It doesn’t seem that long ago that Matt Nokes had his outstanding rookie season with Detroit, when he hit 32 home runs, drove in 87 and helped lead the Tigers to a first place finish in the AL East. Hard to believe that was 1987. I remember pundits predicting he would become baseball’s next great catcher. That didn’t happen.
His rookie season turned out to be the best statistically of Nokes’ 14-year career and since he was nothing special defensively, when his bat cooled off the Tigers decided to deal him. The Yankees gave Detroit pitchers Lance McCullers and Clay Parker for Nokes during the 1990 season. For the next two-and-a-half years, the San Diego native was the Yankees’ starting catcher. His best season in pinstripes was 1991, when he smacked 24 round-trippers and drove in 77 runs. By 1993 he had stopped hitting home runs and he lost his starting position to Mike Stanley.
His teammates will tell you that Matt Nokes was a great guy who loved his family and kept out of trouble. He was always nice to the Yankee batboys and actually helped one of them build a potato cannon that they test-shot together from inside the Yankee dugout. His last big league season was 1995.
After hitting 157 home runs during a decade as a third baseman and outfielder with San Francisco, Hart was purchased by the Yankees during the 1973 season and hit 13 home runs. He played only ten games for New York the following year, his final season in the big leagues even though he was only 32-years-old at the time. Jim Ray was born in Hookerton, NC on October 30, 1941. I remember Hart’s rookie season of 1964 very well because it was a great year for rookies. He smacked 31 home runs for the Giants that year and hit close to .290 but finished tied for second with the Braves Rico Carty for NL Rookie of the Year honors behind the Phillie Pheenom, Richie Allen. In the AL the Twins Tony Oliva took first-year honors by winning the AL batting title as a rookie.
Hart was injured a lot during what should have been his peak performing years but what probably hurt his career most was his drinking. Booze had been a big part of Hart’s life since he was raised by a father who was a bootlegger. After his playing career ended, his addiction to alcohol took over his life completely and he at one time was homeless, living on the streets of San Francisco. In the early nineties, it was reported that Hart was off the booze, and back with his family living and working in Seattle.
When I saw that today was Karim Garcia’s birthday it brought back memories of the Yankee’s classic 2003 ALCS series against Boston. I watched and enjoyed every single inning of all seven games in that series and I will never forget the Game Three confrontations that all began when the great but sometimes too emotional Pedro Martinez hit Garcia in the back with one of his fastballs. That started a chain reaction of reactions that included the threatening hand signal communication between Martinez and Posada, Garcia’s hard slide into second, Manny Ramirez ducking away from a Roger Clemens pitch that was nowhere near him followed by a bench clearing scuffle during which Pedro pulled his famous matador move on the bull-rushing “Popye” Zimmer, who had forgotten for a moment that he was 72-years old. Then later on, Garcia and Jeff Nelson got into a surreal fight with a Red Sox groundskeeper in the Yankee bullpen. What tends to be forgotten about that series was how competitive it was. Four of the last five games were decided by a single run and the seventh contest was one of the most dramatic extra inning affairs in big league history, ending with Aaron Boone’s majestic blast off of Tim Wakefield.
Garcia made that postseason roster by hitting .305 for Joe Torre in 52 games of action during the regular season. Torre had made Garcia his starting right-fielder for the remainder of that season, replacing Raul Mondesi, who was traded to Arizona just before the 2003 trading deadline. During the Yankees 2004 spring training, Garcia again paired up with a Yankee teammate in a tussle with a non-baseball player. This time his tag-team partner was Shane Spencer and their opponent was a pizza delivery guy. Shortly after that incident, Garcia was released by the Yankees and he signed with the Mets. He finished his decade-long big league career in 2004 with 66 lifetime home runs and a .244 batting average.
When workhorse relievers Steve Hamilton and Hal Reniff both got hurt during the 1964 regular season, the Yankee front office and manager Yogi Berra were forced to improvise with their bullpen. One of their moves was to rely on a 25-year-old rookie right-hander named Pete Mikkelsen. He had been toiling in the team’s farm system for the six previous seasons, mostly as a starter. In 1963, while playing winter ball, he strained his back. The injury prevented him from throwing with his customary overhand motion so to compensate, he was forced to develop a sidearm delivery. This new motion gave his fastball a natural sinking movement and upon the urging of his teammate and catcher at the time, the veteran Rube Walker, Mikkelsen took his new found sinker to the bullpen and worked at becoming a relief specialist.
Berra began using Pete liberally during his 1964 rookie season and he responded well by winning seven games and saving 12 more in his 50 total appearances, as New York rallied during the last month of the season to capture the AL pennant. Berra often credits the rebuilt Yankee bullpen featuring Mikkelsen and late-season acquisition Pedro Ramos for making that title possible. In that year’s World Series against the Cardinals, Mikkelsen had the misfortune to pitch in all four Yankee defeats. But he came oh so close to instead getting a key win in that Fall Classic. In the fifth game, with the Series tied at two apiece, Mikkelsen came on in the eighth inning with New York trailing 2-0 and got five consecutive outs. In the bottom of the ninth, with a runner on first, Joe Pepitone hit a shot up the middle that slammed off pitcher Bob Gibson who recovered in time to nip Pepitone at first. So when Tom Tresh came up next and smashed a home run, it tied the game at 2-2 instead of winning it, as would have been the case if Gibson had not been able to make that magnificent play. I can still remember watching Mikkelsen surrender a three-run home run to Tim McCarver in the top of the tenth and becoming the goat of that game and the Series. In fact, since the Yankee dynasty went into total collapse after that series, those Yankee fans that remember Mikkelsen usually do so with negative recollections.
After a poor statistical year the following season, Mikkelsen was traded to Pittsburgh, where he had a great season. He also pitched very effectively in the Dodger bullpen later in his career. He retired after the 1972 season with a 45-40 career record, a 3.38 ERA and 49 career saves.
This former Yankee had much more World Series success in Pinstripes than Mikkelsen did, while this former Yankee shortstop spent thirteen seasons in the big leagues without playing in one post season game. Both these guys share Mikkelsen’s October 25th birthday as does this Yankee bullpen coach.
Flash turns 43 years old today. Before he joined the YES Network as an analyst for Yankee games and as a commentator on the Post Game shows, Flaherty was a big league catcher for fourteen seasons with five different teams. Born in the Big Apple, he ended that playing career in his hometown, with three seasons as Jorge Posada’s backup from 2003 until 2005. During lulls in the action, when he is in the booth for Yankee games, viewers often hear Michael Kay or Kenny Singleton tease Flaherty about the lucrative contract he signed with Tampa Bay, back in 1998. He pocketed about $12 million of Devil Ray money during his five season stay for catching about 90 games per year and averaging .252. He hit just .226 during his 134-game career in pinstripes but he’s doing a much better job for New York in his broadcasting role. Hopefully, after the Yankees rebounded with their Game 5 victory against Texas last night, Yankee fans will get to hear John on a few more YES Post Game shows in 2010.
Like Flaherty, this Yankee was born in New York City and celebrates his birthday on this date. He did a bit better than John did while playing in New York and now has a plaque in Cooperstown. Also born on October 21st is this former Yankee pitcher who flirted with World Series history in 1947.
The much-loved voice of the original Yankee Stadium, Bob Sheppard would have been 100 years-old today. Yankee fans cherished the familiar greeting “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Yankee Stadium.” This great tribute to Sheppard was featured in the New York Times at the time of his death in July of this year. Viewing it is a fitting way to celebrate the birthday of a Yankee legend.
Sheppard shares a birthday with another Yankee legend. In fact, Sheppard was once asked what Yankee name was his most favorite to announce and he said it was the name of this great Yankee legend. This former Yankee outfielder, and this former Yankee reliever were also born on October 20th.
While Yankee fans read a lot about how the Core Four turned the Yankees’ fortunes around in 1996, the free agent signing of Joe Girardi to become the team’s starting catcher that same season, helped quite a bit as well. Girardi had caught for the Cubs when Don Zimmer managed Chicago and it was at the urging of Joe Torre’s first Yankee bench coach that New York signed the Peoria, IL native to replace Mike Stanley.
Girardi turned out to be a solid signal caller for Torre’s pitching staff and a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. He also proved to be an excellent mentor for a young Jorge Posada and gracefully ceded playing time to him as Posada matured and improved his hitting skills. In 1999, Girardi returned to the Cubs as a free agent for three seasons and played his last year with the Cardinals in 2003.
He tried broadcasting for a few seasons and then joined Joe Torre’s coaching staff as Yankee bench coach in 2005. He got the Florida Marlins’ managerial position a year later. He was named NL Manager of the Year in 2006 for keeping the club with the lowest payroll in baseball in contention for a playoff spot for most of the season. Ironically, by the time he received the actual award, he had already been fired by Marlins’ owner, Jeff Loria.
You know the rest of the story. After getting his dream job of managing the Yankees, New York missed the postseason for the first time in Joe’s first year as skipper but won their 27th World Series in his second. He has managed them back into postseason play three times since but they’re still trying to return to another World Series. I think Girardi has done an above average job managing New York for the past five seasons. It is evident that he works very hard at his craft, is very intelligent and serves as an effective spokesperson on the team’s behalf. He never disses his players in public and his behavior in the dugout has been impeccable.
Also born on this date was the first pitcher of Puerto Rican descent to win 20 games in a season and a former Yankee second baseman who was once a teammate of Girardi’s.
When the late Ralph Houk was a Yankee catcher in the late forties and early fifties, his job was to backup Charley Silvera. The problem for Houk was that it was Silvera’s job to back up a young and durable Yogi Berra. Back in the early fifties, Berra would catch between 140 and 150 games per year and that was when the Yankees only played 154-game regular seasons, so Silvera saw very little action and Houk was pretty much just a figment of Casey Stengel’s imagination.
Silvera was born on this date in 1924, in San Francisco. During his nine seasons as Berra’s backup, he appeared in 201 games, but got to start in less than half of those. He won six World Series rings during his nine seasons with New York but appeared in just one game of one Fall Classic. That was 1949, when the receiver nicknamed “Swede,” caught seven innings of the Yankee’s second-game, 1-0 defeat at the hands of Brooklyn’s Preacher Roe. Still, Silvera’s share of World Series winnings exceeded $46,000 during his career.
Silvera finally got a chance to start when the Yankees traded him to the Cubs after the 1956 season, for Chicago’s catcher, Harry Chiti. Unfortunately for Silvera, he broke his leg early in the 1957 season and never played another game.
As you might imagine, Silvera was not a big fan of Stengel. He always thought Casey cared more about himself than he did the team. Charley loved teammate Billy Martin, who promised Silvera that if he ever became a manager he’d hire Silvera as a coach and he did just that when Martin got the Twins job in 1969.
This guy had the oddest first name of any Yankee pitcher since Spurgeon Chandler. Too bad Sturtze couldn’t pitch as well as Spud did. Tanyan did provide the Yankees with some valuable innings in 2004 and 2005 both as a spot starter and reliever. His most famous moment in pinstripes was probably when he got heavily involved in the 2004 Yankees’ Red Sox brawl that started when Jason Varitek and A-Rod went at it after Rodriguez got buzzed with a pitch from Bronson Arroryo. Sturtzie got the worst of that one but he allegedly did much better this past August when it was reported that he pummeled the boyfriend of a girl he was trying to enamor in a sports bar in his native Worcester, Massachusetts. Tanyon was 11-5 for New York during his two season playing career with the team which ended when he tore his rotator cuff in 2006. He tried to come back from that injury in 2008 with the Dodgers, but failed. He finished his career with a 40-44 record and three saves, pitching 12 seasons for a total of seven franchises. I think Sturtze looks like future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (see below). Too bad he couldn’t pitch like him either.
Joe Sewell turned another man’s tragedy into an opportunity that eventually landed him in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. When Cleveland shortstop, Ray Chapman was struck and killed by a pitch thrown by the Yankees’ Carl Mays in a late-season game in September of 1920, Sewell was called up from Cleveland’s farm system to replace Chapman. During the remainder of that month Sewell did not field his position very well, committing 15 errors in just 22 games, but what he did do was get on base, averaging .329 with a .413 on base percentage. That was enough to earn Sewell the Indians’ shortstop job for the next season and Sewell never looked back. There were quite a few other things Sewell never or hardly ever did while wearing a Major League baseball uniform. He never broke his bat. In fact, Sewell used the same bat during his entire 14-season big league career. He also never took a day off. From that first game as a replacement for Chapman in September 1920 until May 2, 1930, Sewell played in 1,103 consecutive games, which was the Major League record until Lou Gehrig shattered it. And Sewell hardly ever struck out. In fact, the 5’6 inch left-handed hitter, whiffed just 114 times in 1,903 games for an average of about eight strikeouts per 154-game season. It was said of Sewell at the time that if he didn’t swing at a pitch, umpires knew it wasn’t a strike. When Sewell played in just 109 games for Cleveland in 1930 and his batting average slumped to .289, the Indians coldly released him. That’s when the Yankees signed him and manager Joe McCarthy made the Titus, Alabama native his starting third baseman. Sewell responded by hitting .302 and scoring 102 runs during his first season in pinstripes. The following year, Sewell and McCarthy both won their first World Series rings on a team that included seven other future Hall of Famers in addition to the Manager and third baseman. Sewell played one more season for New York and retired. He had a .312 lifetime batting average and a .391 career on base percentage. He passed away in 1990 at the age of 91.