Jake Gibbs still enjoying Yankees Old-Timers' Day

Backstop from the 1960s has had three great stints in the organization
07/04/2014 10:27 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Jake Gibbs spurned both the NFL and AFL to sign with the Yankees in 1961.(AP)
From Bill Dickey on down to Brian McCann, the Yankees have had a strong legacy of catchers for over 100 years. Jake Gibbs may not be a household name to many Yankees fans these days, but he is part of that legacy, and he's proof of the thought that once you put the pinstripes on, you bleed them forever.

A Bombers backstop from 1962-71, Gibbs began his career learning from Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, finished it as a mentor to Thurman Munson, and in between had about a three-year span where he was the main man behind the plate.

He'll be the first to remind you that his Yankees teams weren't always the greatest - the 1962 World Series champions notwithstanding - but he will also be the first to remind you that whether you go 162-0 or 0-162, you're still part of the legacy.

"I enjoyed my time here; maybe we didn't have the good teams that they did before I came or after I left, but that was part of it," he said. "Once you put the pinstripes on, it doesn't matter what era it was - you're always a Yankee."

For Gibbs, that legacy has included three stints in the organization, the first coming when the two-sport star at the University of Mississippi eschewed the NFL in 1961 - despite being taken in both the NFL and AFL drafts - to sign with the Yankees.

Gibbs returned to Ole Miss when his baseball career ended and retired after winning 485 games as the Rebels' head baseball coach from 1972-90, but once again, his pinstriped mistress came calling; so, after a couple years off, he spent the 1993 season as the Yankees' bullpen catcher before signing on to manage the team's Advanced Class-A affiliate when it moved to Tampa in 1994.

He spent just two years in that role, and even though he led the T-Yanks to the Florida State League title in 1994, his fondest memory there was helping shape the careers of two of the greatest Yankees ever.

"You could see how special of a player Derek Jeter was even then," he recalled, "and Mariano (Rivera)…man, he did pretty well for himself, huh?"

Gibbs now serves as a guest at the annual Fantasy Camp the Yankees run each January in Tampa, and he also works with a Pennsylvania-based company called Tyndale that produces worker safety apparel; as such, he considers himself only "halfway retired," but Old-Timers' Day is one special event he makes sure to make time for every year.

"I see a lot of the guys from time to time," Gibbs said, "and as soon as you get out on the field you recognize everybody - but no matter who is here, it's always great to come back, because I had a lot of good memories that always stayed with me."

This year, as he watched Goose Gossage get honored with a plaque in Monument Park, the 73-year-old recalled his own moment in the sun, a September 22, 1971 ceremony celebrating his pending retirement on the day of his final home game.

Gibbs was 1-for-4 as the starting catcher that day, and although the pomp and circumstance surrounding his departure paled in comparison to what Rivera got last year and Jeter is likely to get this September, it was still a career highlight he knows not everyone is fortunate enough to get.

"When I retired, they gave me a day, and I'll never forget it…that was a fun day, and I'll cherish it forever."

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