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This Day in Yankees History: New York makes memorable signing in Carl Pavano

What turned out to be one of the worst free agent contracts in franchise history originated on this day in 2004.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo By Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. With the offseason well underway, the Pinstripe Alley team has decided to continue the revived program in its new format. 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 (December 20)

47 Years Ago

The Yankees thought they had their manager for the 1974 season after agreeing to a three-year deal with future Hall of Famer Dick Williams on December 13th. But on this day in 1973, American League president Joe Cronin ruled that the Yankees would not be able to sign Williams after A’s owner Charlie Finley protested the signing since Williams was still under contract with Oakland for another season. After leading the A’s to championships in the past two seasons, Williams resigned immediately after that World Series and considered himself a free agent. Finley and Cronin disagreed, and Cronin ruled that the A’s would have to receive compensation from the Yanks. After Finley asked for two prospects, the Yankees moved on and named Bill Virdon as their next manager. So much for this photo:

Williams sat out the 1974 season until Finley agreed to let him sign on as manager of the California Angels. With Alvin Dark at the helm, the A’s ended up winning their third World Series in a row anyway. Virdon lasted only a season and a half in pinstripes before George Steinbrenner hired Billy Martin for the first time.

16 Years Ago

The Yankees were in need of starting pitching help after the 2004 season, which was quite apparent following a Game Seveb loss in the ALCS that saw an ailing Kevin Brown on the mound and a struggling Javier Vázquez in relief. So, the Yankees traded for a 41-year-old Randy Johnson, and on this day in 2004, they agreed to a four-year deal with Carl Pavano, signing the All-Star and 2003 World Series champion for just under $40 million.

Pavano, who had pitched over 220 innings in 2004 with the Marlins, was coming off back-to-back seasons of reaching the 200-inning plateau, and well, he didn’t quite get to that mark in his first year with the Yankees in 2005. Or 2006. Or 2007. You get the idea. Pavano immediately began dealing with injuries that never ceased throughout his Yankee tenure, pitching just 145 innings total in his four years in pinstripes. It’s not a tenure that Yankee fans look back on particularly fondly.

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One of the most influential figures in baseball history was born on this day in 1881, and has ties to the Yankee franchise. Branch Rickey played for the Highlanders during the 1907 season, but of course, he made his greatest impact on the sport from the front office, where he helped break baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He’s also largely credited with shaping the modern minor league system.

Another former Yankee who would be celebrating a birthday today is former fan favorite Oscar Gamble. The lefty outfielder spent seven seasons in pinstripes, helping the club win pennants in 1976 and 1981 while taking advantage of the Yankee Stadium short porch for 87 homers and a 141 OPS+. He narrowly missed out on being a part of the 1977-78 champions because he was traded to the White Sox as part of the trade for Bucky Dent. Gamble passed away too soon, as he died of cancer of the jaw at just 68 in 2018.

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We thank Baseball Reference and for providing background information for these posts.