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This Day in Yankees History: Billy Crystal strikes out

Billy Crystal leads off for Yankees; Lou Gehrig signs extension; Major League Baseball changes the baseballs because of World War II

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Yankees Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images

Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. 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 13th)

84 Years Ago

The Yankees re-sign legendary first baseman and team captain Lou Gehrig to a $38,000 with a $750 signing bonus (the equivalent of $690,000 and $13,000 today). Fresh off a season in which he hit a career-high 49 home runs, led the league with a .354/.478/.696 slash, and won his second AL MVP award, the 34-year-old was expected to remain a stabilizing force within the lineup for several more years. His 1937 season, however, would be the last year of his otherworldly performance. Although he was still elite in 1938 — he posted a 132 OPS+ — he appeared to have declined (that OPS+, for example, was his lowest by 30 points in over a decade). The following season, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known by its initials ALS.

78 Years Ago

Due to a shortage of rubber due to World War II that resulted in a ban of its use for non-military related products, Major League Baseball introduces a new ball, manufactured by the Spalding Company, made of cork and balata. Although officials claim that the ball will behave similarly to the 1939 ball, players remain doubtful, pointing to the decline in offense that occurs. The following season, the growing use of synthetic rubber allowed the ball to return to its former design, and that — along with the return of players from the war — caused offensive performance to return to normal.

13 Years Ago

The 59-year-old comedian and well-known Yankee fan Billy Crystal bats leadoff in a spring training game for the New York Yankees to commemorate his impending 60th birthday. In his one plate appearance, he struck out on a full count, although not after making contact by hitting a ground ball foul down the first base line — which is more than most of us would do!

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Birthdays

Happy 30th birthday to former Yankees farmhand Manny Bañuelos! Originally signed by the Yankees out of the Mexican League in 2008, Bañuelos quickly became one of the team’s top prospects, with Mariano Rivera calling him the best pitching prospect he had ever seen after watching him during the 2011 spring training. Unfortunately, much like his fellow member of the Killer B’s Andrew Brackman, his career was derailed by injuries.

He was ultimately traded to the Atlanta Braves — with whom he would make his Major League debut in 2015 — for David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve. Since then, he has bounced around a few minor leagues systems, including the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago White Sox, and Seattle Mariners. Since the start of the 2020 season, he has been a member of the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s Fubon Guardians.

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