His real name was Francesco Stephano Pezzolo and he holds a dear place in my heart because he was the first player of Italian descent to play for the New York Yankees. He was a legendary slugger in the Pacific Coast League before joining the White Sox in 1911. He played four seasons in Chicago and then a year with the Philadelphia Athletics. The Yankees got him in 1918 and he spent his last four Major League seasons in a New York uniform. He was the starting Yankee right-fielder for two of those years and he was also Babe Ruth’s first Yankee roommate. His best season in New York was 1920 when he drove in 79 runs and hit .295. San Francisco-born Italian Americans who followed Bodie to the Yankees and credited him as their inspiration included Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, and Frankie Crosetti.
After he hit just .172 in 1921 both his Yankee and Major League playing careers were over. He went back out west and continued playing in the Pacific Coast League for a while, eventually migrating to Hollywood where he began his second career as an electrician in the movie industry. Bodie became well known on movie sets and created friendships with several of the leading actors and actresses of his day. He died in 1961 at the age of 74.
For every player who was an all-star as a Yankee there are thirty to fifty members of the team’s all-time roster who were not. But if you’re a loyal Yankee fan, you remember the subs as well as the starters. Take today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant as an example. In August of 1998 the Yankees were looking for a right handed middle reliever to add to their bullpen. Since that ’98 Yankee team won 114 regular season games, you wonder why they were looking for anything at that time because they already had the best-winning team in franchise history. Despite that, the Yankees had tried to make a deal for Padres’ right-hander Brian Boehringer, who had already pitched for New York the three previous seasons but the deal kept breaking down. Instead New York and San Diego swapped four pitchers and Jim Bruske was the only one of the four with Major League experience.
At first the Yankees put their new acquisition in Triple A but when the big league rosters expanded to 40 on September 1 of that year, Bruske was brought up to the parent club. He made a couple of relief appearances first but after clinching the AL East Pennant, New York was setting up their pitching rotation for the playoffs and gave Bruske a start against the lowly Devil Rays. He went five innings and got the win. It was his fifth consecutive winning decision over a two season period. It would also be the only decision of his Yankee career. When he failed to make the team’s big league roster the following spring, New York released him. He resurfaced in Milwaukee during the 2000 season and won his sixth straight big league decision as a Brewer. He would end his big league career that same season with that streak intact and a 9-1 lifetime record.
Bruske was born in East St Louis, IL, grew up in California and was originally an outfielder. He played his college ball at Loyola Marymount, where he started in the same outfield as Billy Beane, who would later become the first Major League Baseball player to publicly discuss his homosexuality. Bruske shares his October 7th birthday with this Yankee pitcher from the early 1960s.
Many Yankee fans, including myself, did not think it was a good thing to be depending upon Freddie Garcia to hold down the number four spot in the Yankee’s starting rotation coming out of the Team’s 2011 spring training season. He proved us wrong. Freddie did just fine in that slot winning 12 games and posting a strong 3.69 ERA in his 25 regular season starts. The fourth starter on the glorified 2011 Philadelphia rotation was Roy Oswalt. He went 9-10 with the same ERA as Freddie.
After a 17-8 debut season with the Mariners in 1999 as a 22-year-old, Freddie evolved into one of the AL’s top pitchers. He won a total of 116 games over his first nine big league seasons. Forty of those wins came after the Mariners traded the big right hander to the White Sox before the 2004 All Star break. The Caracas, Venezuela native helped Chicago get to and win the 2005 World Series by going a perfect 3-0 in that postseason, which included the Series-clinching Game 4 victory against Houston. Windy City baseball fans were enraged when after “the Chief” put together a 17-9 record the following year, he was traded to the Phillies for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez. Unbelievably, it turned out that the White Sox got the better end of that deal.
That 2007 season was Garcia’s option year and disaster struck when he injured his throwing shoulder. He was probably worried that the injury would dampen his value as a free agent so he attempted to hide it from Philadelphia management and pitch his way through it. That proved to be a poor decision on his part as he went just 1-5 with the Phillies before finally going on the DL. As he feared, the injured arm ruined his chances for signing a “big” contract and he ended up accepting one-year Minor League deals first from the Tigers in 2008, the Mets in 2009, back with the White Sox in 2010 and then with the Yankees this season.
Will he get a chance to pitch for the Yankees next year? I’d say that depends on what the Yankees decide to do with their young starting pitching prospects this spring. As big a contribution as Garcia and Bartolo Colon made to the Yankee’s successful 2011 regular season success, having pitchers who can get you wins in the postseason is always the priority. Still, Garcia made me a believer this past season in his ability to pitch effectively at the big league level.
After the Yankee dynasty crumbled in 1965, the next two seasons were outright disasters in the Bronx. New York finished last in the AL in 1966 and next-to-last in ’67 and every single one of the starting position players from their 1964 World Series team either experienced precipitous declines in their playing skills or were traded away for players who then failed miserably in pinstripes. New York’s starting outfield was a perfect example. The hope was that veteran but still young Yankees Joe Pepitone and Tom Tresh would handle center and left respectively, while promising newcomer Bill Robinson, who had been obtained from the Braves for Clete Boyer, would become the new right fielder. Tresh hit just .219 in 67, Pepitone contributed just 13 home runs that year and Robinson was a complete bust, averaging just .196.
So as the Yankees approached their 1968 spring training, Manager Ralph Houk was contemplating inserting some new blood in the Yankee outfield. The top three candidates were young Yankee prospects Steve Whitaker and Roy White plus a guy the Yankees had picked up from Oakland in the Rule 5 Draft. His name was Andy Kosco.
Kosco had been an outstanding three-sport athlete in high school, who had scholarship offers from top colleges around the country in baseball, basketball and football. He also had a contract offer from the Detroit Tigers that included a $45,000 bonus. Since baseball was Kosco’s favorite sport, he decided to sign with the Tigers. The young switch-hitter spent the next four-plus seasons struggling to make his way up the Tigers’ minor league ladder. Before he could do so, Detroit traded him to the Twins who sent Kosco to the team’s Bismarck farm team. There he met a coach named Vern Morgan who talked Kosco into giving up switch-hitting and to only hit from the right side. He also got rid of the upper cut in his swing and taught him to pull the ball. Andy ended up hitting right around .350 and two years later found himself playing for the Twins. Actually he was wearing a Twins’ uniform but instead of playing he was sitting in the dugout watching Twins outfielders, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison and Jimmy Hall do all the playing. The Twins sent him to Oakland where crazy Charley Finley forgot about him and left him off the A’s 40-man roster and the Yankees snagged him in November of 1967.
At first Houk used him as his fourth outfielder on that ’68 Yankee team but by the end of April, he was starting Kosco in right. In his first game as a regular he hit a home run into the old Yankee Stadium’s almost impossible to reach left field upper deck. He homered in his next game as well. When Houk moved Tresh to shortstop and inserted Roy White in left, the Yankees started winning some games and the two new corner outfielders were getting a fair share of the credit for the team’s success.
Although Andy’s hitting tailed off significantly after that year’s All Star break, his 15 home runs were third best on the team and his 59 RBI’s were second best to Roy White’s 62 that season. That 1968 Yankee team finished 83-79 and ended up in fifth place, a great improvement over the previous two seasons. I remember thinking that Kosco was at the beginning of a solid career in New York. Little did I know that the Yankee front office had different plans. A few weeks before Christmas in 1968, Kosco was traded to the Dodgers for pitcher and famed future wife-swapper, Mike Kekich. He ended up spending all or parts of ten seasons in the big leagues, with seven different teams. 1974 was his final year in the Majors.
The Yankees had their own California Gold Rush in the 1920′s and ’30′s. New York’s favorite mine for the precious metal was the Pacific Coast League, which back then was the equivalent of Major League Baseball for the western United States. The team’s prospecting began with San Francisco native Tony Lazzeri who the Yanks acquired from his Salt Lake City PCL team in August of 1925. Four years later, they struck gold again when they purchased the contract of pitcher Lefty Gomez from the San Francisco Seals. Their most famous western find of course was the great Joe DiMaggio, also born in the City by the Bay and also acquired from the Seals in 1934. In between the Gomez and DiMaggio additions came Frankie “The Crow” Crosetti, who was born on today’s date in 1910 in San Francisco. He spent more seasons in a Yankee uniform than any other human being. These included ten seasons as a starting shortstop, seven more as back-up shortstop and then a twenty-season tenure as New York’s third base coach. Not a force with the bat, Frankie was a good base-runner, an excellent fielder and one of the game’s all-time great sign stealers. He was also a skilled bunter and turned the act of getting hit by a pitch into an art form. He became one of Joe McCarthy’s favorite players.
The Yankees of the 1920s were a rowdy bunch, led by the greatest partier and biggest kid in big league history, Babe Ruth. The Yankees of the thirties eventually became the team of Lou Gehrig and McCarthy. They were all business on the field and much more quiet and reserved off of it. Crosetti joined the Yankees as the club was in the process of transitioning from being Ruth’s team to being Gehrig’s. Picking a side was an easy choice for the Crow.
Crosetti was a quiet guy off the field. In his New York Daily News obituary, the writer describes an evening after a Yankee game on the road, at the team’s hotel. Crosetti, Lazzeri and DiMaggio all came down to the lobby at the same time and sat next to each other for an hour and twenty minutes and not one of the three players said a word to each other.
He finished his playing career with a .245 lifetime average. His on base percentage during that time was almost 100 points higher. He collected 1,546 hits and scored 1,006 runs. He was not a great World Series performer although in the 1936 Fall Classic he drove in six runs in New York’s four-game sweep of the Cubs and also hit his one and only postseason home run off of the great but past-his-prime, Dizzy Dean.
He was also a no-nonsense Yankee coach. Crosetti often threw Yankee batting practices and he demanded that every player work on a specific hitting skill when it was their turn in the cage. If someone started swinging for the fences, Yogi Berra remembered Crosetti would actually just walk off the mound and refuse to throw the guy any more pitches. In his book “Ball Four,” Jim Bouton claimed that Crosetti was useless as a coach and hardly ever spoke to or attempted to instruct Yankee players. Ellie Howard later refuted that charge in his own book, claiming Bouton loved everybody on the team when he was pitching good and then hated and blamed everybody when his career went bad. Crosetti retired as a Yankee coach in 1968 but returned to the coaching box for a short time with both the Pilots and Twins.
He died in 2002, at the age of 91. He owned 17 World Series rings. Actually, Crosetti had accumulated so many rings, the Yankees finally started giving him engraved shotguns instead. In all, Crosetti received 23 World Series paychecks as a Yankee player (9) and coach (14). They totaled $142,989.30.
The Crow shares his October 4th birthday with this long ago Yankee spitballer.
As hard as he tried and he tried real hard, George Steinbrenner couldn’t get me and quite a few other Yankee fans to dislike this very talented, hardworking outfielder. I’ve been following Yankee baseball passionately since 1960 and I’ve seen no starting left fielder perform any better in Pinstripes than Mr. Winfield did.
Let’s go back in time. By 1976 after over a decade of mediocre team performances, Yankee fans were starving for postseason play and we were ready to accept anybody or anything that could get us there. In George Steinbrenner, we had an owner who would do absolutely anything to make the Yankees winners again and when free agency dawned, the perfect storm situation necessary to get New York back to the World Series was in place. But we fans had to pay a price for the return to glory and that price included Billy Martin’s embarrassing behavior, the Bronx Zoo clubhouse atmosphere, and Mr. Steinbrenner’s inability to understand that success on the field was not always directly proportional to how much money a team spent.
The Boss’s first wave of free agent investments had indeed returned almost instant dividends. Expensive hired hands like Catfish Hunter, Don Gullett, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage helped the Yankees not just get back to the World Series after a dozen-year absence, but also win two of the three the team played in during the second half of the 1970s. But by 1980, Gullett and Hunter were gone, Steinbrenner had tired of Jackson’s ego and after Thurman Munson’s death and the Yankee’s loss to the Royals in the 1980 ALCS, the Boss was ready to again open the Yankee wallet and buy the player who he felt would lead New York to a whole new decade of World Championships. That player was supposed to be Dave Winfield.
The Boss absolutely believed that because he gave Winfield a ton of cash and a ten-year contract to play for the Yankees, he had single-handedly guaranteed not just a slew of postseason appearances for his team but postseason success. Before that could happen, however, the 1981 player strike seriously degraded the relationship between owners and players. Then the Yankee’s new left-fielder hit .054 in the 1981 World Series. Even worse, that 1981 Fall Classic defeat to the Dodgers turned out to be the Yankees’ last postseason appearance for the next 14 seasons. George behaved as if he honestly felt this disastrous turn in his team’s fortunes was Winfield’s fault. He derisively nicknamed him Mr. May and then got himself embroiled up to his turtlenecked neck in the now infamous Howie Spira scandal to try and get rid of the future Hall-of-Famer and his contract.
Winfield just kept on playing. In spite of being pilfered in the NY media and actually getting booed by Yankee fans for challenging Don Mattingly for the 1984 AL batting title, the guy played every inning of every Yankee game at full and focused speed. He drove in runners, he hit more home runs than a right hand hitter is expected to hit in Yankee Stadium, and he kept himself out of the spotlight off the field. He was a great Yankee who played for the team at the wrong time and got a raw deal.
It was nice to see that Steinbrenner had buried his animosity with Winfield and invited him back to the Yankee family. It’s even nicer to see that Winfield has
graciously accepted that invitation. Dave was born in St Paul and turns sixty-years-old today.
Winfield shares his October 3rd birthday with one of the strangest pitchers to ever wear a Yankee uniform.
I was born, raised and still live in a small Upstate New York city named Amsterdam. Back in the first half of the twentieth century, our town was the center of this country’s carpet industry and the gigantic looms in the factories of Amsterdam-based companies named Mohawk and Sanford turned out more rugs than any city in the world. We also had our own Minor League baseball team, a C-level Yankee franchise in the old Canadian American League. They were called the Amsterdam Rugmakers.
Today’s birthday celebrant, Frank “Spec” Shea spent his first season of organized ball in our City, playing for the old Rugmakers and living in the old Amsterdam Hotel. The year was 1940 and Shea finished the Rugmaker season with an 11-4 record. He spent the next two seasons climbing up New York’s minor league ladder and the three after that serving his country in WWII. He then went 15-5 for the Yankee’s Triple A team in Oakland, finally making the big club in 1947.
Spec went 14-5 as a rookie for the Yankees and won the AL All Star game plus beat the Dodgers twice in the 1947 World Series. He would have been AL Rookie of the Year as well but back then only one player in all of baseball got that award and Shea finished behind Jackie Robinson. Spec never again achieved the level of success he had during his first year in pinstripes and was finally traded to the Senators in 1952.
He pitched very well during his first two seasons in Washington winning 23 games and losing just 14 times for a very bad team. He called it quits after the 1955 season. He was 29-21 as a Yankee and 56-46 for his eight-season big league career.
Also born on this date was this former Yankee shortstop and a former Yankee player who bought and sold 83 minor league teams during his lifetime.
Although it turned out to be one of the great trades in Yankee history, I remember not getting too excited when the Yankees traded their center fielder, Roberto Kelly for the Reds right fielder, Paul O’Neill during the 1992 off-season. Kelly, who was born on October 1, 1964 in Panama City, Panama, had been one of the better players on four years worth of mediocre Yankee teams that had produced a cumulative 286-361 won-loss record. The good-fielding speedster had hit .278 during his 648-game tenure in Pinstripes while O’Neill was hitting just .259 during his 799 games with Cincinnati. O’Neill had more power, hitting 96 home runs as a Red but Kelly had some pop in his bat too, hitting 57 home runs for New York, including a 20-homer season in 1991 during which Roberto had appeared in just 123 games. Kelly was also very quick. He stole 151 bases for New York, which still places him in the top ten for lifetime steals as a Yankee and he was fast enough to cover the cow pasture-like center field of the old Yankee Stadium. At the time, I thought Kelly would have had a lot better numbers if he had played for a lot better team so I remember being sort of skeptical about the trade.
This explains why I’m writing this blog instead of making personnel decisions for a big league team. Paul O’Neil’s left handed stroke was perfect for Yankee Stadium and since Kelly hit right-handed, his stroke never would be. O’Neill’s combative personality put some much-needed spark in the Yankee clubhouse and by trading Kelly, the Yankees made room for a young center-fielder named Bernie Williams to get some playing time. In the mean time, Kelly went on to play 14 seasons in the Majors, with eight different teams. He was named to two All Star teams and participated in four different postseasons as a player. His last big league game was back in a Yankee uniform during the 2000 season, after New York had signed him as a free agent to add some depth to their bench. When his playing days ended, Kelly got into coaching and in 2007 became a member of the Giants’ big league staff. He joined his former New York teammates, Dave Righetti and Hensley Muelens on that staff and all three ex-Yankees won their first World Series rings when San Francisco captured the 2010 World Series.