George Steinbrenner probably stopped being a big Bernie Williams’ fan during the 1998 off-season. That was when his All Star center fielder successfully leveraged a free agent offer from the hated Red Sox to get the Boss to reluctantly OK an eight year contract for Bern-Baby-Bern, costing about 100 million Yankee dollars. When the team won the next two World Series after that signing, Steinbrenner must have felt a bit better and in fact, Bernie continued his All Star caliber play for the first four years of his new deal. But in 2003, Williams got hurt and his numbers dropped precipitously. After Florida beat New York in that year’s World Series, it was George Steinbrenner who ordered the Yankee front-office to go out and sign free agent, Kenny Lofton because the Boss felt he was the guy who could replace Williams as the Yankee center fielder. Joe Torre, however, had other ideas.
Lofton was indeed a great player. During most of first decade as a big leaguer, he had been the starting center fielder in Cleveland, where he had won four Gold Gloves, five AL stolen base titles, and averaged over .300. He also had a much stronger arm than Bernie and though he lacked Williams power, he was a run-scoring machine.
At the time New York signed him, however, Lofton was 36 years old. He was also two years older than Williams. He had failed to hit .300 his previous four seasons and had played on five different teams during the three previous years. Kenny’s best days were clearly behind him by the time he put on the pinstripes.
Torre therefore felt justified in sticking with Williams as his starting center fielder in 2004, but when Bernie did not have the bounce back year he was hoping for, the “play Lofton” lobby in the Yankee front office and media grew louder. Lofton himself tried not to stir the controversy, insisting he would do anything he was told, even park cars at Yankee Stadium, just to be a part of the team. He kept telling reporters he joined the Yankees to win a ring. But before too long, subtle complaints about his lack of playing time were finding their way to the media.
In the end, Lofton played just 83 games during his one season as a Yankee. After the Yankees suffered their historic collapse against the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS, they traded Lofton to Philadelphia for a relief pitcher and probably would have traded Bernie too if they could find a team willing to pay a lions share of the $12 million they still owed him.
Kenny Lofton stuck around for three more seasons, retiring after the 2007 season. He ended his long and distinguished career with a .299 batting average, over 2,400 hits, 622 lifetime stolen bases but no rings.He was born on May 31, 1967, in East Chicago, Indiana.
Lofton shares today as a birthday with this former Yankee relief pitcher.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was a fastball pitcher who saw a lot of action out of the Yankee bullpen way back in 1930. McAvoy was a big right-hander who was born In Williamsburg, KS on May 30, 1902. After he won 22 games for the 1929 Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast league, the Yankees purchased his contract. Miller Huggins had died during the 1929 season and former Yankee pitcher, Bob Shawkey was named manager the following year. Shawkey liked McAvoy’s heater and called him in to pitch in 28 games that season. He got his one and only big league win against the Browns that year, when Yankee shortstop Lyn Lary belted four hits and drove in five runs to help New York and his former Oakland Oak teammate get the come-from-behind victory. Lary was also responsible for McAvoy’s marriage as well. Lary had been spiked so badly during a PCL game that he required a hospital stay. McAvoy and two additional Oakland players all came to visit Lary and incredibly during that visit, all three met nurses who they later married.
That 1930 Yankee team finished a disappointing third and Shawkey was fired and replaced by Joe McCarthy. Lou McAvoy only appeared in six games for New York during the 1931 season. McCarthy sent him back to the PCL that July and he never appeared in another big league game. A few years later he hung up his glove for good and became a rancher. He died of cancer in 1953.
The only other Yankee born on this date is this two-time 20-game winner.
I will always be a Jerry Hairston fan. You know why? After the Yankees beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, they did not try to re-sign the utility player and he ended up playing with the Padres in 2010. The Yankees had announced they would hand out the team’s 2009 World Series rings during a ceremony before their April 12th afternoon home game against the California Angels. That happened to be an off day for the Padres. Hairston flew all the way from San Diego to New York, paid for his own airline ticket, just so he could get his 2009 World Series ring with the teammates he had won it with. When Jorge Posada saw Hairston come out of the dugout in his street clothes, he asked his ex teammate what he was doing there. When Hairston told him he came to get his ring, Posada asked him “Why?”
Here’s the reason. Up until he joined the Yankees, Hairston had been playing Major League baseball for a dozen seasons and had never even been on a team that reached the postseason. His grandfather, dad, uncle and brother all played big league baseball and only his father, Jerry Sr. ever participated in fall ball and that was just two games worth for a 1983 White Sox team that got knocked out of the ALCS that year by the Orioles. And Jerry Jr. had done more than just play. His pinch-hit single to lead off the bottom of the thirteenth inning in Game 2 against the Angels led to him scoring the winning run in that contest.
So there he was, six months later in his street clothes, back in Yankee Stadium with the Angels again occupying the visitors dugout, patiently waiting to receive the sacred souvenir that no other Hairston had ever claimed. And when Joe Girardi handed him his ring case on that Tuesday afternoon in the Bronx, he opened it up, smiled, said good bye to his ex teammates and took a cab to the airport and got back on a plane for the cross country trip to San Diego, where his new team was playing the following evening. In my opinion, Posada asked Hairston a stupid question that day. He was there to pick up that ring because he had worked all his life to earn the right to be there. Maybe Posada has won too many rings and made too many millions to understand that but I sure do.
Hairston was born on May 29, 1976, in Des Moines, IA. He now plays for the Nationals. 2011 is his 14th big league season and Washington is his seventh big league ball club. He has a .256 lifetime batting average and he currently needs 41 more base hits to reach the 1,000 mark, lifetime. He will again be the first of the five Hairston’s who played Major League ball to accomplish that feat.
The 1951 New York Yankees had both Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle in their lineup. They had MVP winner Yogi Berra and Rookie of the Year Gil McDougald in it too. Their pitching staff included Vic Raschi, Ed Lopat and Allie Reynolds who together won 59 games that season. But it was a 28 year old WWII veteran named Bob Kuzava who provided the spark that led the Bombers to the AL Pennant that season and the World Championship.
Kuzava was acquired by New York from the Senators, just before midseason that year. He started eight games for the Yankees and relieved in 15 others. He won eight times but more importantly, got five saves during the second half of that season. He then relieved Johnny Sain in the ninth inning of the sixth and final game of that year’s World Series after the Giants had rallied to pull within one run. Kuzava retired the next three batters to earn the save.
One year later, in the seventh game of the 1952 series, after Vic Raschi had loaded the bases with Brooklyn Dodgers, Casey Stengel gave Kuzava the ball again with a 4-2 lead with one out in the seventh inning. The southpaw reliever got the first batter he faced, Duke Snider to hit a harmless popup to the infield for the second out and he then thought he had gotten Jackie Robinson to do the same thing. But the October wind was swirling at Brooklyn’s Ebbets’ field that afternoon and it grabbed Robinson’s ball and started making it dance and flutter. The entire Yankee infield seemed frozen in their tracks when at the last moment, Billy Martin came streaking in from his second base position to snare the ball, inches from the ground, right beside Kuzava and the pitching mound. That catch is considered a great moment in Yankee franchise history. What gets lost in that same history some times is the fact that “Sarge” Kuzava had just gotten two future Hall of Famers to pop up to the infield with the bases loaded and then went on to pitch two more innings of hitless and scoreless relief to preserve another Yankee World Championship. All in a day’s work I guess.
Kuzava was born in Wyandotte, WI, on May 28, 1923. He pitched in pinstripes until June of 1954 when he was released. His Yankee regular season record was 23-20 with 14 saves and also 4 complete games shutouts. But it was those two October saves that defined his Yankee career.
Kuzava shares his May 28th birthday with another modern day Yankee reliever.
Not one member of the Yankee family celebrates a birthday on today’s date. I even searched the current rosters of New York’s Minor League affiliates and did not find one player, manager or coach in the entire organization who was born on May 27th. In fact the only person I discovered with any ties whatsoever to the Yankee franchise who was born on today’s date is Debbie Clemens, the wife of former Yankee Cy Young Award winner and accused HGH user, Roger Clemens. Needless to say, Mrs. Clemens has probably not had too many happy days of any kind in her life for a while so we wish her peace and better days ahead on her birthday.
Jason Giambi’s nightmare Yankee season of 2004 represented an opportunity for Travis Lee. The Yankee brass loved Lee’s glove at first base and all they wanted from him was good defense and decent at bats. So they signed him to a one year, two-million-dollar deal even though they had already signed veteran first baseman Tony Clarke a few weeks earlier. But Lee hurt his shoulder in spring training and began the season on the DL. He ended up appearing in just seven games for New York that year. Instead, it was the switch-hitting Clark who became Giambi’s “designated glove” and started the most games at first base for the Yankees that season. Lee ended up back with Tampa Bay the following year and out of baseball all together following the 2006 season.
Lee shares his May 26th birthday with the only Yankee ever to bat 1.000 during a pinstripe career that consisted of more than a single at bat.
John Montefusco was good at fast starts. In his September 3, 1974 Major League debut for San Francisco, he was called in from the bullpen in the visitor’s half of the first inning with the Giants trailing their arch rivals, the Dodgers, 4-2. Not only did he go on to pitch nine innings of one-run relief to get the win, he also homered in his first-ever big league at bat against the LA knuckleballer, Charlie Hough. Then in 1975, his official rookie season, Montefusco went 15-9 with a 2.88 ERA to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. The young right-hander became the talk of baseball and was even turned into baseball royalty when sportscaster Al Michaels gave the Long Branch, NJ native the nickname “The Count.”
Montefusco continued his outstanding pitching during his sophomore season with 16 wins, a 2.84 ERA, getting selected to his first and only All Star team and leading the league with six shutouts. But in those first two seasons he had also pitched 500 innings of baseball and although he would have some decent years during the rest of his professional career, he would never again be the pitcher he was in 1975 and ’76 in San Francisco.
The injuries began in 1977 and by 1981, the Giants had traded him to the Braves, where he won just two games that season and pitched just 77 innings. Still, when he became a free agent at the end of that year, the Padres signed him. Montefusco won 10 games during his first season in a Padres uniform and was 9-4 in August of the following year when the Yankees acquired him in a trade for a player to be named later and couple of hundred thousand of George Steinbrenner’s dollars. (The player to be named later turned out to be Dennis Rasmussen.)
That 1983 Yankee team was trying to catch Baltimore in the AL East Pennant race and they were hoping Montefusco would strengthen their starting rotation. He certainly did that. The Count put together one of his patented fast starts for New York and I remember it very well. He got six starts down the stretch and won all five of his decisions. The Yankees couldn’t catch Baltimore but it wasn’t Montefusco’s fault and Bronx Bomber fans were hoping he’d continue his winning ways the following year. The Yankee front office was more than hoping, they were betting on it. They gave the pitcher a 4-year, $3 million contract that October. But by then, he was 34 years-old and his right arm had just about quit on him. He went 5-3 in 84 and then spent the rest of his Yankee contract on the DL.
The Count shares his March 25th birthday with this former switch-hitting Yankee outfielder.
Most Yankee fans have never heard of today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant but if you happened to have loved the Bronx Bombers and also lived in my hometown of Amsterdam, New York back in 1942, you remember him well. That’s because that was the year Bill Drescher was the starting catcher for the Amsterdam Rugmakers, the Yankee affiliate in the old Class C Canadian American League. It was the 21-year-old Drescher’s first season of professional baseball and according to his Rugmaker Manager at the time, a guy named Tom Kain, the native of Congers, NY seemed like a natural both at the plate and behind it. Dresher hit .301 in 100 games for Amsterdam that season and was featured in a New York Times article that described him as “a carbon copy” of the Yankees’ Hall-of-Fame receiver, Bill Dickey. In fact, that same article went on to say that if Dickey, who was nearing the end of his outstanding career at the time, could hang on for two or three more seasons it would be Drescher who would take his place as the Yankee starting catcher.
Dickey did his part but when the time came to replace him, Drescher was not ready. He did make his first appearance behind the plate in the Bronx during the 1944 season and then got his real shot the following year, when he caught 48 games for what would be Manager Joe McCarthy’s final full season as Yankee Manager. He hit .270 and fielded adequately but the following year WWII ended and all of the Yankees’ catchers returned to the game. Drescher ended up getting lost in that crowd and spending the rest of his professional playing career catching in the Yankee farm system. He died in 1968 at the very young age of 47.
1968 was a terrible year in the history of our country and was shaping up to be a terrible year in Yankee history as well. New York had finished ninth the year before, their best hitter, Joe Pepitone, was getting crazier every season and the great Mickey Mantle was literally on his last leg.
I had two passions as a young teenager, sports and politics. When Bobby Kennedy was killed all I had left to look forward to were Yankee games so I was hoping they’d be decent that year. Almost miraculously, they were. Thanks to a starting staff featuring Mel Stottlemyre, Stan Bahnsen and Fritz Peterson and a bullpen led by Steve Hamilton and Lindy McDaniel, the Yankees could hang around most games and were pretty good at holding a lead if they were lucky enough to have one in the later innings.
The offense was another story. Pepitone imploded and Mantle continued to decline. As a team they hit just just .214 but guys like Roy White, Andy Kosco, and a 27 year-old rookie third baseman named Bobby Cox seemed to get on base and cross home plate just enough times to win more games than they lost. The bomberless Bombers finished 83-79 which to me felt like winning a pennant.
Cox of course went on to become one of the game’s all-time great managers with Atlanta. My In-laws are huge Brave fans and my Mother-in-law loves Cox. Several years ago we were with them at Disney World after the Braves had moved their spring-training operation to the resort. Early one morning, we went to the stadium to watch the Braves practice and Bobby Cox was alongside the dugout talking to someone sitting in the stands. As soon as she saw him my mother started shouting “Yoo-hoo Bobby Cox. I love you. Can I have your autograph? Can I take my picture with you?” Cox looked up feigning annoyance and held up his hand signaling he’d come over to us after he was done talking to the other person. Sure enough he did and he spent the next five minutes talking to my Mother-in-Law like he had known her all his life. I went from being a big Bobby Cox fan to being a huge Bobby Cox fan that day. Happy 72nd Birthday to a great guy and a certain Hall-of-Famer.
His nickname was “Boomer,” he was partially raised by a morotcycle gang, he once was fined for wearing Babe Ruth’s baseball cap in an actual MLB game and he loved pitching for the New York Yankees. Wells was what you would call a “free spirit.” He didn’t normally respond well to authority figures and for the first ten years of his big league career, he pitched OK for four different teams, compiling a 90-75 record.
Then in December of 1996, the Yankees signed the rotund left-hander to a free agent contract and Wells was introduced to the pinstripes and the Big Apple. He thought he found heaven on earth. That first year in New York was the worst of his four Yankee seasons on the field, as he went 16-10 and tried to figure out his new manager, Joe Torre and the big boss, Steinbrenner. Off the field, however, Wells provided an instant boost to New York City’s night life.
Then in 1998, in my humble but very Yankee-centric opinion, I thought David Wells was the best pitcher in baseball. He went 18-4 in the regular season with five shutouts and then 5-0 in the postseason. His perfect game against the Twins in May of that year was a magical moment in franchise history. Simply put, that 1998 Yankee team would not have been the best Yankee team I ever saw if David Wells was not on its roster. But when the Blue Jays let it be known that their 1998 Cy Young Award winner, Roger Clemens was available, George Steinbrenner told his front office to do whatever it took to get him. “Whatever it took” included Wells and Boomer found himself pitching north of the border in 1999.
Wells was devastated by the deal. Best friend David Cone told reporters that the big southpaw cried like a baby when he got the news. Boomer knew Toronto well because he had come up with the Blue Jays and played his first six big league seasons with the team. He went back up north and won 37 games there during the next two seasons while Clemens won just 27 for the Yankees during that same span.
2001 was going to be the final year on Wells’ contract and the Blue Jays knew they’d have a tough time re-signing him, so in January of that year he was traded to the White Sox. He then injured his back and appeared in just 16 games for Chicago in 2001.
Wells’ return to the Yankees the following year was not without controversy. It was reported that he and his agent had already verbally committed to a contract with the Diamondbacks when the Yankees came up with their best but very late offer. Wells backed out of his deal with the Diamondbacks to return to pinstripes.
His 2002 season was outstanding. Wells remained injury free and went 19-7. His Yankee fortunes really began to turn when his autobiography was released right before the 2003 season began. In it, Boomer made some controversial statements and claims that didn’t sit well with the Yankee front office. Still, in 2003 he pitched 215 solid innings for the Yankees during the regular season, going 15-7, which brought his four season record in pinstripes to 68-28, for a gaudy .708 winning percentage.
In the 2003 postseason, Wells improved his Yankee postseason record to 7-1 with his victories in the ALDS and ALCS, before losing a tough 3-2 decision to the Marlins in Game 1 of that year’s World Series. With the two teams tied at two games apiece, Wells was scheduled to pitch Game 5. He told manager Joe Torre before the game that his back hurt too much to accept the challenge. That bad back combined with the ill will created by his book sealed Wells fate in New York. When he entered free agency following the Series, there were no last minute offers from the Yankees and Wells signed with his hometown Padres instead.
|TOR (8 yrs)||84||55||.604||4.06||306||138||65||18||2||13||1148.2||1171||566||518||126||294||28||784||1.275|
|NYY (4 yrs)||68||28||.708||3.90||124||123||0||19||9||0||851.2||886||396||369||98||139||2||557||1.204|
|SDP (3 yrs)||18||18||.500||4.33||58||58||0||0||0||0||342.2||392||170||165||41||57||5||178||1.310|
|DET (3 yrs)||26||19||.578||3.78||66||64||0||8||1||0||428.2||416||201||180||56||103||17||293||1.211|
|BOS (2 yrs)||17||10||.630||4.56||38||38||0||2||0||0||231.0||284||125||117||31||29||0||131||1.355|
|LAD (1 yr)||4||1||.800||5.12||7||7||0||0||0||0||38.2||45||23||22||5||9||1||19||1.397|
|CIN (1 yr)||6||5||.545||3.59||11||11||0||3||0||0||72.2||74||34||29||6||16||4||50||1.239|
|BAL (1 yr)||11||14||.440||5.14||34||34||0||3||0||0||224.1||247||132||128||32||51||7||130||1.328|
|CHW (1 yr)||5||7||.417||4.47||16||16||0||1||0||0||100.2||120||55||50||12||21||1||59||1.401|