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Yankees History: Another pitcher who had a decade-long odyssey to the Bronx

In honor of Manny Bañuelos finally making the Yankees’ roster, let’s remember another pitcher who spent years grafting before donning the pinstripes.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

After Wednesday’s win over the Orioles, word went out that Manny Bañuelos was in the Yankees’ clubhouse, added to the team’s taxi squad. The next day, the team made it official that he had been added to the MLB roster, closing the circle on a decade-long journey.

If you jumped in a time machine from 2012 and came straight here, you might not be surprised to see Bañuelos on the Yankees’ roster. At that time, he was the No. 13 prospect in all of baseball, per If in 2012, you were told that he was with the Yankees 10 years later, you would probably think that meant that he had carved out a good career as a member of the Yankees’ rotation. However, as those who have followed Bañuelos’ travels know, that is not how things played out.

In reality, Bañuelos began to struggle in 2012 and ended up needing Tommy John surgery. After returning two years later, he had lost his elite prospect status and ended up being a piece in a semi-minor trade with the Braves for relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve. Bañuelos went on to make his MLB debut with Atlanta in 2015, but that fizzled after just six starts.

Following a couple years grafting in the minors, Bañuelos reappeared with the White Sox in 2019, but again couldn’t stick in the big leagues. After a couple more years playing in a couple different leagues around the world, he got an invite to spring training back where it all started with the Yankees.

Now after a good spring and a good run in Triple-A, he’s gotten the call and is going to pitch in the majors with the Yankees, even wearing his old Killer B friend Dellin Betances’ No. 68. More than seven years after getting traded and a full decade after his prospect peak, he’s arrived at where we all hoped he’d be one day. It’s a heartwarming story.

In honor of ManBan’s road to the Bronx, let’s dig into the history books and look at another Yankee picture who had a long journey before finally entering the Yankees’ clubhouse.

Born in Kansas City in 1930, John Gabler was signed by the Yankees right out of high school in 1949. He made his debut with the Belleville Stags of the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League, and spent the next three seasons in Class C and D ball.

After missing the entirety of the 1952 and ‘53 seasons serving in the military, Gabler returned for ‘54. He began to advance through the Yankees’ system, but did so fairly slowly. He kept putting up solid numbers, but with the Yankees in the midst of a dynastic era, it was tough for him to gain any sort of major league traction.

Flash-forward all the way to 1959. Ten years after signing with the Yankees, Gabler was still plugging away in the minors, having a good season with the Denver Bears. That September, with the Yankees set to miss the World Series for the first time since 1954, Gabler finally got the call.

Gabler made his MLB debut on September 18, 1959, against the Red Sox. Yankees starter Duke Maas lasted just 0.1 innings, allowing three runs in the blink of an eye. Gabler came in for him and eventually got out of the inning, but seemingly dealt with some first-inning jitters. The right-hander walked three batters in the inning and allowed another two Boston runs to score. After that, Gabler settled down and allowed one more run and finishing out the game. He ended up going 7.2 innings, allowing two runs on six hits and five walks as the Yankees lost 6-4.

Gabler ended up making a further two appearances that season and was solid, finishing the year with a 2.79 ERA (133 ERA+) in 19.1 innings.

In 1960, Gabler ended up making the team out of spring training. That year, Casey Stengel had brought on former Yankees’ pitcher Eddie Lopat as pitching coach, and he and Gabler reportedly clicked. Prior to that, Lopat had been a roving pitching coach in the Yankees’ system, in some of the years where Gabler was starting to get on the MLB radar.

Gabler ended up throwing 52 innings in 1960, putting up a 4.15 ERA. However, the last of them came in June and he ended up back in the minors. After that season, the Washington Senators selected him in the Rule 5 draft, and Gabler threw 92.2 inning for them in 1961. He threw one more season in the minors the year after, but never returned to the majors.

Undoubtedly, there must’ve been tough times for Gabler in having to wait a full decade before making the major leagues. However, he eventually did and that cannot be taken away.