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|
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 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 dissuade 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|
For long-time Yankee fans it was the “Dark Ages.” It was the interval of time that lasted from the day CBS fired Yogi Berra after the Yankees lost the 1964 series to the Cardinals, until the very final day of 1974, when George Steinbrenner signed Catfish Hunter as a free agent. It also happened to be pretty much the same exact period of time that Horace Clarke played second base for the New York Yankees.
We called him “Hoss” back then and I can remember screaming at him through my TV set during the early part of his career, “You stink Hoss!” He really didn’t though. He just had the misfortune of being a Yankee leadoff man in front of young hitters named Bill Robinson, Frank Tepedino and Steve Whitaker instead of young hitters named Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard. Clarke amassed over 1200 career hits and 140 stolen bases while with the Yankees. I saw him recently at a Yankee old-timer game with that familiar number 20 on his pinstriped back. I’ve now come to the conclusion that those Dark Age days of rooting for the Yankees would have been even darker if it wasn’t for Hoss. Clarke was born in the Virgin Islands on today’s date in 1940. He shares his June 2nd birthday with his old double play partner with the Yankees, this effective Yankee reliever from the late 1990′s, and this more recent Yankee postseason hero.
|NYY (10 yrs)||1230||5143||4723||543||1213||149||23||27||300||151||357||356||.257||.309||.315||.624|
|SDP (1 yr)||42||99||90||5||17||1||0||0||4||0||8||6||.189||.255||.200||.455|