The Yankees 1981 World Series defeat to the Dodgers was an almost tragic turning point for George Steinbrenner. He had spent loads of Yankee dollars to put together an offense that was driven by home runs only to see that offense sputter and fail in both the second half of the strike-induced split season and the last four games with Los Angeles. He then seemed to have let his anger over the strike and the pain of that Dodger defeat drive a series of player decisions that would keep the Yankees out of postseason play for the next fifteen years. No move symbolized Steinbrenner’s inept over-reaction more than the signing of Dave Collins.
At the time, Collins was a singles-hitting, base-stealing outfielder who slap-swung his bat from both sides of the plate. He had hit .300 for the Reds in both 1979 and ’80 but what really captured the Boss’s attention was the 79 bases Collins stole during that 1980 season. Steinbrenner was convinced the guy would be a perfect lead-off man for the new small-ball offense he envisioned for his ball club so he blew him over with a three-year, two-and-a-half million dollar free agent offer that was probably twice as much and at least a year-more than any other team would have offered Collins.
A month before that signing the Boss had approved a trade for Collins’ Cincinnati teammate and fellow outfielder, Ken Griffey. Then just before spring training, Steinbrenner must have been feeling sentimental because he gave both Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, two more outfielders, three-year contract extensions. The Yankees also already had Dave Winfield, Jerry Mumphrey and Oscar Gamble under contract for the 1982 season. That added up to seven outfielders which didn’t add up to a very confused Bob Lemon, who as Yankee manager was given the responsibility of figuring out where and when to play all of them. When Collins reported to spring training, Lemon told him to work out at first base. As Bill Madden explained the situation in his excellent biography of Steinbrenner, “The Last Lion of Baseball,” Collins spent all that spring asking every reporter who covered the team “Why in the world did they sign me?”
He ended up playing first base in 52 games for New York and split 60 more pretty evenly as the Yankee left, right, and center fielder. He hit just .253 that year, stole only 13 bases and was probably one of the most uncomfortable Yankee players in the history of the franchise. Steinbrenner’s 1982 small ball Yankees finished the season next-to-last in their division with a 79-83 record. New York then mercifully traded Collins to the Blue Jays, where, feeling much more wanted, he averaged .290 and 50 stolen bases during the final two years of the contract he had originally signed with New York. But just to make Steinbrenner regret his signing of Collins even more, the Blue jays insisted that the Yankees include a youngster named Fred McGriff in the trade for Collins
|CIN (7 yrs)||697||1981||1774||272||504||70||16||9||126||147||168||231||.284||.349||.357||.706|
|CAL (2 yrs)||192||775||684||86||181||25||5||7||57||56||76||110||.265||.337||.346||.684|
|TOR (2 yrs)||246||943||843||114||245||36||19||3||78||91||76||108||.291||.355||.389||.744|
|STL (1 yr)||99||74||58||12||13||1||0||0||3||7||13||10||.224||.366||.241||.608|
|OAK (1 yr)||112||418||379||52||95||16||4||4||29||29||29||37||.251||.303||.346||.648|
|NYY (1 yr)||111||393||348||41||88||12||3||3||25||13||28||49||.253||.315||.330||.646|
|SEA (1 yr)||120||447||402||46||96||9||3||5||28||25||33||66||.239||.299||.313||.613|
|DET (1 yr)||124||476||419||44||113||18||2||1||27||27||44||49||.270||.340||.329||.670|
I remember the first time I saw Jose Veras get summoned in from the bullpen to pitch in a Yankee game. I’m not sure if it was during this Dominican’s first cup of coffee stay in the Bronx in 2006 or his second call-up in 2007, but I do remember how his huge physical size made an impression on me. This right-hander is six feet six inches tall and goes about 250 pounds. It took him three tries to finally stick with the Yankees but when he did start clicking it happened at an opportune time for both team and player.
When the Yankees opened up the 2008 season the plan was to have both Kyle Farnsworth and the previous year’s rookie sensation, Joba Chamberlain serve as the late inning bridges to closer Mariano Rivera. That strategy collapsed when rookie starters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy struggled out of the gate and Chamberlain was taken from the bullpen and inserted in the rotation. That put too much of the late-inning workload on Farnsworth and Joe Girardi gave Veras the opportunity to fill Chamberlain’s vacated slot.
He responded well to the challenge and became one of the bright spots in an otherwise disappointing 2008 season for the Yankees. Veras appeared in 60 games that year and finished with a 5-3 record with a 3.58 ERA and 10 Holds. Unfortunately for Veras, he got off to a slow start in 2009. Meanwhile, Phil Hughes began pitching brilliantly in a late-inning role and newcomer David Robertson was impressing everyone with his ability to get outs. That made Veras expendable and that June, he was sold to the Indians. He hasn’t had a chance to unpack his suitcase since, as he pitched for the Marlins in 2010, the Pirates in ’11 and spent last season with the Brewers. He has pitched well since switching to the National League.
Update: Veras got a huge break at the trading deadline during the 2013 season, when he was traded from the lowly Astros to the playoff-contending Tigers. Detroit skipper Jim Leyland used him a lot from that point forward and the couple of times I saw him pitch during the 2013 playoffs he looked very effective, until last night that is. Veras was the guy who surrendered the back-breaking grand slam to Shane Victorino that sent Boston into the World Series and the Tigers into the off-season.
|NYY (4 yrs)||8||4||.667||4.43||106||0||32||0||0||3||103.2||89||51||51||14||55||94||1.389|
|CLE (1 yr)||1||2||.333||4.38||22||0||9||0||0||0||24.2||19||16||12||3||14||22||1.338|
|PIT (1 yr)||2||4||.333||3.80||79||0||19||0||0||1||71.0||54||32||30||6||34||79||1.239|
|DET (1 yr)||0||1||.000||3.20||25||0||7||0||0||2||19.2||16||8||7||2||8||16||1.220|
|HOU (1 yr)||0||4||.000||2.93||42||0||38||0||0||19||43.0||29||15||14||4||14||44||1.000|
|FLA (1 yr)||3||3||.500||3.75||48||0||11||0||0||0||48.0||32||20||20||5||29||54||1.271|
|MIL (1 yr)||5||4||.556||3.63||72||0||17||0||0||1||67.0||61||29||27||5||40||79||1.507|
Mickey Mantle was my idol growing up as a kid in the west end of Amsterdam, NY. I can still remember the feeling of euphoria that would come over my entire body on those very rare moments when I would tear open a pack of Topps baseball cards and there hiding in the gum-smelling stack of five pieces of glossy cardboard would be a Mickey Mantle. He was the very best player on the very best baseball team in the world and during my first five years as a Yankee fan, he led New York to five consecutive World Series appearances.
I had a poster of Mantle on my bedroom wall until I was about sixteen years old. I memorized his hitting statistics for each of his 18 regular season and 12 World Series performances. Watching him hit a home run in a televised Yankee contest was as enjoyable for me as seeing the Beatles for the first time on Ed Sullivan, watching the last episode of MASH and the first episode of the Sopranos all in one.
The first time I saw Mantle in person was a Sunday morning outside Yankee Stadium. Me and my brothers were altar boys when we were kids and we never skipped church on Sunday except for the two or three times each summer when our Uncle would take us to Yankee games. I may have been brought up to love Jesus but Mantle was a better hitter.
In any event, on this particular Sunday we were standing behind the police barricades outside the Yankee Stadium player entrance watching the Yankees arrive for that day’s game. All of a sudden, someone much taller than me screamed, “It’s him! It’s him! Here comes Mickey!”
He walked by just five feet in front of me wearing a short-sleeved golf shirt and kaki pants and the first thing I noticed were the muscle lines in his arms. The guy was ripped. People all around me were screaming his name but I was speechless and in total awe. My stupor didn’t matter because Mickey ignored us all. Most of the other Yankee players would wave as they walked by these barricades and some would even stop to shake a fan’s hand or sign an autograph. Not Mantle. He kept his head down and a frown on his face and walked straight inside the Stadium.
I was shocked when just about two hours later, listening to Bob Sheppard announce the Yankee’s starting lineup for that day’s game, I discovered Mickey would not be playing. In fact, Mantle not playing was a pretty common occurrence for me after many of those long drives my Uncle made to Yankee Stadium during the sixties. Instead we’d watch Hector Lopez, Bob Cerv or Jack Reed take the oft-injured Commerce Comet’s spot in the lineup. In fact, not once during the seven seasons we traveled to the Stadium during Mantle’s playing career did I see Mickey hit a home run. I began to think that my being at Yankee Stadium was somehow jinxing Mantle.
I was speechless and in awe the second time I saw Mantle, as well. The span between encounters was about twenty years. I had just landed at the airport in West Palm Beach, Florida with my wife Rosemary and two young children and we were walking to the baggage claim area. Unlike today, the West Palm Beach airport was not very crowded and I was pushing my youngest son in a stroller when I saw a pilot, two stewardesses, and a guy dressed up in a suit carrying a garment bag walking toward us. The guy turned out to be Mickey.
I mumbled to my wife “That’s Mickey Mantle!” and then froze as they continued to walk toward us. Rosemary kept telling me to ask him for an autograph but I couldn’t move or talk. I just stood there with my hands frozen on the stroller handles watching Mantle get closer and closer. That’s when my bolder better half sprang into action. She walked right up to him and said very nicely, “Mr. Mantle, that’s my husband standing over there and you were his idol growing up as a kid. Could you do me a huge favor and sign this for him?” With that she handed him the US Air Ticket Envelope and a blue Flair marker.
Mantle’s response went something like this. “Did they announce I was in this f _ _ _ _ _ g airport! I hate this God d _ _ _ _ _ d s_ _ t! Give me that pen lady.”
My wife and I just stood there speechless, she holding the signed ticket envelope. We realized Mantle’s life must have been filled with these annoying requests but the bitterness and anger in his reaction indicated the man was either deeply disturbed or he lacked even an ounce of humanity, compassion, or plain and simple class. At that moment, Mantle was no longer a hero of mine. When we left the airport I tossed the signed envelope into the garbage container just before I got inside my father-in-law’s Lincoln.
It wasn’t until another fifteen years passed and I watched a news report showing a dying Mantle apologizing to his fans for being such a selfish uncaring jerk all those years, that he became my hero again. I remember after Mantle finished speaking from the hospital press room that day, getting up from my chair in the living room of our house, going to my bedroom and pulling out my metal storage box from the top shelf of my clothes closet. I pulled out that US Air ticket envelope and just stared at that patented Mickey Mantle signature. I finally knew why I had made my Father-in-Law return to the arrival loop of the West Palm Beach Airport that day and why I scrimmaged through that filthy trash can to find the discarded, begrudgingly signed envelope.
The much-loved voice of the original Yankee Stadium, Bob Sheppard would have been 103 years-old today. Yankee fans cherished the familiar greeting “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Yankee Stadium.” This great tribute to Sheppard was featured in the New York Times at the time of his death in July of 2010. Viewing it is a fitting way to celebrate the birthday of a Yankee legend.
Sheppard shares a birthday with another Yankee legend. In fact, Sheppard was once asked what Yankee name was his most favorite to announce and he said it was the name of this great Yankee legend. This former Yankee outfielder, and this former Yankee reliever were also born on October 20th.