I remember the 1974 baseball season very well because it brought forth a personal and slightly painful milestone. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant made his big league debut as a much-heralded 19-year-old outfielder with the 1974 Oakland A’s. He and the Milwaukee Brewer’s Robin Yount were the first players to start regularly for a Major League team, who were younger than me. There of course have been many more since.
That Oakland team was about to capture its third straight World Championship and there were baseball pundits back then predicting that the multi-talented Washington would lead the team to many more. It looked like those experts might be right when in his sophomore season, Washington led the A’s with 182 hits and a .308 batting average as Oakland captured its fifth straight AL West Division title. But that was the same season the A’s lost the rights to Catfish Hunter due to their failure to honor an insurance clause in the pitcher’s contract and within a year, free agency would begin decimating Oakland’s All Star roster. Surprisingly, it would take Claudell thirteen years to top the .300 batting average barrier again and when it happened, he was wearing Yankee pinstripes.
Claudell played with seven different teams during his seventeen-season big league career including two stops in the Bronx. He first became a Yankee in 1988 when New York traded Ken Griffey Sr and Andre Robertson to the Braves for Washington and Paul Zuvella. After signing with the Angels as a free agent in 1989, the Yankees reacquired Claudell in exchange for outfielder Louis Polonia. His best season in pinstripes was his first, in 1988 when he hit .308. In April of that year, Washington hit the 10,000th home run in Yankee franchise history. Claudell was born on August 31, 1954, in Los Angeles. He shares his birthday with this Hall-of-Fame pitcher, who was traded to the Yankees but never pitched for them.
Here’s my version of the Yankee’s All-Presidential Team
1B – Nick Johnson
2B – Homer Bush
3B – Charley Hayes
SS – John Kennedy
C – Cliff Johnson
OF – Reggie Jackson
OF – Claudell Washington
OF – Otis Nixon or Lou Clinton
SP – Whitey Ford
RP – Grant Jackson
The Yankees signed Johnny Lindell in 1936 as a pitcher and during the next six seasons he developed really well in the New York farm system, culminating with an outstanding 23-4 record with the 1941 Newark Bears. He deserved a shot at the big show but the only problem was that Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy’s team was already loaded with good pitchers at the time and he simply didn’t need another one. So instead, he asked Lindell if he’d like to try the outfield. Johnny had always been a good hitter, averaging close to .300 in the minors, so the 6’5″ native of Greely, CO gave it a shot. By 1943, with WWII raging and the regular Yankee outfield disrupted by military service, Lindell became New York’s regular center fielder. He had his best big league season in 1944 when he averaged .300, poked 18 home runs, drove in 103 and led the AL in triples for the second straight year.
Off the field, Lindell was a party animal. It was rumored that Yankee GM George Weiss spent more money on private detectives he hired to keep night-time tabs on his outfielder than he paid Lindell in salary. By 1945, it was Lindell’s turn to serve his country. When he returned to the Yankees in 1946, New York’s regular outfielders and prospects had all returned from military service and Lindell gradually moved into the role of the team’s fourth outfielder.
Johnny had some great moments as a Yankee. He hit .500 and drove in seven runs during the Yankees 1947 World Series victory over the Dodgers. In 1949, he hit a huge home run in New York’s final regular season series against Boston, enabling the Yankees to move into a tie with the Red Sox. But as each year passed, Lindell found himself playing less and less and during the 1950 season, Weiss sold him to the Cardinals. When St. Louis released him at the end of that season, Lindell decided to go back to pitching and returned to the minors to work on his knuckle ball. He put together an amazing 24-9 season in the Pacific Coast League in 1952 and the Pirates promoted him to their starting rotation the following year. But Lindell couldn’t throw his knuckle ball over the plate for strikes and the more patient big league hitters simply waited him out. He finished the ’53 season with a 5-16 record and led the NL in walks. By the following year he was out of the big leagues for good.
Johnny shares his birthday with his former Yankee teammate, a third baseman with the nickname of “Bull.”
If you’ve watched televised Yankee broadcasts over the years you’ve probably heard Kenny Singleton and Michael Kay talk about “the worst trade in Montreal Expo history.” It took place a few weeks before Christmas in 1974 with the Baltimore Orioles. The Expos received Baltimore’s veteran starting pitcher, Dave McNally and the Birds’ outfielder Rich Coggins in exchange for Singleton, who was then a young up and coming outfielder and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant. Mike Torrez was a nibbler, a big young right-hander who tried to keep the ball away from the middle of the plate. As a result, he typically threw lots of pitches and walked lots of hitters when he was on the mound but he also won more games than he lost.
Neither McNally or Coggins was still playing for Montreal by the second half of the 1975 season. Singleton became one of the great outfielders in Baltimore franchise history. Torrez became the ace of Baltimore’s staff in ’75 going 20-9. He then got traded again but only because Oakland A’s owner Charley Finley had decided to unload his superstar free-agent-to-be, Reggie Jackson before Mr. October walked away on his own. Baltimore thought Reggie could get them back to the World Series so they were willing to sacrifice Torrez to get him.
The native of Topeka, Kansas continued his winning ways in Oakland, going 16-12 in 1976. He then won three of his first four starts the following season but like Reggie a year earlier, Torrez was in the final year of his contract and any good player in his option year playing for a Charley Finley owned team automatically received a new nickname; Trade Bait!
That’s how the Yankees were able to secure Torrez’ services at the end of April in 1977. Finley accepted Doc Ellis, Larry Murray and Marty Perez in exchange for big Mike. With Catfish Hunter’s shoulder ailing at the time, Torrez immediately became a key ingredient to the Yankees’ drive to their 1977 World Championship. He won 14 games that year, joining Ron Guidry (16) Ed Fiqueroa (16) and Don Gullett (14) as double digit winners. Then after losing Game 3 in the ’77 ALCS to Kansas City, Torrez won both Game 3 and the Series-clinching Game 6 for New York in the World Series. It was without a doubt, his finest moment in pinstripes but not his most important moment in franchise history.
That happened less than a year later, after the Yankees let Torrez sign as a free agent with the Red Sox and after he won 16 games for Boston and helped them tie New York for the 1978 AL East Division title. More specifically, it took place on October 2, 1978 in the late afternoon in Boston’s Fenway Park, with two outs in the seventh inning of the playoff game between the Red Sox and the Yankees to determine who would advance to the ALCS against the Royals that year. Torrez had shutout the Yankees thus far that afternoon and was ahead 2-0 when Bucky Dent walked to the plate with Chris Chambliss and Roy White on base. Torrez third pitch to the light-hitting shortstop was inside and Dent pulled it just high enough to clear the top of the Green Monster.
Torrez went on to pitch four more seasons for the Red Sox and a total of six more in his big league career. When he retired in 1984, he had won 185 regular-season games and lost 160.
The Yankees were hoping Ensberg could replicate some of the offensive magic he exhibited during his 2005 breakout year with the Astros, when they signed that season’s NL Silver Slugger Award winner in 2008 to play some first base. Unfortunately, the Redondo Beach, CA native could not produce and the Yankees released him after he appeared in just 28 games. He shares his birthday with this Yankee utility infielder.
Today is a good time to share my All-Time Lineup of Yankee players with August birthdays:
1BJohnny Ellis 8/21/48
2B Bobby Richardson 8/19/35
3B Graig Nettles 8/20/44
SS Bobby Meacham 8/25/60
C Jorge Posada 8/17/71
OF Gene Woodling 8/16/83
OF Brett Gardner 8/24/83
OF Melky Cabrera 8/11/84
DH Ron Blomberg 8/23/48
SP Ron Guidry 8/28/50
RP Ron Davis 8/6/55
CL John Wetteland 8/21/66
MGR Ralph Houk 8/9/19
OWN Jake Ruppert 8/5/1867
Dooley Womack was one of the best relief pitchers on two of the worst Yankee teams in the franchise’s fabled history. He made his pinstripe debut in April of 1966, as a seldom used member of Manager Johnny Keane’s Yankee bullpen. When that team proceeded to win just four of its first twenty games that season, Ralph Houk took over for Keane and the “Major” took a liking to Womack. The right-handed native of Columbia, SC appeared in 42 games during his rookie season and compiled a 7-3 record with 4 saves in 75 innings of work. He joined Fritz Peterson and Steve Hamilton as the only members of that year’s Yankee pitching staff to compile a winning record and Womack’s 2.64 ERA was the lowest of any New York pitcher with a minimum of ten decisions. That Yankee team became the first to finish in last place since the 1912 Highlanders accomplished the dreaded feat fifty-four seasons earlier.
Womack was even better the following year but the Yankees, unfortunately were not. He led the ’67 squad with 18 saves and 65 appearances plus lowered his ERA to 2.41. The Yankees as a team, in the mean time, won just two more games than they did the season before and finished in ninth place in the ten-team American League. Womack got off to a slower start in ’68 and his Yankee days became numbered that July, when New York acquired the veteran, Lindy McDaniel. The born-again reliever took the struggling Womack’s role as the Yankee bullpen’s right-handed saver and filled it superbly. Dooley found himself demoted to middle inning relief assignments. The Yankees traded Womack to the Astros after the 1968 season for an outfielder named Dick Simpson. Within the next 12 months, Dooley was traded to Seattle, Cincinnati and finally Oakland. In his last big league appearance, while pitching for the A’s in September of 1970, Womack tore his rotator cuff.
Dooley was actually a nickname given to him as a child. His real first name was Horace. Womack became much more famous after Jim Bouton’s best selling book “Ball Four” was published. In it the Bulldog wrote this reaction after learning he’d been traded by the Seattle Pilots for Womack; “Maybe it’s me for a hundred thousand and Dooley Womack is just a throw-in. I’d hate to think at this stage of my career I was being traded even-up for Dooley Womack.” I was an avid card collector as a kid and I bet I had at least ten of the 1967 Topps Womack Card pictured with today’s post.
On April 6, 1973, Ron Blomberg came to the plate in the top of the first inning at Fenway Park with two outs and bases loaded during that year’s Yankee season opener and he was walked by the Red Sox’ Luis Tiant. “Boomer” thus became the very first designated hitter in Major League history. Blomberg, who was born on this date in 1948 in Atlanta, GA, might have been in the Hall of Fame today if there were no left handed pitchers in baseball. He hit over .300 against righties during his eight-year big league career and just .215 against southpaws. Unfortunately, a string of injuries limited him to one game of action during the Yankee’s 1976 AL Championship year and he was released by New York the following season.
On his Website, RonBlomberg.com, Boomer informs visitors that it was his boyhood dream to play baseball for the New York Yankees. He certainly had lot’s of options back then. According to his Wikipedia article, Blomberg is the only high school athlete ever selected to Parade Magazine’s High School All American Teams for the sports of baseball, football and basketball. When he graduated from high school in 1967, the Yankees made him their number 1 draft choice. Two years later, he was in the Bronx wearing pinstripes.
A dependable clutch hitter, I’ll always be convinced that Boomer would have been a key cog in the Yankee championship teams of the late seventies if he could have stayed healthy. He had a great eye at the plate and he didn’t strike out a lot. Being such a great athlete, you have to believe that given the opportunity, this guy could have learned to hit left-handers.
But Boomer just couldn’t stay off the DL. He had the knees of Mickey Mantle with chronically sore shoulders thrown in for good measure. Still, after the Yankees released him, he was able to secure a three-year , half-million dollar deal with the White Sox. His final big league season was 1978.
Blomberg shares his August 23rd birthday with this one-time Yankee catcher who had to get traded from New York to finally get some playing time.
I was a Ted Lilly fan back when the left-hander was a young Yankee trying to become part of the New York’s starting rotation in 2001 and the beginning of ’02. Then, right around the 2002 All Star break, the Yankees made a complicated and confusing three team trade involving the Oakland A’s and Detroit Tigers. When it was over, Lilly was no longer a Yankee and the flaky Jeff “Dream” Weaver was. All of baseball loved Weaver’s stuff during his three-plus year stay in Motown, but he pitched poorly as a starter in Pinstripes, forcing Joe Torre to use him in the bullpen. After posting a 7-9 record and a 5.99 ERA in 2003, the Yankees sent Weaver to the Dodgers for the infamous Kevin Brown. He won 25 games for LA in 2004 and ’05 and then joined Angels as a free agent in 2006. The Angels than traded Weaver to the Cardinals just before the 2006 All Star break to make room on their roster for Jeff’s younger brother Jered. The deal worked out OK for both siblings because Jeff went onto help the Cardinals win the 2006 World Series and Jered has become the ace of the Angels staff.
In ’07, Jeff signed with Seattle but pitched poorly that year and ended up back in the minors in 2008. Weaver, who was born on August 22, 1976 in Northridge CA, then rejoined the Dodgers and Joe Torre in Los Angeles the following season. He has not pitched in the big leagues since 2010. Ted Lilly, who now also pitches for the Dodgers, went on to achieve double-digit victory totals for nine straight seasons after being dealt by New York.
Weaver shares his birthday with the starting catcher on the Yankees’ very first World Championship team.
If you’re a Yankee fan, one of the great moments you have engrained into your memory is the on-field celebration that ensued after Charley Hayes caught that foul pop for the third and final out of the 1996 World Series. John Wetteland was in the middle of that celebration. He had just earned his fourth save of that Series and was about to be named Series MVP. That performance followed a regular season in which the right-hander had led the AL with 43 saves and made the All Star team.
Wettland, who was born on today’s date in 1966 in San Mateo, CA, was an indispensable Yankee that year and I can recall being completely blown away when just one month later, the Yankees let him become a free agent. The right-hander continued to perform as one of the game’s top closers after he signed with Texas and saved another 150 games during the final four seasons of his big league career. That Yankee front office decision to let Wetteland walk and hand the closer role to a young Mariano Rivera seemed so risky at the time. It doesn’t anymore, does it?
Wetteland shares his August 21 birthday with this former Yankee first baseman.
The Dodgers had jumped ahead of New York two games to none and only “Puff” and his well worn fielders glove prevented them from making it three straight wins. He made four great plays in that game. In the third inning, with New York ahead 2-1 and Bill Russell on first base with two outs, Nettles made a diving stop of Reggie Smith’s smash down the third base line and threw Smith out at first. In the fifth, with the tying run on second, Nettles again victimized Smith by knocking down his screaming line drive, preventing the run from scoring and holding the Dodger outfielder to an infield single. The very next hitter, Dodger first baseman, Steve Garvey then scorched another one at Nettles who backhanded it on his knees and forced the runner at second to end the inning. Yet again in the visitors’ half of the sixth, the Dodgers loaded the bases and with two outs, LA second baseman Davey Lopes sent another hard grounder in Nettles’ direction. After another great stop, he made another great throw, forcing the runner at second and ending another Dodger threat. As he ran toward the dugout, the Yankee Stadium crowd gave him a standing ovation. Nettles won Gold Gloves in 1977 and ’78.
Born in San Diego on this date in 1944, he was the AL Home Run Champion in 1976 and when he retired after the 1988 season he had 390 career home runs. 319 of those blasts were the most home runs ever by an AL third baseman. Great glove, plenty of power, a quick irreverent wit and that Game 3 performance sum up my memories of the Yankee’s All-Time great third baseman.
Nettles shares his August 20th birthday with this one-time top Yankee pitching prospect.
The more I learned about former Yankee pitcher Atley Donald while doing research for today’s post, the more I liked the guy. A southern boy, who moved to Louisiana as a child, Donald was a great high school athlete who became a fire-balling college pitcher at LSU. When no big league scouts offered him a contract, Donald headed to St Petersburg, FL for the 1934 Major League spring training season, with $25 in his pocket. His goal was to convince his favorite big league team, the Yankees, to give him a tryout before his money ran out. When he got that tryout, New York manager Joe McCarthy was impressed enough with the right-hander’s fastball that he kept the young pitcher in camp and when it was over, got him a deal to pitch for the Yankee’s Class C affiliate in Wheeling, West Virginia. From there to Norfolk, to Binghamton and finally to Newark, Atley pitched outstandingly all the way up New York’s chain of farm teams.
The Yankees gave him his first shot at the big leagues in 1938 but he wasn’t quite ready. He proved to be more than ready the following year when he burst into the Bronx and won his first 12 starts of the season. But the Yankees had so much starting pitching that year, McCarthy hardly used his hard-throwing rookie the final two months of the season. Donald finished 1939 with a 13-3 record and a 3.71 ERA. That was probably his most successful season in pinstripes. Over the next half dozen seasons, Donald would experience plenty of physical problems including a bad back and a loss of vision in his left eye. Still, when healthy, he was able to pitch effectively compiling a 65-33 career record during his eight seasons as a Yankee. During his final big league appearance in July of 1946, he tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. When the Yankees offered him a scouting position, Donald accepted it and spent the next few decades finding new Yankee talent in and around Louisiana. His signings included catcher Jake Gibbs and the great Ron Guidry.
Donald shares his August 19th birthday with this great former Yankee second baseman who was also born in the south.