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.”
|BRO (6 yrs)||345||1195||1094||97||267||49||12||3||113||6||88||72||.244||.303||.319||.622|
|STL (5 yrs)||683||2587||2395||272||611||100||20||15||294||18||155||201||.255||.302||.332||.634|
|CIN (4 yrs)||399||1332||1223||106||278||49||13||6||97||3||78||122||.227||.275||.303||.579|
|NYY (3 yrs)||210||715||638||100||164||12||11||0||63||4||56||85||.257||.323||.310||.633|
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.
|CHW (7 yrs)||899||3400||2962||339||753||132||15||97||407||20||358||517||.254||.340||.407||.747|
|NYY (1 yr)||66||87||77||5||20||2||2||1||18||0||9||17||.260||.333||.377||.710|
|BAL (1 yr)||8||25||21||1||3||2||0||0||2||0||4||5||.143||.280||.238||.518|
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|