After two straight disappointing fourth-place finishes, the Yankees knew they needed to make significant changes to their roster in order to become a serious contender in the American League East in 1973. The pitching staff performed adequately in each of the previous two seasons, but the team desperately needed help at both first base and third base.
New York’s front office began to address the team’s greatest needs on November 24th, when it acknowledged the blunder it made the previous year by dealing Rich McKinney and Rob Gardner to the A's for veteran outfielder/first baseman Matty Alou. The younger brother of Felipe, the 34-year-old Matty had his best years with the Pirates during the late 1960s, winning the National League batting title in 1966 with a mark of .342. He then spent two years with the Cardinals, before spending the final month of the 1972 campaign with Oakland. The Yankees envisioned setting up a three-man platoon at first base and right field between the two Alou brothers and Johnny Callison.
Just three days later, on November 27th, the Yankees pulled off the blockbuster deal they had been hoping to make for more than two years, when they sent a package of four young players to the Cleveland Indians for third baseman Graig Nettles and reserve catcher Gerry Moses. Nettles not only gave the Yankees the third baseman they craved, but, also, a powerful left-handed bat they could insert into the middle of their batting order.
Although the acquisitions of Alou and Nettles garnered the team a significant amount of publicity in the New York newspapers, they failed to attract the media attention the Yankees received when news spread on January 3rd that a group of investors, headed by Cleveland shipbuilder George Steinbrenner, had purchased the ball club from CBS for $10 million. The son of a Great Lakes shipping family, the 42-year-old Steinbrenner became wealthy serving as chairman of the American Shipbuilding Company, a Cleveland-based firm. In his youth, Steinbrenner served as an assistant football coach at Northwestern and Purdue universities, before eventually assembling national champions in the National Industrial and American Basketball leagues. Upon purchasing the Yankees, Steinbrenner promised, "I won't be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all". However, his football-type mentality fostered in him a "win-at-all-cost" attitude that did not permit him to sit idly by and let others control his team's destiny. Steinbrenner eventually bought out his partners and helped change the face of baseball forever with his aggressive approach to free agency and willingness to spend top-dollar for players he felt could improve his team.
Shortly after the Yankees arrived at Spring Training, the New York papers received additional fodder when pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich announced they had swapped wives and families with one another.
The many distractions proved to be too much for the Yankees to overcome. New York finished the year with a record of 80-82, in fourth place in the A.L. East for the third straight time, 17 games behind the division-winning Orioles. New York’s pitching staff more than held its own, placing third in the league with a 3.34 team ERA. Mel Stottlemyre led the team with 16 victories, 19 complete games, and 273 innings pitched, while compiling a very respectable 3.07 ERA. He also threw four shutouts, the last of which was the 40th of his career, tying him with Red Ruffing for second place on the team’s all-time list, behind only Whitey Ford. George Medich added 14 victories and led the starters with a 2.95 ERA. However, Fritz Peterson, clearly distracted by the events transpiring in his personal life, finished just 8-15 with a 3.95 ERA. Meanwhile, Sparky Lyle and Lindy McDaniel both excelled in relief. Lyle posted a 2.51 ERA and finished second in the league with 27 saves, earning in the process his first selection to the A.L. All-Star Team. Serving as Lyle’s set-up man, McDaniel won 12 games and saved 10 others.
While Yankee pitchers acquitted themselves quite well, the same could not be said for the members of the starting lineup. New York finished tenth in the league with 641 runs scored. Only Bobby Murcer, Thurman Munson, and Ron Blomberg posted solid offensive seasons. Murcer hit 22 homers, knocked in 95 runs, scored 83 others, and batted .304, en route to earning spots on the A.L. All-Star Team and The Sporting News All-Star Team for the third straight year. On July 13th, he thanked Yankee fans for electing him to start the All-Star Game by hitting three home runs in one game for the second time in his career during a 5-0 victory over Kansas City at Yankee Stadium.
Munson had his finest offensive season to-date, hitting 20 home runs, driving in 74 runs, scoring 80 others, batting .301, and finishing among the league leaders with a .487 slugging percentage. He joined Murcer on both the A.L. All-Star Team and The Sporting News All-Star squad, and he also earned his first Gold Glove.
Meanwhile, Blomberg excelled in a part-time role, leading the team with a .329 batting average, a .395 on-base percentage, and a .498 slugging percentage. He also made history on Opening Day at Fenway Park, when he became the first player ever to step to the plate as a designated hitter.
Shortly after the 1973 campaign ended, the process of renovating Yankee Stadium began. Mementos from the original House That Ruth Built were sold off. The Smithsonian Institute received the bat racks and bullpen steps. Babe Ruth’s widow received home plate, while Lou Gehrig’s widow received first base. Columns supporting the roof and upper deck were removed to improve sightlines. The playing field was lowered five feet to improve views from the lower deck. The old 18-inch wooden seats were replaced with 22-inch plastic seats. And the stadium’s signature façade atop the upper deck was replicated on top of the new scoreboard that extended from left field to right field. Renovations took two years to complete, with the Yankees playing their home games at Shea Stadium in the interim.By Bob_Cohen
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- Bobby Murcer, Doc Medich, Felipe Alou, Fritz Peterson, George Steinbrenner, Graig Nettles, Jerry Moses, Johnny Callison, Lindy Mcdaniel, Matty Alou, Mel Stottlemyre, Mike Kekich, New York Yankees, Red Ruffing, Rich McKinney, Rob Gardner, Ron Blomberg, Shea Stadium, Sparky Lyle, Thurman Munson, Whitey Ford