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This Day in Yankees History: George Steinbrenner makes another terrible trade

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Thanks to Big Stein’s terrible judgment, Doug Drabek was yet another “one who got away.”

Pirates pitcher Doug Drabek Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Welcome to This Day in Yankees History. The 2020 baseball season has come to an end, so let’s dig into the history books. These daily posts will highlight two or three key moments in Yankees history on a given date, as well as recognize players born on the day. Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with us!

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This Day in Yankees History (November 24)

48 Years Ago

Following another so-so season in the CBS ownership era, the Yankees make a trade with the A’s to acquire two-time All-Star outfielder Matty Alou in exchange for lefty Rob Gardner and a player to be named later. It didn’t lead the team to much glory in 1973, so why is the trade notable? It united Alou in pinstripes with his brother, future manager Felipe Alou, who manned first for the Yanks at that time. The two Alous played together for most of the season before departing for separate teams in September.

Amusingly enough, the Yankees originally acquired Felipe from the same team, the A’s, in exchange for ... Gardner, who they reacquired only to deal him back to Oakland for another Alou. Regrettably, the club never got around to nabbing the third active Alou brother, Jesús. Perhaps it’s because Gardner’s career ended in ‘73. so the Yankees couldn’t pull off a third Alou switcheroo without him.

34 Years Ago

The Yankees trade for 1986 All-Star Rick Rhoden, fresh off a career year with the Pirates, while also adding relievers Cecilio Guante and Pat Clements in the deal. Good news, right? Well, former owner George Steinbrenner had a bad habit for growing impatient with young prospects and forcing whoever happened to be GM at the time to trade them for more well-known commodities.

In this case, the player the Yankees gave up on was future NL Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek. Gifted to the Yankees from the White Sox in August 1984 for infielder Roy Smalley, the young righty showed promise with a 2.99 ERA in 192 23 innings for Albany-Colonie in ‘85 before posting a solid-if-not-spectacular rookie year at age 23 for the Yankees in ‘86, notching 1.6 WAR and an average 100 ERA+ in 131 23 innings. One can understand the temptation to add pitching, but Rhoden was 33 and didn’t exactly look sharp the season before his All-Star ‘86.

After leaving New York, Drabek built himself into the ace of the early ‘90s Pirates teams that won three consecutive NL East titles, nabbing Cy Young honors in 1990 and nearly pitching the hard-luck Bucs to the pennant on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, Rhoden was fine for the Yankees in ‘87, but was gone after a mediocre ‘88. Guante and Clements never amounted to much, either, save for a strong first half out of the bullpen for Guante in ‘88. While Drabek excelled in Pittsburgh in the early ‘90s, the Yankees skulked in the AL East basement.

Never let George Steinbrenner near your prospects, folks.

5 Years Ago

A shorter note, but one that I clearly remember: President Barack Obama awards Yogi Berra a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom for his countless contributions as a player, manager, and folk hero to American society, and for his military service in World War II. Sadly, Yogi was not around by this point to accept his medal alongside fellow baseball honoree Willie Mays. The legendary Yankee had passed away in September, so his son, Larry, accepted in his stead.

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Happy birthday wishes go out to former Yankees utility man and Action Bronson favorite Randy Velarde, who turns 58 today. Velarde first came up with the late-’80s Yankees and became a fan favorite for his flexibility all around the diamond. By ‘92, he’d turned himself into a fine hitter as well, and over the following four seasons, he hit .280/.351/.414 with 72 doubles for Buck Showalter’s rebuilding Yankees teams.

In fact, Velarde was a couple outs away from becoming a celebrated postseason hero in pinstripes, as his 11th-inning hit off the seemingly-unhittable Randy Johnson gave the Yankees a one-run lead in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS. Alas, Edgar Martinez had different plans.

Like Don Mattingly, Velarde was one of a few Yankees who bid adieu to the pinstripes at the wrong moment, as by the time the ‘96 Yankees were dogpiling on the mound at Yankee Stadium to celebrate their World Series title, Velarde had long since left via free agency for the Angels. To add insult to injury, Velarde did briefly return to the Yankees as an August pickup in 2001, and that ended in playoff heartbreak, too. Tough draw.

Oh, and also happy 34th birthday to 2014 Yankees legend Dean Anna. We celebrate you, raccoon.

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We thank Baseball Reference, Nationalpastime.com, and FanGraphs for providing background information for these posts.