Ten Historical Yankees Oddities-Part II
Yankees history can be told through great players and World Series victories, but the history of the Yankees also strange, offbeat and occasionally even funny. These ten oddities, five earlier in Part I and five here in Part II, are inevitably highly subjective and capture some of the stranger and occasionally forgotten moments or events in Yankees history. Some occurred on the field and were just very unusual in the baseball sense while some occurred off the field and are downright weird.
6) The 1981 Yankees were a strange team who won the pennant in a strange year. About a third of the 1981 season was lost to a strike which then led to the creation of a split season format.In each division the team that was in first place at the time of the strike played the team with the best second half record in a best of five playoff to see who would advance to the LCS. The Yankees were in first place at the time of the strike and went all the way to the World Series where they lost to the Dodgers. That Yankees team felt like an older version of the 1976-1978 pennant winning teams. Reggie Jackson, Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles and Ron Guidry were still around but were thirty or over. Additionally, several of the newer Yankees including Tommy John and Bob Watson were also on the older side. One of the big strengths of that Yankees team was its bullpen led by five relievers with ERAs under 3.00. Goose Gossage had a great year finishing with an 0.77 ERA, 20 saves and 48 strikeouts in the strike shortened year. One of the other bright spots in that bullpen was a 26 year old late season callup named George Frazier. Frazier appeared in 16 games and despite less than stellar peripherals, had an ERA of 1. 63 in 27.2 innings.
Frazier did not pitch in the first round of the playoffs, but threw 5.2 innings of scoreless relief against the A’s as the Yankees swept the ALCS. The Yankees won the first two games of the World Series, but Frazier did not pitch in those games. In the bottom of the third inning of game three, Frazier came in to relieve Dave Righetti with two on, no outs and the Yankees leading 4-3. Frazier pitched out of the jam, but in the fifth gave up two runs and the lead. He left the game with the Yankees behind 5-4. The Yankees ended up losing by that score with Frazier being charged with the loss. The next day, Frazier entered the game in the bottom of the seventh with the score tied at 6-6. He faced three batters, but did not record an out. Tommy John then came in to relieve him and allowed two runs, both were charged to Frazier. Los Angeles went on to win 8-7 with Frazier once again taking the lost. For reasons that should by now be obvious Frazier did not pitch in game five, but was the first reliever out of the bullpen in game six. Entering the game in the fifth inning with the score tied at one, Frazier did not pitch well. He gave up three runs in the only inning he pitched and once again was tagged with the loss. Frazier ended up with three losses and an ERA of 17.18 for the World Series. No pitcher has ever lost three games in a World Series before or since. Lots of things went wrong for the Yankees in that series, and manager Bob Lemon made some questionable calls, so it is not entirely fair to blame Frazier, but three losses in a World Series remains a record. Frazier, for his part, remained in the big leagues through the 1987 season. That season was spent with the Minnesota Twins who won the World Series. Frazier got into one game and pitched two scoreless innings.
7) Most Yankees fans, and baseball fans in general, are familiar with the Pine Tar Game and George Brett’s reaction when he learned his home run would be called back. After the game that day the ruling was overturned and the home run counted, giving the Royals the lead. This meant the teams had to finish the game by playing the rest of the top of the ninth. The Yankees would then come to bat in the bottom of the inning. However, this would occur on August 18th, more than three weeks after the game had started on July 24th. Yankees manager Billy Martin was, rightfully, furious about the situation because he believed the Yankees were being punished for asking that the pine tar rule be enforced. Martin expressed his frustration through the lineup he put on the field for the final out of the game. This included Don Mattingly, the left-hand throwing first baseman, playing second base and Ron Guidry, the team’s best pitcher, in centerfield. While this may have been Martin’s way of sticking his finger in the eye of the league, it was also one of the stranger moments in the careers of both of these Yankees. The game was resumed with two outs in the top of the ninth and Hal McRae coming to bat for the Royals. McRae struck out for the final out of the inning. The pitcher that struck him out was….George Frazier.
8) The Flip remains one of the most famous Yankees moments of the century. It was a great and smart play by an all time great Yankee and one of the signature moments of Derek Jeter’s career. A lot has been written about it and about Jeter, but at the moment it happened, the sheer strangeness of the play was striking. I had never seen a play like that at any level of organized baseball including high school and middle school. It was the kind of thing you might see or do on the sandlot in a game with five or six players on a side, not in the ALCS.
9) The Yankees last one the World Series in 2009. Other than Hideki Matsui driving in six runs in the sixth and deciding game and Mariano Rivera reminding everybody why he was the best closer in baseball history, it was not a very memorable World Series. However, in the top of the ninth inning of game four, Johnny Damon hit a two out single. With Mark Texeira batting from the left side, the speedy Damon then stole second. This was not that unusual, but because of the shift the Phillies were deploying, their third baseman, Pedro Feliz was covering second. This left third base undefended. Damon alertly noticed this and, after beating the throw to second, simply sprinted to third. He easily outran Feliz who futilely tried to catch Damon. From there the Phillies unraveled, giving up three runs in the inning. The Yankees won the game 8-5 and were well on their way to the championship. Stealing two bases in an inning is impressive, but doing it on one pitch while perhaps not completely unprecedented, was a very bold and unusual move. It was, like the flip, a sandlot move executed perfectly in the middle of the postseason.
10) RIGHT NOW. It is late June and due to a global pandemic, the Yankees have not played a single game, and may not play at all this season. For baseball fans this is sad, disorienting and downright weird. Stay safe.