Babe Ruth didn’t do it. Neither did Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter or anybody else in pinstripes who had his number retired or made it into the Hall of Fame or had his likeness bronzed into a center field monument.
But journeyman infielder Cody Ransom did, and the two home runs he hit in his first two at-bats with the New York Yankees still stand as a one-and-only for the most fabled franchise in American sport.
Ransom is now a backup shortstop for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s in town this weekend for a series against the River Cats, and at age 39, he stays in shape and keeps his batting eye sharp and has every intention of performing again on the major-league stage.
“Once you’ve been there for one day, there’s nowhere else you want to play,” Ransom said before the series opener at Raley Field.
Drafted by the Giants in 1998, Ransom played 114 games in four seasons for San Francisco. Then it was on to the Astros, Yankees, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Brewers, Padres and Cubs for 383 games across 11 seasons. Up and down for 17 baseball years, Ransom also bounced through the bushes in Salem-Keizer, Ore.; Bakersfield; Shreveport, La.; Fresno; Iowa City; Round Rock in Texas; Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania; and now in Reno.
Ransom, who has hit 215 minor-league home runs, took his talents to Japan, where he played for the Saitama Seibu Lions – another sticker to slap on his baseball steamer trunk.
No stop was more memorable than New York, where Ransom did what no man has done before or since for the Yankees.
Ransom hit the first of his back-to-backs on Family Day, Aug. 17, 2008, a Sunday afternoon in the Bronx with 54,114 in the house. It was the bottom of the seventh inning of a game the Yankees led 13-3 over the Kansas City Royals, when manager Joe Girardi sent him to the plate for his first time as a Yankee, to pinch hit for Jason Giambi. Somebody named Alex Rodriguez stood on first. The ghosts of Murderers Row stirred as Kansas City right-handed reliever Jeff Fulchino delivered. So did Ransom – over the fence in left.
“It was a slider,” Cody remembered, “and I got a curtain call.”
Hitting a home run in your first at-bat for the Yankees was so unusual that Girardi let Ransom absorb it for five days before he put him back into a game. Cody’s next at-bat took place in a tighter matchup on the road with the Baltimore Orioles. This time, the Yankees led 6-4 when Ransom entered Camden Yards as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning. With one out in the ninth and Bobby Abreu and Rodriguez on base, Orioles right-hander Fernando Cabrera put one in there too fat. Ransom muscled up and homered again.
Right then, Ransom said, “I should have retired.”
If the two homers weren’t enough history for one well-traveled reserve to give a team that has contributed a whole volume of it to baseball lore, Ransom wrote a little more a month later. On Sept. 21, 2008, Ransom was a late-inning defensive replacement at first base. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Mariano Rivera got Baltimore’s Brian Roberts to hit a two-hopper to the right side. Ransom fielded the ball, took it to the bag and recorded the final putout in the 85-year history of Yankee Stadium.
Ransom thought about keeping the ball, but his mind flashed to the lawsuits, the death threats and the general unpleasantness that invaded Doug Mientkiewicz’s life when the late-inning defensive replacement at first base for the Boston Red Sox in 2004 balked at relinquishing the last out of the team’s first World Series championship in 86 years.
“I gave it to Mariano,” Ransom said, “and I hear he presented it to (Yankees owner George) Steinbrenner.”
Seven years later, Ransom’s dream of returning to the top has not died. It’s tough to imagine the majors happening again for a player closing in on 40, and Ransom says the thought of coaching or managing has entered his mind. Ransom, however, did find his name in the Aces’ starting lineup Thursday night. In front of about 9,000 fans at Raley Field instead of 54,000-plus in Yankee Stadium, Cody came through again. With the score tied 4-4 with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the eighth, Ransom lined a single to center field to score the two go-ahead runs in Reno’s 6-4 victory.
“His body is in great shape, and he moves around great out there,” Reno manager Phil Nevin said afterward. “He adds a veteran presence for us, and energy – the guys feed off that.”
Even if he doesn’t return to the majors, Ransom will always remember those back-to-back home runs for the Yankees. And he will always be the guy who turned out the lights in the big ballpark in the Bronx.