Baseball players make millions of dollars today, while the guys who came before, relatively speaking, made a pittance. But the road from there to here was a journey of a lot of steps. Joe DiMaggio, who would for more than 30 years after retiring be known as “the greatest living ballplayer,” established a new plateau for major-league players on February 7, 1949, when he signed a $100,000 contract with the Yankees to play the upcoming season. It was the first ever six-digit contract in the League.
Huge implications linger from the move the Yankees made on February 7, 2008, when they broke from club practice and signed second baseman Robinson Cano to a four-year contract with two one-year club options, long before his arbitration years had been exhausted. A poor 2008 season followed, punctuated by dipping offensive numbers, but also by instances of lazines and lackadaisical play in the field. Most fans believe that the Yanks have a special young talent in Cano; he was very good in 2009, when failures to hit in the clutch disappeared, and in 2010 he was third in the MVP vote. And as a footnote, the less said about the negotiations to sign Cano after that four-year deal lapsed, the better.
Title this entry, “He should have stopped when he was ahead, or even anyway.” Hopeful but not confident that former Yankee reliever Mike Stanton could carry the load once he was re-signed in the Bronx for the 2005 season, the Bombers got a little southpaw insurance on February 7, 2005 when they inked free-agent lefty reliever Buddy Groom to a minor league deal, and invited him to Spring Training. After starting the season in Columbus before getting the call, Groom evened his 14-year big-league career win-loss record at 31-31 when he earned one win in 34 games before the Yanks gave him his release. But lefties can always get another shot, and Buddy signed with the D’backs to close the ’05 campaign, and there he slipped back below .500 with one loss in 23 games. Groom has not pitched since 2005 and remains one game under.
There have been many transactions that took place on February 7 involving former or future Yankee players, starting with the strange player-sharing relationship between the jointly owned Baltimore and Brooklyn clubs on this day in 1899, which would profoundly affect major league baseball in New York for years to come. The 1898 Brooklyn Bridegrooms had been a 10th place club, but with the addition of future Hall of Famers Willie Keeler (destined to jump to the Highlanders to play from 1903-1909), Joe Kelley, Hughie Jennings, and Manager Ned Hanlon from Baltimore, and their new name (the Brooklyn Superbas), they would coast to the 1899 National League title. Manager John McGraw and catcher Wilbert Robinson would stay with the 1901-1902 Baltimore Orioles, the franchise that would be moved to New York and become the Highlanders (Yankees) in 1903, but neither McGraw nor Robinson became a Highlander. McGraw would be the face of the NL New York Giants for several decades, while Robinson would manage Brooklyn from 1914-1931.
Other former or future February 7 Yankee player moves: The Mariners selected Danny Tartabull in 1983 as compensation for losing Floyd Bannister to the White Sox; Jesse Orosco was shipped to the Mets in 1979 as a “player to be named later” in their trade of Jerry Koosman to the Twins; and Jackie Jensen came out of retirement and re-signed with the Red Sox in 1961. Also the Tigers signed free agent pitcher Tim Belcher to a one year deal on February 6, 1994. Belcher had been drafted by the Yankees, but was lost within weeks in a paperwork nightmare.
Basketball star Michael Jordan decided to pursue his baseball dream and signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on February 7, 1994. And I for one give him a lot of credit for sticking with it despite only minimal success. It is a subject of conjecture how it would have turned out, as Jordan was forced back to basketball by the 1994 baseball player strike, and not by his own middling results.
Just one Yankee ballplayer appears on the unfortunate list of those who have passed away on February 7. Righthander Cecil Upshaw (1995), who won one game while losing five with six saves in 36 games for the 1974 Yankees, posted most of his career 34-36 record with 86 saves with the Braves; he pitched from 1966-1975.
The sixth entrant into the Hall of Fame of all time, Napoleon (Nap) Lajoie, passed away on February 7, 1959. Lajoie spent most of his 1897-1916 career with Cleveland, who carried the team name “Naps” in his honor. A second baseman, Nap hit 83 home runs, knocked in 1,599 runs, and scored 1,504 times. Among players lost to the baseball family on February 7 are Tim Murnane, who played on the original Boston NL team in 1876 and who passed (at age 64) in 1917. He had five homers and 127 rbi’s playing for six different teams from 1872-1884. Also John B. “Jack” Taylor, who in different seasons had both won and lost 20 games in baseball’s early days, died on February 7, 1900. Taylor won 120, lost 117, and saved nine games for the Phillies, mostly, from 1891-1899. Three righthanders with middling results complete this list. George Kahler (1924) won 32, lost 43, and saved two games for Cleveland from 1910-1914; Jim Walkup (1997) posted a 16-38 mark mostly with the 1934-1939 Browns; and Manny Salvo (1997), who pitched primarily for the Braves from 1939-1942, won 33, lost 49, and saved one game.
Players Who Have Died This Day
There are only two birthdaying Yankee players on February 7, both guys who got their starts in the Bronx. Damaso Garcia (1955) was a member of the Toronto keystone combination at second base from 1980 through 1986, once he was sent north by the Yankees on November 1, 1979, with Chris Chambliss and Paul Mirabella for Tom Underwood, Rick Cerone, and Ted Wilborn. Cerone was the key to the swap as the Yankees needed to replace the departed Thurman Munson behind the dish. A 1975 Yankee amateur free-agent selection, Garcia knocked in five runs and stole three bases for the Yanks in 79 at bats during 29 games in 1978 and 1979 prior to the trade to the Jays. He played in Atlanta in 1988 and in Montreal in 1989.
Lefty-hitting first baseman Frank Leja‘s (1936) debut in the Bronx was considerably briefer, as was his major league experience. Although he got into 19 games with the 1954-1955 Bombers, he only managed seven at bats, collecting one hit and striking out twice during those appearances. Frank didn’t resurface in the bigs until 1962 with the expansion Los Angeles Angels, and that was his swan song.
Other birthdaying players, with some of their exploits: Second baseman Tom Daly (1866), who hit most of his 49 home runs with 811 rbi’s from 1887-1903 for Brooklyn; Braves, Cubs, and Phillies catcher from 1901-1914 Pat Moran (1876); and outfielder Charlie Jamieson (1893), who hit 18 long balls with 552 rbi’s from 1915-1932, mostly in Cleveland. Also, lefthander Earl Whitehill (1900) pitched to a 218-185 record with 11 saves from 1923-1939, mostly in Detroit; Al Smith (1928) amassed 164 taters with 676 rbi’s and 67 stolen bases from 1953-1964, doing most of his damage with the Indians in Cleveland and the White Sox in Chicago. The White Sox are also the team with whom lefty Juan Pizarro (1937) recorded many of his 131 wins and 105 losses from 1957-1974; Burt Hooton (1950), who gave up the first of three homers to Reggie Jackson in the sixth and deciding game of the 1977 World Series; Benny Ayala (1951); Kansas City submarine-pitcher Dan Quisenberry (1953), a superb competitor against the Yankees who died a horrible death due to brain tumors; Charlie Puleo (1955); Carney Lansford (1957); Dave Borkowski (1977); Endy Chavez (1978); Jon Leicester (1979); Eliezer Alfonzo (1979); Humberto Cota (1979); Brad Hennessey (1980); Seth McClung (1981); Scott Feldman (1983); Josh Collmenter (1986); Zach Davies (1993); Roberto Osuna (1995); and Victor Arano (1995).
Players Born This Day