Welcome to This Day in Yankees History. The New Year is upon us, and the winter hot stove continues to percolate. There’s plenty of 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!
★ ★ ★
80 Years Ago
The Yankees signed catcher Gus Niarhos, convincing the 20-year-old to forgo his education at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (later Auburn University). Why is Niarhos relevant? Well, after serving in the Navy during World War II, he earned a spot with the Yankees alongside another young backstop — Yogi Berra. For a little while, it wasn’t clear which player would be the future catcher.
In 1948, previous starter Aaron Robinson was dealt to the White Sox in a trade for key starter Eddie Lopat, and manager Bucky Harris decided to have Niarhos and Berra split playing time behind the plate that season. Niarhos couldn’t hit like Yogi, but he was older and — at the time — a much more polished catcher. Niarhos actually played a little more than Yogi, who was still frequently being used in the outfield.
The defending champion Yankees finished third in ‘48, and GM George Weiss dismissed Harris in favor of Casey Stengel. In spring training, Niarhos experienced some bad luck when he broke his toe and had to miss some time. While he still made the team (and started on Opening Day over Berra), Stengel saw enough to make him more comfortable going forward with Yogi as the regular catcher. The 24-year-old soon made great strides on defense, and, well, No. 8 hangs in Monument Park for a good reason.
6 Years Ago
After two and a half year with the Yankees, reports broke that Ichiro Suzuki would be signing with the Marlins. They had seemingly coveted the 41-year-old for a good chunk of the offseason, but it was still weird to imagine the future Hall of Famer in Miami of all places.
There really weren’t any expectations that Ichiro would return to the Yankees, though. They had Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltrán, and Chris Young all under contract for 2015, so the regular playing time he coveted wouldn’t be available, especially given that he’d been a below-average hitter for a few years (contributing to their mini-playoff absence from 2013-14). It worked out for Ichiro, as he played enough in Miami to reach the 3,000-hit plateau in 2016.
3 Years Ago
After earning acclaim in the Fox Sports studio for the past couple seasons, Alex Rodriguez continued his post-career renaissance by joining ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” booth for 2018. While he still throws out the occasional good nugget of info here and there, for the most part, A-Rod’s SNB tenure has featured confounding moments like this one:
As noted by @WayTooCrisp, this is A-Rod saying one of the dumbest things ever stated by a baseball analyst—and it's on the marquee national baseball broadcast pic.twitter.com/b7dKQU9NZX— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 2, 2019
May we all strive for even leads in life. (I guess.)
★ ★ ★
Happy 51st birthday, Mark Wohlers! The righty reliever was only a Yankee for half a season, as he was acquired from the Reds in July 2001, when Brian Cashman was still trying to fill the void Jeff Nelson left by signing with Seattle the previous December. Wohlers was generally fine, but also underwhelming. By the end of the season, he was pitching sparingly and only appeared in one game in the playoffs. He was left off the World Series roster and departed for Cleveland in the offseason.
Of course, Wohlers is much more well-known in Yankees history for his role on another team. Back in his prime, he was a flamethrowing All-Star closer for the Braves, and in 1995, he famously finished off the Braves’ only World Series victory in Atlanta. The next year, they were back in the Fall Classic and trying to repeat as champions. Wohlers took the mound in the eighth inning of Game 4, hoping to protect a three-run lead and give the Braves a 3-1 series lead.
Backup catcher Jim Leyritz had other plans:
The three-run blasted shocked Atlanta, helping launch the late-‘90s Yankees dynasty after they came back to win both the game and the series. Wohlers still probably has nightmares about not sticking to his best pitch against Leyritz.
★ ★ ★
We thank Baseball Reference and SABR for providing background information for these posts.