Classic Yankees: Ed Figueroa

New York Yankees Ed FigueroaIf I asked you what Yankees pitcher won 55 games from 1976-1978, when the Yankees won three consecutive A.L. pennants and two World Series, what would your answer be?

Ron Guidry? Nope. The “Gator’s” first MLB victory came in his 16-7, 1977 season.

Catfish Hunter? Nope. The Cat won 38 games over that three-year span.

Dock Ellis was traded for Mike Torrez in early 1977. It wasn’t him. As we are fully aware of, Mike Torrez was with Boston in 1978, so it wasn’t him either. Kenny Holtzman, upon his arrival in mid-1976, was buried by Billy Martin. Don Gullett wasn’t there in 1976, and his career came to a halt in mid-1978.  He was just 18-6 as a Yankee. It wasn’t Doyle Alexander, Andy Messersmith or Jim Beattie. Not Dick Tidrow either.

So who was the winningest Yankee starter from 1976-1978? It was someone for whom (along with Mickey Rivers) the Yankees traded Bobby Bonds for after the 1975 season.

Ed Figueroa came up to the majors with the Angels in 1974, when he was 25. He had lost some time to USMC service during the Vietnam War. His record wasn’t too impressive that year, just 2-8, but the ERA was 3.67; ERA+ 93 for the 25 year old rookie. In 1975, Figgy got a full year as a starter for the Angels, going 16-13, 2.91, ERA+ 121. Still, when the Yanks got him and Rivers for Bonds, the general feeling was “what?” After all, Bonds was a 30-30 guy for the Yankees in 1975. He was the guy the Yankees got for Bobby Murcer. Now the Yanks are trading him after just one year for Rivers and a guy with only one year as a full-time starter? What is Gabe Paul doing?

Gabe Paul knew what he was doing. For in 1976, Ed Figueroa led the Yankees with 19 wins. Figueroa finished 4th in the CYA voting, and 21st in the MVP voting. He was 19-10, 3.02, ERA+ 115. He led the Yanks in wins (two more than Hunter and Ellis) as the Yanks won their first pennant in twelve years. In the ALCS, “Figgy” was 0-1 with a 5.84 ERA. Although he lost Game 2, giving up 4 runs in 5 1/3, he did leave Game 5 with the lead and the resounding cheers of fans chanting “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie”.  He eventually was charged with 4 R in 7 IP. Unfortunately for Figueroa, he didn’t get the “W” as Grant Jackson gave up George Brett’s game-tying HR. We know (see Chambliss profile) how the game ended. Figgy lost his WS start (unfortunately, despite his regular season brilliance, Figueroa didn’t translate it to the postseason), and was 0-1, 5.63 in the 1976 WS.

Figueroa was 16-11, 3.57 in 1977. ERA+ 111. He was then buried in the postseason. He did start Game 4 of the ALCS with the Yanks down two games to one. He gave up two in the third when the Yanks were up 4-0, then two more in the fourth after the Yanks went up 5-2. With no margin for error, manager Billy Martin had to pull Figgy. Figueroa gave up 4 runs in 3 1/3. He didn’t get a WS start.

In 1978, Ron Guidry won 25 games, was the unanimous CYA winner, and finished 2nd in the MVP vote to Jim Rice (I would have had Guidry 1st for MVP, Rice 2nd, but I’m prejudiced). How many people remember that Figueroa won 20 games that year? After losing on July 15th, Figueroa was 7-7, 3.91. He then won 13 of his last 15 decisions to finish 20-9, 2.99, ERA+ 122. He finished 7th in CYA voting. What’s more, Ed Figueroa achieved something that still reveres him in his homeland of Puerto Rico. Game 161 of that 1978 season assured the Yanks of at least a tie for the A.L. East, and a tiebreaking 163rd game with Boston. That game, Figgy’s 20th victory, meant that he became the very first (and, to date, only) Puerto Rican pitcher to win 20 games in a season.

Figgy’s postseason woes continued. KC knocked him out after just one inning of Game 2 of the 1978 ALCS. 5 R, 3 ER in just one inning. The loss. In the WS, Figgy lost Game 1 and got a ND in Game 4. 0-1, 8.10.

For all his brilliance in the regular seasons of 1976-1978 (55-30, 3.18, ERA+ 115), Ed Figueroa was just 0-4, 7.47 in seven postseason starts. It is a sad blight on his Yankees record.

Figgy had arm trouble in 1979. In half a season, he went 4-6, 4.13, ERA+ 99. He tried to comeback in 1980 but it was a failure as he went 3-3, 6.98 for the Yanks before they sold him to Texas, for whom he went 0-7, 5.90. For the season, he was 3-10, 6.54, ERA+ 60.  Terrible.

He landed with Oakland for 2 games in 1981, but he was done. 0-0, 5.40 in those two games. Ed Figueroa never pitched in the majors again.

His MLB record was 80-67 with a good ERA of 3.51, ERA+ 105.

Figueroa, 62, will be known for four seasons. For in those four seasons, 1975-1978, he was very good for the Angels and Yankees. Unfortunately for him, his time at the top was too brief, and his time in the postseason was quite miserable.

After retirement, Figueroa opened a couple of restaurants in Puerto Rico.

During his stay with the Yankees, “Figgy” wore #31, later made famous by Dave Winfield.

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