Between 1984 and 1986, Ron Hassey went back and forth via trades between Chicago and New York more times than the Amtrak Cardinal. Hassey’s Windy City to Big Apple and back moves began in 1984, when the Cubs traded him and three other players to the Yankees for Brian Dayett and Ray Fontenot. A year later, New York sent Hassey and pitcher Joe Cowley to the White Sox to acquire starting pitcher, Britt Burns. Two months later, just before the 1986 Yankee spring training camp opened, they got the catcher back as part of a seven-player deal with the White Sox. And finally, in July of 1986, Hassey again was packed off to the White Sox in the trade that put pinstripes on Ron Kittle, Joel Skinner and Wayne Tolleson.
Why was Hassey dealt so many times? During his one and only complete season in New York in 1985, the Tucson, AZ native had proved his left-handed swing was a real nice fit for Yankee Stadium. He had smashed 13 home runs in just 92 games, driven in 42 and averaged over .290. The Yankees liked his bat. They were not that impressed, however, with his catching ability. In just 69 games behind the plate that year, Hassey had led the American League by allowing 15 passed balls. He also lacked the game management skills of New York’s starting catcher that season, Butch Wynegar. So even though Hassey’s bat had a lot more pop than Wynegar’s, the Yankees continued to find him expendable whenever a deal was in the making.
That of course didn’t sit too well with Hassey. He loved playing in New York, he adored Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch and he wanted to remain a Yankee. He could not have been that bad a game-managing receiver either because he remains the only big league catcher in history to have caught two perfect games. The first was Len Barker’s 1981 gem as a Cleveland Indian and the second was the Dennis Martinez perfecto which Hassey caught in 1991, with the Expos. That ’91 season turned out to be the swan song for Hassey’s fourteen-year big league playing career. He was born on February 27, 1953.
Also celebrating a birthday today is this former Yankee reliever who led New York in appearances during the 1991 season, this former Yankee catcher/coach and this former Yankee reliever who went undefeated during his first season in pinstripes.
|CLE (7 yrs)||569||1929||1690||168||458||80||5||26||226||9||196||181||.271||.345||.370||.716|
|OAK (3 yrs)||298||949||845||79||198||34||0||17||90||3||81||116||.234||.302||.335||.637|
|NYY (2 yrs)||156||517||458||54||136||30||1||19||71||1||52||37||.297||.374||.491||.865|
|CHW (2 yrs)||98||339||295||37||84||20||1||6||32||0||39||22||.285||.372||.420||.792|
|MON (1 yr)||52||135||119||5||27||8||0||1||14||1||13||16||.227||.301||.319||.620|
|CHC (1 yr)||19||37||33||5||11||0||0||2||5||0||4||6||.333||.405||.515||.921|
You’d have to be about my age to remember when Al Downing was a young and very good starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. When most fans hear Downing’s name they remember him for giving up Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. Instead, I remember a a fire-balling young southpaw who won 13 games for the pennant-winning Yankee teams of 1963 and ’64 and hearing Downing’s name makes me also think about today’s birthday celebrant. Why? Because in 1969, the Yankees traded Downing to Oakland for Danny Cater. Cater was a good line drive hitter with not much power when he joined the 1970 Yankee team. He hit .301 during his first year in pinstripes, usually batting fifth or sixth in the lineup and he drove in 76 runs. It was a key contribution to a not very robust Yankee offensive attack and it helped that ’70 team win 93 games that season. The following year, Cater’s average slumped to .271 and his run and RBI numbers dropped too. So when Boston was ready to trade their bullpen ace, Sparky Lyle to New York for Cater, the Yankees made the deal. It turned out to be one of the great trades in the franchise’s history. Cater played sparingly in Beantown for three seasons. He retired after the 1975 season with a .276 lifetime batting average. Cater was born on this date in 1940, in Austin TX. He is not the most famous Yankee born on this day. That honor belongs to this guy. This former Yankee manager was also born on February 25th.
When he made his debut with New York in 1980, I was hoping I was looking at the next great Yankee outfielder. Why? Joe Lefebrve had been one of the top sluggers in the Yankee farm system the previous two seasons. He then hit home runs in each of his first two games in pinstripes and started his Yankee career with a six-game hitting streak. At the end of his first month in the big leagues, his average was .357. At the same time that Lefebvre was white hot, the Yankee’s starting center fielder that season, Ruppert Jones was ice cold, mired in a terrible offensive slump that would end up lasting the entire season. I figured Lefebvre would soon replace Jones in the Yankee starting lineup. Dick Howser, who was the Manager of that Yankee team, did end up starting Lefebvre almost the entire month of June, but he alternated the Concord, NH native in left field and right. By the end of that month, Mighty Joe’s batting average had plummeted by over 100 points and when his slump continued into July, he lost most of his playing time to another first year Yankee outfielder, a switch-hitter named Bobby Brown. Lefebvre ended up getting dealt to the Padres after his first Yankee season. He was a good enough big league hitter to stick around for six seasons. He ended up hitting just .227 during his one and only season in New York but his lifetime batting average in the Majors was a more respectable .258. He became a coach after his playing days and now works in the front office of the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants.
|PHI (3 yrs)||167||503||436||56||122||29||8||11||56||5||5||88||.280||.367||.459||.825|
|SDP (3 yrs)||206||572||505||57||125||22||4||12||53||6||4||86||.248||.323||.378||.702|
|NYY (1 yr)||74||178||150||26||34||1||1||8||21||0||0||30||.227||.345||.407||.751|
Shane Spencer had been in the Yankees’ farm system for over eight years when he got a call up to the parent club in September of 1998. He had played in the entire atlas of Yankee minor league towns during those previous eight seasons and the closest he had come to making the big league team was when he crossed the picket lines during the 1994 MLB player strike to attend New York’s replacement player spring training camp. Neither the Yankee front office or Yankee fans were hoping for help from promising prospects when September of ’98 rolled around. That team didn’t need any. It was, without a doubt, the best Yankee team I have ever seen play during the fifty years I’ve been a fan. There were absolutely no holes to fill in their lineup, their bench or their pitching staff. Which is why what Shane Spencer was able to do that September was pretty special.
The only reason Spencer was getting a shot was the fact that he had put together consecutive 30-home run seasons in the minors. If you’re a position player who wants to get noticed in the Yankee farm system, especially when the parent club is winning pennants, consecutive 30-homer seasons is about the only way to do it. Spencer had actually been called up from and returned to Columbus three times during the 1998 season but the fourth time proved to be the charm. That happened on August 31st. Four days later, Joe Torre rested Bernie Williams, started Chad Curtis in center and inserted his rookie in left. In his first appearance against White Sox southpaw Mike Sirotka, Spencer homered to left field. Five games later, his real streak began, when Torre sent him in to replace Paul O’Neill in right field in the sixth inning of a game against Baltimore. He came up in the top of the ninth with the bases loaded and hit his first Major League grand slam. He would hit seven more home home runs that month including two more grand salami’s and provide Yankee fans with one more great Yankee memory in a season that was full of them. Spencer continued his hot hitting in the playoffs against the Rangers in that year’s ALDS, homering two more times. He finally cooled off in that year’s ALCS which resulted in him seeing very little action in the World Series against the Padres.
Spencer played a total of five seasons as a Yankee before getting released after the 2002 season and signing with the Indians. He played well enough during those years to become the team’s regular fourth outfielder but could never break into the starting lineup. He also participated in one of the most memorable plays in Yankee history. It happened in the seventh inning of Game 3 in the Yankee’s 2001 ALDS series against Oakland. The Yankees were ahead 1-0 when with two outs and Jeremy Giambi on first, the A’s Terrence Long hit a ground ball down the right field line past Tino Martinez. Spencer was playing right field and he cut off the ball before it hit the wall but his throw sailed over the heads of two cutoff men and started rolling toward the Yankee on deck circle as Giambi rounded third on his way to scoring the tying run. That’s when Derek Jeter appeared out of nowhere to pick up the ball, and flip it to Jorge Posada who made an incredible sweeping tag that just nipped Giambi.
Spencer isn’t the only Yankee outfielder born on this date who did something bad that resulted in something really good and memorable for his Yankee team. Check out this guy. This one-time Yankee pitcher is also a February 20th pinstripe birthday boy as is this long-ago Yankee catcher and this brand new Yankee catcher
|NYY (5 yrs)||345||1215||1091||148||287||54||7||43||167||5||94||228||.263||.324||.444||.768|
|NYM (1 yr)||74||204||185||21||52||10||1||4||26||6||13||37||.281||.332||.411||.742|
|TEX (1 yr)||55||216||185||16||42||10||0||4||23||0||27||40||.227||.329||.346||.675|
|CLE (1 yr)||64||232||210||23||57||10||0||8||26||2||18||52||.271||.328||.433||.761|
The 1961 New York Yankee team was loaded with talent at every position, except one. They had no closer. Ryne Duren was supposed to fulfill that role but he was a serious alcoholic and by 1961, his drinking and his behavior when drinking had gotten completely out of hand. New York traded the troubled Duren to the Angels and manager Ralph Houk eventually replaced him with a Puerto Rican screwballing lefthander named Luis Arroyo.
At the time Arroyo was already 34-years old. He had made his big league debut seven seasons earlier, with the Cardinals, going 11-8 as a starter in his rookie season and making the 1955 NL All Star team. The following year, Fred Hutchinson was hired to manage St Louis and Old Hutch did not like Arroyo. Instead of getting the opportunity to make his second NL All Star team, Luis first found himself back in the minors as the ’56 season started and then traded to Pittsburgh. He spent the next four years battling a sore arm and developing a screw ball. By the time he joined the Yankees in 1960, his arm had healed and he had perfected his new signature pitch. He went 5-1 in his first season in New York setting the stage for his magical year in 1961.
Arroyo appeared in 65 games that season, finishing 54 of them. He compiled a 15-5 record and saved 29 games. He relieved Whitey Ford 24 times that season and saved 13 of the Yankee aces 25 wins. Arroyo’s ERA was 2.19. Topping that off, he hit .280 that year and pitched four shutout innings and got a win in the ’61 World Series against Cincinnati, gaining some revenge on Fred Hutchinson, who by then was the Reds’ Manager.
Unfortunately for Arroyo, that great screwball he developed has also been described as the reason why he again developed a sore pitching arm. That sore arm limited him to just 27 appearances in 1962 and just 3 the following year. The Yankees released Luis at the end of the 1963 season.
|NYY (4 yrs)||22||10||.688||3.12||127||0||89||0||0||43||199.1||158||77||69||12||91||142||1.249|
|PIT (2 yrs)||6||14||.300||4.69||72||12||19||1||0||1||159.1||187||93||83||24||43||118||1.444|
|STL (1 yr)||11||8||.579||4.19||35||24||6||9||1||0||159.0||162||80||74||22||63||68||1.415|
|CIN (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||3.95||10||0||5||0||0||0||13.2||17||11||6||0||11||8||2.049|
Brian Bruney was an important part of the Yankee bullpen for four seasons, from 2006, when he was signed as a free agent, through 2009, when he was traded to the Nationals for a player to be named later. Injuries plagued him during that span but when the reliever did pitch, he pitched rather well. He was 12-3 during his Yankee career, including a perfect 8-0 during his final two seasons in the Bronx. At times, Bruney could dominate the opposition with his fastball and by 2009, he had pitched himself into becoming Joe Girardi’s preferred eighth inning guy. But an elbow problem slowed him down and when Phil Hughes did such a super job as the Yankee’s primary bridge to Mariano that year, Bruney saw his pitching time decrease. His most famous moment in pinstripes happened off the field in June of his final season in New York. For some reason Bruney decided to tell a Big Apple sports reporter that he did not like the showy antics of the Mets’ closer Francisco K-Rod Rodriguez. This happened while the Yankees and Mets were involved in one of their annual regular season series. The subsequent story caused one of those tabloid sports page controversies that NYC has become famous for and the next day, when K-Rod angrily confronted Bruney before the game regarding his comments, it caused yet another minor media frenzy. Bruney did make the Yankee’s World Series roster against Philadelphia but was hit hard in his one and only appearance in the Yankee’s First Game loss. That turned out to be his last appearance in pinstripes. He did not pitch well in Washington in 2010 and is currently looking to sign with a new team.
Bruney was born in Astoria, OR on February 17, 1982. Sharing Bruney’s birthday is this former Yankee first baseman who lost his job because of a headache, this Hall of Fame Yankee announcer and this one-time replacement for A-Rod as Yankee third baseman.
|NYY (4 yrs)||12||3||.800||3.25||153||1||29||0||0||1||144.0||112||54||52||14||91||133||1.410|
|ARI (2 yrs)||4||7||.364||6.17||77||0||35||0||0||12||77.1||76||55||53||8||62||85||1.784|
|CHW (2 yrs)||2||0||1.000||6.53||24||0||7||0||0||0||20.2||26||15||15||4||14||18||1.935|
|WSN (1 yr)||1||2||.333||7.64||19||0||6||0||0||0||17.2||21||18||15||1||20||16||2.321|
The first few times I watched Tyler Clippard pitch in a Yankee uniform, I did not think he was going to be a particularly effective big league pitcher. I suppose one of the reasons I formed that initial opinion was the right-hander’s very unorthodox windup. Clippard is tall and thin and during his delivery, it seemed as if he could fold his back into a right angle and puff out his chest to a point where you thought it was going to explode. At the same time, he stretched and waved every appendage on his body to their furthest points. After winning 31 games during his four-year stay in the Yankee farm system, he made his big league debut against the Mets in May of 2007, pitching six strong innings and getting a win. Just 22 years old at the time, Clippard seemed to pitch less effectively in each successive start. He had a fastball in the very low nineties, he walked a lot of batters and he gave up a lot of fly balls. As a right-hander in the old Yankee Stadium that was not a good recipe for success on the mound. But Clippard did have an outstanding change-up, which made his very low nineties heater much more sneaky fast. New York’s front office gave up on the Yankee Clippard after the 2007 postseason, trading him to the Nationals for Jonathan Albaladejo. Clippard has evolved into a real force in Washington’s bullpen. He saved 32 games for the Nats in 2012. Meanwhile, Albaladejo did nothing but struggle for the Yankees.
|WSN (6 yrs)||27||20||.574||2.77||339||2||82||0||0||33||393.2||257||127||121||46||159||448||1.057|
|NYY (1 yr)||3||1||.750||6.33||6||6||0||0||0||0||27.0||29||19||19||6||17||18||1.704|
Drew Henson first became part of the Yankee organization in the third round of the 1998 MLB Amateur Draft. Even though the high school football star quarterback had already announced he would attend and play football at Michigan, the Yankees drafted him in the third round that year, gave him $2 million and hoped for the best. Henson spent the next two football seasons mostly sitting on the Wolverine bench watching starter Tom Brady throw all the passes. He got his chance to replace Brady his junior year. As the team’s starting QB in 2000, Henson led Michigan to a Big Ten title and a victory over Auburn in that season’s Citrus Bowl. He threw 18 touchdown passes that year and just 4 interceptions. He had proved he could lead a big-time college football team successfully, but he would forsake his senior year in Ann Arbor to prove he could play big league baseball as well.
While he had spent his last three falls playing football, Henson was spending his summers advancing up the rungs of the Yankees’ Minor League farm system. Problem was, his play was really not good enough to climb those rungs. His biggest problem seemed to be pitch selection at the plate. He struck out way too much and hardly ever walked. He had OK power but not enough to make up for all those whiffs. That’s probably the biggest reason why New York included Henson in the four-player package of prospects they used to acquire starting pitcher Denny Neagle from the Reds right around the 2000 All Star break. He did no better during his 18-game career in the Reds’ farm system and ended up back in pinstripes when New York reacquired Drew in exchange for Willy Mo Pena during the final weeks of the 2001 spring training season.
New York’s front office got him back because they were convinced if Henson concentrated only on baseball he would become the Yankees’ next starting third baseman. That explains why the team gave him a six-year, $17 million contract upon his return from the Reds. Henson accomplished two things on the baseball field during the next year and a half. He got his first Major League at bats in pinstripes, going 1-9, and after collecting about ten million Yankee dollars, he convinced himself that he would be better off trying to become an NFL quarterback and not the Yankees’ next third baseman.
Another Yankee born on today’s date was once accused of throwing baseball games by his own Manager. You won’t believe what happened next. Find out here. This long-ago Highlander outfielder and this one-time Yankee shortstop were also born on February 13th.
Former Yankee starting pitcher, Pat Dobson was born in Buffalo, NY in 1942. In 1974, Dobson and fellow starter, Doc Medich, each won 19 games for a rejuvenated Yankee team that finished just 2 games behind Baltimore for that year’s AL Eastern Division crown. I’ve always felt that if Mel Stottlemyre did not tear his rotator cuff that same season, that Yankee team, managed by Bill Virdon, would have won their division. If they had won in ’74, perhaps George Steinbrenner would not have brought in Billy Martin to replace Virdon the following year. Martin did not like Dobson and told the Yankee GM, Gabe Paul to get rid of him. Paul obliged by trading the right hander to Cleveland for Oscar Gamble.
Dobson’s best year in the big’s had been 1971, when he was one of four Oriole starters to win 20 games in a season, only the second time this had been accomplished in Major League Baseball. Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar were the other three Baltimore pitchers involved. Dobson was known for his curveball and during his 11-year pro career he won 122 games while losing 129. When his pitching days were over he became a pitching coach, then a scout and finally a front office executive with the San Francisco Giants. He died in 2006, a victim of leukemia, when he was just 64-years-old.
|NYY (3 yrs)||39||37||.513||3.65||94||90||1||25||4||0||631.0||637||288||256||66||192||356||1.314|
|DET (3 yrs)||11||20||.355||3.06||124||20||41||3||1||16||279.1||227||107||95||29||114||191||1.221|
|CLE (2 yrs)||19||24||.442||4.49||68||52||4||6||0||1||350.2||381||192||175||36||130||198||1.457|
|BAL (2 yrs)||36||26||.581||2.78||76||73||2||31||7||1||550.2||468||193||170||37||132||348||1.090|
|ATL (1 yr)||3||7||.300||4.99||12||10||0||1||1||0||57.2||73||33||32||1||19||23||1.595|
|SDP (1 yr)||14||15||.483||3.76||40||34||3||8||1||1||251.0||257||126||105||28||78||185||1.335|
What you can learn doing research for a blog about the New York Yankees. Today’s birthday celebrant is a Hall-of-Fame southpaw who pitched for the great Yankee teams of the 1920s. His Manager at the time, Miller Huggins, called Pennock the best left-hander in baseball back then. My choice would probably have been Lefty Grove but Pennock was indeed very good. He went 162-90 during his 11 seasons in New York and 5-0 in the World Series. He was a native of Kennett Square, PA and was nicknamed the “Knight of Kennett Square,” but when it came to his feelings about blacks, chivalry played no part.
Many respected authors and baseball historians have presented strong evidence that Pennock was a racist. Playing in an era when blacks were not permitted in the Major Leagues helped hide that fact, but when he retired from the mound and became a front-office executive, first for the Red Sox as head of their farm system and then later as GM of the Phillies, Pennock was able to actively help prevent integration in the big leagues. And when it did happen, he was among its’ most vociferous opponents.
Pennock was known to threaten that he’d never let his Philadelphia team take the field against any opponent that had a black man on their roster. Dodger owner Branch Rickey claimed that Pennock told him that Philadelphia wasn’t ready to see a “n—–r” play Major League baseball. He hired Ben Chapman, his old Yankee teammate and one of the most notorious racists in all of baseball, to manage the Phillies. Chapman was an equal-opportunity bigot. The anti-Semitc slurs he had made as a New York outfielder during the 1930s had so enraged the team’s Jewish fans that they presented a petition, signed by over 15,000 people, requesting that the New York front office banish the player.
I’m not naive. I realize it was a different time in our society back then, but can you imagine what would happen to a modern day ballplayer who committed the same offenses as Chapman? Well if you were Herb Pennock you’d hire the guy to manage the Phillies. If those were the “good old days” of baseball in this country, I’m glad I wasn’t around to witness them. It was Chapman who became infamous for his cruel treatment of Jackie Robinson whenever Philadelphia played Brooklyn during the 1947 season.
The fact that Pennock is in the Hall of Fame and Pete Rose is not is why so many of today’s fans wonder what the phrase; “protecting the moral integrity of the game,” truly means.
A second all-time great Yankee pitcher also celebrates a birthday today, as does this pitcher who recently signed as a free agent with New York, this original owner of the Yankee franchise and this recent Yankee DH.
|NYY (11 yrs)||162||90||.643||3.54||346||268||52||164||19||21||2203.1||2471||1032||867||91||471||700||1.335|
|BOS (8 yrs)||62||59||.512||3.67||201||124||56||70||12||6||1089.1||1169||522||444||29||299||358||1.348|
|PHA (4 yrs)||17||13||.567||3.77||70||27||27||13||4||6||279.0||260||145||117||8||146||169||1.455|