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This Day in Yankees History: Three baseball icons are born

In addition to the legendary non-Yankees’ birthdays, Yankee Stadium I was awarded its final All-Star Game, and a handful of Bombers celebrate birthdays.

Subway Series: Dodger player Jackie Robinson coming down third base line during game against Yankees in the 1955 World Series. Photo by Ralph Morse/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. 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 31)

14 Years Ago

Major League Baseball named Yankee Stadium as the venue of the 2008 All-Star Game in the final year of the hallowed grounds’ existence. The eventual contest on July 15 of that season went on to be one of the greatest mid-summer classics ever, lasting 15 innings before Corey Hart scored on a Michael Young sacrifice fly to lift the American League to their 12th straight All-Star Game victory. The marathon contest tied the record for the longest game in All-Star history, and was one of the games, from 2003-2017, to determine home field advantage in the World Series. Only three Yankees suited up for the game: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mariano Rivera. Jeter was the only Yankee to record a hit as he went 1-3, while Rivera pitched 1.2 innings with two strikeouts.

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Three baseball icons share a birthday today: Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks, and Nolan Ryan. Though none ever donned the navy pinstripes, each had a signature moment or two in relation to the Bronx club.

In 1955, the then inter-borough foes, Dodgers and Yankees, met for the sixth time in the World Series. In the eighth inning of the Series’ first contest, Jackie Robinson, who’d be 102 today, found himself on third base with two out and the Dodgers trailing by a pair. In perhaps Robinson’s single-most iconic moment from his storied career, he completed a straight steal of home. However, Frank Kellert singled immediately after and the Dodgers failed to scratch again, meaning Robinson’s heroic effort was ultimately for naught. Though the Yankees prevailed in the teams’ previous five World Series pairings, the Dodgers were able to capture their first franchise championship in ’55. After the following season, Robinson retired, and one year later, the Dodgers left Ebbets Field for good in favor of Los Angeles.

Ernie Banks’ greatest on-field triumphs, including 14 All-Star appearances, two NL MVPs, and a Gold Glove, entirely spared the Yankees. Banks’ Cubs never faced the Yankees due to his career’s conclusion far before the introduction of interleague play, and the Chicago franchise’s failure to make a World Series after 1945 and before 2016. However, he did share one public moment with the Bronx club’s own franchise shortstop in the year before his passing, when he discussed his legacy with Derek Jeter in The Captain’s final season.

The hardest thrower in baseball history was born today too, as Nolan Ryan turns 74. The all-time MLB leader in walks and strikeouts lacked the command to carve batters as efficiently as a craftier legend like Sandy Koufax or Greg Maddux, but when locked in, was as unhittable as any pitcher. In fact, Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson, equated facing Nolan Ryan with, “...trying to drink coffee with a fork.” With a supposed top-speed of 108 mph, Ryan recorded his first no-hitter in 1973, and his MLB-record seventh 18 years later in 1991. No other pitcher ever threw more than four, and only three pitchers, Justin Verlander, Bob Feller, and Randy Johnson, threw no-hitters with more than a decade passing between their first and last. Allie Reynolds, who threw both of his no-hitters in 1951, is the only Yankee to ever accomplish the feat multiple times. Against the Yankees, Ryan went 13-8 with a 3.48 ERA across 26 starts over the course of his career. After 773 career starts and more than 5300 career innings pitched, Ryan finally tore his UCL at age-46 on an allegedly 97 mph fastball.

Of the few Yankees born today, the only one to carve out a lengthy big-league career was George Burns, who’d be 128 today. In nearly 2000 games across 16 seasons between 1914 and 1919, Burns won two World Series and an AL MVP. Despite the prolific success, almost none of it came as a member of the Yankees. Of his 2018 career hits, he had just two in 13 appearances for the team, each of which came as a pinch-hitter.

Duke Maas would be 92 today, but passed away in 1976 at just 47 years old. He pitched the final three-plus seasons of his seven-year career for the Yankees. The high point of his career came in 1958 when he recorded the 1958 AL pennant clinching victory. Though the Yankees went on to win that year’s World Series, Maas got shelled in his only appearance during it, in which he recorded just one out in relief and served up a three-run homer to the opposing pitcher, Lew Burdette of the Milwaukee Braves.

Tim Hendryx, who would be 130 years old, spent parts of eight seasons in the majors, three of which were as a member of the Yankees.

Rafael Santana, turning 63, spent his age-30 season as the starting shortstop for the 1988 Yankees, though it would be his last of his five full-time major league campaigns.

34-year-old Melky Mesa’s only major league appearances came in eight games across the 2012 and ’13 seasons as a member of the Yankees. He swatted six hits in 15 at bats, making him an even .400 hitter for his career.

Honey Barnes would turn 121 today, and, though a career Yank, played in just one game at catcher in 1926, failing to record an at bat.

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We thank Baseball-Reference and Nationalpastime.com for providing background information for these posts.