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.
Dan Topping was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth but in his case that spoon was made of tin. His grandfather on his mother’s side was a baron of the world’s tin industry. In 1946, the grandson converted some of that inherited tin wealth into a one-third share ownership of the New York Yankees, forming a partnership with real estate and construction magnate, Del Webb and the baseball organizational wizard, Larry MacPhail. When he and Webb bought out MacPhail’s share two years later it was Topping who became the the more involved owner of the remaining pair. They maintained ownership for two decades during which the Yankees captured fifteen pennants and ten world championships, still the most successful twenty year period in the club’s history. Topping’s favorite player was Joe DiMaggio and he spent the earlier part of his ownership tenure constantly convincing the Yankee Clipper not to retire. When MacPhail was bought out, it was Topping who replaced him with the venerable George Weiss as Yankee GM. It was also Topping’s idea to make Yogi Berra the Yankee manager in 1964 because New York baseball fans were increasingly growing enthralled with the comical manager of the crosstown Mets, Casey Stengel. Topping figured Berra would serve as the lovable counterweight to the “Ol Perfessor.” Webb and Topping sold the club to CBS in 1964 for over 11 million dollars. In addition to world series rings, Topping also accumulated wedding bands and children. He got married six times and fathered nine children. His third wife was the three-time Olympic Gold Medalist in figure skating, Sonja Henie (see accompanying photo.) I guess no one was surprised when that Topping marriage also ended up on “thin ice.” Topping died in 1974 at the age of 62.
Topping shares his birthday with the first catcher in Yankee franchise history to make it into the Hall of Fame.
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.
When Thurman Munson’s career was tragically cut short in 1979, this young Yankee receiver, who was also born on June 10th, was given the opportunity to replace him as New York’s starting catcher.
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.
Virdon shares his June 9th birthday with this one-time Yankee outfielder.
After ten years as a utility infielder with the Brewers, Orioles and A’s, Sakata joined the Yankees for 19 games in 1987, his last big league season. Sakata is one of just three members of the Yankee’s all-time roster to be born in Hawaii. The others were pitcher, Brian Fisher and New York’s first round draft pick in 2001, Bronson Sardinha. Pictured in today’s post is my youngest granddaughter, Francesca Cinquanti paying tribute to this trio of Yankees born in the Aloha State.
During his final big league and Yankee appearance, Sakata injured his ankle sliding back into second base after a pickoff attempt. After that play, Ron Kittle helped his injured teammate return to the dugout. Sakata wrapped his arm around Kittle’s neck for support somehow causing Kittle to pull a muscle in his shoulder and end up joining Sakata on the DL.
Sakata was the last Oriole to play shortstop prior to the beginning of Cal Ripken’s incredible streak at that position. After his playing days were over, Lenn went into coaching and managing for the San Francisco Giants’ organization. He shares his June 8th birthday with this other one-time Yankee infielder.
If you’ve read some of my earlier posts you know how it felt for some of us to be Yankee fans during the late sixties. Optimism was something you actually had to hope for. Nothing and no one looked promising. There seemed to be no silver lining in the huge gray cloud that hung over the Bronx.
And then suddenly he was there, squatting behind home plate with a rocket for an arm and a good bat to boot. He hit .300 his rookie season, made the All Star team and when they announced Thurman Munson won the 1970 AL Rookie of the Year award I can remember it felt almost as good as winning a pennant. There was hope again.
The next couple of years weren’t great statistically for Munson, but his fiery demeanor and leadership on the field began to take hold. If you were going to play on Munson’s team you were going to get your uniform dirty, run out every thing you hit, and be just as pissed as he was after every Yankee loss. By 1975, the talent on the Yankees caught up with the team’s attitude and one year later, Munson won the AL MVP and led New York back to the World Series.
Munson hit .529 in that Series but the Yankees were swept by the Reds and during a classless moment, Sparky Anderson felt a need to insult Thurman by telling sportswriters he’s no Johnny Bench. Then in 1977 the Yankees won it all but Jackson’s “straw that stirs the drink” comment knawed at Munson the whole season. So even when he reached baseball’s mountaintop Thurman seemed to have a difficult time simply enjoying the moment.
I believe that on the ball field, Thurman had to have that chip on his shoulder to stay motivated. Off the field he had his family and his flying. The Yankee team he left never recovered from his death. They lost their leader and they lost that chip. The Captain would have turned 64-years-old today.
Munson shares his June 7th birthday with the Yankee pitcher who was with Babe Ruth when the Bambino was shot by an angry husband.
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.
Chesbro shares his June 5th birthday with a Yankee “Duke.”
When then Manager, Yogi Berra slapped the harmonica out of Phil’s hands on that infamous 1964 Yankee bus ride, Yankee fans would never had guessed that the seemingly quiet and shy Linz was possible of such defiance. In actuality, Linz was a whacko. He and the even crazier Joe Pepitone had come up through the Yankee farm system together, leaving a trail of behavioral incidents that would have made Charley Sheen blush.
Linz spent four seasons in pinstripes as a utility infielder. He had a good glove and displayed a good enough bat to see plenty of action during his first three years in the big leagues. In fact, Linz started and led off every game of the Yankee’s 1964 World Series against the Cardinals. The two home runs he hit during that Fall Classic would be the highlight of his Yankee career and also the turning point. In 1965, Linz pretty much stopped hitting, averaging just .207 in 99 games. So when Tony Kubek’s bad back forced the Yankee stating shortstop’s early retirement at the age of 29, Linz was bypassed for the job. Instead, New York traded him to Philadelphia, for their starting shortstop, Ruben Amaro. Linz bombed as a Phillie and then played his final two big league seasons as a backup infielder with the Mets.
Phil shares his June 4th birthday with this Yankee coach who as a big league catcher invented the “sit-down strike.”
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 a new Yankee DH.
When Babe Ruth was released by the Yankees in 1934, the team gave George Selkirk, his replacement in right field, the Babe’s uniform number ”3.” Selkirk wore it until he went into military service after the 1942 season. With most of the frontline players away at war, the Yankees reached down into their minor league organization for Selkirk’s replacement, a then 28-year-old St. Louis native named Bud Metheny. Metheny started in the Yankee outfield from 1943 until 1945, when the War ended and the regular big leaguers returned to the game. Born on June 1, 1915, his best year in pinstripes was 1944, when he hit 14 home runs and drove in 67. He returned to the minors in 1946 and never again played a big league game. He then became the head baseball coach at Old Dominion University in 1948 and remained in that position for the next 32 years.
By the way, the Yankees did not retire the Bambino’s number for good until after Ruth died in 1948. After Metheny, the number was worn by Roy Bockman, Roy Weatherly, Allie Clarke and finally Cliff Mapes.
The only other Yankee born on this date is the only big league catcher in history to catch no-hit games on consecutive days.