Vic Mata got his opportunity to play in the Bronx in 1984 mostly because George Steinbrenner was growing frustrated playing and paying high-priced veterans to miss the playoffs. In 1983, the Yankees had won 91 games but finished third in the AL East. That was the second consecutive season New York had failed to qualify for Fall Ball and that was the first time that had happened to a Yankee team since 1975. So “The Boss” let it be known he wanted to start testing the fruit from the Yankee farm system, hoping young guys like Don Mattingly, Mike Pagliarullo, Bobby Meacham and Vic Mata could show the old guys how to win with hunger and hustle. The Yankees were a game under .500 in July when Mata got his first start. Yogi Berra played the Dominican Republic native quite a bit in center field for the balance of that year and both Vic and the Yankees responded. Mata got real hot at the plate in August and helped the Yankees go 40-27 the rest of the way. But that proved to be the best and longest stretch of big league baseball Mata would ever play. That December, the short-memoried Steinbrenner went out and got the A’s Ricky Henderson to play center field for the Yankees. Then when the Yankees got off to a slow start in ’85 “The Boss” canned Berra and replaced him with good old Billy Martin. Berra liked Mata and Martin loved Henderson. Mata ended up playing just six more regular-season games in pinstripes.
After spending the final couple of seasons of his playing career in the minors, Mata eventually got into scouting. It has been in that capacity that this he has made his most significant contribution to the Yankees. Vic is the guy who signed Robinson Cano. He is also the only Yankee past or present who was born on June 17th. Happy Fathers’ Day to all you Dads out there.
Mata shares his birthday with this former front office Yankee executive.
This Jersey native started his seven-season big league career appearing in 24 games with the 1947 Yankees. Most of those appearances were as a first baseman. He was one of the last Yankees to wear uniform number 3 before it was retired upon Babe Ruth’s death in 1948. The highlight of Clarke’s short stay in pinstripes had to be his participation in the 1947 World Series. He appeared in three games against the Dodgers in that Fall Classic, came to the plate three times, getting a walk a base hit, scoring a run and delivering an RBI. He was then traded to the Indians for pitcher Red Embree and appeared in his second straight Series that year, when the Indians captured the AL Pennant. He played three plus seasons in Cleveland and then joined the A’s in Philadelphia for a while. He played his last big league game in 1953.
Clarke played briefly for the Amsterdam Rugmakers in 1941. The team was based in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY and was the Yankees’ C-level affiliate in the old Canadian-American League. He wowed our town’s local sports press by averaging .368 during his 20 games with the team.
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|PHA (3 yrs)||147||456||421||49||106||26||1||14||64||2||28||31||.252||.303||.418||.721|
|NYY (1 yr)||24||73||67||9||25||5||0||1||14||0||5||2||.373||.417||.493||.909|
|CHW (1 yr)||9||15||15||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||5||.067||.067||.067||.133|
The initial signing of this former Yomiuri Giant standout was a great move by the Yankee front office prior to the 2003 season. Only Ishiru Suzuki ranks in front of him in terms of on-the-field performance by a Japanese player in the Major Leagues. He knocked in over 100 runs in four of his first five seasons in Pinstripes and only a wrist injury prevented him from making it all five.
The second contract the Yankees gave Matsui (four years, $52 million) after the 2005 season, did not turn out as well for New York. The wrist mishap ended Hideki’s consecutive game streak of over 1,700 (started in Japan and continued during his first 518 games as a Yankee.) After the broken wrist, he missed close to forty percent of the Yankee’s regular-season games during the next three seasons with an assortment of ailments and injuries including two very painful knees.
Matsui then put together a memorable final year in pinstripes in 2009. During the regular season he blasted 28 home runs and drove in ninety. But he saved his very best effort for the 2009 World Series. He hit .615 in fourteen plate appearances against the Phillies with three home runs and 8 RBIs. I had the pleasure of seeing him hit one of those round-trippers live, at Game 2 at the Stadium. His Game 6 performance will remain one for the ages. Matsui drove in six of the seven Yankee runs with a homer, double and single and was named the Series MVP. Since he hit 332 home runs while playing in Japan, Matsui ended up with 507 combined home runs during his career.
Matsui’s quiet brilliance during his seven seasons in the Bronx made him one of my favorite Yankees. “Godzilla” announced his retirement from baseball on December 27, 2012.
This former Yankee relief pitcher shares Matsui’s birthday.
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|TBR (1 yr)||34||103||95||7||14||1||0||2||7||0||8||22||.147||.214||.221||.435|
|OAK (1 yr)||141||585||517||58||130||28||0||12||72||1||56||84||.251||.321||.375||.696|
|LAA (1 yr)||145||558||482||55||132||24||1||21||84||0||67||98||.274||.361||.459||.820|
When Babe Ruth was released by the Yankees in 1934, the team gave George Selkirk, his replacement in right field, the Babe’s uniform number “3.” Selkirk wore it until he went into military service after the 1942 season. With most of the frontline players away at war, the Yankees reached down into their minor league organization for Selkirk’s replacement, a then 28-year-old St. Louis native named Bud Metheny, and gave him uniform number 3. Metheny wore that number and started in the Yankee outfield from 1943 until 1945, when the War ended and the regular big leaguers returned to the game. Born on June 1, 1915, his best year in pinstripes was 1944, when he hit 14 home runs and drove in 67. He returned to the minors in 1946 and never again played a big league game. He then became the head baseball coach at Old Dominion University in 1948 and remained in that position for the next 32 years.
By the way, the Yankees did not retire the Bambino’s number for good until after Ruth died in 1948. After Metheny, the number was worn by Roy Bockman, Roy Weatherly, Allie Clarke and finally Cliff Mapes.
The year was 2003. The Yankees would win 101 games that season and capture the AL East Divison, the ALDS against the Twins, the ALCS against the Red Sox but then lose the Series to the Marlins. Coming out of that year’s spring training season, most of the reporters covering the Yankees were predicting Juan Rivera would be Joe Torre’s selection as the team’s fourth outfielder. Instead, Torre chose Chris Latham.
New York had signed the Idaho native the previous September after he had spent the entire 2000 season in the Mets farm system. But Latham did have prior big league experience. He had made his debut in the Majors for the Twins in 1997 and saw action in Minnesota’s outfield for three straight seasons. He had also played for Toronto during the 2000 season, where he hit a career high .274 in 43 games as a utility outfielder.
Reports at the time indicated Torre had selected Latham over Rivera because his speed made him a better pinch-running option, he was a switch-hitter and had experience playing center field. He made his debut in pinstripes as a pinch runner for Raul Mondesi on April 6, 2003, during the sixth inning of game against Tampa Bay. He scored a run and remained in the game to play right field. He got his first Yankee at bat three innings later and singled off Jorge Sosa.
Even though Latham had made the Yankee roster, his agent continued to look for opportunities that would permit his client to play more and make a higher salary. He found such an opportunity with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. Latham asked the Yankees if they would agree to negotiating a deal with the Giants that would permit him to play there and the team graciously agreed. Before he departed for Yomiuri, he got one more at bat as a Yankee against his old team the Twins and singled. That hit would make him the only Yankee in history to leave New York with more than one official at bat and a 1.000 career batting average.
The only other Yankee born on May 26th was this former first baseman.
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|NYY (1 yr)||4||2||2||3||2||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||1.000||1.000||1.000||2.000|
|TOR (1 yr)||43||84||73||12||20||3||1||2||10||4||10||28||.274||.369||.425||.794|
Bobby Brown started his Yankee career during the tumultuous 1979 season, when he was acquired from the Blue Jays in June of that year. At the same time New York traded for Brown, George Steinbrenner, replaced Manager Bob Lemon with Billy Martin. After winning two straight World Championships, New York was floundering in that year’s AL Pennant race. The “Boss” thought Lemon had lost control of the team and especially center-fielder Mickey Rivers. The Yankee owner felt Martin was the guy who could make the Yankees and “Mick the Quick” play hard again.
Instead, Rivers continued to drift and on August 1, 1979, the speedy outfielder was dealt to the Rangers. That same day, Thurman Munson crashed his plane and the rest of the 1979 baseball season suddenly didn’t matter to anybody.
In one of his best moves as Yankee owner, Steinbrenner then approved the hiring of long-time Yankee coach Dick Howser as the team’s new skipper. The Yankees also swung a deal for the young Mariner center-fielder, Rupert Jones. Everyone thought Jones would become the Yankees next great center fielder. Fortunately for Bobby Brown, that didn’t happen.
With Jones struggling to keep his average over .200, Dick Howser began playing Brown in the middle of his outfield during that 1980 season. Brown’s speed helped him cover the huge dimensions of center field in the old Yankee Stadium and it helped him steal 27 bases that season. Howser also liked the fact that Brown was a switch hitter. Bobby responded well, hitting .260 and poking 14 home runs in his official rookie season. But the Howser-Brown mutual admiration society was about to get disbanded.
Howser was fired by an irate Steinbrenner after the Yankees got knocked out of the 1980 playoffs in three-straight games by the Royals. Brown went hitless in that series, which did not go unnoticed in the Yankee front office. At the very end of New York’s 1981 spring training season, New York traded Jones to the Padres for San Diego’s talented center fielder, Jerry Mumphrey. That trade signaled the official end of Brown’s career as the Yankee’s starting center fielder.
Bobby began the 1981 season in Columbus and then got called back up to the parent club in late May. He remained in pinstripes during the rest of that strike-shortened 1981 season, but he hit only .226. Still, the Yankees kept him on their post-season roster, which ended up giving Brown one more opportunity to make Steinbrenner livid. It happened during the pivotal Game 4 of that year’s Fall Classic against the Dodgers. Yankee Manager, Bob Lemon had inserted Brown as a pinch runner for Oscar Gamble in the sixth inning with the Yankees ahead 6-3. But instead of putting Jerry Mumphrey in center the following inning, Lemon sent Brown out to play the field. Mumphrey was considered to be a much better defensive outfielder than Brown. Later in the game, with the score tied 6-6, Brown misplayed Rick Monday’s blooper into a double, which led to a two-run inning and a Dodger victory and a deadlocked Series. Los Angeles would go on to win the next two games and the World Championship. The following April, Brown was playing for the Mariners.
The Yankees actually traded for Bobby Brown two different times. They originally acquired him in 1978, when he was still a minor leaguer in the Phillies’ organization but then lost him to the Mets in the 1978 rule 5 Draft. In that trade with the Phillies, the Yankees got Brown and outfielder Jay Johnstone for reliever Rawley Eastwick. When New York traded Bobby Brown to the Mariners in 1982 they got starting pitcher Shane Rawley in return. This makes Brown the only Yankee in history who was traded to the team and from the team for guys who shared the name Rawley.
There was another pretty famous Bobby Brown in Yankee history, a third baseman during the late forties who went on to become a medical doctor and then the last president of MLB’s American League. There have also been lots of Yankees who like the two Bobby Brown’s, have names (or nicknames) with the same first and last initial. Here’s my line up of the most notable of those alliteratively monikered Bronx Bombers:
Chris Chambliss – 1b
Steve Sax – 2b
Tommy Tresh – SS
Red Rolfe – 3b
Frank Fernandez – c
Mickey Mantle – of
Bobby Bonds – of
Chad Curtis – of
Shane Spencer – dh
Mike Mussina – p
Red Ruffing – p
Goose Gossage – rp
Bobby turns 59-years-old today. He shares his May 25th birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and minor league pitching instructor.
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|NYY (3 yrs)||198||586||542||77||138||16||6||14||56||33||36||114||.255||.299||.384||.683|
|SEA (1 yr)||79||267||245||29||59||7||1||4||17||28||17||32||.241||.288||.327||.614|
|TOR (1 yr)||4||12||10||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||1||.000||.167||.000||.167|
It is still hard to believe Bobby is gone. He became my favorite Yankee when he was brought up in 1969 to replace my previous favorite Yankee, the great Mickey Mantle. Even though he developed into a very good big league player, he was no Mantle. He was instead, the very best player on a very bad string of Yankee teams and I loved the guy. I remember being very upset when Bobby was traded to the Giants for Bobby Bonds right after the 1974 season. I remember being overjoyed when the Yankees put him back in pinstripes during the 1979 season. I hated to see him retire during the 1983 season but I enjoyed listening to him and learning more about him during his many years in the Yankees’ broadcast booth. When he died from a brain tumor in July of 2008, Yankee fans around the world mourned him. Had he lived he would have turned 68 years-old today.
In April of 2014, the Yankees announced that they would be placing plaques in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park to honor Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez, two great Yankees who certainly deserve the recognition. But what about Bobby Murcer?
|NYY (13 yrs)||1256||4997||4428||641||1231||192||29||175||687||74||491||564||.278||.349||.453||.802|
|CHC (3 yrs)||358||1465||1243||178||336||44||10||43||175||32||196||154||.270||.367||.426||.792|
|SFG (2 yrs)||294||1256||1059||153||295||49||6||34||181||21||175||123||.279||.379||.432||.812|