August 2011

August 16 – Happy Birthday Gene Woodling

One of the greatest teams of all time had to be the Yankee squad that won five consecutive World Series between 1949 and 1953. Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and Hank Bauer were three of only four position players who started on all five of those championship teams. The fourth was Gene Woodling, who was born on today’s date in 1922, in Akron, OH.

He initially signed with the Indians as a 17-year-old kid in 1940 and made his big league debut with Cleveland, in 1943. He then served the next two years in the Navy. After the war, he ended up playing for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. Woodling led the PCL with a .385 average in 1948. One of the teams in that league that he absolutely crushed with his bat was the Oakland Oaks, managed by Casey Stengel. When the Yankees hired the Old Perfessor as their new Manager the following year, Casey told New York’s GM, George Weiss to go get Woodling.

Much was made in the Big Apple sports press about how Stengel would platoon the lefty-hitting Woodling with the righty-hitting Bauer in the New York outfield. These two were such steady all-around players, however, that more often than not and especially in big games, Woodling would start in left and Bauer in right. During Woodling’s six total seasons in the Bronx, he averaged .285 during the regular season and a robust .318 during the Fall Classics. He was a line drive hitter with a great eye at the plate, who was difficult to strike out. His best regular seasons in pinstripes were 1952, when he hit .309 and the following year, when he hit .306 and led the AL with a .429 on base percentage. When the Yankees failed to win the AL Pennant in 1954 and Woodling’s average slumped to .250, Weiss included the veteran in the historic seventeen-player deal with the Orioles that brought both Bob Turley and Don Larsen to New York.

Woodling proved he could still hit after that trade and he kept on proving it. He hit .321 for the Indians in 1957, .300 for the Orioles in ’59 and then .313 for the Senators in ’61, at the age of 39. In all, he spent sixteen seasons in the big leagues playing for six different teams including the Mets in their inaugural season of 1962, which was also Woodling’s final year in the Majors.

The Yankees were really fortunate to have Woodling and Bauer on those teams that won five straight titles six decades ago. Both were solid hitters who delivered well in the clutch; both were outstanding defensively especially in the huge difficult to play Yankee outfield; and both were consummate professionals and teammates, who played hard every second and knew how to win.

Woodling shares his August 16th birthday with this former Yankee 20-game winner and  this Yankee third base coach.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1949 NYY 112 357 296 60 80 13 7 5 44 2 52 21 .270 .381 .412 .793
1950 NYY 122 523 449 81 127 20 10 6 60 5 70 31 .283 .381 .412 .793
1951 NYY 120 485 420 65 118 15 8 15 71 0 62 37 .281 .373 .462 .835
1952 NYY 122 471 408 58 126 19 6 12 63 1 59 31 .309 .397 .473 .870
1953 NYY 125 483 395 64 121 26 4 10 58 2 82 29 .306 .429 .468 .898
1954 NYY 97 360 304 33 76 12 5 3 40 3 53 35 .250 .358 .352 .710
17 Yrs 1796 6614 5587 830 1585 257 63 147 830 29 921 477 .284 .386 .431 .817
NYY (6 yrs) 698 2679 2272 361 648 105 40 51 336 13 378 184 .285 .388 .434 .822
CLE (5 yrs) 381 1388 1164 176 326 60 8 33 165 5 186 95 .280 .380 .430 .811
BAL (4 yrs) 460 1711 1433 210 401 62 8 43 222 9 252 142 .280 .387 .424 .812
WSA (2 yrs) 154 531 449 58 137 20 4 15 73 2 74 29 .305 .407 .468 .875
NYM (1 yr) 81 218 190 18 52 8 1 5 24 0 24 22 .274 .353 .405 .758
PIT (1 yr) 22 87 79 7 21 2 2 0 10 0 7 5 .266 .326 .342 .667
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/15/2013.

August 14 – Happy Birthday Jim Mason

1974 was a good year for the New York Yankees. After falling eight games back in their Division race by that season’s All Star break, Manager Bill Virdon’s team got hot in the second half and battled Boston and Baltimore for first place, finishing in second, just two games behind the Birds. I remember going absolutely crazy when the Yankees swept Cleveland in a four-game series in late September and climbed into first place. Two days later, their time at the top ended when they lost a double header to the Red Sox. This marked the first time since 1964 that New York had been in first place during the month of September. The starting shortstop on that 1974 Yankee team was today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant. Born in Mobile, AL, in 1950, Mason was one of the last draft choices of the old Washington Senator franchise before they moved to Texas. He played 152 games for New York in 1974, batting .250 but committing 26 errors. He played quite a bit of shortstop for the Yankees the next two seasons as well and he pinch-hit the only Yankee home run in the disastrous 1976 World Series against the Big Red Machine.

Mason had succeeded “The Stick,” Gene Michael as New York’s starting shortstop. Fred Stanley then succeeded Mason. When I see New York sportswriters disparage an aging Derek Jeter’s supposed offensive shortcomings I just laugh. These pundits must have not been around when Michael, Stanley and Mason were around. This trio wrote the book on the offensive shortcomings of Yankee shortstops.

Mason shares his birthday with this long ago Yankee first baseman and  this former Yankee infielder and one-time Florida Marlins’ Manager.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1974 NYY 152 487 440 41 110 18 6 5 37 1 35 87 .250 .302 .352 .654
1975 NYY 94 251 223 17 34 3 2 2 16 0 22 49 .152 .228 .211 .438
1976 NYY 93 236 217 17 39 7 1 1 14 0 9 37 .180 .210 .235 .445
9 Yrs 633 1756 1584 140 322 53 12 12 114 2 124 316 .203 .259 .275 .534
TEX (5 yrs) 232 616 554 52 113 17 2 4 39 0 44 117 .204 .262 .264 .525
NYY (3 yrs) 339 974 880 75 183 28 9 8 67 1 66 173 .208 .261 .288 .548
MON (1 yr) 40 78 71 3 13 5 1 0 6 0 7 16 .183 .256 .282 .538
TOR (1 yr) 22 88 79 10 13 3 0 0 2 1 7 10 .165 .233 .203 .435
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/14/2013.

August 13 – Happy Birthday Fred Stanley

Bucky Dent’s historic home run against the Red Sox that just cleared the Green Monster in Fenway to give the Yankees the lead in the 1978 AL East Divison playoff was not the only dramatic blast hit by a Yankee shortstop in Beantown that season. Slightly over three months earlier, the two teams had met under much different circumstances. It was late June, and instead of being tied for first place, Boston then had a commanding seven game lead over the third place Bombers as the two teams squared off for a Tuesday evening game at Fenway. Billy Martin had not yet lost his job to Bob Lemon and the paranoid Yankee Manager was struggling to keep his drinking, his hatred of Reggie Jackson and his fear of being fired by George Steinbrenner all in check. The Yankees had already been pummeled by Boston the night before, losing the series opener 10-4. Dent had been injured in that game so Martin was starting Fred “The Chicken” Stanley at short in this second of what was a three-game series. Boston had Mike Torrez, the same right-hander Bucky Dent would victimize about 14 weeks later, on the mound.

Martin started Don Gullett. It was just the sixth start of the southpaw’s 1978 season. He had spent the first two months of that year on the DL.  Just two weeks later, as Gullett was warming up for another start, he would feel something catch in his left shoulder. Afterwards, when trying to shave in the clubhouse, he would not have enough strength in that pitching arm to lift a razor to his face and would never again throw a baseball in a Major League game.

On that evening in Boston, Gullett did not have his best stuff at the start of the game. In the second inning, the second half of the Red Sox lineup had rallied to score four runs off of him, with three of them coming on a home run by Boston’s ninth-place hitter, Butch Hobson. It looked like another crushing blowout in the making for Martin’s team.

But in the top of the fourth, the Yankee bats came to life and five of the first six hitters reached base safely against Torrez and produced three runs. With Yankees on second and third, Boston Manager, Don Zimmer ordered Torrez to intentionally walk Jim Spencer. That brought up Stanley with the bases loaded and his team trailing by a single digit. He pulled the third pitch of his at bat over the Monster in fair territory for a grand slam. Though they called him “the Chicken,” teammates said he had his chest puffed out like a rooster when he walked back to the dugout after that bases loaded dinger.

Now with a three-run lead, Gullett settled down and pretty much dominated the Boston lineup the rest of the way. Later in the game, Reggie Jackson would add a three-run blast and the Yankees revenged their 10-4 defeat of the night before with a 10-4 victory of their own.

Yankee fans should always remember that even though Dent’s Fenway home run over the Monster off Torrez got a lot more attention, it never would have happened if Stanley had not hit his over that same wall off of that same pitcher, first.

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was born in Farnhamville, IA on August 13,  1947. He had to be a superb defensive infielder because he lasted for eight seasons in Pinstripes even though he hit just .223 during his Yankee career. Besides that home run in Fenway, the one other exception to his offensive ineptitude came at another  opportune time for New York. Stanley hit .333 for the Yankees during their 1976 ALC series against Kansas City. He now works in the San Franciso Giant front office.

Stanley shares his August 13th birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher,  this current Yankee reliever and this former Yankee outfield prospect.

Year Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1973 NYY AL 26 75 66 6 14 0 1 1 5 0 7 16 .212 .288 .288 .576
1974 NYY AL 33 42 38 2 7 0 0 0 3 1 3 2 .184 .244 .184 .428
1975 NYY AL 117 284 252 34 56 5 1 0 15 3 21 27 .222 .283 .250 .533
1976 NYY AL 110 306 260 32 62 2 2 1 20 1 34 29 .238 .329 .273 .602
1977 NYY AL 48 56 46 6 12 0 0 1 7 1 8 6 .261 .370 .326 .696
1978 NYY AL 81 189 160 14 35 7 0 1 9 0 25 31 .219 .324 .281 .606
1979 NYY AL 57 110 100 9 20 1 0 2 14 0 5 17 .200 .236 .270 .506
1980 NYY AL 49 95 86 13 18 3 0 0 5 0 5 5 .209 .266 .244 .510
14 Yrs 816 1906 1650 197 356 38 5 10 120 11 196 243 .216 .301 .263 .564
NYY (8 yrs) 521 1157 1008 116 224 18 4 6 78 6 108 133 .222 .299 .266 .565
OAK (2 yrs) 167 427 373 48 72 11 0 2 24 2 44 55 .193 .280 .239 .519
CLE (2 yrs) 66 175 141 15 31 5 0 2 12 1 29 28 .220 .355 .298 .653
MIL (2 yrs) 23 48 43 3 12 2 1 0 4 1 3 8 .279 .319 .372 .691
SDP (1 yr) 39 99 85 15 17 2 0 0 2 1 12 19 .200 .306 .224 .530
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/14/2013.

August 11 – Happy Birthday Melky Cabrera

Melky made a refreshing impression on Yankee fans when he came to the Bronx for his rookie season, in 2006. During the previous very successful ten years, we pinstripe rooters had gotten use to watching highly paid veterans skillfully but also very somberly get their team to the postseason. Then all of a sudden, there was Cabrera in center field and his Latino compadre, Robinson Cano at second base. The young duo added some badly needed enthusiasm to the Yankee roster and it rubbed off on some of their more reserved veteran teammates.

The only problem was Melky’s play never seemed to get better with age or experience. In fact he seemed to regress, especially at the plate where his inability to take bad pitches, especially in clutch situations, seemed to get worse and worse. Finally, even his biggest booster, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi realized Cabrera wasn’t helping the team win and Melky was sent back down to the minors in 2008. The demotion served him well as did the competition he was in during New York’s 2009 spring training with Brett Gardner for playing time in center field. Yankee fans realized the free-swinging switch-hitter would never be another Mickey Mantle or even another Bernie Williams but a Melky Cabrera at the top of his game did just fine on that 2009 Yankee team, hitting .274 and driving in 68 runs. The switch to Curtis Granderson as the Yankee’s starting center fielder has certainly turned out for the best but I got to admit that every once in a while, I do miss good old Melky. He struggled quite a bit trying to get comfortable in the National League with the Braves in 2010. He’s played much better back in the AL with the Royals last season and is having a career year thus far in 2012 as a member of the San Francisco Giants. He turns 28 years old today. He continues to be the last Yankee to hit for the cycle. He also shares his birthday with his former Yankee teammate and this one-time Yankee pitcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2005 NYY 6 19 19 1 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .211 .211 .211 .421
2006 NYY 130 524 460 75 129 26 2 7 50 12 56 59 .280 .360 .391 .752
2007 NYY 150 612 545 66 149 24 8 8 73 13 43 68 .273 .327 .391 .718
2008 NYY 129 453 414 42 103 12 1 8 37 9 29 58 .249 .301 .341 .641
2009 NYY 154 540 485 66 133 28 1 13 68 10 43 59 .274 .336 .416 .752
9 Yrs 1072 4236 3842 525 1091 201 32 72 447 86 307 514 .284 .337 .409 .746
NYY (5 yrs) 569 2148 1923 250 518 90 12 36 228 44 171 246 .269 .331 .385 .716
KCR (1 yr) 155 706 658 102 201 44 5 18 87 20 35 94 .305 .339 .470 .809
SFG (1 yr) 113 501 459 84 159 25 10 11 60 13 36 63 .346 .390 .516 .906
ATL (1 yr) 147 509 458 50 117 27 3 4 42 7 42 64 .255 .317 .354 .671
TOR (1 yr) 88 372 344 39 96 15 2 3 30 2 23 47 .279 .322 .360 .682
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/13/2013.

August 10 – Happy Birthday Rocky Colavito

Rocky was born on today’s date in 1933, in New York City and grew up in the Bronx, rooting for Joe DiMaggio and the Yankees. He did not get to play for his favorite boyhood team until 1968, the final season of a very good fourteen-year career in which the powerful right-hand hitting slugger smashed 374 home runs. He was an excellent defensive outfielder with a cannon for an arm and I remember very well the Detroit team he played for in 1961. The Tigers were loaded that year with Colavito, Norm Cash and Al Kaline anchoring the offense and Frank Lary, Jim Bunning and Don Mossi, the pitching staff. Rocky smashed 45 home runs and drove in 140 runs as Detroit put together a 101-victory season. Unfortunately for Colavito and the rest of his MoTown teammates, Detroit finished eight games behind the 1961 Yankees, who were led by the M&M Boys.

Rocky started his career with Cleveland in 1955 and evolved into a star during his four plus seasons there. I’ve read that when the Indians traded Rocky to the Tigers even up for Harvey Kuenn just before the 1960 season began, many fans of Cleveland baseball actually cried. “The Rock” had led the league with 42 home runs in 1959 and driven in 111, but Kuenn had won the AL batting title that same season with a .359 average. The Indians had also traded Roger Maris away a couple of seasons earlier. Imagine if the Indians had both Rocky and Roger in the middle of their order in the early sixties. Instead of the M&M boys it might have been the R&Rs getting all the press for their home run exploits.

Colavito was at the very end of his career when the Dodgers released him in July of 1968 and he signed with the Yankees. By then, the favorite team of his youth had fallen upon hard times. I can remember very well watching the first game of a late August Sunday double-header, when New York Manager Ralph Houk put Rocky  on the mound to pitch in the fourth inning. The Tigers had crushed Yankee starter, Steve Barber and were leading 5-0 when Colavito took over. He threw 2 and 2/3 innings of scoreless ball and even struck out Tiger shortstop, Dick Tracewski, looking. The Yankee offense in the mean time, came to life and scored six runs to win the game and give Rocky the pitching victory. That same Detroit team would go on to win the 1968 World Series just a few weeks later.

The two things I will always remember about Colavito were that outstanding throwing arm and his practice swing routine at the plate. Instead of taking a few easy full swings before each pitch was thrown he would instead cut them short so that his bat would be pointed directly at the pitcher’s head.

Rocky shares his August 10th birthday with this former Yankee infielder, this former Yankee pitcher and this former Yankee outfielder

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1968 NYY 39 106 91 13 20 2 2 5 13 0 14 17 .220 .330 .451 .781
14 Yrs 1841 7559 6503 971 1730 283 21 374 1159 19 951 880 .266 .359 .489 .848
CLE (8 yrs) 913 3700 3185 464 851 136 9 190 574 9 468 478 .267 .361 .495 .856
DET (4 yrs) 629 2723 2336 377 633 107 7 139 430 6 346 301 .271 .364 .501 .865
KCA (1 yr) 160 681 588 89 161 31 2 34 102 3 83 56 .274 .366 .507 .873
LAD (1 yr) 40 129 113 8 23 3 0 3 11 0 15 18 .204 .295 .310 .604
NYY (1 yr) 39 106 91 13 20 2 2 5 13 0 14 17 .220 .330 .451 .781
CHW (1 yr) 60 220 190 20 42 4 1 3 29 1 25 10 .221 .306 .300 .606
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/9/2013.

August 9 – Happy Birthday Ralph Houk

Just over a year ago,  I was watching one of those fantastic replays of old World Series games the MLB Network broadcasts from time-to-time. This one was the seventh game of the 1952 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers. The series was tied three games apiece and the final game was being played at Ebbets Field.

Eddie Lopat started for New York against that year’s NL Rookie of the Year, the Dodgers’ Joe Black, who was starting his third game of that World Series. Casey Stengel only let Lopat work three innings and then replaced him with the “Super Chief” Allie Reynolds. The Yankees were holding onto a slim one-run lead with Reynolds due to lead off the top of the seventh inning. The old black & white television camera panned to the on-deck circle and standing there, swinging some warmup bats trying to get loose was a Yankee third string catcher named Ralph Houk.

Even though I hadn’t been born at the time this game was being played and I was actually watching a 58-year-old film of the event, I was shocked when I saw the “Major” getting ready to hit and so too was the booth announcer doing the play-by-play (I can’t remember if it was Mel Allen or Red Barber.) Houk had only got into nine games during the entire 1952 regular season during which he had come to the plate with a bat in his hand a grand total of seven times. Here he was about to get
his eighth plate appearance of the entire year in the seventh and deciding game of the World Series with his team ahead by just one run.

The very savvy Preacher Roe had come in to relieve Black and Houk was the first hitter he faced. Ralph had a great at-bat that lasted about a dozen pitches and he ended up smashing a hot shot down third base which was smothered by the great glove man, Billy Cox and Houk was thrown out at by just a hair at first. Even though he made an out, Houk had battled Roe and hit him hard, justifying Stengel’s faith in him.

I remember thinking what a thrill it was for me, an avid fifty-year Yankee fan, to be able to have seen a guy I knew only as a Yankee manager take an important at-bat in a critical game in Yankee history. I had sort of lost my good feelings for Houk after he took the GM promotion the Yankees gave him in 1963 and he fired Yogi Berra as Yankee Manager after the ’64 World Series. I started liking him again after reading how he had not been afraid to stand up against the bullying tactics of a young George Steinbrenner during Houk’s final year as Yankee Manager. And then, after seeing replays of that long-ago at-bat I actually Googled Houk and read up on his career and was pretty shocked when I realized he had turned ninety.

When he died on July 21, 2010, I immediately thought of the thrill of having seen that 1952 World Series at bat just a few weeks earlier. And every time I saw that black armband on a Yankee player’s uniform for the rest of last season, I thought of the Major who won both a Silver and Bronze star leading his men forward on Omaha Beach and into the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. I thought of the Yankee Manager who won two World Series during his first two years at the helm. And I thought of that third string catcher and unlikely pinch hitter running as hard as he could down the first baseline of old Ebbets field and just getting nipped by Billy Cox’s throw. RIP Ralph Houk.

Houk shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee pitcher, and this one too.

Houk’s record as a Yankee player appears below, followed by his record as Yankee manager:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1947 NYY 41 104 92 7 25 3 1 0 12 0 11 5 .272 .356 .326 .682
1948 NYY 14 29 29 3 8 2 0 0 3 0 0 0 .276 .276 .345 .621
1949 NYY 5 7 7 0 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 .571 .571 .571 1.143
1950 NYY 10 9 9 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 2 .111 .111 .222 .333
1951 NYY 3 5 5 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 .200 .200 .200 .400
1952 NYY 9 6 6 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .333 .429 .333 .762
1953 NYY 8 9 9 2 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 .222 .222 .222 .444
1954 NYY 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
8 Yrs 91 170 158 12 43 6 1 0 20 0 12 10 .272 .327 .323 .650
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/9/2013.
Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
1 1961 41 New York Yankees AL 163 109 53 .673 1 WS Champs
2 1962 42 New York Yankees AL 162 96 66 .593 1 WS Champs
3 1963 43 New York Yankees AL 161 104 57 .646 1 AL Pennant
4 1966 46 New York Yankees AL 2nd of 2 140 66 73 .475 10
5 1967 47 New York Yankees AL 163 72 90 .444 9
6 1968 48 New York Yankees AL 164 83 79 .512 5
7 1969 49 New York Yankees AL 162 80 81 .497 5
8 1970 50 New York Yankees AL 163 93 69 .574 2
9 1971 51 New York Yankees AL 162 82 80 .506 4
10 1972 52 New York Yankees AL 155 79 76 .510 4
11 1973 53 New York Yankees AL 162 80 82 .494 4
New York Yankees 11 years 1757 944 806 .539 4.2 3 Pennants and 2 World Series Titles
Detroit Tigers 5 years 806 363 443 .450 5.2
Boston Red Sox 4 years 594 312 282 .525 4.0
20 years 3157 1619 1531 .514 4.4 3 Pennants and 2 World Series Titles
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/9/2013.

August 8 – Happy Birthday Ray Fontenot

I remember getting pretty excited by Ray Fontenot’s rookie year performance with the Yankees during the second half of the 1983 season. The Yankee rotation he joined that year included 20-game winner Ron Guidry, perfect game thrower Dave Righetti and Shane Rawley. When Fontenot was called up at the end of June and won his first three big league starts, I thought that Yankee rotation was strong enough to make the postseason. As it turned out, not quite. Fontenot continued to pitch well, finishing the year with an 8-2 record and that Yankee team won 91 games, but Baltimore won 98 and took the Division crown.

Still, it seemed as if the southpaw Fontenot had a bright future with New York. He was just 25 years old during his rookie year but he already pitched with a lot of poise on the mound. His ERA that first year was an impressive 3.33. Like Guidry, he was born in Louisiana and the Yankee beat writers would get a kick out of hearing Gator and the rookie converse in Creole French in the Yankee clubhouse. When New York also added John Montefusco to their starting staff in August of ’83 and “The Count” won five straight decisions, Yankee fans were beginning to feel downright giddy about our starters entering the 1984 season. Boy were we wrong!

First of all, the Yankees didn’t re-sign their closer Goose Gossage after the ’83 season. New York’s front office made the decision to switch Righetti to that role. In my research for today’s blog post, I discovered that Billy Martin, who was then serving as a Steinbrenner consultant, was against making Righetti the closer and actually suggested that Fontenot would be the better alternative. Righetti proved a smart choice as he went on to save 31 games during his first season pitching out of the bullpen. The Yankees signed the veteran knuckleballer, Phil Niekro to replace Righetti in the rotation and he did an outstanding job, going 16-8. But Guidry had an off-year in ’84, finishing with a 10-11 record and both Rawley and Montefusco were injured and appeared in just 11 games each. Ray Fontenot won just 8 games during his first full season in the big leagues and lost 9. He did not pitch really badly, compiling a 3.61 ERA in his sophomore year, but when four starting pitchers on the same staff all under-produce in the same season the results are never pretty.

Back then, the Yankees had little patience with young pitchers and Fontenot was traded to the Cubbies in December of ’84 as part of a six-player deal. He went just 6-10 during his first season with Chicago and was just 3-5 the following year when he was traded and then released by the Minnesota Twins. Although he tried to get back to the big leagues after the 1986 season, he never did.

Fontenot shares his August 8th birthday with another Yankee pitcher a Yankee play-by-play announcer and this very big Yankee coach.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1983 NYY 8 2 .800 3.33 15 15 0 3 1 0 97.1 101 41 36 3 25 27 1.295
1984 NYY 8 9 .471 3.61 35 24 1 0 0 0 169.1 189 77 68 8 58 85 1.459
4 Yrs 25 26 .490 4.03 145 62 24 3 1 2 493.2 551 253 221 42 153 216 1.426
CHC (2 yrs) 9 15 .375 4.23 80 23 16 0 0 2 210.2 234 116 99 28 66 94 1.424
NYY (2 yrs) 16 11 .593 3.51 50 39 1 3 1 0 266.2 290 118 104 11 83 112 1.399
MIN (1 yr) 0 0 9.92 15 0 7 0 0 0 16.1 27 19 18 3 4 10 1.898
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/8/2013.

August 7 – Happy Birthday Steve Kemp

Steve Kemp was a college star at USC and the overall number one draft pick in MLB’s 1976 amateur draft. After just one year in the minors, the Detroit Tigers brought Kemp up to the big leagues and he responded with an 18-home run, 88-RBI rookie season in 1977. Over the next three seasons, he became one of the upper tier outfielders in the AL and an All Star in 1979, when he belted 26 home runs, drove in 105 and hit .318.

The problem with Kemp was his defense. He was a below average left-fielder with limited range and one of the league’s weakest outfield arms. So when he slumped at the plate during the strike-shortened season of 1981, the Tigers traded him to Chicago for outfielder Chet Lemon. Kemp had a strong year in the Windy City, hitting 19 HRs and driving in 98. When he became a free agent at the end of the ’82 season, White Sox owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn offered Kemp a contract worth $800K per year.

But back in 1983, George Steinbrenner was on a free agent spending spree. He seemed to want to sign anybody who ever hit .300 or won 20 games in a season. He gave Kemp a $5.5 million, five-year deal and Reinsdorf and Einhorn howled publicly in protest. They claimed Kemp wasn’t worth those kind of dollars and that “The Boss’s” stupid spending would ruin baseball’s salary structure. They turned out to be half-right anyway.

Kemp became one of the many Steinbrenner signings from that era to fail on the Big Apple stage. During his two seasons in pinstripes he hit just .264 and averaged 9 home runs and only 45 RBIs per season. Yankee Stadium favored left handed pull hitters but not lefties who hit the ball with power into the gaps. Pop ups down the line in the old Stadium were home runs while 400 yard drives to right-center were usually just long outs. Kemp’s power was to that cow-pasture-like gap in right center.  His defensive shortcomings were also highlighted by the Stadium’s tough left field.

By 1984, Steinbrenner had seen enough. He OK’d a trade that sent Kemp to Pittsburgh for Yogi’s kid, Dale Berra and a prospect named Jay Buhner. Kemp’s skills faded fast in the Steel City and he  was out of the big leagues for good by 1987. He was born in San Angelo, TX on August 7, 1954. Kemp certainly wasn’t a perfect Yankee but he shares today as a birthday with this former Yankee pitcher who on one brilliant October day in 1956, was. Today is also the birthday of this one-time Yankee reliever and this Hall of Fame manager.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1983 NYY 109 419 373 53 90 17 3 12 49 1 41 37 .241 .318 .399 .718
1984 NYY 94 361 313 37 91 12 1 7 41 4 40 54 .291 .369 .403 .771
11 Yrs 1168 4714 4058 581 1128 179 25 130 634 39 576 605 .278 .367 .431 .797
DET (5 yrs) 684 2930 2504 378 711 114 18 89 422 24 375 362 .284 .376 .450 .826
PIT (2 yrs) 105 286 252 20 62 13 2 3 22 2 29 60 .246 .319 .349 .669
NYY (2 yrs) 203 780 686 90 181 29 4 19 90 5 81 91 .264 .341 .401 .742
TEX (1 yr) 16 39 36 2 8 0 0 0 2 1 2 9 .222 .256 .222 .479
CHW (1 yr) 160 679 580 91 166 23 1 19 98 7 89 83 .286 .381 .428 .808
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/6/2013.

August 6 – Happy Birthday Ken Phelps

“What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?”

Every fan of the “Seinfeld” television series remembers when George Costanza’s father blurted out this question to George Steinbrenner (played by Larry David). If you didn’t see that episode, you can watch the clip here. The reason that trade was made is today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.

Back in the mid eighties, a guy named Bill James was in the process of revolutionizing the way baseball stats were kept and interpreted and he was sharing his work through his annual “Baseball Abstract.” James started applying and trumpeting the use of OPS as a true measure of a baseball player’s value to a team. He would illustrate how the measure was being virtually ignored by coming up with complete lineups of players with great OPS numbers who were then sitting on the benches or playing in the Minor Leagues of MLB teams. Ken Phelps’ name appeared on every one of these lists. That’s why, when George Costanza’s Dad asked about the Buhner trade, Larry David’s Steinbrenner responded that his “baseball people” loved Ken Phelps bat. That’s because Steinbrenner’s real-life baseball people were becoming real-life disciples of Bill James.

Phelps’ career OPS during his 10-season Minor League career was .954. An average OPS for the Major Leagues would be somewhere in the high .700s. Phelps’ OPS during his five plus seasons in Seattle was .913. James loved players like Phelps because his home run per at bat ratio and on base percentage as a minor leaguer had been so impressive. So you could say the Yankees were playing the percentages when they gave away Buhner for Phelps in that mid-season 1988 transaction.

Phelps’ OPS during his 131 games in pinstripes was just .781. By comparison, Buhner’s OPS during his 14 seasons in Seattle, was .852. The Yankees traded “Digger” Phelps to the A’s for a guy named Scott Holcomb in August of 1989. He played big league ball until 1995. The Seinfeld episode was a lot funnier and much more entertaining than the results of the actual trade, especially if you were a Yankee fan.

He shares his August 6th birthday with this former Yankee reliever, this one too and this long-time Yankee pitching coach.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1988 SEA 72 244 190 37 54 8 0 14 32 1 51 35 .284 .434 .547 .982
1988 NYY 45 127 107 17 24 5 0 10 22 0 19 26 .224 .339 .551 .890
1989 NYY 86 215 185 26 46 3 0 7 29 0 27 47 .249 .340 .378 .718
11 Yrs 761 2287 1854 308 443 64 7 123 313 10 390 449 .239 .374 .480 .854
SEA (6 yrs) 529 1753 1399 254 349 53 6 105 255 9 317 337 .249 .392 .521 .913
KCR (2 yrs) 24 27 26 1 3 0 1 0 1 0 1 15 .115 .148 .192 .340
OAK (2 yrs) 43 85 68 6 12 3 0 1 6 0 16 10 .176 .329 .265 .594
NYY (2 yrs) 131 342 292 43 70 8 0 17 51 0 46 73 .240 .339 .442 .781
CLE (1 yr) 24 71 61 4 7 0 0 0 0 1 10 11 .115 .239 .115 .354
MON (1 yr) 10 9 8 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .250 .333 .250 .583
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/5/2013.

August 5 – Happy Birthday Eric Hinske

During last year’s MLB playoffs, in addition to rooting for the Yankees I was also rooting for the Braves to beat the Giants in the ALDS. I had two reasons for wanting Atlanta to win. My wife’s Mom & Dad are huge Atlanta fans and watching Braves’ baseball is their very favorite thing to do. I’m also a huge Bobby Cox fan and he would be ending his outstanding managerial career as soon as the Braves 2010 playoffs were over. I wanted to see that career last until Atlanta made the final out against my Yankees in the 2010 Series. And if the unthinkable happened and the Braves and Cox happened to beat my favorite team in my dream 2010 Fall Classic, I’d probably only be depressed for one month instead of the normal four it took me to get over any other Yankee postseason defeat.

I really also thought Cox and the Braves had a real good shot at getting into the 2010 Series because they had Eric Hinske on their postseason roster. Hinske is the only man in baseball who played in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 World Series. In ’07, he had won a ring with the Red Sox. In ’08, his Tampa Bay team had lost to the Phillies. He then got revenge for that defeat in 2009 as a member of the Yankees, when New York beat Philadelphia and Hinske collected his second ring in three seasons.

After Tampa Bay lost their World Series, Hinske had signed as a free agent with the Pirates and began the 2009 season in Pittsburgh. The Yankees got Hinske the last day of June in 2009 to strengthen their bench and it didn’t take the Menasha, Wisconsin native very long to do just that. He got into seven games during his first month in pinstripes and hit five home runs and drove in eight. He provided a better than expected utility spark and it helped New York kick their season into high gear right after the All Star break. He cooled down after that hot start, finishing his half season in pinstripes hitting just .226.

Hinske’s one and only plate appearance as a Yankee in the postseason took place in New York’s Game 5 loss when he pinch hit, walked and scored a run. He signed with the Braves the following January and has been a valuable role player for that team ever since. Hinske began his big league career with a bang in Toronto, when he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award as a Blue Jay, in 2002.

Hinske shares his August 5th birthday with this former Yankee owner and this one time Yankee first baseman.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 NYY 39 98 84 13 19 3 0 7 14 0 10 25 .226 .316 .512 .828
12 Yrs 1387 4310 3797 549 947 240 18 137 522 21 452 949 .249 .332 .430 .762
TOR (5 yrs) 655 2559 2259 353 584 146 12 78 313 16 263 521 .259 .337 .437 .774
ATL (3 yrs) 339 731 649 71 153 38 2 23 92 1 73 187 .236 .315 .407 .721
BOS (2 yrs) 115 306 266 33 61 20 3 7 26 1 36 84 .229 .327 .406 .733
ARI (1 yr) 52 58 52 2 9 3 0 1 6 0 6 17 .173 .259 .288 .547
TBR (1 yr) 133 432 381 59 94 21 1 20 60 3 47 88 .247 .333 .465 .798
PIT (1 yr) 54 126 106 18 27 9 0 1 11 0 17 27 .255 .373 .368 .741
NYY (1 yr) 39 98 84 13 19 3 0 7 14 0 10 25 .226 .316 .512 .828
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/5/2013.