Luis Sojo was one of my favorite Yankees. He had that wonderful ability to sit on the bench for most of a game and then grab his glove and instantly make a difficult play look easy from any infield position. I also would get a kick out of his rumpled appearance in a Yankee uniform, which always reminded me sort of the way Yogi Berra looked in pinstripes. The Yankees first got him off waivers from Seattle during the 1996 season and the following year, the native Venezuelan took over the starting second base position from Mariano Duncan. When the Yankees acquired Chuck Knoblauch from the Twins to play second in 1998, Sojo became the team’s reliable utility infielder. After the 1999 season, Luis signed as a free agent with the Pirates but when Knoblauch’s strange throwing problems peaked, New York traded to get Sojo back in August of 2000, setting up his most magical moment as a Yankee. That came in the ninth inning of the fifth and final game of that season’s Subway Series. With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth, Sojo came to bat for the first time after being inserted to play second base in the previous inning. His ground ball single through the middle off of Al Leiter scored Jorge Posada from second. Scott Brosius also scored on the play when the throw home trying to nail Posada was way off the mark and the Yankees were once again World Champs. I was thrilled for Sojo. The guy won four rings as a Yankee. He then became New York’s third base coach for a couple of seasons and until last year, managed the Yankees Tampa Minor League club.
|NYY (7 yrs)||274||791||737||90||192||26||3||6||86||7||35||68||.261||.294||.328||.623|
|SEA (3 yrs)||242||861||799||102||209||35||5||14||77||8||41||57||.262||.300||.370||.671|
|CAL (2 yrs)||219||793||732||75||194||26||4||10||63||11||28||50||.265||.297||.352||.650|
|TOR (2 yrs)||52||139||127||19||26||5||0||1||15||1||9||7||.205||.255||.268||.523|
|PIT (1 yr)||61||189||176||14||50||11||0||5||20||1||11||16||.284||.328||.432||.760|
Stanley “Frenchy” Bordagaray spent just one season as a Yankee utility outfielder in 1941 but prior to donning the pinstripes, he had already developed a reputation as one of baseball’s most colorful characters during the 1930’s. Despite the nickname, the Bordagaray family had emigrated from the Basque region of Spain and settled in California. Their ball-playing son was born there on January 3, 1910 and grew up to become a great athlete, lettering in three sports at Fresno City College. He then became a star in the Pacific Coast League, where he caught the attention of several big league clubs. He signed with the White Sox and made his Major League debut in the Windy City in 1934.
That December he was traded to Brooklyn, where he spent two seasons playing for mediocre Dodger teams managed by the free-spirited Casey Stengel. Frenchy loved to have fun before during and after a game, explaining once to a reporter that he was only making $3,000 a year playing baseball so he couldn’t take the sport too seriously. Antics aside, the guy could play the game. He was a solid hitter, averaging .283 during his 11-season career. After hitting .282 during his first season with D’em Bums, Bordagary showed up at the Dodgers’ 1936 spring training camp sporting a mustache and goatee, which he had grown for a bit role he was given in a Hollywood movie shot that offseason. Baseball players with facial hair had disappeared from the big leagues over two decades earlier so Frenchy’s ‘tache and beard caused quite a stir. Stengel finally forced him to shave explaining that there was room for only one clown on that team and Casey had already claimed that role for himself. In one of his most famous episodes, the outfielder was fined by Stengel for failing to slide into third base. The next day, Frenchy hit a home run and slid into each bag on his way around the bases, earning an even larger fine from the Ol’ Perfessor.
The Dodgers traded him to the Cardinals after the 1936 season and two years later, St Louis dealt him to Cincinnati. Though he made it to the World Series with the 1939 Reds team, his average that year had plummeted to .197. He was traded to the Yankees in January of 1940 and spent the next season with New York’s Kansas City farm team, where he averaged .358. That got him an invitation to the parent club’s ’41 spring training camp
Frenchy’s play in Florida impressed Joe McCarthy enough to get him an Opening Day roster spot as a utility outfielder. The problem was that the Yankee starting outfield that season included Joe DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich and Charley Keller who would combine for 94 home runs and 332 RBIs during that ’41 campaign. That team also had veteran outfielder and former All Star, George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk on its roster. That meant few and far between playing opportunities for Bordagaray. He managed to get into 36 games that season and in 73 at bats averaged .260. He also won his first and only ring.
He would return to the Dodgers in 1942 and Brooklyn manager, Leo Durocher eventually made Frenchy his team’s starting third baseman during the WWII years. He remained in Brooklyn until the war was over and then remained in the game for a couple more years as a player manager in the minors. After retiring, he invested in restaurants and cemeteries in the midwest before returning to California and beginning a career in the recreation department of the city of Ventura. He died in 2001, at the age of 91.
|BRO (6 yrs)||625||2072||1894||307||542||95||21||13||194||48||132||126||.286||.336||.379||.715|
|STL (2 yrs)||177||490||456||62||132||16||5||1||58||13||23||34||.289||.329||.353||.682|
|CIN (1 yr)||63||136||122||19||24||5||1||0||12||3||9||10||.197||.252||.254||.506|
|NYY (1 yr)||36||81||73||10||19||1||0||0||4||1||6||8||.260||.325||.274||.599|
|CHW (1 yr)||29||91||87||12||28||3||1||0||2||1||3||8||.322||.344||.379||.724|
AJ Burnett drove Yankee fans, including me, crazy after he was signed to that huge $82 million free agent contract in December of 2008. From the very beginning of his stay in the Bronx, he proved to be an inconsistent basket case for New York on the mound. In his first Yankee start against arch-rival Boston, he blew a big lead and then the very next time he faced the Red Sox eight weeks later, he got knocked out in the third inning. The inconsistency lasted all season long but his teammates seemed to love the guy (with the possible exception of Jorge Posada) and I have to admit that those whipped cream pies sort of grew on me. Still, a 13-9 record and an ERA over 4.00 no way justified a $16.5 million paycheck.
He then pitched well in his first two 2009 postseason starts but when he gave up those four runs in the first inning of his second start in the Angels series, I was ready to never forgive him. But I did. You want to know why?
I had a choice to attend the first or second game of the 2009 World Series. My work schedule was such that it would be best for me to go to the second game but I knew Burnett was scheduled to pitch and I was worried he would implode and ruin my night. When the Phillies beat Sabathia in Game One, I was even more nervous about Burnett’s composure because, in my opinion, Game Two would be the most important game the Yankees played all year. When my wife and I took our seats in the left-field terrace level of the new Stadium that evening, I honestly thought that with Burnett pitching, there was a good chance New York would be heading to Philly for the third game down 2-0. Instead, I got to watch AJ Burnett earn every penny of that $16.5 million salary and when I left my seat after that game, I knew the Yankees were going to win their 27th World Championship.
But after Burnett pitched that gem against the Phillies, New York has not been back to the World Series since. Burnett’s second and third regular seasons in pinstripes were both disasters and his ERA in both years climbed into the five’s. It went from not knowing what to expect when AJ took the mound to expecting the worst, from having a great shot at getting a win to praying the team didn’t lose. And just when I was about to write him off forever and never watch another game in which he started, he shows up and did and throws a gem of a game against Detroit in the fourth game of the 2011 ALDS.
I was ready to give AJ one more chance to convince me he was worth rooting for in 2012, but the Yankee front office was not. In February of 2013, Brian Cashman traded the tattooed hurler to the Pittsburgh Pirates for two minor leaguers Yankee fans will probably never see play and an agreement to pay nineteen million dollars worth of AJ’s remaining $33 million salary. Naturally, AJ turns around and puts together a near-brilliant 16-10 season for the Bucs in 2012 and a not-too-shabby 10-win season in 2013 and helped lead a young, inexperienced Pirate team back into postseason play.
|FLA (7 yrs)||49||50||.495||3.73||134||131||0||14||8||0||853.2||719||395||354||66||377||753||1.284|
|NYY (3 yrs)||34||35||.493||4.79||99||98||0||2||0||0||584.0||587||332||311||81||258||513||1.447|
|TOR (3 yrs)||38||26||.594||3.94||81||80||1||5||1||0||522.2||480||250||229||56||191||525||1.284|
|PIT (2 yrs)||26||21||.553||3.41||61||61||0||2||1||0||393.1||354||165||149||29||129||389||1.228|