Welcome to This Day in Yankees History. With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training any day now, 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!
★ ★ ★
19 Years Ago
Once upon a time, outfielder Rubén Rivera was considered an even better prospect than fellow Baby Bomber Derek Jeter. He ultimately didn’t impress the Yankees enough to keep him, and they dealt him to the Padres in order to acquire the rights to Japanese ace Hideki Irabu. Rivera never quite lived up to his potential, but he was a decent enough major leaguer that the Yankees decided to give him another shot on February 14, 2002, signing him to a one-year, $1 million contract.
For all the wrong reasons, Rivera’s second stint as a Yankee turned out to be more memorable than his first... despite it only lasting a month. A spring training scandal broke out in Tampa in mid-March when it was revealed that Rivera stole a bat and glove from Jeter’s locker and sold them to a memorabilia agent. Even though he was the cousin of Mariano Rivera, Yankees players were furious about this revelation, and after a team meeting, Rivera was cut. He only played two more years in the majors (with dismal baserunning), but actually hung around in the Mexican League long enough to hit 313 career homers until finally retiring at age 45 in 2019.
17 Years Ago
For a good portion of the 2003-04 offseason, it seemed like defending AL MVP and star Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez might head to the Red Sox. It would have been a monumental move, as Boston would’ve sent legendary masher Manny Ramírez and pitching prospect Jon Lester to Texas, while they planned to clear out shortstop by trading homegrown icon Nomar Garciaparra to the White Sox for four-time All-Star Magglio Ordóñez and Brandon McCarthy. However, the players’ reunion rejected the deal since they didn’t want A-Rod to restructure his seismic contract, which he had agreed to do under terms of the trade.
So it looked like A-Rod would stay put in Texas. They even named him team captain in early January. On February 14, 2004, though, rumors unexpectedly emerged about A-Rod joining the Yankees. Although he was a superior defender, the team had no intention of moving their own captain, Derek Jeter, away from shortstop, but A-Rod was said to be willing to change positions to third base — which was now vacant since incumbent Aaron Boone was out for the season with a basketball injury that violated his contract. The Yankees even had their own young star to send to Texas in exchange for A-Rod: leadoff slugger extraordinaire Alfonso Soriano.
We’ll likely revisit this trade again in a couple days on the actual anniversary of it being finalized, but I still remember reading this news on that Valentine’s Day and not truly believing the reports. There was no way that A-Rod could suddenly be joining the Yankees after all those Red Sox rumors, right? And playing third base? No way.
10 Years Ago
The Yankees added some outfield depth through an old foe. Back in 1996, Andruw Jones was a fresh-faced 19-year-old wunderkind bashing a pair of homers in his first two career World Series at-bats — at the old Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the World Series, no less. The Braves ultimately blew that series, but it was the unofficial beginning of a remarkable run of success for Jones. He won 10 Gold Gloves in a row and launched 368 homers in Atlanta by the time he walked away in free agency in 2007.
Jones experienced a horrendous collapse with his new team, the Dodgers, and it was so bad that they released him with $22.1 million left on his contract. He eventually became more of a semi-regular as he bounced around teams over the next couple years, and on February 14, 2011, he joined the Yankees on a one-year contract. It was a good fit, and Jones had a .923 OPS with 8 homers in 61 games as the Yankees won the AL East. He returned in 2012, but his production soon declined and he never played stateside again.
★ ★ ★
Happy 46th birthday to Dámaso Marté! Normally, a pitcher who could only manage an ERA of 6.02 in 76 games out of the bullpen would not be fondly remembered. There’s no doubt that Marté’s contract was mostly a bust, but one could argue that he earned every damn penny with his sudden surge of dominance during the 2009 postseason.
At first, it seemed like more of the same — Marté allowed a pair of hits in his first appearance and left without recording an out in Game 2 of the ALDS. The good news was that the southpaw did not allow a single batter to reach base against him for the rest of the playoffs. Through four innings across seven games in the ALCS and World Series, he struck out five and retired all 12 batters he faced.
Marté’s timely excellence threw the lefty-heavy Phillies for a loop. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard could not touch him, squandering multiple opportunities with runners on base. Years later, skipper Joe Girardi would rightly remember Marté as one of the unsung heroes of that 2009 World Series team.
★ ★ ★
We thank Baseball Reference, ESPN, and SI.com for providing background information for this post.