January 20 in Yankee History

  • The Yankees picked up a valuable player at a key time when they traded outfielders Elliott Maddox and Rick Bladt to Baltimore for center fielder Paul Blair on January 20, 1977. Effective in center after replacing Bobby Murcer until he tore his knee up in Shea Stadium’s outfield, Maddox hit four homers with 71 rbi’s, and 15 stolen bases in New York from 1974-1976; Bladt had hit one tater with 11 rbi’s and six stolen bases in spot duty with the Yanks in 1975. The latter never played in the bigs again, and Maddox only hit two homers with nine rbi’s and two stolen bases in 49 games for the O’s in 1977. Not a lot of production for Blair to replace. A smooth fielder who could track a long fly with the best of them, Paul had been judged to be on the downside after having had trouble overcoming an ugly beaning with the O’s, but his timely offense was huge for two Yankee World Series-winning teams. He hit six homers with 38 rbi’s and four stolen bases in ’77-’78 (plus two games in ’79, and 12 in a brief ’80 return), but he added six postseason hits in 23 at bats as the Yanks won the ALCS and World Series two years running. And the Blair file holds one more surprise. He was initially drafted by the New York Mets (in 1962) before the Orioles drafted him from New York’s NL representative that same year.
  • Despite 30 homers and 919 rbi’s for the Indians from 1920-1930, Cleveland released shortstop Joe Sewell after that latter season. But the Yankees picked him up and inked him to a deal on January 20, 1931. He rewarded them with three productive seasons. Joe contributed 19 home runs, 136 rbi’s, and three stolen bases in the Bronx until he retired after the 1933 season.
  • On January 20, 2015, the Yankee career of righthander Gonzalez Germen came to an end after one month and one day, as the team traded him to Texas for cash, after they had purchased him with cash from the Mets 32 days earlier.
  • On January 20, 2013, the Yankees signed free agent righthander Kelvin Castro.
  • In January 20 news that affected former or future Yankee players, Roger Clemens was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer during a disturbance at a Houston night spot in 1991. And outfielder (and briefly, pitcher) Rocky Colavito (to Cleveland), lefty Tommy John (to the White Sox) and pitcher Fred Talbot (to K.C.) figured in a three-team trade that took place in 1965. Other players and their destination ballclubs in this swap included outfielders Jim Landis and Mike Hershberger (to K.C.), catcher Johnny Romano and outfielder Tommy Agee (to the White Sox), and catcher Cam Carreon (to Cleveland).
  • January 20 transactions of players once in the Yankee fold also include Lee Smith signing a minor-league contract with the K.C. Royals, and accepting a non-roster invitee bid with the club on January 29, 1998. The rapidly disbanding Federal League was the background of two other one-time Yankee players moving on January 20, with the Giants purchasing the contracts of future Hall of Famer Bill McKechnie from the Newark Pepper and that of Federal League star Benny Kauff from the Brooklyn Tip-Tops in 1916.
  • Player/manager Lou Boudreau was elected to the Hall of Fame on January 20, 1970. And the “Splendid Splinter,” Ted Williams, was the sole honoree into the Hall on the same day in 1966.
  • The New York sports world, the New York Mets, and Tom Seaver were all stunned on January 20, 1984, when the White Sox drafted the Hall of Fame righthander from New York as compensation after they had lost free agent Dennis Lamp to the Blue Jays. Seaver and New York were dismayed that the Mets had chosen not to protect him; while the Mets couldn’t believe the White Sox took him after his 9-14, 1983 season.
  • It is as a bitter Yankee fan that I report that the Brewers signed former Oriole Ben McDonald to a two-year free-agent deal on January 20, 1996. Let the Buyer Beware when dealing with the Brewers. They would trade Ben as damaged goods to Cleveland the following December, less than a year after they shipped a broken-footed (and never-to-play-again) Pat Listach to the Yankees in 1996 for Gerald Williams.

Players Who Have Died This Day

  • The only Yankee player to have died on January 20 is lefthanded outfielder Jack Lelivelt (1941), who garnered most of his two homers with 126 rbi’s with Cleveland and Washington from 1909-1914, but both of the home runs and 27 of the rbi’s were delivered as a Highlander/Yankee in 1912-1913.
  • January 20 has been a sad day for the baseball family. On this day in 1997, disgruntled former St. Louis outfielder Curt Flood passed away, exactly 50 years after legendary power hitter from the Negro Leagues Josh Gibson died at 35 as a victim of a brain tumor on January 20, 1947. Gibson’s records are sadly not available; Flood hit 85 home runs and drove in 636 playing from 1956-1971. In addition, there are two righthanded pitchers of note, a lefty, and two lefty-hitting outfielders, and a catcher among nonYankee players to die this day. Ron Herbel (2000) posted his 42-37-16 record mostly with the Giants from 1963-1971; Vern Ruhle (2007) won 67, lost 88, and saved 11 games mostly with the 1974-1977 Pirates and the 1978-1984 Astros; and southpaw Nick Altrock (1965) went 83-75-7 mostly with the White Sox, the Senators, and the Americans from 1898-1919 and in 1924. Emmet Heidrick (1916) hit 16 homers and knocked in 342 runs from 1898-1904 with the Browns and the Cardinals; and Ollie Pickering (1952) cleared nine fences good for 286 rbi’s from 1896-1908 with the Colonels, the Blues, and the A’s.  Speaking of the A’s, catcher Sal Bando (2023) spent 1966-1967 with that team in Kansas City and 1968-1976 with them in Oakland. He closed out his 2,019-game career with the 1977-1981 Brewers, collecting 242 home runs with 1,039 rbi’s overall.

Players Born This Day

  • There are five Yankee January 20 player birthdays, and a couple of other guys born that day with ties to the organization. Kevin Maas (1965) was all the sensation for the Yankees in the early nineties, and the lefty-hitting first baseman smacked 64 homers, knocked in 164 runs and stole 10 bases from 1990-1993 in the Bronx. He finished his career in 1995 with the Minnesota Twins. Maas was a Yankee amateur free agent selection in June 1986, and the club released him in March 1994.
  • Outfielder Jesse Hill (1907) hit four taters as he debuted with the 1935 Bombers, kicking in 33 rbi’s and 14 stolen bases too, before playing in Washington in 1936 and 1937, and Philly (with the A’s) in 1937 too. The Yanks traded Hill in January 1936 with Jimmie DeShong to the Washington Senators for Bump Hadley and Roy Johnson.
  • Lefty-hitting third baseman Ernie Courtney (1875) actually accompanied the defunct and almost playerless Baltimore Orioles franchise as it was moved to New York in 1903. He played one game in Baltimore in 1902, and hit one homer with eight rbi’s and one stolen base in 25 games with the Highlanders in New York in 1903. Courtney had played in Boston in 1902 before Baltimore, and completed his 1903 season with the Tigers in Detroit, finishing things off with the 1905-1908 Phillies. The Yanks traded Courtney with Herman Long to the Tigers for Kid Elberfeld in June 1903.
  • Frank Makosky‘s (1910) only big-league service was in 26 games (one start) with the 1937 Yanks; he went 5-2 with three saves. Finally, lefty-hitting catcher Jesse Gonder (1936) started in 22 games for the 1960-1961 Yanks with one homer and six rbi’s and then played parts of two years with the Reds, the Mets, and the Pirates, and one year with the Milwaukee Braves. Jesse was traded to the Reds for Marshall Bridges after the ’61 season.
  • Also worthy of Yankee mention, though, is Ramon Manon (1968), a Yankee free agent grabbed by Texas in the 1989 rule-V draft; he pitched one game in Arlington in 1990 before he was returned to the Yanks. Also, Franklyn German (1980), most famous to Yankee fans for being part of the three-way trade that sent Jeff Weaver to the Bronx, Ted Lilly to Oakland, and Carlos Pena and Jeremy Bonderman to Detroit in 2002. Finally, we have outfielder John Rodriguez, a Yankee 1996 free agent signing. He re-signed with the club in early 2004, signed with Cleveland later in 2004, and was subsequently traded to St. Louis where he hit seven home runs with 43 rbi’s in 2005 and 2006.
  • Other birthdays: Joe Dobson (1917), 137-103 from 1939-1954, mostly with the Red Sox; Camilo Pascual (1934), 174-170, predominantly with Washington and Minnesota, from 1954-1971, who was a favored home run victim of Mickey Mantle; Dave Boswell (1945); Cecil Espy (1963); Ozzie Guillen (1964); Brad Brink (1965); Marvin Benard (1970); lefthander Matt Beech (1972), 8-22 with Philly from 1996-1998, and a nonroster invitee to Yankee camp in the spring in 2003; Julio Santana (1973); David Eckstein (1975); Freddy Guzman (1981); John Baker (1981); Geovany Soto (1983); Matt Albers (1983); Luis Perez (1985); Fabio Castro (1985); David Lough (1986); Luis Exposito (1987); Travis Taijeron (1989); Ricardo Pinto (1994); and Ali Sanchez (1997).