The Yankee franchise has more than its share of big names associated with December 25, certainly a big day on the calendars of many people who predominate in the Western Hemisphere of this planet. Unfortunately the first Yankee reference we’ll make is to the death, this day in 1989, of former Yankee manager and player Billy Martin. Billy played with the Yanks from 1950-1957, during which time he stroked 30 home runs with 178 rbi’s and 19 stolen bases; he also made at least one memorable World Series catch. But where Billy shone was on the bench piloting a team. He led the Minnesota Twins to a pennant win in 1969, won a pennant in three years with the Tigers (finishing second and third the other two seasons), coached a second- and third-place team in two full years with the Rangers. And in his four years piloting Oakland after his first two stays with the Yanks, he notched a first and two second places. But it was in New York that Billy posted a 1,252-1,013 win/loss record, won three pennants and two World Titles, and otherwise led the club to a second, two thirds, a fourth and a fifth-place finish.
On December 25, 2013, the Yankees signed free agent righthander Yoshinori Tateyama to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.
Perhaps it’s logical to expect very little baseball history on Christmas Day, so deep into the winter season. But there are exceptions. On December 25, 1862, a crowd of 40,000 spectators watched Union soldiers play the game in Hilton Head, South Carolina, during the War Between the States. And more in keeping with the season’s cold temperatures, the first indoor baseball game ever played at the Philadelphia fairgrounds took place on this day in 1888.
On December 25, 1922, newly retired first baseman/third baseman Herb Hunter led a group of All Stars to a 12-5 win over American servicemen in Manila. Herb’s stars included Yankee hurler Waite Hoyt and Casey Stengel, the second legendary Yankee manager mentioned in today’s history, though at the time he was still playing outfield for the New York Giants.
We already reported that Yankee second baseman and oftentime Manager Billy Martin passed away on Christmas Day in 1989 at the top of this column. One of four additional Yankee player deaths, third baseman Don Savage (1961), who played all 105 of his games with the 1944-1945 Yankees, hit four home runs and drove in 27 runs on 76-for-297 hitting. Catcher Bill Skiff played six games with the 1926 Yankees after having already appeared in 16 contests with the 1921 Pirates. Skiff managed no homers nor rbi’s on one hit in 11 at bats in New York, but he had already driven in 11 runs in Pittsburgh. First baseman Frank Foutz (1961), who played 20 games, all of them with the 1901 AL Baltimore Orioles, makes the end of this list because that team would be relocated to New York as the Highlanders in 1903. He cleared two fences good for 14 rbi’s on 17 hits in 72 at bats. Slick-fielding first baseman Mike Hegan (2013), son of All Star Cleveland catcher Jim Hegan, debuted in New York, playing 86 games from 1964 through 1967; he returned to play 55 more in 1973-1974. His overall Bronx numbers were nine and 28, which grow to 53/229 in a 12-year career spent largely playing in Oakland and Milwaukee.
The list of noteworthy nonYankee players who have died on December 25 consists of a righthanded pitcher and three lefthanded position players. George Bell (1941) posted all of his 43-79-4 record with the 1907-1911 Dodgers; and outfielder Doc Gessler (1924) homered 14 times and delivered 363 rbi’s for the Dodgers, the Senators, and the Red Sox from 1903-1911. Outfielder Patsy Donovan (1953) hit 16 homers and drove in 736 runs playing eight years with the Pirates, four with the Cardinals, three with the Senators, two with the Dodgers, and brief stops with three other clubs from 1890-1907; and first sacker Babe Young (1983) went yard 79 times good for 415 rbi’s playing mostly with the Giants from 1936-1942 and 1946-1948.
Players Who Have Died This Day
Although Hall of Fame Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy (1881) is just one of seven Yankees born on December 25 (three of whom are legendary), we’ll lead off with him as the third Yankee manager receiving December 25 mention. Joe piloted the Bombers to a 2,348-1,460 record from 1931-1946, won eight American League pennants in that time, and cashed seven of them in for World Titles, four of them in a row. He played in one game for the 1905 Yanks, getting no hits in two at bats, and played in St. Louis in 1906.
We’ll mention Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson (1958) next, not only because he is the all-time stolen base and base on balls leader (among other things), but because he was closely associated with Billy Martin too. Rickey blasted 78 homers, with 305 rbi’s and 326 stolen bases in the Bronx from 1985 through 1989, spent almost 13 years with the A’s over four tours of duty there on the West Coast, and played for Toronto, San Diego, Anaheim, the Mets, Seattle, Boston, and the Dodgers too. The blockbuster deals that framed Henderson’s stay in New York start with the December 1984 Yankees trade to Oakland of Stan Javier, Jay Howell, Jose Rijo, Eric Plunk, and Tim Birtsas for Rickey, Bert Bradley, and cash. Then in June 1989 the Bombers sent Henderson back to the Oakland Athletics for Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk, and Luis Polonia.
Outfielder Ben Chapman (1908) was a mainstay of the early teams that Joe McCarthy managed, getting his major league baptism with the Yanks from 1930-1936. He smacked 60 dingers for the Bombers, knocking in 489 runs here, and he stole 154 bases too. After he left the Bronx he played three years in Washington, two with the Red Sox, two with the Indians, three with the Dodgers, two with the Phillies, and one with the White Sox. Chapman, whose overall numbers are 90 home runs with 977 rbi’s, was traded by New York to the Senators in June 1936 for Jake Powell.
Lefty-hitting third baseman Gene Robertson (1898) got one home run while knocking in 71 runs and running for five stolen bases for the 1928-1929 Yanks after eight years with the Browns and before one with the Braves. Robertson’s contract was sold by the Yankees to the Boston NL franchise in September 1929.
Rick Anderson (1953) surprised us all when his one game for the 1979 Yanks was his only one; he played five games for Seattle in 1980. A first-round Yankee pick (fifth overall selection) in the 1972 amateur draft, he was traded along with Jim Beattie, Juan Beniquez, and Jerry Narron to the Mariners for Ruppert Jones and Jim Lewis in 1979.
The list of Bomber birthdays used to end with that of righty Mike Blyzka (1928) who posted a 3-11 mark with one save for the 1953 St. Louis Browns and also for the same franchise once they became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954. Never to actually play for the Yanks, Blyzka left Baltimore with a bang, as part of a huge trade when he was sent along with Bob Turley, Don Larsen, Billy Hunter, Darrell Johnson, Jim Fridley, and Dick Kryhoski to New York for Gene Woodling, Harry Byrd, Jim McDonald, Hal Smith, Gus Triandos, Willy Miranda, Bill Miller, Kal Segrist, and Don Leppert in December 1954.
The trade of lefty Tyler Webb to Milwaukee for Garrett Cooper (1994) resulted in the (at the time) minor league first baseman becoming the seventh member of this club. A sixth round pick of the Brewers in the 2013 amateur draft, Cooper batted .326 and knocked in six runs in 13 games for the Yanks. He has since been traded along with Caleb Smith to Miami for minor leaguer Mike King and international bonus slot money, which the Yanks sadly and unsuccessfully intended to use to sign two-way Japanese phenom Shohei Otani. Cooper showed promise in his games, and was only moved (also the case with Smith) to make room on a 40-man roster crowded with lots of young talent.
Other birthdays: Old-time Hall of Fame pitcher James “Pud” Gavin (1856), who went 364-310 from 1875-1892, and who shut out each team he faced in 1884 at least once; and Nellie Fox (1927), Hall of Fame member representing the White Sox. Others: Ned Garver (1925); Al Jackson (1935); Jack Hamilton (1938); Gene Lamont (1946); Manny Trillo (1950); Rich Renteria (1961); Steve Montgomery (1970), whose claim to fame is that he was traded by the Cardinals to Oakland for relief ace Dennis Eckersley; Erik Hiljus (1972); 2007 Boston signee and thorn in the Yankees’ side Hideki Okajima (1975); Willy Taveras (1981); Ruben Gotay (1982); and Waldis Joaquin (1986).
Players Born This Day