Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. With the start of the 2020 season delayed for the foreseeable future, the Pinstripe Alley team decided to revive the program in a slightly different format. These daily posts will highlight several 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 (April 17)
108 Years Ago
These days, it’s common, if not expected, for major league teams to pitch in and help their communities whenever a disaster strikes. That was the case in 1912, too, as the Yankees (then still officially the Highlanders) participated in an unscheduled exhibition game — five games into the regular season — against the New York Giants in the Polo Grounds. The two teams raised more than $9,000.
The disaster they were responding to: the sinking of the HMS Titanic, which occurred just days earlier.
95 Years Ago
Babe Ruth had surgery for an intestinal abscess following his infamous “Bellyache Heard Round the World,” which sent him to the hospital 11 days earlier. The “Bambino,” who’d apparently partied a bit too hard during the offseason, came into spring training at a bloated 270 pounds. He would miss the first 40 games of the season and post the lowest bWAR of his Yankees career (3.5) before returning to his prodigious form in 1926.
69 Years Ago
Two Yankees legends began their careers on this day in 1951.
A 19-year-old Mickey Mantle batted third and grounded out to second base in his first major league at-bat, though he’d finish 1 for 4 on the day with an RBI single as the Yankees beat the Red Sox 5-0. He played right field as his future home in center field was still occupied by Joe DiMaggio. The Mick hit .267/.349/.443 with 13 homers and 65 RBI in his rookie season, which actually saw him get sent down to the minors in mid-July before returning for good in late August.
The voice that announced Mantle’s first trip to the plate was also making his debut. Bob Sheppard would grace the public address booth at Yankee Stadium for more than 4,500 games between 1951 and 2007 and was famously nicknamed the “Voice of God” by Reggie Jackson.
On this day, his impeccable enunciation brought to the plate Hall of Famers like Mantle, DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra and Ted Williams. The last time fans in Yankee Stadium heard his voice was when Derek Jeter came to the plate in his final home game in 2014. Despite Sheppard dying in 2010, Jeter had insisted on a recording of Sheppard be used for his plate appearances for the remainder of his career.
67 Years Ago
On this date in 1953, Mantle hit one of the most discussed, and arguably mythologized, home runs in the history of the game. Batting right-handed against Washington Senators’ southpaw Chuck Stobb, Mantle clubbed a pitch to left-center that cleared the bleachers and glanced off an advertising billboard as it left Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. Yankees publicity director Arthur “Red” Patterson hunted down the ball, which had been picked up by a local kid who pointed out to Patterson where he’d found it.
Patterson measured out the distance (with a tape measure, which supposedly gave rise to the description “tape measure shot”) at an astonishing 565 feet. Since then, however, physicists have disputed the actual distance the ball traveled in the air, since it presumably rolled some of the way to its actual resting place. Some placed the likely distance at around 515 feet, but Alan Nathan, one of the preeminent physicists researching baseball, revisited the analysis, and placed the likely distance at a minimum of 538 feet. You can read about his work here and here.
44 Years Ago
The Yankees famously hadn’t named a captain since Lou Gehrig was forced to retire in 1939. That changed on April 17, 1976, when the team, at the insistence of owner George Steinbrenner, tapped Thurman Munson for the honor. The Yankees catcher took to the role well, winning the AL MVP that season. Since Munson, five Yankees have served as captain: Graig Nettles (1982-84), Willie Randolph (1986-88), Ron Guidry (1986-88), Don Mattingly (1991-95), and Derek Jeter (2003-14).
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We thank Baseball-Reference and Nationalpastime.com for providing background information for these posts.