“We Play Today; We Win Today” It’s rare that I would want to lead off with a salute to a player who spent years with the Dodgers (of all teams) and just a year and a half with the Yankees. But I make an exception for Mariano Duncan, who was born on March 13, 1963. The Yanks have had a great run, and they did in the seventies too, but among all those teams (even the ’78 team with the comeback), few would disagree that the Championship year that surprised most people, the one title fewest fans expected the team to win, was 1996. Obviously some guys played over their heads, and who did so more than Mr. Duncan, who hit .340, and who became famous for the saying that serves as today’s subtitle? Another Duncan claim to fame is that he and Luis Quinones of the Reds tied a major league record on August 3, 1989, by each coming to the plate three times in the same inning during a first-inning, 14-run outburst against the Astros. (The final was 18-2.) The Yanks signed Duncan as a free agent in December 1995, and traded him to the Blue Jays for minor leaguer Angel Ramirez in July 1997.
No one suspected that Lou Gehrig had only two productive seasons left when the Yanks signed him to a $38,000 contract (with a $750 signing bonus) on March 13, 1937. He would blast 37 homers and knock in 159 runs in the upcoming season, but bad news would be knocking on Gehrig’s door all too soon.
The Yanks found a bizarre way to lose a 1-0 decision to the Red Sox in Tampa on March 13, 2012, in a game where the offenses managed just four hits apiece. But young Zoilo Almonte missed a shoestring attempt on Pedro Ciriaco‘s single to right leading off the ninth for an error, then compounded things by heaving the ball wildly for a second miscue, and the lone run of the game.
Former superb defender with a good bat Vic Power, whom the Yanks traded away before he got his start, threw out the first pitch before the Yanks and the Devil Rays played a spring game in old Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg on March 13, 2000. Andy Pettitte went five scoreless as the Yanks built up a 4-0 lead, but future and past Yankees Gerald Williams, Miguel Cairo, Jose Canseco, John Flaherty, and Bubba Trammell all contributed as the Rays stormed from behind, mostly against Jason Grimsley for an 8-5 Rays win.
On March 13, 2017, the Yankees optioned righthanders Yefry Ramirez, Ronald Herrera, and Domingo German to the AA Trenton Thunder.
The Yankees optioned lefthander Jacob Lindgren to the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders on March 13, 2016.
Third baseman Dan Fiorito was assigned to the Yankees on March 13, 2015.
On March 13, 2014, the Yanks assigned the following young players to minor league camp: southpaws Tyler Webb and Pat Venditte (actually anbidextrous); catcher Wes Wilson; outfielders Ben Gamel, Jake Cave and Taylor Dugas; infielders Robert Refsnyder, Ali Castillo and Rob Segedin; and shortstop Carmen Angelini. The club also optioned righthander Jose Campos to the A level Tampa Yankees; and righthander Bryan Mitchell to the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
On March 13, 2013, the Yankees optioned second baseman Corban Joseph and outfielder Zoilo Almonte to the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
The Yankees optioned righthander Hector Noesi to the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees on March 12, 2011, but Hector would contribute some key innings for the big club that year, and then represent an important piece in the acquisition of Michael Pineda for the 2012 season.
On that same 2011 day, the Yanks surrendered two rule-5 picks, as Kansas City claimed southpaw Robert Fish off waivers; and right-hander Daniel Turpen was returned to the Pawtucket Red Sox.
Catcher Ryan J. Baker, outfielder Edwar Gonzalez, and third baseman Luis Nunez were assigned to the Yankees on March 13, 2010. On the same day the club optioned one player each to three of their minor league squads: hurler Wilkin De La Rosa to AAA, Scranton; righthander Christian Garcia to AA, Trenton; and fellow righty Andrew Brackman to A, Tampa. And of interest to fans of the great Yankee Hitman, left-fielder Preston Mattingly was assigned to Los Angeles Dodgers on March 13 as well.
It was business as usual when the Yanks reassigned infielder Alberto Gonzalez, righthander Jeff Kennard, first baseman Juan Miranda, righties Steven Jackson and Kevin Whelan, infielder Eric Duncan, and outfielders Brett Gardner and Jose Tabata to minor league camp on March 13, 2007, but all of them figure in future plans. Kennard has been spent to get Jose Molina, but the rest were in Tampa in 2008, and Tabata was spent in the 2008 Xavier Nady trade. Gonzalez and Jackson have left the nest as well, and the bloom is off Duncan, but 2010 could be big years for Montero, Whelan, and Gardner, the latter in the Bronx.
After a great eight-year run with the Giants, Bobby Thomson got off to a rough start with the Braves, breaking his ankle while sliding into second base under Woodie Held in a March 13, 1954 exhibition game vs. the Yankees at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg. Thomson would be out until July, but the silver lining for the Braves is that the way was opened for Henry Aaron to play left field. And Held, by the way, would only play five regular season games with the Yanks, in 1954 and in 1957.
It was a publicity stunt when Brooklyn Manager Wilbert Robinson tried to catch a ball dropped from an airplane from over 500 feet on March 13, 1915. The pilot claimed to have forgotten the ball and dropped a grapefruit instead, and it splattered over Robinson’s face, but most believe it was a pre-planned prank, orchestrated by none other than Casey Stengel himself. Robinson had managed the 1902 Orioles, the team that would be shifted to New York as the Highlanders the following season. And Stengel would start his record-setting stint managing the Yankees 34 years after the grapefruit prank.
Two Yankees players have passed on March 13. Catcher Buddy Rosar (1994) debuted with the Yanks from 1939-1942, hitting seven home runs with 71 rbi’s achieved during 751 at bats in 252 games. By the time he hung up his spikes after the 1951 season, playing more often than not in Philly with the Athletics, Rosar’s numbers had grown to 18 and 367. First baseman Harry Bright (2000) knocked in 23 runs with no home runs during 64 games with the 1963-1964 Yanks. Playing with the Pirates and Senators beforehand, and the Reds and Cubs after, Bright hit 32 long balls and 126 rbi’s between 1958 and 1965.
Hall of Fame Negro Leagues pitcher Leon Day passed away on March 13, 1995. It was only seven days after the 78-year-old vet was elected to Baseball’s Hall that he died. He played for the Baltimore Black Sox, the Brooklyn and Newark Eagles, and the Baltimore Elite Giants. Day had a great fastball, and he posted a perfect 13-0 record in 1937. Four noteworthy nonYankee players to pass on this day were outfielders who played long before Rosar and Bright, and to a large extent before Mr. Day too. Sherry Magee (1929) reached 83 fences good for 1,176 runs with the Phillies, the Braves, and the Reds from 1904-1919, with the first 10 years coming in Philadelphia; and lefty hitter Fielder Jones (1934) played from 1896-1908, and from 1914-1915, mostly with the White Sox, hitting 211 homers with 631 rbi’s. Portsider Rube Ellis (1938) hit all 13 of his home runs with 199 rbi’s from 1909-1912 with the Cardinals; and the 40 long balls and 450 rbi’s Ira Flagstead (1940) contributed from 1917-1930 came largely in six-year stints with the Tigers and the Red Sox. In addition, switch-hitting infielder Sammy Strang (1932) cleared 16 fences good for 253 rbi’s from 1896-1908 with six teams, mostly the Giants and the Dodgers; and lefty-hitting catcher Frank House (2005) blasted 47 roundtrippers and drove in 235 runs from 1950-1961, much of it with the Tigers. And even though he was a key member of the Yankee front office at an important time in their history, we’ll list third baseman Al Rosen (2015) with the nonYankees because he played only for Cleveland from 1947 through 1956. Al hit 192 long balls and drove in 717 runs for the Indians.
Players Who Have Died This Day
If you scroll back up to the top of this column, you’ll see that one March 13 Yankee birthday belongs to Mariano Duncan (1965), who played second base on Joe Torre‘s first Championship team, the 1996 ballclub. Duncan hit nine home runs, drove in 69 runs, and stole six bases with the Yanks in 1996 and 1997.
The three other Yankee players born on March 13 include lefty-hitting outfielder Cliff Mapes (1922), who has a pretty impressive claim to fame as well. He hit 22 dingers, drove in 119 runs, and stole eight bases in his major-league debut with the Yanks from 1948-1951. But he is perhaps best known for the numbers he wore on his back: He was the last one to wear Babe Ruth‘s number 3 before it was retired, he wore number 7 until he was traded away to make way for Mickey Mantle, who hit more than 500 taters with that digit printed on his back, and then Cliff wore the number 13 that new Yanks third bagger Alex Rodriguez has taken too. Mapes was selected by New York from the Indians on November 1946 via the rule-V draft. The Yankees made room for The Mick by shipping Mapes to the St. Louis Browns for Kermit Wahl, Bobby Hogue, Tom Upton, and Lou Sleater in July 1951.
Infielder Luis Aguayo (1959) hit three homers with eight rbi’s playing in 50 games for the 1988 Yanks, 33 of them at third base. The Yanks got him in July of that year from the Philadelphia Phillies for Amalio Carreno, and granted him free agency four months later.
The book is still out on lefty starter Manny Banuelos (1991), long-time cream of the Yankee prospect crop who struggled to come back from Tommy John surgery, and never pitched for the parent club before being traded to Atlanta for relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve before the 2015 season. Manny, a southpaw, struggled to a 1-4 record with a 5-plus era for the hapless Braves in ’15, and did not return to the parent club in 2016 or 2017.
And last is the guy with the great handle: Frank “Home Run” Baker (1886), who earned the great nickname for two homers in the 1911 World Series Philly A’s victory over the Giants, and not for hitting a bunch of them. He managed to smack 48 over the fence with 375 rbi’s and 63 steals for the Yanks from 1916-1922 after playing six years in Philadelphia with the A’s. The Hall of Fame third sacker, who also hit 48 home runs for Philly, with over 600 rbi’s, was purchased by the Yankees from Philadelphia in February 1916.
Other birthdays: Terry Leach (1954); Will Clark (1964); Jorge Fabregas (1970); Scott Sullivan (1971); Johan Santana (1979); New Yorker Mike Aviles (1981); Jason Rogers (1988); Sandy Leon (1989); Scott Oberg (1990); Eddie Butler (1991); and Mark Leiter (1991).
Players Born This Day