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Three ill-fitting endings to legendary Yankee careers

These three Yankees got close to the opposite of the Jeter ending.

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Not everyone can have the Derek Jeter ending.

Yes, Jeter’s final game was technically at Fenway Park on September 28, 2014. However, no one is going to remember that years from now. What people will remember is Jeter’s walk-off hit against the Orioles three days earlier.

The vast majority of people don’t get that ending. A lot of legends and Hall of Famers don’t even get a moment along those lines. Babe Ruth is the greatest player in Yankees’ history, and his final game was in May, while a member of neither of the teams he is famous for playing for.

Many notable Yankees have not gotten the storybook ending. Here are three Yankee greats whose careers ended in an ill-fitting manner.

Phil Rizzuto’s playing time had already become sparse in August 1956. He played in just eight games in all of July, and had appeared in just one for the month going into the August 16th game against the Red Sox.

With the Yankees down 2-0 against Boston that day, pitcher Don Larsen reached on an error to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth. Rizzuto was sent in as a pinch-runner, which makes sense given that he was known as “Scooter.”

However, think about that. While his bat wasn’t the best part of Rizzuto’s game, he was a former MVP. Yet, he wasn’t sent up as a pinch-hitter for the pitcher’s spot. Larsen was allowed to bat with the potential tying run on base, and only after he reached did Rizzuto come into the game. It was the correct decision too. Up to that point of the season Larsen, the pitcher, had an OPS nearly 150 points higher than Rizzuto.

Two batters later, Rizzuto was out at second on a force play on a grounder, and the Yankees lost 2-1. Nine days after that game, the Yankees released their legendary shortstop. Luckily, he ended up becoming a beloved broadcaster for the team, which at least would have taken some of the sting on missing out on an eighth World Series win.

Earle Combs is not one of the most famous Yankees from the first dynasty era, but he was quite a good one. From basically the first game he showed up, he was a well above-average hitter. He has the fifth highest Baseball Reference WAR of any Yankee position player whose number isn’t retired.

In 1935, Combs’ OPS was under .800 for just the second time in his career, and the first time since 1926, his third season in the majors. With the season coming to a close, his playing time started to dry up. Combs and Jesse Hill had spent most of the season splitting time in left field, but starting around late August, Hill took over. He had fractured his skull crashing into the wall during the previous season, and it appeared the injury was starting to catch up with him.

Late in a game on September 29, 1935 with the Yankees losing, catcher Bill Dickey was sent up as a pinch hitter for pitcher Jumbo Brown. Dickey drew a walk, and then Combs was sent in as a pinch runner. Exact play-by-play results for this game are unavailable, but he did not score, and the Yankees lost by one.

While it’s not as sad as Rizzuto not getting to hit for a pitcher, being relegated to a pinch runner for a pinch hitter is also fairly undignified.

Whitey Ford was already coming towards the end of his career in 1967. He had gone to spring training as just a non-roster invite, coming off a season where he threw just 73 innings. He played his way onto the team in spring, and then got off to a good start to the season.

On May 12th, he lasted just three innings despite allowing one run, almost assuredly due to elbow pain. His next appearance didn’t come until nine days later.

Ford got the start on May 21st against the Tigers. He allowed a lead-off double, and two batters later, the runner scored on a sac fly. He got out of the inning with just one run surrendered, but did not come back out for the second inning. Jim Bouton would take over and that would be it for Ford’s career.

Unlike the other two, the end of Ford’s career seemed far more due to injury than a decline in play. Combs may have dealt with an injury, but Ford’s injury is seemingly way more of a straight line to the end. Even after allowing the one run in his lone inning against the Tigers, his ERA was still sitting below two.

Nine days later, Ford announced his retirement. Bone spurs and elbow pain got the best of him. After basically averaging 6.1 innings pitched per game, Ford went out by throwing just one.

With CC Sabathia announcing that he will be retiring after the season, I think we all hope the very end of his career goes far more like Jeter than any of the three mentioned here.


All data and game stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.