Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in mere days, 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 (February 16)
97 Years Ago
Tony Boeckel, the third baseman for the Boston Braves, becomes the first active Major Leaguer killed in a car accident after sustaining ultimately fatal injuries the day prior. Boeckel was a career average (103 OPS+) hitter who spread six seasons in the bigs across the Pittsburg Pirates and Boston Braves. Yankee outfielder Bob Meusel was also a passenger in Boeckel’s fatal crash, but fortunately for Meusel, he escaped unscathed. Already a one-time World Series champion and MVP vote-getter, Meusel would go on to win two more Series with the Yanks and receive MVP votes in an additional two seasons. Meusel spent ten seasons with the Yankees before playing the final year of his career as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.
54 Years Ago
After the BBWAA fails to elect a single player to the Hall of Fame through the standard 1967 ballot, former Red Sox, Yankees, and — for a brief moment — White Sox ace Red Ruffing is admitted via a special election. Ruffing was a six-time All-Star and World Series winner, all with the Yankees, and racked up 68.6 career WAR and a 273-225 record. While he lost more than 20 games twice as a member of the hapless Red Sox, he won at least as many in four consecutive seasons when bolstered by the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig-led Murderers’ Row Yankees.
With Lefty Gomez, Ruffing led the staff of a dominant Yankee team by throwing more than 3,000 innings across parts of 15 seasons in pinstripes. He was also a fine hitter for a pitcher, slugging 36 career homers. Perhaps the most remarkable part of all these achievements is that Ruffing did it all while missing four toes due to a mining accident suffered as a teenager.
20 Years Ago
Mariano Rivera re-ups with the Yanks on a four-year contract worth $40 million coming off of the team’s third straight World Series title, including Mo’s MVP performance in the ’99 Fall Classic. Over the course of this contract, Rivera made three more All-Star games and two World Series, losing both, including the infamous series-winning chip shot to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Luis Gonzalez in 2001. In his final nine seasons with the Yankees (19 total), Rivera went on to win one more title, make seven more All-Star games (14 total), and receive MVP and Cy Young votes three more times each (9 and 6 total, respectively). After his retirement in 2013, Rivera was named a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and still holds the MLB records for games finished (952), saves (652), and ERA =+ (202), giving him a legitimate case as the most dominant pitcher in MLB history on a per-inning basis.
17 Years Ago
The Yankees and Rangers finalize a trade of Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later (Joaquin Arias) for cash and a New York born and raised shortstop named Alex Rodríguez. While the trade brought Soriano’s underrated three-full-seasons-and-change in the Bronx to an abrupt end, the Yankees’ acquisition of Rodríguez helped usher in the franchise’s most recent return to greatness. Nearly as important as adding a generational talent was the fact that the Yankees were able steal him away from the Red Sox, who had actually agreed on a deal with Rodríguez and the Rangers earlier in the offseason. However, the MLB Players’ Association ruled against Rodríguez’s voluntary pay-cut, undoing the trade, and opening the door for their AL East rivals to step in.
With Rodríguez sacrificing pole position atop of the American League’s shortstop power rankings to his new teammate with a defensive slide to his right, he redefined himself as the game’s best third baseman, winning MVPs for the Yankees in 2005 and ’07. In 2009, a loaded Yankees squad eventually helped A-Rod cleanse his sins of postseasons past, finally winning a championship after playing for unexceptional Mariners and Rangers teams.
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Barry Foote, who spent part of his final two seasons in the majors on the Yankees, turns 69. He spent most of his career behind the dish, as his defensive savvy outweighed his relative offensive ineptitude. As an uber-hyped rookie for the mid-70s Montreal Expos, his manager referred to him as “the next Johnny Bench,” and the team even moved Hall of Famer Gary Carter to right field in order to make way for Foote. While he never ended up being the top-tier talent scouts once projected him to become, he did hang around in the majors for nine seasons, finishing his career with a caught stealing percentage five percentage points better than league average.
Born in 1897, Alex Ferguson would be 124 today had he not passed away in 1976. The Montclair, New Jersey native likely would have been a Yankee fan had the team existed at all during his youth. During the 1918 and ’21 seasons, Ferguson pitched in 21 games for last couple of early Yankee teams that weren’t yet great.
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We thank Baseball-Reference and Nationalpastime.com for providing background information for these posts.