February 8 was a bad Yankee day in the back-to-back years, 1983 and 1984. During the latter, the Yanks front office goofed. The number one player in the last year’s draft was Tim Belcher. He had become available once he refused to sign with the Twins, so the Yanks signed him, but it came to pass after they had submitted their list of protected players. The A’s, due compensation once the Orioles had signed their Type A free agent Tom Underwood, swooped in and grabbed Belcher before the Bombers could rectify the situation.
But the 1983 date may have been worse. Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered Mickey Mantle to sever his ties with baseball after he had signed a personal services contract with a casino. Mickey joined Willie Mays, already served by Kuhn. It’s a problem that persists to this day. The stars of yesteryear have a right to make a living. But imagine the game of baseball banning The Mick and The Say-Hey Kid! Bowie who?
The Yankees announced the signing of outfielder Marcus Thames to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training on February 8, 2010. Thames had been drafted by New York in the 30th round of the 1996 amateur draft and was traded to the Texas Rangers for Ruben Sierra in 2003. Thames, who hit one home run with two rbi’s for the 2002 Yankees, including debuting with a homer off Randy Johnson in his initial big-league at bat, and who hit 12 long balls good for 33 rbi’s in the Bronx in 2010, will play for the Dodgers in 2011.
On February 8, 2012 the Yankees assigned lefthanders Juan Cedeno and Manny Banuelos; righthanders Ryan Pope, Adam Warren, Chase Whitley, Brett Marshall, Graham Stoneburner, and Dan Burawa; catchers Gary Sanchez, Jose Gil, Kyle Higashioka, and JR Murphy; left fielder Colin Curtis; and first baseman Jorge Vazquez to the Yankee minors. The club also signed three free agents: first baseman Russell Branyan, second baseman Bill Hall, and shortstop Doug Bernier.
In preparation for the upcoming Spring Training, the Yankees invited a host of non-roster players to Tampa for March, including lefthanders Royce Ring, Kei Igawa, Jeremy Bleich, and Wilkins Arias; righthanders Jason Hirsh, Amaury Sanit, Grant Duff, Kevin Whelan, Zack Segovia, and Zach McAllister; catchers Kyle Higashioka, Austin Romine, Jesus Montero, and Mike Rivera; and outfielders Colin Curtis, David Winfree, Reid Gorecki, and Jon Weber.
The Yankees signed infielders Morgan Ensberg and Chris Woodward to minor league contracts and invited them to major league spring training on February 8, 2008. They also invited infielder Eduardo Nunez to Spring Training.
Sometimes it’s not what move you make, but when you make it. Sad Sam Jones spent long years with the Red Sox before he was traded south with Joe Bush and Everett Scott to the Yankees for Roger Peckinpaugh, Jack Quinn, Rip Collins, and Bill Piercy in December 1921. In New York, Jones posted a 67-56 mark from 1922-1926, with 22 saves. Then the Bombers traded him to the Browns for pitcher Joe Giard and outfielder Cedric Durst on February 8, 1927. Sad Sam slipped to 8-14 in 1927, and he pitched four years each for Washington and Chicago (the White Sox) before hanging up his cleats after the 1935 season. Giard pitched to no decision in 16 games with the 1927 Yanks, and Durst hit six homers, drove in 71 runs, and stole four bases in the Bronx from 1927-1930. But the trade was a good one for the Bombers because Jones won 11 more games than he lost when he was with them. In a 22-year career, Sam pitched to a 229-217 mark, just 12 games over .500.
The Bombers’ trade in which they acquired southpaw Mickey McDermott and shortstop Bob Kline for catcher Lou Berberet, infielder Harry Plews, and outfielder Whitey Herzog of the Senators on February 8, 1956, was not nearly as successful. The five rbi’s Berberet had donated to the Yankee cause in 1954 and 1955 was the only offensive spark the New Yorkers had received from the latter three, even though they would combine for 19 dingers, 184 rbi’s, and 12 steals in ’56-’58 in Washington. On the other side of the ledger, Kline would never play for the Yanks, and McDermott fell to 2-6 with the 1956 squad after he had won 17 in Washington the former two years.
February 8 player moves affecting former or future Yankee players have a distinctive Hall of Fame flavor. Soon-to-be Hall denizen (perhaps?) Roger Clemens (wherever the steroids controversy takes him, I believe Roger will be there one day) signed a four-year extension with the Red Sox this day in 1991; Dave Winfield announced his retirement on February 8, 1996; and Waite Hoyt was released by the Philly A’s (only to be signed with Brooklyn) on this day in 1932.
In further Hall news, Negro Leagues stars Buck Leonard and Josh Gibson were inducted on February 8, 1972.
Early February has been the time for the Caribbean Series for some time now, a way for mainland American baseball fans to get a game fix as they await the arrival of pitchers and catchers in Spring Training. The Series came to a close on February 8 in both 2001 and 2002. The Dominican Republic defeated Mexico to take the title in the first; then Mexico prevailed over Puerto Rico in the latter.
The first of five Yankee players to have died February 8 was righty Boardwalk Brown (1977), who won 10 games, lost seven, and saved two in 39 games (25 starts) with the 1914-1915 Yankees. Combined with a 1911-1914 stay with the Philly Athletics, his overall mark was 38-40-2. Fellow righthander Steve Roser (2002) debuted with the 1944-1946 New Yorkers, throwing five wins, four losses, and one save. He ended his career the latter year by winning, losing, and saving one game each for the Braves. (Long) Tom Hughes (1956) went 7-11 in 19 games (18 starts) for the 1904 Highlanders. Pitching a lot of the time from 1900-1913 with Washington, Tom’s career mark was 131-175 with 16 saves. Lefty-hitting outfielder Charlie Meara (1962) played all four of his big-leagues games with the 1914 Yanks. He batted 2-for-7, drove in two runs, and scored two. Southpaw Harry Ables (1951) ended his career losing one of three games (two starts) for the 1911 Highlanders. One year with Brooklyn and one with Cleveland gave him a career mark of 1-5.
The legendary Connie Mack passed away on February 8, 1956. In 50 years piloting the A’s he guided them to seven pennants and five Championships. On the other hand, they finished last 17 times with Connie at the helm. But Yankee fans owe the former long-time manager a tip of their caps as one of the founding fathers of the American League. Phillies (mostly) outfielder Del Ennis (1996) hit 288 home runs with 1,284 rbi’s from 1946-1959. The list of other noteworthy nonYankee player deaths includes three righthanded pitchers, a southpaw and a catcher. Jimmy Dygert (1936) won 57 games, lost 49, and saved two with the A’s from 1905-1910; Ray Kremer (1965) posted his entire 143-85-10 record from 1924-1933 with the Pirates; and Dan Casey (1943) won 96 and lost 90 games with no saves from 1884-1890 mostly with the Phillies. Portsider Bobby Burke (1971) won 38 games, lost 46, and saved five pitching most of the time from 1927-1935 with Washington; and backstop Roy Spencer (1973) hit three home runs and knocked in 203 runs from 1925-1938 playing mostly with the Pirates, the Senators, the Indians, and the Dodgers.
Players Who Have Died This Day
Mention Fritz Peterson (1942) to any baseball fan of a certain age, Yankee enthusiast or not, and they’ll remember him as one of the guys who swapped wives (with lefty Mike Kekich) in Spring Training, an embarrassment that did occur in Florida in 1973. But Fritz, birthdaying this day, gets a raw deal. He won 20 games in 1970, achieving that magic number by besting the Red Sox, 4-3, in Fenway Park on the last day of the season. And he posted a 109-106 mark (with one save) for a not very good Yankee team from 1966-1974 in a period where the Bombers managed to fall all the way to 10th place in a 10-team league. Fritz never had great stuff, and gave up a lot of hits. (I specifically remember him one time winning a 12-hitter!) So if the team didn’t hit or field, and the hits for the opposition just kept on coming, how did Peterson manage to win games? The old-fashioned way, we might reply. He led the American League in fewest walks allowed per nine innings in five consecutive years (1968 through 1972). A 1963 Yankee amateur free agent selection, Peterson was shipped to the Cleveland Indians with Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, and Steve Kline for Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow, and Cecil Upshaw in April 1974 in the wake of the wife-swapping embarrassment.
The Yankee February 8 birthday club grew by one player in 2007, as Chase Wright (1983) posted a 2-0 record in three games (two starts). A third round Yankee selection in the 2001 amateur draft, Chase is unfortunately best known for the one no-decision appearance, a start in Boston that he was winning until the Red Sox reached him for a record four consecutive home runs.
None of the other three Yankee players born on February 8 will resonate much with today’s fans, though second baseman Don Heffner (1911) played in Pinstripes in his first four years in the bigs. He drove in 60 runs and stole two bases in part-time duty from 1934-1937, getting into more than 150 games during that time. Heffner played five years with the Browns, a couple of months with the A’s and one season with the Tigers after the Yankees traded him with cash to St. Louis for Bill Knickerbocker in February 1938.
Lefty-hitting outfielder/third baseman Gene Elliott (1889) played all five games of his big-league career with the 1911 Highlanders, during which time he got a hit (a double), two walks, an rbi and scored a run. And first baseman/outfielder Bob Oliver (1943) capped a career that spanned 11 seasons by notching one rbi in 18 games for the 1975 Yankees, after playing in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, California, and Baltimore. Bob is current lefty Darren Oliver‘s father.
And finally, southpaw Cookie Cuccurullo (1918), whose big-league career 3-5 record with five saves came with the Pirates from 1943-1945, spent some time with the Yanks. Pittsburgh traded him to New York in October 1946 for Tiny Bonham, but Cookie never broke the Yankee lineup.
Other birthdays: Outfielders Willard Marshall and Hoot Evers, both born on February 8, 1921. Marshall socked 130 dingers, knocked in 604 runs, and stole 14 bases from 1942-1955, mostly with the Giants and the Braves. Evers patrolled the oufield in Detroit for much of his 1941-1956 stint in the bigs, contributing 98 taters, 565 rbi’s, and 45 stolen bases during that time. Others: Bert Haas (1914); Buddy Blattner (1920); reliever Joe Black (1924), who starred in the Negro Leagues before breaking into the bigs; Steve Dillard (1951); Adam Piatt (1976); Jim Parque (1976); Aaron Cook (1979); Burke Badenhop (1983); Felix Pie (1985); Matt Bush (1986); and Andrew McKirahan (1990).
Players Born This Day