March 2011

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.

March 3 – Happy Birthday Wee Willie Keeler

willie-keeler.jpgOf 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.

Wee Willie shares his birthday with this WWII hero, this one-time Yankee reliever and this former Yankee starting pitcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1903 NYY 132 584 512 95 160 14 7 0 32 24 32 12 .313 .368 .367 .735
1904 NYY 143 612 543 78 186 14 8 2 40 21 35 12 .343 .390 .409 .799
1905 NYY 149 650 560 81 169 14 4 4 38 19 43 13 .302 .357 .363 .719
1906 NYY 152 672 592 96 180 8 3 2 33 23 40 5 .304 .353 .338 .691
1907 NYY 107 467 423 50 99 5 2 0 17 7 15 9 .234 .265 .255 .521
1908 NYY 91 380 323 38 85 3 1 1 14 14 31 10 .263 .337 .288 .625
1909 NYY 99 427 360 44 95 7 5 1 32 10 24 6 .264 .327 .319 .647
19 Yrs 2123 9610 8591 1719 2932 241 145 33 810 495 524 136 .341 .388 .415 .802
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/21/2014.