September 2011

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.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
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 Baseball-Reference.com: 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.