The early career of Yankee star Joe DiMaggio took off when he attended Spring Training with the Yanks in 1936, and by the end of an 11-2 thrashing of the Boston Bees on March 21, he had stroked 12 hits in his first 20 at bats. But this is not a great day in Yankee history, and a post-game slip-up stopped the man who was to become “Joltin’ Joe” in his tracks. Joe’s foot was burned in an unattended diathermy machine, and his regular-season debut would have to be delayed until after he recovered in May.
In chapter two of a short Yankee book that would not end happily, third baseman Drew Henson was reacquired from the Cincinnati Reds on March 21, 2001. And former Yankee outfield prospect Wily Mo Pena‘s 45 homers in the 2004 and 2005 seasons in Cinncy and 2006 trade to Boston make it just a little bit worse. The Yanks spent Pena for Henson, who finally abandoned his baseball quest for football after the 2003 season. But the Bombers also received outfielder Michael Coleman, a one-time Boston gem. Coleman had impressed the Yanks with two long home runs against them playing for the Reds in Sarasota, Fla., the week before the trade, and the Bombers took the bait. But when a worried Yankee Center Fielder Bernie Williams left the team during the ensuing ’01 season due to family illness, Coleman got a real shot. He failed to hit, and the Yankee investment of young Pena came up double zero.
And now the worst March 21 blow to the team, perhaps, as it was that day in 1986 that they announced that newly acquired starter Britt Burns would not pitch the following season (and as it turned out, ever for the Yanks) due to a degenerating hip condition. They had sent catcher Ron Hassey and righty Joe Cowley to the White Sox for Burns three months earlier in December.
Left-hander Robert Fish, who was assigned to the Los Angeles Angels on March 21, 2010, has been since been taken by the Yankees in the rule-5 draft and is training with the club in Tampa in 2011. A longshot as any rule-5 would be, Fish did not stick with the Yanks.
Of the six righthanders the Yankees optioned to AAA, AA or Minor League camp on March 21, 2009, Anthony Claggett, Phil Hughes and Sergio Mitre would pitch with the big-league team that year, while Steven Jackson, Humberto Sanchez, and Jason Johnson would not.
The pitching-poor Tigers released Jason Grimsley on this day in 1997. He would be out of the bigs until 1999 when he won a Yankee job in Tampa, after which he would post a 10-4 mark with two saves in two years with the club. One of his best days was when he came on to hold the Braves for two-plus frames in Game Three of the ’99 Series as the Yanks staged a comeback from an early 4-1 deficit.
In other news from March 21 that would affect former and future Yankee players, Robin Ventura suffered a compound fracture in his leg sliding into home with the White Sox that same 1997 day; and eventual Yankee first sacker (for a short while) Dale Long made his first appearance as a catcher with the Pirates in 1951. Finally, the Phillies sent third baseman Rick Schu and outfielders Jeff Stone and Keith Hughes to the Orioles for outfielder Mike Young on this day in 1988. Although Hughes was a Philly prospect, he got his first four at bats (0-for-4) for the Yanks the year before once New York got him in the trade of Shane Rawley to Philadelphia.
During a March 21, 1954 Spring Training game vs. the Yankees, Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella chipped a bone in his hand trying to break up a double play. He would require surgery for bone chips in early May.
The Philadelphia Phillies retired Hall of Famer Robin Roberts‘s number 36 on this day in 1962.
As the 1976 Rookie of the Year, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych had fans all over the country buzzing at his pitching and his antics on the mound, including talking to the ball. But the young righty ripped cartilage in his left knee on March 21, 1977. Despite spirited comeback attempts, it effectively put an end to his short, spectacular career. Mark died in a tragic farm accident in April 2009.
Once the A’s picked up and left Kansas City for Oakland, major league baseball promised the Missouri city a team. It was decided on March 21, 1968 that the new team they were about to get would be called the Royals. The team would partake in a multi-year, take-no-prisoners playoff battle with the Yanks almost 10 years later.
On this day in 1955, the Brooklyn Bulletin asked Dodgers fans to stop referring to their team as “Bums.” That they would finally best the Yanks seven months later in the World Series is probably just coincidental.
Padres Manager Alvin Dark became the second skipper in baseball history to be fired during Spring Training on March 21, 1978.
No Yankee players have died on March 21.
The list of other notables to have passed this day start with two Hall of Fame outfielders. The lefthanded Edd Roush (1988) hit most of his 68 home runs with 981 rbi’s with the Reds from 1916-1926, but he played three years with the Giants too. Joe Medwick (1975), too, played three years with the Giants, and five with the Dodgers, but still hit the majority of his 205 long balls and 1,383 rbi’s outside the Big Apple playing with the Cardinals from 1932-1940 and in 1947. Third baseman Pinky Higgins (1969) played in the early thirties with the Athletics, from 1939-1946 in Detroit, and with the Red Sox in between, and hit 140 long balls good for 1,075 rbi’s. Southpaw Fritz Coumbe (1978) pitched to a 38-38 record with 13 saves for Cleveland from 1915-1919, and with several other clubs afterward. Righty Tom Vickery (1921) both won and lost exactly 42 games, with no saves, tossing for the Phillies, the Colts, and the Orioles from 1890-1893; and southpaw Harry Eisenstat (2003) posted a 25-27-14 mark with the Dodgers, the Tigers, and the Indians from 1935-1942.
Players Who Have Died This Day
Senior Adviser to George Steinbrenner, Arthur Richman turns 84 on March 21, 2009. A former newspaper writer, Mr. Richman actually got his first New York baseball job with the Mets, joining them in 1963 as director of promotions and public relations. As traveling secretary, he even received a half share of the 1986 World Series pool, but left them for the Yankees after feeling unappreciated by the 1988 team from Flushing.
Lefthanded catcher Tim McIntosh (1965) is the most recent arrival of three Yankee players born March 21. The three games he played with the 1996 club (one each behind the plate, at first base, and at third base) ended his career after three years with Milwaukee and splitting the 1993 season between those Brewers and the Twins. The Yanks inked McIntosh to a free-agent contract in February 1996, and released him after that season.
Lefty-hitting outfielder Bill Lamar (1897) got his start in New York. He drove in five runs and stole three bases in 50 games from 1917-1919, and was sold to the Red Sox in May 1919. He played a year in Boston, two in Brooklyn, and four in Philadelphia. Interestingly, Bill never hit a homer until he became a Philly, then knocked 19 balls over the wall with that club. For the record, he was not accused of playing “juiced.”
And finally, Bill Stumpf (1892) both started and ended his time in the bigs with the 1912 and 1913 Yanks, playing in 54 games at second base and shortstop. He knocked in 11 runs while stealing four bases. The Yanks traded Stumpf and Jack Lelivelt to the Cleveland Naps for Roger Peckinpaugh in May 1913.
Shortstop Christian Guzman (1978) heads a list of three additional players who were Yanks briefly but never played with the club. Ironically, the 1994 free agent was traded to the Twins before the 1998 season with Brian Buchanan, Eric Milton, Danny Mota, and cash for Chuck Knoblauch. And Chuck would hit the come-from-behind home run to tie the World Series game mentioned above in the Jason Grimsley item. Guzman excelled in Minnesota, particularly on defense, and in 2005 moved to Washington.
Two-time NL batting champion Tommy Davis (1939) signed as a free agent with the Yankees in February 1976, but he was released as the season opened on April 6. And lastly, Ed Klieman (1918) was 26-26 with Cleveland in the forties before the Yanks selected him off waivers on May 3, 1949. But it was not to be; he was purchased by the White Sox 13 days later.
Other birthdays lead off with Hall of Fame Umpire Bill McGowan (1896); Mysterious Walker (1884); catcher Shanty Hogan (1906), who hit 61 homers with 474 rbi’s with the Braves and the Giants from 1925-1937; notorious bad ball hitter with the Pirates Manny Sanguillen (1944); Al Fitzmorris (1946); Bill Plummer (1947); Fernando Arroyo (1952); Shawon Dunston (1963); Mike Darr (1976); Matt Palmer (1979); Aaron Hill (1982); Warner Madrigal (1984), 0-2 in 44 games in Texas, who signed a deal with the Yankees in 2011; Carlos Montaserios (1986); and Carlos Carrasco (1987).
Players Born This Day