Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. With the offseason well underway, the Pinstripe Alley team is continuing this revived program. 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 21)
25 Years Ago
Just as they do now, the Yankees faced serious questions about their starting rotation after the 1995 season. They had made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, but their top two starters were both headed to free agency. New GM Bob Watson decided to let Jack McDowell go, but he was able to re-sign the ace who they acquired midseason in ‘95: David Cone. Watson, Cone, and George Steinbrenner came to terms on a three-year, $19.5 million contract on December 21, 1995. Cone nearly signed with the Orioles, but the Yankees were able to keep their division rival from snatching Cone away.
It was an easy and popular move to bring Cone back, who had become a beloved leader in the clubhouse in a hurry. These bonds only strengthened when he missed most of 1996 battling a shoulder aneurysm, only to come back strong in September and deal when the Yankees needed him most. They were trailing the heavily favored Braves in the World Series, 2-0, having lost both of the opening games at Yankee Stadium. On the road at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Cone silenced the Braves’ bats.
The Yankees wouldn’t need Cone again in the series, as they won that start and the next three games in a row to secure their 23rd World Series title. “Coney” would of course remain in pinstripes for the duration of the dynasty, winning rings in ‘98, ‘99, and 2000, while mixing in a perfect game along the way. That’ll play.
13 Years Ago
Veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins celebrated his 35th birthday by signing a one-year deal worth $3.75 million. After a superb 2007 that saw him help the Rockies stun baseball by making it the World Series, Hawkins was expected to play a pivotal role in the Yankees’ bullpen in 2008.
Unfortunately, the union was a disaster. Hawkins pitched poorly and he drew the ire of Yankees fans by deigning to request to wear No. 21, Paul O’Neill’s old number. Bench infielder Morgan Ensberg had done so in spring training but switched off after receiving similar complaints. Hawkins had nothing but good intentions to donning No. 21, as he wanted to honor Roberto Clemente since his primary number (No. 32) was already retired. Instead, he got mercilessly booed until he changed numbers (he was later traded to the Astros at the trade deadline). No one has worn No. 21 for the Yankees since then.
It was all very stupid and Hawkins didn’t deserve that shit for simply wanting to honor Clemente. If the Yankees are not going to actually retire No. 21 for O’Neill, then they really should just put it back into circulation and maybe give it to a somewhat-popular player or prospect so that fans might be less tempted to boo. They had the perfect chance to do this a couple years ago with Todd Frazier, but it didn’t happen. Oh well.
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Happy 73rd birthday to Elliott Maddox! A somewhat-forgotten figure from the Yankees teams of the ‘70s, Maddox grew up in New Jersey as a big fan of the team, and he got to realize his dream of playing for them when the Rangers sold him to New York in March 1974. A fine outfielder with great range, Maddox found that his fielding abilities came in handy at the larger Shea Stadium, where the Yankees played from 1974-75 while Yankee Stadium underwent renovations.
Manager Bill Virdon made a somewhat-controversial decision by tabbing Maddox to handle center field in place of fan favorite Bobby Murcer, but it was the right call. Maddox had a career year in ‘74, batting .303/.395/.386 with a 127 OPS+, 18 outfield assists (second in baseball), and a team-high 5.4 WAR. Although the Yankees would end the season two games behind the Orioles for the AL East crown, Maddox finished eighth in AL MVP voting.
Elliott Maddox follows through on a swing pic.twitter.com/2ubfyalslr— 70sYankees (@70sYankees) September 16, 2020
Maddox was smoothly rolling along again in ‘75 with a 121 OPS+ in 55 games before sustaining an awful injury that cut his Yankees career brutally short. Maddox tore cartilage in his right knee while chasing after a fly ball in the rain-soaked outfield on June 13th, and he wouldn’t play again until midyear of ‘76 (he later unsuccessfully sued the Yankees, Mets, and the City over the poor field conditions that led to his injury). He wasn’t the same, and was limited to just 18 games and limited at-bats during the team’s postseason run to the AL pennant.
Maddox was traded to the Orioles for Paul Blair after the ‘76 campaign, so he missed out on the championship teams. He closed out his career with three seasons on the Mets from 1977-80, though he never again reached the heights of that brilliant ‘74.
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We thank Baseball Reference and SABR for providing background information for these posts.