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Monday, September 30, 2013

REMEMBERING WHEN BOB WICKMAN WAS A "THING"

During the early 1990’s, the Yankees struggled mightily. Because of George Steinbrenner’s suspension for baseball, the Yankees high-spending days went on pause. As such, they were not competitive, except for the fact that they had some high-value rookies coming up through their farm system. Since they were not after high-priced stars, they were able to hold on to their rookies. 


By 1992, the Baby Bombers – as they were affectionately called – started coming up through the ranks. It was this batch of rookies that would later include names like Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and JorgePosada. Nevertheless, in 1992, one of their rookies began paying immediate dividends – pitcher Bob Wickman.


Bob Wickman, who suffered an accident as a child and lost part of his index finger on what would be his pitching hand, found success in pitching in part due to his injury. It turned out that the short finger allowed his to generate strong sinking action on his pitches. He spent two years in the minors before he was traded to the Yankees in exchange for second baseman SteveSax. He spent the majority of 1992 playing for the Columbus Clippers, compiling a 12-5 record with a 2.92 ERA before being called up to the majors. From his major league debut on August 24 through the end of the season, he had a 6-1 record over eight starts, and finished the season with three consecutive wins. That would matter next year, when he started the season winning his first 8 decisions. The only Yankee ever to have a better start to a pitching career than Wickman, with his 14-1 record, was Whitey Ford – who started with a 16-1 record. He also held an 11-game win streak that was the best at the time since Ron Guidry’s 12 consecutive wins back in 1985. In 1992, those stats were important. Wins were hard to come by, and a Yankees pitcher that could do that was a much-needed sign of hope.

(In Photo with CC Sabathia: Bob Wickman)
Wickman finished the season with a 14-4 win-loss record and a 4.63 ERA that included 19 starts and 22 relief appearances. From mid-July of that year on, he worked primarily out of the bullpen as a middle reliever and a backup closer to Steve Farr and Steve Howe. He continued in this role through the middle of 1996, when the Yankees traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers as part of a package the brought lefty specialist and Braves-killer Graeme Lloyd to the Yankees. Having been on the active roster in 1996, the Yankees awarded him a World Series ring. He went on to pitch 11 more seasons for the Brewers, Indians, Braves, and Diamondbacks. He became a full-time closer in 1998 for the Brewers, compiling 267 career saves, including a league-leading 45 in 2005. He only appeared in five post-season games, for the 1995 Yankees and the 2001 Indians, never advancing past the first round but also never charged with a run. He appeared in two All-Star games – in 2000 and 2005. He finished out his career at the end of the 2007 season with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

After his major league career, Bob Wickman went on to do some local high school baseball coaching for the River Valley High School baseball team in Madison, Wisconsin. While he was with the Yankees, he was a stalwart in the bullpen at a time when we sorely needed pitching. He was part of the construction crew that included Mike Stanley, Jim Abbott, Pat Kelly, and Scott Kamieniecki, which helped build the dynasty of the 1990’s. Though he never played in a World Series with us, his contributions are still greatly appreciated.

 
--Ike Dimitriadis, BYB Writer
Twitter: @KingAgamemnon
My blog is: Shots from Murderer's Row




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