The best closer ever. Those really are the only four words you need to describe “Mo’s” career with the Yankees. In my fifty-plus years of being an avid Major League baseball fan, I’ve seen nobody end games as successfully as this guy did for the past nineteen seasons. And the amazing thing is that he did it with one pitch, a cut fastball. Yankee fans watched Rivera’s cutter break a remarkable number of big league bats over the years. The pitch had such late and significant movement that it was almost impossible for even the most skilled big league hitters to get the meaty part of their bat on the ball. I heard Jim Kaat try to explain it years ago during one Yankee broadcast by telling viewers that Mariano had very long fingers, which helped him get more spin on the cutter than most other pitchers who threw it. Add in his flawless mechanics which enabled him to precisely replicate his elegant delivery pitch after pitch and you have the formula for closing perfection that danced to the tune of “Enter Sandman.”
When I think of Mariano I will remember his postseason brilliance which included 42 saves, an 8-1 record and an ERA of 0.70. I will remember him setting the MLB career saves record during the 2011 season. I will remember how he returned from an ACL tear at the age of 43 and went on to save 44 games during the final year of his Hall of Fame career. But most of all, I will remember how secure every Yankee lead seemed to be at the end of the eighth inning for almost two straight decades and how comforting it was as a Yankee fan to see that bullpen door swing open and see number 42 trot in to that elevated circular spot in the middle of the infield from where he performed his magic.
Thank you Mariano Rivera. Yankee fans will never ever forget just how magnificent you were.
Dick Williams had just won his second straight World Series as Oakland A’s manager in 1973, when he abruptly quit the job, angered over Charley Finley’s embarrassing attempt to get Mike Andrews kicked off the team’s World Series roster after the second baseman had made two errors in Game 2. George Steinbrenner immediately signed Williams to become the Yankees’ new field boss but Finley screamed foul and demanded New York give him their organization’s best pitching and hitting prospects as compensation for stealing his team’s disgruntled skipper. Those prospects respectively were southpaw Scott MacGregor and today’s Puerto Rican born Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, outfielder Otto Velez.
Steinbrenner refused to do so and Velez was returned to the roster of the Yankees Triple A farm team back then, the Syracuse Chiefs. Velez had belted 29 home runs and driven in 98 for Syracuse the season before and he had also walked 130 times, so the Yankees were justified in not giving him up. He would fail to make a memorable impression in three straight cup of coffee call ups to the Bronx in 1973, ’74 and ’75, but by 1976, Billy Martin had become Yankee manager and he put Velez on his team’s season-opening roster. Velez responded with a .266 batting average in 49 games that year and an impressive .410 on base percentage. He became a favorite of the fiery Martin, which explains why the Yankee manager fought fiercely to keep Velez’s name off the unprotected list for the 1976 American League expansion draft. He lost that argument and a few weeks later the Yankees lost Velez, when “Otto the Swatto” became the 53rd player selected in that draft and was headed to Toronto.
Velez would spend the next six years playing first base, the outfield, and doing some DH-ing for the Blue Jays. His best year was probably 1980, when he reached the 20-homer mark for the only time in his 11-year big-league career. His final season in the Majors was spent in Cleveland in 1983. He than played in Mexico. He hit 78 home runs during his career, with a lifetime batting average of .251.
|TOR (6 yrs)||522||1843||1531||214||394||76||10||72||243||6||278||334||.257||.372||.461||.834|
|NYY (4 yrs)||105||303||246||29||56||11||1||6||28||0||55||74||.228||.366||.354||.720|
|CLE (1 yr)||10||28||25||1||2||0||0||0||1||0||3||6||.080||.179||.080||.259|
Irv Noren was the fourth Yankee outfielder for five seasons beginning in 1952 and he won three World Series rings in that role during his stay in the Bronx. The Yankees got Noren from the Senators during the 1952 season, giving up top prospect Jackie Jensen and pitcher Spec Shea as part of that deal. Born on this date in 1924, the Jamestown, NY native’s best season in pinstripes was, ironically, the only season the team did not win the AL pennant with Noren on the roster. That was 1954, when Irv hit .319 and drove in 66 runs and was named to the AL All Star team, while backing up starters Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer and Gene Woodling in the Yankee outfield. During the winter of 1957, the Yankees included Noren in a huge trade with Kansas City that brought Art Ditmar, Bobby Shantz and Clete Boyer to New York. Noren played sparingly for four more seasons for four different teams before retiring. He played his entire career handicapped by chronically sore knees.
|NYY (5 yrs)||488||1649||1451||214||394||66||15||31||198||16||166||151||.272||.348||.402||.750|
|WSH (3 yrs)||279||1233||1100||166||314||63||16||22||186||16||124||115||.285||.359||.432||.791|
|STL (3 yrs)||142||239||216||27||59||14||2||5||32||0||17||29||.273||.335||.426||.761|
|CHC (2 yrs)||77||186||167||27||51||6||2||4||20||2||16||28||.305||.376||.437||.813|
|KCA (1 yr)||81||172||160||8||34||8||0||2||16||0||11||19||.213||.267||.300||.567|
|LAD (1 yr)||26||26||25||1||5||0||0||1||1||0||1||8||.200||.231||.320||.551|
I faintly remember being confused about the trade. Just before Opening Day of the 1986 baseball season, the Yankees and Red Sox exchanged DH’s. New York sent Don Baylor to Boston for Mike Easler. Later on, I learned that Baylor had demanded to be traded because Lou Piniella, the Yankee Skipper at the time had announced he intended to platoon him with Ken Griffey during the ’86 season. As is the case still today, trades between the arch-rival franchises were not frequent occurrences. In fact the Easler for Baylor deal was the first trade between the two teams since New York got Sparky Lyle from Boston in exchange for Danny Cater fourteen seasons earlier. I could only hope that this deal would end up being as one-sided in favor of the Yankees as that one was. it wasn’t.
In 1984, Easler had belted 27 home runs for Boston, driven in 91 and averaged .313. Even though all those numbers decreased the following year, there was a lot to like about Easler in pinstripes. He was a bonafide three-hundred hitter who’s nickname was “Hit Man.” He was a left-handed hitter with good pop in his bat which I hoped meant perhaps 25-to-30 home runs per season aided by Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch. Easler would be joining a Yankee lineup that included superstars Don Mattingly, Ricky Henderson and Dave Winfield. There would be lots of protection surrounding him in the batting order which also meant less pressure to produce in every at bat. I fully expected that Yankee team to win their Division.
They came close, winning 90 games but Boston, with plenty of help from Baylor (31 HRs and 94 RBIs) won 95 and ended up in the World Series. Easler did hit .302 for New York but he managed just 14 home runs and 78 RBIs. But offense was not the problem for the 1986 Yankees. Instead, starting pitching was their achilles heel. It was a case of Ron Guidry and Joe Niekro being too old and Doug Drabek and Bob Tewksbury not being old enough. The Yankees traded Easler to the Phillies for pitcher Charles Hudson that December and then got him back in another trade the following June. He played his final 65 big league games in Pinstripes during that 1987 season and then gave Japanese ball a try. During his 14 season career in the Majors, Easler hit .293.
|PIT (6 yrs)||549||1829||1660||216||501||92||13||56||244||14||137||273||.302||.354||.474||.828|
|HOU (3 yrs)||26||29||27||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||2||10||.037||.103||.037||.140|
|NYY (2 yrs)||211||730||657||77||195||32||2||18||99||4||63||119||.297||.356||.434||.790|
|BOS (2 yrs)||311||1297||1169||158||337||60||9||43||165||1||111||263||.288||.351||.465||.816|
|CAL (1 yr)||21||59||54||6||13||1||1||0||4||1||2||11||.241||.259||.296||.555|
|PHI (1 yr)||33||117||110||7||31||4||0||1||10||0||6||20||.282||.316||.345||.662|