Born in Lenoir, NC in 1904, this hot-tempered right-hander had a knack for long winning streaks until he injured his arm in 1938 and never fully recovered. As a young man, Allen worked as a bellhop. When a guest in his hotel complained he couldn’t get any heat in is room, Allen was sent to check out the complaint. The occupant of the room turned out to be the great Yankee scout Paul Krichell. Allen told the cold talent evaluator he was a pitcher and after he got the heating problem solved, a grateful Krichell arranged a Yankee tryout for him.
He pitched some excellent baseball for New York in the early thirties. As a 27 year old rookie, he went 17-4 for the 1932 Yankees. After winning 50 games during his four seasons in Pinstripes and fighting with the Yankee front-office about money, Allen was traded to Cleveland, where he promptly won 20 games in 1936 and went 15-1 the year after. At one point over three seasons, Johnny won 27 of 29 decisions with the Indians. It was a good thing too, because he was a sore loser, known to go after both umpires and teammates when he came up on the short end of a close or disputed decision.
After Allen hurt his arm, he was traded to the Browns and then spent some time with Brooklyn, winning 8 of 9 decisions as a Dodger. He ended his career with the Giants in 1944. This made him one of a very few pitchers who pitched for the Big Apple’s three original Major League franchises. He compiled a 142-75 record, lifetime. He was just 54 years of age when he suffered a heart attack and died.
Allen shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee outfielder.
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.
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.
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.
What I love about writing this Blog are the things I learn about Yankee history that I didn’t know. Today’s post offers an excellent example of that. If not for a collision at home plate and some bad knees, Joe DiMaggio might never have been a Yankee and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Dixie “The People’s Cherce” Walker would probably have been the guy who replaced him.
The collision at home plate took place between Dixie and a Chicago White Sox catcher named Charley Berry during Walker’s 1933 rookie season with the Yankees. Earlier that year, Walker had been knocked down twice in the same game by a Chicago pitcher. After he got up from the ground after the second brushback, Walker told Berry he’d be coming in hard at home the next chance he got. Sure enough, later that same year Dusty found himself rounding third and bearing down on Berry. There were three problems for Dusty with this scenario. Berry outweighed Dusty by ten pounds, he was wearing protective catcher’s gear, and he knew Walker was coming to get him. With the element of surprise gone, Berry braced himself for what was a violent collision at the plate. Not only did Berry hold onto the ball but it was Dusty who ended up getting injured on the play, suffering a separated shoulder that would keep getting dislocated for the rest of the outfielder’s years in the Yankee organization.
Fred Walker was born in Villa Rica, Georgia on September 24, 1910. His Dad had been a pitcher with the Senators who went 25-31 during his four years in the big leagues. His Father, who’s real first name had been Ewart, had thankfully been given the nickname Dixie and the son inherited it. The Walker family had baseball in its blood. Dusty Sr.’s brother Ernie had been an outfielder with the Browns and Dusty’s own kid brother, Harry, would one day win an NL Batting title and later become one of the great hitting instructors in the history of the game.
The Yankees had purchased Dusty Walker’s contract from a minor league team in 1930. For the next three years, he tore up minor league pitching at every level and the Yankees front office took notice. With Babe Ruth growing older and ornery, New York needed to groom his replacement and by 1933, the prime candidate for that role had become Walker. He was given his first real chance to show what he could do at the big league level in 1933. Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy played his rookie in center field and often batted him lead-off. Walker was just 22-years-old at the time and responded with a strong season. In 98 games of action, he hit .274 and proved his left-handed swing was well-suited for Yankee Stadium by drilling 15 home runs and driving in 51. But he also tore up that shoulder and McCarthy had little respect or use for players who would not play hurt. Knowing that, Walker tried to play through his injury, which only exasperated his condition. He could no longer throw the ball and if you played center field for a big league club you had to be able to throw the ball.
As Walker tried to play through his shoulder problems in the Minors, the Yankee front office began taking notice of this DiMaggio kid playing out in San Francisco. He had put together a 61-game hitting streak in the Pacific Coast League but most big league teams were leery of him because he had suffered some knee injuries and the rumor was, he could not stay healthy. The Yankee’s minor league development guy was the tight-fisted genius, George Weiss. With few other suitors to compete against, Weiss was able to purchase the future Yankee Clipper’s contract for just $25,000 and as soon as he did, Walker was no longer the chosen one to replace Ruth as the next Yankee franchise outfielder.
The Yankees then traded Dixie to the White Sox where he once again dislocated that bum shoulder. That’s when it was determined that surgery was Walker’s only option and in what was a pretty experimental procedure back then, a bone graft was done to rebuild a chip in his shoulder and from that point on in his career, it never dislocated again. He hit .302 for the White Sox in 1937. He got traded to Detroit the following season and hit .308 in MoTown. But he hurt his knee while playing for the Tigers and when Detroit’s front office told him he needed another operation, Walker refused and was sold to the Dodgers.
Dixie would spend the next nine seasons becoming the star outfielder for “Dem Bums.” He would average .311 during that time and win the 1944 NL Batting title in the process. Dodger fans adored him until he threatened to not play if Jackie Robinson was made his Brooklyn teammate. His prejudice got him banished to Pittsburgh, where he played out his career and retired after the 1949 season.
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.
If you’re a Yankee fan who is at least twenty years old, you probably remember Cecil Fielder well. He was born on today’s date in 1963, in Los Angeles. The Yankees acquired the slugging first baseman from Detroit during the 1996 season in a move designed to get some right-handed power on their bench. Fielder filled that role perfectly, blasting 13 home runs and driving in 68 in just 98 games.
When starting first baseman, Tino Martinez slumped in the AL playoffs and New York fell behind 2-0 in the ’96 World Series against the Braves, Joe Torre started Fielder at first in the DH-less games in Atlanta and benched Martinez. Cecil responded with an overall .391 average in that Series and because Tino ended up hitting just .091 against Atlanta, many Big Apple sports pundits predicted Fielder would see a lot more action at first base for New York, in ’97. That rumor gained even more traction during the off-season, when the Yankee front-office let it be known that they were considering offering the big guy a three-year contract extension.
That’s when Fielder and his agent over-played their hand and started making some hefty demands involving dollars. The Yankees backed off and New York fans responded to Fielder’s whining by turning on the huge slugger when the 97 season got underway. Fielder’s Yankee fate was sealed when he broke his thumb that July while Martinez was simultaneously in the process of putting together the season of his life, hitting 44 homers and driving in 141 runs. The Yankees’ released Cecil following their playoff loss that year to the Indians.
Since that time, published reports alleging Fielder had severe gambling problems certainly help explain why Fielder seemed to behave so greedily during that 1996 off-season negotiation. We also have since learned that Cecil’s look-alike son Prince, now a big league slugger in his own right, had pretty much disowned the elder Fielder years ago, disgusted with his Father’s gambling habits and resulting money problems. I read one article that claimed Cecil took half of Prince’s bonus money when his son signed with the Brewers.
Too bad for the Fielders and too bad for Major League Baseball. After all, these two guys are the only father and son combination to both hit fifty home runs in a big league season. They should be doing commercials together. Cecil earned close to $50 million playing the game and as soon as Prince signs his next contract he’ll get at least double if not triple that amount, for sure. Ordinary fans struggling to pay their property taxes, health insurance premiums and grocery bills have a real difficult time comprehending how money ever gets to be a divisive issue with athletes who have so God darn much of it, especially when those athletes are father and son.
In any event, the Yankees might not have won that 1996 World Championship without Cecil Fielder. I hope he gets his priorities and his problems straightened out and finds some peace in the years ahead.
Fielder shares his September 21st birthday with another former big league star who got traded to the Yankees late in his career and who also had to do battle with a debilitating personal demon. This long-ago Yankee outfielder was also born on this date.
I was seven years old when I heard the news that Tony Kubek was not going to be able to play for the Yankees during the 1962 baseball season because he had to report for National Guard duty. Having just started following the Yankees in 1960, this represented the first time ever that I was about to experience one of my favorite team’s regular players leave the lineup. Up until Kubek’s military call-up, I probably thought only death could separate Skowren from Richardson, from Kubek, from Boyer, from Howard, from Mantle from Maris from Berra, etc.
So who was going to play shortstop for New York? The Yankees answered that question by bringing up Tom Tresh from their Richmond minor league team. Born on September 20, 1937 in Detroit, Tresh was a switch hitter, just like my boyhood hero, Mickey Mantle and his dad Mike had been a catcher for the White Sox in the late thirties and early forties. The Yankees batted Tresh second in the lineup, just like Kubek, and he was having a great year. He had more power than Kubek, hitting 20 home runs in 1962 and he also drove in 93. He wasn’t as good a shortstop as Kubek but not many were. When I learned Kubek would be back in a Yankee uniform in August of that season, I was torn. I liked Tony but this new guy had grown on me. When I heard the Yankees were going to instead use Tresh as their regular left-fielder when Kubek returned, I was an ecstatic young man.
The Yankees ended up winning the 1962 pennant and another World Series and Tresh made the All Star team and was voted the AL Rookie of the Year. I was sure Mantle, Maris and Tresh would be the best outfield in baseball for a long time. Unfortunately, as it turned out, injuries to both Mantle and Maris prevented that from happening. Tresh made the defensive transition to his new position seamlessly, even winning a Gold Glove in 1965. But he never again put together as good an offensive year as he had during his rookie season. Though New York won Pennants in 1963 and ’64, their core group of starting position players got old fast and by 1965, most of their skills had deserted them. Even the much younger Tresh stopped hitting. His highest single season batting average after 1965 was just .233.
I was shocked back in October of 2008 when a headline at NYTimes.com reported Tom Tresh had died. I was probably more shocked to find out that he was seventy years old at the time. Where have all those Yankee baseball summers gone?
Tresh shares his birthday with another one-time Yankee shortstop prospect.
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.