Friday, June 26, 2009

#124 -- Yankee Rookies (Closter, Torres, Hambright)

Alan Closter

The Yankee farm system of the 1990's was what got them their late-90's success by developing guys like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. That same farm system helped continue the playoff success through the early part of the 2000's by causing other teams to overvalue Yankee prospects because they were Yankees. The Yankee farm system of the 40's and 50's (including the Kansas City A's) was responsible for the success in the 50's and early 60's, largely because there was no draft and the Yankees could send out superscouts like Tom Greenwade out with suitcases full of money to sign guys like Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard and Bobby Murcer.

That led to the institution of the Amateur Player Draft. The Yankees didn't adjust well for a long time. As a result, their farm system really sucked in the late 60's and 70's. This card is an example. None of these three guys were major contributors, but they were Yankees....
Al Closter was signed in 1965, but drafted and sold before he made his big league debut with the Senators in 1966. He wasn't ready, as he came late into the O's blowing out the Senators. He gave up a double, walked 2 (including pitcher Moe Drabowsky) and got light-hitting Luis Aparicio on a fly to deep center. The Senators let him go back to the Yankees rather than keep him on the roster. He came back in 1971 and had his most time, going 2-2, 5.08 in 1 start and 13 relief appearances. He gave 5 runs on 5 hits (including homers to Mickey Stanley and Norm Cash) in his only start. In 1972, he only got into 2 games and didn't come up to the Yankees in 1973. Late in the season, he was the Player to be Named Later in the deal that brought Pat Dobson to the Yankees from Atlanta. The Braves decided to put him on the expanded roster to see what they got. After 4 games, 4 1/3 innings and 7 earned runs, they decided they'd seen enough. Al pitched at AAA in 1974 and 1975 before giving it up. But, Al's in the Syracuse Baseball Wall of Fame and I'm not.

Rusty Torres had the best career of these 3. He was signed at age 18 and slowly worked his way along until things clicked for him in the minors when he turned 20. He had a cup of coffee in 1971 that led to all kinds of great predictions because he hit .385 in 26 at bats over 9 games. He struck out looking in his first game against Pat Dobson (1 of 3 strikeouts that day). Rusty never fulfilled that promise. He was a journeyman that hit .212 in parts of 9 seasons in the bigs.

Rusty, however, appeared in three of the oddest and most infamous American League games of the 1970's. On September 30, 1971, he was the Yankee right fielder in the last Washington Senator game before they moved to Texas. Rusty was 1/4 in the game. He was also walking to the on-deck circle when the fans rushed the field with 2 outs in the 9th causing a forfeit.

Fast forward to June 4, 1974. Rusty is a bench player for the Indians and comes to pinch-hit in the 9th. The Indians are at home and trailing the Rangers 5-4 when Rusty is summoned to bat. He singles and moves Ed Crosby to 2nd with 1 out. Alan Ashby follows with a single to load the bases. Crosby then scored on Johnny Lowenstein's sac fly and Rusty was the winning run on 2nd with 2 out and Jack Brohamer coming up to face Steve Foucault. He never got to bat. Fans, likely affected by Cleveland's Ten Cent Beer Night promotion, stormed the field, stole MVP Jeff Burroughs' glove and the game was forfeited to the Rangers. This link has a great description of the night, complete with Ranger manager Billy Martin ordering the team to arm themselves with bats to storm centerfield to save their comrades. Think I'm kidding? Check out the picture showing some of Billy's Batwielders escorting Burroughs to safety. (That's Jim Spencer on the left and I don't know who's on the right.)

Guess what happened July 12, 1979? Rusty is now with the White Sox who are hosting a doubleheader against the Tigers. Rusty goes 1-3 and scores the lone run as the Sox lose to Pat Underwood. Here's the link to Game 2. Rusty didn't play. Nobody played. Comiskey became unplayable between games because it was Disco Demolition Night. The Wikipedia account is kind of funny, especially noting that Sox broadcasters Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall were commenting in Game 1 about strange people roaming the stands. Stranger than the ones in the press box?

I wouldn't be surprised if Rusty hadn't been in Comiskey a few years ago when that redneck and his son jumped Royal coach Tom Gamboa.

Roger Hambright had a much more sedate career than Torres, but had more substance than Closter. Hambright was up most of the second half of 1971 pitching out of the bullpen. He went 3-1 with 2 saves and a 4.39 ERA that wasn't very good back then. He got off to a good start, with 3 scoreless innings and a win in his first 2 appearances. In his 3rd, the Yanks took a 1 run lead in the top of the 12th, so he was positioned to get another win. The White Sox tied the score and had a runner on 2nd with 2 out and Carlos May coming up. Ralph Houk decided to walk May to get to Bill Melton. Anybody remember Bill Melton on a card so far in this set? A three-run homer later and Hambright has his first big league loss. Roger had a couple of more good years in the bullpen in the minors before not doing well in 1974 (arm trouble, perhaps?) and ending his career at the ripe old age of 25.

No 1972 feature here. I think I've brought up enough 1970's culture here!


  1. Wow. Can Rusty Torres be charged with incitement to riot? That's pretty amazing.

  2. That is Joe Lovitto to the right of Burroughs in the 'Billy's Batwielders' photo.