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This Day in Yankees History: Joe Torre, Don Zimmer, and the series finale

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A year of walking through Yankees history comes to a close.

Former Baseball Player, Manager & Coach Don Zimmer Dies, 83 Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Welcome to the final edition of This Day in Yankees History. On March 16th of last year, Pinstripe Alley began a daily look at the long history of this great franchise, mostly as a way to provide you all with some form of entertainment during the long stretch without baseball during the pandemic. We hope you’ve enjoyed the journey, as now, we’ve finally hit a full year and the end of the road for this series. Thank you all for taking the trip with us!

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This Day in Yankees History (March 15th):

22 Years Ago

It was a sad state of affairs around Yankees spring training in 1999, as beloved manager Joe Torre had to suddenly leave his championship team on March 10th following his prostate cancer diagnosis. After some deliberation, he elected to have surgery, which would keep him away from the team until May at the earliest.

Torre’s trusted bench coach, Don Zimmer, had taken over the Yankees on a temporary basis when his friend departed, and on March 15th, the team made it official: Zimmer would be managing the team out of the gate in 1999. It was a strange but familiar situation for Zimmer to be in, as while he was 68, he did have over 1,700 games of managerial experience under his belt, albeit none since he was fired by the Cubs in May of 1991.

The Yankees went 21-15 under Zimmer and held a slim first-place lead when Torre returned on May 18th, but it was a huge relief for Zimmer to see his pal return. The fiery skipper couldn’t stop pacing on his bad knees and the stress of the job led him to tell the press at one point that he would quit coaching as soon as Torre came back. Zimmer was put at ease when Torre took over, and the duo remained together until Zimmer called it quits after the 2003 campaign.

Eight Years Ago

Backed by future Yankee Carlos Beltrán, Team Puerto Rico sent the United States home at the end of the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Journeyman righty Nelson Figueroa surprisingly threw six shutout innings against a stacked American lineup that featured Ryan Braun, Joe Mauer, and future Yankee Giancarlo Stanton in the heart of the order.

Beltrán doubled and scored a run, while Stanton did his part for Team U.S.A. with an RBI single in the seventh. The Americans brought the game closer at 4-3, but Puerto Rico closer J.C. Romero stranded the bases loaded in the eighth before finishing off the upset in the ninth. For the second time in three WBC tournaments, Team U.S.A. was sent home before the championship round.

Seven Years Ago

As part of a tribute to retired closer Mariano Rivera, the Yankees sent part of their team to Panama to play in a special “Legend Series” against the Marlins at Rod Carew Stadium. It was the first time that MLB had visited Panama since 1947, when the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers squared off on a tour that also featured stops in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

Amusingly enough, the Marlins stole the show in the first game on March 15th, when starter Brad Hand combined with relievers Steve Cishek, AJ Ramos, and Arquimedes Caminero to no-hit the Yankees. Perhaps it was a tribute to the fact that Mo never had a hit in his career (though he did have an RBI). Yeah, let’s go with that.

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Happy 61st birthday, Mike Pagilarulo! An ‘80s fan favorite with a great mustache, “Pags” was a 1981 draft pick by the Yankees and played five and a half seasons at the hot corner in the Bronx from 1984-89. He started off well, batting .237/.311/.462 with 86 homers, a 108 OPS+, and 6.8 rWAR in 504 games through 1987, reaching a career-high that year with 32 dingers.

Sadly, the Yankees could never quite get over the hump and into the playoffs, and after a big drop in Pagilarulo’s performance over the next couple seasons, he was traded to the Padres in July 1989. He later resurfaced as the Twins’ primary third baseman when they won it all in 1991, and Pags excelled when finally given a shot at postseason play. He hit .308/.333/.577 with a pair of homers in 11 games as the Twins rolled past the Blue Jays in the ALCS and took out the Braves in the World Series.

Following stints with the Orioles, Rangers, and the NPB’s Seibu Lions, Pagliarulo called it a career after the 1995 season. He coached for several years in the minors and reunited with old teammate Don Mattingly in Miami when the former Yankees captain named him hitting coach in 2017. He served in that role until being dismissed in April 2019.

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We thank Baseball Reference, SABR, and Nationalpastime.com for providing background information for so many of these daily history posts from the past year. It would have been much more difficult to do so without them, and we appreciate the convenient help.