Yankees Magazine: You Can Go Home Again — 44 Yankees Have Served Two Playing Stints in Their Careers

By Marty Appel

When Jeff Nelson took the mound at Yankee Stadium on August 7 to begin his second stint with the Yankees, he admitted to being swept up by emotion.

“I couldn’t look up,” he said, describing the moment he reached the mound, surrounded by Joe Torre and his infielders. “I didn’t want them to see the water in my eyes.”

Had they seen it, they would have understood. In fact, 14 times during the Torre era, which began in 1996, players have returned to the Bronx after toiling for other teams. And in this era of success, with the Yankee tradition never more revered or appreciated by professional ballplayers, the opportunity to return has often brought the same reaction. (Two-term Yankees, for this story, means players who left the organization and returned, not those who went to the minor leagues or served in the military and returned).

Indeed, the current team (as this is written), includes Ruben Sierra, David Wells and Sterling Hitchcock, who have also be repatriated. Certainly Wells, who may well have a pinstriped heart, experienced the same emotions as Nelson.

The 14 “returns” represent nearly a third of the 44 total number of Yankees who have had two terms of duty with the club, including three who have been back three times! And since two of the 44 came back as coaches for just one pinch-hit appearance, the 14 really is an even third.

When the major leagues consisted of only 16 teams, the chances of coming back were greater than they are now, when a big leaguer has about half the chance of winding up with any particular team. But with the passage of time, it seems the opposite has taken place: it is happening more than in earlier days. (Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel hardly ever had a second-term player on the roster).

This is due these days, no doubt, to the belief that acquiring a player who got an emotional lift from wearing the Yankee uniform, and in turn, perhaps a letdown from wearing someone else’s, might have a rejuvenation of sorts upon returning.

Such could surely have been cited in the Yankees decision to bring back Luis Sojo, the popular reserve infielder, in 2000, or Jim Leyritz in 1999, Darryl Strawberry in 1996, or perhaps Doc Gooden for one last go in 2000.

The motivation does not always pan out, of course. Hitchcock has had trouble cracking the starting rotation; Roberto Kelly, who returned in 2000, never got going following an injury, and Gerald Williams couldn’t turn a second chance into a longer stay with the team. Mike Stanley, a very popular catcher with the Yanks from 1992-95, came back in ’97 to a terrific ovation, but the magic was gone, and he didn’t stick.

But sometimes it works wonders.

Ralph Terry came back and won a Cy Young Award in 1962. Rudy May came back and led the league in ERA in 1981.

Bobby Murcer, now a Yankee broadcaster, was billed as the successor to Mickey Mantle when he was given the centerfield job in 1969. He was a Yankee star through 1974, when shockingly, he was traded to the Giants for Bobby Bonds. It was, at the time, considered the biggest one-for-one trade in baseball history.

“It practically ruined me,” he has often said. “I loved the Yankees. They built me up to be part of the heritage, part of the tradition, and then, whoop, I was gone, off to the National League. I never really got over it.”

In the summer of 1979, after four and half seasons “in exile,” the Yankees reacquired Bobby from the Cubs. Nobody was ever happier to be home.

“I wasn’t quite the player I had been when I left,” he notes. “I was 33, and they had me slated to do a lot of DHing and a lot of pinch-hitting. But I was so thrilled to be back, it just gave my career a total lift. I was home where I was supposed to be, that’s how I felt.”

And Bobby rose to the emotional occasion on many occasions during his second tenure, hitting some of his most dramatic home runs, and serving as a link between the Yankees of the early ‘80s, to the Mantle-Maris teams. He had indeed, been their teammate when he first broke in, and he was a teammate of Don Mattingly’s when he retired.

The first Yankee to ever return after departing was actually a Highlander, the team’s original nickname – Frank Delahanty. Frank was one of the five Delahanty brothers in the majors, the most illustrious of whom was Ed, the Hall of Famer and .346 career hitter who died in a plunge over Niagara Falls in 1903.

Frank was 15 years younger than Ed, and the baby of the five. He joined the Highlanders in August of ’05, under the team’s original manager, Clark Griffith. An outfielder, he played nine games that season and came back in ’06 to appear in 92 more, batting .238 and driving in 41 runs for a fifth place team.

The following year, he went to Cleveland, and spent much of the year in the minors. In November of ’07, he was sold back to New York, where he would appear in 35 games for the ’08 team before dropping back to the minors again

Did anyone pay particular notice to the distinction of his becoming the first player in franchise history to serve two terms with the club, separated by service with another team? It was unlikely that the occasion was noted at all.

By the time 36-year old Jack Quinn returned in 1919, after a ten- year hiatus, it was a little more meaningful. Quinn had been an 18-game winner for the Yankees in 1910 at the age of 27. Now, after time with Boston (N.L.), Baltimore (F.L.) and Chicago (A.L.), he returned the Polo Grounds as a seasoned veteran, and he responded with a 41-31 record in three seasons, including 8-7 in the franchise’s first championship year of 1921. The Yankees were happy to have him home.

Urban Shocker broke in with the Yankees in 1916-17, and then spent seven very successful years with the St. Louis Browns, four times winning 20 games. When he came back in 1925, he was not especially well remembered, for his Yankee debut had been prior to the building of Yankee Stadium and the arrival of the Babe Ruth-led teams. It was a different pitcher and a wholly different franchise, reunited.

Wilcy Moore was the next star to get a return ticket punched. The six-foot Texan broke in with the team in the wondrous 1927 season, and might well have been Rookie of the Year had the award been around. In a time when relief pitching was still meant for those not good enough to start, and long before any glamour was associated with it, Moore made 38 relief appearances for the most Murderous of Murderer’s Row teams, saving 13 games, and leading the American League with a 2.28 ERA. The 13 saves would be a team record until Johnny Murphy had 19 in 1939. The 1927 Yankees had it all, including a closer, when the term hadn’t even been invented yet. (Neither had the save statistic, of course, so neither Moore more Murphy nor followers of the team had an awareness of this team record. It’s all been compiled retroactively).

Moore was less effective in 1928 and 1929, and then went on to the minors with St. Paul in 1930. In ’31, he landed with the Red Sox and hurled for them until mid-season of 1932, when he was dealt back to the Yankees for a minor leaguer. Here, as a returning star of the already fabled 1927 team, he was greeted warmly and cheered loudly. Boosted by the adrenaline of having his career restored in the site of his past glory, he went 2-0 with four saves in nine relief appearances with a 2.52 ERA.

In the Joe McCarthy era, 1931-46, only one player besides Moore got a second shot with the Yankees, and that was a journeyman pitcher named Ivy Andrews who had appeared in 11 games in 1931-32, and then 30 games in 1937-38. Whether McCarthy or general manager Ed Barrow had feelings about bringing people back is not known, but it surely was a long period in which no welcome mats were extended to departed players.

In Casey Stengel’s tenure, 1949-60, there were some more interesting players who made the list, including Tommy Byrne, exiled away from 1951-53 until he developed better control; Enos Slaughter, the only Hall of Famer on the list, whose departure for Kansas City was so brief that he managed to be part of both the ’55 and ’56 Yankees despite his time with Athletics, and Bob Cerv, a solid outfielder who was with the team from 1951-56, and then again in 1960. Cerv, in fact, is one of the three players to do three terms with the Yankees. After the ’60 season, he was taken by the Los Angeles Angels in the expansion draft, played 18 games for them, but then reacquired by the Yankees in May in time to spend the year rooming with Mantle and Maris.

Byrne told author Bill Madden how he felt about being reacquired in Madden’s book “Pride of October:”

“I joined the Yankees in Washington, and then we played a series in Baltimore before going back to New York. And don’t you know, as I walked in the gate for my first game back there, who do you think was waiting there to greet me but {owner} Dan Topping! That’s a true story! I never heard of an owner doing that, but there he was, and he actually apologized to me for trading me. It thought that was real class.”

The other “three term Yankees,” besides Cerv, have been catcher Rick Cerone (1980-84, 1987, and again in 1990), and outfielder Luis Polonia (1989-90, 1994-95, and again in 2000).

Of the 44 players on the list, two could actually be just footnotes, under remarkably similar circumstances. Yankee heroes Charlie Keller and Chris Chambliss, 36 years apart, were back with the team as coaches after distinguished careers that found them finishing elsewhere after leaving the Yankees. As coaches, both were activated for a single at bat – Keller in 1952, Chambliss in 1988. Both struck out and went back to coaching, fulltime.

Another old hero, back long after his glory days, was Goose Gossage. The great relief star and Series hero of 1978-83 came back for 11 games in 1989 at the age of 38, but had only one save and moved on again.

Other well known names on the list include Doyle Alexander, Oscar Gamble, Charlie Hayes, Mike Hegan, Tommy John, and Claudell Washington.

Then there was Steve Balboni. In his first Yankee career, 1981-83, he was the first baseman of the future, a hulking power hitter known as “Bye-Bye Balboni” for his long batting practice home runs.

Traded to the Royals, he found success there, and then came back to the Yankees in 1989. By now, first base was gone. Fellow named Mattingly there. Bye Bye Balboni had to be content with being a DH for a couple of years (with 34 home runs). By now, his future was behind him. Still, he was glad to be back, as has most everyone on the list.

The list:

Doyle Alexander 1976, 1982-83

Neil Allen 1985, 1987-88

Ivy Andrews 1931-32, 1937-38

Steve Balboni 1981-83, 1989-90

Brian Boeringer 1995-97, 2001

Tommy Byrne 1943, 1946-51, 1954-57

Rick Cerone 1980-84, 1987, 1990

Bob Cerv 1951-56, 1960, 1961-62

Chris Chambliss 1974-79, 1988

Frank Delahanty 1905-06, 1908

Dave Eiland 1988-91, 1995

Alex Ferguson 1918, 1921, 1925

Oscar Gamble 1976, 1979-84

Paul Gibson 1993-94, 1996

Dwight Gooden 1996-97, 2000

Rich Gossage 1978-83, 1989

Charlie Hayes 1992, 1996-97

Mike Hegan 1964, 1966-67, 1973-74

Sterling Hitchcock 1992-95, 2001-03

Tommy John 1979-82, 1986-89

Charlie Keller 1939-43, 1945-49, 1952

Roberto Kelly 1987-92, 2000

Ron Klimkowski 1969-70, 1972

John Knight 1909-11, 1913

Jim Leyritz1990-96, 1999-00

Cliff Markle 1915-16, 1924

Rudy May 1974-76, 1980-83

Wilcy Moore 1927-29, 1932-33

Bobby Murcer 1965-66, 1969-74, 1979-83

Jeff Nelson 1996-00, 2003

Rube Oldring 1905, 1916

Luis Polonia 1989-90, 1994-95, 2000

Jack Quinn 1909-12, 1919-21

Urban Shocker 1916-17, 1925-28

Ruben Sierra 1995-96, 2003

Enos Slaughter 1954-59

Luis Sojo 1996-99, 2000-01

Mike Stanley 1992-95, 1997

Darryl Strawberry 1995-99

Ralph Terry 1955-57, 1959-64

Randy Velarde 1987-95, 2001

Claudell Washington 1986-88, 1990

David Wells 1997-98, 2002-03

Gerald Williams 1992-96, 2001-02