Back at Yankee Stadium we get a clear shot of the 50th anniversary patch worn by its home team in ’73 on the arm of Celerino Sanchez, back-up third baseman. Ironically the Stadium would be out of operation the next couple seasons while a refurbishing was being undertaken, just as would be Celerino’s MLB career as this card was his final one. That’s too bad because he was a pretty exciting third baseman who was often mentioned in the same breath as his countryman Aurelio Rodriguez. But Celerino’s timing wasn’t too great and his sophomore season with NY happened to be the same one during which an eventual icon in the form of Graig Nettles was beginning his long reign at the hot corner. By the time this card came out Celerino was back in Mexico playing ball and his significant contributions to a late ’72 division run were a distant memory. Nettles was an iron man at third and that coupled with Celerino’s fat DL time in ’73 probably both contributed equally to his departure. But he looks good here, showing his stance while some infield practice takes place behind him.
Celerino Sanchez had played school and semi-pro ball in Veracruz, Mexico, and was 20 when he began his professional career there in ’64. He spent the next three years ripping the cover off the ball in Mexico’s minor leagues – he topped out at .448 in ’66 – and seemed to do the same for the Mexico City Tigers during his short looks but could never crack the line-up. In ’67 after a not great start for the Tigers he came to The States in a sale and spent the summer playing for Asheville, then a Single A franchise for the Astros. He moved over to Greensboro, another Houston A franchise, and seemed to be hitting at a nice clip when he moved back to Mexico City, where his average increased each of the next four years and his power started picking up. It later turned out that the reason he returned to Mexico was that his grandmother had passed away to whom Celerino was very close. When the Houston organization wouldn’t give him any time to return home for the service, he returned on his own, permanently. After the ’71 season Celerino was traded to the Yankees for Ossie Chavarria, a one-time reserve infielder for Kansas City/Oakland in the late Sixties.
For the Yankees Sanchez had a super spring training in ’72 and the plan was to keep him on the Opening Day roster. After Clete Boyer left for Atlanta in ’67 third base in NY was a bit ugly. Bobby Cox – yeah, that Bobby Cox – and Jerry Kenney had about a good season and a half between them and Celerino was looking like a pretty good upgrade. But then NY traded for Bernie Allen and Rich McKinney so Celerino was sent to Triple A where he was putting up some pretty good numbers. But Allen and McKinney were really converted second baseman and neither made a very graceful transition so Celerino came up in June and pretty much took over the position the rest of the way. He made a lot of fans when he won a couple games in August in a series against Detroit that pulled NY into second place and he provided exciting fielding at third while his offense was an uptick to Kenney’s in ’71. But then came the annual robbing of the Cleveland roster before the ’73 season and Celerino was on the bench. Back in Mexico Celerino put in three good seasons, averaging .288 with about a .365 OBA and some decent power. He hit .273 in ’77 as his walk totals declined, didn’t play in ’78, and finished things off with a .264 in ’79. His MLB stats were the ones on the card back and he hit just over .300 in the Mexican Leagues with a .375 OBA.
Sanchez did some coaching and apparently some scouting back in Mexico after he played. He died in a car crash there in ’92. He was 48.
Celerino’s silver bat was the result of his having the highest average in organized baseball in ’66. He was apparently hitting over .500 in the fourth spot when he was moved to the top spot to get enough at bats to try for his league’s batting title. He was pitched around a ton in that spot and rarely saw any good pitches so chased the bad ones, dropping his average. But he got enough plate appearances to qualify and had a sick OBA, estimated to be nearly .600. Luis Tiant was the best man at Celerino’s wedding. They must have met in winter ball.
This hook-up will really bring up some ghosts:
1. Sanchez and Mel Stottlemyre ‘72 to ’73 Yankees;
2. Stottlemyre and Roger Maris ’64 to ’66 Yankees;
3. Maris and Phil Gagliano ’67 to ’68 Cardinals.