Since Stengel managed the Yankees over a half century ago, it would be helpful to younger fans to compare his achievements as New York’s skipper to the much more recent tenure of Joe Torre. Casey and Torre each managed the Yankees for a dozen seasons. Both men had losing records managing other teams. Stengel’s Yankee teams won 1,149 ball games and Torre’s squads won 1,173. Stengel, managing during the era of 154-game seasons, achieved a winning percentage with New York of .623 compared to Torre’s .605. Stengel’s teams won 10 AL Pennants and 7 World Series titles while Torre’s Yankees won 6 and 4 respectively. Torre’s teams made the postseason in each of his dozen seasons as skipper under baseball’s current divisional structure that didn’t exist in Stengel’s era.
Both Managers left the Yankees reluctantly, with bitter tastes in their mouths. Stengel was let go after the Yankees lost the 1960 World Series to the Pirates during which some of his managerial decisions were questioned. Stengel insisted he was fired for “being too old.” Torre, on the other hand, turned down a one-year incentive laden contract to continue managing New York, after the team again failed to make it to the World Series in 2007. I don’t think Stengel, who was definitely the highest paid manager in the game in his day, probably averaging $75 to $100 thousand in salary per season, would have turned down the $5 million offer Torre refused.
Charles Dillon Stengel was born in Kansas City, MO on this date in 1890. His nickname is derived from the name of his hometown.
As A-Rod celebrates his 36th birthday and continues his now-sputtering quest to become Baseball’s all-time home run king, you would think he is a lot more at peace with himself than he was just two years ago at this time. I believe the key is that he has finally stopped trying to portray himself one way to the public while living his private life in a completely different way.
I did not become a true fan of A-Rod the player until 2007, when two things happened simultaneously. First, he had the most incredible year on the field of any Yankee I’ve ever seen play the game. Secondly, he learned how to say “no comment” whenever the New York media asked him questions that were not about his play on the field.
Then, A-Rod and his agent, Scott Boras orchestrated that tasteless and clueless announcement during the 2007 World Series that A-Rod was opting out of his Yankee contract. Even though the move did end up making millions more Yankee dollars for Rodriguez, it was a public relations disaster for him at the same time.
By the time 2008 rolled around, A-Rod was still saying no comment to the reporters but the papparazzi photos of his extra marital actions started speaking a lot louder than his words. With the Yankees struggling with injuries under then new manager, Joe Girardi, the sports pages of the New York tabloids were filled with photos of Rodriguez in night time action. Unfortunately, none of those photos showed A-Rod with a baseball uniform on.
Then during the spring of 2009 we learned that A-Rod did take steroids. So in the space of just two and a half pinstripe seasons, Rodriguez’s actions verified his greed, his marital infidelity and his cheating on the field, a sort of modern day ballplayer’s triple crown. But then came the Yankees’ glorious ’09 post season run, with Alex leading the way with some of the most impressive clutch hitting I’ve seen during my fifty years as an avid fan of MLB. He had reversed his reputation as a perennial goat of October, captured his elusive World Championship ring and gained the somewhat begrudging adoration of Big Apple fans all at the same time. It seemed too good to be true and perhaps it was. This past year we learned that Rodriguez visited, Dr Anthony Galea, the recently convicted Canadian “blood doctor” without telling the Yankee front-office.
So like many Yankee fans, I’m still wondering who this superstar is. The one good thing is that the newest version of A-Rod no longer attempts to profusely deny his faults. Instead, he just refuses to discuss them with the media, which is perfectly OK by me. The one I’ve watched play in pinstripes these past eight seasons is certainly one of the most talented baseball players I’ve seen in the last half-century and I guess I’m hoping that is how he will be remembered.
The last Boston Red Sox team to win a World Series during the 20th century was the 1918 squad. Their starting rotation consisted of Carl Mays, Bullet Joe Bush, Babe Ruth and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, “Sad Sam” Jones. By 1922, three of the four were pitching for the Yankees and the fourth was on his way to becoming New York’s and all of baseball’s most famous home-run hitter of all time.
During Sad Sam’s four years as a starter in Beantown, he won 64 games including 23 in 1921. He then won 67 games during his five seasons in pinstripes, including a 21-victory season in 1923. He remained in the big leagues until 1935, retiring when he was 42-years-old, with a lifetime record of 229-217 with 36 career shutouts.
An interesting fact about Jones’ career was that opposing runners stole very few bases off of old Sam despite the fact that he almost never attempted a pick-off throw. What was his secret for scaring would-be base-stealers from even trying to run against him? According to a 1954 article in the Baseball Digest, Jones would just stare at runners until they would inevitably walk back to first. As soon as they started their trip back to the bag, Jones would throw the next pitch.
The Yankee pitching staff was decimated in the late eighties by the aging and retirement of Ron Guidry and perhaps the worst trade and free agent signing decisions made during the Steinbrenner era. Among the very poorest of these decisions was trading Doug Drabek to the Pirates for Pat Clements, Cecilio Guante and Rick Rhoden. Of the three Pirate pitchers, Rhoden was the most effective in pinstripes, going 16-10 in 1987 and 12-12 the following year. But Rhoden was also 34 years old when New York got him from Pittsburgh while Drabek was just 24 at the time of that trade. Even though he went 7-8 during his 1986 rookie season in the Bronx, I remember he had impressive enough stuff to be excited about his future.
Sure enough, the right-hander quickly became one of the best pitchers in the NL winning the Cy Young Award in 1990 with a 22-6 record. He pitched six seasons for the Pirates before signing a lucrative free agent deal with Houston in 1993. He pitched OK for the Astros but was never the big winner there that they expected him to be. He retired after the 1998 season with a 155-134 record and 21 career shutouts. If he had remained in New York his entire career and the Yankees had also kept young arms like Bob Tewksbury and Al Leiter in their system, who knows? They may have got back to the playoffs a few seasons faster than they did in 1995.
Sparky Lyle was born in DuBois, PA on this date in 1944. I was a huge Sparky fan. When the Yankees grabbed him from the Red Sox in exchange for Danny Cater just before the 1972 season started, I knew it was a good move by the Yankees but I had no idea it would turn out to be one of the greatest trades in Pinstripe history. To understand the impact Lyle had on the Yankees, you need to consider what the Yankee bullpen was like before “The Count” arrived. In 1971, Lindy McDaniel and Jack Aker had shared the Yankee closer role and tied for the team lead in saves with four each. That’s right, it’s not a typo, four saves led the team. In Lyle’s first season as a Yankee, he saved 35 games and won nine more. The Yankees won 79 games that year and Lyle was involved in a total of 44 of those victories. His 1972 ERA was an amazing 1.95. Within a single season, Lyle had turned the Yankee bullpen into one of the best in the league. Gabe Paul continued to work his magic with clever trades over the next few seasons and by 1977 the Yankees were World Series winners and Sparky Lyle won the AL Cy Young Award with a 13-5 record, 26 saves and a 2.17 ERA. He went on to win three games during the 1977 postseason and cemented his reputation as one of the elite closers in all of baseball. So what does George Steinbrenner do? He goes out and signs another elite closer named Goose Gossage.
Sparky’s wasn’t the only Yankee career Goose helped end. Ironically, another one belonged to this former teammate of Lyle’s who shares his July 22nd birthday. This former Yankee starting pitcher also share the Count’s birthday.
In what has become a month of notable Yankee passings, the death of former Yankee skipper Ralph Houk yesterday, at the age of 90, brought back memories of both his tremendous three-year start as Yankee skipper and the disappointing finish he had in pinstripes. But win or lose, those who played baseball for Houk loved him and were inspired by his leadership qualities as were the soldiers who followed this gallant WWII Silver Star winner onto Omaha Beach on D-Day, in 1944. May he rest in peace.
From 1921 to 1924, Elmer Frederick “Irish” Meusel was John McGraw’s left-fielder on four consecutive pennant winning and two world championship teams. His four season RBI total for the Giants beginning in 1922, was 470.
Irish was not, however, the best left fielder playing for the home team in the Polo Grounds, back then. He was not even considered the best left-fielder in his family. That honor went to his younger and much more ornery brother Bob, who played for the Yankees. The Big Apple has not had a set of better-playing brothers since the Meusels were in town.
Consider this. In 1922, Irish drove in 111 runs for the Giants and “Long Bob” led the AL in RBIs with 138. That’s a total of 249 RBI’s from one set of brothers. In 1941, The DiMaggio boys had 283 RBIs in one season but there were three of them. Even more impressively, in the five seasons from 1921 until 1925, the Meusel brothers combined to drive in 1,125 runs.
If the Meusel’s were around today, I could see Reebok or Nike releasing a new pair of baseball shoes. The left one would be called the “Irish” and the right one, “Long Bob.” Or perhaps modern sneaker companies would have been turned off by the attitude and behavior of today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant.
As I dug deeper into the younger Meusel’s background, I found he had developed a reputation for being lazy on the field. Such criticism came not just from sportswriters of that era but from Meusel’s own Manager, the great Miller Huggins. It was also referenced in his New York Time’s obituary which stated that Meusel’s alleged laziness may have been in appearance only, caused by the fact that the tall, graceful athlete had such a long and loping stride, that he always looked like he was running slow even when he was not. I also found articles indicating that Meusel was not known as a very friendly guy. In 1924, he charged the pitcher in a game in Detroit with his bat-in-hand setting off one of the worst riots in MLB history. Other published accounts described the California native as “dark” and “moody” and a perennial complainer especially when it was time to sign a
contract or comply with a league rule.
But no one disputes Meusel’s five-tool talent on the field. This guy could run, hit, hit for power, field and had a shotgun for an arm. He played left field for one of the greatest Yankee teams in history and during his decade in New York the Yankees appeared in their first six World Series and earned the franchise’s first three championship banners. Meusel’s Yankee career ended when he was sold to the Reds after the 1929 season. During his ten seasons in pinstripes he hit 146 home runs, drove in 1,005 runs, hit .311 and maintained a .500 slugging percentage.
Long Bob shares his July 19th birthday with one of his old Murderer’s Row teammates and this former Yankee southpaw who threw masterful complete game victories for New York in both the 1941 and 1943 World series.
I was one of those Yankee fans who screamed the loudest when the recently departed George Steinbrenner pegged this guy to replace Buck Showalter as Yankee manager after the 1995 playoff loss to Seattle. We had good reason to be skeptics. Up until then, Torre had managed the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, losing an average of 90 games per year and compiling a dreadful .472 winning percentage. It seemed as if the Yankees had turned the corner with Showalter and when he got fired, one year after the miserable players strike, I was about ready to stop watching baseball.
Boy was I wrong. 1996 turned out to be one of the, if not the greatest years of my life as a Yankee fan and Joe Torre’s managerial skills were a huge part of the reason why. Not only was he adept at Steinbrenner diplomacy, he was also a great communicator with his players and it seemed every move he made from the dugout was the right one.
Joe’s tenure with the Yankees was a wonderful time in the team’s history (although my euphoria has been significantly dampened with the steroids usage disclosures involving several Yankees who played for Torre) and Yankee fans will always admire and be grateful for the calm, professional way he handled the immense pressure and responsibilities that came with the job.
Here’s a look at the records of the top five winning managers in pinstripe history:
|Manager – World Championships||Wins||Losses||Pct.|
|Joe McCarthy - 7||1460||867||.627|
|Joe Torre - 4||1173||767||.605|
|Casey Stengel - 7||1149||696||.623|
|Miller Huggins – 3||1067||719||.597|
|Ralph Houk - 2||944||806||.539|
Jack Aker was traded to New York from Seattle early in the 1969 regular season for fellow-reliever, Freddie Talbot. Yankee manager, Ralph Houk used his new right-hander as the team’s closer the last four months of that season and Aker responded well to that role by winning eight of twelve decisions and earning 11 saves. He then followed that performance up with his best season as a Yankee in 1970, when he recorded 16 saves, won 4 of 6 decisions and posted a sterling 2.06 ERA. He was 16-10 during his three plus seasons in pinstripes with a total of 31 saves. He became expendable in 1972, after Sparky Lyle joined the team and when New York acquired Johnny Callison from the Cubs for a player to be named later in January of 1972, Aker became that player to be named later. His 32 saves for the lowly Athletics in 1966 led the American League. When he retired after the 1974 season, he had 123 lifetime saves.
I never agreed with the the Yankee’s decision to sign the Goose as a free agent during the 1977 post season. Sparky Lyle had just won the AL Cy Young Award the season before and the Yankees had won the World Series. They did not need a closer and adding another one to the team was the type of overkill that could only end up disrupting team chemistry in the long run. When I read about Gossage’s signing, I figured Lyle was a goner and I had always been a fan of the “Count.”
I was wrong about Lyle being a goner in 1978. The Yankees did figure out a pretty effective way to keep Lyle in the mix but Gossage emphatically took over the closer’s role and remained the ace of the Yankee pen for a half-dozen seasons, saving 150 games and winning 41 more in the process.
The Yankees finally traded Lyle in 1979, sending him to Texas in a multiplayer deal that put Dave Righetti in Pinstripes. Goose’s shower room brawl with Cliff Johnson helped ruin the Yankee’s 1979 season but in 1980, a big young right-hander named Ron Davis became the Yankee’s set-up man and he and Gossage teamed to deliver what I still consider to be some of the best relief pitching I have ever seen. Unfortunately, George Brett’s three-run shot of Goose in the third game of the AL playoffs that season was not a great moment in Yankee history.
Goose was indeed a monster on the mound and deserves being in Cooperstown but I still think his signing was a matter of greed and not need on the part of Yankee management. Goose was born on this date in 1951, in Colorado Springs, CO.
Goose shares his July 5th birthday with this 1965 winner of the AL Rookie of the Year Award and this one-time Yankee starting pitcher from the late thirties.
Like him or not, George Steinbrenner recognized better than anyone that the Yankee brand and New York City were the hottest sports properties on the planet. He purchased the team from CBS for a bargain basement price using other people’s money and immediately began making the franchise more valuable by the minute. He pretty much single-handedly restored the aura of the interlocking N-Y logo. George was born on today’s date in 1930 in Cleveland.
The Boss was managing owner of the Yankees for a record 37 years. His Yankee teams won 11 AL Pennants and 7 World Series. He changed the team’s manager 20 times and hired 11 different GMs. His enthusiastic pursuit of free agents, beginning with Catfish Hunter changed the salary structure of professional baseball forever. He was suspended from the League twice. His entrepreneurial vision was the driving force behind the YES Entertainment Network and when he died in July of 2010, the team he had paid $10 million for was worth $1.2 billion.