On September 19, 1970 in an afternoon game at Tiger Stadium in front of fewer than 9,000 fans, Yankee Manager Ralph Houk inserted veteran lefthander Mike McCormick in the game to pitch the bottom half of the seventh inning with the Yankees trailing by three runs. McCormick held the Tigers scoreless in the seventh but gave up a home run to backup catcher Jim Price in the eighth inning. In the Yankee half of the ninth New York scored five runs on five singles a walk and a wild pitch, to take a 7-6 lead. Jack Aker pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth and in the process saved Mike McCormick’s 134th and final big league victory. McCormick had joined New York’s pitching staff in July of that season when the Yankees traded pitcher John Cumberland to the Giants in exchange for the 1967 NL Cy Young Award winner. In his first start with his new team, Mike lasted seven innings and beat the Angels, but he’d been roughed up as both a starter and reliever in each subsequent appearance. The Yankees ended up releasing the Pasadena, CA native in spring training the following year and after trying to hang on with the Royals, McCormick ended his very good 16-season big league career.
He may have had a lot more than those two wins in pinstripes if the Yankees were inclined to pay bonuses back when Mike was a high school pitching sensation in the early fifties. New York’s arrogant front office felt it was a privilege for any young man to even be offered a contract to play for their organization so they refused to offer signing bonuses. The New York Giants were the only team to offer McCormick one, in the amount of $50,000 and the youngster grabbed it. In addition to the Giants, Yankees and Royals, Mike also pitched for Baltimore and the Senators during his career.
Grant Dwight Jackson was born on September 28, 1942, in Fostoria, OH. He spent his first six big league seasons with the Phillies as a starting pitcher. After getting dealt to Baltimore in 1970, the Orioles converted Jackson into a reliever and he became a mainstay in their bullpen for the next five seasons. In June of 1976, he was made part of an unusual mid season ten-player trade that took place between the Yanks and Orioles. It was unusual because both teams were fighting for the same AL Eastern Division pennant at the time and normally, teams competing for the same flag don’t do deals with each other, much less deals involving ten guys. In the swap, New York sent Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Rudy May, Scott McGregor and Dave Pagan to the Birds in return for Jackson, Doyle Alexander, Ken Holtzman, Elrod Hendricks and somebody named Jimmy Freeman.
Jackson quickly became a key member of Billy Martin’s pitching staff, appearing in 21 games during the second half of that season, mostly in relief and winning all six of his decisions. Alexander was 10-5 that year with New York and Holtzman was 9-7. That means the three pitchers the Yankees got in the Baltimore deal won an impressive total of 25 games during the balance of that 1976 season. After Jackson pitched poorly during the ’76 postseason, the Yankees left him unprotected in that year’s AL expansion draft and he was selected by the new Mariners franchise.
When the Yankees signed Tony Womack as a free agent after the 2004 season, I was not too excited. He had just completed arguably his best Major League season, hitting .307 and smacking 170 hits and helping to lead St Louis to an NL Championship, but he had hit only.182 in that year’s World Series as the Cardinals got swept by the Red Sox and even though he had lot’s of speed, his ability to get on base was far from impressive. Evidently, Joe Torre was not too excited either because by May of the 2005 season, Robinson Cano was the Yankees’ starting second baseman and the only action Womack was seeing was in the Yankee outfield. During his one and only season in the Bronx, Womack hit .249 and had just a .279 on base percentage. He was shipped to the Reds the following December. Even though it did not work out in New York, Womack had a very good 13-season big league career, winning a ring with Arizona and amassing over 1,300 hits.
This native of San Diego was born on this date in 1982. The Yankees drafted the right-hander in the 19th round of the 2003 draft out of Texas Tech. He got his first call-up to the parent club in late August of 2006 and got six starts during the final month and a half of that season, winning two of his three decisions. He didn’t fare as well for New York the following year, going 1-4 with an ERA that ballooned to over 11 earned runs for every nine innings pitched. In 2008, he was made part of the package the Yankees dealt to Pittsburgh for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. He got off to a great start in the Steel City, winning his first two starts and not giving up a single run but then he had a tough time finding success with the poor-hitting Pirates. In 2011, the Pirate offense showed some punch and Karstens numbers have gotten demonstrably better. I was in Pittsburgh earlier this season and got to see him pitch a super game against a very tough Philadelphia line-up. He turns 29-years-old today and I think he’s young enough to put together some solid seasons in the next few years. The question is will the Pirates have a team that can score him the runs he will need to do so.
This Cleveland, Ohio native started his big league pitching career as a Yankee in 1916 and pitched well enough to go 12-8 with a 2.62 ERA over the course of his first two seasons. At Manager Miller Huggins’ urging, New York than included the right-hander in a package of players they sent to the Browns in January of 1918 for second baseman Del Pratt and Hall of Fame hurler, Eddie Plank. At the time the deal was made Plank was at the end of his career and he never pitched a game for the Yankees. Pratt gave New York three decent seasons but it was Shocker who proved to be the gem in that transaction. He became a four-time twenty game winner for the Browns that included a league-leading 27 victories in 1921. He also became a thorn in Huggins side as a Yankee killer who was particularly effective against the great Babe Ruth. Seven years after he left New York, again at Huggins urging, the Yankees got him back and Urban finished his big league career in pinstripes. What no one knew at the time of his return except Shocker and a few of his close friends was that the pitcher was slowly dying of heart disease. So when he won 49 games during his three-plus season return tour of duty in the Big Apple, it was in fact a super-human effort, that included a 19-11 record in 1926 and an 18-6 record for the Murderer’s Row team of 1927.
He was too weak to make it to the Yankees 1928 spring training and when he did rejoin the club, he collapsed while pitching batting practice in Chicago. By September of that same year, Shocker was dead at the age of just 38 years old. His lifetime record was 187 and 117 and his record in pinstripes, 61-37. But that 18-6 effort when his heart was literally turning to stone during the 1927 season will forever remain one of the most remarkable achievements by a pitcher in baseball history.
Shocker wasn’t the only Yankee born on this date to enjoy consecutive twenty-win seasons as a big league pitcher. In fact, this Hall of Famer had two separate three-season streaks of twenty or more wins and enjoyed a total of seven during his 13-year career. You can find out who he is by clicking here. This former Yankee catcher was also born on September 22nd.
They called him Sudden Sam and along with one of the best fastballs in big league history, he also possessed one of the game’s worst drinking habits. His career began in Cleveland in 1961 and during his eight seasons as the ace of the Tribes’ pitching staff he threw 21 shutouts and led the American League in strikeouts five times. McDowell would drink himself into oblivion every day of the week with the exception being the day before he was scheduled to pitch. By 1971, the Indians threw up their hands and traded the southpaw fireballer to the Giants for Gaylord Perry. It took San Francisco just over a season to realize their mistake and they unloaded McDowell by selling him to the pitching hungry Yankees. When Sam won five of his first six decisions in pinstripes, Yankee fans thought it was the best deal in franchise history. But McDowell then proceeded to lose seven straight to close out the 1973 season and when he dropped six of seven decisions the following year, New York released him. He signed on with the Pirates but his drinking had become so bad, he was quickly kicked off the team and out of baseball for good. Miraculously, Sam got his alcohol addiction under control and became a very effective substance abuse counselor after his pitching days were over. He was born in Pittsburgh on this date in 1942.
Another former Yankee celebrating his birthday today is the father of a Prince but has no royal blood running through his veins. This long-ago Yankee outfielder was also born on September 21st.
Nobody expected Nick Johnson to be a huge star in the big leagues but when he first came up with New York in August of 2001, the Yankee brass made it sound as if he had a good enough bat to force their poor-fielding first baseman, Jason Giambi to the full-time DH role. He turned out to be an OK fielder with a good batting eye but he definitely did not hit well enough during his first tour of duty in pinstripes to deserve the full-time first-baseman’s job. He was shipped to Montreal in 2004 in the deal that made Javier Vazquez a Yankee for the first time.
Since then the injury bug has hit Johnson hard. He was having his best big league season in Washington, in 2006, smacking 23 home runs and averaging a career high .290, when in a late season game he broke a leg when he collided with current Yankee teammate, Austin Kearns. That injury forced Nick to miss the entire 2007 season. Washington traded him to the Marlins during the 2009 season and then Brian Cashman played a hunch and signed Johnson to replace Hideki Matsui as Yankee DH in an effort to save salary. It turned out to be a bad decision for the Yankee GM. The Sacramento native was off to a horrible start last year before an injury placed him on the DL for the remainder of the 2010 season.
Just three days ago, this blog celebrated the birthday of Bernie
Williams, the last great Yankee center fielder. Last year on this same date,
the PBB celebrated the birthday of Tim Raines, a Williams’ Yankee
teammate who was also one of the soft-spoken outfielder’s best friends
and biggest admirers. Today we recognize Hall, who was also a teammate
of Williams. But unlike “Rock” Raines, Mel Hall was not a friend or
booster of Bernie’s. Instead, he was one of the talented
switch-hitter’s biggest detractors and most unrelenting antagonists. In
past interviews, Williams credits the ongoing barrage of insults hurled
at him by Hall during Bernie’s 1992 rookie season with the Yankees, as
one of the driving forces behind his development of the mental toughness he now
credits for helping him achieve the success he did during his 16-season
pinstripe career. When that 1992 season ended, the Yankees dumped Hall,
traded their starting center-fielder, Roberto Kelly to the Reds for
Paul O’Neill, who then teamed with Williams to form the core of an
outfield that would lead New York to perpetual postseason appearances
and four World Series rings.
It turned out that Bernie Williams might not have been the only victim of Mel Hall’s
abusive nature. In January of 2009, a Texas jury convicted the former
outfielder of raping a 12-year-old girl he coached on a youth
basketball team. Supporters of Hall have weighed in since I first published this post (see comments) to profess their opinion that Hall was railroaded. He’s now serving a 45 year prison sentence.
My earliest memories of Bernie were of those watching him play for the Albany-Colonie (NY) Yankees at the now-closed Heritage Park somewhere around 1990. Back then, Bernie was one of two prospects with the last name of Williams trying to make their way from New York’s double A minor league franchise to the Yankee Stadium outfield and I have to admit, I thought Gerald Williams would win the competition.
But Bernie was a grinder. The only superstar skill he had was using his great speed to get into position to catch just about any fly ball hit his way. In Yankee Stadium’s spacious center field, that was an important skill to have. He was also a switch-hitter. These were probably the two key reasons why Buck Showalter made Bernie his regular center fielder in 1993. From that point on, Bernie simply evolved himself into a great Yankee and became a key cog in the pinstripe teams that won four World Series during the glorious 1996-2000 run.
During his peak years, Bernie made five straight AL All Star teams and put together seven consecutive years of scoring at least 100 runs, of driving in at least 90, and eight consecutive years hitting above 300.
One of Bernie’s unheralded talents and also his most annoying was the way he would step out of the batter’s box at exactly the precise moment when the opposing pitcher was about to initiate his windup. Nobody did this more effectively than Bernie. Unfortunately, it was also the reason most Yankee games took four hours to complete when Bernie was on the team.
I do regret the fact that the Yankees did not permit Bernie to retire on his own terms. He was pretty much forced off the team when the Yankees decided to go younger in the outfield with Melky Cabrera in 2007. I will always feel that Bernie deserved a Yankee roster spot at the beginning of that season.
Jerry Mumphrey was a speedy, singles-hitting outfielder with the Cardinals during the first six years of his big league career. He got traded to San Diego in 1980 and had his best big league season for Manager Jerry Coleman’s Padres, hitting .298 and stealing 52 bases for a team that led the NL in thefts that season. George Steinbrenner had become convinced that his Yankee team needed to employ more of a small-ball strategy so his front office engineered a six-player swap that exchanged New York’s 1980 starting center-fielder, Ruppert Jones for Mumphrey. Mumphrey hit .307 for the Yankees in the strike shortened season of 1981 but played poorly in the postseason. In fact, his failure to hit got him benched for the fourth game of that year’s Fall Classic with the Yankees holding a two games to one lead over LA. With New York leading by three runs, Manager Bob Lemon had the opportunity to insert Jerry Mumphrey in center when Bobby Brown pinch ran for Oscar Gamble late in the game. Instead, Lemon put Brown out there and he misplayed a ball that led to three Dodger runs and an eventual Yankee defeat that changed the momentum of the Series to the Dodgers’ favor. Jerry had his best season in pinstripes in 1982, leading the team with a .300 batting average and driving in what was then his career high of 68 runs. But when he slumped at the plate during the first half of 1983, the Yankees sent him to Houston for the Astros’ center fielder, Omar Moreno. Mumphrey finished his fifteen year big league career with two good years in Houston and three more with the Cubs.