It was good that the Yankees did not let you go, Gator.
On this day in New York Yankees history, three important assets of the 1977 World Series championship team were born within seven years of each other. Without the contributions of these players, the Yankees might not have broken their 15-year championship drought, and they were all born on the same day.
Outfielder Lou Piniella was the oldest of the three, as he was born on August 28, 1943 in in Tampa, Florida. It was a long road to the big leagues for Piniella, who was originally signed by the Cleveland Indians in '62. The new Washington Senators liked the .428 slugging percentage he put up in 70 games with the Class D Selma Cloverleafs, so they drafted him from the Indians that November. Piniella earned a promotion to Class A with the Peninsula Senators, where he impressed with a .310 batting average and .465 slugging percentage that season. He missed most of '64 with an injury and was traded to the Baltimore Orioles as a "player to be named later" in August. Piniella actually made his major league debut that September with the Orioles as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner. It would be four years before he reached the major leagues again.
Piniella slugged .400 with AA Elmira in '65, but was traded again in Spring Training of '66, returning to the Indians in exchange for catcher Camilo Carreon. He spent three long years in Oregon with the AAA Portland affiliate, slowly improving to a .303/.336/.434 career triple slash in AAA. He broke through for a couple games with Cleveland in September '68, then was drafted by the Seattle Pilots in the '69 expansion draft. Piniella was set to make the club at the end of Spring Training, but he was traded for the third time right before the season started to another expansion team, the Kansas City Royals. He hit leadoff in their first game and notched the first Royal at bat, hit, and run in franchise history. Piniella went on to win American League Rookie of the Year in '69 by hitting .282/.325/.416. In '72, Piniella made the only All-Star appearance of his career when he led the league with 33 doubles. At the end of '73 though, he was traded for the fourth and thankfully final time, to the Yankees with pitcher Ken Wright for veteran starter Lindy McDaniel. "Sweet Lou" became a fan favorite, and he had a 116 OPS+ in his first year with New York, but he slumped badly in '75 to a sub-.200 batting average with no power in 74 games. Although his playing time was cut, he would soon flourish under manager Billy Martin. In 100 games in '76, he had a 111 OPS+ for the AL champions and hit .300 combined in the ALCS and World Series. Even better days were to come in the next season.
Righthanded starter Mike Torrez was the second of the trio born on August 28th, entering the world in 1946 in Topeka, Kansas. He was signed out of Topeka High School in '64 with a $20,000 bonus, but he struggled in his first professional season, pitching to a 4.79 ERA in 20 games with Class A Raleigh. Walks were his problem, and he vastly improved his ERA to 2.56 in '66 by cutting his BB/9 from 7.2 to 4.2 in 30 games between Raleigh and AA Arkansas. Like Piniella, he spent a couple seasons at the AAA level trying to impress the big club, and though it took awhile, he succeeded. Torrez pitched to a 3.29 ERA with Tulsa from '67-'68, earning September call-ups to the NL champions each year. A 2.84 ERA in five games as a 21-year-old helped tip the Cardinals off that Torrez might have some value going forward. He pitched decently, but not great over the next two seasons with the Cardinals before badly declining in '71. He was traded to the Montreal Expos at the June 15th deadline for prospect Bob Reynolds; he spent most of the year embarrassing himself in AAA Winnipeg with a 8.16 ERA.
Torrez turned his career around though, and he made the Expos rotation in '72 with a solid spring. In 101 games over the next three seasons, his ERA+ was again about league-average at 98, though he still had some control problems. Unsatisfied with his performance, general manager Jim Fanning dealt Torrez and young outfielder Ken Singleton to the Orioles for four-time 20-game winner Dave McNally, outfielder Rich Coggins, and minor league starter Bill Kirkpatrick. The deal was horrendous, as McNally retired in May, Coggins was released, and Kirkpatrick never made the big leagues. Meanwhile, Singleton became an MVP candidate in Baltimore and Torrez had his first 20-win season in '75 with a 115 ERA+. When the Orioles had a chance to acquire slugger Reggie Jackson from the Oakland Athletics in the off-season though, Torrez was on the move again. In the pitcher-friendly Colosseum, Torrez had his career year, throwing 266.1 innings with a 2.50 ERA and a 134 ERA+. He even cut his WHIP to a career-best 1.194. Would Oakland finally became a home for him? The answer came after four starts in April of '77, when the Yankees decided to bring him on board to help the starting rotation. He was unfortunately late reporting to his first start from Oakland, so manager Martin turned to a spot starter--a lanky lefthander with a mean slider making his second big league start.
The last of the three August 28th birthday boys is Ron Guidry, one of the top pitchers in Yankees history. Like Piniella and Torrez thuogh, he also faced a stressful climb to the big leagues from the game's lowest levels. Born in 1950 in Lafayette, Louisiana, he was acquired by the Yankees through the MLB Draft, a new system for acquiring amateurs that was not in place when Piniella and Torrez were young. Guidry was drafted in the third round of '71 from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and he immediately found success with Rookie League Johnson City, striking out 11.7 per nine innings. A pair of good seasons with Class A Fort Lauderdale and Kinston followed (combined 3.45 ERA), and "Gator" earned a somewhat-delayed promotion to AA with West Haven in '74. The Yankees decided that Guidry's slender build (5'11", 161 lbs.) would lead to arm problems later in his life, so they sent him to the bullpen in AA. He struggled to a 5.26 ERA and 9.4 H/9, but was promoted to AAA Syracuse the next year anyway.
Guidry put up a K/9 of 11.0 at Syracuse in '75, earning his first big league appearances as he went back-and-forth from 'Cuse to New York in the latter half of the season. He made one start and pitched to a 3.45 ERA in 15.2 innings with the Yankees. Yet it was back to 'Cuse again in '76 as he was cut on the last day of Spring Training. A month of great pitching later, he returned to New York, only to make one appearance. That one appearance was a disaster--two singles, a triple, and a Carl Yastrzesmki home run to make a two-run deficit 8-2 in favor of the Boston Red Sox. Martin lost faith in Guidry from the one appearance, and the lefty sat in the bullpen for two months, unused, before needing to go back to Syracuse simply to get into games. Guidry was fuming and nearly quit baseball. He was tired of the distrust, and he had to worry about providing for a wife and child on the way in three months. Guidry actually packed up the car with his wife and headed back toward Louisiana, but his wife convinced him to turn around and give baseball one more try. He pitched to a 0.68 ERA in 22 games with Syracuse in '76, earning a few more appearances at the end of the year with the Yankees. The next year, he narrowly avoided being traded by George Steinbrenner in Spring Training because general manager Gabe Paul refused to part with him. It was a prudent decision.
Piniella played 103 games for the Yanks in '77 and he made the most of his appearances, half of which came as the DH. He hit a career-best .330/.365/.510 with 12 homers and a 138 OPS+. Guidry pitched well in relief in four of five games to begin the year, then made the spot start for Torrez when the righthander was late reporting from Oakland. The man who would soon be nicknamed "Louisiana Lightning" had his best performance yet--8.1 innings of shutout baseball with eight strikeouts at home against the expansion Seattle Mariners. Despite this effort, he returned to the bullpen until getting another start on May 17th, another strong 8.1 inning start. "Gator" forced himself into the regular rotation, and he finished the season with a 2.82 ERA and 140 ERA+ in 210.2 innings with 176 strikeouts. On his birthday, he threw a two-hit shutout against the Texas Rangers. Guidry's numbers exceeded those of everyone in the starting rotation, and he even got a seventh-place finish in the AL Cy Young voting. Torrez did not do well at first, but in the second half he got his command under control and pitched to a 2.81 ERA with a 1.073 WHIP. The Yankees won 100 games and the AL East division title.
In the playoffs, Piniella hit .333 with three doubles against the Kansas City Royals during the ALCS. Guidry beat the Royals with a complete game three-hitter in Game 2. Torrez lost Game 3 when he left the game in the sixth inning having surrendered five runs on eight hits, but he entered the decisive Game 5 in relief of Guidry after the southpaw gave up three runs on six hits in 2.1 innings. Torrez pitched shutout baseball for 5.1 innings, giving the Yankees a chance to overcome the two-run deficit with four runs combined in the eighth and ninth innings. New York won the game 5-3 and went back to the World Series, where they faced the Los Angeles Dodgers. "Sweet Lou" continued to hit in the Fall Classic with a .273 average. He went 2-for-3 with a first-inning RBI single in the Yankees' 5-3 victory in Game 3, the same game that Torrez pitched all nine innings at Dodger Stadium. Piniella then went 1-for-4 with a run and an RBI in the Yankees' 4-2 win in Game 4 as Guidry pitched a four-hitter to give the Yankees a 3-1 World Series lead. After losing Game 5, the Yankees returned to New York, and thanks to Reggie Jackson's three home runs, the starter Torrez was still on the mound in the ninth inning with an opportunity to close out New York's first World Series title since 1962. The tying run got to first base, but pinch-hitter Lee Lacy popped up a bunt that Torrez caught and the Yankees were champions, with Torrez finishing his second complete game of the World Series.
These three men were all born on the same day, and though '77 was the only year in which they were all teammates since Torrez soon departed for the Red Sox, it was an incredible season. Today, Piniella turns 69, Torrez turns 66, and Guidry turns 62. Happy birthday, guys.