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This Day in Yankees History: A longtime Yankee stalwart turns 77

In addition to a station change and a terrible signing, three solid Yankees celebrate birthdays.

Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees

Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. We may be well into hot stove season, but there’s still some time to 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 (December 27)

36 Years Ago

The Yankees signed Ed Whitson to a five-year, $4.4 million contract, coming off of a 14-8 season with the Padres that culminated in the franchise’s first World Series appearance. In 1984, Whitson’s annual salary of $880K nearly tripled that of the average American League salary: $329,408. However, Whitson was nowhere near worth that hefty price of admission.

Yogi Berra with Ed Whitson

The righty following his 3.24 ERA, 111 ERA+ season in ‘84 with a 4.88 ERA and 83 ERA+ for the ’85 Yanks. Almost everything was bad on the field, and it got even worse away from it when Whitson and manager Billy Martin (who had replaced Yogi Berra in late April) got into a fight at a hotel bar in Baltimore. Whitson broke Martin’s arm, and the skipper cracked his pitcher’s rib. Martin had led to his team to a surprising 97-win campaign that just fell short of a division title, but the fight was a big reason why he was let go after the season anyway.

Unfortunately, Whitson didn’t fare much better under Lou Piniella. Midway through a horrid 7.54 ERA campaign for the Yankees in ‘86, the team dealt him back to San Diego for reliever Tim Stoddard, and agreed to pay the remaining three and a half years on Whitson’s contract. In San Diego’s warmer weather, Whitson posted the two best seasons of his career in 1989 and 1990, the first of which was still on the Yankees’ dime. In 455 23 innings across those two years, Whitson recorded a 2.63 ERA (140 ERA+) and won 30 games. Whitson remained a Padre until he retired after his age 36 season in 1991, finishing out a 15-year big league career.

19 Years Ago

The brand-new YES Network, which owned the rights to both the television and radio broadcasts of Yankee games, agreed to a deal to move the radio broadcasts to 880 WCBS-AM, from 770 WABC-AM, where they’d been heard for the previous 21 years. The five-year deal netted $9.75 million annually for YES, and marked the station’s return to broadcasting Yankee games for the first time since it did so between 1961-66. Despite the change of stations, John Sterling stayed on as the team’s radio play-by-play man. Longtime SportsCenter anchor Charley Steiner was brought in to replace Kay for a couple seasons before WCBS added Suzyn Waldman as the full-time color analyst, forming the Yankees’ current radio duo (though the radio broadcast would move to 660 WFAN-AM in 2014.)

Beginning with the 2002 season, YES Network promoted Sterling’s former sidekick, Michael Kay, to the primary play-by-play role for the television broadcast, and downgraded Jim Kaat, Ken Singleton, and Bobby Murcer to his fill-ins or color commentators. That year, they also introduced popular dynasty veterans David Cone and Paul O’Neill to the TV booth; both them and Singleton continue to broadcast on YES with Kay today.

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Two-time All-Star and two-time World Series champ Roy White turns 77 years old today. Called up at age 21, White played all 15 of his major league seasons in left field for the Yanks, spending more time in left than any other player in Yankees history. With a keen eye, White’s career OBP of .360 and .764 OPS led to 12 above-average offensive seasons, and 46.8 career WAR — more than at least a score of Hall of Famers. He was twice an All-Star during his prime years and later played a pivotal role as a regular outfielder for the late-’70s Yankees, which won three pennants in a row and a pair of World Series titles.

South Carolinian, former Gamecock, and current Yankee, Jordan Montgomery turns 28 today. Following a second so-so season after a successful Tommy John surgery, Montgomery shone in last year’s playoffs. In his first and only playoff start, the lefty went four-strong in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Rays, allowing a single extra base hit which drove in the Rays’ lone run. He left the game with a Yankee lead, and the bullpen shut the door, giving the Yankees a chance to play in a winner-take-all fifth game. I’ll refrain from reminding anyone of what happened next.

Jim Leyritz turns 57 today, too. A catcher, corner-infielder and corner outfielder, Leyritz was a passable defender at seven positions and an average hitter. As an MLB utilityman, Leyritz enjoyed an 11-year career as a part-time starter, totaling 7.9 WAR. As a Yankee for his first seven years in the league, he played sparsely, backing up mostly solid squads. In 1996, his Yankees defeated the Braves for his first career World Series win, and was able to record three hits including a homer on 11 plate appearances (the blow that changed the course of the series in Game 4). In 1998, as a member of the Padres, Leyritz received another 11 trips to the plate in the Series against the Yankees, but failed to record a hit as the Yankees won in a sweep. The following season, the Padres traded Leyritz back to the Bombers, giving him a chance to win his second World Series title, again against the Braves.

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