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.
|MON (6 yrs)||64||68||.485||4.16||192||191||1||16||6||0||1229.1||1235||619||568||155||331||1076||1.274|
|CHW (3 yrs)||38||36||.514||4.40||98||97||0||4||0||0||627.2||617||324||307||77||167||597||1.249|
|NYY (2 yrs)||24||20||.545||5.09||63||58||4||0||0||0||355.1||350||210||201||65||125||271||1.337|
|ARI (1 yr)||11||15||.423||4.42||33||33||0||3||1||0||215.2||223||112||106||35||46||192||1.247|
|ATL (1 yr)||15||10||.600||2.87||32||32||0||3||0||0||219.1||181||75||70||20||44||238||1.026|
|FLA (1 yr)||13||11||.542||3.69||32||32||0||2||1||0||192.2||178||91||79||21||50||162||1.183|
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?
Here are Johnny James’ Yankee and career total stats:
|NYY (3 yrs)||5||1||.833||3.97||30||0||12||0||0||2||47.2||41||22||21||3||30||32||1.490|
|LAA (1 yr)||0||2||.000||5.30||36||3||10||0||0||0||71.1||66||44||42||12||54||41||1.682|
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. The player nicknamed “Heathcliff” 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.
|HOU (6 yrs)||376||1186||997||142||255||51||4||52||172||1||167||205||.256||.370||.471||.842|
|TOR (4 yrs)||400||1376||1175||162||321||58||3||54||202||0||178||203||.273||.372||.466||.837|
|NYY (3 yrs)||160||449||380||55||91||23||1||20||56||0||60||62||.239||.353||.463||.816|
|OAK (2 yrs)||157||554||487||59||122||18||0||24||90||6||54||101||.251||.327||.435||.762|
|CLE (2 yrs)||126||477||414||62||105||13||1||24||89||2||49||69||.254||.333||.464||.797|
|TEX (1 yr)||82||334||296||31||76||17||1||12||56||0||31||44||.257||.330||.443||.773|
|CHC (1 yr)||68||227||196||28||46||8||0||10||34||0||29||35||.235||.335||.429||.763|
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.
|CLE (8 yrs)||106||71||.599||3.83||237||237||0||19||7||0||1528.2||1435||700||650||144||498||1265||1.265|
|NYY (5 yrs)||83||37||.692||3.33||149||149||0||11||2||0||1042.0||959||434||386||98||276||938||1.185|
|MIL (1 yr)||11||2||.846||1.65||17||17||0||7||3||0||130.2||106||31||24||6||25||128||1.003|
Marius Russo was a southpaw with outstanding control and a sinking sidearm fastball that made him tough against right-handed hitters. Before joining the Yankees in 1939, he was a key starter on their Newark Bears farm team in 1937 and ’38. That club has been labeled by many baseball historians as the best Minor League team in history. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, he went 8-3 during his rookie season in pinstripes including two shutouts. The following year, he went 14-8 for Manager Joe McCarthy’s third place team, becoming New York’s most efficient starter. He followed that up with a 14-10 season in 1941 as the Yankees rebounded to win 101 games and capture the AL Pennant. Then in that year’s World Series against the Cinderella Dodgers, Russo pitched a complete game, 2-1 victory in Game 3. An arm injury limited him to just nine appearances during the 1942 season and when he came back the following year, his arm didn’t hurt but he had lost a few miles on his fastball. Still, he had enough to duplicate his 1941 post season success by throwing another 2-1 complete game victory over the Cardinals in Game 4 of the ’43 Fall Classic.
He spent the next two years in military service and when he returned to the Yankees in 1946, he no longer had the stuff required to pitch in the big leagues. He retired with a career record of 45-34, a lifetime ERA of just 3.13 and those two sterling Series victories. He went to work for Grumman Aircraft and lived to be 90-years-old, passing away in 2005.