“Hard Hittin” Mark Whiten had his career year in 1993. On the final day of spring training that season, this then, 25-year-old, switch-hitting native of Pensacola, FL was traded by the Cleveland Indians to the Cardinals. He joined a starting outfield in St.Louis that included Bernard Gilkey and Ray Lankford and he led that team with 25 home runs and 99 RBIs. On September 7, 1993 he made baseball history by smashing 4 home runs and driving in 12 runs in a single game.
The Players Strike disrupted Whiten’s second season with the Cards and there would be no third. He was traded to Boston at the start of the ’95 season, which began an odyssey that would put the outfielder in six different big league uniforms over the next four years. The fifth of those uniforms was pinstriped. The Yankees signed Whiten as a free agent in January of 1997. In New York, he was reunited with Joe Torre, the same guy who managed him during his career year with the Cardinals.
Torre began the season by platooning Whiten and Darryl Strawberry in left field. Big Mark got off to a great start at the plate and was still hitting over .300 the first week of June. But when Strawberry went down with a bad knee, it would be Tim Raines who took over as the team’s starter in left. Whiten was left to battle Chad Curtis for the fourth outfielder’s slot and when Curtis won that battle, the Yanks released Whiten that August. He then signed on with Cleveland and appeared in his last big league game as an Indian in 2000.
|CLE (5 yrs)||320||1167||1024||142||265||49||8||23||103||22||126||218||.259||.343||.390||.732|
|PHI (2 yrs)||120||461||394||71||100||18||1||18||58||20||64||125||.254||.361||.442||.802|
|STL (2 yrs)||244||1000||896||138||240||31||6||39||152||25||95||185||.268||.338||.446||.784|
|TOR (2 yrs)||79||260||237||24||57||5||4||4||26||2||18||49||.241||.292||.346||.638|
|ATL (1 yr)||36||107||90||12||23||5||1||3||17||2||16||25||.256||.364||.433||.798|
|BOS (1 yr)||32||117||108||13||20||3||0||1||10||1||8||23||.185||.239||.241||.480|
|NYY (1 yr)||69||248||215||34||57||11||0||5||24||4||30||47||.265||.360||.386||.746|
|SEA (1 yr)||40||163||140||31||42||7||0||12||33||2||21||40||.300||.399||.607||1.006|
Today is like a holy day of obligation for Big Apple sports enthusiasts. On this date in 1916, the “Great DiMaggio” was born in Martinez, CA. He was and probably still is one of the most revered athletes in our country and perhaps the world. As a kid growing up, all I knew about DiMaggio was based on his statistics as a player, the nostalgic observations of sportswriters and the often embellished memories of the older generation of Yankee fans who were my neighbors on the west end of Amsterdam. While his stats indeed indicated DiMaggio was a great player, the latter two sources considered him a “God.” In fact, during my childhood, one of the most frequently heard lines in any argument between a young fan of Mickey Mantle and an older fan of Joe DiMaggio was “Mantle couldn’t carry DiMaggio’s jock strap.”
I’ve since read quite a few books about DiMaggio and about the Yankees during the DiMaggio era. The last one I read was the critical 2001 biography by Ben Cramer. I’ve come to the conclusion that much of the aura that surrounded the Yankee Clipper was based on his amazing baseball skills and achievements. But a large part of it was also due to the fact that the New York and national sports media of his era worshiped the guy and Joe maneuvered that worship brilliantly. This level of celebrity pandering by the media has become much less possible because today’s athletes get too much exposure. For example, Yankee fans can watch their team play every single spring training, regular and postseason game on high definition, big-screen TVs. Sportswriters are no longer free to embellish something that everyone is seeing with their own eyes. The Internet and the proliferation of sports bloggers has also made hiding a star player’s off-the-field behavior nearly impossible. Just ask A-Rod.
I would have loved to watch Joe DiMaggio play the game but I didn’t get the opportunity. As a die hard Yankee fan, I celebrate his accomplishments. But I believe the truth is that DiMaggio eventually got wrapped up in his own press clippings to the point that he actually believed he was perfect and that everyone else was out to get him. It was the pressure of maintaining that image that made DiMaggio a bitter man, the superstar who would not say a single word to a young Mickey Mantle during the Mick’s rookie season, who thought Casey Stengel was trying to embarrass him into retirement, and who pretty much abandoned his only son. Why is it that people who have so much going for them have such a difficult time just being happy?
Several years ago, I took my boys to a Yankee game and we were sitting next to a young Yankee fan who loved Don Mattingly. He knew everything about the then current team but not so much about Yankee history so when he told me that Mattingly was a better hitter than Mantle was, I couldn’t help myself. I found myself saying, “Son, Mattingly couldn’t carry Mickey Mantle’s jock strap.” I have to admit the line felt good coming out of my mouth until the completely unfazed kid responded with “What’s a jock strap, mister?”
Russell Earl Dent was a very good defensive shortstop who helped solidify the middle of the Yankee infield when New York acquired him from the White Sox in an April, 1977 trade. Bucky was one of those players who never seemed to be featured in the headlines or a post game report. He just gave his team solid and steady play both in the field and at the plate, game after game. But in one brief shining moment, Bucky Dent became a pinstripe legend, and gave all Yankee fans a thrill that will forever be cited as one of the top moments in franchise history. His home run against Red Sox starter Mike Torrez in the 1978 playoff game to decide the AL East division race, just cleared the top of Fenway’s Green Monster, simultaneously bringing Boston’s dejected left fielder, Carl Yastrzemski to his knees and millions of Yankee fans, screaming in sheer ecstasy, to their feet. Dent’s blast gave the Yankees a lead they never relinquished and they went on to capture their second consecutive World Championship that season. Bucky remained hot in that Fall Classic against the Dodgers, hitting .417, driving in 7 runs and winning the Series MVP award.
He continued to start at shortstop for New York for the next three and a half years before getting traded to Texas for outfielder, Lee Mazzilli, during the 1982 season. In all, the Savannah, Georgia native played for twelve seasons in the big leagues, retiring in 1984 with 1,114 career hits and a .247 lifetime batting average. He then got into coaching, started a very successful baseball instructional school and actually piloted the Yankees for parts of the 1988 and ’89 seasons. I personally will never forget sitting in front of my television set on that early October afternoon in 1978 and hearing Yankee announcer Bill White call out the words “Deep to left…”
Here are Dent’s Yankee and career playing stats:
|NYY (6 yrs)||695||2429||2163||229||518||81||10||27||209||4||174||147||.239||.295||.324||.618|
|CHW (4 yrs)||509||1973||1777||168||462||64||11||10||165||10||117||159||.260||.305||.325||.631|
|TEX (2 yrs)||177||614||563||52||131||24||2||3||48||3||36||41||.233||.278||.298||.577|
|KCR (1 yr)||11||10||9||2||3||0||0||0||1||0||1||2||.333||.400||.333||.733|
Here are Dent’s stats as Yankee manager: