With the signing of Andy Pettitte by the Astros in 2003, obvious parallels exist with the Red Sox signing of ex-Yank Ramiro Mendoza on December 29, 2002, but stark differences are apparent too. Both pitchers had plied their talents for the Bronx-based club only, both were with the team for the full Joe Torre-led run of success until their signing; both were effective while allowing lots of base hits. Pettitte had been more successful, it’s true, and his Yankee stay ended on a high, while Ramiro struggled in 2001 despite a very productive stay. But Yankee fans had to live with the fact that if Ramiro had a great following year, he would be doing it for the hated rival Red Sox. He didn’t though, aside from a brilliant July 5 start and win over the Yankees in the Bronx. His Red Sox numbers (3-5 and 2-1, 6.75 and 3.52 era’s) didn’t approach those he compiled in New York: 54-34 with 16 saves from 1996-2002. Unfortunately for Pettitte, another similarity he shared with Mendoza was his injury-plagued 2004 season. Mendoza, by the way, made his way back in the Yankee fold, though it did not work out. And now Andy returned to the Bronx as well, and a good thing too.
Thinking outside the box as he had successfully with the recovering-from-injury Jon Lieber a few years before, Yankee GM Brian Cashman rolled the dice by inking Octavio Dotel, who had been with the Athletics, to a one-year contract on December 29, 2005. But Dotel’s labored return from arm surgery was too long and gradual to be any real help in the Yankee pen in 2006. Octavio labored to some success in the bullpens in Kansas City and Atlanta in 2007, and the White Sox in 2008.
Nobody’s career enjoyed a higher peak for a longer time perhaps than Babe Ruth, but there was many a sad day in its waning years. After having his seven-year, 40+-home-run streak snapped during the just completed 1933 season, Babe was looking for a job managing. He had already hit 686 dingers with 2,117 rbi’s, and had been offered the managing job in Cincinnati. But Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert refused The Babe’s request for a release from his contract on December 29, 1933. Ruth would play one more year in Pinstripes and one for the Boston Braves, and never get that managing job he so craved.
There were more injury than effectiveness issues on the table when the Yanks reached agreement with righthander Jaret Wright to a three-year contract. on December 29, 2004. But after a 5-5 season with a 5.00-plus era in an injury-plagued 2005, Wright’s 11-7 mark in ’06 was not enough. He was traded to Baltimore for the 2007 season, where he again was ineffective and injured most of the time.
In December 29 player moves affecting former or future Yankee players, Texas signed Kenny Rogers to a free agent contract on this day in 1999; and traveling man Rickey Henderson inked a two-year deal with the Padres on December 29, 1995. The Yanks owned Rogers for years after his Bronx stint, but he got the laugh in the 2006 ALDS with the Tigers. And when the Red Sox sent Red Shannon and Braggo Roth to Washington for Harry Harper, Mike Menoskey, and Eddie Foster on December 29, 1919, the second, third and fourth players mentioned either had played or would play for the Yanks.
It was on December 29, 1965, that The New York Times published that Curt Flood would be suing baseball and challenging the reserve clause.
On this day in 2002, Cinergy Field (aka Riverfront Stadium) in Cincinnati was destroyed to make room for the Great American Ballpark. At one time the apple of the baseball eye, these cookie-cutter, symmetrical, artificial-turfed stadia (like Riverfront, Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, the Vet in Philadelphia, and Busch Stadium in St. Louis) have fallen dramatically out of favor. And with St. Louis’s new Ballpark, they have all have been thankfully replaced.
December 29, 1938, is a day that should live in baseball infamy. On that day former Florida Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga was born. Not only did this lowlife totally disassemble his Championship team and sell it for the parts after the ’97 Series; he made a fortune on concessions and parking fees on the October Classic played in 2003 also, six years after he dissed the Marlins team, and the sport by extension.
Former Monday Night Baseball broadcaster Jim Simpson was born on December 29, 1927.
One-time Yankee backup catcher Gus Niarhos passed away on December 29, 2004. Gus debuted in the Bronx, kicking in 27 rbi’s from 1946 to 1950, when he was selected off waivers by the Chicago White Sox. After part of two years with the Chisox, two with the Red Sox, and two with the Phillies, Niarhos retired from the game with one career home run and 59 rbi’s. Fellow catcher Walt Alexander (1978), the only other Yankee player to have died on December 29, played 81 games at the end of his career with the 1915-1917 Yankees, netting 12 rbi’s on 44-for-197 hitting in that time. Coupled with his 1912-1915 stint with the Browns, his overall numbers were one home run and 24 runs driven in.
The list of noteworthy nonYankee players who have died on December 29 includes two lefthanded pitchers, a righthanded pitcher, and three infielders. Southpaw Ed Doheny (1916) won 75 games, lost 83, and saved two playing with the 1895-1901 Giants and the 1901-1903 Pirates; lefty Harley Pane (1935) posted a 30-36-0 mark mostly with the Bridegrooms from 1896-1899; and George Blaeholder (1947) won 104 games, lost 125, and saved 12, almost all of it with the Browns from 1925-1936. Shortstop Bill White (1924) hit six home runs and drove in 205 runs from 1884-1888, most of it with the Colonels; and switch-hitting infielder Jimmy Brown (1977) cleared nine fences good for 319 rbi’s from 1937-1943 with the Cardinals and with the 1946 Pirates. Most recently, third baseman Frank Malzone (2015) collected most of his 133 home runs and 728 rbi’s from 1955 to 1965 with the Red Sox, finalizing those totals with the Angels in 1966.
Players Who Have Died This Day
The signing of Miguel Cairo for a potential backup position for the 2004 season was an example of the kind of player the Yanks hoped they had with Dennis Werth (1952), the first of seven December 29 Yankee birthdays. Recent (failed) examples of the signing of the same kind of player — a utility guy who can play infield and outfield — are Charles Gipson and F.P. Santangelo. Cairo played second base most, while Werth played first primarily, but it was hoped that Dennis would both hit and succeed in a variety of roles. As it was, he managed three homers and 13 rbi’s for the 1979-1981 Yanks (spending time in the outfield, at third base, at catcher, and at DH too), and finished out his career in ’82 once he was traded to K.C. for minor leaguer Scot Behan.
Shortstop Bill Knickerbocker (1911) bashed one homer with 32 rbi’s in 52 games for the 1938-1939 Yanks. He played in Cleveland from 1933-1936, and with St. Louis (the Browns) in 1937, the White Sox in 1941, and the Phillies in 1942. The Yanks got Bill from the Browns for Don Heffner and cash in February 1938, and they traded him to the Chicago White Sox for Ken Silvestri in December 1940. Catcher Joe Smith (1893) served only with the Yanks, kicking in two rbi’s and one stolen base to the 1913 team during 32 at bats in 14 games.
As alluded to above, the Yankee December 29 birthday rolls grew by one when Jaret Wright (1975) was signed in December 2004. Son of fellow hurler Clyde Wright, Jaret was taken by Cleveland in the first round (10th pick) of the 1994 amateur draft. He posted 52 wins, 45 losses, and two saves for the Indians, the Padres, and the Braves, the first six of those seasons in Cleveland, Jaret, who won 16 and lost 12 in two years with New York, was traded to Baltimore for Chris Britton before the 2007 season.
Shortstop Tom Upton (1926), who hit two home runs with 42 rbi’s for the Browns in ’50-’51, and the Senators in 1952, had two stints with the Yanks, though he never played a game with the parent club. First, after losing him to the Browns in the 1949 rule-V draft, they got him back along with Bobby Hogue, Lou Sleater, and Kermit Wahl in a July 1951 Yankee trade of Cliff Mapes to St. Louis. Upton was returned to New York in a May 1952 trade from the Washington Senators with Irv Noren for Jackie Jensen, Spec Shea, Jerry Snyder, and Archie Wilson.
The assemblage of Yankee players birthdaying December 29 grew by one in 2007, and by another in 2008, neither to any long-term (or much short-term) benefit to the team. Righty reliever Jim Brower (1972) crowned a 1999-2007 major-league stay with a 33-32 record with five saves by allowing seven runs in 10 innings in three games for the Yanks, to no record. The late-season 2008 signing of slugging first baseman Richie Sexson (1974) led to just one home run and six runs knocked in in 28 at bats during 22 games down the stretch. That brought him to 306 long balls and 943 rbi’s in a 1997-2008 (so far) career spent largely with Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Seattle.
The Yankee career (so far, anyway) of hard-luck outfielder Dustin Fowler (1994) got off to a bad start when he was seriously injured running into the right field foul wall in Comiskey Park in Chicago. It happened in the first inning of his debut major league game. Subsequently, the still injured Fowler was traded along with minor league pitching prospect James Kaprielian and minor league infield prospect Jorge Mateo to Oakland for righty starter Sonny Gray. In 69 games for the A’s in 2018, Fowler stroked six home runs and drove in 23.
Credit the strangeness of the abbreviated 2020 season for the inclusion of catcher Brian Navarreto (1994) on at least the list of pseudo Yankee birthdays. Drafted by Minnesota in the sixth round in 2013, he was purchased by the Yankees in July 2019, but released following that season. Brian appeared in two games for the 2020 Marlins, going 2-for-5 at the plate, after they signed him in December ’19.
Other birthdays: Devon White (1962); Craig Grebeck (1964); Rod Nichols (1964); Tomas Perez (1973); Emil Brown (1974); Jack Wilson (1977); Brad Davis (1982); Kevin Hart (1982); Odubel Herrera (1991); and Chase De Jong (1993).
Players Born This Day