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This Day in Yankees History: Roger Maris is traded to the Redbirds

The Yankees believe 32-year-old Maris is on the decline and deal him to St. Louis.

MLB Photos Archive Photo by Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images

Welcome to the relaunched 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. We hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with us!

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This Day in Yankees History (December 8)

54 Years Ago

The Yankees finished the 1966 season with a 70-89 record—the worst in the American League—and entered the offseason eager to turn over their aging lineup with younger prospects. Throughout the ‘66 season, the Yankees had continually pressured Roger Maris to play through a bad hand injury and Maris felt embarrassed by his mediocre play. At 32, Maris was “almost positive” he would retire, according to the book “Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero.” But before he could make a decision on whether to keep playing, the Yankees traded Maris to the St. Louis Cardinals on this day in 1966. In exchange for Maris the Cardinals sent third baseman Charley Smith to New York.

While Maris was by no means in his prime in 1966, he was still a decent outfielder who was just a few seasons removed from breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record and winning back-to-back MVP awards in 1960 and 1961.

St. Louis ended up being an ideal place for Maris to breathe new life into his baseball career (ultimately he’d finish his career in St. Louis, too). Maris had never enjoyed getting booed in the Bronx; Cardinal fans, on the other hand, had a reputation throughout baseball for being supportive and knowledgeable. The Cardinals also valued Maris’ experience, viewing him as a veteran who could still had something to contribute to a team full of All-Stars with big personalities. Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda, Curt Flood and Tim McCarver were all on the 1967 Cardinals, and Maris was more than happy to let the other guys occupy the limelight.

On Opening Day in 1967, Maris delighted Cardinals fans by stretching a single into a double with the help of a head-first slide. It started off his Cardinals career on the right foot. Even though Maris’ performance during the 1967 season wasn’t extraordinary, he and his Redbirds teammates would still go on to win the World Series title for a second time in four years. Maris closed out his career in 1968 with another NL pennant, though they fell to the Tigers in the World Series. As for Charley Smith? He didn’t pan out the way the Yankees had hoped. Did the Yanks really think he’d be worth trading Roger Maris?

11 Years Ago

Barely a month after the Yankees won the 2009 World Series, the front office made the team even stronger by acquiring Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers on this day 11 years ago. The three-team trade also involved the Diamondbacks sending Max Scherzer to Detroit and the Yankees sending Ian Kennedy to Arizona.

New York Yankees v Oakland Athletics Photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

When he joined the Yankees, Granderson was a top-level center fielder entering his seventh season in the big leagues. His left-handed swing was especially well-suited for Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field. Granderson went on to become a perennial fan favorite and played in two All-Star Games during his four years in the Bronx. He finished fourth in AL MVP voting in 2011 with a newfound ability to crush lefties leading to him launch 41 homers with a 142 OPS+. He followed it up with a career-high 43 dingers in 2012. All together as a Yankee, Granderson played in 513 games and batted .245/.335/.495 with 115 home runs. Despite his best efforts, New York failed to return to the World Series during Granderson’s tenure with the Yankees.

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Happy birthday to Hall of Famer Mike Mussina, who turns 52 years old today. After beginning his career in Baltimore, Mussina became a key part of the Yankees’ starting rotation in the eight seasons he spent with the club. Moose often gets left out of discussions regarding the best MLB pitchers of the 1990s and 2000s. That Moose flies under the radar is rather strange, considering he’s in the Hall of Fame and managed to maintain a career 3.68 ERA, despite pitching in the AL East in the heart of the steroid era.

Mussina helped the Yankees win two AL pennants in 2001 and 2003; he also pitched spectacularly during the Yankees’ postseason run in 2001, his first in pinstripes,

After a middling 2007, Mussina bounced back in 2008 and finally achieved a career milestone which had long eluded him: winning 20 games. The 39-year-old pitcher went 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA in 2008. He became the oldest first-time 20-game winner in big league history.

Other Yankees birthdays today include Vernon Wells and Ed Brinkman.

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