Welcome to 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 a handful of 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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108 Years Ago
In an effort to finally earn the New York Highlanders some respectability, co-owner Frank Farrell negotiated a deal to bring aboard one of baseball’s highest-profile names as their new manager: Frank Chance. The Hall of Fame first baseman had been the Cubs’ player-manager during their dominant run from 1906-10 that saw them capture four NL pennants and two World Series titles. However, as his playing career wound down, Chance found himself in a payment dispute with the Cubs in 1912 and animosity only rose when he got in an argument with owner Charles Murphy over Murphy’s callous treatment of players — at Chance’s bedside, no less, following brain surgery. (Eat your heart out, Tom Ricketts.)
Farrell pounced that offseason and negotiated to bring Chance aboard on a three-year contract as the team’s new skipper on January 8th. Some headlines thought that he could even bring the Highlanders to the level of the legendary John McGraw’s Giants, but that never materialized. New York had finished dead-last with 102 losses in 1912 and changing their official name to the “Yankees” didn’t fix them enough entering 1913. Chance’s club lost 93 games that year, and with the team a dismal 60-74 in mid-September 1914, he resigned (in no small part because Farrell undermined Chance’s authority by waiving various player fines for insubordination). Even if you’re a well-respected manager, it’s awfully hard to win with bad players.
34 Years Ago
Of all the shitty strategies that MLB owners have tried over the years to suppress salaries, few were more despicable than the rampant collusion of the 1980s. Teams would just refuse to re-sign their own free agents, and they would not-so-quietly work with other clubs to ensure that the players didn’t receive any offers elsewhere, thus forcing them to crawl back and accept worse terms than they deserved.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner loved to spend, but that didn’t stop him from stooping to this level — not even if the player involved was as respected a man in the clubhouse as one could find. Ron Guidry had been the Yankees’ ace for almost a decade entering the 1986-87 offseason, when he was a free agent. He had also been named co-captain alongside Willie Randolph at the start of ‘86, and while 35, he was still quite steady in the rotation.
However, Guidry had declined the Yankees’ arbitration terms in December, and the team didn’t seem very interested in negotiating with him on a new two-year contract. The most the Yankees would offer was two years and $1.65 million; they wouldn’t even budge when Guidry dropped his ask to two years and $1.7 million. Furious, Guidry refused to sign by the January 8th deadline, and given the rules of the time, was ineligible to re-sign with the Yankees until May 1st.
During that time, the Yankees ensured that other teams colluded against Guidry, and his brief talks with the Dodgers, Orioles, and Twins went nowhere. None would even make him an offer at the MLB minimum. When May finally came, the Yankees brought him back on a two-year deal worth $1.675 million. That’s right — in the end, Steinbrenner saved* about $25,000 (plus a pro-rated extra bit for Guidry missing April) by screwing with one of the best starters in Yankees history. Lovely.
*The “savings” were temporary anyway, as after MLB was found guilty of collusion, Steinbrenner had to pay Guidry $91,758.24 in damages.
23 Years Ago
After years of excellence in the NL, Darryl Strawberry had been part of the Yankees for the past few seasons, but 1997 had been rough. An awful knee injury had required surgery and limited him to only 11 games. Given Strawberry’s turbulent history and the fact that he was 36, no one would have faulted the Yankees for thanking Darryl for his contributions to the ‘96 champions and moving on.
Instead, the Yankees re-signed Strawberry to a one-year deal on this day in 1998. Injuries to intended DH Chili Davis led to him playing far more than anyone expected, but Darryl stayed healthy. His 101 games in ‘98 were his most in seven years, and he packed 24 homers and a 132 OPS+ in that outburst.
Strawberry was beloved in the Yankees’ clubhouse (not just for punching Armando Benítez), and that made his sudden absence that postseason all the more jarring. He had to undergo treatment for colon cancer and thus missed the entire playoff run, but he remained on the Yankees’ minds the whole time as they won their 24th championship.
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It’s hard to believe but today, former Yankees slugger Jason Giambi turns 50! The crown jewel of the 2001-02 offseason following his years of mashing with the A’s, the big guy had an up-and-down Yankees tenure that saw him crush 41 dingers in back-to-back All-Star seasons at the start of his contract while also later battling steroid controversies and a benign tumor in his pituitary gland that waylaid his 2004 campaign.
Giambi rebounded to win AL Comeback Player of the Year in 2005 with a 32-homer, 161 OPS+ season, and he remained an intimidating presence at the plate throughout the final years of his contract. The Yankees made the playoffs in all but the last of Giambi’s seasons, but they never won a World Series with him. Nonetheless, his .404 on-base percentage is fifth in Yankees history among qualifying batters, and his 209 homers in pinstripes rank 12th all-time, sandwiched between a couple other stalwart first basemen: Don Mattingly and Mark Teixeira. Even though Giambi was never remotely in the same defensive dimension as those fellas, that’s pretty good company to keep.
Also: hella ‘stache.
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We thank Baseball Reference and SABR for providing background information for these posts.