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History Highlights for December 31

It was largely through the efforts of AL founder Ban Johnson that ownership of the Yankee franchise changed hands on December 31, 1914, with Colonel Jacob Ruppert and Cap Huston paying Bill Devery and Frank Farrell $460,000 for it. Miller Huggins arrived as manager in 1918, and The Babe two years later.

The Yankees and the Hunter family celebrated New Year’s Eve before the ball fell on December 31, 1974, as eventual Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter, declared a free agent once Charlie Finley failed to honor a clause in his contract, signed a five-year deal with the Bombers.

In perhaps the best story that baseball has to offer, Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente, having finished the 1972 season with exactly 3,000 hits, perished in a plane crash on a mercy mission to Managua, Nicaragua, a country that was reeling from a deadly earthquake. Clemente is one of the few players to join Yankee Lou Gehrig in a special fraternity: Hall of Fame inductees for whom the five-year waiting period was waived.

Righthander Bob Shawkey, who started and won the first game in Yankee Stadium, and managed the 1930 Yankees to a third-place finish, died on December 31, 1980. After starting out with the 1913-1915 A’s, Shawkey pitched 415 games in New York from then until he retired as a player in 1927. He went 168-131-31 in New York and 196-150-28 overall.

Lefty Tommy Byrne, born January 31, 1919, not only made his major league debut in the Bronx from 1943-1951, he sandwiched his years pitching for the Browns, the White Sox, and the Senators in between New York stints, finishing his career with the Bombers from 1954-1957. Tommy posted a 72-40 mark with the Yankees, and added 12 saves.

Happy New Year!

Read more history for December 31 on TakeHimDowntown.com

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