The consensus was that Ryne Duren was the best reliever in all of baseball in 1958. This near-sighted monster on the mound used to throw 100 mph warm-up pitches five feet off the plate to unnerve on-deck hitters. The Yankees got him in the same 1957 trade with Kansas City that ended Billy Martin’s pinstriped playing career. GM George Weiss then sent the wild right-hander to New York’s Denver farm club to work on his control for the rest of that season. The move worked. Duren went 13-2 in the Mile High City and more importantly lowered his bases on balls from more than one per inning to less than one every three innings. He joined the parent club in 1958 and absolutely dominated opposing teams in the late innings of Yankee ball games, leading the league in saves and striking out 87 batters in the 75 innings he pitched that year. He also won and saved a game in the 1958 World Series, helping New York avenge their 1957 Fall Classic defeat to the Braves. While Duren may have learned how to control his fastball, he couldn’t figure out how to control his drinking and the guy was a mean drunk. In the end, alcohol dependency destroyed his career but his eventual ability to overcome it created another one for him as a substance abuse counselor. He is credited with helping many active and ex big league ballplayers kick the habit. Duren was born in Cazanovia, Washington in 1929.
|NYY (4 yrs)||12||15||.444||2.75||131||2||81||0||0||43||206.1||118||70||63||15||139||257||1.246|
|PHI (3 yrs)||6||2||.750||3.38||41||7||19||1||0||2||101.1||80||43||38||6||57||95||1.352|
|LAA (2 yrs)||8||21||.276||4.86||82||17||25||1||1||10||170.1||140||108||92||14||132||182||1.597|
|KCA (1 yr)||0||3||.000||5.27||14||6||2||0||0||1||42.2||37||26||25||4||30||37||1.570|
|WSA (1 yr)||1||1||.500||6.65||16||0||8||0||0||0||23.0||24||17||17||0||18||18||1.826|
|CIN (1 yr)||0||2||.000||2.89||26||0||10||0||0||1||43.2||41||17||14||1||15||39||1.282|
|BAL (1 yr)||0||0||9.00||1||0||0||0||0||0||2.0||3||3||2||0||1||2||2.000|
“Old Reliable” played some great baseball for New York during an 11-season career that was interrupted by military service in WWII. A .282 lifetime hitter, Henrich teamed with Joe DiMaggio and Charlie King Kong Keller to provide pre-war Yankee fans with one of the most talented outfields in team history. Tommy won four rings as a Yankee and hit a home run in each of the four Fall Classics he appeared in. But his most famous Series moment took place in Game Four of the 1941 Yankee-Dodger matchup. Brooklyn was about to even that Series at two games apiece when Henrich came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and New York losing 4-3. Dodger reliever, Hugh Casey struck out Henrich with a curveball in the dirt that scooted past Dodger catcher, Mickey Owens, permitting Tommy to reach first safely. The Yankees went on to score four runs that inning, winning the game. The following day, Tommy hit a home run to help the Yankees win the Series. Henrich was 96 years-old when he passed away in December of 2009. He absolutely loved being a Yankee.
Another Yankee born on February 20th, was involved in a famous play that started out by him doing something bad that was turned into something really good. February 20th pinstripe birthdays also belong to this one-time, short-time Yankee pitcher, this brand new Yankee catcher and this long-ago Yankee catcher.
In our younger days, my brother and I used to play softball for a bar called Shorty’s Tavern. Shorty’s was a great hangout and was run by a friendly ex-boxer named Carmen “Shorty” Persico. Back then, most of the bar’s regulars were either retirement age like Shorty or college age like my brother, me and our friends.
The two generations would drink Schlitz on tap together for twenty-five cents a glass, watch sporting events and old movies on Shorty’s television, and argue politics, religion and sports. My favorite of Shorty’s older generation was Nick Fusella. He had retired from Sears, was still single, loved to read, philosophize and watch Yankee baseball. My buddies knew Nick could be easily goaded into an argument by telling him that a modern day Yankee was much better at his position than the player who started there for the Bombers back when Nick was our age. You know, Munson was better than Berra, Mantle was better than DiMaggio, etc. etc.
The reason we loved to get into these arguments with Nick was because his passionate rebuttals always included classic, expletive-filled clichés and phrases like, “Munson couldn’t carry Berra’s jock strap,” or Babe Ruth would show Reggie where the hen sh#@ freezes.”
One day we were all in Shorty’s watching a Yankee game and some Yankee starter was pitching pretty good and somebody tried to get Nick going by saying that the guy was the best starter in the team’s history. Nick quietly took a sip of his draft, smacked his lips and stared back at us and said, “You guys obviously never saw the f*@#&ng Indian pitch.” He was referring to the Superchief, Allie Reynolds.
To be accurate, Reynolds was only three-sixteenths Indian but Nick Fusella was right, he was one of the most skilled and effective pitchers in Yankee history. What made him especially valuable to the Yankee teams that won five straight World Championships from 1949 through 1953 was his ability to both start and relieve. Reynolds, Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat combined to give the Yankees one of the most successful trio of starters on one team in the game’s history.
The Yankees got Reynolds in a post WWII trade with Cleveland by giving up their future Hall of Fame second baseman, Joe Gordon. He went 131-60 during his eight seasons in Pinstripes, saving 41 games and throwing 27 shutouts along the way. He was 7-2 in the six World Series in which he appeared and collected six championship rings. Reynolds was born on this date in 1917.
This Hall-of-Fame Yankee hurler shares today’s birthday with Superchief. So does this much more recent addition to the Yankees’ starting rotation, this long-ago owner of the Yankee franchise and this one-time Yankee DH.
|NYY (8 yrs)||131||60||.686||3.30||295||209||70||96||27||41||1700.0||1500||695||624||111||819||967||1.364|
|CLE (5 yrs)||51||47||.520||3.31||139||100||27||41||9||8||792.1||693||331||291||22||442||456||1.432|
George Steinbrenner loved football and loved the toughness of football players, which is why he spent lots of Yankee dollars trying to get gridiron guys like Deion Sanders, John Elway and Drew Henson to play for New York. Long before “The Boss” began his quest to put pigskin toughness in pinstripes, another well known “George” tried the same thing but in a far more personal and direct manner.
Before he became an NFL Hall of Fame legend as a player, coach and owner of the Chicago Bears, George Papa Bear Halas was invited to attend the Yankee’s 1919 spring training tryouts and audition for a spot in New York’s outfield. He did well enough to make that year’s opening day Yankee roster and actually started some games in right field at the beginning of the Yankee season. Unfortunately, Halas had hurt his hip in spring training sliding into third on a triple he hit off of Brooklyn’s Hall-of-Fame hurler, Rube Marquard. Papa Bear forever blamed that injury as the reason why he went 2-22 during his 12-game regular season career in pinstripes and ended the 1919 season and professional baseball career on the roster of New York’s American Association affiliate at the time, the St. Paul Saints.
So for those of you that thought A-Rod experienced the most significant spring-training hip injury in the history of the Yankee franchise during the 2009 preseason, I beg to differ. If Halas doesn’t have to slide into third on that triple off of Marquard, he goes into the regular season healthy and plays well enough to earn the right-field starting job. That wouldn’t have been too difficult considering the guy who ended up starting there for New York was Sammy Vick, who hit just .248 that season. So Halas becomes a Yankee star, forsakes a career in football and never moves back to the Windy City or plays for the Bears. Taking this scenario one logical step further, if Halas has a great year in 1919, the Yankees might not have been so tempted to get a guy named Babe Ruth from Boston to replace the light-hitting Vick in right field. I know. I know. My wife always tells me I think too much.
Halas was born on February 2, 1895 in where else but Chicago. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder, this current Yankee play-by-play announcer and this catcher who played for New York during WWII.
Paul Blair’s best days were behind him when the Yankees traded their former starting center fielder, Elliott Maddox to the Orioles in January of 1977, to acquire the eight-time Gold Glove winner. For the next two seasons, New York used Blair mostly as a late-inning defensive replacement for the moody Mickey Rivers. Blair performed perfectly in that role and won two more World Series rings while in Pinstripes to add to the two he had already won with Baltimore.
His most famous Yankee moment took place in a June, 1977 game against the Red Sox in Fenway and as usual, Blair was sitting on the bench when that contest started. At the time, New York was two games behind the Red Sox in the AL East pennant race and the mercurial Billy Martin was trying to fend off the meddling of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner with his on-the-field moves. At the same time, Martin hated his star player, Reggie Jackson and the feeling was mutual.
In the sixth inning of the contest, Jim Rice hit a ball to right field and Jackson misplayed it into a double for Rice. A livid Martin felt Reggie loafed on the play and immediately sent Blair to right field to replace his outspoken superstar. I’ll never forget Blair shrugging his shoulders as a disbelieving Jackson ran past him toward the Yankee dugout. The chaotic scene that followed in the Yankee dugout has to be one of the low points in Yankee franchise history.
Blair, who was born in Cushing, Oklahoma on February 1, 1944, was once asked to compare playing for his Oriole manager, Earl Weaver to playing for Martin. Blair responded that both were fiery and demanding but that Weaver was forgiving while Martin held grudges forever. He died December 26, 2013, suffering a heart attack while bowling.
|BAL (13 yrs)||1700||6192||5606||737||1426||269||51||126||567||167||420||816||.254||.306||.388||.694|
|NYY (4 yrs)||172||326||296||32||66||9||3||6||38||4||18||34||.223||.270||.334||.604|
|CIN (1 yr)||75||155||140||7||21||4||1||2||15||0||11||27||.150||.209||.236||.445|