When relief ace, Luis Arroyo hurt his arm during the 1962 season, the Yankee bullpen struggled to make up for the devastating loss. The front office decided to go into New York’s farm system to find a successor and his name was Hal Reniff. A pudgy right-hander nicknamed “Porky,” Reniff responded well to the challenge.
Reniff, who had been born in Ohio but grew up in California, had been a starter in the Yankee farm system and a good one at that. He had won 20-games for New York’s Class C team in Modesto, CA. But when he went to spring training with the parent club in 1961, then Manager Ralph Houk told him he wanted Reniff to become a reliever. At first, the pitcher resisted but when Houk made it clear the choice was the Yankee bullpen or back to the minors, he made the switch.
After getting sent back down to Richmond to work on the transition, he was recalled to the Bronx that June and put together a strong half-season for that ’61 Yankee team. He appeared in 25 games, won both his decisions, saved two and compiled a stingy 2.58 ERA. But he didn’t make that year’s Yankees’ World Series roster and then spent most of the following season in the military, while Arroyo’s arm was shutting down.
Returning to full-time action the following year, he won 4 and saved 18, establishing himself as Houk’s best reliever on that 1963 Yankee pennant-winning team. He then pitched brilliantly in the ’63 World Series with little fanfare as his three scoreless and hitless innings of relief were lost in the Dodgers four-straight-game destruction of the Yankees in that Fall Classic.
The following year, Reniff developed some arm problems and Yogi Berra began using Pete Mikkelsen as his closer. When Mikkelsen faltered, the Yankees brought in Pedro Ramos. Still, Hal pitched well when called upon. His seven-season pinstripe career ended in 1967 with 41 career saves and an 18-21 Yankee record, when he was sold to the cross-town Mets. When the Amazin’s released him, Reniff returned to the Yankee farm system, pitching for Syracuse for five more seasons until he hung up his glove for good.
In an interview for Maury Allen’s book Yankees, Where have You Gone, Reniff told the author his best friend on the Yankees was Roger Maris. Like Maris, Reniff was mostly quiet and reserved during his playing days. He liked to do his job and go home and he hated all the media attention the Yankees attracted wherever they went.
Reniff shares his July 2nd birthday with this former AL Rookie of the Year and MVP who is now referred to as “The Chemist.”
|NYY (7 yrs)||18||20||.474||3.26||247||0||132||0||0||41||428.1||341||173||155||13||219||293||1.307|
|NYM (1 yr)||3||3||.500||3.35||29||0||16||0||0||4||43.0||42||20||16||1||23||21||1.512|
The first and only time I attended a game at Fenway Park was a July 17, 1996 night game between the Red Sox and the Yankees. As I settled into the most incredibly uncomfortable seat I had ever been in, the Yankees were surprisingly running away with the AL East Pennant, holding a nine game lead at the time over the Orioles and a full fifteen-game margin over third place Boston. Unfortunately, Kenny Rogers was on the mound for New York and he was facing Boston’s Tom Flash Gordon, who was in his last year as a starter. As was often the case when he wore the pinstripes, Rogers was not very effective that evening. He was knocked out in the fifth inning after loading the bases, with Boston leading 3-2. Joe Torre brought in Jim Wickman and the right-hander promptly gave up a bases-clearing double. When Wickman put two more Red Sox on base in the sixth, Torre replaced him with big Jeff Nelson.
The first batter Nelson faced was Jose Canseco, who had began his big league career as one of the Oakland A “Bash Brothers” with an end-of-the-season call-up in September of 1985. The following year he hit 33 home runs and was named AL Rookie of the Year. Two seasons later he led the league with 42 home runs and 124 RBIs plus he hit .307 and stole 40 bases becoming the first member ever of MLB’s 40-40 club. He also won the AL MVP that year. During those early years of his career, he was considered one of baseball’s greatest rising stars but as we later learned, that rise was being artificially nourished with human rocket fuel.
Canseco’s string of injuries and DL stays began in 1989. By ’92, the A’s decided he was expendable and they traded him to Texas for Jeff Russell, Ruben Sierra, Mike Witt and money. He spent large portions of his two plus years with the Rangers on the DL. Boston then signed him as a free agent after the 1995 season and again he couldn’t seem to stay healthy. That’s what confused me about Canseco’s later admission of steroid use. I always thought steroids helped athletes not just train harder but also overcome injuries quicker. Jose must have been getting some bad drugs, no?
In any event, Canseco was not on the DL that night I visited Fenway and he had worked the count to 3-2 against the curve-balling Nelson. I will never forget the results of the next pitch. Canseco hit it on a line toward the green monster. I swear, as it passed my eye level, I could hear the ball swoosh. It was still rising when it went over the Green Monster. It remains to this day the hardest hit baseball I have ever seen in my lifetime. To put it in perspective, think back to all those famous bombs Mark McGuire hit during the All Star Home Run Derby contest held at Fenway in 1999. Canseco’s cannon shot was hit harder and travelled further than every one of them. Canseco’s three run blast made the score 9-2 and half of the Fenway crowd got up and left, thinking the game was over. We were able to move to much more comfortable seats behind home plate and as soon as we did the Yankees mounted a comeback. In fact, New York scored nine runs over the last three innings to take the lead. But John Wetteland failed to hold it and Boston ended up with a 12-11 victory in what turned out to be one of the most exciting baseball games I’ve ever seen live.
That home run turned out to be Canseco’s last one of the 1996 season and his final one as a Red Sox. A few weeks later he was again on the DL. The final five years of his career were spent playing for five different teams. They included the Yankees, in 2000. He had been placed on waivers by Tampa Bay that year and New York had picked him up. He appeared in 37 games as a Yankee and hit six of his seventeen-year career total of 462 home runs while wearing the pinstripes. He has since become one of the most controversial ex-big-leaguers of all time.
Update: The above post was originally written in 2010. It has become pretty clear since Canseco’s playing days ended, that his life has turned into a publicity hunting freak show. His long baseball career has become pretty much an afterthought in the memory of most fans who when they think of Jose now, see him testifying in front of that congressional committee hearing in 2005. But like it or not, Canseco changed the course of baseball history. As baseball fans around the world marveled at the almost superhuman achievements of modern day ballplayers like McGuire and Bonds, Jose pulled back the curtain on their games and showed us all that a critical component of their magic came from a needle or from an ingredient in a rubbing cream. Jim Bouton did it with amazing skill forty years earlier and Canseco’s story-telling paled by comparison, but both men simply told the truth about how those who played the game lived their lives while doing it.
Canseco shares his July 2nd birthday with this former Yankee reliever.
|OAK (9 yrs)||1058||4531||3970||662||1048||186||8||254||793||135||469||1096||.264||.344||.507||.851|
|TEX (3 yrs)||193||849||733||126||197||37||3||45||151||22||100||200||.269||.363||.512||.874|
|TBD (2 yrs)||174||766||648||106||176||33||1||43||125||5||99||200||.272||.373||.525||.898|
|BOS (2 yrs)||198||882||756||132||225||47||2||52||163||7||105||175||.298||.389||.571||.960|
|NYY (1 yr)||37||137||111||16||27||3||0||6||19||0||23||37||.243||.365||.432||.797|
|CHW (1 yr)||76||306||256||46||66||8||0||16||49||2||45||75||.258||.366||.477||.843|
|TOR (1 yr)||151||658||583||98||138||26||0||46||107||29||65||159||.237||.318||.518||.836|