Welcome to the New Year’s Day edition of 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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98 Years Ago
Brooklyn native and Hall of Famer Willie Keeler died at age 50. Once a menace with the bat for the dominant Baltimore Orioles of the NL in the 1890s, Keeler jumped to Brooklyn in 1899 and later, came across town as the new Highlanders’ first star player in 1903. Although not as excellent as he was in his “hit ‘em where they ain’t” days with the Orioles, Keeler had a 111 OPS+ in seven years on the Highlanders, and finished runner-up to Nap Lajoie for the 1904 batting title at .343. Heart disease was one of several illnesses plaguing Keeler toward the end of his life, and it was an effort for him to simply make into the new year.
6 Years Ago
When I first started writing about baseball, few names were bigger in the Yankees’ organization than a little lefty named Manny Bañuelos. He had a fastball that just seemed to be increasing in velocity and a nasty changeup, which was already devastating MLB hitters in spring training 2011:
“ManBan” was always a popular name in trade talks, as everyone wanted to pry him away from Brian Cashman. He just looked too promising to deal and had rocketed to Triple-A Scranton at just 20. MLB.com ranked him the 12th-best prospect in baseball prior to the 2012 season. Tommy John surgery cut that campaign short though, and unlike others who have gone under the knife, he was never the same afterward.
Bañuelos was fine but nothing too special when healthy again in 2014, so Cashman pulled the plug on him on New Year’s Day in 2015. The southpaw was sent to the Braves in a deal for relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve. It was a great opportunity on a rebuilding team, and Bañuelos got to finally make his MLB debut that year, notching six starts in seven games with Atlanta. Injuries and ineffectiveness haunted his next few years, and it took until 2019 for him to resurface in the bigs with the White Sox. It didn’t go well, and Bañuelos went overseas to Taiwan for 2020, which he spent with the Fubon Guardians of the CPBL. He will turn 30 in March.
As for the Yankees’ end of the trade, Carpenter was a mess and dealt to the Nationals by June. Fortunately, Shreve turned out to be a pleasant surprise and put in decent years as a lefty bullpen option in 2015 and 2017 before being sent away in the Luke Voit deal at the 2018 trade deadline. (So silver lining: Bañuelos at least sort of led to the Yankees getting Voit? Yay?)
1 Year Ago
Yes, we’re already looking back on 2020. That’s because that year got off to an ominous note for Yankees fans when Don Larsen passed away at age 90. The 1956 World Series hero who threw the only perfecto in postseason play had been a longtime fixture at Old-Timers’ Day and one of the last remaining key figures from Casey Stengel’s ‘50s dynasty teams. Fellow Yankees perfect game artists David Cone and David Wells were among many to memorialize Larsen:
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A handful of mostly unknown former Yankees celebrate birthdays on New Year’s Day. They all died many years ago, but here’s a brief note on each fella:
- Earl Torgeson (1924-1990): Easily the most accomplished player of this quartet and a fine first baseman, Torgeson hit 149 homers over 15 years in the majors, mostly with the Braves and White Sox. His last stop was a 22-game stint on the bench for the legendary 1961 Yankees. Torgeson’s career ended before the end of August, though skipper Ralph Houk allowed him to stay on as a coach for the eventual World Series champions.
- Ned Garvin (1874-1908): A righty pitcher with a wicked curve from the turn of the 20th century, Garvin made two September starts for the 1904 Highlanders as they tried to catch the Boston Americans for the AL pennant. They came up just short, and Garvin never pitched in the bigs again, dying of tuberculosis a few years later. He was also a violent racist. Not a great dude!
- Rudy Baerwald (1881-1955): An outfielder whose entire 17-game career came with the middling 1907 Highlanders. Although Baerwald never made it back to the majors, he spent several years as a fixture with Memphis in the popular Southern Association.
- Charlie Devens (1910-2003): Another player whose entire short career came in pinstripes, Devens was an ace at Harvard and pitched for the Yankees from 1932-34, though all but two of his 16 games came in ‘33. He wasn’t very good, but due to his long life, he turned out to be the last surviving member of the World Series champion ‘32 Yankees and was a witness to Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot.”
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We thank Baseball Reference and SABR for providing background information for these posts.