Once the Yanks beat the Dodgers in the 1977 World Series after having returned to the Classic the year before vs. Cincinnati following a 15-year absence, Billy Martin was almost as untouchable as Joe Torre proved to be in 2000. But the Bombers slipped to fourth place in 1978, and rallied to win that Series under Bob Lemon after Billy was replaced. Martin returned in 1979 but a fourth-place finish doomed him, and Billy was fired again. On February 20, 1980, Billy was signed to manage his hometown Oakland A’s. Under Martin, they finished second in 1980, then first and second in the two halves of the split 1981 strike-interrupted season. But the Yankees would crush them in the first round of that season’s playoffs.
Yankee fans felt let down by Danny Tartabull‘s 1992-1995 numbers in the Bronx. But Philly signed him February 20, 1997, and he broke his foot on Opening Day and sat out the year, then retired. Other February 20 events affecting former and future Yankee players include the Braves’ Andruw Jones surpassing Mariano Rivera‘s one-time record arbitration settlement in 2001; and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre‘s son, Todd Stottlemyre, being arrested with Toronto teammate Dave Stewart for fighting with police at a Tampa nightclub in 1994. Lastly, the Cubs gave outfielder Lee Magee his unconditional release on February 20, 1920, after learning that he had bet against his team, in the wake of the Black Sox scandal. Lee had played with the Yankees in 1916 and 1917, during which time he contributed three homers, 53 rbi’s, and 32 stolen bases.
When Emmett Ashford was certified on February 20, 1952, he became the first African American Umpire in organized professional baseball. Some sources say 1951.
In a three-team transaction on February 20, 2018, the Diamondbacks traded third baseman Brandon Drury to the Yankees; the Yanks shipped minor league righthander Taylor Widener to Arizona and minor league second baseman Nick Solak to Tampa Bay. The Rays then traded right fielder Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona, while the D’backs sent lefthander Anthony Banda and a Player To Be Named Later to Tampa. In another move, the Yankees designated right fielder Jabari Blash for assignment.
On February 20, 2017, the Yankees signed free agent lefthander (and ex-Met) Jonathon Niese to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training. The club also invited nonroster outfielder Billy McKinney to Spring Training.
In one Yankee move that would prove to be significant in the coming season, and one nonYankee move that would not, the Pinstripers signed free agent southpaw Clay Rapada on February 20, 2012; and the Oakland Athletics signed free agent left fielder Manny Ramirez.
Branch Rickey is probably best known for his role in helping Jackie Robinson break the major league baseball color barrier, but he actually played some games for the Yankees early in his career too. Rickey makes the baseball history list twice on February 20, the first being in 1943 when he and Phil Wrigley chartered the All-American Girls Softball League in Chicago. It was begun with the possibility that the government might shut down the major leagues due to the war effort, and later changed its name and switched to hard ball. Then on this day in 1960 he met with officials of the Western Carolinas League about pooling ballplayers for the Continental League.
Yankee fans attending spring training with the club in 1993 were treated to a fairly rare experience in the local Miami and Ft. Lauderdale papers, as they could read about the Florida Marlins’ growing pains in their first year of existence once the fledgling organization opened their doors for business on February 20, 1993. The Yanks played their spring slate at a home base in Ft. Lauderdale through 1995, before moving across the state to Tampa for the ’96 campaign.
The International Association was organized in Pittsburgh on February 20, 1877. It would become known as the first minor league.
No Yankee players have died on February 20.
On the list of noteworthy nonYankee player deaths, we’ll lead with the passing of Bill Rigney (2001), because he played for a while, with 41 homers and 212 rbi’s as a Giants infielder from 1946-1953, but also managed for 18 years, most of it with San Francisco and California, though Bill’s only first-place squad was the 1970 Minnesota Twins. Catcher Bob O’Farrell hit 51 long balls good for 549 rbi’s, mostly with the Cubs, Cards, and Giants, from 1915-1935; and righthanded hurler Syl Johnson (1985) won 112, lost 117, and saved 43 with the Tigers, the Cardinals, and the Phillies from 1922-1940. Two righthanders and two position players follow on this list. Sadie McMahon (1954) won 173 games, lost 127, and saved four from 1889-1897, mostly with Baltimore; and Dixie Leverett (1957) posted a 29-34-6 mark with the 1922-1926 White Sox and with the 1929 Braves. Third baseman/shortstop Otto Krueger (1961) cleared five fences good for 196 rbi’s from 1899-1905 playing more often than not with the Cardinals and the Pirates; and outfielder Bill Hinchman (1963) lashed 20 roundtrippers and knocked 369 runs from 1905-1920 with the Pirates, the Indians, and the Reds. And most recently, lefty-throwing, righty-hitting hurler Joe Gibbon (2019) posted a 61-65 record with 32 saves from 1960 through 1972, pitching most of that time with the Pirates and the Giants.
Players Who Have Died This Day
Lefty outfielder Tommy Henrich (1913) is definitely number one on the list of February 20 Yankee birthdays, on a day when the 13 guys total represent one of the biggest groups of any day on the calendar. Tommy played only for the Bronx-based club, smacking 183 taters, while driving in 795 runs and stealing 37 bases from 1937-1950. Known as “Old Reliable,” he led the League in triples twice, in extra base hits and runs scored once each, and homered in each of the four World Series in which he played, all of them Yankee victories.
Second place on the list goes to righty starter Luis Severino (1994), based not only on potential, but on a dazzling Yankee debut in 2015. A 2011 free agent signing, Luis pitched to a 5-3 record with a 2.89 era in 11 starts in that season’s second half, during a time where key players in the Yankee offense were lost to injury and ineffectiveness. Seeming to have the sky as his limit, Severino struggled mightily in 2016, pitching to a 3-8 mark with an era approaching 6.00, though he was somewhat effective coming out of the pen down the stretch. Thankfully, the Yankees stuck to their plan to keep Luis in the rotation going forward, a decision that bore immediate fruit, as he stormed to a 14-6 record and sub-3.00 era in almost 200 innings in 2017, a year when Severino turned just 23 years old. Luis soared to the era lead and a stunning record starting in 2018, then slipped badly in the second half, perhaps due to problems tipping his pitches. He posted a 19-8 record in 2018, then missed much of 2019, posting a 1-1 record at the end of the year, but looking ready to go moving forward. He missed 2020 recovering from surgery, and it is hoped he will return midseason in 2021.
One-time prospect Shane Spencer (1972), who put the fear of Yankees into the American League in September 1998, is second on my list. Shane hit 43 homers in Pinstripes from 1998-2002, and knocked in 133, with five steals. Shane has had a bumpy road since, had a brief Yankee minor-league look in 2004, and tried his hand at Japanese baseball in 2005.
Joining Shane in the recent, and therefore more recognizable, Yankee past is prospect Donzell McDonald (1975), who completes the outfield troika to lead off the list. Donzell was selected in the 1995 free agent draft, and he hit a home run with three rbi’s in five games with the 2001 team; he played with the 2002 Royals, and also had a quick look-see in the Yankee minors in 2004.
The next three guys did not enjoy Bronx longevity. Tom Buskey (1947) went 0-2 with two saves for the 1973-1974 Yankees before moving on to pitch four years with Cleveland and three with Toronto. The Yankees packaged him with Fred Beene, Steve Kline, and Fritz Peterson to the Cleveland Indians for Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow, and Cecil Upshaw in April 1974.
Outfielder/catcher Phil Lombardi (1963) hit two homers, with six rbi’s in 25 games (44 at bats) for the 1986-1987 Yankees, but is more famed for being one of the few guys to play only for the Yankees and the Mets, to whom he was traded (with Steve Frey and Darren Reed) in December 1987 for Rafael Santana (and minor leaguer Victor Garcia).
And righty Bill Gullickson (1959), a Cincinnati stalwart for a decade, cost the Yanks young lefty Dennis Rasmussen in another 1987 trade. Bill went 4-2 in the Bronx in eight games down that season’s stretch, but then signed in Japan; he did not enjoy his time in New York.
Backstop Muddy Ruel‘s (1896) second stop in the bigs was with the 1917-1920 Yankees (he played with the Browns in 1915), and he went on to play 14 more seasons in the American League, eight of them with Washington; he hit one home run, with 47 rbi’s and 10 steals with the Bombers. Muddy was traded with Del Pratt, Hank Thormahlen, and Sammy Vick to the Boston Red Sox for Waite Hoyt, Harry Harper, Wally Schang, and Mike McNally in December 1920.
Second baseman/shortstop Stubby Magner‘s (1888) only big-league season was 1911, when he drove in four runs with one steal in 13 games with the Highlanders; and righthander Boardwalk Brown (1887) ended his major-league career by going 7-11 with two saves for the 1914-1915 Yankees. The Yanks purchased Brown’s contract from the A’s after he had pitched for four years in Philadelphia.
The Yankees and their fans could do worse than bookend the all-time roster with “Mr. Reliable”-types after having added the 10th pinstriper to call February 20 his birthday, Brian McCann (1984), recently signed to catch in the Bronx in 2014. Spencer, McDonald, Buskey, Lombardi, Gullickson, Ruel, Magner, and Brown — some of the other eight have had great moments, some not, but it was hoped that lefty-slugging catcher McCann could solidify the plate and provide a “reliable” bat in 2014 and going forward, like unto that provided by outfielder Henrich, a fellow lefthanded power threat from 1937-1950. Playing in 1,105 games with Atlanta from 2005 through 2013, Brian delivered 176 home runs, good for 661 rbi’s. His 2014 season in New York was a mixed bag, as he hit in the .220s for much of the year, but a “strong” finish got him to 23 home runs, 75 rbi’s, and a .232 average. More is hoped going forward. Brian torched the league with 26 homers and 94 rbi’s in ’15, but totally collapsed offensively, with most of his teammates, down the stretch. He homered 20 times and drove in 58 in 2016, finishing the year mostly as the DH with the emergence of Gary Sanchez as the new Yankee catcher. With that in mind, McCann was traded to Houston for two minor league pitchers in November 2016; he has played well there, and earned a (“tainted”?) ring in 2017. Retired now, Brian finished up playing 85 games with the 2019 Braves, with 12 home runs and 45 rbi’s.
Drafted by the Yankees in the first round (16th overall pick) of the 2017 amateur draft, righthander Clarke Schmidt (1996) was pressed into a relief role (he would start one of three games) during the bizarro 2020 season. He posted an 0-1 record.
Signed by the Yankees in December 2015, veteran righty reliever Vinnie Pestano (1985) headed North with the club in 2016, but did not pitch, and was released in July. Splitting his time in the bigs since 2010 between the Indians and the Angels, Pestano has posted a 6-8 record in 223 games (no starts), with 11 saves. Cleveland drafted Vinnie in the 20th round in 2006.
Other birthdays include Hall of Fame outfielder Sam Rice (1890), who hit 34 dingers with 1,078 rbi’s and 351 stolen bases with Washington from 1915-1933, enjoying a swan song season with Cleveland the following year; Jim Wilson (1922); Elroy Face (1928); Clyde Wright (1941), father of recent Yankee Jared Wright; 1974 Yankee draft pick and lefthanded outfielder Jesus Figueroa (1957), who hit one home run, 11 rbi’s, and stole two bases for the 1980 Cubs in his only major-league action; Derek Lilliquist (1966); Livan Hernandez (1975); Leo Estrella (1975); Ryan Langerhans (1980); Jason Hirsh (1982); Justin Verlander (1983); Jose Morales (1983); Ryan Sweeney (1985); Julio Borbon (1986); Spencer Patton (1988); Buck Farmer (1991); Johnny Field (1992); and Jurickson Profar (1993).
Players Born This Day