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This Day in Yankees History: Aaron Judge introduces himself

A potential Yankee suddenly passes away, a future superstar says hello, and a reliever has a haunting premonition.

New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge signs autographs... Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara/Newsday RM via Getty Images

Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. Now that spring training is officially open, it’s time to get amped for the upcoming season. 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 3)

89 Years Ago

Right-handed pitcher Ed Morris had a very odd career. Dubbed “Big Ed” for his height, he reached the majors at age 22 with the Cubs, but threw poorly in five relief outings and was banished to the minors for the next six years. After improving in the Southern Association, the Red Sox gave him a shot in 1928, and he rewarded them with a surprisingly strong season. Morris pitched to a 19-15 record with a 3.53 ERA, 3.44 FIP, and 4.3 WAR in 257.2 innings, even earning some down-ballot MVP votes. Had he played for any team other than the cellar-dwelling Red Sox, he would’ve won 20 games.

Morris wasn’t quite as effective over the next few seasons and battled arm trouble while bouncing back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, but he was still about a league-average arm. At one point, the Yankees strongly considered adding Morris to their team, as they’d been closely scouting Boston and liked his arm. The interest was serious and there were rumors of a $100,000 offer, but Ed Barrow eventually ending up plucking Morris’s fellow rotation-mates Red Ruffing and Danny MacFayden.

Before Morris had a chance to don the pinstripes, tragedy struck. On the eve of spring training in 1932, Morris attended a going-away party in Savannah and got into a fight with a guest (the exact cause is unclear, but accounts have been made of Morris “urinating in the community pot of boiled peanuts” or “making a pass at the attacker’s wife”). He was stabbed twice in the chest and went to the hospital, where he died just a few days later. Morris was only 32.

Six Years Ago

Look, there’s not much history to remember today, so let’s dial it back to March 3, 2015. It was just another meaningless spring training matchup against the Phillies, but manager Joe Girardi made it a memorable affair for one of the Yankees’ top prospects: a 6’7” monster named Aaron Judge.

Judge had been drafted two years prior, but he was in minor league camp for all of spring training 2014. After slugging 17 homers with a .905 OPS between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, he earned a non-roster invitation to camp in 2015. It was still going to be mostly about giving Judge time around a MLB clubhouse more than granting any real shot of making the star-packed team, but since the Yankees were in the middle of a rough patch in terms of real prospects, it was exciting.

Judge made his spring debut six years ago today, pinch-hitting for Chris Young and taking his spot in right field. In the top of the ninth with the Yankees trailing, he batted against Mario Hollands, who had been a bullpen regular for the 2014 Phillies. Down to the game’s last strike, Judge flashed the power that prospect enthusiasts had dreamed about, slugging a three-run blast to tie the game.

Obviously, the game didn’t mean anything, but it was a sign that the Yankees’ future was bright with the future Rookie of the Year.

One Year Ago

This is more of a fascinating note than a full recollection of a memorable moment, but it still sends a shiver up my spine. Think about what life was like one year ago today. Masahiro Tanaka pitched well and Gio Urshela homered in a 9-1 drubbing of the Red Sox with 9,545 fans in attendance at George Steinbrenner Field, plus more casually watching on ESPN in sports bars across the country. Ho-hum and who cares, right?

Well, the day prior, the state of Florida declared a public health emergency after two counties on the Gulf Coast revealed that they each had a case of the coronavirus that was ravaging China and beginning to wreak havoc across Europe. To most people, it was a tad disconcerting but probably went overlooked. Given that one of the cases was in the same county where the Yankees were preparing for 2020, reliever Zack Britton was more than a little concerned:

“The worst thing that could happen is somebody in here gets sick because of the close contact we have with each other ... Obviously we know it can be deadly. It is something we have to be aware of. Just don’t know how to combat it in our sport where everyone is touching the same ball.’’

Oh, what we didn’t realize what was coming. Britton was right to worry.*

Eight days later, the number of cases in the United States had soared from 114 to 1,828 and 43 people had died. The NBA season was suspended after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive, the NCAA and NHL followed suit the next day, and MLB closed spring training. As you may have noticed, everything only got much, much worse from there.

*And the issue of close contact Britton that alluded to reared its ugly head when the MLB season started in late July and saw outbreaks on the Marlins and Cardinals shortly thereafter that nearly threw the whole resumption into jeopardy.

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Happy birthday to Hall of Famer Willie Keeler, who was born on this day in 1872 and was one of the first stars to ever play for the Yankees. The Brooklyn native rose to prominence with the dangerous 1890s Orioles, stealing bases with reckless abandon and winning a pair of batting titles with an average as high as .424 in 1894 by “hitting them where they ain’t.”

Keeler returned to Brooklyn for a few seasons before being lured to join New York’s new American League team, the Highlanders, in 1903. He hit .315 with a 122 OPS+ and 12.1 WAR in his first four years with the upstarts before declining in his mid-thirties. His health also took a turn not long after his MLB career ended, and he passed away from heart disease and a number of other ailments on January 1, 1923. If mysterious and futuristic medicine existed and Keeler was still alive today, he would be turning 149.

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