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.
|2003||Did not play in major leagues (Injured)|
|CLE (4 yrs)||15||14||.517||3.23||164||4||71||0||0||22||223.0||210||84||80||15||69||191||1.251|
|OAK (4 yrs)||8||16||.333||4.97||45||36||5||1||0||0||219.0||254||129||121||29||74||145||1.498|
|NYY (3 yrs)||6||4||.600||3.39||91||0||46||0||0||12||101.0||102||41||38||9||34||74||1.347|
|TEX (1 yr)||0||1||.000||7.47||14||0||8||0||0||0||15.2||26||14||13||2||5||9||1.979|
|ATL (1 yr)||3||4||.429||3.43||43||0||21||0||0||7||44.2||44||21||17||4||17||39||1.366|
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.
|CAL (4 yrs)||3||5||.375||3.42||48||0||14||0||0||0||68.1||74||28||26||9||19||40||1.361|
|NYY (4 yrs)||17||9||.654||4.06||120||0||38||0||0||0||232.2||217||119||105||26||83||154||1.289|
|SFG (1 yr)||4||3||.571||3.18||39||0||8||0||0||0||45.1||43||18||16||6||13||16||1.235|
|SEA (1 yr)||0||0||6.43||3||0||1||0||0||0||7.0||10||5||5||2||4||2||2.000|
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.
|NYY (6 yrs)||703||2535||2274||291||521||111||12||105||337||7||223||510||.229||.300||.427||.727|
|MIN (3 yrs)||246||780||723||79||197||40||4||9||68||8||40||106||.272||.317||.376||.693|
|SDP (2 yrs)||178||614||546||41||130||30||2||10||52||3||57||105||.238||.313||.355||.668|
|TEX (1 yr)||86||262||241||27||56||16||0||4||27||0||15||49||.232||.277||.349||.625|
|BAL (1 yr)||33||126||117||24||38||9||0||6||21||0||8||15||.325||.373||.556||.929|
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, this one-time Yankee center-fielder and this former Yankee backup first baseman each also had a March 12th birthday.
|LAD (7 yrs)||916||3765||3487||543||1004||190||37||163||518||140||230||663||.288||.334||.504||.838|
|TOR (3 yrs)||320||1414||1259||217||316||64||7||66||196||61||136||258||.251||.328||.470||.798|
|NYY (2 yrs)||169||705||631||95||158||41||3||27||92||23||66||112||.250||.323||.453||.777|
|ARI (1 yr)||45||183||162||27||49||8||1||8||22||5||18||31||.302||.372||.512||.884|
|PIT (1 yr)||26||110||99||8||28||8||0||2||14||0||11||27||.283||.355||.424||.779|
|ATL (1 yr)||41||155||142||17||30||7||1||4||17||0||12||35||.211||.271||.359||.630|
|ANA (1 yr)||8||37||34||2||4||1||0||1||1||0||2||4||.118||.189||.235||.424|
Jackie Jensen was one of the most celebrated Yankee signings in the history of the franchise. He had been a football and baseball star at the University of California, becoming the Golden Bears’ first thousand yard rusher in 1948, just one year after leading the school’s baseball team to the first ever College Baseball World Series title. Placed on academic probation, Jensen quit school in his senior year to play baseball with the American Association’s Oakland Oaks. After just one season, the contracts of Jensen and his Oakland teammate, Billy Martin were sold to the Yankees and New York’s front office began predicting that Jensen would replace Joe DiMaggio as the team’s starting center fielder when The Yankee Clipper was ready to retire. The new golden boy was put on New York’s big league roster and when he was called on to pinch run during the 1950 Fall Classic against the Phillie Whiz Kids, he became the first athlete in history to appear in both the Rose Bowl and the World Series.
In 1951, DiMaggio’s final year in pinstripes, Jensen got into 56 games for New York and batted a respectable .298. But DiMaggio’s farewell season was also the rookie campaign of Mickey Mantle and suddenly Jensen was no longer the answer to the question; Who would become the next great Yankee center fielder?
Instead, he was traded to the lowly Senators for outfielder Irv Noren at the beginning of the 1952 season. You’d think at the time, the Yankees would have considered keeping both Mantle and Jensen and they probably did. They already had two solid veterans, Gene Woodling and Hank Bauer surrounding Mantle in the outfield. In addition, Jensen was a right handed hitter and Yankee Stadium was not a friendly place for players who swung from that side of the plate. The team also had a young Bob Cerv on the bench so Yankee GM George Weiss probably figured the veteran left-hand-hitting Noren would give Stengel more options than keeping the relatively untested Jensen. But it sure would have been fun to have the Jackie Jensen who became one of the American League’s best run producers and outfielders for Boston in the late fifties, playing alongside Mantle during their peak years. Jensen culminated his career with the 1958 AL MVP award. He would probably be in Cooperstown today if his crippling fear of flying did not induce him to retire after the 1959 season. He tried coming back in 1961, aided by a hypnotist to overcome his phobia but he was not the same player. His last big league game was in 1961 in Yankee Stadium on the day Roger Maris hit his 61st home run. Jensen passed away in 1982, when he was only 55 years of age.
This former Yankee who also celebrates his birthday on March 9th, hit one of the most famous home runs in franchise history. So does this shortstop who captured six AL stolen base titles during his career. This sidearming southpaw and this former Yankee outfielder were each also born on March 9th.
|BOS (7 yrs)||1039||4517||3857||597||1089||187||28||170||733||95||585||425||.282||.374||.478||.852|
|NYY (3 yrs)||108||289||257||46||64||11||4||9||32||13||29||30||.249||.328||.428||.756|
|WSH (2 yrs)||291||1271||1122||167||310||61||13||20||164||35||136||91||.276||.359||.407||.766|
No Yankee pitcher has had a more impressive rookie season than the one Bob Grim put together in 1954. Not only did he win 20 games in his debut year, he did it while pitching just 199.0 innings, which is the fewest of any 20-game winner in history. Seven of those victories came in relief roles, which helps explain the low number of total innings. For his effort, Grim won that year’s Rookie of the Year Award and led New York to a 103 victory season, the most wins in the six seasons Casey Stengel had been managing the club. Ironically, that Yankee team failed to win the AL Pennant for the first time since Stengel was hired, finishing eight games behind Cleveland. Still, all of Yankeedom was thrilled to have this new young right-hander and Big Apple native on a Yankee starting staff that was then transitioning from the Reynolds, Raschi, Lopat era to a new rotation generation led by Whitey Ford and Grim.
What might have contributed most to the end of Grim’s career in pinstripes was his failure to pitch well in October. In both the World Series he appeared in, 1955 and ’57, Grim pitched poorly in key situations contributing to New York’s disappointing losses in these two seven-game Fall Classics. In June of 1958, Grim was traded to Kansas City. After two decent seasons of relief pitching for a very bad A’s ballclub, he faded quickly. His big league career ended in 1962 with a 61-41 record and 37 career saves. Born on March 8, 1930, Grim passed away in 1996.
Of all the incredible things I’ve learned about Wee Willie Keeler during my research for today’s post, I was most impressed by the fact that it is now called a third strike when a Major League hitter fouls off a two-strike bunt attempt because of this guy. Evidently, Willie never ever failed to make contact with the ball when bunting so he could just foul two strike bunts off all day long and run the opposing team’s pitcher and infield ragged in the process.
At just 5’4″ tall, Willie had to learn how to bunt, slap-hit and high-hop his way into baseball immortality. He developed and refined these skills as a member of the great Baltimore Oriole clubs of the 1890s, where he teamed with future Hall of Famers, John McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Hughie Jennings and Dan Brouthers to win three straight NL Pennants.
Keeler joined Brooklyn in 1899 and jumped to the Yankees (then called the Highlanders) in 1903 before retiring as a player with the Giants and his old friend McGraw, in 1910. His record of eight straight seasons with 200 or more hits was only just broken in 2009, by the great Ichiro Suzuki. Willie batted a remarkable .341 lifetime and was considered one of the baseball’s all-time great base-runners and defensive right-fielders. He died in Brooklyn in the same apartment he was born in, at the age of fifty, in 1923. He was one of the most beloved figures in Big Apple sports during his era.
|NYY (7 yrs)||873||3792||3313||482||974||65||30||10||206||118||220||67||.294||.347||.341||.688|
|BRO (5 yrs)||566||2594||2367||469||833||64||43||8||219||130||113||28||.352||.389||.425||.815|
|BLN (5 yrs)||644||3124||2824||751||1097||107||71||14||372||238||180||36||.388||.434||.492||.926|
|NYG (3 yrs)||40||100||87||17||28||5||1||1||13||9||11||5||.322||.404||.437||.841|