The most noteworthy thing about Pedro was that he was one of the first of what would grow into a long and strong list of Major League players to be born in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. Gonzalez played just about every positon on a ball field except pitcher or catcher and he was considered a bright prospect in the Yankee farm system in the early sixties. After two-plus decent seasons in Richmond, New York brought him up in 1964 and Yogi Berra used him in eighty games that year, as a backup in both the outfield and infield. He performed impressively enough to make the 1964 World Series roster and actually got a plate appearance in that Fall Classic against St Louis. Early during the following season, Pedro was traded to the Indians for a first baseman named Ray Barker. Gonzalez became Cleveland’s starting second baseman that year but despite a good glove, he did not have enough of a big league bat to keep that position or, as it turned out, to stick in the big leagues.
Nineteen-sixty-five was the year the Yankee dynasty crumbled. For over four decades before that season, ever since Babe Ruth first put on pinstripes, every Yankee team that took the field each opening day had a very good shot at winning the pennant. That 1965 team did not. The team’s front office thought they did but the truth was that the players New York most depended on to have good years had all gotten old at the same time. Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Elston Howard were all suddenly over the hill and would never enjoy season performances that came close to their career averages.
Howard, who turned 36 during the 1965 season, was breaking down physically. His throwing elbow had bone chips floating around it and Ellie experienced terrific pain whenever he tried to throw a ball hard. The problem was that Howard’s longtime backup with New York, Johnny Blanchard, could not throw very well with a perfectly healthy elbow so Yankee GM Ralph Houk and Manager Johnny Keane made a deal with Kansas City. They sent Blanchard and reliever Rollie Sheldon to the A’s in return for today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Doc Edwards. When Blanchard found out about the deal he began crying like a baby in the Yankee locker room. His concerned teammates tried to cheer him up by telling him he would finally be a starting catcher but the inconsolable Blanchard preferred sitting on the Yankee bench over playing regularly anywhere else.
Edwards could throw but he was a horrible hitter. He appeared in 45 games that year and got just 19 hits in 100 at bats for a .190 average. Perhaps if the rest of the Yankee lineup had been hitting decently, Edwards offensive shortcomings would not have been so glaring. New York let him go after that one season and the six year big league veteran spent the next five seasons down in the minors trying to earn another shot with the big show. That happened in 1970, when Tim McCarver got hurt and the Phillies needed a backup catcher on their roster. Edwards then became a Minor League Manager, and eventually skippered the Cleveland Indians for three lackluster seasons in the mid eighties. He was born in Red Jacket, WV in 1936.
Edwards shares his December 10th birthday with this outfielder who played for the Yankees three different times and this former Yankee reliever.
The Yankees found Alfredo Aceves pitching in the Mexican League in 2007. At the time, the right-hander, who was born in Mexico on this date in 1982, had been pitching in the professional league of his native country for the previous five seasons. The scouts loved the fact that he threw four quality pitches with good enough command to call upon any of them in a full-count situation. The Yankees signed him and first called him up to pitch in the Bronx during the 2008 season. His breakout season came in 2009 when he went 10-1 pitching out of the bullpen and became one of the most valuable members of Joe Girardi’s pitching staff. The only time he’s been noticeably ineffective in a Yankee uniform was during the 2009 ALCS against the Angels. Unfortunately, the injury bug hit Alfredo in 2010. He had a herniated disc that kept him off the mound most of the year and he then underwent surgery to repair a broken clavicle he suffered in a postseason bicycle accident back home in Mexico. This explains why the Yankees permitted a pitcher who has accumulated a record of 14-1 with two saves and a 3.21 ERA during his 59 appearances for the team, to become a free agent. If Alfredo’s bad back has healed and he experiences no complications from the recent surgery, I expect him to once again use those four good pitches he can throw on any count and have a real good year pitching for some team in the Majors in 2011. I’m hoping that team will be the Yankees.
Today is also the birthday of a Yankee pitcher who called it quits after a season during which he won twenty games for the first time in his career. This one-time Yankee shortstop was also born on December 8th.
No, I am not wishing a Happy Birthday to a law firm that represents the Yankees. Before New York made it back to the World Series in 1976, George Steinbrenner was constantly prodding the Yankee front office to acquire and experiment with players that might help the Yankees get there. Usually, these were veterans who at one time or another had done something noteworthy in their careers. Two such players, both outfielders and both born on the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, were Rich Coggins and Alex Johnson. Just two years before New York purchased him from the Expos, Coggins had batted .319 during his rookie season in Baltimore. Although that average plunged by close to seventy points the following year, the speedy Indianapolis native stole 26 bases for the Birds in 1974. He got into 51 games for New York in 1975 but batted just .224. It was evident he had lost the stroke and confidence he exhibited during his rookie season.
A bad stroke or lack of confidence were never problems for Alex Johnson. Born in Helena, Arkansas in 1930 and raised in Detroit, Johnson had been a .300-hitting outfielder on the early version of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine teams of 1968 and ’69. He had also won the AL batting title when he hit .329 for the 1970 Angels. Alex’s problems were his unfriendly personality and horrible defensive skills. The Yankees purchased his contract from the Rangers in August of 1974. He hit just .214 for New York the rest of that season and then just .261 as a part time DH in 1975. The Yankees let him go after that season.
The real problem the Yankees had with pitcher Jose Contreras was that they had to pay him $32 million to convince him not to sign with the Red Sox, after the big right-hander defected from Castro’s Cuba in October of 2002. New York’s generosity in pursuit of Contreras evoked the famous statement from Red Sox owner, Larry Lucchino in which he labeled his AL Eastern Division arch rivals, the “Evil Empire.” So the expectations for this guy were huge within the Yankee front office and their enthusiastic and self congratulatory gushing over his signing caused Yankee fans like me to believe Contreras would pitch even better in pinstripes than his fellow Cuban defector, Orlando Hernandez had done a few years earlier. So when Contreras did not pitch as well as El Duque did, especially during his second (2004) season with New York, the fans would boo and the Yankee front office would sweat nervously. Joe Torre shuffled him between the starting rotation and the bullpen in an effort to find his comfort zone but that never really happened.
Having written all that, it is important to note that Contreras was not exactly a bust in pinstripes. During his season and a half in New York he compiled a 15-7 record, which included a 6-1 record as a starter in his rookie season when he also posted an ERA of 3.30. That was not enough return for Steinbrenner et al on their $32 million investment. The front office became intent on dumping Contreras and as much of his remaining contract as possible and ended up sending him and a bundle of cash to the White Sox for starter Esteban Loaiza at the 2004 All Star break. The deal looked good on paper for New York because Loaiza had won 21 games for Chicago the season before and was 9-5 thus far in 2004 at the time of the trade. But he failed miserably as a Yankee while Contreras finally got his big league bearings in the Windy City and became a key starter in the rotation that led the White Sox to the 2005 World Championship. Contreras was born on December 6, 1971 in La Martinas, Cuba. He pitched in the Phillie bullpen last season.
It was a huge honor for CC Sabathia to be given the first ever start in the new Yankee Stadium in 2009. Although the Yankees and CC ended up losing the game to Cleveland, New York did go on to win their 27th World Series title during the new ballpark’s inaugural season. Eighty seven years ago, Bob Shawkey was given the honor of starting the first game ever in the old Yankee Stadium. Shawkey did better than Sabathia. He beat the Red Sox, 4-1 and the Yankees went on to win their very first World Series during the first year in their new stadium. The Yankees had purchased Shawkey from the Philadelphia Athletics midway through the 1915 season. The following year, the fast-balling right-hander broke out with a 24-14 record, the first of what would be four 20-victory seasons in pinstripes. His career was interrupted when he served in the Navy during WWI but when he returned from active duty in 1919, he started a streak of six consecutive seasons during which he won at least 16 games. He also pitched in four World Series for New York (and one with the A’s) but fared poorly, winning just one of three postseason decisions. After three consecutive losing seasons, Shawkey hung up his glove for good following the 1927 season. When Miller Huggins died suddenly during the 1929 season, the Yankees gave the managerial position to Shawkey. The 1930 Yankees went 86-68 in Shawkey’s first season at the helm but with five future Hall of Famers in the lineup and three more on the pitching staff, their third place finish wasn’t good enough for the Yankee brass. Shawkey’s first year as Manager turned out to be his only year and he was replaced by the legendary Joe McCarthy.Shawkey was born December 4, 1890 in Sigel, PA. He died in 1980.
Shawkey shares his December 4th birthday with the tallest of the three “Killer B” pitching prospects, who made a big splash during the Yankees’ 2011 Spring Training season. This former Yankee catcher was also born on December 4th.
It was a pinstripe birthday celebration that made today’s Pinstripe Birthday Blog posting possible. On May 16, 1957, Yankee second baseman, Billy Martin turned 29-years-old. A bunch of Yankees went out on the town that evening to celebrate with their fiery teammate and they ended up at the late show of Manhattan’s Copacabana Nightclub. That’s where Martin and his pals got into a brawl in the famous nightspot’s men’s room and when it was over, a supposedly belligerent patron was on his way to the hospital and Martin was on his way out of his beloved Yankee uniform. New York’s ultra conservative GM, George Weiss had enough of Martin’s continuous forays into controversial events and in July of that season, he sent the future Yankee manager to Kansas City as part of a seven player transaction that netted New York reliever Ryne Duren and outfielder Harry Simpson. Harry was coming off the best year of his career in 1955, when he hit 21 home runs, drove in 105, led the league in triples and made his one and only AL All Star team. But he was joining a Yankee team that was loaded with good outfielders and the reduced playing time was not helpful to Simpson’s rhythm at the plate. When the Atlanta, Georgia native hit just .083 during New York’s seven-game loss to the Braves in that year’s World Series, Harry’s days in the Bronx were numbered. Exactly one year to the day he was acquired from the A’s, Weiss traded Simpson back to Kansas City. He was then traded three more times in the next year earning him the nickname “Suitcase.” He played his last big league ball game in September of 1959. He passed away in 1979, when he was just 53 years old.