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This Day in Yankees History: The Yankees sign Mariano Rivera

The Yankees signed a little known prospect from Panama on this date, and it worked out.

New York Yankees v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. Pitchers and catchers are officially reporting to spring training today! In addition, many of the Yankees position players have also already made their way to Tampa and are getting in some reps while waiting for their official report date. With just a few weeks of waiting until spring training games begin, 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 17th)

84 Year Ago

The Yankees purchase Red Sox first baseman Babe Dahlgren. He would play in just 28 games over his first two seasons with the Yankees before replacing Lou Gehrig in 1939. Gehrig’s rapid physical decline due to ALS put Dahlgren in the lineup and the spotlight. He never became an impact bat for the Yankees, but he played everyday and helped them win a World Series in 1939. He was purchased by the Boston Braves before the 1941 season and would remain in the major leagues through the 1946 season.

78 Years Ago

As the United States became deeply involved in World War II, Yankees star center fielder Joe DiMaggio enlists in the U.S. Army Air Forces. In the six seasons prior to his enlistment DiMaggio slashed .342/.412/.612, which was good for a 165 OPS+. He finished in the top-3 of MVP voting four of those years and won the award twice. DiMaggio did not ask for special treatment from the Army, but he was also largely kept out of harms way, playing baseball stateside and being used to help with recruiting and to sell war bonds. Like many of his peers, DiMaggio would miss three full Major League seasons before returning to the Yankees in 1946. After getting back he would hit .311/.396/.560 — good for a 156 OPS+ in his first five seasons back with the Yankees — winning another MVP award in 1947 and multiple World Series in the last years of his career.

31 Years Ago

The Yankees officially signed unheralded Panamanian prospect Mariano Rivera for a $3,000 signing bonus. Yankees director of Latin American operations Herb Raybourn signed the deal almost all on potential; he had only come across the team’s radar because his highly-touted cousin, Rubén, was a top international prospect. Rivera had only started pitching a few weeks before his tryout and while his mechanics were good, scouts did not see even an average fastball during his tryout. The first man to be unanimously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame went on to record a record 652 saves in his 19-year major league career. Setting Rivera further apart from his peers was his postseason performances, where he pitched 141 innings of 0.70 ERA ball with 42 saves.

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Wally Pipp was born 128 years ago today. He was a good Yankees player racking up 29 bWAR during his 11 seasons with the team. In the pre-Babe Ruth era he was an offensive force, leading the American League in home runs in 1916 and 1917. After Ruth’s arrival he led the league in triples in 1924 with 19. There are several versions of the story about why Pipp was was benched for a youngster named Lou Gehrig on June 2, 1925. The most common theme is that Pipp arrived at the stadium with a headache and manager Miller Huggins overheard him ask for an aspirin and decided to give him a day off. Huggins was looking for any excuse to shake up the lineup, as Pipp had struggled in the two weeks prior and the Yankees were on a five-game losing streak. The recent poor performance had the team sitting just half a game out of last place. The result was that Lou Gehrig entered the starting lineup that day and played everyday for 2,130 games.

Pipp played on three Yankees pennant winners from 1921-1923, winning the World Series in 1923. He would be moved after the season and finish his major league career with three years in Cincinnati.

Brian Bruney turns 39 today. A member of the Yankees for four seasons, he pitched in 153 games with a 3.25 ERA, and that turned out to be the most successful stop of his nine-year major league career. Former infielder Cody Ransom is turning 45 years old today; he played 64 games for the Yankees in 2008 and 2009. Stephen Tarpley turns 28 today; the lefty made his major league debut for the Yankees in 2018 before being traded to Miami after the 2019 season to make room on the 40-man roster.

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