Although perhaps a bit heartless, the Yanks’ decision not to pursue bullpen mainstay and free agent Dave Righetti after the 1990 season was a pretty good one in the long term. Although he managed 24 saves with the San Francisco Giants after signing with them on December 4, 1990, he would only add another couple in the next four years, and went 8-18 in that time, for the Giants, the A’s, the Blue Jays, and the White Sox.
The trade of Joe Pepitone for Curt Blefary of the Astros on December 4, 1969, did not have as beneficial a result. Joe would give the ‘Stros 53 homers and 180 rbi’s the next three years (after hitting 166/481 in the Bronx from 1962-1969), while Curt would only hit 10 homers and knock in 39 runs in New York before being traded for righty Rob Gardner in 1971. (Gardner fashioned an 8-5 mark in New York following that move.) But there was more to the Pepitone trade than met the eye. Joe had left the team in the Bronx twice during the 1969 season, so the decision to move him was driven by more than baseball talent. Given that, the Yanks did well to get some value for their high-profile but flaky first baseman.
On that same day (December 4, 1969), the Yanks traded lefty Al Downing to Oakland for first baseman Danny Cater. Al had been 72-57 for the Yanks and, despite a stellar ’71 season with the Dodgers (20-9), only went 51-50 the rest of his career. Cater posted one .300 season (in two years) in New York, but was happily swapped to Boston for Sparky Lyle. The Yanks would trade Lyle’s 67 wins and 141 saves (plus a Cy Young Award in 1977) for Cater’s 14 homers and 87 rbi’s over three years in Boston any day.
On December 4, 2013, the Yankees signed free agent righthander Brian Gordon to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. After pitching in three games for the Rangers in 2008, Gordon had made two starts in pinstripes in 2011, losing one, but he would not make the 2014 squad.
Yankee fans were delighted on December 4, 2003, when the team responded to the Red Sox’ acquisition of Curt Schilling by obtaining righthander Javier Vazquez from Montreal for first baseman Nick Johnson, outfielder Juan Rivera, and lefthander Randy Choate. It was tough giving up Johnson in particular, but most felt it was a move worth making. They were sadly mistaken.
The trade of Andy Kosco to the Dodgers for lefty Mike Kekich on December 4, 1968, initially appeared to be one of those swaps that helped both clubs. Kosco contributed 27 homers and 101 rbi’s to the Dodger cause over two seasons, while Kekich would go 31-32 with one save as a key lefty in the pen in New York. But Mike’s stay in the Bronx proved costly after his notorious swap of wives with Fritz Peterson in spring training in 1973, an ugly affair that would lead to both players exiting the club.
Though not catastrophic, the free-agent signing by the Yankees of infielder Spike Owen on December 4, 1992, wasn’t particularly a boon either. He smacked two homers and knocked in 20 runs in 103 games during the 1993 season; his career average was about 3.5 homers and 35 rbi’s.
It was an extremely minor transaction when the Yankees signed outfielder Chris Latham to a one-year contract on December 4, 2002. After a promising spring, Latham was released once New York grabbed speedster Charles Gipson from the Cubs the following April. The Yanks should have stuck with their original plan, as Gipson not only failed to help much in the field or with his bat; he was a bust as a baserunner as well. And although the two games in Pinstripes were Latham’s last two in the bigs, he went out on top, finishing with a Yankee batting average of 1.000 after gathering two hits and a stolen base in his only two at bats.
The Boston Bees purchased the contract of Vince DiMaggio, brother of Yankee star Joe DiMaggio, from San Diego of the PCL on December 4, 1936.
“Big Poison” of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Paul Waner, beat Frank Frisch for the National League MVP Award on December 4, 1927. Waner would play the last 10 games of his illustrious career as a member of the 1944 and 1945 Yankees teams.
Ted Turner made his initial offer to purchase the Atlanta Braves on December 4, 1975.
Long-time Tiger third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez (who would field the position for the Yanks at the end of his career) finally wrested the Gold Glove from Oriole star Brooks Robinson on December 4, 1976, breaking Robinson’s 16-year streak of dominance.
Player moves on December 4 involving future and past Yankee personnel include the free-agent signing of reliever Jeff Nelson by the Mariners on this day in 2000; the free-agent signing of southpaw Denny Neagle by the Rockies that same 2000 day; and the trade of Bump Hadley, Jackie Hayes, and Sam Jones to the White Sox by the Senators for Carl Reynolds and John Kerr in 1931. Also in this vein is the Tigers’ trade of hurler Virgil Trucks with pitcher Hal White and outfielder Heinie Groth to the Browns for second baseman Owen Friend and outfielders Bob Nieman and J.W. Porter on this day in 1952. Trucks would throw the last 25 games of his 500-plus-game career for the Yanks a few years later.
The Dodgers traded Gus Mancuso and cash to the Cardinals for catcher Mickey Owen on December 4, 1940. And he had a good year behind the plate for Brooklyn, committing just three errors with two passed balls allowed in 128 games in 1941. But 10 months and one day after arriving, he allowed the biggest passed ball of his career on a third strike to Tommy Henrich that would have ended Game Four of the World Series with the Dodgers and Yanks square at two apiece. But the ball got by, the Yanks rallied and won that game, and then won the Series in five games.
The baseball free agent draft got its start on December 4, 1964.
Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis announced that all clubs were free to sign Negroes on this day in 1943.
Hall of Famer Roger Bresnahan (1944), a catcher who played virtually every position during his 1897-1915 career, is the only Yankee player to have died on December 4 based on the 151 games he played with the 1901-1902 Baltimore Orioles, the American League franchise that would be relocated to New York as the Highlanders in 1903. He homered six times and drove in 66 runs those two years while hitting 143-for-530. His overall numbers were 26 and 530, earned largely with a seven-year stint with the Giants, four with the Cardinals, and three with the Cubs.
Although he did not play the game, it’s worth noting the death of former Giants owner Andrew Freeman on this day in 1915. Much like the Yanks’ early years with their current owner, Freeman fired 16 managers in seven years. The list of noteworthy nonYankee players who have died on December 4 includes a righthanded pitcher, a southpaw, and two righthanded outfielders. Ben Cantwell (1962) won 76 games, lost 108, and saved 21 pitching most often for the Braves and the Giants between 1927 and 1937; while lefty Emil Yde (1968) posted a 49-25-0 mark pitching with the Pirates (four years) and the Tigers (one year) from 1924-1929. Red Murray (1958) hit 37 home runs and drove in 579 runs from 1906-1915 with the Cardinals, the Giants, and the Cubs; and Johnny Rizzo (1977) cleared 61 fences good for 289 rbi’s from 1938-1942 playing with the Pirates and the Phillies.
Players Who Have Died This Day
When it comes to Yankee birthdays and December 4, reports about most of the nine born this day deserve to be written in margins, because they were mostly marginal players. The exception to that rule is righty Bob Shawkey (1890), a mainstay of the starting staff on the first two World Championship teams in the Bronx. Bob was sold to the Yankees from the A’s in his third big-league season in July 1915, and by the time he was released by the Bombers after the 1927 season he had posted a standout 168-131 record with 26 saves. He came back to manage the 1930 club to an 86-68 record and a third-place finish.
The others: Second baseman Tucker Ashford (1954) had no at bats in three games for the 1981 club, played three years with the Padres, and also had cups of coffee with the Rangers, the Mets, and the Royals. Ashford came from Texas in an October 1980 trade for Roger Holt. The Yanks sent him to the New York Mets in April 1983 for minor-leaguers Felix Perdomo and Steve Ray.
The Mets connection continues with southpaw Ed Yarnall (1975), a Mets draft pick sent to Florida in the 1998 Mike Piazza trade. Yarnall, acquired by the Yanks from the Marlins with Todd Noel and Mark J. Johnson in February 1999 for Mike Lowell, went 1-0 in seven games (three starts) with a high era in 1998. He was traded to Cincinnati with Jackson Melian, Drew Henson, and Brian Reith for Mike Frank and Denny Neagle in July 2000.
Because he has been made a free agent by the Yankees, there’s a good chance that at least the Pinstriped career of right-hander Andrew Brackman (1985) will be marginal. A No. 1 signing who needed and received shoulder surgery shortly after he was signed, the ultra-tall Brackman was ultimately a big disappointment as a starter; he was tried as a reliever in AA, then was invited to the Bronx in September 2011. He appeared in three games, and was released.
Closer Lee Smith (1957) is certainly not marginal in terms of his career (with 478 saves), but he notched only three of that impressive number with the 1993 AL team in New York in eight games once the Yanks sent Rich Batchelor to the Cardinals for him in August 1993. New York granted Smith free agency two months later. Righty Luke Nelson (1893) played in Pinstripes only, pitching to a 3-0 mark in nine games (one start) in 1919.
And there are still three others who played double-digit games with the Yanks: Switch-hitting outfielder Stan Jefferson (1962) managed a hit and an rbi in 12 at bats in 10 games for the 1989 Yanks in a career that spanned six seasons, including parts of two years with the Padres and the Orioles. Jefferson, Jimmy Jones, and Lance McCullers arrived in New York in an October 1988 trade with the Padres for Jack Clark and Pat Clements. Jefferson was sent to the Orioles for John Habyan in July 1989.
Lefty-hitting catcher Bill Bryan (1938) smacked five homers accounting for only seven rbi’s in 43 games in New York in 1966 and 1967 after five-plus years in Kansas City. The Yankees sent Gil Blanco, Roger Repoz, and Bill Stafford to the A’s for Bryan and Fred Talbot in June 1966; Bill played one last year in Washington once they plucked him from New York in the 1967 rule-V draft.
And lefty-hitting outfielder Pat Sheridan (1957) capped a career that included four years each with the Royals and the Tigers by playing 62 games with the 1991 Yankees, stroking four homers and accounting for seven rbi’s in the process. He was signed as a free agent in January 1991, and released the following October.
Other birthdays: Hall of Fame outfielder Jesse Burkett (1868) finished his 1890-1905 with five years in St Louis with the Cardinals and then the Browns, but did the bulk of his play with the Cleveland Spiders; Harvey Kuenn (1930), the 1953 AL Rookie of the Year; Tadahito Iguchi (1974); Kyle Lohse (1978); Gustavo Chacin (1980), who notched his only victory of the 2004 campaign with the Blue Jays over the Bombers in Yankee Stadium, and finished the 2012 season pitching for the Independent leagues’ Rockland Boulders; Jerome Williams (1981); Carlos Gomez (1985); Angel Nesbitt (1990); Joseph Musgrove (1992); Blake Snell (1992); Raul Alcantara (1992); and Paul Blackburn (1993).
Players Born This Day