I will always have a special affinity for Victor John Angelo Raschi, even though I never saw him throw a pitch in a single big league game. That’s because he started his professional and Yankee career in my home town of Amsterdam, NY, pitching for the Amsterdam Rugmakers in 1941. At the time, the Rugmakers were New York’s minor league affiliate in the old Canadian American League.
Notice that year, 1941 again. Raschi was born on March 28, 1919 in West Springfield, MA. That was not a particularly good time to be born if you turned out to be an aspiring big league baseball player. Why? Because just as you reached the age at which most professional baseball careers began, your country got involved in WWII and you were called to serve. So after going 10-6 for the Rugmakers that first season and becoming a legend in my home town, Raschi got to spend just one more season in the Yankee farm system before joining the air force for the next three years.
By the time he returned, in 1946, the Springfield, Massachusetts native was already 27-years-old and by the time he became a starter for New York he was 29. For a half-dozen seasons from 1948 to 1954, this fire-baller was as good as any pitcher in baseball. Raschi was a three-time twenty-game winner for the Yankees, compiling a .706 winning percentage and a 120-50 record during his nine years in pinstripes. He combined with Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat to give New York one of the top trio of starters to ever pitch in the same Yankee rotation and that rotation led them to five straight World Series victories from 1949 to 1953.
Unfortunately, Raschi’s Yankee career ended on a sour note when he complained vociferously about a pay cut the Yankees forced upon him after he went 13-6 in 1953. Yankee GM George Weiss sold the then 34-year-old veteran to the Cardinals. It turned out to be the right move by the heartless Weiss as Raschi never again had a winning season in the big leagues. If military service had not stalled the start of his career, I feel Raschi would be in Cooperstown today. He died in 1988 at the age of 69. It was Yankee announcer, Mel Allen who gave this great Yankee right-hander the nickname, “The Springfield Rifle.”
After thirteen seasons as a National League second baseman, “”Hug”" became a manager. He took over as skipper of the Yankees in 1918, winning over one thousand games, six AL pennants and three World Series during his one dozen seasons in the Yankee dugout. Though he was small in stature, only 5’6″ tall and weighing just 140 pounds, Huggins was able to gain the respect and love of his players. Lou Gehrig called him “the squarest shooter I ever met in baseball.” He became seriously ill during the 1929 season when an eye infection turned into a case of blood poisoning. He died that September. He was just 50 years old.
Since we’re on the topic of Yankee managers and Joe Girardi is about to begin his sixth year at the helm of the Bronx Bombers, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the records of the top five winning managers in pinstripe history. Here’s the list:
|Manager – World Championships||Wins||Losses||Pct.|
|Joe McCarthy – 7||1460||867||.627|
|Joe Torre – 4||1173||767||.605|
|Casey Stengel – 7||1149||696||.623|
|Miller Huggins – 3||1067||719||.597|
|Ralph Houk – 2||944||806||.539|
Yankee GM, Brian Cashman recently admitted he’s had his heart broken by glowing spring training assessments of past Yankee bullpens that ended up going bad during the regular seasons that followed. He then specifically mentioned the name Steve Karsay. The Yankees had signed the big right-hander to a four-year $21 million free agent contract after the 2001 season. Up to that point, the Queens native had pitched for three different big league teams and his best years had been 1999, when he won 10 of 12 decisions for Cleveland and the following season, when he saved 20 games for the Indians.
At first, Karsay looked like a great investment for New York. He was a workhorse for Joe Torre during the 2002 season, appearing in 78 games, winning six of ten decisions and even stepping in to save 12 games when Mo Rivera went on the DL that year. But all those innings took a toll and Karsay needed back surgery that November. Unable to work out during the off season, he reported to spring training with his arm out of shape and injured his shoulder. He made a total of thirteen appearances for the Yankees during the next three seasons earning about $1.2 million for every inning he pitched. The Yankees finally released him in May of 2005 and after trials with the Rangers and the A’s, Karsay hung up his glove for good after the 2006 season.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was one of the “Three Killer B’s” who received lots of media attention during the Yankees’ 2011 spring training season. His name is Dellin Betances, and he was born on March 23, 1988, in Brooklyn, NY. He started off the 2011 grapefruit season with a bang when in his first appearance that spring versus Tampa Bay, he fanned both Manny Ramirez and Evan Longoria. This guy is an intimidating 6’8″ right-hander who can throw a fastball, with OK control consistently in the mid nineties and if the situation calls for it, he can ramp it up to the high nineties. He also has impressed the Yankee brass with his curveball and a very usable changeup, which is rare to see from such a young pitcher.
So what is Betances’ negative? He has already undergone elbow surgery so there are ongoing concerns about his ability to stay healthy. And since he struck out Ramirez and Longoria in that spring training game two years ago, he’s done little else to impress the Yankee brass. He did appear in his first two big league games for New York during the 2013 season but he has again failed to make Joe Girardi’s 2013 regular season roster. If he doe not pitch well in the Yankee farm system this year or has trouble staying healthy, his status as a top Yankee prospect may be history. He is the third member of the All-Time Yankee roster to be born on March 23rd, joining this former first baseman and this one-time catcher.
Most Yankee fans remember today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant as a former Yankee bullpen coach and minor league pitching instructor. He worked for the Yankees in one capacity or another from 1998 until 2008. But I remember Monteleone when he was a Yankee bullpen pitcher in the early nineties. In fact he was a pretty good right-hander for some pretty bad Yankee teams. The Yankees had got him and Claudell Washington from California right after the 1990 season started in exchange for Luis Polonia. Over the next four seasons he fashioned an 18-9 record in pinstripes pitching strictly in a relief role. He became a free agent after the 1994 campaign and signed with San Francisco.
He pitched three more years in the big leagues and one more in Japan before transitioning into coaching. He had one qualification that ideally suited him for a position as a coach in the Yankee organization. He was born and still lived in Tampa, otherwise known as the southern kingdom of George Steinbrenner. Monteleone soon would become a junior member of George’s Tampa based roundtable of baseball advisors.
Other Tampa natives who wore the pinstripes under the reign of King George included Lou Piniella, Dwight Gooden, Tino Martinez, Mike Heath, Fred McGriff, Sam Militello and Gary Sheffield.
Its been over 25 years since the transaction took place and it wasn’t until I did research for today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant that I finally completely understood why the Yankees traded their very solid designated hitter, Mike “the Hit Man” Easler, for the very shaky Philadelphia starting pitcher, Charles Hudson in December of 1985. I knew that Easler had demanded to be traded when he was told that Yankee manager Lou Piniella intended to platoon him at DH with Ken Griffey during the ’86 season. What I was not aware of was that the Yankees were contractually obligated to doing so within three months of the demand or Easler would have become a free agent.
So that’s why a very emphatic George Steinbrenner ordered the Yankees to send Easler, who had hit .302 for New York in 1985, to the Phillies for Hudson, who had had put together a very mediocre 32-42 record during his four years pitching in the “City of Brotherly Love.” Hudson was also a switch-hitter, which was a pretty rare attribute for a pitcher. His problem was however, he couldn’t hit very well from either side of the plate.
At first, it looked like “the Boss” was a prophet, as Hudson got off to a fast start with New York, winning his first six decisions during the 1987 season. Even though the right-handed native of Ennis, TX cooled off after that and spent some time pitching out of the Yankee bullpen, he still finished his first year in pinstripes with an 11-7 record that included two shutouts and an efficient 3.61 ERA. That win total put him in third place behind Rick Rhoden (16) and Tommy John (13) for most victories by a Yankee pitcher that year.
Unfortunately for Hudson, that would prove to be his best season in New York. In 1988, he again split his time between the starting rotation and the bullpen to finish 6-6, while his ERA jumped to 4.49. In spite of that performance, the Yankees resigned him for the ’89 season. Then just before spring training camp broke, he was dealt to the Tigers for the veteran infielder, Tom Brookens, who was a complete bust during his one season in pinstripes.
Hudson floundered in Detroit during the 1989 season and his career ended that August, after he smashed his car into a Motor City telephone pole, and destroyed his right knee. It was at that low point that Hudson admitted to having a drinking problem, which he worked hard to eliminate.
Hudson shares his March 16th birthday with “the Grandy-Man.”
Only three Yankee third basemen have hit more than thirty home runs in a season. Graig Nettles did it twice and A-Rod has done it in each of the seven seasons he’s been in New York. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, however, is the only third baseman who came up through the Yankee minor league organization to have hit more than 30 round trippers in one year. That happened in 1987, when the player they called “Pags” hit 32 home runs and drove in 87, both of which would end up being career highs for the native of Medford, MA.
The Yankees drafted Pagliarulo out of the University of Miami, in 1981. He made the parent club in 1984 and replaced Toby Harrah as New York’s starting third baseman. Pags was a better than average fielder with good power but he struck out too much and could never get his batting average out of the .230′s. He was a hard-nosed type of player who always seemed to be wearing a dirty uniform. I remember he once got hit in the face by a pitch that smashed both his nose and lip into bloody messes. The next day he was back in the lineup wearing bandages all over his face. Both Billy Martin and Lou Piniella loved the guy but by 1989, both were gone and Pagliarulo’s average had slipped below .200. The Yankees shipped him to San Diego for starting pitcher, Walt Terrell. When he became a free agent after the 1990 season, he signed with the Twins and became Minnesota’s starting third baseman. He hit a career high .279, his first year in Minneapolis and helped the Twins win the 1991 World Series.
Pags played 11 big league seasons in all, retiring in 1995 with 134 career home runs, all but thirty of which were hit while he wore the Yankee pinstripes. He also played one year in Japan and after retiring, started a scouting service that helped Major League teams evaluate Japanese baseball talent. That company played a role in the Yankee signings of both Hideki Matsui and Kei Igawa.
By the time the Yankees signed Mariano Duncan as a free agent in December of 1995, the Dominican middle infielder was already a 32-year-old, 11-year veteran of the big leagues. The Yankees expected to play their rookie, Derek Jeter at short in 1996 and were going to move switch-hitting Tony Fernandez from short to second. They wanted Duncan to serve as a backup for both positions. That plan fell apart when Fernandez got hurt in spring training and was shelved for the year. Manager Joe Torre gave Yankee rookie Andy Fox every chance to win the second base job but the youngster could not get his average up to .200. Then Torre gave Duncan a try. He responded with the best season of his career.
Mariano hit .340 in 109 games that year. He became a leader in that Yankee clubhouse and his popular pre-game pronouncement, “We play today, we win today…dassit” became the slogan of that amazing club. When the Yankees won the 1996 Pennant and World Series, I was pretty certain Duncan would be back to start at second again in 1997. But George Steinbrenner did not feel the same way. He did not think Duncan was good enough defensively and when the Boss’s feeling became public, Mariano was angry and demanded to be traded. The Yankees tried to grant him that wish by reaching a deal with the Padres that would send Duncan and pitcher Kenny Rogers to San Diego in return for slugger Greg Vaughn. When Vaughn failed his physical and the deal was voided, Duncan became even more vocal about his dislike for Steinbrenner. Finally, after the All Star break, the Yankees traded Duncan to Toronto. He played his final 39 big league games as a Blue Jay and then tried Japanese baseball for a year before retiring for good.
Yankee fans will always remember Mariano’s great year in 1996 and he has a ring on his finger to prove it. This former Yankee slugger shares a March 13 birthday with Mariano as does this former outfielder who was the last Yankee to wear uniform number 7 before Mickey Mantle made it famous.
On the afternoon of July 27, 2003, the Yankees were in Boston trying to win the rubber game of a three-game series against the Red Sox. All was going well for Joe Torre’s pinstriped minions up until the home half of the seventh inning. Yankee starter, Jeff Weaver was shutting out the Red Sox up to that point and New York had scored three runs off of Boston starter, Derek Lowe. But the seventh inning stretch proved to be the turning point that afternoon in Beantown. With one out, Weaver walked and then hit the next two Boston batters. Torre brought in Chris Hammond to relieve Weaver. Hammond immediately gave up back-to-back bombs to Jason Varitek and Johnny Damon and suddenly the Yankees were losing 4-3. The lead would expand to 6-3 before Boston made the final out of that inning and you would have to believe that Joe Torre, as calm as he always looked, must have been stewing.
In the top of the eighth, with a man on first and nobody out, Torre sent up Todd Zeile to pinch hit for Robin Ventura. Red Sox manager, Grady Little countered by bringing in right hander, Mike Timlin to pitch to Zeile. Torre countered Little’s move by calling Zeile back to the bench and sending left-hand-hitting Karim Garcia to the plate. When Garcia struck out looking, Torre called on switch-hitter Ruben Sierra to pinch hit for the right-hand-hitting Raul Mondesi, who had started in right-field for New York that day. That move failed as well and the Yankees lost that game and that series to the Red Sox. As it turned out, they also lost Mondesi.
Claiming Torre had disrespected him, the disgruntled Dominican immediately left the dugout after being removed from the game, got dressed and drove back to New York City. The real problem with that was that while Mondesi was motoring to the Big Apple, the rest of the Yankee team was flying to California to play a series against the Angels. After spending the night in New York, Mondesi flew to Anaheim to rejoin his team in time for the first game, at which point he found out his team wasn’t his team any more. He had been traded to the Diamondbacks.
According to Mondesi, it wasn’t the fact that Torre pinch hit for him that was disrespectful. Instead, the outfielder was insulted because Torre did not personally deliver the message that Sierra was taking his place. And once Mondesi was traded, he was more than willing to share his dislike for Torre and the Yankees with the world. He claimed Torre discriminated against Dominicans and always showed favoritism to home-grown Yankees. That was not the first time a player had accused Torre of playing favorites and discriminating against players from the Carribean. Seven seasons earlier, another Latino outfielder made the same charges and was also traded by New York as a result. Ironically, that player’s name was Ruben Sierra.
In any event, Mondesi faded fast after that trade, going from the Diamondbacks to the Pirates, to the Angels and then the Braves in a desperate and unsuccessful struggle to keep his big league career going. The 1994 NL Rookie of the Year ended that career with 271 home runs and a .273 lifetime average. He played a total of 169 games with New York during the 2002 and ’03 seasons, hitting 27 home runs and driving in 92 during that span. In my humble opinion, the word “respect” has become one of the most misused and misunderstood words in our society.
Like Mondesi, this other former NL Rookie of the Year outfielder, this former NL All Star and this one-time Yankee center-fielder also had a March 12th birthday.
Bobby Abreu gave the Yankees two and a half seasons of solid play as their starting right fielder. He averaged .295 while in pinstripes, stole more than 20 bases a season, was never hurt and he both scored and drove in over 100 runs in each of his two full years in New York. I was expecting him to be a better defensive outfielder than he showed as a Yankee but when you look at his overall performance, he did absolutely fine. Unfortunately, fine was just not good enough for a Yankee team that slowly but surely forgot how to win in October.
I liked Abreu’s game but I liked the game of the guy he replaced in right field for New York, even more. That would be Gary Sheffield, who was in my opinion one of the most intimidating hitters in the big leagues. Opposing pitchers respected Abreu but they feared Sheffield. So when the Yankees let Abreu walk after the 2008 season, I was not too upset. He signed with the Angels and had a typical very good Abreu year in 2009 before slumping significantly in 2010. Bobby was born in Venezuela on March 11, 1974.