The deal that made Larry Milbourne a Yankee for the first time became part of Yankee trivia history. In November of 1980, the Seattle Mariners traded Milbourne and a player to be named later to New York for catcher Brad Gulden. The following May, the Mariners completed the trade by sending Gulden back to the Yankees as the “player to be named later” part of the trade. This made Gulden the only player in franchise history ever to be traded for himself.
Milbourne would go on to have his best big league season during his 1981 Yankee debut. He played sparingly but well as a pinch-hitter and back-up infielder during the first half of that season, which was split in two by a players’ strike. In the second half, he took over as New York’s starting shortstop after Bucky Dent tore a ligament in his hand at the end of August. The League’s embarrassingly bad decision to award team’s with the best pre-strike records a postseason spot gave the Yankee players little motivation to give a damn during the second half, but Milbourne impressed everyone with his grit and hustle as he filled in for Dent.
He then hit a combined .363 in New York’s ALDS and ALCS victories that postseason and though his bat cooled off a bit against the Dodgers in the Series, Yankee fans like me were very grateful for his better-than-expected performance. Milbourne also loved playing for New York and told reporters he was so happy wearing the pinstripes, he’d prefer staying with the Yanks and backing up Dent and Willie Randolph to starting for any other team. But after getting off to a horrible start in 1982, he was traded to the Twins in May of that year in the deal that brought Butch Wynegar to New York. The Yanks brought him back to New York the following year but traded him back to the Mariners after he hit just .200 in 31 games. His final big league season was 1984.
Nicknamed “the Devil,” Milbourne was born on Valentine’s Day in 1951 in Port Norris, NJ. He shares a birthday with this Hall-of-Fame Yankee announcer, this former Yankee relief pitcher and this one-time Yankee pitching prospect.
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|NYY (3 yrs)||106||281||260||31||69||12||2||1||14||3||15||28||.265||.309||.338||.648|
|HOU (3 yrs)||244||472||432||70||106||7||3||1||25||13||30||38||.245||.297||.282||.579|
|MIN (1 yr)||29||106||98||9||23||1||1||0||1||1||7||8||.235||.283||.265||.548|
|PHI (1 yr)||41||73||66||3||16||0||1||0||4||2||4||7||.242||.282||.273||.554|
|CLE (1 yr)||82||319||291||29||80||11||4||2||25||2||12||20||.275||.301||.361||.662|
Joe Girardi was a big fan of former Yankee reliever Damaso Marte and for the life of me I could not figure out why. The Yankees had acquired the Dominican southpaw from Pittsburgh in the same 2008 trade that brought outfielder Xavier Nady to the Bronx. Marte had been 4-0 with 5 saves for the Pirates at the time that trade was made but he finished the ’08 season 1-3 as a Yankee and his ERA ballooned to 5.40. When New York then declined his option, I was pretty sure his Yankee days were over. I was wrong. Brian Cashman instead signed him to a new three-year deal.
Marte got worse instead of better during the 2009 regular season, going 1-3 and his ERA skyrocketed to 9.45. I again predicted his days in pinstripes were numbered but Joe Girardi had other ideas. He put Marte on the New York’s postseason roster. There was something in the Yankee skipper’s head or that famous binder of his that made him think Marte was going to get some huge outs somewhere along the way.
Those outs didn’t happen against Minnesota in that year’s ALDS. In his only appearance against the Twins, he gave up two straight singles and was quickly removed. That’s when the Marte Magic began. In his next seven appearances in that postseason, which included an inning-and-a-third against the Angels in the ALCS and two-and-a-third more against Philadelphia in the World Series, Marte did not surrender a single hit or walk a single batter. He struck out the final two hitters he faced, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard on six consecutive pitches. That’s when the Marte Magic ended.
His 2010 season was disrupted by inflammation in his pitching arm and cut short when his left shoulder required surgery. That knocked him out for the entire 2011 season and finally ended his Yankee career. He did not pitch any where in 2012 and it looks as if his big league career is also over.
He shares his Valentine’s Day birthday with this Hall-of-Fame Yankee announcer and this one-time Yankee pitching prospect and this one-time Yankee utility infielder. My father-in-law, Lou Rossi of Boynton Beach, FL, turns 93-years-old today. Happy Birthday Lou!
|PIT (4 yrs)||7||8||.467||3.52||210||0||38||0||0||5||186.2||155||83||73||16||77||200||1.243|
|CHW (4 yrs)||14||12||.538||2.78||279||0||86||0||0||31||259.0||195||84||80||23||119||281||1.212|
|NYY (3 yrs)||2||6||.250||6.02||76||0||11||0||0||0||49.1||39||33||33||6||27||49||1.338|
|SEA (1 yr)||0||1||.000||9.35||5||0||2||0||0||0||8.2||16||9||9||3||6||3||2.538|
The Yankees, Dodgers and Giants were the last three big league teams to provide regular radio broadcasts of their games. It wasn’t until 1939 that the Big Apple baseball franchises set aside their fear that such broadcasts would reduce gate attendance and joined the rest of baseball by putting their home games on the air. The thrifty Yankees and Giants decided to share an announcer since the teams never played home games on the same dates and they co-hired a play-by-play veteran named Arch McDonald who had been doing the radio broadcasts for the Washington Senators. Needing to replace McDonald, the Wheaties cereal people, the Senator’s radio sponsor, hired a young CBS game-show announcer who had also done some news reporting and college football assignments for the network. His name was Mel Allen Israel. But before the Birmingham, AL native announced his first Senator game, Clark Griffith vetoed the hiring so that Washington pitching legend, Walter Johnson, could take the job. By 1940, McDonald was looking for a new assistant in New York and ended up giving the job to Allen who at the behest of CBS had dropped the Israel surname.
During the next two and a half decades, Mel Allen became the “Voice of the Yankees” and the most well-known sportscaster in all the world. His signature phrases “Hello there everybody,” “How about that?” and “Going going gone!” became part of every Yankee fans’ vocabulary as did the nicknames he assigned to Yankee legends. Joe DiMaggio became “Joltin Joe,” Tommy Heinrich, “Old Reliable” and Mickey Mantle, “The Magnificent Yankee.” Allen did not like it when the Yankees teamed him up with another Big Apple baseball broadcasting legend, Red Barber, in the mid fifties. He and Barber would become the first two diamond broadcasters to be enshrined in Cooperstown. Mel also did not approve of Phil Rizzuto being given a microphone in the Yankee booth when New York’s front office forced Scooter to hang up his playing uniform during the 1956 season. First of all, the Scooter’s hiring caused the firing of Allen’s much-liked protege, Jim Woods. Mel also strongly disapproved of Rizzuto’s lackadaisical attention span and his misuse of the English language. Ironically, it had been Allen’s invitations to Scooter to join him in the booth during the later innings of games at the end of Rizzuto’s playing career that led to his hiring.
Allen was unceremoniously dumped when CBS purchased the Yankees in 1965 in a cost-cutting move. George Steinbrenner got him rehired to do games on cable during the mid seventies and Allen’s hosting of the popular “This Week in Baseball” once again made him one of the sports best known voices for a whole new generation of fans. He died in 1996. It wasn’t until last month, when my wife and I took a tour of the new Yankee Stadium that I realized Allen had been given a plaque in the team’s Monument Park. He certainly earned one.