Mike Stanton was a key cog in a great Yankee bullpen that helped the team win three straight World Championships, beginning in1998. A left-hander, this native of Houston, Texas didn’t begin pitching until he got to college but mastered the art quick enough to get selected in the 13th round of the 1987 MLB amateur draft by the Atlanta Braves. He made his big league debut with the Braves two years later and impressed the organization by saving 7 ball games, compiling a 1.50 ERA and striking out more than a hitter an inning during his 20-game first-ever trial.
Stanton spent six-plus seasons in Atlanta, including 1993, when he became the team’s closer and saved a career high 27 games. He lost the closer’s job to Greg McMichael the following year and was traded to the Red Sox at the mid-season trading deadline in 1995.
The Yankees signed him as a free agent following the 1996 season and for the next half-dozen years, he was Joe Torre’s first southpaw choice out of the bullpen. He had a good, moving fastball and when his slider and curveball were working, this guy was simply nasty, especially on left-handed hitters. I loved his toughness and no-nonsense demeanor on the mound. He was the type of pitcher who believed he could get any hitter out in any situation. Though you couldn’t prove it by his rather high ERA while in pinstripes, Stanton got lots of key outs during that unforgettable string of three straight Yankee championships.
His best season in the Bronx was probably his first. In 1997, he appeared in 64 games and went 6-1 with a sparkling 2.57 ERA. Though the Yankees didn’t make it to the Fall Classic that year, they did formulate one of the franchise’s all-time great relief corps by putting Mariano Rivera in the closer role and teaming Stanton with Ramiro Mendoza, Jeff Nelson, and Graeme Lloyd as his set-up men. For the next three years, a Yankee lead in the sixth inning was safer than the gold in Fort Knox.
Though he went 7-1 during the final season of his contract with the Yanks in 2002, he had turned 35 and when Brian Cashman didn’t go after him hard, Stanton ended up signing with the Mets. Two years later, he returned to the Yankees in a trade but the magic was gone. When he retired after the 2007 season he held the record for most “Holds” by a big league reliever.
|ATL (7 yrs)||18||21||.462||4.01||304||0||123||0||0||55||289.2||277||146||129||22||114||223||1.350|
|NYY (7 yrs)||31||14||.689||3.77||456||1||118||0||0||15||448.1||430||197||188||35||165||407||1.327|
|BOS (3 yrs)||5||3||.625||3.56||82||0||31||0||0||1||78.1||76||33||31||12||31||57||1.366|
|NYM (2 yrs)||4||13||.235||3.68||133||0||43||0||0||5||122.1||107||57||50||12||52||92||1.300|
|WSN (2 yrs)||5||6||.455||4.13||86||0||13||0||0||0||72.0||78||35||33||3||30||44||1.500|
|SFG (1 yr)||4||2||.667||3.09||26||0||15||0||0||8||23.1||23||8||8||1||6||18||1.243|
|TEX (1 yr)||0||1||.000||3.22||22||0||9||0||0||0||22.1||20||8||8||2||4||14||1.075|
|CIN (1 yr)||1||3||.250||5.93||69||0||11||0||0||0||57.2||75||39||38||6||18||40||1.613|
If you weren’t around during the 1960’s when the great New York teams led by Mantle and Maris were doing their thing, you missed a great era of the Yankee dynasty. Fortunately, you also missed the second-half of that decade as well, which means you didn’t see that dynasty crumble, as the players who comprised it grew old or got hurt seemingly all at once. What was left were a bunch of prospects who would never become good big league players along with a few who weren’t yet ready to do so. That forced the Yankees to fill in the holes and gaps with acquisitions from other teams and one of those deals was for a switch-hitting Dodger shortstop named Gene Michael.
The resident of Akron, Ohio had only been in the big leagues for a couple of seasons when the Yanks purchased his contract from Los Angeles, yet Michael was already 30 years old. He was considered a decent fielding shortstop but what had kept him in the minor leagues for so long was his inability to hit. He might have been a switch-hitter but the problem was he really couldn’t swing the bat very well from either side of the plate. In fact, after he averaged just .202 trying to replace Maury Wills as the Dodger shortstop in 1967, Michael spent the following winter in the Florida Instructional League, determined to become a pitcher. That’s when his phone rang and it was Yankee GM Larry MacPhail telling him he was coming to New York where Ralph Houk hoped to make him his starting shortstop. That plan looked like it had flopped decisively after Michael played 61 games at short during the ’68 season and hit just .198. That forced Houk to bring Tom Tresh back in from the outfield to once again play the position at which he had won the 1962 Rookie of the Year Award.
When the 1969 spring training season rolled around, Houk had penciled in Tresh to remain at short but was also hoping Bobby Murcer or Jerry Kenney might win the job in camp. Both players were returning from military service that spring but neither could handle the position and when Tresh started the regular season in a horrible slump, Houk again turned to Michael.
Even though this all happened over 45 years ago, I can remember feeling not-to-thrilled when I heard that Michael was being given the job again. If he had been with the Yankees just a half dozen seasons earlier and hit .198, he’d have been released or buried so deeply in the Yankee farm system his family would have needed a backhoe to find him. So what’s Michael do? He goes out and hits, 272 and fields the position close to brilliantly. Could I have been wrong? Was the player sarcastically nicknamed “Stick” actually evolving into a good stick? Unfortunately no. Houk and Yankee fans like me spent the next four years waiting for Michael to replicate the offense he generated during that 1969 season and he never did.
When Steinbrenner took over the team, Houk left to manage in Detroit and when the Yankees released Michael in January of 1975, he joined the Major in Mo-Town for his final season as a big league player. Steinbrenner may have not respected the Stick as a player but he valued his baseball smarts so he kept giving Michael jobs in the Yankee organization. In 1981, Steinbrenner made him Yankee manager and he had the Yankees in first place when baseball went on strike that June. When play resumed that August, Michael grew so sick of Steinbrenner’s meddling with his handling of the team that he told the Boss to either fire him or shut up. Steinbrenner felt he had no choice but the latter and replaced him with Bob Lemon. The following April, when Lemon’s decision making irked the Boss, he fired him too and replaced him with the Stick.
He would eventually ask Steinbrenner to relieve him as manager because the two argued too much when Michael was in that job. He wanted to work in the Yankee front office and fortunately for the Boss, he gave Michael his wish. So when Faye Vincent suspended the Yankee owner for his roll in the Dave Winfield-Howie Spira episode in 1990, Michael took over control of the organization and is credited with building the team that won four World Series between 1996 and 2000. So the shortstop who signified the end of one Yankee dynasty became the architect of another.
Michael’s Yankee playing record:
|NYY (7 yrs)||789||2656||2405||205||561||79||10||12||204||21||215||356||.233||.296||.289||.585|
|PIT (1 yr)||30||33||33||9||5||2||1||0||2||0||0||7||.152||.152||.273||.424|
|LAD (1 yr)||98||245||223||20||45||3||1||0||7||1||11||30||.202||.246||.224||.470|
|DET (1 yr)||56||158||145||15||31||2||0||3||13||0||8||28||.214||.253||.290||.543|
Michael’s Yankee managing record:
|1||1981||43||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 2||56||34||22||.607||1||First half of season|
|2||1981||43||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 2||26||14||12||.538||6||Second half of season|
|3||1982||44||New York Yankees||AL||2nd of 3||86||44||42||.512||5|
|New York Yankees||2 years||168||92||76||.548||4.0|
|Chicago Cubs||2 years||238||114||124||.479||5.5|
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|
For long-time Yankee fans it was the “Dark Ages.” It was the interval of time that lasted from the day CBS fired Yogi Berra after the Yankees lost the 1964 series to the Cardinals, until the very final day of 1974, when George Steinbrenner signed Catfish Hunter as a free agent. It also happened to be pretty much the same exact period of time that Horace Clarke played second base for the New York Yankees.
We called him “Hoss” back then and I can remember screaming at him through my TV set during the early part of his career, “You stink Hoss!” He really didn’t though. He just had the misfortune of being a Yankee leadoff man in front of young hitters named Bill Robinson, Frank Tepedino and Steve Whitaker instead of young hitters named Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard. Clarke amassed over 1200 career hits and 140 stolen bases while with the Yankees. I saw him recently at a Yankee old-timer game with that familiar number 20 on his pinstriped back. I’ve now come to the conclusion that those Dark Age days of rooting for the Yankees would have been even darker if it wasn’t for Hoss. Clarke was born in the Virgin Islands on today’s date in 1940. He shares his June 2nd birthday with his old double play partner with the Yankees, this effective Yankee reliever from the late 1990′s, and this more recent Yankee postseason hero.
|NYY (10 yrs)||1230||5143||4723||543||1213||149||23||27||300||151||357||356||.257||.309||.315||.624|
|SDP (1 yr)||42||99||90||5||17||1||0||0||4||0||8||6||.189||.255||.200||.455|