Ron Blomberg appeared in his first Yankee game on August 23, 1968. Incredibly, he was just the second Jew ever to wear a Yankee uniform. The first was today’s birthday celebrant, Jimmy Reese. Reese doesn’t sound like a Jewish name does it? That’s because the second baseman had changed it from Soloman when he was a teenager, knowing he would have better luck making it as a baseball player if he hid his heritage.
In 1929, Reese hit .337 for the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast league. The Yankees paid Oakland $125,000 for the contracts of Reese and his Oakland teammate and double play partner, Lyn Lary. While Lary became the Yankees’ starting shortstop in 1930, Reese sat on the bench behind future Hall of Fame second baseman, Tony Lazzeri. Yankee skipper, Bob Shawkey did manage to get Jimmy into 77 games that year and Reese responded by hitting .346. He also became Babe Ruth’s roommate on the road and one of the Bambino’s best friends and biggest admirers. Ruth’s first question walking into the Yankee clubhouse would often be “Where’s the Jew.” He’d take Reese home for dinner, play cards with him on the long train rides during Yankee road trips, and pull all sorts of pranks on his adoring roommate. When Reese’s average fell to .241 in 1931, the Yankees sold him to the American Association franchise in St. Paul, MN. After a 90-game trial with the Cardinals in 1932, Reese’s big league playing career was over and he headed back to the Pacific Coast League.
After coaching in the Minors for decades, Reese asked the California Angels for a job and was made the team’s conditioning coach in 1972, when he was 71 years old. He spent the next 22 years in that role, becoming one of the most popular personalities ever to wear the Halos’ uniform. He was best known for his incredible skills with a fungo bat. He could hit a ball wherever he wanted to with that bat and would even sometimes pitch Angels’ batting practice with it, hitting one line drive after another right over the plate. The Angels retired his uniform number when he died in 1994. I wonder if that number would have been retired if this New York City native had not made the decision to change his name from Soloman to Reese all those many years ago?
Also celebrating his birthday today is the player the Yankees traded for outfielder Paul O’Neill and this one-time closer who retired with 365 saves.
|NYY (2 yrs)||142||468||433||85||124||24||4||6||44||3||28||18||.286||.331||.402||.733|
|STL (1 yr)||90||333||309||38||82||15||0||2||26||4||20||19||.265||.314||.333||.648|
Up until last evening, I had completely forgotten that Jeff Reardon appeared in his very last big league baseball game while wearing the Yankee pinstripes. I do remember at the end of the 1993 season that New York had let their regular closer, Steve Farr sign with the Indians as a free agent. When the Yanks did not sign or trade for Farr’s replacement that offseason, it looked as if they were going to depend on former NL Rookie of the Year and cocaine addict, Steve Howe to assume that role the following year. But just before the pitchers’ first scheduled workout at New York’s 1994 spring training camp, Yankee GM, Gene Michael announced the team had signed the 38-year-old Reardon to a minor league contract.
At the time, Reardon already had 15 seasons of relief pitching under his belt and was in second place behind Lee Smith, with 365 career saves. He had put together 40-save seasons for the Expos, Twins and Red Sox. Michael explained that there was absolutely no risk involved for the Yankees because Reardon’s $250,000 salary wasn’t guaranteed. The then 37-year-old right-hander had to make the Yankee roster to get paid and if he did, he could also earn a total of $750,000 in performance incentives. Reardon had been working on a knuckleball and was hoping the new pitch would earn him those bonuses and extend his career.
The man known as “the Terminator” made Buck Showalter’s Opening Day roster and saw lots of action that April, making ten appearances, earning two saves and getting his last-ever big league victory. Then on May 4th he was called into pitch in the seventh inning of a game against the Angels and allowed three runs, blowing the save. Two days later, the Yankees released him and this native of Pittsfield, MA retired to his home in Florida.
Eleven years later, he was arrested in a bizarre incident for robbing a Palm Beach Gardens’ jewelry store. Police later reported that Reardon had overmedicated on depression medicine and was not acting rationally. The pitcher was depressed because his 20-year-old son had died of a drug overdose a few weeks earlier.
|MON (6 yrs)||32||37||.464||2.84||359||0||281||0||0||152||506.1||416||172||160||40||178||398||1.173|
|MIN (3 yrs)||15||16||.484||3.70||191||0||177||0||0||104||226.1||206||95||93||28||55||185||1.153|
|NYM (3 yrs)||10||9||.526||2.65||97||0||59||0||0||10||159.2||135||54||47||14||68||139||1.271|
|BOS (3 yrs)||8||9||.471||3.41||150||0||127||0||0||88||153.0||146||60||58||20||42||109||1.229|
|CIN (1 yr)||4||6||.400||4.09||58||0||32||0||0||8||61.2||66||34||28||4||10||35||1.232|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||8.38||11||0||8||0||0||2||9.2||17||9||9||3||3||4||2.069|
|ATL (1 yr)||3||0||1.000||1.15||14||0||11||0||0||3||15.2||14||2||2||0||2||7||1.021|
Although it turned out to be one of the great trades in Yankee history, I remember not getting too excited when the Yankees traded their center fielder, Roberto Kelly for the Reds right fielder, Paul O’Neill during the 1992 off-season. Kelly, who was born on October 1, 1964 in Panama City, Panama, had been one of the better players on four years worth of mediocre Yankee teams that had produced a cumulative 286-361 won-loss record. The good-fielding speedster had hit .278 during his 648-game tenure in Pinstripes while O’Neill was hitting just .259 during his 799 games with Cincinnati. O’Neill had more power, hitting 96 home runs as a Red but Kelly had some pop in his bat too, hitting 57 home runs for New York, including a 20-homer season in 1991 during which Roberto had appeared in just 123 games. Kelly was also very quick. He stole 151 bases for New York, which still places him in the top ten for lifetime steals as a Yankee and he was fast enough to cover the cow pasture-like center field of the old Yankee Stadium. At the time, I thought Kelly would have had a lot better numbers if he had played for a lot better team so I remember being sort of skeptical about the trade.
This explains why I’m writing this blog instead of making personnel decisions for a big league team. Paul O’Neil’s left handed stroke was perfect for Yankee Stadium and since Kelly hit right-handed, his stroke never would be. O’Neill’s combative personality put some much-needed spark in the Yankee clubhouse and by trading Kelly, the Yankees made room for a young center-fielder named Bernie Williams to get some playing time. In the mean time, Kelly went on to play 14 seasons in the Majors, with eight different teams. He was named to two All Star teams and participated in four different postseasons as a player. His last big league game was back in a Yankee uniform during the 2000 season, after New York had signed him as a free agent to add some depth to their bench. When his playing days ended, Kelly got into coaching and in 2007 became a member of the Giants’ big league staff. He joined his former New York teammates, Dave Righetti and Hensley Muelens on that staff and all three ex-Yankees won their first World Series rings when San Francisco captured the 2010 World Series.
|NYY (7 yrs)||648||2538||2302||324||640||111||12||57||259||151||169||446||.278||.331||.411||.741|
|MIN (2 yrs)||173||628||569||80||175||36||6||11||84||17||40||103||.308||.358||.450||.808|
|TEX (2 yrs)||162||589||547||89||170||24||4||24||83||6||29||103||.311||.353||.501||.854|
|CIN (2 yrs)||125||538||499||73||156||25||3||12||56||30||28||78||.313||.353||.447||.800|
|ATL (1 yr)||63||281||255||44||73||15||3||6||24||10||24||36||.286||.345||.439||.784|
|LAD (1 yr)||112||436||409||47||114||19||2||6||48||15||15||65||.279||.306||.379||.685|
|MON (1 yr)||24||104||95||11||26||4||0||1||9||4||7||14||.274||.337||.347||.684|
|SEA (1 yr)||30||129||121||19||36||7||0||7||22||2||5||17||.298||.328||.529||.857|