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.
|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|
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.
|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|
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.
|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|
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.
|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|
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.
|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|