure enough, the bat-top pops off and the rubber balls come rolling out the end of it, getting Nettles ejected.
|LAD (4 yrs)||291||1016||901||108||219||35||7||34||116||8||102||176||.243||.321||.411||.732|
|NYM (1 yr)||18||56||49||3||7||0||0||1||7||0||6||14||.143||.236||.204||.440|
|TEX (1 yr)||82||263||235||32||60||11||0||15||43||0||23||53||.255||.320||.494||.814|
|CLE (1 yr)||20||50||46||4||9||0||0||1||3||0||4||7||.196||.260||.261||.521|
|CAL (1 yr)||30||73||58||4||7||2||0||1||6||1||12||15||.121||.274||.207||.481|
|NYY (1 yr)||89||293||259||26||60||8||0||7||39||0||25||48||.232||.296||.344||.639|
Jack Clark loved being a Cardinal and after hitting 35 home runs and driving in 106 for Manager Whitey Herzog’s 1987 Pennant-winners, the New Brighton, PA native had every reason to believe he’d be staying in St Louis for the next few seasons. One word explains why that didn’t happen, collusion. That was the off season when big league owners decided to band together to reverse the upward spiral of salaries during the free agency era and star players in their prime, like Clark, paid the price. The Cardinals actually asked their All Star first baseman to take a cut in pay so instead, his agent got him an offer from George Steinbrenner and Clark came to New York for the 1988 season after playing thirteen seasons in the National League, including the first ten with the Giants. He belted 27 home runs and drove in 93 during his single season in Pinstripes. He then signed with the Padres. During his eighteen-year big league career, Clark hit 340 home runs. Since leaving the game, Clark has become a vociferous critic of players who took steroids. He has said that players like Mark McGuire, A-Rod, Bobby Bonds and Roger Clemens are all “cheaters” who belong in a “Hall of Shame” but “not baseball’s Hall of Fame. Clark has also experienced personal financial setbacks since leaving the game. According to accounts I’ve read, his addiction to expensive cars forced him into personal bankruptcy, in 1992.
Also born on this date was this Yankee starting pitcher who tied Jimmy Key for second in most regular season wins on the team’s 1996 pitching staff and this long-ago outfielder, who hit the second home run in Yankee postseason history.
|SFG (10 yrs)||1044||4300||3731||597||1034||197||30||163||595||60||497||556||.277||.359||.477||.836|
|STL (3 yrs)||322||1371||1093||198||299||61||6||66||216||3||264||288||.274||.413||.522||.935|
|BOS (2 yrs)||221||907||738||107||174||29||1||33||120||1||152||220||.236||.366||.412||.778|
|SDP (2 yrs)||257||1036||789||135||199||31||2||51||156||10||236||236||.252||.423||.490||.914|
|NYY (1 yr)||150||616||496||81||120||14||0||27||93||3||113||141||.242||.381||.433||.815|
This Cortland, NY native spent the last year of his nine-season big league career in pinstripes as a designated hitter and backup third baseman. That was 1980, the season the Dick Howser-managed Yankees won 103 games and reclaimed the AL East crown. It was also the same season the Kansas City Royals finally avenged their three consecutive losses to New York in the AL Championship Series by sweeping the Yankees to capture the team’s first pennant. Soderholm batted .287 that season and hit 11 home runs. His best big league season was 1977 when he came back from a knee injury to hit 25 homers for the White Sox. He finished his career with 102 round-trippers and a .264 lifetime batting average. According to his Wiki article, when his career was over, Soderholm became a ticket agent and played a huge role in lobbying for the legislation that made it legal for ticket selling firms to add huge service fees to ticket prices.Soderholm turns 64 years-old today.
|MIN (5 yrs)||407||1527||1345||184||345||56||7||36||161||14||151||215||.257||.336||.389||.725|
|CHW (3 yrs)||329||1258||1127||165||300||45||6||51||168||4||105||110||.266||.330||.453||.783|
|TEX (1 yr)||63||166||147||15||40||6||0||4||19||0||12||9||.272||.325||.395||.720|
|NYY (1 yr)||95||304||275||38||79||13||1||11||35||0||27||25||.287||.353||.462||.815|
I was completely against the Yankees signing the then 39-year-old Raul Ibanez as their left-handed DH in 2012. It happened after New York surprised everyone by trading their young hitting prodigy, Jesus Montero to the Mariners. Montero was slated to DH for the Yankees against all pitching in 2012 but after he was dealt, the Yankees re-signed Andruw Jones and began their search for a lefty to platoon with him.
Quite a few names were thrown out there at the time by bloggers like me and the Big Apple media, including former Yankees Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. My personal choice would have been Matsui and I actually felt Jorge Posada should have been asked if he wanted the spot. But in the end Cashman went with this 17-year big league veteran. Believe it or not, my negative feelings for Ibanez stemmed from having him on my fantasy league team a couple of seasons back during his second year with Philadelphia. I’d start him for a week and he’d go 1-for-20 and then I’d bench him and he’d hit a homer and drive in three. I finally put him on waivers.
He got off to a quick start at the plate at the beginning of the 2012 regular season, which helped counteract the slow starts of several of his New York teammates and he was a class act both on the field and in the clubhouse . His swing seemed perfectly suited to Yankee Stadium. But then the Yankees lost Brett Gardner to an elbow injury and the 39-year-old Ibanez suddenly found himself playing every day including lots of time in the Yankee outfield. By the end of August, his average was stuck in the mid .230s and I really thought he was out of gas and would prove less than helpful during the team’s final month stretch drive, as New York tried to hold off the pesky Orioles.
The exact opposite happened. Raul suddenly started hitting again during the last ten days of the season and his clutch home run against the Red Sox on October 2nd helped New York maintain their half game lead over the O’s in the AL East. But he wasn’t done yet. With A-Rod not hitting at all in the postseason, Joe Girardi sent up Ibanez to pinch hit for Rodriguez in Game 3 of the ALDS and he homered off the Bird’s closer, Jim Johnson to tie the game. Three innings later, he hit a walk-off blast off of Brian Matusz. The magic continued for this guy in the first game of the ALCS against the Tigers when his homer off of Detroit closer Jose Valverdi capped a four-run Yankee rally that tied a game New York would go on to lose.
I honestly thought those last four outrageously clutch home runs Ibanez hit as a Yankee guaranteed he’d be back for one more tour of duty in the Bronx in 2013. I was wrong. The Yanks let him sign with Seattle instead.
Ibanez was actually born in New York City but then moved to Miami as a youngster. He broke into the big leagues with the Mariners back in 1996. In addition to the Phillies, he also played three seasons with the Royals.
|SEA (11 yrs)||1020||3902||3528||503||995||201||19||136||570||21||332||608||.282||.344||.465||.809|
|KCR (3 yrs)||398||1527||1384||209||403||81||16||55||247||13||121||208||.291||.347||.492||.839|
|PHI (3 yrs)||433||1776||1596||233||421||100||9||70||260||10||157||333||.264||.329||.469||.798|
|NYY (1 yr)||130||425||384||50||92||19||3||19||62||3||35||67||.240||.308||.453||.761|