September 2011

September 29 – Happy Birthday Shelley Duncan

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.

This former Cy Young Award Winner, this 2011 World Series winner and this one time Yankee shortstop prospect all share Duncan’s September 29th birthday.

2007 NYY 34 83 74 16 19 1 0 7 17 0 8 20 .257 .329 .554 .883
2008 NYY 23 65 57 7 10 3 0 1 6 0 7 13 .175 .262 .281 .542
2009 NYY 11 15 15 1 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 5 .200 .200 .200 .400
7 Yrs 330 997 885 117 200 42 0 43 144 2 97 243 .226 .305 .419 .724
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
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/29/2013.

September 28 – Happy Birthday Whitey Witt

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.

This former Yankee relief pitcherthis one-time Yankee first baseman and this former Yankee pitching prospect were all also born on September 29th.

1922 NYY 140 628 528 98 157 11 6 4 40 5 89 29 .297 .400 .364 .763
1923 NYY 146 686 596 113 187 18 10 6 56 2 67 42 .314 .386 .408 .794
1924 NYY 147 662 600 88 178 26 5 1 36 9 45 20 .297 .346 .362 .707
1925 NYY 31 46 40 9 8 2 1 0 0 1 6 2 .200 .304 .300 .604
10 Yrs 1139 4778 4171 632 1195 144 62 18 302 78 489 309 .287 .362 .364 .726
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
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/29/2013.

September 27 – Happy Birthday Don Schulze plus the PBB 2011 Yankee Regular Season Report Card

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:

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.

September 25 – Happy Birthday Phil Rizzuto

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Scooter do Yankee games. In fact, his memorable on-air birthday wishes to Yankee fans inspired this Blog. One evening toward the end of his career in the Yankee booth, Rizzuto was going through his list of birthday announcements when the late Bobby Murcer interrupted him by asking when he was born. The Scooter didn’t answer the question so I grabbed my copy of the Baseball Encyclopedia and looked it up. Then I looked up Murcer’s, Mantle’s, Mattingly’s etc. As I did so I began to wonder if I could find a current or former Yankee born on each day of the calendar year and the task became my hobby for the next few months.

I never saw Rizzuto play the game but I grew up listening to him. I loved the fact that he was an unabashed “homer” rooting the Yankees on through good times and bad. His stories were priceless, entertaining me almost as much as a Yankee victory. I loved the one he told about spending his wedding night in a round room so he couldn’t corner his wife, Cora. Or when Bill White would ask him if he thought traffic would be bad after the game and Rizzuto would answer. “I don’t know White and I don’t intend to find out.” Or when a batter would hit a pop up and Rizzuto would say “While that ball’s up in the air Seaver I wanna wish Sophie DeCarlo up in Mt. Vernon a happy 80th birthday.” His induction speech at the Baseball Hall of Fame is a classic.

On the field, Rizzuto was one of the most valuable members of the Yankee teams that won five straight pennants from 1949 through 1953. In all he had seven championship rings and he won the 1950 AL MVP award when he reached the 200 hit plateau with a .324 average. He was an expert bunter, base runner and a terrific fielder. The great Ted Williams often stated that Rizzuto was one of the most talented players he had ever seen.  I’m glad he made it to Cooperstown while he was still alive. He was truly a Yankee legend.

This great Yankee pitcher this former Yankee second baseman and this one-time Yankee reliever were all also born on September 25th.

1941 NYY 133 547 515 65 158 20 9 3 46 14 27 36 .307 .343 .398 .741
1942 NYY 144 613 553 79 157 24 7 4 68 22 44 40 .284 .343 .374 .718
1946 NYY 126 520 471 53 121 17 1 2 38 14 34 39 .257 .315 .310 .625
1947 NYY 153 623 549 78 150 26 9 2 60 11 57 31 .273 .350 .364 .714
1948 NYY 128 539 464 65 117 13 2 6 50 6 60 24 .252 .340 .328 .668
1949 NYY 153 712 614 110 169 22 7 5 65 18 72 34 .275 .352 .358 .711
1950 NYY 155 735 617 125 200 36 7 7 66 12 92 39 .324 .418 .439 .857
1951 NYY 144 630 540 87 148 21 6 2 43 18 58 27 .274 .350 .346 .696
1952 NYY 152 673 578 89 147 24 10 2 43 17 67 42 .254 .337 .341 .678
1953 NYY 134 506 413 54 112 21 3 2 54 4 71 39 .271 .383 .351 .734
1954 NYY 127 373 307 47 60 11 0 2 15 3 41 23 .195 .291 .251 .541
1955 NYY 81 181 143 19 37 4 1 1 9 7 22 18 .259 .369 .322 .691
1956 NYY 31 66 52 6 12 0 0 0 6 3 6 6 .231 .310 .231 .541
13 Yrs 1661 6718 5816 877 1588 239 62 38 563 149 651 398 .273 .351 .355 .706
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/25/2013.

September 22 – Happy Birthday Bob Lemon

Only eight men in baseball history have accomplished what Bob Lemon did in 1978, which is managing a New York Yankee team to a World Series Championship. Only five of those former Yankee skippers are now in Baseball’s Hall of Fame and Bob Lemon is one of them. Unlike fellow Hall of Famer’s Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Bucky Harris and Casey Stengel, however, Bob Lemon got into Cooperstown for his pitching accomplishments and not his managing career.

Born in San Bernardino, CA on September 22, 1922, Lemon was one of the best starting pitchers in baseball from 1947 through 1956. During that span he compiled seven 20-victory seasons and a won-loss record of 197-111 for the Cleveland Indians. He started his managing career in the minors in Hawaii, in 1964 and got his first big league skipper assignment with the Royals in 1970. That lasted for two and a half seasons. Bill Veeck then hired him to manage the White Sox in 1977 and Lemon led the team to a 90-72 record. His Windy City success was short-lived, however and when the Sox got off to a 34-40 start the following year, the guy everyone called “Meat” was fired.

The timing couldn’t have been any better. Billy Martin was then feuding with Yankee superstar, Reggie Jackson and drinking heavily. Between the booze, the constant probing of the Big Apple sports media and the pressure of working for George Steinbrenner, Martin seemed to be on the verge of suffering a nervous breakdown. Lemon’s old Cleveland Indian teammate, Al Rosen, was then working for Steinbrenner as Yankee President and the Boss had grown up in Cleveland and loved hiring ex-Indian stars. When Martin made his famous “One’s a born liar and the other’s a convicted one.” charge, Rosen called Lemon and asked him to take over the Yankees. At the time, New York’s record was a decent 52-42 but they were fourteen games behind the wickedly hot Red Sox.

Lemon employed the exact opposite managing style of the mercurial Martin. He pretty much made out a lineup card and then sat back in the dugout and watched his players play. The Yankee team responded to his almost grandfatherly approach by winning 48 of their next sixty-eight games including the legendary playoff game at Fenway and went on to win their second straight World Series that year. Author Maury Allen wrote in his book “All Roads Lead to October,” that Neville Chamberlain would have loved Lemon because he “brought peace in our time” to the Yankee clubhouse. Never-the-less, afraid of a fan backlash for his removal of the popular Martin, Steinbrenner had already orchestrated the now-famous announcement during the 1978 Yankee Old Timer’s Day that Lemon would be promoted to the GM position after the 1979 season and Billy Martin would again be Yankee manager.

That winter, Lemon’s youngest son was killed in automobile accident. Al Rosen claimed the tragedy took the life out of his old teammate. Lemon started drinking heavily and didn’t seem focused when he returned to manage the Yankees in 1979. When New York got off to a lackluster 34-31 start that season, Steinbrenner fast forwarded the return of Martin and the Yankee managerial position became a game of musical chairs that would continue for the next fifteen years. Lemon would get one more shot at Skippering the Yankees in 1981, replacing Gene Michael with just 25 games remaining in that crazy, strike shortened, split-in-two-parts season.. The Yankees made it to the World Series but they lost to the Dodgers in six games. Lemon’s second tenure as Yankee field boss ended 14 games into the 1982 season when he was replaced by Gene Michael and the game of musical chairs continued. Lemon passed away in January of 2000 at the age of 79.

He shares his September 22nd birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and this former Yankee catcher.

Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
6 1978 57 New York Yankees AL 3rd of 3 68 48 20 .706 1 WS Champs
7 1979 58 New York Yankees AL 1st of 2 65 34 31 .523 4
8 1981 60 New York Yankees AL 2nd of 2 25 11 14 .440 6 AL Pennant Second half of season
9 1982 61 New York Yankees AL 1st of 3 14 6 8 .429 5
Kansas City Royals 3 years 425 207 218 .487 3.3
Chicago White Sox 2 years 236 124 112 .525 4.0
New York Yankees 4 years 172 99 73 .576 4.0 2 Pennants and 1 World Series Title
8 years 833 430 403 .516 3.8 2 Pennants and 1 World Series Title
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/22/2013.

September 19 – Happy Birthday Nick Etten

Nick Etten

The best Yankee players from just about any era in the history of the franchise are generally accorded all the trappings and honors that go with that designation. These guys usually receive serious Hall of Fame consideration if not outright induction. Many are honored with plaques in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park and you still see their names and uniform numbers on the backs of tribute-paying fans who attend Yankee games. At the very least, their names are still mentioned in polls that ask who the top five all-time Yankees are at each position. So I ask why have most Yankee fans never heard of Nick Etten?

Etten was the best and most celebrated player on three consecutive Yankee teams. He captured an AL Home Run crown and an AL RBI title as well. In fact, during his peak three seasons with New York, he drove in more runs than any other player in the American League. He also won a World Series ring in pinstripes. So I ask again, why do so few Yankee fans even know who Nick Etten is?

The answer lies in timing. Etten had his best seasons as a Yankee when the best Yankee players were wearing military uniforms instead of pinstriped ones. Buddy Hassett, who played first for New York in 1942, had been drafted into the military so the Yankees needed to replace him. They targeted Etten, a native of Spring Grove, IL, who was then playing for the Phillies and traded for him. Why Etten? Probably because he was a left handed hitter who could reach the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium and they could get him pretty cheap (two guys named Ed Gettel and Ed Levy and ten thousand Yankee dollars did the trick.)

In any event, Etten did exactly what the Yankees needed him to do, offensively at least, by driving in 309 runs during the next three seasons. Defensively, it was an entirely different story. I’ve read that Etten was the worst defensive first baseman in Yankee history. He refused to move to his right on any ground ball hit that way, which turned the hole between first and second in the Yankee’s wartime infield into a canyon. When he did manage to get his glove on the baseball, Etten had a tough time holding it and throwing it. He made 50 errors during his three seasons as the Yankee’s first baseman. For comparison’s sake, Mark Teixeira has committed a total of just 11 errors during his three seasons as Yankee first baseman and Jason Giambi, who was the poorest defensive first baseman I ever saw play for New York, committed just 36 miscues during his eight seasons with the team.

Etten’s moment in the Bronx sun ended pretty quickly when the drafted and enlisted Yankees returned from military service. He continued to start at first for most of the 1946 season but his average and run production numbers tumbled. In April of 1947, the Yankees sold him back to the Phillies and he was out of the big leagues for good before the end of the 1947 season.

Etten shares his September 19th birthday with this other former Yankee first baseman, this former Yankee pitcher,  this 1958 Cy Young Award winner. and his WWII era teammate of Etten’s.

1943 NYY 154 666 583 78 158 35 5 14 107 3 76 31 .271 .355 .420 .775
1944 NYY 154 680 573 88 168 25 4 22 91 4 97 29 .293 .399 .466 .865
1945 NYY 152 663 565 77 161 24 4 18 111 2 90 23 .285 .387 .437 .824
1946 NYY 108 364 323 37 75 14 1 9 49 0 38 35 .232 .315 .365 .680
9 Yrs 937 3840 3320 426 921 167 25 89 526 22 480 199 .277 .371 .423 .794
NYY (4 yrs) 568 2373 2044 280 562 98 14 63 358 9 301 118 .275 .370 .429 .799
PHI (3 yrs) 304 1203 1040 120 299 52 7 23 128 12 154 63 .288 .381 .417 .798
PHA (2 yrs) 65 264 236 26 60 17 4 3 40 1 25 18 .254 .326 .398 .724
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/21/2013.

September 18 – Happy Birthday Ken Brett

Ken Brett’s Major League pitching career was overshadowed by the hitting success of his younger brother, Hall-of-Famer, George. Ken was a great hitter too, perhaps the best hitting pitcher of his era. He averaged .300 twice in the big leagues, once for Boston, in 1970 and again as a Pirate, in 1974. But if he hadn’t suffered an arm injury as a Minor Leaguer, the elder Brett definitely had the pitches and confidence to become a top-flight starter at the Major League level.

He made his big league debut in 1967 with the Red Sox, ending up on Boston’s World Series roster when their ace reliever, Sparky Lyle was forced out by injury. The eighteen year old Brett pitched an inning and a third of scoreless relief against the Cardinals and seemed like he was destined for great things. Instead, he became a big league nomad, pitching for ten different franchises over a 14-year career that included a two-game, one-save lay-over in pinstripes during the early part of the 1976 season. He had come to the Yankees in a trade with the Pirates along with Willie Randolph and Dock Ellis in exchange for Doc Medich. I remember hoping at the time that perhaps Brett would pleasantly surprise Yankee fans and effectively take Medich’s spot in the rotation. Instead it was the flaky Ellis who surprised us all by stepping up and delivering a very good 1976 season as a Yankee starter. With one Dock replacing the other, New York had little need for Brett so he and Rich Coggins were traded to the White Sox for Carlos May in May of that 1976 season.

His best years on the mound were 1973 and 74 when he put up back-to-back 13-9 seasons, first with the Phillies and then the Pirates. He was named to the NL All Star team for that 1974 performance. Brett was born on September 18, 1948 in Brooklyn, NY. The family moved to California where Brett became a high school baseball star. He died from brain cancer, in 2003.

Also celebrating a birthday on September 18th is a pitcher from the 1920s who was a three-time 20-game winner for the Indians who pitched two seasons in pinstripes at the end of his career. Even though he won 200 games during his big league career and led the AL in victories twice, I had never heard of this guy until I researched him for last year’s Pinstripe Birthday post. See if you have. One of the 11 Yankees who played third base for the team during the 2013 season was also born on this date.

1976 NYY 0 0 0.00 2 0 1 0 0 1 2.1 2 0 0 0 0 1 0.857
14 Yrs 83 85 .494 3.93 349 184 70 51 8 11 1526.1 1490 734 666 127 562 807 1.344
BOS (4 yrs) 10 15 .400 4.58 79 24 20 1 0 3 239.2 219 134 122 30 136 237 1.481
KCR (2 yrs) 1 1 .500 2.96 30 0 17 0 0 3 45.2 43 16 15 2 19 11 1.358
PIT (2 yrs) 22 14 .611 3.32 50 43 4 14 4 0 309.0 302 128 114 19 95 143 1.285
CAL (2 yrs) 10 15 .400 4.54 52 31 7 6 1 1 242.0 257 133 122 27 80 84 1.393
CHW (2 yrs) 16 16 .500 3.81 40 39 1 18 1 1 283.1 272 129 120 15 91 130 1.281
MIN (1 yr) 0 0 4.97 9 0 1 0 0 0 12.2 16 7 7 1 6 3 1.737
PHI (1 yr) 13 9 .591 3.44 31 25 2 10 1 0 211.2 206 91 81 19 74 111 1.323
LAD (1 yr) 4 3 .571 3.45 30 0 14 0 0 2 47.0 52 20 18 1 12 13 1.362
NYY (1 yr) 0 0 0.00 2 0 1 0 0 1 2.1 2 0 0 0 0 1 0.857
MIL (1 yr) 7 12 .368 4.53 26 22 3 2 1 0 133.0 121 76 67 13 49 74 1.278
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/20/2013.

September 17 – Happy Birthday to Marshall Who?

It was 1983. The Yankees needed to come up with a new starting first baseman to replace John Mayberry,  the aging slugger they had inserted in that slot the previous season. This was an era in the George Steinbrenner years of team ownership when the Yankee farm system was treated pretty much as an afterthought when it came to filling important roster spots on the big league club. But this situation was going to be different. The Columbus Clippers, the Yankees Triple A franchise at the time, had a real stud starting at first base. He had just finished his final minor league season with 31 home runs and 96 RBI’s. That was the third consecutive year he had hit at least 20 dingers and driven in at least 90 runs for Columbus while he waited for the parent club to give up trying to insert veterans like Mayberry and Bob Watson at his position and instead, turn to their top Triple A prospect. And that’s exactly what happened. In 1983, after experimenting with Ken Griffey Sr. during the beginning of the season, the Yankee’s relented and called up a player from their Columbus farm team, eventually making him their starting first baseman. But it wasn’t today’s birthday celebrant. Marshall Brant’s only big league exposure during his very productive three-year stint as the Yankee’s top minor league first base prospect took place in 1980, when he went hitless in six at-bats, in three games. Instead, the Yankees called up outfielder Don Mattingly and gave him a first baseman’s mitt and the rest is history. Marshall Brant was born on today’s date in 1955, in Garberville, CA.

Also born on this date is a Yankee outfielder who once made an important and impressive throw for New York.

September 15 – Happy Birthday Charley Smith

One of the last amateurs to be drafted by the old Brooklyn Dodgers in 1957, this Charleston, South Carolina native, who was born on September 15, 1937, became the Mets’ starting third baseman in 1964. He led that Met team in home runs with 20 that season but he also led them in strikeouts, with 101 in just 127 total games. When Smith’s home run total declined the following season and his strikeout total climbed, the Mets included him with pitcher Al Jackson in a trade to St Louis for the Cardinals’ All-Star and former NL MVP, third baseman Ken Boyer. After playing just one season with the Cards, Smith was traded for another former MVP to replace another third baseman named Boyer.

The Yankees disenchanted slugger, Roger Maris had decided to retire after a broken hand had sapped much of his once record-breaking power. Instead, New York traded Maris to the Cardinals in exchange for Smith. The Yankees also dealt their starting third baseman, Clete Boyer, to the Braves for outfielder Bill Robinson so Smith was pegged to fill that hole at the hot corner. Both deals backfired on New York. Maris went to St Louis and enjoyed a successful two-year conclusion to his noteworthy career that included consecutive World Series appearances. Boyer had the best season of his career in Atlanta in 1967. During the three seasons Robinson played in Pinstripes his batting averages were .196, .240 and .171. Smith did a bit better. During his two years with the Yankees, he hit .224 and .229. Charley died in 1994 at the very young age of 57.

Charley shares his September 15th birthday with this Hall of Fame Pitcher.

September 13 – Happy Birthday Rick Dempsey

I was a big Rick Dempsey fan. Right after the 1972 season ended, the Yankees traded an outfielder named Danny Walton to the Twins to acquire the then 23-year-old catcher. New York would then send Dempsey to their Syracuse Triple A farm club for the 1973 season. In 1974, he became Thurman Munson’s primary backup and remained in that position for the next two and a half seasons. The guy became a superb defensive catcher and he had a shotgun for an arm. During his first season backing up Munson, he threw out 16 of the 22 base runners who tried to steal against him. He saw his most action in pinstripes during the 1975 campaign, when he got into 71 games. Never a great hitter, he had a career high .262 average that year and would often DH or play in the outfield if he wasn’t giving Munson a breather. Even though he didn’t hit for average or power, the guy was a grinder at the plate and a tough out in big situations.

Dempsey adored Munson. In a baseball Digest interview he did later on in his career, he said of the late great Yankee Captain, “I always admired his determination and tenacity, the way he played the game. I always said if I got a chance to play every day I wanted to be just like him.” Rick also loved being a Yankee. He credits Munson and Bobby Murcer for showing him how to act like a baseball player and he says working with Yankee coach and former big league All Star receiver Jim Hegan, made him a much better catcher. But Dempsey’s Yankee days were numbered.

In 1976 with Billy Martin now managing and George Steinbrenner’s “Let’s Win Now” philosophy taking hold, the Yankees decided to sacrifice their best young players to obtain veterans who could help them win that year’s division race. On June 15, 1976, New York traded Dempsey along with pitchers Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor and Dave Pagan to the Baltimore Orioles for Doyle Alexander, Jimmy Freeman, Elrod Hendricks, Ken Holtzman and Grant Jackson. New York got the immediate benefit they were looking for from the deal because Alexander, Holtzman and Grant combined to win 25 games during the second half of that season as New York finished in first by 10.5 games over the Orioles. But in the long run, the deal turned out to be one of the best trades ever made by the Orioles organization. Martinez became the foundation of their bullpen, McGregor the foundation of their rotation and Dempsey the foundation of their defense for the next decade, culminating with the 1983 World Championship.

During the ten seasons Dempsey served as Baltimore’s starting catcher (not including the strike shortened 1981 season) the Birds averaged over 90 victories per year. The highlight of his career was the Orioles 1983 World Series triumph over the Phillies in which Dempsey batted .385 and was named MVP. He ended up becoming a free agent after the 1986 season and signing with the Indians. After one year in Cleveland he played three more with the Dodgers and another three in Milwaukee before coming back to Baltimore for the 1992 swan song to his 24-season big league career. He along with Tim McCarver and Carlton Fisk are the only three catchers in big league history to catch games in four different decades.

One of Dempsey’s trademarks was his comedy act during rain delays. He’d put a beach ball over his belly under his jersey, turn his cap sideways, make believe he hit an inside the park home run and then water slide his way around imaginary bases atop the drenched infield rain tarp. These pantomime performances caused Baltimore fans to actually begin to praying for rain delays.

Today is also the birthday of the 1998 AL Batting Championthis 1997 20-game winning pitcher, and this other former Yankee catcher.

1973 NYY 6 13 11 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 .182 .250 .182 .432
1974 NYY 43 119 109 12 26 3 0 2 12 1 8 7 .239 .288 .321 .609
1975 NYY 71 170 145 18 38 8 0 1 11 0 21 15 .262 .353 .338 .691
1976 NYY 21 48 42 1 5 0 0 0 2 0 5 4 .119 .213 .119 .332
24 Yrs 1766 5407 4692 525 1093 223 12 96 471 20 592 736 .233 .319 .347 .666
BAL (12 yrs) 1245 4105 3585 405 854 169 12 75 355 16 424 538 .238 .319 .355 .674
MIN (4 yrs) 41 76 66 4 15 3 0 0 0 0 9 10 .227 .320 .273 .593
NYY (4 yrs) 141 350 307 31 71 11 0 3 25 1 35 29 .231 .308 .296 .605
LAD (3 yrs) 218 532 446 54 94 25 0 13 61 3 78 110 .211 .326 .354 .680
CLE (1 yr) 60 170 141 16 25 10 0 1 9 0 23 29 .177 .295 .270 .565
MIL (1 yr) 61 174 147 15 34 5 0 4 21 0 23 20 .231 .329 .347 .676
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/19/2013.