June 2011

June 23 – Happy Birthday Aaron Robinson

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.

This Yankee GM who traded Robinson to the White Sox in 1948 shares his June 23rd birthday. So does this one-time Yankee slugging prospect and this one-time Yankee pitching prospect.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1943 NYY 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
1945 NYY 50 183 160 19 45 6 1 8 24 0 21 23 .281 .368 .481 .849
1946 NYY 100 381 330 32 98 17 2 16 64 0 48 39 .297 .388 .506 .894
1947 NYY 82 294 252 23 68 11 5 5 36 0 40 26 .270 .370 .413 .783
8 Yrs 610 2191 1839 208 478 74 11 61 272 0 337 194 .260 .375 .412 .787
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/22/2013.

June 21 – Happy Birthday Eddie Lopat

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.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1948 NYY 17 11 .607 3.65 33 31 1 13 3 0 226.2 246 106 92 16 66 83 1.376
1949 NYY 15 10 .600 3.26 31 30 1 14 4 1 215.1 222 93 78 19 69 70 1.351
1950 NYY 18 8 .692 3.47 35 32 2 15 3 1 236.1 244 110 91 19 65 72 1.307
1951 NYY 21 9 .700 2.91 31 31 0 20 4 0 234.2 209 86 76 12 71 93 1.193
1952 NYY 10 5 .667 2.53 20 19 1 10 2 0 149.1 127 47 42 11 53 56 1.205
1953 NYY 16 4 .800 2.42 25 24 1 9 3 0 178.1 169 58 48 13 32 50 1.127
1954 NYY 12 4 .750 3.55 26 23 0 7 0 0 170.0 189 74 67 14 33 54 1.306
1955 NYY 4 8 .333 3.74 16 12 2 3 1 0 86.2 101 45 36 12 16 24 1.350
12 Yrs 166 112 .597 3.21 340 318 14 164 27 3 2439.1 2464 1008 869 179 650 859 1.277
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/21/2013.

June 15 – Happy Birthday Wade Boggs

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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1993 NYY 143 644 560 83 169 26 1 2 59 0 74 49 .302 .378 .363 .740
1994 NYY 97 434 366 61 125 19 1 11 55 2 61 29 .342 .433 .489 .922
1995 NYY 126 541 460 76 149 22 4 5 63 1 74 50 .324 .412 .422 .834
1996 NYY 132 574 501 80 156 29 2 2 41 1 67 32 .311 .389 .389 .778
1997 NYY 104 407 353 55 103 23 1 4 28 0 48 38 .292 .373 .397 .769
18 Yrs 2440 10740 9180 1513 3010 578 61 118 1014 24 1412 745 .328 .415 .443 .858
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/15/2013.