If you followed Big Apple baseball during the sixties, you don’t forget when a 21 year old kid from Baltimore made the 1965 Mets roster out of spring training and started hitting home runs with a frequency no other Met had hit them before. By the time the 1965 All Star break rolled around, Ron Swoboda already had 15 round trippers. NL pitchers then stopped throwing him fastballs and Swoboda hit just four more home runs the rest of the season. Still, his 1965 total of 19 stood as the Met rookie record until Darryl Strawberry hit seven more than that in 1983.
The New York sports media made a huge fuss about Swoboda in his first year. He was the one bright spot in a season when the Amazin’s lost 112 times. Objectively speaking, Swoboda was not that good a player. In addition to striking out too much, he was a pretty shaky fielder. But Met fans who had so little to cheer about, loved their “Rocky.”
His most famous big league moment took place during the fourth game of the Mets first World Series in 1969, against Baltimore. New York, behind Tom Seaver, had taken a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning when the Orioles mounted a rally. With one out and runners on first and third, Brooks Robinson hit a shot to the gap in right center. Somehow, Swoboda got to the ball and with his body parallel to the ground made one of the greatest catches I have ever seen. The runner at third tagged and scored on the play but if Swoboda doesn’t make that catch, the runner at first would have scored and Baltimore would have taken the lead. New York ended up winning the game in ten innings and I was at Shea Stadium for the fifth and final game of that Fall Classic to see Swoboda knock in the winning run in what would be one of the greatest sports thrills of my lifetime.
In 1971, the Mets brought up Kenny Singleton and Swoboda was shoved out of New York’s outfield. He was traded to the Expos just before the ’71 season started for a guy named Don Hahn. He had played just 39 games for Montreal that year, when he was traded to the Yankees for outfielder, Ron Woods. Swoboda spent the final two and a half seasons of his big league career in pinstripes. His last year was 1973. He hit a total of 73 home runs during his nine seasons in the Majors. If you didn’t know better and judged his career by only the numbers, you’d never understand or appreciate the huge impact he made on New York City big league baseball during the first half of the 1965 season and those four glorious games he played against the Orioles in the fall of 1969.
|NYM (6 yrs)||737||2485||2212||246||536||73||20||69||304||20||240||549||.242||.319||.387||.706|
|NYY (3 yrs)||152||350||294||32||69||10||1||4||34||0||48||82||.235||.345||.316||.661|
|MON (1 yr)||39||89||75||7||19||4||3||0||6||0||11||16||.253||.364||.387||.750|
Don Baylor turns 62-years-old today, which means two things. He can start collecting social security if he chooses to and I'm getting old. I distinctly remember when Earl Weaver started playing Baylor regularly in the Baltimore Orioles' outfield back in 1972. With Paul Blair in center and Don Buford in left, Baylor gave the Birds their three-Bs outfield. He was a hard-nosed big league player from day one who used to crowd the plate and hit the ball as hard as any big leaguer ever did. He remained an Oriole until a year before free agency began and then got traded to the A's in the deal that brought Reggie Jackson to Baltimore. A year later he took advantage of the eradication of baseball's reserve clause and signed with the Angels. He enjoyed the best seasons of his career while playing for California. In 1979 he led the Angels to an AL West division crown and led the league with 120 runs scored and 139 RBIs, while blasting a career-high 39 home runs. That performance won him the AL MVP Award. He joined the Yankees as a free agent in 1983 and his first season in pinstripes was his best. That year, he was the top DH in the league, hitting a career high .303 with 21 home runs and 85 RBIs. During his three-year stay in the Bronx, he averaged 26 home runs and close to 90 RBIs per season. The Yankees, however, failed to win a Pennant with Baylor in their lineup and when New York Manager Lou Piniella announced his intention to platoon the native Texan with Ken Griffey at DH before the '86 season, he demanded to be traded. The Yankees granted that wish by dealing him to the Red Sox for "The Hit Man" Mike Easler. An interesting side note about that trade was that it was the first between Boston and New York since the Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater transaction, fourteen years earlier. Baylor played until 1988 and then went into coaching and managing. He skippered the Rockies for six seasons and then managed the Cubs. He shares his June 28th birthday with AL strikeout leader, this other former Yankee pitcher and this former NY back-up first baseman.
|CAL (6 yrs)||824||3536||3105||481||813||140||7||141||523||89||312||350||.262||.337||.448||.785|
|BAL (6 yrs)||511||1994||1757||246||482||76||14||57||229||118||164||222||.274||.349||.431||.779|
|NYY (3 yrs)||420||1719||1504||236||401||86||5||71||265||18||130||211||.267||.345||.472||.817|
|BOS (2 yrs)||268||1096||924||157||220||31||1||47||151||8||102||158||.238||.348||.426||.774|
|OAK (2 yrs)||249||998||859||113||205||32||1||22||102||52||92||116||.239||.330||.355||.685|
|MIN (1 yr)||20||58||49||3||14||1||0||0||6||0||5||12||.286||.397||.306||.703|
Mike Myers spent thirteen years in the big leagues and threw most of his pitches in the bullpens of the nine teams he played for during that time. In fact, of all the major league pitchers in history who appeared in over 800 games, none of them pitched fewer game-innings than Myers did (541.2 innings in 883 games.) This native of Arlington Heights, IL was a southpaw submariner who was called upon primarily to get one or two of the opposing team’s better left-handed hitters out late in games.
The Yankees had gone through a succession of LOOGY’s (left-handed one out guys) in 2005, including Buddy Groom, Alan Embree, Darrell May and even Mike Stanton, who had returned to the Bronx for a second tour of duty that season. When none of these guys stepped up they continued their search in the offseason and signed Myers as a free agent in December of 2005.
Joe Torre called on the then 37-year-old reliever 62-times during the 2006 season and he did a decent and consistent job from April through September. He gave up only 3 home runs all year but his low point came during an inopportune time in the seventh inning of the first game of that year’s ALDS against Detroit. That’s when Torre pulled starter Chien-Ming Wang and called Myers in to face Curtis Granderson. He surrendered a dinger to the future Yankee and was immediately yanked by a none-too-happy Torre.
New York brought Myers back the following year and I thought he was doing pretty well, when in August of that season the Yanks designated him for assignment to make room for a right hander by the name of Jim Brower. At the time of his release, Myers was 3-0 with a good ERA of 2.66. Brower ended up not getting anyone out for New York and Myers ended up in Chicago, where he finished his big league career that season pitching quite ineffectively out of the White Sox bullpen. In 2009, he accepted a job with Major League Baseball Players Association as special assistant to then executive director Donald Fehr.
|DET (3 yrs)||2||9||.182||5.56||182||0||51||0||0||8||124.2||138||84||77||19||63||123||1.612|
|ARI (2 yrs)||4||4||.500||5.03||133||0||32||0||0||4||73.1||77||41||41||6||38||52||1.568|
|COL (2 yrs)||2||4||.333||2.74||151||0||36||0||0||1||85.1||56||27||26||4||48||77||1.219|
|BOS (2 yrs)||4||1||.800||3.44||90||0||16||0||0||0||52.1||46||21||20||5||19||30||1.242|
|NYY (2 yrs)||4||2||.667||2.90||117||0||17||0||0||0||71.1||67||28||23||6||26||43||1.304|
|MIL (2 yrs)||4||3||.571||3.84||141||0||28||0||0||1||91.1||90||43||39||12||35||75||1.369|
|SEA (1 yr)||4||1||.800||4.88||50||0||10||0||0||0||27.2||29||15||15||3||17||23||1.663|
|FLA (1 yr)||0||0||0.00||2||0||2||0||0||0||2.0||1||0||0||0||3||0||2.000|
|CHW (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||11.20||17||0||3||0||0||0||13.2||21||19||17||3||7||6||2.049|
Yankee fans are not known for their patience, especially with pitchers. We want strikes thrown, we want to hold leads and we want consistent performances game-to-game, season-to-season and especially in the postseason. Anything less than that and Yankee pitchers begin to see and hear Yankee fans express their dissatisfaction.
The team’s fans grow even more impatient when management touts young pitching prospects as ready-for-prime-time starting pitchers. That’s what happened to Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and initially, to today’s birthday boy, Phil Hughes. Today, Kennedy is no longer a Yankee and Joba, continues to confound Yankee fans with his inconsistency. Only Mr. Hughes seemed to be fulfilling the lofty expectations of New York’s management and pinstripe fans. But that too turned out to be just a mirage.
He originally showed us something in 2007, especially in the playoffs against Cleveland. He earned another reprieve after a very shaky start in 2008 and a rib injury that sidelined him for much of the year. Then in 2009, Hughes stepped up big when he was sent to the bullpen to become Mariano Rivera’s setup man. After a highly publicized spring training competition with Chamberlain for the 2010 fifth starter position, Hughes pitched as well as any starter in either league during the first half of 2010 season and made the All Star team. But even though he finished that year with an 18-8 record, he became a very ordinary pitcher in the second half and was once again ineffective in fall ball.
After failing to sign Cliff Lee and losing Andy Pettitte during the 2010 off season, the Yankees urgently needed Hughes to come out on fire in 2011. Instead, he was horrible. His confidence seemed to decrease in direct proportion to the lower and lower digital number readings on the radar gun aimed at Hughes’ fastballs. Finally, management put him on the DL and told us he had a dead arm. He did bounce back to win 16 games in 2012 and even pitched well in his first postseason start against Baltimore in that year’s ALCS. But in his next start against Detroit in Game 3 of the ALCS, Hughes complained of back stiffness in the third inning and he was taken out of the game.
Whatever the reason, physical, mental or mechanical, Hughes continued to be an enigma in 2013 and actually regressed. He seemed to lose whatever ability he had to finish off good big league hitters on a consistent basis. He’s just 27-years-old and perhaps there will come a day when he figures it all out and become’s the big winner everyone expected him to be. But it won’t be as a Yankee. They did not even make him a qualifying offer after the season, afraid he’d accept the $14 million and make a bad situation in New York even worse and much more expensive. But “Hughesie” did land on his feet, signing a three-year $24 million deal to pitch for Minnesota. I wish him well.
|162 Game Avg.||12||11||.528||4.54||39||29||2||0||0||1||169||170||91||85||24||53||142||1.322|
Few big league catchers experienced as bad a case of poor career timing as Aaron Robinson did with the New York Yankees. First he had the misfortune of being the best Yankee catching prospect during the late thirties, when Hall of Famer Bill Dickey was still considered the best all-around receiver in the game. Dickey’s dominance was a big part of the reason why it took six years for Robinson to make his way through the Yankee farm system. Then by the time he got to put on the pinstripes, WWII was raging and Robinson played just one game for the parent club before he was called into military service.
Finally, after his discharge two seasons later, Robinson was gradually inserted into New York’s starting catcher’s position and in 1946, he hit .297 and smashed 16 home runs in his first full big league season. The following year, Robinson was named to the AL All Star team but by the end of that 1947 season, he was losing a lot of playing time to a young catcher named Yogi Berra. That October, he won his one and only World Series ring when the Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven games. By then, Robinson was 32 years old and the Yankee brass decided Berra was the better choice as catcher. They traded Robinson to the White Sox for Eddie Lopat.
It was truly a great trade for New York. Berra and Lopat were instrumental in helping New York win five straight world championships. After one season in the Windy City, Robinson was traded to the Tigers. He had a good first year with Detroit in 1949 but by the following season he pretty much stopped hitting. It was also during that 1950 season he made a fielding gaffe that might have cost Detroit the Pennant. They were battling the Yankees for first place and playing Cleveland in a late season game in the Motor City. Smoke from a huge Canadian forest fire had drifted across Lake Michigan and was creating a haze in Briggs Stadium that made it difficult for players to see. With the score tied and the bases loaded, Cleveland’s Luke Easter hit a groundball to Tiger first baseman Don Kolloway. Kolloway fielded it cleanly, stepped on first and threw to Robinson in plenty of time to get the Cleveland runner trying to score from third. But in the smoky haze, Robinson had not seen Kolloway tag first so when he caught his first baseman’s throw he simply stepped on home thinking it was a force play and did not tag the runner. That turned out to be the winning run and the Tigers never recovered from that defeat.
Robinson’s eight-year big league career ended in 1951 as a Red Sox. He hit .260 lifetime with 61 home runs. He died in 1966 at the very young age of 50.
|NYY (4 yrs)||233||859||743||74||211||34||8||29||124||0||109||89||.284||.377||.468||.845|
|DET (3 yrs)||253||868||696||78||170||25||0||22||102||0||165||65||.244||.390||.375||.765|
|BOS (1 yr)||26||91||74||9||15||1||1||2||7||0||17||10||.203||.352||.324||.676|
|CHW (1 yr)||98||373||326||47||82||14||2||8||39||0||46||30||.252||.344||.380||.724|
As I observe Joe Girardi’s recent efforts to patch together a five man starting rotation for the 2011 Yankees, today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant makes me think about how easy Casey Stengel’s starting pitching decisions were during his five straight World Series victory run with the team. Take 1950 as an example. The Ol Perfessor could hand the ball to Vic Raschi (21-8), Allie Reynolds (16-12), Tommy Byrne (15-9), a young Whitey Ford (9-1) or today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Eddie Lopat (18-8).
Eddie had started his big league career with the White Sox in 1944, putting together four consecutive seasons of double digit victories and almost matching double digit losses in the Windy City. In February of 1948, the Yankees traded three players to Chicago including their starting catcher, Aaron Robinson in exchange for the southpaw Lopat, who had been born and grew up on the upper east side of New York City. Not only did the trade bring New York a great pitcher, this same deal also cleared the way for Yogi Berra to take over as the team’s starting backstop.
Unlike his Yankee co-aces, Reynolds and Raschi, who both threw lots of heat, Lopat had a repertoire of pitches all thrown at various speeds with great control. That assortment of stuff earned him the nickname, “The Junkman. He was especially known for his screwball, which became his signature pitch. From 1948 through 1954, the southpaw Lopat won double digits for the Yankees with his best year coming in 1951 when he went 21-9. He was also 4-1 in five World Series with New York and compiled a 113-59 regular-season career record in pinstripes.
When Lopat got off to a slow start in 1954, Yankee GM George Weiss traded him to Baltimore and Lopat hung up his glove after that season. He later went onto become a big league coach and manager (Kansas City A’s.)
Steady Eddie shares his June 21st birthday with another former Yankee left-handed starting pitcher and the first Mormon to ever play in Yankee pinstripes.
|NYY (8 yrs)||113||59||.657||3.19||217||202||8||91||20||2||1497.1||1507||619||530||116||405||502||1.277|
|CHW (4 yrs)||50||49||.505||3.18||113||109||4||72||7||1||893.0||900||365||316||55||236||347||1.272|
|BAL (1 yr)||3||4||.429||4.22||10||7||2||1||0||0||49.0||57||24||23||8||9||10||1.347|
I’ve been a Yankee fan for fifty one years and I’ve seen a lot of unexpected things happen with and to my favorite team during those five decades. But if somebody told me in the late 1980s that Wade Boggs, the Red Sox hitting machine and five-time AL batting champion would one day be a Yankee, I would have called that person crazy. After all, from 1983 through 1989 Boggs had hit a phenomenal .352 for Boston and averaged 110 runs scored and 211 hits per season. He was a certain Hall-of-Famer, an outstanding defensive third baseman and although he had some notorious extra marital exploits off the field, nobody was more focused or more driven on a baseball field than Boggs. Plus the Yankees and Red Sox were bitter rivals and the Boston and New York players genuinely disliked each other. The thought of Boggs in a Yankee uniform was literally beyond the realm of my imagination. But in 1992, Boggs hit just .259 in the final year of his Red Sox contract. That was the first time in the eleven seasons he’d been in the big leagues that he failed to hit .300. The fall-off was just enough to cause the Red Sox front office from going all-out to re-sign their All Star third baseman. The angry Boggs signed with the Yankees instead.
He played the next five seasons in pinstripes and averaged .313 during that span. He teamed with Don Mattingly to give the Yankees veteran leadership and outstanding defense at both corners of their infield. In 1996, he was instrumental in helping the Yankees reach and win the World Series. The image of Boggs, sitting behind a New York City cop riding a police horse around the field of Yankee Stadium after the sixth and final game of that Series has become a visual hallmark in Yankee franchise history. I hated Boggs when he was a Red Sox but once he put on the pinstripes, I quickly learned to love the guy. He retired in 1999 with 3010 hits and a .328 lifetime batting average. Five years later he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Most Yankee fans think this recently retired pitcher, who shares Boggs’ June 15th birthday, also belongs in Cooperstown. Also born on this date is this Yankee utility infielder and this former Yankee first baseman.
|BOS (11 yrs)||1625||7323||6213||1067||2098||422||47||85||687||16||1004||470||.338||.428||.462||.890|
|NYY (5 yrs)||602||2600||2240||355||702||119||9||24||246||4||324||198||.313||.396||.407||.803|
|TBD (2 yrs)||213||817||727||91||210||37||5||9||81||4||84||77||.289||.360||.391||.750|
I remember when the Mets brought Kenny Singleton up in the early seventies and put him in right field, alongside Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones. At the time, I was convinced these three would form the best outfield in the National League if not all of baseball for the next several seasons. Shows you how smart I was.
Singleton played just two seasons at Shea and then was traded to Montreal for Rusty Staub. The middle season of his three years in Montreal was his best as he reached the 20-homer, 100-RBI and .300 batting average milestones all for the first time in his career. After the following season, the Expos made one of the worst trades in the history of their franchise when they sent Singleton and starter Mike Torrez to the Orioles for a washed up Dave McNally and outfielder Rich Coggins.
Singleton went on to a great playing career for the O’s, making three All Star teams, appearing in two World Series and finally winning a championship in 1983.
I always admired Singleton as a player. He was consistent and very professional on the field and the same can be said for his performance in the Yankee broadcast booth. I enjoy listening to him do color and play-by-play. He was born on June 10, 1947 in the Big Apple.
Although he spent almost all of his playing career as a Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder, Bill Virdon was originally signed by the Yankees in 1950 and spent his first five seasons as a pro climbing his way up New York’s minor league ladder. Then in 1954, he was included in a package of players and prospects the Yankees traded to St Louis for veteran outfielder Enos Slaughter. Virdon enjoyed a solid 12-season playing career in the NL, retiring for good in 1968. He then got into coaching and in 1972 he became skipper of the Pirates, leading Pittsburgh to a Division title in his first year as their field boss. When the team slumped the following season, Virdon was dumped. George Steinbrenner hired him to pilot the Yankees in 1974 and he led them to an 89-73 record and second-place finish in their division. “The Boss” was not truly a fan of Virdon’s low-key managing style and when the fiery Billy Martin became available during the second half of the 1975 season, Virdon was dumped again. He immediately got the manager’s job in Houston where he remained for the next seven seasons. Virdon then completed his managerial career with a two year stint as Montreal Expo skipper, finishing with a 995-921 lifetime won-loss record during his 13-seasons. I always felt it was the acquisitions of Willie Randolph, Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers that won the Yankees’ the 1976 pennant and not the switch from Virdon to Martin. Imagine how different Yankee history would have been if Steinbrenner kept Virdon in the Yankee dugout instead of hiring Billy.
|3||1974||43||New York Yankees||AL||162||89||73||.549||2|
|4||1975||44||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 2||104||53||51||.510||3|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||2 years||291||163||128||.560||2.0|
|New York Yankees||2 years||266||142||124||.534||2.5|
|Houston Astros||8 years||1067||544||522||.510||3.2|
|Montreal Expos||2 years||294||146||147||.498||4.0|
When I first started following baseball in 1960, New York Yankees dominated the record book. Babe Ruth’s single season and career home run records, Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played, Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak and Jack Chesbro’s most wins in a season marks were all considered unbreakable. One year later, Maris hit 61 but that was OK by me because he was a Yankee. Then Aaron grabbed the Babe’s other record, Ripken replaced the Iron Horse, and a juiced up McGuire eclipsed Maris. That leaves just DiMaggio’s 56 games and Chesbro’s 41 victories still Pinstripe property.
I do believe that the Clipper’s hitting streak will fall some day in the not too distant future but Happy Jack’s victory mark will withstand the test of time. The ironic thing about Chesbro’s 41-win season in 1904 was that he too used juice to help him set the mark. But his juice came out of his mouth instead of a syringe and was applied to a baseball instead of being injected into his butt. Jack had one of baseball’s best spitballs and in 1904 he used it to near perfection. Just like steroids’ impact on the the human body however, foreign substances applied to a baseball can have disastrous side effects. One of the spitters Chesbro threw during the 1904 season finale against the Red Sox fluttered so much it got past the New York catcher and the winning run scored, costing the Highlanders the pennant.
Chesbro pitched seven seasons for New York with a cumulative record of 128-93. His total big league career lasted 11 years and his lifetime record was 198-132. That 40-victory season got him elected to the Hall of Fame by the old-timers committee in 1946.
|NYY (7 yrs)||128||93||.579||2.58||269||227||36||168||18||2||1952.0||1752||795||560||26||434||913||55||1.120|
|PIT (4 yrs)||70||38||.648||2.89||122||104||16||92||17||3||938.2||888||407||301||12||252||349||58||1.214|
|BOS (1 yr)||0||1||.000||4.50||1||1||0||0||0||0||6.0||7||4||3||1||4||3||0||1.833|