Based on everything I’ve learned about former Yankee outfielder, Hank Bauer, I wish I could have seen him play. I was born a few years too late and didn’t start really following and understanding Yankee baseball until 1960. By then, Bauer was an ex-Yankee, winding down his 14-season big league playing career with the horrible Kansas City A’s. That career should have been longer but Hank Bauer did not catch too many breaks early on in his life.
He had been born to a large family in East St Louis, IL on July 31, 1922. His father lost a leg in a mill accident. So when the Great Depression hit, Bauer was one of nine children in a family with a one-legged Dad before the days of Social Security, workmen’s compensation or employer liability. That explains why and how Bauer became known early in life as a fighter. His teen aged years were filled with fist fights and American Legion baseball. After he left high school, he got a job as a pipe fitter. Fortunately, his older brother was a good enough baseball player to get signed to a Minor League deal by the White Sox. When the time was right, that older sibling arranged a tryout for Hank. Bauer did well enough to get signed but then that Bauer family luck struck again. This time, it took the shape of swarms of Japanese planes attacking an island in Hawaii.
Hank enlisted in the Marines and he spent the next three years of his life storming the beaches of islands in the Pacific and leading a battalion of men in fierce jungle fighting with a merciless enemy. He was awarded two bronze stars and a pair of purple hearts. When he returned home, he figured his chance at playing baseball had passed him by and he went back to fitting pipes. A scout for the Yankees remembered Bauer and signed him to contract. It took Bauer three years to make it to the Bronx and by the time he did, in 1948, he was already 26 years old. But when he finally did put on those pinstripes, he played the game like he lived his life, hard at it all the time.
He became a key contributor on seven New York Yankee World Championship teams, including the squads that won five straight Fall Classics from 1949-1953. During his 12 seasons in pinstripes, Hank averaged .277 during the regular season and belted 158 home runs. He also had one of the best outfield arms in all of baseball at the time. His World Series portfolio includes a record 17-game hitting streak and a four home-run, eight-RBI performance against the Braves in 1958. As he had proved on Guam and Okinawa, he was a natural leader. Mickey Mantle credits Bauer with teaching him how to play the game. He could party as hard as anybody but he never took it to the extreme. Whitey Ford recalled the time he had a few too many the night before a big game and the next day in the dugout, Bauer threw the bloodshot eyed pitcher against the wall and screamed, “Don’t mess with my money.”
Yankee historians often couple Bauer’s name with his fellow outfielder and Yankee teammate Gene Woodling. The two played together on those five straight Yankee championship teams from 1949-53. Casey Stengel would often platoon the right-hand hitting Bauer with the lefty-swinging Woodling but more often than not, and especially in important games, Bauer would be in right-field and Woodling in left. Their hitting, their defensive skills and their leadership on the field and in the clubhouse was the glue that stuck those five championship teams together into one magnificent run.
After the 1959 season, Bauer was included in the deal that made Roger Maris a Yankee. He went on to become a successful big league manager when his playing days were over. He won two Manager of the Year awards and his eighth World Series ring when he skippered the Orioles to their 1966 World Series sweep against the Dodgers. He passed away in February of 2007. I repeat, it would have been a thrill to see him play the game.
Bauer shares his birthday with this one-time third string Yankee catcher.
Simply put, I hated seeing today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant’s name in the Yankee lineup during the 1980 season. Why? Because he batted left-handed and was used as a DH. So why did those seemingly innocuous details make me cringe when Jim Spencer was in a Yankee game that particular year? Allow me to explain.
The Yankees acquired Spencer in a trade with the White Sox in December of 1977. “Spence” was a native of Hanover, PA who had played for Billy Martin when he managed the Texas Rangers in the early seventies. According to many baseball pundits back then, Spencer was one of the best defensive first basemen in the Majors at the time of the trade and a .260 lefty hitter with decent power. That ’78 Yankee team he would be joining already had a Gold Glove winner and better hitter at first in Chris Chambliss and they had Roy White and Cliff Johnson to DH.
During that historic 1978 season that followed Spencer’s acquisition, Martin was famously fired, allegedly because he called George Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson liars but more likely because he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Spencer, who was playing just about every day when Billy was the boss, saw his playing time cut in half after Bob Lemon took over in late July. He averaged just .227 his first season in pinstripes.
After the Yankees won their second straight World Series that October, they let Roy White go to Japan. Bob Lemon’s son was killed in a car accident just a few weeks after the Series and the Yankee Manager entered the ’79 season in a deep depression. Then Goose Gossage was hurt in that shower room scuffle with Cliff Johnson and the Yankee season was suddenly in serious peril. Steinbrenner’s answer was to replace Lemon with Billy Martin in late June. That was good news for Spencer. Then just a week after Billy returned to the Bronx, Bobby Murcer came back as well. Murcer had been my favorite Yankee during his first tenure in pinstripes so I was thrilled. When he took over as Skipper, Martin was playing both Spencer and Murcer and I was hoping the Yankees would stage a another comeback in the AL East Division Race. Any hope of that went down in the crash of Thurman Munson’s plane at the beginning of August. So the 1979 Yankee season had quickly turned into a nightmare. Spencer, however, had been one of the bright spots. In 106 games he had blasted a career high 23 home runs and averaged .288. Murcer had also done well and I was hoping he’d have a great full-year with New York in 1980.
That did not happen and Spencer was one of the key reasons why. During the ’79 offseason the Yankees made several moves. They replaced Martin as Manager with Dick Howser. They traded their first baseman, Chris Chambliss to Toronto for catcher, Rick Cerone. They signed Bob Watson to replace Chambliss at first and they went out and got Rupert Jones to play center field. The Howser hiring was the only decision of these four that I liked. Chambliss was one of my favorite Yankees. I thought they should have gone after Cardinal catcher Ted Simmons instead of Cerone. I wanted Murcer to have a starting outfielder’s slot on that 1980 team and the Jones acquisition nixed that.
I still feel to this day that if the Yankees did not sign Watson or make the Rupert Jones trade, Murcer would have put together a 25 homer, 100 RBI season for New York in 1980 as either a full-time outfielder or DH. And since Spencer was supposedly the best defensive first baseman in baseball who was coming off one of his best big league offensive seasons, why didn’t the Yankees just replace Chambliss with him instead of signing Watson? When they picked up Watson, that meant Spencer would not be the full-time first baseman and since he hit left-handed like Murcer, the two would be competing for swings as the Yankee’s DH. Spencer and Murcer still each hit 13 home runs that season and combined to drive in 100.
Spencer’s Yankee career ended the following May, when he was traded to Oakland. He was born on July 29, 1946. I should also mention that that 1980 Yankee team did win 103 regular season games with the lineups Dick Howser put together.
Having been a Yankee fan for half a century, there were two seasons during that span I will always remember as being particularly depressing. There were years when New York lost more games and finished lower in the standings but the Yankee teams of both 1965 and 1989 surprised fans by their mediocrity and served as signals that the team was about to enter periods of darkness.
In 1965 it seemed as if the entire Yankee starting lineup got old all at the same time. In 1989, the team’s starting rotation consisted of Andy Hawkins, Clay Parker, Greg Cadaret, Walt Terrell and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, left-hander Dave LaPoint. That ’89 team reminded me of a wounded war veteran returning home with “no arms.”
Hawkins led that staff with a 15-15 record and no other starter won more than six games. LaPoint was 6-9 that season and then 7-10 in 1990. In the mean time, the Yankees failed to effectively address their starting pitching woes until they signed free agent Jimmy Key and traded for Jim Abbott before the 1993 season. In 1995 they brought up Andy Pettitte and traded for David Cone and they’ve been on a postseason role since.
LaPoint ended up with the Phillies the following year, which turned out to be his final season in the big leagues. He finished with a lifetime record of 80-86, pitching for nine different teams over a dozen seasons.
This former Yankee outfielder shares LaPoint’s July 29th birthday.
The date was October 1, 1921. The Yankees were playing a doubleheader at home in the Polo Grounds against the Philadelphia A’s. New York held a two and a half game lead over the Cleveland Indians and were in first place in the American League standings. The magic number for the franchise’s very first AL Pennant stood at one. When the home team took the field, it was Elmer Miller who positioned himself in center field, between Bob Meusel in left and Babe Ruth in right. Yankee Manager, Miller Huggins had used four different center fielders between his two stars during that ’21 season and Miller was one of those four.
Elmer was born in Sandusky, OH on July 28, 1890. He began his big league career with a twelve-game trial with the Cardinals, in 1912. He then spent the next two years in the minors. He joined the Yankees in 1915, as a utility outfielder and got a chance to start for New York in 1917. He wasn’t much of a hitter but he was good defensively. He was exempted from the draft in WWI because he had a child so he was allowed to continue his baseball career. The problem was the Yankees no longer wanted him on their big league roster. Instead, Miller played the 1919, ’20 and half of the 1921 season with the St Paul Saints in the old American Association. He became a star in that league, averaging well over .300 and developing a decent home run stroke as well. At the end of July in 1921, Miller was hitting .313 for the Saints with 18 home runs. The Yankees were looking for better offense from their center field position and decided to bring Miller back. He had been starting for Huggins in that spot ever since.
The Yankees had a two-run lead in the first game that day as the A’s third baseman, Clarence Galloway came to the plate with two outs and a man on first in the top of the ninth. Galloway had already had three hits that afternoon and it looked as if he was going to get his fourth. According to the New York Times account of that game, Galloway “crashed” a ball to the gap in left center. Elmer Miller ran “full speed” after the ball and at the last second, extended his glove and “snared” the ball. His great catch clinched the first AL pennant ever won by the New York Yankee franchise. Miller also had a great day at the plate. he went 3 for 4 in the opener and then 3 for 5 in the second game. He finished his 1921 half-season in New York with a .298 average and despite his poor World Series showing against the Giants, it seemed Miller had a solid hold on the Yankees’ starting center fielder’s job the following season.
Unfortunately for Elmer, that solid hold did not last long. In July of the following year, Miller was traded to the Red Sox for Jumping Joe Dugan and Elmer Smith. He played terribly in Boston, hitting just .190 and was out of the big leagues for good by October of 1922. What a difference a year can make.
I have read a lot of books about baseball in my lifetime. One of the best was “Nice Guys Finish Last,” the autobiography of Leo “The Lip” Durocher. I was not a fan of Durocher’s but I loved his book. I certainly was not alone in my dislike for the outspoken, ego maniacal native of West Springfield, MA, who started his almost fifty-year career in the big leagues as a Yankee shortstop. Miller Huggins loved the kid’s aggressiveness and the New York skipper gradually gave Durocher more and more playing time at short at the expense of the much more mild mannered Mark Koenig. In “Nice Guys Finish Last,” Durocher claims he used to sit right next to Huggins on the bench and write down every move the manager made in a little black book the shortstop carried with him at all times.Huggins biggest problem as Yankee field boss was trying to instill some sense of discipline in Babe Ruth and a core group of his Yankee teammates who seemed to follow the Bambino’s lead on and off the field, regardless if it was good or bad. Huggins began using Durocher’s willingness to do anything he was told to do by his manager as an example for his teammates to follow. Of course, Durocher’s willingness to comply with Huggins every request was looked upon by those same teammates as the age-old practice of ass-kissing. Compounding the young shortstop’s reputation problems was the fact that he dressed in flashy clothes, ate in fancy restaurants and loved to pal around and gamble with celebrities who did not play baseball for a living, all on a rookie’s salary.
On the field, Leo could not hit but he was above average defensively and always gave you the impression he was hustling and playing hard. He surprised many by hitting .270 during his first full season in pinstripes in 1928. He slumped a bit at the plate the following year but what most likely ended Durocher’s slightly longer than two-year Yankee career was the tragic and sudden death of Huggins during the ’29 season. Durocher also claims in his book that it was his propensity to spend a lot more than he was making that got him sold to the Reds after the 1929 season. Specifically, after Yankee GM Ed Barrow refused to give the shortstop a salary advance, Leo told him to “Go F himself.”
Leo went on to enjoy a 17-year playing career with the Reds, the Cardinal’s Gashouse Gang teams and finally the Brooklyn Dodgers. He transitioned into managing in 1939, while still playing for the Dodgers and during his 26 years as a field skipper his record was 2008-1709 and his teams won two NL Pennants and 1 World Series. If you have not read “Nice Guys Finish Last,” I highly recommend you do so and form your own opinions about “Leo the Lip.”
The 1970 Yankee team surprised most of baseball by winning 93 games and finishing in second place in the AL East, fifteen games behind the runaway Orioles. That team was led by a talented, mostly home-grown starting pitching staff and three position players who had also come up from New York’s farm system; Roy White, Bobby Murcer and Thurman Munson. But the roster also included several big league veterans who had been acquired from other teams to fill the roles Manager Ralph Houk had in place for them. These included Danny Cater, Gene Michael, Curt Blefary, Ron Hansen and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Pete Ward.
Ward was the Canadian born son of a professional hockey player who had excelled in baseball as a kid and been drafted by the Orioles in 1958. His path up the Baltimore farm system included a stop in the Texas League, where in order to save money, he would pitch a tent and sleep in the outfield of the park in which his Victoria/Ardmore team played their home games. He got his first taste of the big leagues with the Birds in a late-1962-season call-up. The Orioles then traded Ward and his future Yankee teammate Hansen, to the White Sox in a deal that brought Luis Aparicio to Baltimore.
Ward started at third base for Chicago in 1963 and nearly won that year’s AL Rookie of the Year award. His 177 hits, 22 home runs, 84 RBI’s and .295 average helped the Sox nearly steal the AL Pennant from the Yankees that year and he finished second in the voting for the League’s best first-year player behind his teammate, pitcher Gary Peters. He followed his rookie performance up with a strong sophomore season but then injured his neck and back in a car accident and his left handed hitting stroke was never the same.
He continued playing in the Windy City until 1969. After that season the Yankees picked him up in a trade and Ralph Houk used him as a back-up first baseman and pinch hitter on that 1970 Yankee team. In just 87 at-bats that season, Ward drove in 18 runs for New York and averaged .260. He was released following the season. He finished his nine-year big league career with 98 home runs and 776 hits. He then got into coaching and at one time managed in the Yankee’s minor league organization. Ward was born on July 26, 1937, in Montreal.
I do sort of feel sorry for Javier Vazquez. He had developed into a very good Major League pitcher during his first six big league seasons with the Montreal Expos, when he was traded to the Yankees for Nick Johnson, Randy Choate and Juan Rivera after the 2003 season. At first, he seemed to thrive pitching on baseball’s biggest stage, making the 2004 AL All Star team with an 11-6 record during his first season in pinstripes. It seemed as if he was following the path of pitchers like David Cone and David Wells, guys who had come up with and pitched well for other organizations and then been traded to the Yankees and performed even better. Like Sinatra sings in that song, “If you can make it there you’ll make it anywhere.”
But Vazquez’s Yankee career turned after that All Star selection. He won just three more times during the 2004 regular season and then gave up that grand slam home run to Johnny Damon in the second inning of Game 7 of the ALCS against the Red Sox. That heart wrenching playoff series against Boston was one of the most disappointing events in Yankee franchise history and Vazquez’s gopher ball has come to symbolize the depths of despair Yankee fans felt as we watched New York turn a three game lead into an agonizing seven game nightmare. Instead of becoming the next Cone or Wells, he was instantly turned into the next Eddie Whitson.
I feel sorry for Vazquez because blaming him for the loss against the Red Sox ignores the fact that plenty of his teammates were responsible as well. After that loss, it seemed as if the Yankee brass decided that they no longer felt they could afford to trade for a pitcher they expected would do well in pinstripes. They needed to get guys they knew would do well. At the time, that meant Randy Johnson, Arizona’s five-time Cy Young Award winner. So in January of 2005, Brian Cashman sent Vazquez and two prospects to the Diamondbacks for the “Big Unit.” Me and every other Yankee fan thought we had seen the last of Javier in pinstripes. But Brian Cashman had other ideas. The GM always felt that New York put too much pressure on Vazquez during his first go-round with the team, sort of setting him up for failure. He waited five years and after the Yankees had signed both Sabathia and Burnett to anchor their starting rotation and then beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, Cashman felt bold enough to reacquire Vazquez from the Braves for the popular Melky Cabrera. He was certain Vazquez would thrive as the Yankee’s number four starter and I agreed with him at the time.
Unfortunately, as we all now know, that’s not what happened. Vazquez got off to a slow start in his second tenure with the team, losing four of his first five decisions and raising the ire of the Yankees’ most fickle fans. Even though he then won eight of his next eleven decisions, it seemed as if everyone was waiting for him to fail. The wheels came off for Vazquez in August, when he gave up seven home runs in his next four starts and was demoted to the bullpen. He finished 2010 with a 10-10 record and an ERA of 5.32. Since it was his option year, Cashman was spared the task of trying to trade him and simply let Javier become a free agent.
I’m pretty certain Javier won’t be putting on the pinstripes again but I’m one Yankee fan who doesn’t pin the team’s failures in 2004 or 2010 on his right arm. He was 24-20 as a Yankee and he’s had winning seasons with four different big league teams.
Johnny James, was born on July 23, 1933 and came up to the big leagues with the Yankees in 1958. He had his best season for New York in 1960, when he went 5-1 with 2 saves pitching out of Casey Stengel’s bullpen. The Ol’ Perfessor liked this small right-hander well enough to give him the ball 28 times that year but not enough to keep him on New York’s 1960 World Series roster. James’ problem was his control. He had very little. He walked 26 guys in 43 innings during his one full season in the Bronx and relief pitchers who can’t throw strikes typically have very short big league careers. James was no exception. In 1961, the Yankees traded him and Ryne Duren to the Los Angeles Angels to bring back both Bob Cerv and Tex Clevenger, who both had been lost to the new AL franchise in the previous year’s expansion draft. James lost his only two decisions for LA in 1961 and walked 54 hitters in 71 innings of pitching. He never again pitched in the big leagues.
Coming across Johnny’s name in my research for today’s post did get me to wondering about other Yankees with two first names in their signature (don’t ask me why I wonder about such things.) Here’s my all-time line-up of Yankees with two first names for a name. Can you think of any others?
On April 19, 1979, the two-time defending World Champion New York Yankees had just lost a Thursday afternoon game to the Baltimore Orioles and were in their Yankee Stadium home locker room peeling off their pinstriped uniforms. According to an account of the incident that appeared in the NY Times, Yankee closer Goose Gossage had removed the adhesive tape he used to hold up his game-sox, rolled it up in a ball and “playfully” tossed it at Cliff Johnson, who was undressing in front of his own locker about thirty feet away from the Goose’s cubicle. The wad of tape missed the huge Yankee DH but Johnson took the opportunity to come up with what I thought was a very clever line; “I don’t have to worry about you hitting me.” At the time of this incident, Gossage had been experiencing a season-long streak of wildness, during which he had walked seven hitters in the eight innings he had pitched thus far that year.
Never being known as someone who calmed down a situation, Reggie Jackson took the opportunity to ask Johnson how well he had hit Gossage when the two both played in the National League. Before big Cliff could respond, Goose piped in that Johnson simply swung at what he “heard.
Cliff Johnson had joined the Yankees in June of 1977, coming to the Bronx in a trade with Houston. He proved to be a valuable acquisition for New York. He had blasted twelve home runs in the 56 games he played in pinstripes that year and then hit .400 in the 1977 ALCS against the Royals. But the man they called “Heathcliff” could not keep that pace going in 1978. He hit just .184 during his second season in New York. The Yankees tried using Johnson as a backup catcher and first baseman but his defensive skills were lacking. He was pretty much a pure DH. The future of a Yankee DH who hits .184 in the George Steinbrenner era was precarious enough before Johnson followed Gossage into the showers after that April ’79 game against the Orioles.
Evidently, Cliff took Gossage’s “heard my pitches” retort as a personal insult. According to Goose, after the two entered the shower room, Johnson grabbed the reliever’s head and shoved it real hard. While attempting to push his angered teammate off of him, Goose tore the ligament in his right thumb. Unfortunately for the Yankees and for Johnson, Goose threw a baseball with his right hand.
Gossage’s injury required an operation and the reliever did not return to action for almost three months. By that time, the Yankees were in fourth place, nine and a half games behind first place Baltimore and Cliff Johnson was wearing the uniform of the Cleveland Indians.
Johnson’s final big league season was 1986. He hit 196 home runs during his fifteen seasons in the big leagues including 21 pinch hit home runs which was the Major League record in that category until Matt Stairs broke it in 2010.
Johnson shares his July 22nd birthday with this former Yankee closer who I bet smiled when he heard about the scuffle between Heathcliff and Goose. This former Yankee starting pitcher was also born on July 22.
Based on his and the team’s performance after his first three and a half seasons in pinstripes, the free agent signing of CC Sabathia is turning out to be one of the best decisions a Yankee front office ever made. Carsten Charles has done just about everything the Yankees hoped he would do when they agreed to pay him just over $160 million to pitch eight seasons for New York. During the first year of that contract in 2009, he led the AL in wins with 19 and pitched 230 innings during the regular season. He was a major reason why the Yankees got into that year’s World Series when he won his only start against Minnesota and both his starts against the Angels in the ’09 League playoffs. And even though he lost his only decision in the Phillies’ Series, he did keep the Yankees in Game 4, a game they eventually won.
In 2010, he repeated as the AL victories leader with 21 wins and he threw 237 innings. He should have won the AL Cy Young Award for his performance but for some reason, lost it to Felix Hernandez. He did not pitch super well in the 2010 postseason but he did win both of his decisions.
In 2011, Sabathia finished the regular season with a 19-8 record and an even 3.00 ERA. He was the glue that held New York’s patch worked starting rotation together. He was practically un-hittable during much of the second half of the season but was ineffective during his one appearance against the Tigers in the 2011 postseason. I sort of blame that bad final start on Joe Girardi and his Yankee pitching brain trust. When New York had opened up a big lead in the AL East late in the 2011 regular season, Girardi decided he was going to give his top starters a few days off. I’ve always felt that CC needed to pitch a lot to be effective. He depends so much on rhythm and when Girardi stopped starting him every fifth day, I was worried he’d lose the marvelous rhythm he had been in. To make matters even worse, when the rains came in the second inning of Game 1, in the ALDS between New York and Detroit, CC did not return to the mound after the long delay that day. When he came back to pitch in Game 3, he was simply not sharp.
The fact that CC had that opt-out clause in his contract after the 2011 season made me very nervous. After the way the Yankee front office had been taken to the cleaners by A-Rod over his opt-out years earlier and then botched up Derek Jeter’s contract negotiations in 2010, I was unsure if CC was going to still be in pinstripes when the 2012 season opened. Fortunately, he’s still a Yankee, though it did cost 50 million more Yankee bucks to be able to say that. As I update this post, the big guy is currently 10-3 and just returned from a stay on the DL to throw seven scoreless innings against the Blue Jays.
The Yankees signed CC Sabathia hoping this big left-hander would give them a chance to win every time he took the mound and so far, that is exactly what he has done in a Yankee uniform. What I really love about this guy is the way he steps up when the Yankees have been playing poorly for a stretch and really need a win. He turns 32-years-old today.
CC Shares his Yankee birthday with this one time Yankee first baseman.