The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Falling short of immortality: Yankees who didn't make it big

A lot of kids grow up dreaming of playing baseball for the celebrated New York Yankees. If they know about the history of the franchise, they’ve heard about long-ago immortals Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and more recently Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Joining them in Monument Park was an aspiring wish by many youngsters.

 

Of course, trying to follow in the footsteps of one of these legendary players and other superstars of Yankees teams over the years can be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing comes in the form of notoriety and fanfare while rising through the ranks, being compared to one of the Yankee greats. The curse manifests itself in having to live up to the expectations of Yankee predecessors.

 

This piece looks at some of the up-and-coming players over the years who got to the big leagues with the Yankees but fell short in joining the ranks of Yankee superstars. Some were better-than-average players. Some only played in a handful of games with the Yankees after a big buildup from the minors. Some were blocked from extensive careers with the Yankees by all-stars ahead of them. However, none of them come close to attaining the immortality of Yankee greats. Often, they were ultimately given up on by the Yankees and traded.

 

Vito Tamulis won 20 games in his first year on the Yankees organization in 1932. After posting 13 wins with the Yankees’ top farm club Newark in 1934, he earned a spot in their 1935 rotation, joining future Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing. He finished the season with a respectable 10-5 record but couldn’t keep his roster spot in 1936 and 1937 when the Yankees won two World Series. Tamulis was returned to Newark, where he was 25-11 during those seasons. However, with their starting rotation limiting opportunities, the Yankees traded Tamulis to the St. Louis Browns. He was finished in the majors by 1941 at age 29, although he attempted a comeback in 1946.

 

Bob Porterfield was a pitching phenom the Yankees were hoping would supplement their rotation consisting of star hurlers Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, and Ed Lopat in the late 1940s. He rose quickly through the Yankee farm system and made his major-league debut in 1948. However, he suffered a variety of injuries over the next few years and was traded to Washington in 1951. Porterfield eventually reached his mound potential, compiling double-digit wins in four consecutive seasons with the Senators, including 22 in 1953.

 

Clint Courtney played four seasons in the Yankees farm system during which he earned a reputation as a scrappy catcher. By the time he reached the majors in 1951, the Yankees already had Charlie Silvera, and Ralph Houk as backups to Yogi Berra. Courtney played in only one game for the Yankees before being traded to the St. Louis Browns. The Yankees may have given up on his too soon, as he was the runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year in 1952 with the Browns. He wound up playing 11 seasons in the majors, earning the nickname “Scrap Iron.”

 

Bob Grim was American League Rookie of the Year with the Yankees in 1954, when he fashioned a 20-6 record and 3.26 ERA. However, he lost his job as a starter at a time when the Yankees staff featured Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, Bob Turley, Tommy Byrne, Bobby Shantz, and Tom Sturdivant. The Yankees tried him as reliever, but he was traded to Kansas City in mid-1958 and was out of baseball by 1962.

 

During the 1950s the Yankees won the American League pennant every season except 1954 and 1959. Infielder Jerry Lumpe and outfielder/first-baseman Norm Siebern were starters for the Yankees for several of those championship seasons. Lumpe was eventually pushed out by Clete Boyer and Tony Kubek.  Siebern, a Gold Glove winner in left field in 1958, lost his outfield job to Hector Lopez and Bob Cerv, while Bill Skowron had a strong hold on first base. Lumpe and Siebern subsequently became mainstays in the Kansas City A’s lineup for several years during the early 1960s.

 

Marv Throneberry got a $50,000 bonus in 1952 (significant in those days) for signing with the Yankees out of high school. He was pegged as a “can’t miss” prospect after becoming a feared slugger in the Yankees farm system. However, the first baseman was blocked by Joe Collins and later Bill Skowron with the big-league club. He made his major-league debut in 1955 but didn’t claim a permanent job (as a backup first baseman) with the Yankees until 1958 and 1959. He was traded to Kansas City for the 1960 season, and later gained notoriety as “Marvelous” Marv in the New York Mets’ inaugural season in 1962.

 

Jake Gibbs was a highly touted football and baseball star at Ole Miss. He passed on an opportunity to sign with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and AFL’s Houston Oilers to ink a contract with the Yankees in 1961. He was converted to a catcher in the hopes he could eventually become the regular at the position after Yogi Berra and Elston Howard retired. He played for the Yankees until 1971; but since he didn’t hit for average or power, he shared time with other catchers throughout his tenure. Gibbs retired as a player at age 32, after Thurman Munson took over the full-time job.

 

Bobby Murcer was supposed to be the second coming of Mickey Mantle. He was from Oklahoma like The Mick and started out as a shortstop like Mantle although he would convert to an outfielder like Mantle. He would eventually become a four-time all-star with the Yankees when they had some poor teams, but they gave up on him when they traded him to San Francisco for Bobby Bonds in 1975. Ironically, he later came back to the Yankees in 1979 as a part-time player.

 

Outfielder Kevin Maas made a big splash with the big-league Yankees in 1990 by hitting 21 homers in 79 games as a rookie. He finished as runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year. However, after three more seasons in which he couldn’t sustain is rookie-year performance, he was released by the Yankees and bounced around in the Reds, Padres, Twins, and Astros organizations before leaving baseball after the 1997 season.

 

Steve Balboni was a second-round pick of the Yankees in 1978. He was a big, burly first-baseman who acquired the nickname “Bye-Bye” because of his home-run prowess in the minors, including seasons of 26, 34, 33, and 27. But he couldn’t hit big-league pitching in his stints with the Yankees. With Don Mattingly emerging as the Yanks’ star first-baseman, Balboni was eventually traded to Kansas City where he fulfilled his power potential at the major-league level.

 

As most of these players found out, being touted as the next Mickey Mantle or Whitey Ford wasn’t any guarantee to a bright future with the Yankees. Yankees brass always seemed to have a stable of players capable of extending the team’s dynasty, and many otherwise good players were forced to play elsewhere. There was no immortality in the Bronx for them.

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