Rudy May was a Yankee twice during his sixteen-season career. The first time was from June 15, 1974, when the southpaw pitcher was purchased by New York from the Angels until June 15, 1976, when he was traded in a ten-player blockbuster deal with the Orioles. The Yankees sent May, Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor and Dave Pagan to Baltimore and got Doyle Alexander, Scott Holtzman, Elrod Hendricks, Grant Jackson and somebody named Jimmy Freeman from the birds. During his first tenure in pinstripes, Rudy had gone 26-19 including a 14-12 season in 1975. He had enough mojo back then to get the honor of starting the first-ever game in the newly renovated Yankee Stadium, in 1976 (The Yankees won the game but Rudy pitched just two innings).
Rudy pitched well for the Orioles, winning 29 games for them during the next season and a half and then he was traded to the Expos, where he again performed very effectively and became a free agent after the 1979 season. That’s when the Yankees brought him back to the Bronx a second time and he rewarded them for that decision with a 15-5 season and the AL ERA title (2.46). Dick Howser used May as both a starter and reliever that season and Rudy thrived in the dual role. But then two things happened that helped derail May’s career. George Steinbrenner dumped Howser after the Yankees were knocked out of the playoffs in 1980. From that point on, it appeared as if George had totalitarian control of all front-office and even some dugout-based decisions. Then the disastrous 1981 strike severely damaged owner-player and team-fan relationships. In December of 1981, the Yankees had actually completed a trade with the Royals that would have sent May to Kansas City for their veteran outfielder, Hal McRae but both players had clauses in their contracts that required them to approve such deals and neither did. An efficient and professional front office would have asked for the player’s approval before making such a deal. May never again felt comfortable or pitched effectively in pinstripes. He left the Yankees and big league baseball after the 1983 season. May was born on this date in 1944, in Coffeyville, Kansas. His career regular season stats as a Yankee pitcher are shown below.
|CAL (7 yrs)||51||76||.402||3.67||230||170||22||35||12||5||1138.2||971||520||464||96||484||844||1.278|
|NYY (7 yrs)||54||46||.540||3.12||184||102||41||30||5||7||841.2||715||340||292||48||281||586||1.183|
|MON (2 yrs)||18||13||.581||3.26||60||30||9||6||2||0||237.2||229||103||86||19||73||154||1.271|
|BAL (2 yrs)||29||21||.580||3.68||61||58||1||16||5||0||404.0||399||187||165||36||120||176||1.285|
Those of you who have been long-time readers of my blog might remember this post I wrote last Christmas for the former Yankee third baseman and outfielder, Ben Chapman. In it, I described him as being one of the meanest players ever to put on a Yankee uniform and a racist. So you might think that open-minded Yankee fans would have breathed a sigh of relief when on June 14, 1936 the Yankees traded Chapman to the Senators for Washington outfielder Jake Powell. The problem was that Powell was probably even more ornery and a bigger racist than Chapman.
At first, the trade was a God send for New York. Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy put the Silver Spring, Maryland native in left field and moved his super rookie, Joe DiMaggio to center. Powell hit .302 during the balance of the 1936 regular season and a whopping .455 in the Yankees six-game victory over the Giants in that year’s World Series. But his bat cooled off quite a bit during the 1937 season and with young Yankee outfield prospects like Tommy Henrich and Charlie Keller emerging from the farm system, he started seeing less and less playing time.
Powell’s ornery personality didn’t help matters. In a pre-game interview during the 1938 season, a reporter asked him what it was like to be a police officer in the off season. Powell replied he that he enjoyed cracking n—–s over the head and putting them in jail. Those comments earned him a suspension by Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. He was suspended a second time that same season when he got into a fist fight with Red Sox player-manager, Joe Cronin on the field after Powell was beaned by a Boston pitcher and then he again attacked Cronin underneath the stands in Fenway Park after the game. Manager Joe McCarthy loved Powell’s fiery play on the field and his willingness to do anything asked of him to help win a game. After his bigoted remarks, the Yankees forced Powell to tour saloons and social clubs in Harlem and apologize for what he said. He did exactly that without complaint.
During a 1940 exhibition game against the Dodgers, Powell suffered a concussion in a violent collision with a fence in the outfield. By the time he recovered, he had lost his spot on the Yankee roster and his contract was sold to a team in the Pacific Coast League. He got back to the big leagues by 1943 but only because of the player shortage caused by WWII. When the war ended so did Powell’s career. In 1948, the troubled outfielder ended his own life by shooting himself in the head in a Washington DC police station right before he was about to be booked for writing bad checks.
As a side note, Powell was involved in a very significant moment in Yankee franchise history. It took place in Washington DC’s Griffith Stadium on September 30th 1934. In the eighth inning, Babe Ruth hit a long fly ball to center field which was caught by Powell, who was then still a Senator. This was the final official at bat Ruth had in a Yankee uniform.
|WSH (7 yrs)||368||1518||1397||182||386||60||18||8||189||37||88||108||.276||.322||.362||.685|
|NYY (5 yrs)||272||1066||970||158||263||51||8||13||124||27||77||98||.271||.327||.380||.708|
|PHI (1 yr)||48||183||173||13||40||5||0||1||14||1||8||13||.231||.265||.277||.543|
When most baseball fans hear the name Robin Ventura, they visualize the 1993 incident during which Nolan Ryan held him in a headlock and threw punches at his head. It is easy to forget the fact that Ventura was one of the best all-around third basemen in baseball during his sixteen-year big league career that included a season and a half tenure wearing the pinstripes in 2002 and ’03. He won a total of six Gold Gloves, hit 294 career home runs and the only two third basemen who had more 90 RBI seasons than Ventura (8) were Hall of Famers, Mike Schmidt (11) and Eddie Matthews (10).
The Yankees signed him as a free agent in 2002 to take over the starting hot corner position after Scott Brosius retired. He was to be the interim guy at third while the Yankees were developing Drew Henson in their farm system. Ventura did a very good job that first season in the Bronx, belting 27 home runs, driving in 93 and making the AL All Star team. But by then he was 35 years old and when his offensive production began to slip in 2003 the Yankees decided to make a move. That move did not involve Henson, who was floundering in Columbus at the time, striking out with regularity and making tons of errors in the field. Instead, New York acquired Aaron Boone from the Reds and on the same day sent Ventura to the Dodgers for pitcher Scott Proctor and outfielder Bubba Crosby.
Boone of course became part of Yankee postseason history with his walk-off grand salami against the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS. Ventura stuck around in Los Angeles for one more year and then retired. He was born on this date in 1967, in Santa Maria, CA. He shares his July 14th birthday with this original Yankee “Fireman” and this long-ago starting pitcher.
|CHW (10 yrs)||1254||5310||4542||658||1244||219||12||171||741||15||668||659||.274||.365||.440||.805|
|NYM (3 yrs)||444||1771||1513||219||394||81||1||77||265||6||237||301||.260||.360||.468||.828|
|LAD (2 yrs)||151||302||261||30||61||8||1||10||41||0||40||56||.234||.334||.387||.721|
|NYY (2 yrs)||230||888||748||99||186||30||0||36||135||3||130||163||.249||.359||.433||.792|
After the Boston Red Sox failed to make the postseason in 2006, they went out and spent $107 million to secure the services of Japan’s best pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Having been out-bid in the “Dice-K” sweepstakes, the Yankees attempted to counter their Eastern Division arch-rival’s coup by spending a total of $46 million to acquire and sign the guy they considered to be the second best pitcher in Japan, Kei Igawa. In 2007, Dice K won 15 regular-season games for Boston and two more in the postseason, to help the Red Sox win their second World Championship of the 21st century. That same season, Igawa got a total of fourteen starts for New York. After his first six, he had a 7.63 ERA and was demoted to Tampa. He returned to the Bronx in late June for seven more starts and finished his first season in pinstripes with a disappointing 2-3 record and a 6.25 ERA.
I watched Igawa pitch several times that year and it was pretty clear that his control was shaky and when he did get his fastball over the plate, opponents tended to hit it a long way. If he really had been the second best pitcher in Japan behind Dice-K, that country has a real shortage of good pitchers.
Igawa started the 2008 season in Scranton/Wilkes Barre and then got called up in May and lost his only start. After one more appearance out of the bullpen the following month, he has spent the balance of his five year Yankee contract in the team’s farm system. It sort of boggles my mind that the Yankees spent a total of $80 million on Igawa and Carl Pavano and got a total of ten wins from the two of them during their nine cumulative seasons in pinstripes. Talk about bad general management decisions, huh?
|162 Game Avg.||5||9||.333||6.66||38||30||2||0||0||0||168||209||127||124||35||87||124||1.758|
The first thing Yankee fans must have noticed when they read about this rookie southpaw being called up from New York’s Newark farm team for a look-see in September of 1934, was his name. After all, Vitautris Casimirus Tamulis is quite a mouthful. Fortunately for both Tamulis and New York sportswriters, his parents nicknamed him Vito. The second thing Yankee fans noticed was his complete game shutout of the Philadelphia A’s in his first-ever big league start that same month. Then as now, if you’re a young pitcher who wants to get some attention, throw a shutout in your first ever big league start and do it in a Yankee uniform.
After young Vito followed up that super-start by winning ten of fifteen decisions in the following year, you’d think the chances of sticking with the team the next season were better than very good. The problem for Tamulis was that he had that 10-5 season for the 1935 New York Yankees, which meant he won the fewest number of games of any of the five starters in that year’s Yankee rotation. So when Tamulis developed a severe case of pleurisy in 1936, New York went out and picked up Bump Hadley from the Senators to replace him. When Tamulis recovered from his illness, Hadley was pitching too well for Vito to “bump” him from the rotation so he was sent back to the Newark Bears.
After Vito went 18-6 for the Bears in 1937, New York traded him to the Browns where he got off to a horrible 0-3 start and was placed on waivers. Brooklyn grabbed him and he won 29 games for the Dodgers over the next three seasons.
When I was a boy, my uncle would take me and my brothers to at least two Yankee games every season. We’d make the four-hour drive down to the Bronx in his old Lincoln sedan early, early in the morning and arrive at the Stadium parking lot about 8:00 AM. We’d go to Jerome’s for coffee and wait for the Stadium’s ticket kiosks to open. Once my Uncle purchased the tickets we’d often jump on a subway to midtown where we’d quickly walk a few streets of Manhattan, eat a hurried breakfast-time lunch at the old Oyster Bar restaurant that used to be located in Grand Central Station and then head back to the Stadium on the subway, usually right around 11:00 AM. On one such return trip from midtown, our train made a stop at one of the stations, the doors slid open and a dark-skinned, well-built guy entered our car carrying a pair of spikes and a real nice baseball glove. He sat down across the aisle from me. Due to the facts that I was an avid baseball card collector, memorized every page of every Yankee yearbook I’d ever owned, and faithfully purchased the photo-pak of 5 x 7 black & whites sold each year at the Stadium, I immediately recognized the new passenger. It was Yankee outfielder, Hector Lopez.
I whispered to my Uncle that this guy was Lopez but he insisted that Yankee players don’t ride the subway to their games. I knew different. I just stared at Lopez during the entire ride and he kept his eyes closed as if he were taking a nap. When the train reached the 161st Street station in the Bronx, he and I got up from our seats at the same time and I ended up just inches in front of him. My Uncle would always grab my hand when we exited the train and as he pulled me toward the door that morning I built up enough courage, turned my head and said, “Are you Hector Lopez?” He looked right at me, winked his eye and smiled.
I had not been a fan of Lopez before that, mostly because if he was playing it usually meant that my favorite Yankee, the oft-injured Mickey Mantle would not be. But that morning, I became a Lopez fan. Hector spent the last eight seasons of his twelve-year big league career in pinstripes. He was a key bench player on those great Yankee teams of the early sixties that appeared in five straight World Series, winning two of them. When Mantle was unable to play the final four games of the 1961 Fall Classic against the Reds because of an abscess, Lopez took his place and drove in 7 runs and averaged .333. He could have started in the outfield of most other big league teams back then but with the Yankees, Lopez spent his time filling in for better known, higher paid teammates and evidently riding the subway to and from Yankee Stadium. He turns 83-years-old today.
|NYY (8 yrs)||864||2795||2510||325||658||94||21||69||322||7||224||415||.262||.324||.399||.722|
|KCA (5 yrs)||586||2383||2134||298||593||99||16||67||269||9||194||281||.278||.337||.433||.771|
I have been a huge Willie Randolph fan since 1976, his rookie season with the New York Yankees. When I first heard about the trade with the Pirates that brought Willie to the Bronx I wasn’t thrilled because the Yankees had sent a pretty good starting pitcher named Doc Medich to Pittsburgh, in the deal. It only took me a few games into the 1976 season, however, to realize Randolph was a winner. Though he was only 21 years old at the time, he played like a polished veteran, especially in the field. I loved the way he fluidly brought ground balls hit to him into his body before making the throw. At the plate, Willie was adept at getting on base, stealing important bases, and moving runners into scoring position. The best way I can describe Willie’s impact on the Yankees was that you really noticed how good he was when he wasn’t in the lineup.
Willie was also a great teammate. On a Yankee team that was notorious for clubhouse cliques and animosity, Willie got along with and was respected by everyone and was eventually named Yankee Captain.
I remember the disappointment I felt when Randolph signed with the Dodgers as a free agent after the 1988 season. The Yankees were in the midst of a fifteen-season-long postseason drought and with Randolph leaving, they were losing one of their last links to their glory teams of the seventies. He ended up playing until 1992 and retired with 2,210 lifetime hits (1,731 as a Yankee) 1,239 runs (1,027 with NY) and a .276 lifetime batting average (.275 with NY) over eighteen seasons.
When Willie was named manager of the Mets, I knew he would be a very calm and controlled field boss who treated his players like professionals, respected the skills and opinions of his coaches, and let his team play. He did just that and deserved a much better fate than he received from the team’s front-office.
Willie was born on this date in 1954, in Holly Hills, SC. His family moved to Brooklyn where Willie was raised and played high school baseball. He shares his July 6th birthday with this World War II era Yankee backup catcher and this long-ago Yankee captain.
|NYY (13 yrs)||1694||7464||6303||1027||1731||259||58||48||549||251||1005||512||.275||.374||.357||.731|
|LAD (2 yrs)||171||746||645||77||181||22||0||3||45||8||84||60||.281||.365||.329||.694|
|NYM (1 yr)||90||336||286||29||72||11||1||2||15||1||40||34||.252||.352||.318||.670|
|PIT (1 yr)||30||70||61||9||10||1||0||0||3||1||7||6||.164||.246||.180||.427|
|OAK (1 yr)||93||333||292||37||75||9||3||1||21||6||32||25||.257||.331||.318||.650|
|MIL (1 yr)||124||512||431||60||141||14||3||0||54||4||75||38||.327||.424||.374||.798|
It took eight years but the New York Yankees finally gave up on their trouble-prone first baseman, Joe Pepitone. When they did, New York traded the Brooklyn born slugger they signed out of high school for another Brooklyn born slugger they signed out of high school. The deal took place between the Yankees and Astros and the new guy was Curt Blefary. Nicknamed “Clank,” Blefary became a great high school ballplayer in Mahwah, NJ. The Yankees gave him an $18,000 bonus to sign and agreed to pay his college tuition. Like Pepitone, Blefary came with some baggage, lots of cockiness and a very hot temper. It might have been the reason New York’s front office did not do everything it could to protect Blefary from being stolen by the Orioles in what was known as a first-year waivers transaction.
He quickly worked his way through the Orioles system and joined the Big Birds in 1965. He enjoyed immediate success, belting 22 home runs, driving in 70 and beating out the Angel pitcher, Marcellino Lopez for that season’s AL Rookie of the Year Award. Originally a catcher, he was converted into an outfielder in Minor League ball but he also caught and played some first base with Baltimore. He was not very good defensively at any of those spots.
He helped the Birds capture the 1966 World Series with a solid sophomore season and then had his third straight 20-HR year in ’67 while also driving in a career-high 81 runs that year. But when his batting average fell to .212 in 1968, the new Orioles’ manager, Earl Weaver told the press that Blefary would have to compete for a starting position in 1969. Curt’s resulting complaining probably helped get him traded to the Astros in the deal that brought Mike Cuellar to Baltimore.
Blefary played one season in Houston and had an OK year but the spacious Astrodome was not conducive to his left-handed pulling stroke. Astro manager, Harry Walker tried to convince his new outfielder to hit to all fields but as usual, Blefary resisted the advice.
So the December 4, 1969 trade of Pepitone for Blefary was a case in which each team was sort of getting rid of a “problem personality.” The big difference was that Pepi really did not want to leave Yankee Stadium and Blefary couldn’t wait to get there. The old Stadium’s right field porch was perfect for Blefary’s swing and he had hit bunches of home runs (12) when he played there as a visitor with Baltimore. Unfortunately, he did not produce the same results as a member of the home team. He hit just .212 with nine home runs in 99 games during his first season as a Yankee. After an even worse start the following year, he was traded to the A’s for pitcher Rob Gardner.
Blefary shares his July 5th birthday with this Hall of Famer who became one of the Yankee’s greatest relievers, this former Yankee pitcher & pitching coach and this one-time Yankee starting pitcher from the 1930’s.
|BAL (4 yrs)||567||2249||1886||264||451||64||13||82||254||15||299||289||.239||.347||.417||.764|
|OAK (2 yrs)||58||130||112||16||27||4||0||5||13||0||15||16||.241||.333||.411||.744|
|NYY (2 yrs)||120||357||305||38||64||7||0||10||39||1||46||42||.210||.317||.331||.648|
|SDP (1 yr)||74||122||102||10||20||3||0||3||9||0||19||18||.196||.320||.314||.633|
|HOU (1 yr)||155||632||542||66||137||26||7||12||67||8||77||79||.253||.347||.393||.740|
Jim Beattie was a tall, right-handed pitcher who the Yankees selected out of Dartmouth in the fourth round of the 1974 MLB Draft. He shares his July 4th birthday with the USA and George Steinbrenner. One of the things I liked least about the Boss was his propensity to insult players in the press. The most frequent targets of his barbs seemed to be young Yankee pitchers. He called Irabu a fat toad. He told reporters a young right-hander named Ken Clay “spit the bit.” In another interview he was quoted as suggesting both Dave Righetti and Brian Fisher “should leave with the vendors.” As for Beattie, George infamously described him as being “scared stiff” on the mound.
Beattie made his Major League debut with the Yankees in 1978, when he was named the team’s fifth starter behind Ron Guidry, Ed Fiqueroa, Catfish Hunter and Dick Tidrow. After winning his first two decisions that season, he lost his next seven as the Yankees seemed to fall out of the Division race against the high flying Red Sox. Then Steinbrenner replaced Billy Martin with Bob Lemon and the Yankees pulled off one of the great comebacks in MLB history. Beattie was instrumental in that effort as he won four of his six decisions in September and finished his rookie season with a 6-9 record. When Beattie then beat the Royals in the ALCS and won the fifth game of the World Series with a masterful complete game effort against the Dodgers, I thought he was on his way to becoming a solid Yankee starter for the next five years.
Turns out I was wrong about that. The 1979 season was a bad one on the field for the Yankees and a tragic one off of it. The Yankees failed to make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons and Captain Thurman Munson was killed in an airplane accident. Beattie went just 3-6 and his ERA ballooned to over five runs per game. In November of that year, the Yankees decided that Seattle’s Ruppert Jones would be their team’s next great center fielder and included Beattie in the four-player package it took to obtain him. Beattie spent the rest of his nine-season big league career pitching for the Mariners during a very mediocre time in that franchise’s history. His best seasons were 1983 when he was 10-15 and the following year when he won 12 and lost 16. He ended his playing career in 1986 with a 43-72 lifetime record. He then began a long career as a front office executive that included a long stint as Expos GM. This former big league manager and onetime Yankee utility infielder and this long-time Yankee radio announcer were also born on Independence Day.
|SEA (7 yrs)||43||72||.374||4.14||163||147||6||30||6||1||944.2||966||476||435||75||369||23||563||1.413|
|NYY (2 yrs)||9||15||.375||4.28||40||35||4||1||1||0||204.0||208||105||97||13||92||2||97||1.471|
I’ve found eight July third birthdays that have played a part in Yankee franchise history;
Brian Cashman (7-3-67) became Yankee GM in February of 1998 and remains in that position today. You can read Cashman’s separate Pinstripe Birthday Post here.
Art Fowler (7-3-22) joined Billy Martin’s staff as the Yankee pitching coach in 1977.
Buffalo, NY native Buddy Rosar (7-3-14) was Bill Dickey’s backup catcher for four seasons, from 1939 through 1942.
Former Yankee outfielder, Juan Rivera (7-3-78) hit .333 in the 2003 ALDS against the Angels and then was traded to the Expos that December as part of the package that brought Javier Vazquez to New York the first time.
The Yankees actually completed a trade for Padre slugger Glen Vaughn (7-3-65) in July of 2007 but it was voided when Vaughn’s torn rotator cuff was discovered during the post trade physical.
Frank Tanana (7-3-53) ended his 21-year big league career as a Yankee in 1993. He won 240 games during that career which began with the Angels in 1973.
Pitcher Matt Keough (7-3-55) was one of the Oakland pitching staff’s “five aces” who pitched for Billy Martin during the early eighties. He followed Martin to the Yankees in 1983.
Before Ceasar Tovar (7-3-40) ended his career with the 1976 Yankees, he once played all nine positions for the Minnesota Twins in a single game.