After the 1994 postseason, the Yankees signed this four-time Gold Glove winner as a free agent to become their starting shortstop. He did not have a very good 1995 season, hitting just .245, although he did become the first Yankee to hit for the cycle since Bobby Murcer pulled it off in 1972. But the Yankees thought Fernandez would provide more offense and when he failed to do so, Bucky Showalter started giving Randy Velarde some starts at short. Then Fernandez got hurt late in the year and while he was on the DL, he watched a young prospect named Derek Jeter fill in at his position. New Yankee manager, Joe Torre decided Jeter would be his starting shortstop in 1996 but his plan was to make Fernandez his starting second baseman. That went up in smoke when Tony broke his elbow during spring training and missed the entire 1996 season. The Yankees let him go after his two-year contract expired and he signed with Cleveland. Fernandez played until 2001 and retired with a .288 lifetime batting average and 2,276 hits.
|TOR (12 yrs)||1450||5900||5335||704||1583||291||72||60||613||172||439||493||.297||.353||.412||.765|
|SDP (2 yrs)||300||1315||1180||165||323||59||9||8||75||43||111||136||.274||.337||.359||.697|
|NYM (1 yr)||48||204||173||20||39||5||2||1||14||6||25||19||.225||.323||.295||.618|
|CLE (1 yr)||120||442||409||55||117||21||1||11||44||6||22||47||.286||.323||.423||.746|
|CIN (1 yr)||104||422||366||50||102||18||6||8||50||12||44||40||.279||.361||.426||.787|
|NYY (1 yr)||108||438||384||57||94||20||2||5||45||6||42||40||.245||.322||.346||.668|
|MIL (1 yr)||28||72||64||6||18||0||0||1||3||1||7||9||.281||.352||.328||.680|
It became clear after the Yankees won the 2009 World Series that the team’s front-office was not going to continue it’s free-spending ways. Even though it was their lack of a budget that permitted Brian Cashman to go out and get CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett the previous year, the Yankee GM was now ready to prove he could play money ball too.
One of Cashman’s first moves after the Bronx Bombers won their 27th World title was to make the Curtis Granderson deal. Every time someone asked him about the trade, he kept reminding the interviewer that Granderson was signed for three years at the relatively minuscule total amount of $17 million. He also wanted to prove that he had been right about Javier Vasquez all along so he put the one-time Yankee disappointment back in pinstripes for just $11.5 million and a one-year deal.
Cashman’s other discount moves that off season included signing Randi Winn and bringing back Nick Johnson as value-based free agents and acquiring today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant to shore up the Yankee bullpen or possibly even the team’s starting rotation. When announcing Chan Ho Park’s free agent signing on February 28,2010, Cashman couldn’t resist reminding reporters that for just $1.2 million, the Yankees were getting the services of the 16-year veteran for less than half of what he had earned in Philadelphia the previous season.
Park’s best years had been as a starter for the Dodgers, for whom he had won 84 games between 1996 and 2001. He then got a huge 5-year, $65 million contract as a free agent with Texas in January of 2002 and proceeded to earn hardly any of it, becoming one of the Rangers’ biggest free agent busts ever. He went to the bullpen full time in 2008 and had just held the Yankees scoreless in four relief appearances against them in the 2009 World Series. Joe Girardi was hoping Park would become one of his most dependable late-inning bridges to Mariano. That didn’t happen.
After 27 appearances for New York, Park’s ERA was 5.60 and the native of South Korea was simply not getting the big outs the Yankees needed him to get. Winn, Johnson and Vasquez also didn’t work out for Cashman. By August, Park was put on waivers and Cashman made a great deal with Cleveland to get Kerry Wood to replace him.
Parks was picked up by the Pirates and finished the 2010 season in Pittsburgh. That turned out to be his final year in the big leagues. Park shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee third baseman, this hero of the 1969 World Series, and Derek Jeter’s predecessor as the Yankees’ starting shortstop.
|LAD (9 yrs)||84||58||.592||3.77||275||181||20||9||2||2||1279.0||1098||589||536||136||596||1177||1.324|
|TEX (4 yrs)||22||23||.489||5.79||68||68||0||0||0||0||380.2||423||254||245||55||190||280||1.610|
|SDP (2 yrs)||11||10||.524||5.08||34||30||0||1||1||0||182.1||196||114||103||23||70||129||1.459|
|NYM (1 yr)||0||1||.000||15.75||1||1||0||0||0||0||4.0||6||7||7||2||2||4||2.000|
|PIT (1 yr)||2||2||.500||3.49||26||0||11||0||0||0||28.1||25||14||11||2||7||23||1.129|
|NYY (1 yr)||2||1||.667||5.60||27||0||15||0||0||0||35.1||40||25||22||7||12||29||1.472|
|PHI (1 yr)||3||3||.500||4.43||45||7||6||0||0||0||83.1||84||43||41||5||33||73||1.404|
When WWII began, the Yankees were on top of the baseball world with a roster full of stars in the primes of their careers. After Pearl Harbor, when many of those stars volunteered or were required to change uniforms and serve their country, it helped even up the playing talent in Major League Baseball. As a result, the Yankees’ pennant chances immediately declined, and they could no longer be counted on to be the odds on favorite to make it to the World Series every year. When WWII ended and players like DiMaggio, Henrich, Rizzuto, Keller, and Chandler put back on the pinstripes, it wasn’t long before the Yankees were once again winning pennants and rings with regularity.
Yankee history however, certainly did not repeat itself when Vietnam became a full scale war in the mid sixties. First of all, the Yankee’s decline from the status of perennial contender had already occurred by 1965 and was caused not by a military draft but instead by advancing age, injuries and poor personnel decision-making. Guys like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Ellie Howard were in no danger of being drafted but they were also beyond their playing peaks and could no longer carry the fight to the enemy in the Bronx much less in Khe Sanh or Que. Mandatory military service did however, disrupt the development of several of the crown jewels of the Yankee farm system.
I can remember very clearly the hype surrounding the simultaneous demilitarization of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant and Bobby Murcer and their mutual return to the Yankees’ 1969 spring training camp. Kenney had excited Yankee fans two seasons earlier, when he had hit .310 in a 20-game late-season call-up and homered in his very first big league at-bat.
After having a sub-five hundred record for three consecutive seasons from 1965 – ’67, and finishing in 6th, last and next-to-last place respectively, the 1968 Yankee team had climbed back into the first division with an 83-79 record. They had assembled a strong young rotation of starting pitchers and the hope was that with Kenney and Murcer back in the lineup, and divisional play commencing that season, the team’s aging offense would be rejuvenated and New York would once again be in the mix for postseason play. The Yankees’ 1969 Opening Day lineup featured Kenney starting in the outfield and Murcer starting at third. Both had two hits and New York beat the Senators 8-4 that day. Yankee fans couldn’t help thinking this young dynamic duo just might be the missing ingredient to the Bronx Bombers’ return to glory.
Murcer would end up having a decent season, hitting 26 home runs and leading the team with 82 RBIs. Kenney would not do nearly as well but did steal 25 bases and hit just enough (.257) to warrant another chance the following year. Defensively, neither player was showing Gold Glove potential at their original positions so Manager Ralph Houk switched them. In 1970, the Yankee fans were pleasantly surprised as the team won 93 games and finished a distant second to the mighty Orioles. Murcer again had a decent year at the plate as did another Yankee youngster, catcher Thurman Munson. Kenney, however, was horrible. He played in 140 games and hit just .193, which should tell you all you needed to know about the incredible thinness of that year’s Yankee roster. He would rebound to hit .262 in 1971 but finally lose his third base starting position to Celerino Sanchez.
By then, George Steinbrenner was in control of the franchise and his management team knew that the Yankees could not challenge the Orioles by starting punchless third basemen like Kenney and Sanchez. That’s why in November of 1972, the first-ever great Steinbrenner-era trade took place with the Yankees trading Kenney, Johnny Ellis, Charley Spikes and Rusty Torrez to the Indian’s for Cleveland’s slick-fielding Graig Nettles.
Kenney would appear in just five games for Cleveland during the 1973 season and never again participate in a big league ball game. He was born in St. Louis on June 30, 1945, six weeks before Japan surrendered, ending WWII. Other Yankees sharing Kenney’s birthday include this former Met hero, the shortstop who lost his starting position to Derek Jeter and this one-time Yankee reliever.
|NYY (5 yrs)||460||1575||1353||165||321||38||12||7||101||59||182||139||.237||.326||.299||.625|
|CLE (1 yr)||5||19||16||0||4||0||1||0||2||0||2||0||.250||.316||.375||.691|
If you followed Big Apple baseball during the sixties, you don’t forget when a 21 year old kid from Baltimore made the 1965 Mets roster out of spring training and started hitting home runs with a frequency no other Met had hit them before. By the time the 1965 All Star break rolled around, Ron Swoboda already had 15 round trippers. NL pitchers then stopped throwing him fastballs and Swoboda hit just four more home runs the rest of the season. Still, his 1965 total of 19 stood as the Met rookie record until Darryl Strawberry hit seven more than that in 1983.
The New York sports media made a huge fuss about Swoboda in his first year. He was the one bright spot in a season when the Amazin’s lost 112 times. Objectively speaking, Swoboda was not that good a player. In addition to striking out too much, he was a pretty shaky fielder. But Met fans who had so little to cheer about, loved their “Rocky.”
His most famous big league moment took place during the fourth game of the Mets first World Series in 1969, against Baltimore. New York, behind Tom Seaver, had taken a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning when the Orioles mounted a rally. With one out and runners on first and third, Brooks Robinson hit a shot to the gap in right center. Somehow, Swoboda got to the ball and with his body parallel to the ground made one of the greatest catches I have ever seen. The runner at third tagged and scored on the play but if Swoboda doesn’t make that catch, the runner at first would have scored and Baltimore would have taken the lead. New York ended up winning the game in ten innings and I was at Shea Stadium for the fifth and final game of that Fall Classic to see Swoboda knock in the winning run in what would be one of the greatest sports thrills of my lifetime.
In 1971, the Mets brought up Kenny Singleton and Swoboda was shoved out of New York’s outfield. He was traded to the Expos just before the ’71 season started for a guy named Don Hahn. He had played just 39 games for Montreal that year, when he was traded to the Yankees for outfielder, Ron Woods. Swoboda spent the final two and a half seasons of his big league career in pinstripes. His last year was 1973. He hit a total of 73 home runs during his nine seasons in the Majors. If you didn’t know better and judged his career by only the numbers, you’d never understand or appreciate the huge impact he made on New York City big league baseball during the first half of the 1965 season and those four glorious games he played against the Orioles in the fall of 1969.
|NYM (6 yrs)||737||2485||2212||246||536||73||20||69||304||20||240||549||.242||.319||.387||.706|
|NYY (3 yrs)||152||350||294||32||69||10||1||4||34||0||48||82||.235||.345||.316||.661|
|MON (1 yr)||39||89||75||7||19||4||3||0||6||0||11||16||.253||.364||.387||.750|