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This Day in Yankees History: “El Duque” is dealt away

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Orlando Hernández was sent away, but it wasn’t his last rodeo in the Bronx.

New York Yankees’ starter Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez adjus Photo by Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. The New Year is upon us, and the winter hot stove continues to percolate. That being said, there has not been much movement on the Yankees’ front as of yet, so in the meantime 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. Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with us!

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This Day in Yankees History (January 15)

87 years ago

After a strange offseason in which Babe Ruth was nearly traded to manage the Reds, the Big Bam came to terms with the Yankees for one more season. Jacob Ruppert forced him to take a $17,000 pay cut, even though the soon-to-be 39-year-old had mashed in 1933, hitting .301/.442/.582 with 34 homers and a 176 OPS+ — albeit a step down from his over-200 OPS+ glory days.

Age did not seem to affect Ruth much in that final season in pinstripes. Sure, he declined again, but anyone should be so lucky to see a player pushing 40 bat .288/.488/.537 with 22 homers and a 160 OPS+ in 125 games. Alas, this was the last time that the Bambino would play for the Yankees, as he was allowed to sign with the Boston Braves the following year to wrap up his otherworldly career.

23 years ago

The Yankees continued to put the pieces in place for their 114-win juggernaut in 1998 by re-signing outfielder Tim Raines to a one-year, $1.3 million contract. After coming over from the White Sox in ‘96, “Rock” had gradually taken on more of a reserve role as injuries prevented him from starting as much as he used to, but he was quite good at it. He’d hit .305/.394/.460 with a 119 OPS+ in 133 games between 1996-97, playing a key role on the ‘96 champions.

So Raines and the Yanks reunited after his old deal expired, and he remained steady at age 38. He was healthier than the past couple years, appearing in over 100 games for the final time while batting .290/.395/.383 with a 107 OPS+ in another World Series-winning season. Raines also achieved a personal milestone, swiping the 800th base in his Hall of Fame career. Naturally, it happened where it all began for Raines: Montreal.

18 years ago

The Yankees agreed to a three-team deal with the White Sox and Expos. The centerpiece of the deal was Bartolo Colón, who went to the South Side of Chicago; the Yankees considered this a minor win since it prevented the Expos from sending him to Boston. As for the Yankees, they sent dynasty stalwart Orlando Hernández to Montreal and received reliever Antonio Osuna and minor leaguer Delvis Lantigua (who later changed his name to Eddi Candelario) from the White Sox.

It appeared to be a disappointing conclusion to a riveting Yankees career for Hernández. After joining the team from Cuba in 1998, El Duque had burst onto the scene with postseason heroics and a wacky delivery that made him an instant fan favorite. Seemingly never-ending arguments with catcher Jorge Posada had soured his reputation in the clubhouse though, and injuries had affected his previous two seasons, too. It didn’t help that he was entering his late thirties.

Orlando Hernandez #26... Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Osuna looked good early on out of the Yankees bullpen in 2003, but fell apart late with a 5.68 ERA from August onward. With much better options available, Joe Torre did not include him on the playoff roster and he signed with the Padres for ‘04. Lantigua/Candelario spent one unremarkable season with the Yanks in Double-A before landing with the Phillies. He never made the majors.

The “bright” side is that El Duque never threw a pitch for the Expos. Shoulder ailments forced him to undergo rotator cuff surgery and he missed all of ‘03. He was a free agent after the season, and it took him until mid-March to land a deal for ‘04 — with the Yankees. He tuned up in the minors and returned to the rotation in mid-July. There was still gas left in the tank, as he pitched well in the second half for a rotation that really needed his support.

The funny thing is that if you looked quickly at Hernández’s Baseball Reference page, you’d never know that he briefly left New York.

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Birthdays

Happy 41st birthday to unquestioned Yankees legend Matt Holliday! The seven-time All-Star was on the decline when he signed a one-year deal to become the primary DH for the 2017 Yankees, and he acquitted himself nicely in the first half, batting .262/.366/.511 with 15 homers in 68 games through June 24th. One of those dingers came in walk-off style during a thrilling eight-run comeback against the Orioles:

Those muscles are still just absolute comic book material.

Unfortunately, Holliday’s resurgence took a turn for the worse when he got sick in late June with the Epstein-Barr virus. The illness kept him out of the lineup for a few weeks, and even after he returned, he didn’t seem like himself. Shortly thereafter, he suffered a lumbar strain, and he was a non-factor down the stretch during the team’s exciting run to a Wild Card berth and the ALCS. Holliday returned to Colorado for one more season in 2018 before calling it a career.

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We thank Baseball Reference, SABR, and ESPN for providing background information for these posts.