When you play in New York, you never know what might happen: Happy Birthday to Eddie Leon, an infielder who played briefly – and I mean briefly – for the Yankees in 1975. I think it’s a really interesting story and worth the full read. Eddie started out with the Cleveland Indians, making his major league debut in 1968. He was The Tribe’s starting shortstop in 1970 and 1971; his bat was fine (he hit .261 in 1971) and he was strong defensively. When Frank Duffy won the shortstop job in 1972, Eddie became expendable and in early 1973 The Tribe traded him to Chicago for Walt “No Neck” Williams. He won the starting job in 1973, but lost it in 1974 to a young rookie named Bucky Dent. After the ’74 season, Eddie was traded to the Yankees for pitcher Cecil Upshaw, who had come to New York as part of the famous Fritz Peterson trade. The Yankees had intended to use him as a utility infielder in 1975 – part of a group that included Sandy Alomar at second, Jim Mason at short, and Fred Stanley as the other backup infielder. Eddie didn’t get much playing time as a Yankee. He sat on the bench for the first 22 games of the ’75 season. On May 4, 1975, Eddie finally made his debut wearing Pinstripes, against the Brewers at County Stadium. Mason came out of the game in the eighth inning for a pinch hitter (No-Neck, who by then had become a Yankee), and Bill Virdon sent Eddie in to play short for the bottom of the eighth. No balls were hit to him. No plays involved him. In the top of the ninth, with a runner on first and two outs, and the Brewers ahead 11-4, Virdon sent in Ed Herrmann to pinch hit. That was the first and last time Eddie Leon played for the Yankees. He was released the next day, and soon after the Yankees purchased Ed Brinkman’s contract from the Texas Rangers. Ed got Eddie’s uniform, #20.
I never got to play with Eddie. I was traded to Cleveland in 1974. But as a player, you remember stories like this one. Regardless of his playing time – one-half inning, no plate appearances, and no plays in the field – he is forever a New York Yankee and that means something.
Happy Birthday to Jack Heidemann, an infielder for eight seasons in the 1970’s. We were teammates on the Cleveland Indians briefly in 1974. The Yankees traded me there on April 26, and Jack was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals on June 1. While our time was brief, it was an honor to play with him. He was a smart ballplayer and a genuinely nice guy. And he was among the large group of players who interrupted their careers to serve in the military, and on his birthday, I thank him for his service to our country.
Thinking about Jack, the game I remember most was one I watched from the bench. It was August 3, 1971, a night game in Cleveland. Jack was playing Shortstop. Bobby Murcer was on first, Thurman Munson on third, and Roy White came to the plate with one out. Heeba hits a ground ball to Eddie Leon, the Indians Second Baseman. Eddie made a horrible throw to Jack, which put him directly in front of Bobby Murcer, who was sliding into second. Jack suffered serious injuries to his knee and was out for the rest of the season. It was awful. And let me say this – we are all extremely competitive on the field for each play of every game, but none of us like it when a fellow ballplayer gets hurt the way Jack did.
Even though we were on the same team for about 35 days, Jack and I were on the field at the same time only once: May 24, 1974 at Cleveland Stadium. He came in as an eighth inning defensive replacement for John Lowenstein at Third Base, but had no opportunity to make a play. Still, as a pitcher, it was reassuring to know Jack had my back. He was an excellent infielder.