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 and this one-time Yankee starting pitcher from the 1930′s.
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 was also born on Independence Day.
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.
The first and only time I attended a game at Fenway Park was a July 17, 1996 night game between the Red Sox and the Yankees. As I settled into the most incredibly uncomfortable seat I had ever been in, the Yankees were surprisingly running away with the AL East Pennant, holding a nine game lead at the time over the Orioles and a full fifteen-game margin over third place Boston. Unfortunately, Kenny Rogers was on the mound for New York and he was facing Boston’s Tom Flash Gordon, who was in his last year as a starter. As usual when he wore the pinstripes, Rogers was not very effective that evening. He was knocked out in the fifth inning after loading the bases, with Boston leading 3-2. Joe Torre brought in Jim Wickman and the right-hander promptly gave up a bases-clearing double. When Wickman put two more Red Sox on base in the sixth, Torre replaced him with big Jeff Nelson.
The first batter Nelson faced was Jose Canseco, who had began his big league career as one of the Oakland A “Bash Brothers” with an end-of-the-season call-up in September of 1985. The following year he hit 33 home runs and was named AL Rookie of the Year. Two seasons later he led the league with 42 home runs and 124 RBIs plus he hit .307 and stole 40 bases becoming the first member ever of MLB’s 40-40 club. He also won the AL MVP that year. During those early years of his career, he was considered one of baseball’s greatest rising stars but as we later learned, that rise was being fueled with human rocket fuel.
Canseco’s string of injuries and DL stays began in 1989. By ’92, the A’s decided he was expendable and they traded him to Texas for Jeff Russell, Ruben Sierra, Mike Witt and money. He spent large portions of his two plus years with the Rangers on the DL. Boston then signed him as a free agent after the 1995 season and again he couldn’t seem to stay healthy. That’s what confused me about Canseco’s later admission of steroid use. I always thought steroids helped athletes not just train harder but also overcome injuries quicker. Jose must have been getting some bad drugs, no?
In any event, Canseco was not on the DL that night I visited Fenway and he had worked the count to 3-2 against the curve-balling Nelson. I will never forget the results of the next pitch. Canseco hit it on a line toward the green monster. I swear, as it passed my eye level, I could hear the ball swoosh. It was still rising when it went over the Green Monster. It remains to this day the hardest hit baseball I have ever seen in my lifetime. To put it in perspective, think back to all those famous bombs Mark McGuire hit during the All Star Home Run Derby contest held at Fenway in 1999. Canseco’s cannon shot was hit harder and travelled further than every one of them. Canseco’s three run blast made the score 9-2 and half of the Fenway crowd got up and left, thinking the game was over. We were able to move to much more comfortable seats behind home plate and as soon as we did the Yankees mounted a comeback. In fact, New York scored nine runs over the last three innings to take the lead. But John Wetteland failed to hold it and Boston ended up with a 12-11 victory in what turned out to be one of the most exciting baseball games I’ve ever seen live.
That home run turned out to be Canseco’s last one of the 1996 season and his final one as a Red Sox. A few weeks later he was again on the DL. The final five years of his career were spent playing for five different teams. They included the Yankees, in 2000. He had been placed on waivers by Tampa Bay that year and New York had picked him up. He appeared in 37 games as a Yankee and hit six of his seventeen-year career total of 462 home runs while wearing the pinstripes. He has since become one of the most controversial ex-big-leaguers of all time.
The July 1st Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was no stranger to controversy. When Major League Baseball abolished the spit ball just before the 1919 season got under way, exemptions were granted that permitted eighteen pitchers to continue throwing the wet one until the end of their careers. Jack Quinn was one of those 18 pitchers and at the time he was granted the exemption, he was already 36 years old and had pitched four seasons of ball with the Highlanders, one with the Braves and two more in the upstart Federal League. When his Federal League franchise folded, Quinn played in the Pacific Coast League for three seasons until the PCL halted play during the 1918 season due to America’s participation in WWI. Quinn then signed a contract to pitch for the White Sox and finished that year by winning 5 of 6 decisions for Chicago.
But the Yankees pulled a fast one on Chicago by purchasing Quinn’s contract from his former PCL team. When American League President Ban Johnson (along with his National league counterpart) ruled that New York did indeed have the rights to Quinn, the White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey, went ballistic. He had quarreled with Johnson numerous times before but losing Quinn caused Comiskey to attack Johnson’s honor repeatedly and threaten him in very public ways. Johnson was so angry at the White Sox owner that when Comiskey asked the AL President to investigate his early suspicions that his Chicago players were throwing the 1919 World Series, Johnson not only ignored him, he blamed the assertions on Comiskey being a sore loser. Many baseball researchers feel the League’s failure to follow up on Comiskey’s concerns permitted the infamous Black Sox scandal to play out and almost ruin baseball. So Jack Quinn ended up playing a huge role in baseball’s decision to create a Commissioner’s office.
In 1919, the already 35-year-old Quinn began the second phase of his Yankee career, spending his next three big league seasons pitching for New York and compiling a 51-31 record. The Yankees then traded him to Boston, where he won 46 more games as a Red Sox during the next four seasons. By then, Quinn was 41 years-old and still throwing a spitball pitch that had been outlawed for almost everyone else eight years previously. The Red Sox figured Quinn’s best days were behind him and put him on waivers in 1925. Connie Mack needed pitching so the A’s picked up Quinn and he won 69 names for Philadelphia over the next half-dozen seasons. If you’re keeping track, that brings us up to 1930, at which point this ageless right-hander was now 46 years-old. Quinn kept going, pitching until he was fifty years-old and accumulating a lifetime record of 247-218 with 57 saves. He also holds the distinction of being the oldest player (45 yrs old) in American League history to hit a home run. (Julio Franco (46yrs-old) now holds the big league record) When Quinn retired in 1943, only Burleigh Grimes was left as one of the 18 pitchers still throwing a “legal” spitball thanks to that 1918 exemption.
Quinn shares his July 1 birthday with this former Yankee outfielder.