January 16 in Yankee History

  • There is just no precedent for it in baseball, and maybe none in the history of sport. On January 16, 1974, Mickey Mantle became the seventh player to be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He had played for the Yankees only from 1951-1968, during which time he blasted 536 homers, knocked in 1,509 rbi’s, and sped to 153 stolen bases. He was the AL MVP three times, came in second in that vote another three times, and in third once. He came in first in offensive categories time and time again: batting average in 1956; rbi in 1956; home runs in 1955, 1956, 1958, 1960; triples in 1955; extra-base hits in 1952, 1955, 1956; total bases in 1956, 1958, 1960; runs in 1954, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961; on-base percentage in 1955, 1962, 1964; slugging percentage in 1955, 1956, 1961, 1962; OPS in 1952, 1955, 1956, 1960, 1962, 1964; and walks in 1955, 1957, 1958, 1961, 1962.
  • Pretty heady numbers, huh? But although there are very few guys who attain such heights, teams from different cities do have players who blasted their way to the Hall, and the Yanks have others too. The unprecedented thing is that on the same day that The Mick was so honored, his teammate Whitey Ford, the “Chairman of the Board,” achieved Hall of Fame status too. Whitey’s pitching stats rival Mickey’s batting ones. His winning percentage was almost 70 percent (236-106) over a Yankee career that spanned 1950-1967. He won the American League Cy Young Award in 1961, and on a team that shattered the record for team home runs in that same year, it was Whitey who won the World Series MVP. First places in pitching stats include era in 1956 and 1958; wins in 1955, 1961, 1963; innings pitched in 1961 and 1963; shutouts in 1958 and 1960; starts in 1961 and 1963; and complete games in 1955. Has any team, any sport, ever had two guys, two teammates, two friends, honored for such great achievements on the same day? I don’t know of an instance.
  • And on January 16, 2001, Dave Winfield was voted into the Hall of Fame, along with Kirby Puckett. Among Yankee fans there is some doubt that the honor was deserved in Puckett’s case, particularly when the beloved Donnie Baseball, Don Mattingly, has numbers that equal or beat Puckett’s up and down the line, except that Kirby won two World Series, and Donnie didn’t. Puckett’s honor (in a first-time vote no less!) is hard to gell with Mattingly’s low support to start with, and his descending numbers since. On the other hand, I think most Yankee fans familiar with his career are accepting of the fact that Winfield went in with a San Diego Padre cap on his head, and look back fondly on Dave’s years in New York. He played the game with grace and desire for the Yankees, pounding 205 of his career 465 homers and delivering 818 runs in a career that accounted for 1,833. We honor him for it. And at an age when most players have hung up their spikes, Winfield drove in the World Series-clinching runs for the Blue Jays on October 24, 1992.
  • On January 16, 2015, the Yankees signed free agent catcher Eddy Rodriguez to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training; and then also re-signed free agent second baseman Stephen Drew. It was hoped that with a full spring training getting him ready, Drew’s offensive malaise would be overcome, a hope that did not come to pass. The club also designated center fielder Eury Perez for assignment.
  • The 2014 Yankees received quite an unexpected jolt when they signed free agent second baseman Yangervis Solarte to a minor league contract on January 16, 2014, and invited him to spring training. Contributing one huge hit after another to a largely moribund offense, Solarte was leading the club in rbi’s mid-May despite hitting in the bottom of the batting order. Alas, Yangervis slowly came back down to earth, and the team eventually traded him to San Diego for Chase Headley. Still, most Yankee fans wish him well on another coast, in another league.
  • After a year in which perhaps too much of the brunt of the catching work was thrust upon Jorge Posada as Alberto Gonzalez and Chris Widger struggled as backups, the Yanks solved a problem when they signed John Flaherty to a one-year minor-league contract on January 16, 2003, and invited him to spring training. He would win the number-two catcher job and support Posada well for two seasons.
  • The Yankees plucked infielder Chris Basak from the Mets organization and signed him to a minor league contract with a Spring Training invite on January 16, 2007. Basak would play in five games in New York, fail to hit in one at bat, and garner one infield assist that year.
  • Cardinals Gold Glove outfielder Curt Flood filed a suit challenging the reserve clause on January 16, 1970.
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    Players Who Have Died This Day

  • Of three Yankee players deceased on January 16, second baseman Jimmy Williams (1965) had the most impact, hitting 31 homers with 537 rbi’s for New York over seven years, two with the 1901-1902 Baltimore Orioles that would be relocated to New York and five (1903-1907) with the Highlanders themselves. Stints with the Pirates and the Browns upped Williams’s overall numbers to 49 and 796. Righty Carl Thompson (1963) went 0-2 in seven games (two starts) for the 1912 Highlanders in his only big-leagues service, and outfielder Liz Funk (1968) debuted in New York in one 1929 game; he had no at bats, and drove in no runs. Funk would garner six homers and 106 rbi’s over two years with the Tigers and the White Sox afterward.
  • Dallas catcher Charlie Bradley was shot dead in a lover’s spat on January 16, 1889. And St. Louis Browns outfielder Baby Doll Jacobson, who hit 83 home runs with 819 rbi’s mostly with the Browns from 1915-1927, died on January 16, 1977. The list of other noteworthy nonYankee players to haved died on January 16 includes one lefty pitcher, a portsided first baseman, a shortstop, two outfielders, and a righthander. Ken Chase (1985) won 53 games, lost 84, and saved one throwing almost exclusively for Washington from 1936-1943; first sacker Claude Rossman (1928) hit three home runs and drove in 238 runs from 1904-1909, playing mostly for Detroit; and shortstop Rudy Hulswitt (1950) also homered three times, good for 203 rbi’s, playing mostly with the Phillies and the Cardinals from 1899-1910. Righthanded Joe Sommer (1938) cleared 11 fences and knocked in 238 runs playing more often than not with Baltimore from 1880-1890; while portsider Willie Smith (2006) hit 46 homers and delivered 211 runs playing mostly for the Angels, the Cubs, and the Indians from 1963-1971. Hurler Tom Hausman (2019) posted a 16-23 record with three saves with the Mets from 1978 through 1982, and in Milwaukee with the Braves in 1975 and 1976, and with the Brewers in 1982.
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    Players Born This Day

  • There are six Yankee January 16 birthdays, one a decent starter who is perhaps known more for other reasons both in New York and elsewhere, and a power-hitting product of the Yankee system with poor timing, a veteran reliever, a neophyte to the Yankee scene, a middle infielder who filled a walk-in role in 2013, and a utility player who did the same in ’14. Jack McDowell (1966) had a decent career as a starter, at 127-87, and he was an irreplaceable cog in the 1995 Yankee rotation that got the team back to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, as he went 15-10. Although he ultimately failed in the playoffs, McDowell’s performance, teamed with David Cone‘s down the stretch, earned the Yanks the Wild Card in a three-way battle with California and Seattle where all three teams refused to lose. It’s ironic, then, that around the country he is widely known as a rock musician, and in New York, his greatest claim to fame was that he “flipped the bird” to an unhappy Yankee Stadium crowd when he was removed from a game in June in which he and the team were badly battered by his old team, the White Sox. The Yanks sent Lyle Mouton and minor leaguer Keith Heberling to the White Sox for Jack before the ’95 season.
  • And Steve “Bye Bye” Balboni (1957) played his rookie year with the Yanks in 1981, stayed through the 1983 season, and returned for part-time duty in 1989-1990. A power-hitting first baseman who was the team’s second round draft choice in 1978, he had the misfortune to have his career coincide with that of the great Don Mattingly. Steve hit 41 homers and knocked in 116 runs in New York, and he hit a lot of homers while playing with the K.C. Royals from 1984-1988; he played with Seattle in 1988 and Texas in 1993 also. The Yanks shipped him and Roger Erickson to Kansas City for Mike Armstrong and Duane Dewey in 1984, and paid the Mariners minor leaguer Dana Ridenour for him in 1989.
  • The roster of Yankee players born January 16 grew to three during the 2005 season when reliever Colter Bean toed the mound for one appearance, with no decisions. Bean appeared in two more games in 2006, and three in 2007, and has allowed seven runs in seven big-leagues innings. A 2000 Yankee draft selection, Bean was lost to the Red Sox in the 2003 rule-V draft, but was returned in April 2004.
  • Lefty Ron Villone (1970), a New Jersey boy who was acquired in a trade with the Marlins as 2005 came to a close, is the newest member of the Yankee birthday club this day. Ron was rarely used in early 2006, came on strong as the season heated up, but struggled after long innings the last few months. He went 3-3 in 80 innings over 70 games, then threw in another 37 in 2007 to no record after starting the year waiting for a spot on the Bronx 25-man roster from AAA Scranton.
  • A second round pick in the 2004 amateur draft by the Rays, Reid Brignac (1986) mostly played shortstop in Tampa Bay from 2008 through 2012, after which he was sent to the Rockies. That is where the injury-depleted Yankees found him, and purchased his contract, in May 2013. Largely a defensive replacement, he had 44 at bats in 17 games before being released in June. One of Reid’s five hits in New York went for two bases, and he scored one run. Reid has played single seasons in a similar role with Philadelphia, Miami, and Atlanta, respectively, since, and through 2016, has accumulated 12 home runs and 84 rbi’s.
  • Zelous Wheeler (1987) was not the first player to get attention after playing well in the Caribbean Series in February, and his good play got him rolling into the 2014 season just when the Yanks desperately needed quality reinforcements from the farm. Starting strong with a home run in his first big league game, Wheeler filled in at third and all around the outfield, but the better pitching eventually caught up to him. He was released in November after having hit two long balls and driven in five runs in 29 games.
  • The other January 16 birthdays are led off by two Hall of Famers: third baseman Jimmie Collins (1870), who accumulated 65 career homers, 983 rbi’s, and 194 stolen bases while playing mostly in Boston for both the Braves and the Red Sox from 1895-1908; and legendary starting pitcher Dizzy Dean (1910). Dean went 150-83 for the Cardinals and the Cubs, and formed one of the best brother tandems in baseball history with fellow pitcher Paul Dean. Others: Ferdie Schuup (1891), who went 61-39 mostly for the Giants from 1912-1922; Lee Gardner (1975) Alfredo Amezaga (1978); Jack Cust (1979), a power hitter for the Orioles with a lot of potential who unfortunately is most remembered (here) from 2003 for being tagged out after falling on the way to almost scoring the tying run in a wild extra-inning game vs. the Yanks in Camden Yards; Brooks Conrad (1980); and finally, long-time star for the St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols (1980), who jumped leagues and signed with Anaheim in 2013. And more recent additions: Mitch Stettner (1981); Matt Maloney (1984); Junior Guerra (1985); Jeff Manship (1985); Mark Trumbo (1986); Warwick Saupold (1990); Daniel Ponce de Leon (1992); Austin Allen (1994); Garrett Hill (1996); Brendan Donovan (1997); and Andres Munoz (1999).