Bill Renna was the prototypical California “golden boy” high school athlete. Born in Hanford, a city in the central part of the state near Fresno, Renna was a three-sport standout with Hollywood good looks. Baseball was his favorite sport, but being six feet three inches tall and over two hundred pounds, the guy was built for football. He earned a scholarship to the University of San Francisco in 1942 but was then drafted into the military.
After being discharged two years later, he was supposed to play on the gridiron for Stanford but a mix-up of his transcripts nixed that opportunity and he ended up in the lower-profile program at Santa Clara. Still, his ability with a football drew the interest of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams but by that time, Renna had decided he wanted to play professional baseball and the Yankees had decided they wanted to sign Renna.
He got off to a great start in the minors, hitting 21 home runs and batting .385 during his first 76-game season of C ball. That earned him a huge leap to triple A ball the following year and he struggled at that level. For the next couple of years that pattern continued. Renna would hit B level pitching well and then falter when he moved up and faced the minor’s upper tier pitching talent.
That changed in 1952. That year, Renna put together a 28 HR – 90 RBI – .295 season for the Yankees top farm team in Kansas City. A few months later, he found himself battling for an Opening Day roster spot in the parent club’s spring training camp. That 1953 Yankee team was a great one and its starting outfield was solid. Casey Stengel started Mickey Mantle in center and mixed and matched Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling and Irv Noren in the other two positions depending on the opposing pitcher. Renna also had to compete against fellow Yankee outfield prospects Bob Cerv and Ellie Howard for any remaining roster spot.
In the end, Stengel brought Renna north and it proved to be a good choice. He spent most of his big league rookie season platooning in left field with Gene Woodling. He got just two starts that April, but in his second one, he hit his first big league home run in Comiskey Park off of the White Sox southpaw, Gene Beardon. What made that blast even more memorable for the rookie was that it was also the rear-end of a back-to-backer with Mantle.
He would end up playing in 61 games that year and averaging a very impressive .314. Though he didn’t get a chance to pay in the Yankees fifth consecutive World Series championship that October, he did win his first and only World Series ring. He never got a chance to win a second one because that December, I think George Weiss was bored so he decided to engineer a huge but inconsequential 11-player trade between New York and the A’s. The most notable player the Yankees got in the deal was first baseman Eddie Robinson, who they really did not need. One of the players Weiss sent to Philly was Renna.
He would start in the A’s 1954 outfield and hit a career high 13 home runs. He then moved with the team to Kansas City, but became a part-time player and pinch hitter in the process. Weiss actually got him back in a deal he made with the A’s in June of the 1956 season that ironically sent Robinson back to the A’s, but Renna was sent to the minors and remained there until he was traded to Boston just before the 1957 season. After another year in the minors, he became a valuable Red Sox pinch hitter during the 1958 season, when his 15 pinch hits produced 18 RBIs.
What hurt Renna’s big league career was the late start he got with the Yankees. Military service and then college made him 24-years-old by the time he got signed and 28 when he made his debut in the Bronx. In an interview just five years ago, Renna told the reporter his one year as a Yankee was the best of his career and he loved every second of it. He said Mantle was the greatest player he ever saw. He ended up quitting baseball after the ’59 season to begin a long career in the concrete industry as a job estimator. He’s still alive and living in California and turns 89 years old today.
|KCA (3 yrs)||256||809||719||97||164||25||7||22||86||2||75||112||.228||.304||.374||.678|
|BOS (2 yrs)||53||89||78||7||17||5||0||4||20||0||11||23||.218||.315||.436||.751|
|NYY (1 yr)||61||137||121||19||38||6||3||2||13||0||13||31||.314||.385||.463||.848|
Born on October 14, 1948 in Ciales, Puerto Rico, this guy never received the credit he deserved for helping the Yankees recapture their pennant-winning mo-jo during the mid seventies. In fact, the 1975 trade that brought Figueroa and the speedster center fielder Mickey Rivers from the Angels for Bobby Bonds has to be one of the best trades ever made by a Yankee front office.
In three seasons, from 1976 through 1978, this right-hander won 55 regular season games for New York, helping them get to three consecutive World Series. He threw eight shutouts during that span and in 1978, became the first big league pitcher of Puerto Rican descent to win 20 games in a season. Figueroa was so critical to New York’s success that his serious elbow injury in 1979 and the Yankees falling to fourth place in the AL East standings were anything but a coincidence. An operation to repair that elbow failed and Fiqueroa was sold to the Texas Rangers during the 1980 season.
About the only thing Ed Fiqueroa couldn’t do in a Yankee uniform was win in the postseason. He started seven games in October and didn’t get the win in any of them. I’m hoping Fiqueroa’s postseason failures do not rub off on another Yankee who shares Ed’s October fourteenth birthday. That would be this current New York skipper. This former Yankee second baseman and this former New York outfielder were also born on this same date.
|NYY (5 yrs)||62||39||.614||3.53||132||126||4||42||9||1||911.2||897||395||358||63||305||373||1.318|
|CAL (2 yrs)||18||21||.462||3.14||58||44||5||21||3||0||350.0||332||142||122||17||120||188||1.291|
|OAK (1 yr)||0||0||5.40||2||1||0||0||0||0||8.1||8||5||5||1||6||1||1.680|
|TEX (1 yr)||0||7||.000||5.90||8||8||0||0||0||0||39.2||62||29||26||9||12||9||1.866|
I first saw Pat Kelly play when he was the starting second baseman for the Albany-Colonie Yankees, New York’s old double A affiliate in the Eastern League. The year was 1990 and Kelly along with Bernie and Gerald Williams helped lead that team to an Eastern League pennant. He was solid defensively, was very quick on the base paths but he had a propensity for striking out too much for a non-power-hitter. Still, by the following season, Kelly found himself in the big leagues as a member of a very mediocre 1991 Yankee team.
Yankee Manager, Stump Merrill had been starting Jim Leyritz at third and was not happy with his defense at the hot corner. New York brought Kelly up in May and Stump inserted him as his everyday third baseman. Playing out-of-position, Kelly did not turn out to be much of an improvement defensively over Leyritz, but he did OK at the plate, hustled his rear end off and remained on the big league roster.
The following season, Buck Showalter replaced Merrill as Yankee skipper and he switched Kelly back to second base. Despite hitting just .226 that year, he started twice as many games at second as Mike Gallego. The following year, the Philadelphia native put together his best big league season, hitting .273 in 127 games for New York in 1993 and setting career highs in just about every offensive category. I remember thinking that Kelly had arrived as a bonafide big league player that season and expected him to enjoy a long and successful career as the Yankee’s starting second baseman.
By 1994, Showalter had Kelly and that entire Yankee team humming on all cylinders, as they streaked to a commanding lead in their Division and Kelly’s average rose to .280. But then the strike happened in August and the rest of the season was cancelled. When the players finally returned to the field in 1995, Kelly hurt his wrist, slumped at the plate and began losing his second base starts to Randy Velarde. But he did come through with the biggest hit of his Yankee career in the third-to-last game of the 1995 season. At the time, the Yankees were battling the Angels for the AL Wild Card spot and were trailing the Blue Jays by a run in the top of the ninth inning in Toronto. Kelly came to the plate with Velarde on first and hit a go-ahead home run. It was a huge hit at the time because Toronto was horrible that year and if the Yankees had lost that game I seriously doubt they would have hung on to finish ahead of the Angels.
As most Yankee fans remember, that team went on to lose to the Mariners in the 1995 ALDS and Steinbrenner then fired Showalter and replaced him with Joe Torre. When Kelly hurt his shoulder that spring and it required surgery, Torre announced that he was going to start Tony Fernandez at second base in 1996. Fernandez then broke his elbow. A scrambling Yankee front office brought in Mariano (We play today, we win today, das eeet) Duncan to play second and he responded by hitting a career-high .340. Kelly’s Yankee career was pretty much over at that point. Even before his big league playing days ended, he had become deeply involved in Australian baseball and he still today serves as a scout specializing in finding playing talent “Down Under” and throughout the entire Pacific rim area.
Kelly shares his October 14th birthday with his former Yankee teammate and current Yankee Manager, this former Yankee outfielder and this former 20-game-winning Yankee pitcher.
|NYY (7 yrs)||591||1937||1719||218||431||97||11||26||183||56||122||354||.251||.309||.365||.674|
|STL (1 yr)||53||170||153||18||33||5||0||4||14||5||13||48||.216||.284||.327||.611|
|TOR (1 yr)||37||130||116||17||31||7||0||6||20||0||10||23||.267||.318||.483||.801|
While Yankee fans read a lot about how the Core Four turned the Yankees’ fortunes around in 1996, the free agent signing of Joe Girardi to become the team’s starting catcher that same season, helped quite a bit as well. Girardi had caught for the Cubs when Don Zimmer managed Chicago and it was at the urging of Joe Torre’s first Yankee bench coach that New York signed the Peoria, IL native to replace Mike Stanley.
Girardi turned out to be a solid signal caller for Torre’s pitching staff and a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. He also proved to be an excellent mentor for a young Jorge Posada and gracefully ceded playing time to him as Posada matured and improved his hitting skills. In 1999, Girardi returned to the Cubs as a free agent for three seasons and played his last year with the Cardinals in 2003.
He tried broadcasting for a few seasons and then joined Joe Torre’s coaching staff as Yankee bench coach in 2005. He got the Florida Marlins’ managerial position a year later. He was named NL Manager of the Year in 2006 for keeping the club with the lowest payroll in baseball in contention for a playoff spot for most of the season. Ironically, by the time he received the actual award, he had already been fired by Marlins’ owner, Jeff Loria.
You know the rest of the story. After getting his dream job of managing the Yankees, New York missed the postseason for the first time in Joe’s first year as skipper but won their 27th World Series in his second. He has managed them back into postseason play three times since but they’re still trying to return to another World Series. I think Girardi has done an above average job managing New York for the past five seasons. It is evident that he works very hard at his craft, is very intelligent and serves as an effective spokesperson on the team’s behalf. He never disses his players in public and his behavior in the dugout has been impeccable.
Also born on this date was the first pitcher of Puerto Rican descent to win 20 games in a season, this former Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee second baseman who was once a teammate of Girardi’s.
Here are Girardi’s seasonal stats as a Yankee player and his MLB career totals:
|CHC (7 yrs)||578||1880||1719||161||446||74||6||13||148||12||122||266||.259||.310||.332||.642||72|
|NYY (4 yrs)||379||1412||1283||147||349||72||9||8||153||20||80||172||.272||.317||.361||.678||75|
|COL (3 yrs)||304||1217||1102||145||302||40||11||15||120||12||74||165||.274||.323||.371||.694||69|
|STL (1 yr)||16||26||23||1||3||0||0||0||1||0||3||4||.130||.231||.130||.361||-1|
Here are Girardi’s Yankee and career stats as a manager:
|2||2008||43||New York Yankees||AL||162||89||73||.549||3|
|3||2009||44||New York Yankees||AL||162||103||59||.636||1||WS Champs|
|4||2010||45||New York Yankees||AL||162||95||67||.586||2|
|5||2011||46||New York Yankees||AL||162||97||65||.599||1|
|6||2012||47||New York Yankees||AL||162||95||67||.586||1|
|7||2013||48||New York Yankees||AL||162||85||77||.525||3|
|Florida Marlins||1 year||162||78||84||.481||4.0|
|New York Yankees||6 years||972||564||408||.580||1.8||1 Pennant and 1 World Series Title|
|7 years||1134||642||492||.566||2.1||1 Pennant and 1 World Series Title|