Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. As the offseason has begun much sooner than anyone has ever hoped for, the Pinstripe Alley team has decided to continue the revived program in its new format. 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 (March 11)
65 Years Ago
Mickey Mantle slugs the first in a set of gargantuan homers during spring training in 1956. Astonished by the length of Mantle’s drive over the leftfield wall of Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida, Stan Musial claimed, “…no home run has ever cleared my head by as much as long as I can remember.” On March 20th, Mantle hit another ball into a similar spot in the bay beyond the leftfield fence, then hit a bomb measured at 500 feet four days later against the Dodgers in Miami.
60 Years Ago
Mickey Mantle re-ups with the Yanks for a one-year deal worth $65K. After the worst season of his peak, in which he still led the American League with a 151 OPS+, Mantle took a $7,000 pay-cut to remain a Yankee. That season, he finished second in AL MVP voting to his teammate, Roger Maris, and went on to win two championships in each of the following two seasons.
19 Years Ago
The Yankees sign third baseman and Cuban defector Andy Morales to a four-year contract worth $4.5 million. When Morales reported to camp later in March, he struggled, and proceeded to bat just .231 with a single homer across 48 contests for the team’s Double-A affiliate. Per Buster Olney’s 2001 report for the New York Times, that summer, the Yankees voided Morales’ contract, citing evidence he was actually 29, and not the 26 years of age he’d allegedly led the team to believe. Still, as mentioned by Olney, the Yankees seized the opportunity to void the underperformer’s contract based on the age discrepancy claim, while they retained Orlando Hernández despite finding out “El Duque” was probably four years older than they previously assumed, as did the Mets when they discovered Rey Ordóñez was a year older than they thought.
18 Years Ago
The Yankees release Mariano Rivera’s cousin, Rubén, for stealing a glove and bat from Derek Jeter’s locker and selling them to a memorabilia merchant for a couple thousand dollars. Though in his second stint with the team, having come up through the minors with the franchise and played for the 1996 World Series winner, his teammates deemed the breach of trust a bridge too far, and decided as a group that Rivera had to go. Rivera actually re-signed with the Yankees in August of 2005, but never actually ended up playing another game in pinstripes.
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Happy 47th birthday to a Yankee for two seasons and change, borderline Hall of Famer, and the most overrated-underrated player of all time, Bobby Abreu! Of players who peaked in this millennium, Abreu, along with Ben Zobrist, is one baseball’s most underrated stars by baseball traditionalists, yet has simultaneously attained elite levels of overrated-ness by stat geeks (myself included). While Abreu tallied 60.2 WAR across his 18-season career, good for 185th-best of all time, the 20th-best among right fielders, he never once finished in the top-ten for MVP voting, and just once generated a WAR total within his league’s top-ten.
As a quantity over quality producer (at least as compared to the game’s greatest players ever), he never cemented his legacy as an offensive machine—striking fear into the hearts of opposing fanbases when he stepped into the box—but his sky-high career walk rate (14.6%) and solid slugging (.476) kept his production floor high, generating an OPS+ of greater than 100 for 14 straight seasons. If the Hall of Fame is exclusively for baseball’s stars that burned the very brightest (which I think it should), Abreu’s career doesn’t merit much consideration. However, if the Hall is meant to award the most total production across an entire career (which, historically, it has), it’s hard to reason leaving Abreu on the outside looking in.
In his second year on the ballot, Abreu garnered just 8.7% of the vote, enough to keep him on the ballot, but light-years away from the 75% necessary for induction. Trailing longshot, and in my book, undeserving inductees like Sammy Sosa and Jeff Kent in votes, Bobby Abreu’s candidacy is unlikely regardless of its legitimacy. With each passing year he misses out, it looks more and more likely that he could earn the unfortunate distinction as one of the better players ever (outside of confirmed steroid users) to not make the Hall of Fame.
Turning 41 today is the active journeyman left-hander, Rich Hill. While the big fella’s about to start his first season for his fourth AL East team, he spent a 14-game stretch on the Yankees in 2014 after being waived by the Angels. Despite pitching well with the Yankees, he only earned four appearances for the Red Sox in the following season before finally being granted a regular spot with the A’s in 2016.
Also, Herm McFarland, born today in 1870, deserves a mention for the single season he spent as a member of the 1903 Highlanders during which he posted a totally respectable 108 OPS+. Finally, Kevin Reese, who turns 43 today, spent his entire 13 at bat career with the Yankees in parts of the 2005 and 2006 seasons, recording 5 singles for a career .385 batting average.
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We thank Baseball-Reference and Nationalpastime.com for providing background information for these posts.