Long time Yankee fans remember them well. The young slugging prospects brought up to the Bronx from the Yankee’s Triple A team, who start off with a bang and get us believing they may be another Ruth or Mantle in the making. Anyone remember Roger Repoz? He was my personal highlight of New York’s bitterly disappointing 1965 season. For the first time in five seasons the Yankees were about to lose a Pennant race but Repoz’s fourteen home runs in just 79 games that season had me hoping things would be different in 1966. They were. The ’66 Yankees finished in last place and Repoz finished the season in a Kansas City A’s uniform.
They kept coming. Danny Pasqua, Kevin Maas and Shane Spencer were three more-recent power-hitting Yankee phee-noms who faded away after initial homer barrages had us drooling over their futures. Then there was Shelley Duncan. I loved the guy the second I saw him. When Joe Torre inserted his bat into the Yankee lineup after the 2007 All Star break, Duncan responded with seven huge home runs in just 34 games. He hustled like crazy, seemed to be enjoying every second of his big league experience and he brought a much needed jolt of fun and enthusiasm to a stoic Yankee clubhouse. Shelley’s problem was hitting consistency. During his next two seasons he failed to make the team in spring training and when he did get called up to the Bronx, he struggled to hit .200. Plus he was not really a “young” Yankee pheenom, having turned 27 years of age before he made his big league debut in pinstripes.
Today he turns 32 and he just finished his best big league season as a fourth outfielder and some time DH with the Indians. In fact, during the past two seasons, Shelley has played 160 games for Cleveland and has hit 22 home runs and driven in 83 during that span. The Yankees don’t miss Shelley but I still sort of do.
|CLE (3 yrs)||242||770||684||87||158||37||0||33||114||2||73||191||.231||.309||.430||.739|
|NYY (3 yrs)||68||163||146||24||32||4||0||8||24||0||15||38||.219||.290||.411||.701|
|TBR (1 yr)||20||64||55||6||10||1||0||2||6||0||9||14||.182||.297||.309||.606|
Earl Combs was considered the Yankee’s first great centerfielder. In fact, the Bob Meusel, Combs, Babe Ruth Yankee outfield of the mid twenties is considered one of the best starting outfields in baseball history. But before Combs was part of it, Whitey Witt was the regular center fielder between the Bambino and Long Bob and he did not do too badly himself.
One of the smallest players in the big leagues, Witt became a Yankee when his contract was purchased from the Athletics at the beginning of the 1922 season. The Yankee front office wanted players who could get on base in front of Ruth and Meusel to give the two sluggers runners to drive in. Witt did just that in 1922 with a .400 on base percentage and 98 runs scored, helping New York get to their second straight World Series, which they again lost to the Giants. He was even better the following season when he also became the first Yankee starting centerfielder and the first Yankee ever to bat in brand new Yankee Stadium. Witt hit .314 in 1923 and scored 113 runs and New York knocked off the hated Giants that October to win their first-ever World Series flag. It looked as if Witt would be in pinstripes for a long time.
But after the 1924 Yankees slumped to second place and the 1925 team stumbled to seventh Manager Miller Huggins felt as if some of the veterans on the club, led by Ruth, were not taking their profession seriously enough. Since Ruth had to stay, the Yankee front office responded by dealing away or releasing several of the team’s veterans including Witt. After appearing in 22 games with Brooklyn in 1926, Whitey’s big league career was over.
|PHA (5 yrs)||612||2657||2322||311||643||86||39||7||167||60||270||210||.277||.353||.357||.710|
|NYY (4 yrs)||464||2022||1764||308||530||57||22||11||132||17||207||93||.300||.375||.376||.752|
|BRO (1 yr)||63||99||85||13||22||1||1||0||3||1||12||6||.259||.351||.294||.645|
The only Yankee I could find who was born on this date is a right-handed starting pitcher named Don Schulze. Schulze started two games for the 1989 Yankees, winning one and losing the other. He went 16-25 during his six-season big league career, during which he also pitched for the Cubs, Indians, Mets and Padres. The Yankees traded Schulze and third baseman Mike Pagliarullo to the Padres right after the 1989 All Star break for Walt Terrell. He is now a pitching coach in the Oakland A’s organization.
As the Yankees wind down their 2011 regular season this week, its a good time to share my Pinstripe Birthday 2011 Yankee Team Report Card. Don’t be shy. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my grading:
INFIELD – A-
1B Mark Teixeira (B+) – Another typical Teixeira year. Good home run and RBI numbers and superb defensive play at first base. Only concern I have is his declining on base percentage and batting average which can probably be traced to the fact that with A-Rod missing so many games the past two seasons, big Mark is seeing fewer good pitches to hit. Love his steady and positive demeanor during both good times and bad.
2B Robbie Cano (A) – The best all-around second baseman in baseball, hands down. A pure hitter and superb defensively.
SS Derek Jeter (A-) – I am a Derek Jeter fan. Always have been, always will be. In spite of what media morons continue to spew forth about the Yankee Captain’s decline, I still, right this minute, would choose him as the starting shortstop for my team over any other shortstop currently playing in the AL. Why? Because he plays hard, he performs well, winning is his only priority and he leads. You don’t hear him make excuses when he doesn’t come though nor do you hear him brag when he does. His 3,000th hit day at Yankee Stadium will always be one of my most favorite Yankee memories, added to a collection that already has plenty with Jeter in the starring role.
3B Alex Rodriguez (C+) – For the second consecutive season, A-Rod has experienced physical breakdowns that have limited his playing time and my grade reflects that. Seems as if his 40-to-50-homer seasons are things of the past. Still, when he’s healthy and in the Yankee lineup, it is a much better lineup.
Infield Reserves – Chavez (B) Nunez (B) – Nunez did better than I expected but his bat seemed to get tired late in season. He was also sometimes shaky on defense. I loved Chavez. The only thing that held him back (and earned him a “B” instead of an “A” grade in my book) were his injuries. He can field with the best of him and he’s got a great bat.
C Russell Martin (A-) – Loved his defense and his demeanor behind the plate. He also surprisingly helped carry the team with his bat early in the season. Will be interesting to see what Yankees do with this guy next year. I think they need to keep him.
Backup Catcher Francisco Cervelli (B) – Does just fine in this role though I have to admit I’m not a fan of his over-the-top theatrics. Problem will be next year when Montero makes the team in April instead of September. If Yankees ever expect the kid to catch at big league level, using him as both their DH and Martin’s backup next year make’s a lot of sense. That leaves Cervelli on the outside looking in.
Outfield – B+
OF – Curtis Granderson (A+) – Definitely New York’s offensive MVP this year. His performance was why Yankees were able to win without A-Rod in the lineup. The difference in his ability to hit left handers from when he first joined the Yankees and now is one of the most incredible adjustments I’ve ever seen made by a professional athlete.
OF – Nick Swisher (B+) – His lack of offense was killing the team early but his second half surge more than made up for it. I was a Nick Swisher doubter when the Yankees announced he was going to replace Bobby Abreu as their starting right-fielder but I’m not a doubter any more. His eighth inning double as a pinch hitter in the Yanks Division clinching win over Tampa this year epitomized Swisher’s value to this Yankee team. He makes all the plays and has fun doing it.
OF – Brett Gardner (B-) – I continue to be befuddled by Gardner. It seems when the Yankees really truly need him to steal a base he doesn’t go or gets caught doing so. And yet, I’ve seen him start so many rallies with his bat and his base-running. I love the fact you can’t double him up and he has turned himself into one of the best left-fielders in baseball. Maybe it’s just a case of me having too high expectations.
DH – B
Posada’s early season slump was horrific but he has more than made up for it since they stopped sending him out there versus left handers. Andruw Jones did exactly what the Yankees hoped he would do when they signed him and he was near flawless when he played the outfield. Jesus Montero is a hitter. Don’t know anything about his catching ability but this kid is a hitter.
Starting Pitching -B
Sabathia gets an A. He’s the real deal. Nova gets an A too. He was this year’s nicest and most needed surprise. Colon (B) and Garcia (B+) both pitched better than I expected but I think they are now each running on fumes. Burnett (D) was horrible and Hughes (D) a major disappointment.
Bullpen – A
Robertson (A) Excellent all year long. Soriano (C+) If he was being paid $5 or $6 million a year and stayed healthy all season I’d have given him a better grade. He certainly has pitched well recently. Boone Logan (B+) Did his job well most of the time. Mariano Rivera (A+) Another stellar season. Never gets old. No one will ever do it better.
Manager Joe Girardi – A
Managers who win their Division deserve an A for their regular season performance.