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Caveat Emptor- Part Four

The Off-Season: Caveat Emptor- Part Four

By Tim Kabel

January 31, 2022

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So far, I have written three articles in this series (links to each below) that I am calling Caveat Emptor, which is about free agent signings the Yankees made that for one reason or another, went awry. The subjects of the first two articles, Steve Kemp and Dave Collins, did not have successful careers as Yankees. They did not fulfill their contracts. They were both traded before their contracts expired. Neither of them lived up to expectations on the field. Kemp suffered injuries, which limited his productivity and eventually ended his career. Collins was just a bad fit from the outset.

The subject of the third article, Mel Hall, did fulfill his contract. He put up decent but not spectacular numbers. As a player, he was average. However, he was a completely reprehensible human being, who was a blight on the Yankees’ image and reputation. Much worse, he was a serial sexual predator who should have been reported by any one of the scores of people who witnessed and were aware of his inappropriate relations with minors, rather than putting a picture of him and his victim in the team yearbook.

The first three individuals in this series were position players. Today, I will turn my attention to the pitcher’s mound.

Before I get to that, I would like to take a moment to recognize the fact that the Yankees hired Carlos Beltran to work as a commentator on the YES network. This is his first job in baseball since the Astros’ scandal. I don’t know how good he will be as a commentator but, I think it is a solid move. Clearly, he knows baseball. He was going to be the Mets’ manager and he was interviewed for the Yankees’ managerial position that ultimately went to Aaron Boone. I read some articles that stated he may be in fact, the manager in waiting to replace Aaron Boone. The article suggested the Yankees had hired their potential future manager by hiring Beltran. I’m going to write something somewhat startling. I believe the Yankees have hired their future manager of the Major League team but, I don’t believe it’s Carlos Beltran. I believe it will be Rachel Balkovec. I believe that Boone will be given perhaps two or three more years of nail chewing, bubble blowing, and dithering before he is mercifully shown the door. During that time, I believe that Balkovec will hone her managerial skills to the point that she could be ready to manage on the Major League level. I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. If you don’t believe me, ask my friend Roger. He has an exact count.

The second free agent the Yankees ever signed was in 1976, after they lost the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in a humiliating four game sweep. In the spirit of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, the Yankees signed pitcher Don Gullett to a six-year $2 million contract. After the signing, Yankees’ president Gabe Paul said, “Don Gullett is the modern Whitey Ford.” Paul added, “His won-lost record is just phenomenal.” As a member of the Reds from 1970 through 1976, Gullett had a record of 91-44, with a 3.03 earned run average. He was a member of two World Series Championship teams with the Reds.

in his first year with the Yankees, 1977, Gullet was only 26 years old. His fourth start with the Yankees came on a rainy day at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore on April 25th. During the 4th inning, Gullet slipped and fell on the wet pitching mound, spraining his ankle and straining a muscle in his neck. The injury required him to wear a neck brace and miss some starts. In his return on May 7th, he struck out 10 and threw 154 pitches in a complete game, 11-2 victory over the Oakland A’s. He wound up the season with a 14 -4 record and an ERA of 3.58. He pitched three games in the postseason, going 0-2. However, he was a member of the World Series Championship team for the third year in a row. In 1978, he developed shoulder injuries that ended his season and his career. His last Major League appearance was on July 9th, 1978. His overall record as a Yankee was 18-6, with a 3.59 earned run average. If that had been for one season, it would have been phenomenal. Unfortunately, that was all the Yankees received for their six-year investment. Gullett was paid through 1982.

Taking a step back and looking at the signing, it would have been hard to argue with it. As a 12-year-old, I thought it was a great move. If they made the same move today, I would still think it was a great move. Gullett’s career record was 109-50 with a 3.11 earned run average. He was only 26 when the Yankees signed him. If he had not been injured, he would have been 32 at its conclusion. Usually when they sign somebody, he is already 32.

That is the point of Caveat Emptor. There is a risk involved in signing a free agent. Sometimes there are signs; sometimes there are not. No one has a crystal ball. Whenever something goes awry, the critics come leaping out of the woodwork to say that it was a bad move and a horrible signing. Well, they didn’t say that at the time of the signing. As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. The point is that there is a gamble in signing a free agent, or in making a trade, or in selecting someone in the draft. The signing of Gullett turned out to be a waste of money for the Yankees. However, they had no way of knowing that. This wasn’t like the trade for Ken Phelps, which almost everyone could see at the start was a disaster. This wasn’t even like the signing of Dave Collins. Dave Collins was a bad fit for the Yankees. On the other hand, Don Gullett was a perfect fit for the Yankees. Unfortunately, the injuries occurred and that was that. Although the initial signing was considered by most to be a good move, there is still something about the Gullett contract that is hard to swallow for most Yankees’ fans.

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Previous Articles in this Series:

Caveat Emptor- Part One (Steve Kemp)

Caveat Emptor- Part Two (Dave Collins)

Caveat Emptor- Part Three (Mel Hall)

#DonGullett

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