Monday, October 31, 2005

October 31st, 1963

Matt Nokes Born

While Scott Brosius is fairly secure in his status as my favorite player of all-time, Matt Nokes will always hold a special place in my heart as my first favorite player. Nokes was a catcher who began his career in
San Francisco, but played just a handful of games there before being traded to the Tigers for the 1986 season. Matt saw limited time in 1986 but was given the starting job for the 1987 season. Nokes responded with his career season, batting .289 while swatting thirty-two home runs (good for ninth in the league) and making the All-Star team. The Tigers also won ninety-eight games and the AL East title before losing four games to one to the eventual champion Twins in the playoffs. Nokes would never again match his 1987 performance, and was traded in the midst of the 1990 season to the Yankees, where his path and mine collided.

The 1990 Yankees were a dire squad, losing ninety-five games, the worst Yankees team on a win-loss basis since 1908 Highlanders and still the second worst ever. They had six regulars hitting .250 or worse, including catcher Bob Geren who hit .213/.259/.325 with just eight home runs across two hundred seventy-seven at-bats. Nokes' arrival then, was something of a revelation for a six year-old, as Matt hit four home runs in his first sixty at-bats while wearing the pinstripes. Adding to my fondness was the fact that although Nokes--like virtually every catcher--threw right handed, like me, he hit left handed. My father, a patient soul if ever there was one, actually purchased me a left-handed catcher's mitt (God only knows where you'd find one of those) and a catcher's mask to humor my desire to emulate my hero, who led the Yankees in homers in 1991 and was second on the team with twenty-two jacks in 1992. By 1993 however, the beginnings of the team that would evolve into the Yankee Dynasty was forming and Nokes was relegated to part-time status behind Mike Stanley.

Unless my memory fails me--always a possibility--the last time I saw Nokes was during this game when he struck out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth with the tying runs on base. He saw limited time for the Yankees during their 1994 season, but had moved onto
Baltimore by the time the strike was over and split that season--his last in the Majors--between Charm City and Colorado. He played and managed in the Independent Leagues for a few years but I was unable to turn up anything about him since he left as manager of the Joliet JackHammers after the 2003 season.

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