It is good indeed that two of the three Yankee December 27 birthdays (see below) belong to fondly recalled players who accomplished big things with the team, because the only major transaction involving the club this day before 2006 was a big-time loser. Perhaps fan expectations were more the problem than anything else, because the numbers Ed Whitson put up in New York after signing a five-year free-agent deal with the Bombers on December 27, 1984, were not appreciably worse than those he had when he arrived. Ed had posted a 14-8 mark with the Padres in 1984, but slipped to 15-10 with the Yanks in the next year and a half. Driven from the Bronx by a hostile crowd that booed his mediocre mound outings and threatened him and his family, Whitson was traded back to the Padres in July 1986 for reliever Tim Stoddard. Stoddard, happily, was a solid performer in New York, garnering a 10-6 record with 11 saves through the end of the 1988 season.
Unfortunately, the best that can be said about the December 27, 2006 signing of Japanese lefty Kei Igawa, made after the Yanks had to pay for the rights to negotiate with him, is that the hard thrower is signed for three more years during which he can (?) improve on his 2007-2008 season performance. The win-loss record wasn’t too bad (2-4 in 16 games, 13 of them starts, most of them in ’07), the era worse (6.66), but the lack of command Kei consistently has shown is truly disturbing. Still, culture shock and facing big-league hitters for the first time could have played a part, and there is the fact (small comfort) that he excelled in AAA.
Fans were hopeful when the Yankees signed righty reliever LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year contract on December 27, 2007, but Hawkins earned his release midseason after going 1-1 with a 5.71 era in 33 games. Hawkins had served as the starting pitcher who lost to the Yankees in David Wells‘s Perfect Game back in 1998.
December 27 player moves affecting former and future Yankee players begin with a mention of the free-agent contract Rey Sanchez signed with the Mets on this day in 2002. Sanchez was a significant bench contributor in the Bronx in 1997, but less so in an injured 2005 stay. The other transaction came on December 27, 1939, when the New York Giants obtained Mickey Witek from the Newark Bears. Mickey is worthy of note because he would play but one game for the Yanks, in 1949, and get a hit in his only at bat, retiring from baseball with a Yankee batting average of .1000. More impressive, however, would be the Bronx numbers of first baseman Nick Etten (63 home runs with 358 rbi’s from 1943-1946), whom the Yanks got from the Phillies for Witek and Al Gerheauser in January 1943.
Perhaps at this point it is worth mentioning those great Newark Bears teams the Bombers stocked and restocked the franchise with during the 1932-1947 seasons they served as a Yankee farm team. During those 17 seasons in the International League, the Bears took first place seven times, and came in second in four more seasons.
Babe Ruth was not the only player sent away from the Red Sox in the Harry Frazee years, not by a long shot. On December 27, 1919, as the ink was drying on the deal cementing Babe’s sale to the Bombers, Frazee announced that he was willing to deal any player except (eventual Hall of Fame) outfielder Harry Hooper. But Hooper was shipped to the White Sox for outfielders Nemo Leibold and Shano Collins in March 1921.
The only Yankee player who has died on December 27 is portsided first baseman Harry Kingman (1982). The four games he played for the 1914 Yankees represents his only big-league experience. He had no hits in three at bats, and drove in no runs.
The list of noteworthy nonYankee players who have died on December 27 includes two righthanded pitchers, two catchers, three outfielders, and an infielder who played a lot at both second base and shortstop. Oscar Judd (1995) won 40 games, lost 51, and saved seven for the Red Sox and the Phillies from 1941-1948; and Gene Brabender (1996) posted a 35-43-6 mark pitching mostly for Baltimore from 1966-1970. Catcher Pop Shriver (1932) hit most of his 16 home runs good for 375 rbi’s from 1886-1901 with the Colts, the Phillies, and the Pirates; and Fritz Buelow (1933) reached but six fences and drove in 112 runs mostly for Detroit and Cleveland from 1899-1907. Outfielder Ivan Calderon (2003) hit 104 home runs and knocked in 444 runs from 1986-1993 with the White Sox, the Mariners, the Expos, and the Red Sox; while the lefthanded Paul Lehner (1967) hit most of his 22 roundtrippers with 197 rbi’s from 1946-1952 with the Browns and the A’s. Finally, middle infielder Jake Flowers (1962) homered 16 times and drove in 201 runs from 1923-1934 playing more often than not with the Dodgers and the Cardinals; while outfielder Dave Henderson (2015) spent six years with Seattle and six with Oakland in his 1981-1994 career, and had a huge postseason home run with the Red Sox. “Hendu” stroked 197 home runs and drove in 708.
Players Who Have Died This Day
I found it particularly poignant to be celebrating the birthday of the guy I consider the foremost Yankee among those born on December 27 a few years ago, because after a long absence he returned to the fold as a coach. Anchoring first base and positioning the outfielders was switch-hitting outfielder Roy White‘s (1943) responsibility yet again in 2005, although he was not invited back for 2006. Roy was the best player on many a bad Yankee team spanning the Mickey Mantle years until the Thurman Munson ones, and it is fortunate that he was able to extend his stay long enough to earn two rings in the late 70s. Roy played for the Yanks only, and did so from 1965 through 1979, blasting 160 homers and driving in 758 runs during his stay. A 1961 Yankee amateur free agent selection and a two-time All Star, White led the League in sac flies twice, runs once, and walks once.
Two huge postseason homers render the career of Jim Leyritz (1963) a much more successful one than his regular-season numbers alone would merit. Referred to as “Elvis” and as “The King,” Jim hit 58 Yankee homers with 252 rbi’s from 1990-1996, plus a few at bats in 1999 and 2000. He won a game in the 1995 ALDS vs. the Mariners with a 15th-inning walk-off, tied 1996 World Series Game Four with a three-run blast off Braves closer Mark Wohlers, and also hit the last major-league home run of the 1900′s with a pinch blast vs. the Braves in Game Four of the ’99 Fall Classic. A 1995 Yankee amateur free agent, Leyritz was traded to Anaheim for minor leaguers Jeremy Blevins and Ryan Kane in December 1996. The Bombers retrieved Jim from San Diego in July 1999 for minor leaguer Geraldo Padua and sent him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Jose Vizcaino and cash 11 months later. Sadly, Leyritz’s only appearances in the headlines these days have to do with the trouble he is in after a death ensued when he had an accident while driving drunk.
Lefty Herb Karpel (1917), another guy who played for the Yanks only, is also on the list of December 27 Yankee birthdays. He allowed four hits and two earned runs in 1.7 innings over two games for the Bronx-based club in 1946, to no record.
Much was expected from David Aardsma (1981) in the 2013 Yankee bullpen, as the club and fanbase fully understood that 2012 would be a rehab year for the hard-throwing righty. From 2004-2010 David posted a 13-15 record throwing for the Giants, Cubs, White Sox, Red Sox, and Mariners, but his talent truly came to the fore the last two of those years in Seattle, where he achieved all 69 of his major league saves. Aardsma appeared in one game for the 2012 Yankees; the one hit he allowed in his lone inning was a home run, but his inconsistent Spring Training cost him a spot in pinstripes in 2013, although he did pitch in Flushing for the Mets.
Just one of several young faces new to the team in 2017 is southpaw starter Jordan Montgomery (1992), another pinstriper celebrating a birthday today. Drafted in the fourth round of the amateur draft in 2014, Montgomery surprised many when he earned a rotation spot in Spring Training. Despite tiring a bit down the stretch, Montgomery posted a fine 9-7 mark with a 3.88 era in 29 games, all of them starts.
Other birthdays: sportswriter Arch Ward (1896), who originally came up with the idea for the All Star Game; Craig Reynolds (1952); Dean Palmer (1968); Raul Gonzalez (1973); Jeff D’Amico (1975); Jason Repko (1980); Michael Bourn (1982); Chris Giminez (1982); Cole Hamels (1983); Rick Porcello (1988); Addison Reed (1988); Tyler Duffey (1990); Dylan Floro (1990); Jimmie Sherfy (1991); and Stuart Turner (1991).
Players Born This Day