Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. The New Year is upon us, and the winter hot stove continues to percolate. 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 4)
106 Years Ago
The Yankees send ten-grand to the Detroit Tigers for the rights to Hugh High and Wally Pipp. High started in the outfield for much of three seasons before retiring in 1918, while Pipp went on to amass 31.2 career WAR over 15 years. Despite Pipp’s successful career as a major league starter, including 11 years on the Yankees, a 1923 World Series victory, and a pair of Deadball Era home run crowns, he’s most remembered for the incident that derailed his career, opening the door for another, greater one.
Perpetually plagued by vicious headaches throughout his career, Pipp was suffering from a migraine on June 2, 1925, and manager Miller Huggins took him out of the lineup. In his stead stepped a then-unheralded “Biscuit Pants” himself, 20-year-old Lou Gehrig. In the game, Gehrig went three-for-five with a double and a run scored, forcing Huggins to go with Gehrig again the next day. That start began a streak in which Lou Gehrig held down first base for the Yankees in every single game until 1939, only broken by Cal Ripken Jr. a half-century later.
Pipp was stuck in a pinch-hitting role for the rest of 1925 campaign (when healthy), and was purchased by the Reds in the offseason. He never suited up in pinstripes again. About his unfortunate ailments, Wally Pipp once said, “I took the two most expensive aspirins in history.”
64 Years Ago
Along with the all-time leader in triples, Sam Crawford, former Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy is elected into the Hall of Fame. At the helm of the Cubs (5 seasons), Yankees (16 seasons), and Red Sox (3 seasons), McCarthy led his teams to more than 2,000 wins, a .615 winning percentage, and 9 pennants.
“Marse Joe” won all seven of his World Series titles with the Yankees and skippered an impressive dynasty led by Joe DiMaggio from 1936-43 that captured six championships in eight seasons, including four in a row from 1936-49. With the Cubs, McCarthy managed the undersized slugger, Hall of Famer Hack Wilson, and spent time in charge of Ted Williams’ Red Sox at the conclusion of his managerial career. Five-time All-Star, seven-time champion, and Yankee lifer Tommy Henrich held McCarthy in the highest esteem, “I played under three great managers — McCarthy, Bucky Harris and Casey Stengel — and I have to put McCarthy at the top of the list. For my money, he wrote the book.”
37 Years Ago
In an attempt to shore up the left side of the infield, the Yankees deal outfielder Otis Nixon and pitcher George Frazier for the talented but past-his-prime third baseman Toby Harrah. Harrah would go on to play in just 88 games for the Yanks, posting a paltry OPS+ of 79 and hitting a single home run.
Nixon, however, went on to play 17 seasons in the big leagues despite being a relatively poor hitter (career OPS of .658) due to his unparalleled speed. He stole 620 career bases and swiped more bags than anyone else in the 1990s, playing an above-average centerfield until his late thirties.
10 Years Ago
Five-time champ Andy Pettitte retires for the first time, throwing the Yankees’ rotation into question. Built much like they were in 2010, the Yankees staff possessed a dominant ace without a ton of support. The Yankees were able to nab Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in the final moments of free agency, but lacked a reliable stud beyond CC Sabathia, who finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting — especially with A.J. Burnett’s implosion. Still, the Joe Girardi-managed Yankees would go on to win 97 games on the backs of their absolutely stacked offensive stars. Of the Yankees’ regular starters, only Russell Martin, Brett Gardner, and Jorge Posada finished with an OPS+ below 100. Their season ended after losing a decisive fifth game to the Tigers in the ALDS by a single run.
The following spring, Pettitte returned to the club as a guest instructor in camp, but couldn’t stay away from the bump. He signed a surprise minor league deal with the Yanks and eventually worked up to starting 12 games to the tune of a 2.87 ERA. In 2013, at age 41, the crafty lefty started 30 games and allowed a 3.74 ERA across 185.1 innings before retiring for good.
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Infielder Germany Schaefer was born 144 years ago today. Infamous for his on-field buffoonery, Schaefer was once ejected for going to bat with a raincoat on during a drizzle, and another time for wearing a large fake mustache to the plate. Though he played in fifteen seasons and for six different teams he was a Yankee for just one at bat, his only plate appearance in the 1916 season.
Lefty Davis, born on February 4, 1875, spent much of the 1903 season in the Highlanders’ outfield, finishing one of his four major league seasons with a meager 72 OPS+. Though the Highlanders didn’t become the Yankees until the 1913 season, Davis provided more on-field production than either of today’s other two birthday brethren.
Ryan Bollinger, the only “sort of Yankee” born on a February 4th at some point during the 20th century, celebrates his 30th birthday today. While he never actually pitched for the major league Yankees, he was called up for part of the 2018 season, during which he played in Scranton and Trenton. Well before his season with the Yanks, Bollinger was a 47th-round draft selection by the Phillies, and he also spent some time in the White Sox organization. Otherwise, Bollinger has spent his entire decade-long professional career as a “baseballman” in China, Australia, or North American independent baseball leagues.
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We thank Baseball-Reference, SABR, and Nationalpastime.com for providing background information for these posts.