July 2011

July 18 – Happy Birthday Rudy May

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.

This Yankee Manager who won four World Series rings with New York, this Yankee utility infielder and this one-time Yankee pinch-hitter also celebrate birthdays today.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1974 NYY 8 4 .667 2.28 17 15 1 8 2 0 114.1 75 36 29 5 48 90 1.076
1975 NYY 14 12 .538 3.06 32 31 0 13 1 0 212.0 179 87 72 9 99 145 1.311
1976 NYY 4 3 .571 3.57 11 11 0 2 1 0 68.0 49 32 27 5 28 38 1.132
1980 NYY 15 5 .750 2.46 41 17 13 3 1 3 175.1 144 56 48 14 39 133 1.044
1981 NYY 6 11 .353 4.14 27 22 1 4 0 1 147.2 137 71 68 10 41 79 1.205
1982 NYY 6 6 .500 2.89 41 6 22 0 0 3 106.0 109 43 34 4 14 85 1.160
1983 NYY 1 5 .167 6.87 15 0 4 0 0 0 18.1 22 15 14 1 12 16 1.855
16 Yrs 152 156 .494 3.46 535 360 73 87 24 12 2622.0 2314 1150 1007 199 958 1760 1.248
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2013.

July 15 – Happy Birthday Jake Powell

powell

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.

Powell shares his July 15th birthday with this former Yankee backup catcher and this 1902 Oriole first baseman, who like Powell, ended his own life.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1936 NYY 87 364 328 62 99 13 3 7 48 16 33 30 .302 .366 .424 .789
1937 NYY 97 400 365 54 96 22 3 3 45 7 25 36 .263 .314 .364 .678
1938 NYY 45 183 164 27 42 12 1 2 20 3 15 20 .256 .326 .378 .704
1939 NYY 31 91 86 12 21 4 1 1 9 1 3 8 .244 .270 .349 .619
1940 NYY 12 28 27 3 5 0 0 0 2 0 1 4 .185 .214 .185 .399
11 Yrs 688 2767 2540 353 689 116 26 22 327 65 173 219 .271 .320 .363 .684
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/15/2013.

July 14 – Happy Birthday Robin Ventura

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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2002 NYY 141 562 465 68 115 17 0 27 93 3 90 101 .247 .368 .458 .826
2003 NYY 89 326 283 31 71 13 0 9 42 0 40 62 .251 .344 .392 .736
16 Yrs 2079 8271 7064 1006 1885 338 14 294 1182 24 1075 1179 .267 .362 .444 .806
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/14/2013.

July 13 – Happy Birthday Kei Igawa

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?

Igawa was born in Oarai, Japan in 1979. He shares his July 13th birthday with this former Yankee reliever, this Hall of Fame pitcher and this former Yankee outfielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2007 NYY 2 3 .400 6.25 14 12 0 0 0 0 67.2 76 48 47 15 37 53 1.670
2008 NYY 0 1 .000 13.50 2 1 1 0 0 0 4.0 13 6 6 0 0 0 3.250
2 Yrs 2 4 .333 6.66 16 13 1 0 0 0 71.2 89 54 53 15 37 53 1.758
162 Game Avg. 5 9 .333 6.66 38 30 2 0 0 0 168 209 127 124 35 87 124 1.758
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/13/2013.

July 11 – Happy Birthday Vito Tamulis

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.

Vito shares his July 11th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and this one-time Yankee relief pitcher.