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 was 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.
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.
My first memory of Clete Boyer was of him playing third base for the great New York Yankee team of 1961. I can still see him in his number 6 pinstriped jersey, making a diving stop on a hard hit ground ball down the line and jumping to his feet to throw a bullet to Moose Skowren with his powerful right arm to nip an opposing runner at first base. Just one season before, Casey Stengel had almost destroyed Boyer’s confidence by pinch-hitting Dale Long for him in the second inning of the very first game of the 1960 World Series. Ralph Houk had replaced Stengel in 1961 and assured Boyer he would be New York’s every day third baseman. Clete was constantly among league leaders in assists, chances and double plays but he would watch Brooks Robinson win the AL Gold Glove for third baseman year in and year out. Boyer had to leave the league to win his first and only Gold Glove for Atlanta, in 1969.
Clete was not a great hitter but his offensive numbers with New York would have been better if he did not occupy the eighth spot in the Yankee lineup. With the pitcher hitting behind him, Boyer saw very few strikes and was too aggressive at the plate to work the count effectively. As a result, he usually hit in the .240s and struck out close to 100 times a year during his Yankee career. But he also had enough power to hit 95 home runs during his eight seasons in New York.
Boyer was the Yankees’ regular third baseman for seven seasons, winning five pennants and two World Series during that time. He was one of the few veterans on the team not to experience a drastic decline in his offensive numbers during the debacle seasons of 1965 and ’66. Still, he was purged during the mid-sixties house-cleaning that saw New York trade one veteran after another in return for mediocre players who would never succeed with the Yankees. In Boyer’s case, he was swapped for a young outfielder from the Braves named Bill Robinson who hit just .206 during three dreadful seasons in pinstripes. Meanwhile, Boyer had a career year his first season in Atlanta, with 26 home runs and 96 RBIs in 1967. Clete remained with the Braves until he retired as a player after the 1971 season.
Born in Cassville, MO, in 1937, Clete was one of 14 Boyer children. His older brothers, Cloyd, a pitcher and Ken, a third baseman and one-time NL MVP with St Louis, also played in the big leagues. Clete died in 2007. He shares his February 9th birthday with another third baseman who played on the great 1927 Yankee team and this one-time Yankee catching prospect.
Number 1 – Alex Rodriguez – Passed Nettles in both home runs and RBIs as a Yankee in 2010 even though he’s played 500 fewer games.
Number 2 – Graig Nettles – Won two rings, two Gold Gloves, hit most home runs, and played most games as Yankee third baseman.
Number 3 – Red Rolfe – A .289 lifetime hitter with five rings and a great glove.
Number 4 – Clete Boyer
Number 5 – Wade Boggs – Won two rings, two Gold Gloves and averaged .313 in pinstripes.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant had the opportunity to replace the great Thurman Munson as the Yankees’ starting catcher. This opportunity arose for the Tampa, FL native not in 1979, when Munson was tragically killed in his plane crash, but the year before, when the great Yankee catcher was still an All Star.
For Yankee fans, 1978 will always be an historic year. It was the season of the great comeback, when New York came from 14 games behind their hated rival, the Red Sox, on July 18th to capture the AL East crown. As that year’s All Star break approached, George Steinbrenner was panicking. He was certain he could make better lineup decisions than Billy Martin, so he decided to go ahead and make them. At the time, Martin was near a nervous breakdown. He was fighting with Steinbrenner, feuding with Reggie Jackson and drinking way too much. He loved being Manager of the Yankees so much that he let “The Boss” make his moves.
Steinbrenner benched veteran Roy White and inserted Gary Thomasson in left field. He also ordered Martin to play Munson in right field to rest the aging catcher’s knees and revive his batting stroke. He wanted to platoon Lou Piniella and Reggie Jackson at DH and start the 23-year-old rookie catcher, Mike Heath, who had just been called up from the Yankees’ double A team in West Haven, CT.
Steinbrenner’s revised lineup made their debut on July 13, a Thursday afternoon game against the White Sox, at Yankee Stadium. They lost four of the next five and in that fifth game; Billy Martin gave Reggie Jackson the infamous bunt sign and then tried to remove it. When Jackson defied Martin, Billy benched the slugger, with Steinbrenner’s approval. The Yankees proceeded to win five straight and Heath was actually doing fine both behind and at the plate, keeping his average right around .300. That’s when Martin made his famous “One’s a born liar and the others a convicted one” comment that got him fired.
The rest is Yankee history. Bob Lemon replaced Martin and Bucky Dent’s blast a few weeks’ later capped off the best Cinderella comeback story in New York’s franchise history. What happened to Heath?
Lemon continued to start the rookie behind the plate for about a week, but when Heath’s offense cooled off a bit, the Manager put Munson back behind the plate so he could get both Piniella’s and Jackson’s bats back in the lineup. Lemon also began using Cliff Johnson as Munson’s primary backup behind the plate and Heath saw his playing time pretty much disappear during New York’s historic stretch run.
He did make the postseason roster but right after the Yankees won their second straight World Series against the Dodgers, Heath was included in the Sparky Lyle trade to Texas that brought Dave Righetti to New York. He ended up on Oakland in 1979 and became a very good big league catcher, primarily for the A’s and then the Tigers for the next fourteen seasons.
Would Heath have been able to replace Munson the following season, after the tragic plane crash? I don’t think so. His offense was probably not strong enough to keep him in that Yankee lineup.
This well-traveled right-hander came to New York from the Philadelphia A’s as part of an 11-player deal in December of 1953. He had won the AL Rookie of the Year award with the A’s in 1952, when he won fifteen games. The following year he led the league with 20 losses for a Philadelphia team that won just 59 games and finished next to last in the standings. So you can imagine how good Byrd must have felt when he heard the news that he had been traded to a Yankee team that had just captured its fifth straight World Series title that October.
The native of Darlington, SC became the fifth starter in Casey Stengel’s 1954 rotation. That Yankee team ended up winning 103 games that year and Byrd finished the season with a 9-7 record. Unfortunately for New York, Cleveland won 111 games that season and prevented the Bronx Bombers from trying for their sixth straight world championship. That 1954 effort turned out to be Byrd’s only season in pinstripes. That November, he got swallowed up in an unprecedented 18-player transaction that took place between the Orioles and the Yankees that remains the largest trade in MLB history. It was the same deal that made both Bob Turley and Don Larsen members of the Yankees’ starting rotation. Byrd struggled as a Bird and was released in June of 1955. He was picked up by the White Sox and ended his career with one last year in Detroit in 1957.
Yankee fans will probably never see Colin Curtis play another game in Yankee pinstripes. That’s because in 2010, this native of Issaquah, WA hit just .186 during his 31-game, New York debut in 2010 and is no longer with the organization. Despite his inability to prove he was a big league hitter, it was fun watching this former Arizona State ballplayer get his shot to do so. When he first came up, he impressed me with his ability to lay off bad pitches and spoil good ones late in the count. I also remember his first and only home run in 2010. It was a pinch-hit, three-run blast against the Angels at Yankee Stadium. But as the season wore on and opposing teams accumulated scouting information on Curtis, they began getting him out regularly and he started taking weak hacks instead of good swings in the process.
Doctor’s found testicular cancer in Curtis when he was just fifteen years old. He underwent an operation and it was discovered the cancer had spread. Fortunately, the surgery and subsequent treatment worked and the outfielder has been free of the disease for over a decade.
Other members of the Yankees’ all-time roster who celebrate a birthday on the first day of February include this this former Gold-Glove winning center-fielder, this former reliever/closer and this former outfielder.