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.
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.
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.
|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|