March 2011

March 12 – Happy Birthday Raul Mondesi

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.

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2002 31 NYY AL 71 302 270 39 65 18 0 11 43 6 28 46 .241 .315 .430 .744
2003 32 NYY AL 98 403 361 56 93 23 3 16 49 17 38 66 .258 .330 .471 .801
13 Yrs 1525 6369 5814 909 1589 319 49 271 860 229 475 1130 .273 .331 .485 .815
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/7/2014.

March 9 – Happy Birthday Jackie Jensen

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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1950 NYY 45 78 70 13 12 2 2 1 5 4 7 8 .171 .247 .300 .547
1951 NYY 56 188 168 30 50 8 1 8 25 8 18 18 .298 .369 .500 .869
1952 NYY 7 23 19 3 2 1 1 0 2 1 4 4 .105 .261 .263 .524
11 Yrs 1438 6077 5236 810 1463 259 45 199 929 143 750 546 .279 .369 .460 .829
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/4/2014.

March 8 – Happy Birthday Bob Grim

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.

The problem turned out to be that even though 199 innings was extremely low for a twenty game winner, it was a pretty big load for a 24-year-old rookie pitcher and the following season, Grim developed a sore arm. He won just 7 games in 1955 and then just 6 in 1956. By 1957, Stengel was using him exclusively out of the Yankee bullpen. That suited Grim, who won 12 games in relief that season and led the AL with 19 saves.

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.

Today is also the birthday of this other one-time Yankee twenty-game winner and this former Yankee reliever.