January 31 is a big Hall of Fame day. First, there are several fairly prominent members who were born this day (see below). And Yankees inducted into the Hall this day include Joe Sewell, who was voted in in 1977, along with a few others. A shortstop with the Indians for a decade, Sewell was pounced upon by the Yanks when the Tribe released him. Although his Hall years were really his Cleveland ones, Joe came through with 19 homers, 186 rbi’s, and three stolen bases for the Bombers from 1931-1933.
January 31, 2017, was the day the Yankees unveiled the list of non-roster players invited to the upcoming Spring Training: outfielders Dustin Fowler and Clint Frazier; shortstops Tyler Wade, Gleyber Torres, and Pete Kozma; catchers Jorge Saez and Francisco Diaz; lefthanded pitchers Jordan Montgomery, Justus Sheffield, Evan Rutckyj, and Daniel Camarena; and righthanders Nick Rumbelow, Brady Lail, James Kaprielian, Chance Adams, and J.P. Feyereisen.
Taking care of resetting the nonmajor league rosters on January 31, 2013, the Yankees assigned lefthanders Josh Spence, Matt Tracy and Juan Cedeno; righties Mark Montgomery, Chase Whitley, Kelvin Perez, Matt Daley, Jim Miller, Preston Claiborne, Mikey O’Brien, Bryan Mitchell, Ryan Pope, Zach Nuding, Branden Pinder, Nick Goody, Shane Greene, and Tommy Kahnle; catchers Gary Sanchez, Francisco Arcia, JR Murphy, and Kyle Higashioka; first basemen Luke Murton, Gregory Bird, and Kyle Roller; shortstops Addison Maruszak and Cito Culver; infielder Jayson Nix; second baseman Jose Pirela; center fielders Adonis Garcia and Abraham Almonte; outfielders Ronnier Mustelier, Tyler Austin, Rob Segedin and Slade Heathcott; and Corey Black. They also signed free agent first baseman Dan Johnson; while Boston was signing free agent first sacker Lyle Overbay, who would end up playing for the Yankees.
Former Yankee General Manager George Weiss won Hall entrance on this day in 1971. Although he was reviled as a tightwad, the voters would agree that it’s hard to argue with success. The Yanks won 19 pennants and 15 World Championships during his 29 years as the top honcho in the Bronx front office.
Also, though not even the biggest diehard Yankee fan would characterize “Big Poison” as a Yankee player with his long and storied career playing for the Pirates, Paul Waner (inducted on this day in 1952) did play a few games for the Bronx Bombers before retiring.
Other January 31 Hall of Fame honorees include Phillies announcer Harry Kalas, who was voted the Ford C. Frick Award in 2002; Harry Heilmann, who was honored in 1952 along with Waner; and Pud Galvin, selected by the Veterans’ Committee in 1965. Accompanying Weiss in the 1971 vote were players Jake Beckley, Joe Kelley, Harry Hooper, Rube Marquard, Chick Hafey, and Dave Bancroft. Lastly, Amos Rusie and Al Lopez were inducted along with Sewell on this day in 1977. Outfielder Kelley, by the way, also has some Yankee credentials, by virtue of his 60 games (with one long ball, 34 rbi’s, and 12 steals) with the 1902 Baltimore Orioles. This team would be folded following that season and relocated to New York as the Highlanders.
Yankee fans were perhaps expecting a little power and defense surge when the team signed veteran free agent infielder Morgan Ensberg to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training on January 31, 2008. But it was not to be. He smashed a home run in a victory in Tampa the first week of the season, but by the time he was released six or so weeks later, his numbers had frozen at one long ball and four rbi’s.
George Abbott, who wrote Damn Yankees, which opened on Broadway on May 5, 1955, died this day in 1995.
Paul Waner makes the January 31 ticker one more time as the only former or future Yankee player moved from team to team this day by virtue of his 1941 signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Entrepreneur and owner Bill Veeck‘s plan to monopolize moneys from telecasts of St. Louis Browns ballgames was frustrated when the Yankees, the Indians, and the Red Sox announced on January 31, 1953, that they would schedule contests vs. the Browns as day games.
Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker was suspended from baseball until May 1 on January 31, 2000, in the wake of his insensitive and racist remarks in a Sports Illustrated interview.
McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc purchased the San Diego Padres on January 31, 1974.
And Houston voters approved a bond to finance a Stadium that would become the Astrodome on this day in 1961.
Shortstop John Dowd‘s (1981) 10 games at shortstop for the 1912 Highlanders easily led the four one-time Yankees to have died on January 31 in club seniority, as they have but 17 games among them. But that changed on January 31, 2018, with the tragic loss of outfielder and fan favorite Oscar Gamble. A righty thrower, Gamble used his lefty bat to poke 87 home runs with 276 rbi’s once he arrived via a trade with Cleveland for Pat Dobson in 1976, and was reacquired in July 1979, being swapped from Texas for Mickey Rivers. (He had subsequently been sent to the Chisox for Bucky Dent just before the ’77 season.) Having played from 1968 through 1985, including three-year stops with the Phillies and Indians, and two brief stints with the White Sox, Oscar had 200 career home runs with 666 rbi’s. Dowd (rememmber him?) went 6-for-31 with no homers or rbi’s in his only big-leagues season. Lefthanded outfielder Mike Handiboe (1953) also played for New York only, with one hit in 15 at bats during five games played for the 1911 team. Righty Sam Gibson (1983) lost one of his two games (both starts) for the 1930 Yanks; he went 32-38 overall with five saves in six seasons, much of it with Detroit. Catcher Harry Chiti (2002) was Yankee property via trade during the 1957 season, though he never cracked the lineup. He hit 41 long balls good for 162 rbi’s, mostly with the Cubs, from 1950-1962.
Six infielders who did not play for the Yanks but who died on January 31 posted numbers worthy of recognition: Second baseman Lou Bierbauer (1926) hit most of his 33 home runs with 835 rbi’s from 1886-1898 with Pittsburgh; and first sacker Henry Larkin (1942) played the majority of his games with the Philly Athletics from 1884-1893, good for 53 long balls and 836 rbi’s. Newest to the group is lefty first baseman Fred Whitfield (2013), who smacked 108 long balls and delivered 356 rbi’s from 1962 through 1970 playing most of the time with Cleveland and Cincinnati. Shortstop Buck Weaver (1956) played all of his 1912-1920 games with the White Sox, for whom he hit 21 homers and knocked in 420 runs; third baseman Ossie Vitt (1963) hit four roundtrippers and collected 295 rbi’s playing for the 1912-1918 Tigers and the 1919-1921 Red Sox; and second baseman Steve Yerkes (1971) hit most of his six long balls with 254 runs driven in from 1909-1916 with the Red Sox. Catcher Ed Phelps (1942) homered three times and drove in 205 from 1902-1913 with the Reds, the Cardinals, and the Dodgers; while fellow backstop Johnny Kling (1947) went yard 20 times and knocked in 513 runs with the Cubs from 1900-1913. Finally, righthander Bill Voiselle (2005) won 74 games, lost 84, and saved three games with the 1942-1947 Giants, the 1947-1949 Braves, and the 1950 Cubs.
Players Who Have Died This Day
January 31 is a day we celebrate six Yankee birthdays, and three very famous Hall of Famers from the baseball family. The big surprise on former Mets shortstop Rafael Santana (1958), who played that position in the Bronx relatively effectively in 1988, is that he originally signed with the Yankees as a free agent back in 1976. The Yanks got reliever George Frazier by trading Santana to St. Louis in 1981. Rafael started with the Cards in 1983, played in Flushing from 1984-1987, and followed his year in Pinstripes with one in Cleveland, in 1990. The Yanks traded Darren Reed, Phil Lombardi, and Steve Frey to the Mets to get Santana back in 1987. He only hit four homers and drove in 38 runs to go with his one stolen base for the Yanks, but he fielded the position well.
Righthander Duke Maas (1929) got 45 starts in his 96 appearances while finishing his career with the Yanks from 1958-1961. He went 26-17 and recorded eight saves during that time, after tossing in Detroit for three years and beginning the ’58 campaign with the K.C. A’s. The Yankees shipped Bob Grim and Harry Simpson to Kansas City to get Maas and Virgil Trucks in 1958.
Tim Hendryx (1891) blasted five dingers with 50 rbi’s and 10 stolen bases for the Yanks from 1915-1917. He played in Cleveland in 1911-1912, in St. Louis with the Browns in 1918, and with the 1920-1921 Red Sox. The Yankees got him from the St. Louis Browns for Lee Magee in 1918.
First baseman George Burns (1893) was also traded in 1918, though he went in the opposite direction, as the Bombers sent him to the Philadelphia Athletics for Ping Bodie. Burns never appeared in a game with the Yanks until 1928-1929 when he returned to play in 13 tilts after 15 years plying his trade with Detroit, Philly, Cleveland, and Boston, all in the American League. George, who finished the 1929 season with the A’s in Philly, got two hits in 13 at bats in New York, and he scored one run. And we finish the hometeam guys with lefty hitting catcher Honey Barnes (1900), who played only one big-league game. He managed a walk with the 1926 Bombers.
With the 2012 season, outfielder Melky Mesa (1987) joined the Yankee January 31 birthday club on the virtue of three games played. Mesa went 1-for-2 at the plate, with one rbi. The five games Melky played in the Bronx in 2013 got him another five hits, two of them doubles, and another rbi. A power hitter with too many strike outs, Mesa was released in September and was signed by Kansas City in December 2013.
There are 250-plus (a fluid figure) members in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and 365 days in a year. How then to explain a day like January 31, when no less than three Hall members were born? Nolan Ryan (1947) with his seven no-hitters; “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks (1931), with his 512 career homers, (Ernie actually also played two seasons with the Negro American League Kansas City Monarchs); and Jackie Robinson (1919), who broke the baseball color barrier in 1947 while displaying dignity and self-respect, and who was born exactly 54 years after Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery; were all born today.
Other birthdays: Steamboat Williams (1892); Hank Aguirre (1931); Jim Willoughby (1949); Fred Kendall (1949); Bob Apodaca (1950); Ted Power (1955); Dave Cochrane (1963); Steve Phoenix (1968); Chris Pritchett (1970); Yuniesky Betancourt (1982); Brad Thompson (1982); Josh Johnson (1984); Caleb Thielbar (1987); Tommy La Stella (1989); Tyler Kinley (1991); Guillermo Heredia (1991); Alex Claudio (1992); Jake Thompson (1994); and Robert Whalen (1994).
Players Born This Day