Players You Forgot Were Yankees: The 1970s

12/09/2013 9:39 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Andy Messersmith was the first MLB free agent...and a 1978 Yankee.(
Photos: View our gallery of these forgotten Yankees.

Months ago, we took a look back at some players you may have forgotten were Yankees, focusing in on those who spent anywhere from a few games to a full season in pinstripes in the 1990s but either flew under the radar or just plain didn’t do anything of note.

Well, in the spirit of the holidays, we’ve decided to flesh out that list quite a bit, putting together 10-man starting lineups of notables, all-time greats, and famous names who got at least one paycheck playing on the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue from each of the last four decades, as well as one spotlighting guys who were drafted by the Yankees but made their name elsewhere.

We start with the 1970s, the first decade of the Steinbrenner era, and for the first of this five-part series, we had to relax our guidelines a little bit. Our original criteria months ago for the best of the “forgotten” was that a player had to have been a Yankee for a maximum of one calendar season or 60 games over two, but because free agency didn’t begin until the later part of the decade, the early-to-mid-1970s were rather bereft of notables who fit the category.

Thus, this list contains some people who fall outside of one or both guidelines, but you may have forgotten anyway because they’re either pretty close to qualifying anyway or simply didn’t do much to be remembered for. Enjoy!

Ron Swoboda: A mainstay of the Mets outfields of the late-1960s, Swoboda actually came across the East River in June 1971, coming to the Yankees in a trade with Montreal. He played 54 games in 1971, 63 in 1972 and 35 in 1973, but called it quits following that year after hitting just .235 with four homers in his 152 total games with the Yankees.

Matty Alou: Fans may remember Felipe Alou patrolling the Yankee Stadium outfield in the early-1970s, but might not remember that two-time All-Star brother Matty joined him in 1973, coming over via trade with Oakland and hitting .296 in 123 games before being purchased by St. Louis that September. Sadly, third brother Jesus’ lone year in New York (with the Mets) didn’t come until 1975, robbing the world of an Alou triple threat patrolling Big Apple outfields at the same time.

Andy Messersmith: A four-time All-Star and one-time 20-game winner, Messersmith is most widely known as the man that brought down the reserve clause and ushered in the era of free agency, but what many might not know is that he won his only World Series ring (technically) as a Yankee. The team purchased him in December 1977 from the Braves – the team he signed with as the first free agent two seasons prior – and although injuries limited him to just six appearances and a 0-3, 5.64 line in 1978, he did end up being part of what was a Yankees repeat as champions.

Mike Torrez: Speaking of that 1978 season, most remember Mike Torrez as the Red Sox goat that gave up Bucky Dent’s famous home run – but just one year before, Torrez was actually part of the first half of the pinstriped double-dip. The Yankees acquired Torrez from Oakland for three players in April 1977, and he went 14-12 with a 3.82 ERA in 31 regular season starts before throwing a pair of complete game victories in the World Series.

Dock Ellis: One of those players sent to Oakland for Torrez was Ellis, a righty who came to the Yankees in the same trade with Pittsburgh that brought Willie Randolph, went 18-9 with a 3.07 ERA in one-and-a-smidge seasons in New York, was 138-119 with a 3.46 ERA in 12 total years for five teams…and is most notable for (allegedly) throwing a no-hitter in 1970 while not exactly in the right frame of mind, if you catch our drift.

Fran Healy: Some New York fans know Healy as a Yankees nemesis on the Royals teams of the mid-1970s, others know him as an ex-broadcaster, and most under the age of 40 remember him as a Mets broadcaster – but from 1976-78, Healy was actually a little-used backup catcher for the Yankees, winning two rings despite hitting just .250 in 74 games…although, to be fair, he did serve a big role in often keeping the peace between Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin.

Dave Kingman: A three-time All-Star, Kingman was more notable in New York for leading the NL in home runs while with the Mets in 1982, but he was also a short-term exhibit at the “Bronx Zoo.” Kingman played eight games with the Yankees in September 1977 and still made a huge impact, hitting four of his 442 career homers in just 24 at-bats in pinstripes.

Gil Patterson: The current Yankees Minor League pitching director is actually a Yankees product, as Patterson was drafted by the Bombers in the first round of the 1975 Draft and made his MLB debut in 1977. Sadly, arm injuries derailed Patterson’s career, so his 1977 line (1-2, 5.40 ERA in 10 games/six starts) ended up being his only MLB claim to fame, but he now has the all-important job of heading up the crop of young arms down on the farm these days.

Jerry Narron: A 1974 Yankees draftee, Narron played the first 61 of his 392 career MLB games with the Yankees, hitting .171 as a backup catcher in 1979. That aside, though, the former Rangers and Reds manager does have one heart-wrenching claim to Yankees fame, as he was the starting catcher for the first game the team played after captain Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash.

Rick Dempsey: The comedically-gifted Dempsey was the Orioles’ starting catcher for more than a decade and was well-noted for his blooper reel-worthy rain delay antics…but before all that, he was a Yankee. Traded to the Bronx prior to the 1973 season, Dempsey spent three-plus years as Thurman Munson’s backup, playing just 141 total games before being traded to Baltimore in an epic 10-player deal in June 1976…and promptly leading the AL in caught stealing percentage in both 1976 and 1977.

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