Recalling some MLB debuts of Yankees past and present

CoJo was six when his team's captain debuted. Ouch. - Jason Miller

Given the considerable number of rookies this year already to make both their MLB debut and Yankee debut, how did some other famous Yankees fare in such circumstances?

The rash of Yankees injuries this season has led to the Rise of the Rookie. Five Yankees have made their major-league debut this season already; two of them came in the same game on Wednesday night in David Adams and Brett Marshall. This year has probably witnessed the most Yankee MLB debuts by May since the Conditioning Crisis of 2007 led to a flurry of rookie starting pitchers, most notably Phil Hughes. Most of these debuts are unremarkable; not everyone can be like Marcus Thames and slam the first pitch seen for a dinger off Randy Johnson in his prime.

Take a stroll down memory lane and recall some other MLB debuts of Yankees past and present:

Lou Gehrig

June 15, 1923 vs. St. Louis Browns, Yankee Stadium
0-for-0 (1B)

The man who would one day become arguably the greatest first baseman in major-league history and set incredible records began his career about as inauspiciously as possible. He entered as a late-game replacement at first base for Wally Pipp, recorded one putout, and did not have an at-bat. Gehrig's first at-bat came three days later, a pinch-hit strikeout against the Tigers' Ken Holloway, but his first hit came almost a month later, a pinch-hit single against the Browns' Elam Vangilder (?!). (Debut box score)

Bill Dickey

August 15, 1928 vs. Chicago White Sox, Yankee Stadium
0-for-2, K (C)

The Yankees were 40 games over .500 when Dickey made his debut behind the plate, taking some innings mid-game from starter Benny Bengough. (A moment to recognize how ridiculous it was that the Yankees were 40 games over .500 in mid-August.) Like Gehrig, Dickey's debut was quiet, and he wouldn't get his first hit for awhile--a double against the Tigers' Vic Sorrell ten days later. (Debut box score)

Lefty Gomez

April 29, 1930 at Washington Senators, Griffith Stadium
4 IP, L, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB (RP)

Debuting in a #22 uniform rather than his familiar #11, Gomez relieved both starter Tom Zachary and reliever Roy Sherid, neither of whom could get an out in a seven-run third inning. That inning came after the Yankees had staked Zachary to a 7-0 lead. Yikes. Gomez ended up taking the loss since he gave up the go-ahead run a couple innings later, but at least he wasn't mentioned in the papers. "Goofy" didn't even get his first career strikeout in this game; that would wait until his far more successful second effort, a five-hit victory against the White Sox. (Debut box score)

Joe DiMaggio

May 3, 1936 vs. St. Louis Browns, Yankee Stadium
3-for-6, 3B, 3 R, RBI, 5 TB (CF)

DiMaggio would have been a legendary prospect had he been around when MLB implemented the draft. He had a 61-game hitting streak in the then-independent Pacific Coast League with the San Francisco Seals as an 18-year-old and became one of the most sought-out young players within a few years. The Yankees ended up being the ones to successfully wrangle him away, and a year after signing him (the Seals stipulated that he play the '35 season with them), he made his long-awaited debut. Donning #6, DiMag did not disappoint, as he tied a Yankee record set by Myril Hoag in '31 for most total bases in a Yankee MLB debut with five. Not many players have ever had the hype that Joe D did upon his entrance into the league, and not many players lived up to it with such aplomb. It was the beginning of arguably the greatest rookie season by a Yankee in history: .323/.352/.576 with 206 hits, 132 runs, 44 doubles, an AL-best 15 triples, 29 homers, a 128 OPS+, and a six-game World Series victory over the Giants in which he hit .346/.370/.462. They didn't call him "Joltin' Joe" for nothing. (Debut box score)

Yogi Berra

September 22, 1946 (1) vs. Philadelphia Athletics, Yankee Stadium
2-for-4, HR, R 2 RBI, 5 TB (C)

The Cardinals liked Berra's best friend Joe Garagiola more than Yogi. The story goes that GM Branch Rickey actually liked Berra more but wanted to save him for when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, a development that was already in progress. By the time Rickey joined Brooklyn though, it was too late; Berra was a Yankee. After the war and some time with the Triple-A Newark Bears, "Larry" Berra donned #38 and made his unsung debut in the first game of a doubleheader near the end of the '46 season, a rare pennant-less season for the DiMaggio-era Yankees. Berra tied DiMaggio and Hoag's record for total bases in a debut thanks to a homer off Jesse Flores. Here's more on Berra's debut from the Yogi Berra Museum's director, Dave Kaplan, who offered more information about Berra's first game and answered an e-mail clarifying some conflicting reports I read about whether or not the blast came in Berra's first at-bat:

Yogi hit a homer in his first game, but not his first at-bat. Yogi's home run came in the fourth inning... Spud Chandler pitched for the Yankees and basically told Yogi put down anything he wants, he had the book on the hitters and would shake him off until he got the right pitch. Interestingly, the home plate umpire for Yogi's first game was Bill Summers (the same ump who, Yogi contends, missed the call on Jackie Robinson's steal of home nine years later in the World Series!)

Little did the Yankees know that over the next 17 years, this funny-looking catcher would become the greatest in their long history. (Debut box score)

Whitey Ford

July 1, 1950 at Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park
4.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 6 BB, 3 K (RP)

"Eddie" Ford's debut was about as ugly as they come--he entered in relief of the wild Tommy Byrne, and the Red Sox pounded him in a 13-4 blowout. #18 struck out Boston's amusingly-named catcher Matt Batts for his first career K, but it was all a mess aside from that for the southpaw, who did not display much better control than Byrne. It was not until August that Ford began to make a name for himself, as his 2.81 ERA from that season suggests; in the season's last two months, that ERA was a minuscule 1.87. July was a different tale, but it all worked out in the end. So if a Yankee starter ever struggles in his first month, just remember that their franchise-best starter did the exact same thing. (Debut box score)

Mickey Mantle

April 17, 1951 vs. Boston Red Sox, Yankee Stadium
1-for-4, R, RBI (RF)

After a stellar Spring Training in Arizona, Casey Stengel brought his 19-year-old phenom to the Bronx for Opening Day and batted him third in the lineup, ahead of DiMaggio and Berra. No pressure, right? Like DiMaggio, Mantle also wore #6 in his debut before changing to a more familiar number later on. Mantle was retired in his first two plate appearances by Boston's Bill Wight, but in the seventh, he came up with future Boston slugger Jackie Jensen on second base in a 2-0 game. Mantle lined a base hit to left field off Wight for his first hit and RBI, then came around to score two batters later on Berra's single to center. Everyone who had not seen him play before had their jaws agape as the fleet-footed Mantle scampered around the bases faster than anyone since Ty Cobb. The Yankees won 5-0 and a superstar's career was born. Mantle would play more games in pinstripes than anyone in team history until some punk shortstop came along in the '90s. (Debut box score)

Elston Howard

April 14, 1955 at Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park
1-for-1, RBI (LF)

The Yankees' color barrier lasted an embarrassingly long amount of time, but it finally came to a close when the 26-year-old Howard made his debut in the sixth inning of this game in left field as a replacement for Irv Noren. He was more well known for catching, but in his early days, he often played the outfield with the three-time MVP Berra entrenched behind the plate. Howard got an at-bat against Boston starter Willard Nixon with Mantle on second and Moose Skowron on first in the eighth inning, and Howard came through with his first career hit, an RBI single to center. (Debut box score)

Thurman Munson

August 8, 1969 vs. Oakland Athletics, Yankee Stadium
2-for-3, BB, R, 2 RBI (C)

The #4 overall pick of the '68 MLB Draft out of Kent State University stormed through the minors and made his Yankee debut a little more than a season after his selection. He would become AL Rookie of the Year in his first full season on 1970, and he flashed signs of future excellence in his MLB debut. Facing All-Star and future teammate Catfish Hunter, he was not intimidated; he walked in his first at-bat, and he notched his first hit in the seventh inning on a single to left field. He later came around to score on the hit, which was part of a three-run rally to break a scoreless tie between Hunter and Yankees starter Al Downing. An inning later, he knocked in the first two runs of his career on a single to right field against reliever and future manager Marcel Lachemann, scoring Jimmie Hall and Bobby Murcer to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead. He never wore a number for the Yankees other than the #15 he wore that day, and no one has worn it since. The '70s captain will always be missed. (Debut box score)

Don Mattingly

September 8, 1982 vs. Baltimore Orioles, Yankee Stadium
0-for-0 (LF)

The '82 season was a weird one for the Yankees, even by '80s standards. Billy Martin wasn't even one of three different managers that owner George Steinbrenner deployed in this under-.500 season following a World Series berth in '81 (Bob Lemon, Stick Michael, and Clyde King). The Yankees did catch a glimpse of their future at season's end when a former 19th round pick made his debut in left field wearing #46. He did not get an at-bat in this game against the contending Orioles, but there he was--the future captain of the Yankees, Don Mattingly. Although he played sparingly, he did get his first hit of his career (a single) a couple weeks later against Boston reliever Steve Crawford on October 1, 1982. It would be the first of 2,153 career hits in 14 seasons for "Donnie Baseball." (Debut box score)

Bernie Williams

July 7, 1991 vs. Baltimore Orioles, Yankee Stadium
1-for-3, SF, 2 RBI (CF)

Amid a disastrous 91-loss season skippered by the hapless Stump Merrill, a Coke-bottle-glasses-donning skinny kid name Bernie Williams made his major-league debut. Baltimore's Jeff Ballard retired him on a grounder to third in his first at-bat, but he brought Jesse Barfield home with a sacrifice fly in his next time up. Bernie came up again in the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees an out away from a 5-2 loss. Runners were on first and third though, and Bernie grounded a base hit through the right side against closer Gregg Olson for his first career hit and RBI, as Kevin Maas scored. Pat Kelly flew out to end the game immediately afterwards, but Bernie was on the board. (Debut box score)

Andy Pettitte

April 29, 1995 at Kansas City Royals, Kauffman Stadium
0.2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, K, WP (RP)

When a player is drafted in the 22nd round of the MLB Draft, chances of making the big leagues some day are usually slim. Not only did Pettitte defy the odds to reach the majors, but he became one of the finest southpaws the Yankees have ever employed. He likely would not have cracked the Opening Day roster in '95 had the Yankees not been beset by injuries, and he was a reliever for the first several games of his career. Pettitte's debut relieving Melido Perez in the seventh inning of a game in Kansas City was ugly, but he did have a four-run lead. He whiffed pinch-hitter Joe Vitello for his first career strikeout, and that was about the only good thing to come from the outing. Pettitte also gave up two singles and a double, forcing Bob Wickman to come in to retire Felix Jose on a flyball to clean up his mess. A month and a half later, Pettitte entered the rotation, where he proved to be far more valuable. (Debut box score)

Mariano Rivera

May 23, 1995 at California Angels, Anaheim Stadium
3.1 IP, L, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, HR (SP)

Trivia! When they first began their professional careers, Rivera was in the rotation and Pettitte was in the bullpen. Rivera made his first career start before Pettitte, but it was an utter disaster. The Yankees were shut out on two hits by Chuck Finley anyway, but the Halos blasted the rookie from Panama anyway. It started out so well, as Rivera got both Tony Phillips and Jim Edmonds to strike out to begin his career. Then, the hits started coming, capped by an Edmonds three-run bomb off him with one out in the fourth inning. Rivera walked Tim Salmon, and Buck Showalter walked out to the mound to take him out with the Yankees in a 5-0 deficit. The bullpen wasn't any better, and Rivera ended up losing 10-0. Remember this though--Rivera's debut came before he suddenly gained an extra couple miles per hour on his fastball. That helped him fix his rookie season come playoff time. (Debut box score)

Derek Jeter

May 29, 1995 at Seattle Mariners, Kingdome
0-for-5, K (SS)

Remember that 91-loss season in '91? Those were the best 91 losses the Yankees ever suffered because they were rewarded with the sixth overall pick in the '92 Draft; they chose a shortstop out of Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan. Derek Jeter became the Minor League Player of the Year in '94, and with starter Tony Fernandez injured, he was summoned for his big-league debut in June of the following season in a building that no longer exists. It was not a good game for the 20-year-old, who was kept off base by a combination of five Seattle pitchers. His first hit came the next day, a single against Tim Belcher. He might have had a few since then. (Debut box score)

Jorge Posada

September 4, 1995 vs. Seattle Mariners, Yankee Stadium
0-for-0 (C)

An even more unlikely long shot than Mattingly and Pettitte, this 24th-round draft pick made his debut as many catchers do--as a third-string September call-up wearing a very high number (#62). He caught the final inning of a 13-3 Yankees blowout win over the Mariners as reliever Joe Ausanio threw a scoreless ninth. Aside from a pinch-running cameo in the 15-inning ALDS Game 2 (yes, pinch-running; you read that correctly), it was the only time Posada appeared in a game for the Yanks in '95. It would be more than a year until he got his first hit, a single off the Brewers' Scott Karl on September 25, 1996. Posada struggled for playing time for his first few seasons, but once the year 2000 came around, he hit his stride as an All-Star catcher. (Debut box score)

Robinson Cano

May 3, 2005 at Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Tropicana Field
0-for-3, K

Tony Womack was a terrible second baseman for the Yankees in April 2005, so seeking a shakeup, the Yankees recalled Cano from Triple-A Columbus since he was hitting the tar out of the ball. He did not display that form in his debut wearing #14, an otherwise-forgettable 11-4 loss to the Devil Rays ('05 was the year that the Yankees lost an embarrassing amount of games to that last place-club, playing under .500 against them). Cano's first hit came the next day on a single to right field against Hideo Nomo, who I guess was on the Devil Rays at the time. Weird. May we one day reflect on Cano's debut the same way we do with Jeter's--in gratitude that the ugly stadium is no longer there. (Debut box score)

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