Welcome to This Day in Yankees History. The 2020 baseball season has come to an end, and the offseason is upon us. While we wait patiently for Brian Cashman to make some free agency moves, let’s revisit a few important milestones in Yankees history. These daily posts will highlight a handful of key moments in Yankees history on a given date, as well as recognize players born on the day. We hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with us!
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This Day in Yankees History (December 4)
56 Years Ago
On this day during the Winter Meetings in 1964, MLB team owners voted in favor of instituting a formal process for drafting talent. With the owners’ vote, baseball becomes the last of the four major league sports in North America to implement an amateur player draft. MLB will go on to hold its inaugural First-Year Player Draft (officially known as the “Rule 4 Draft”) several months later on June 8, 1965.
Up until that point, high school and collegiate baseball players were allowed to sign with any major league club that offered them a contract. Over the years, this first-come, first-served arrangement encouraged MLB teams to compete in bidding wars to secure top young talent. For MLB owners, these bidding wars produced two undesirable effects: a competitive imbalance favoring the richest teams (primarily the Yankees, Cardinals, Braves and Dodgers) and a market where the price for players was continually rising. Before the draft was instituted in 1964, baseball teams had spent years trying to lower the cost of signing and acquiring new players.
Under the MLB team owners’ new agreement, all amateur baseball players would enter the league through an annual draft; the selection order among teams would be sequenced according to the reverse order of the teams’ previous year’s finish in the standings. The owners felt the reverse-order draft structure was the best way to give the worst MLB teams a chance to secure elite amateur players and thereby strengthen their chances of winning the next season.
In retrospect, it’s rather obvious that the owners’ biggest priority in implementing the draft was cutting the cost of signing new players. Promoting competitive balance simply provided team owners with a convenient (and decidedly PR-friendly) pretext for doing so. The Rule 4 Draft was designed to reduce players’ signing bonuses, and the new process succeeded in cutting these costs.
3 Years Ago
On this day in 2017, the Yankees officially announced the club’s plan to hire Aaron Boone as the 33rd manager in franchise history. Boone replaces Joe Girardi, whose 10-year tenure managing in pinstripes ended in heartbreaking fashion, with the team just one game shy of reaching the World Series. Boone’s hiring surprised many due to his lack of managerial experience, though the third-generation ballplayer played for a dozen years in the majors before beginning a successful broadcasting career with ESPN.
Boone was no stranger to Yankee fans. He played third base in the majors from 1997 to 2009; the Yankees acquired him from the Reds at the trade deadline in 2003. The new manager hadn’t been in the Bronx for long when he secured his place in Yankees history by hitting a home run off Tim Wakefield in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox. His homer sent the Yanks to the World Series.
Boone’s time in pinstripes as a player eventually led to the Yankees’ decision to trade for A-Rod. The Yankees had signed Boone to return as the team’s third baseman in 2004, but he tore his anterior cruciate ligament while playing basketball in the offseason. New York ended up trading for Alex Rodriguez, who would move over to third base, and cut Boone, costing him most of his $5.75 million salary. According to a New York Times article that broke the news of Boone’s hiring, Boone’s honesty and disclosure of how the injury occurred (his contract specified he wasn’t allowed to play basketball) made a strong impression on Yankees general manager Brian Cashman at the time.
Boone beat out at least five other candidates for the managerial job, including San Francisco Giants bench coach Hensley Muelens, Yankees coach Rob Thomson, a newly-retired Carlos Beltran and Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward.
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Happy birthday to Billy Bryan and Hall of Famer Lee Smith! Bryan turns 82 years old today and Smith is 63.
The Yankees traded for Bryan, a one-time starting catcher with the Kansas City Athletics, in July 1966. By 1966, New York’s beloved catcher Elston Howard was in his late 30s and playing through pain due to having bone chips in his throwing elbow. The Yankees brought Bryan to the Bronx as a backup to Howard, both to give him more rest days and in case the aging backstop didn’t last through the end of the season. During Bryan’s first three months in New York, he backed up both Howard and Jake Gibbs. Unfortunately, Bryan’s bat never came to life and he finished the year with an unimpressive .172 batting average.
Hall-of-Fame closer and relief pitcher Lee Smith spent most of his career with the Cubs and Cardinals before donning the pinstripes for the last month of the 1993 season. Smith led the majors in saves (33) during the strike-shortened 1994 season, and ended his career with an MLB-record of 478 saves upon retiring in 1997. Smith held the all-time saves record for 13 seasons—until Trevor Hoffman passed him in 2006. Today, Smith’s 478 saves place him at No. 3 on the all-time list, just behind Hoffman and Mariano Rivera.
The most unbelievable fact about Smith? His pitching arm never underwent a single surgical procedure in his 23 seasons playing professional baseball.
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We thank Baseball Reference, Nationalpastime.com, and SABR for providing background information for these posts.