Saturday will be August 31st. To most of us, that means the start of the Labor Day weekend and the symbolic end of summer, but for Brian Cashman, it's the deadline for acquiring players eligible for post-season play. If he has any trades or waiver pick-ups up his sleeve, he had better get going before midnight. Even though the Yankees are 7½ games behind Boston and 4½ games behind in the wild-card race, Cashman must be careful not to make the mistake Ralph Houk made 49 years ago.
All players on a team's 25-man roster as of midnight on August 31st are eligible for post-season play. However, if a team acquires a player from another organization after that deadline, he is not eligible for post-season play.
In 1964, these rules bit Yankee GM Ralph Houk and the Yankees in the butt: Houk waited until after September 1st to obtain a pitcher who could have made a difference in the World Series. If this had happened after the advent of sports-talk radio and the 24-hour news cycle, Houk would have been ridden out of town on a rail. Instead, he lasted for another year and a half as GM before returning to the field as Yankee manager for another eight years.
The story of 1964 is an inspiring one and gives hope to Yankee fans this year. In August, they sat in third place, 5½ games behind the Orioles and White Sox. They went on an insane hot streak and finished the season on a 19-3 run. They ended up one game ahead of the White Sox and two games ahead of Baltimore but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in a seven-game World Series.
On September 5th, Houk obtained hard-throwing relief pitcher Pedro Ramos from Cleveland. Houk was a rookie GM. Either he didn't know about the eligibility deadline or had thrown in the towel and was looking ahead to 1965. It was a costly mistake.
Ramos was reinvigorated in the Bronx. He appeared in 13 games in September and went 1-0 with a 1.25 ERA and a 0.600 WHIP. In his 21.2 innings pitched, he struck out 21, walked no one and saved eight games. Hitters just couldn't figure out what he called his Cuban palm ball (and what batters called a spitball). He had a certain flair. On October 3rd, he finished the pennant clincher against Cleveland, his old team. When the last out was made, he turned to the Cleveland dugout and flipped off Birdie Tebbets, his former manager. The bird to Birdie, I guess.
Because Houk had acquired Ramos after the eligibility deadline, he couldn't pitch in the World Series. During the Series' home games, Ramos would pitch batting practice at the Stadium and then go back to his hotel room to watch the games on TV. He couldn't bear to travel with the team to St. Louis only to sit on the sidelines. It was his only shot at the World Series in a 15-year career.
Houk's mistake probably cost the Yankees the World Series. Fans of a certain age are still angry over Tim McCarver's three-run shot off reliever Pete Mikkelsen in the 10th inning of Game 5 and feel that if Ramos had been in there, the Yankees would have won that game and the Series.