Mike Ferraro was given two chances to make his living working for the New York Yankees at third base. Neither ended up very successfully. The first opportunity came in the mid sixties, when Clete Boyer was nearing the end of his career in pinstripes. New York had signed Ferraro in 1962 when he was just 17-years-old and the native of Kingston, NY spent the next six years progressing slowly through the Yankee farm system. When the Yankees traded Boyer to the Braves after the 1966 season, the front office did not think Ferraro was quite ready to take over the hot corner and they gave that job to Charley Smith whom New York acquired from St Louis in their Roger Maris trade.
Smith was a bust in 1967 so when the team’s 1968 spring training camp opened, Yankee Skipper Ralph Houk announced that Ferraro would battle future Braves Manager, Bobby Cox for the position. Ferraro had a fantastic spring, leading the Yankees in hitting with a .353 average during the exhibition season. When the team headed north to begin the regular season, everyone figured Ferraro would start at third, everyone except Ralph Houk. For whatever reason, the Major went with Cox and Ferraro got into just 23 games that season with New York. The following April, he was traded to Seattle. After bouncing around a bit for the next few years, he finally got the opportunity to play regularly for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1972. When he hit just .255 in 124 games that year, the Brewers released him. He returned to the Yankee organization as a free agent but instead of playing, he got into coaching. By ’74 he was managing in the Yankee farm system.
During the ’68 season, while Ferraro was sitting on the Yankee bench watching Cox play third, he’d often sit next to another utility infielder on that same team, the veteran Dick Howser. The two became good friends and when Howser was named Yankee Manager in 1980, he made Ferraro his third base coach. That New York team won 103 games that year and captured the AL East Division crown. Even with that level of success, Steinbrenner had ridden Howser and his coaching staff hard all season long. The Yankees had to face the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
New York lost the first game and were behind by a run with two outs the eighth inning of the second contest when Bob Watson hit a ball against Kauffman Stadium’s left field wall with Willie Randolph on first. Wilson played the carom perfectly but overthrew his cutoff man. In the mean time, third base coach Ferraro was signaling Randolph to try and score. KC third baseman, George Brett was in perfect position to field Wilson’s overthrow and he made a perfect relay to catcher Darrel Porter who tagged Willie just an instant before he made contact with home plate. The Yankees ended up losing that game and according to Bill Madden, author of “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball,” the irate Yankee owner ran to the section of seats where the Yankee wives were watching the game and screamed at Ferraro’s wife that “her F’ing husband had cost New York the game.” He wanted Ferraro fired immediately and replaced by Don Zimmer. The whole embarrassing episode convinced Howser he could no longer work for Steinbrenner. Ironically, Ferrarro continued on as Yankee third base coach the following season. He later managed the Indians and Royals.
When I started really following Yankee baseball I was six-years-old. Back then, I thought guys like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi, Moose Skowren, Bobby Richardson, and Whitey Ford played forever. I soon realized that wasn’t true. I’m now watching my fourth generation of Yankee legends reach their twilight years. Among them is Jorge Posada. He turns 41 years-old today. Hall of Famer, Bill Dickey caught the most games in a Yankee uniform, with 1,709. The great Yogi Berra caught 1,692. By the end of the 2010 season Posada had caught 1,573 games in pinstripes. Jorge payed attention to numbers and stats and I’m sure that when he signed his last Yankee contract, he thought that by the end of that deal, which was 2011, he’d be setting the record for most games caught in a Yankee uniform. He probably also thought when he signed that last contract that he’d have a real good shot at reaching both the 300 home run (he finished with 275) and 2,000 hit (1664) milestones by 2011 as well. None of that happened. Instead, what was supposed to be the crowning season of Posada’s outstanding career as a Yankee turned into a season of trial and tribulation.
It began with Brian Cashman telling him in spring training that he would never again be behind the plate in a Yankee game. I found myself painfully admitting that Jorge’s catching skills were worse than ever. So many pitches got by him. His throws to second were not nearly as hard and accurate as they once were and after 16 seasons of squatting behind home plate, his base-running had gone from bad to scary awful. So I did not disagree with the decision to make Jorge a full-time DH.
That didn’t work out as planned either. Posada seemed to have forgotten how to hit right-handed in 2011. To make matters worse, he has was twice demoted by Yankee Manager Joe Girardi prior to nationally televised games versus the hated Red Sox, once to ninth in the batting order and then to a seat on the Yankee bench. One thing many fans and sportswriters seem to forget is that professional athletes don’t perform well because of talent alone. The reason they are the very best at what they do is that they believe they can do it. When Posada walked to the plate to face a left-hander, he never once was telling himself he had no chance to hit the guy. He honestly believed in his head that he could hit anybody at anytime, so when his GM or his Manager told him he couldn’t do something anymore, he didn’t believe it for a second. Not because he was stubborn or in denial but because he had to believe it to have any chance at being successful. And in a memorable August 13th game against Tampa last year when he drove in six runs, Posada got an opportunity to show Cashman, Girardi and a national television audience that although the end of his career may have been near, it wasn’t over yet. And no true Yankee fan will forget his 6 for 14 hitting performance and .579 OBP against Detroit in last year’s ALDS. It turned out to be a fitting curtain call for a true Yankee warrior.
Yankee fans won’t see the likes of Posada ever again. Solid switch-hitting catchers who are among the top two or three best in the league at their position for about a dozen straight seasons are pretty hard if not impossible to come by. Throw in five World Series rings and an equal number of All Star game selections and Silver Slugger awards plus all the good things he did off the field and you realize what a pleasure it was to have this man catch for your favorite baseball team all that time.
Hip-Hip-Happy Birthday Jorge! Posada shares his birthday with this recently traded Yankee reliever.
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 Yankee third base coach.
The 1961 Yankees were my favorite team of all time and the 1978 Yankees were the most dramatic. The 1996 Yankees gave me the biggest thrill I ever had as a baseball fan but it was the 1998 Yankees who were the best team I’ve ever seen play a season, beginning to end. And if you had to point to one roster change that made the biggest difference between the team that lost the Divisional playoffs to Cleveland the year before and the one that won 114 regular season games and swept the Padres in the 1998 World Series, it would be the addition of Scott Brosius as New York’s starting third baseman. Born on today’s date in 1966, in Hillsboro, OR, the Yankees signed Brosius as a free agent after he spent his first seven big league seasons in Oakland.
Joe Torre inserted his right-handed bat at the bottom of the Yankee lineup. Brosius responded by hitting .300, smacking 19 home runs, scoring 86 runs and driving in 98 more. He turned the bottom of that lineup into an opposing pitcher’s nightmare and he played superb defense as well. But he saved his best for that year’s post season, batting close to .400 in thirteen October games and winning the 1998 World Series MVP award. He was an AL All Star that first year in pinstripes, a Gold Glove winner in 1999, and his thrilling game-winning home run during Game 5 of the 2001 Series against Arizona was a fitting culmination of his brief but great Yankee career.
Brosius shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
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 former Yankee infielder and one-time Florida Marlins’ Manager.
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.
The great Mariano Rivera was not used as a closer during his final minor league seasons with the Yankees’ Columbus Clippers Triple A farm team. Instead, that task was handed to today’s much lesser known Pinstripe Birthday celebrant. Dave Pavlas was born in West Germany on August 12, 1962. This tall and lanky right-hander led the Clippers in saves for three straight seasons, from 1995 through 1997. Unfortunately, he was already 33 years-old by the time he joined Columbus.
Pavlas had made his big league debut back in 1990, as a reliever with the Cubs. He got into thirteen games in his first season, won his only two decisions and compiled an impressive 2.11 ERA. But he started the next season back in the minors and when the Cubs gave him another chance at the Big Show it wasn’t much of one. In late July of the ’91 season, Pavlas was given the ball in the top of the ninth, with his team behind 4-0 against the Braves. He was hit hard, gave up a couple of runs and didn’t get another chance to pitch from a Major League mound for the next four years.
The Yankees signed him to a minor league contract in early 1995. He got called up to the Bronx in both 1995 and ’96 and did some effective relief pitching for the World Championship team of 1996. He earned his one and only big league save on August 24th of that season when he came on in the ninth inning with two men on, two outs and New York leading Oakland 5-4. The first batter he faced was future Yankee Scott Brosius, who got an infield single to load the bases. He then struck out another future Yankee, Jason Giambi, to preserve the victory.
He was just one of 14 big league players and the only member of the Yankee’s all-time roster to have been born in West Germany and he will forever hold that distinction since that country no longer technically exists. Pavlas shares his birthday with this Cuban defector who played in pinstripes.
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.
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.
Just over a 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.