When I was a kid, we’d eat dinner at my Grandmother’s house most Sundays with our entire extended family. As a result, I watched plenty of Sunday afternoon televised Yankee games with my uncle. I was a much more passionate Yankee fan than he was and once the Yankee dynasty crumbled in 1965, he would annoy me by making snide derogatory comments about how bad the team was playing. For example, if a Yankee starter faltered and a reliever was inserted, no matter who came out of the bullpen I could count on my uncle to exclaim, “Not this guy for God’s sakes, even I can hit this guy!”
I’ll never forget the game in late June during the 1970 season when that statement was actually made truthfully. Steve Hamilton had been a very good bullpen pitcher for New York since he was acquired from the Washington Senators in a 1963 trade for Jim Coates. He was 6’7″ tall and a superb athlete, good enough to have played two seasons of NBA basketball in the late fifties for the Lakers. He had performed a variety of pitching roles for New York during his career in pinstripes. He pitched parts of eight seasons for the Yankees, accumulating a 34-20 record, with 36 saves and a 2.78 ERA in 486 innings of work. Manager Ralph Houk would give the big guy a start every now and then and in 1968, used him as New York’s closer and Hamilton led the team with 11 saves that year.
On this particular June day, Sam McDowell and the Indians were killing the Yankees. Houk put Hamilton into pitch the top of the ninth. Hamilton, who was born in Columbia, KY in 1935, was a very funny guy in the clubhouse and on that day, with the game already lost, he decided to have some fun on the field as well. The first hitter he faced was Tony Horton. He had been working on a blooper pitch, which had been nicknamed the “Folly Floater” and had used it against Horton successfully in an game earlier that same season. He decided to employ the pitch again against the Indian first baseman. Hamilton threw Horton two straight folly floaters and Horton almost came out of his spikes trying to hit the softly tossed lobs. Horton fouled both of them off weakly and Thurman Munson caught the second one for an out. Horton’s reaction was hilarious as he tossed his helmet high in the air and actually crawled back into the Indian’s dugout on his hands and knees.
I was amazed to find out that the above clip of this event was actually available on You Tube. Take a look for yourself and see why I finally could agree that a Yankee pitcher threw a pitch even I could hit.
Hamilton shares his November 30th birthday with this one-time Yankee starting pitcher.
Even though the Yankees failed to get past the Detroit Tigers in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, that season will always be one of my favorites. That’s because I got to see Derek Jeter become the first Yankee ever to get 3,000 hits while wearing the pinstripes and I got to see the great Rivera break the career record for saves.
The best closer ever. Those really are the only four words you need to describe “Mo’s” career with the Yankees. Someone may come along who is better but in my fifty-plus years of being an avid Major League baseball fan, I’ve seen nobody end games as successfully as this guy has for the past seventeen seasons. And the amazing thing is that he’s done it with one pitch, a cut fastball. Yankee fans have watched Rivera’s cutter break a remarkable number of big league bats over the years. The pitch has such late and significant movement that it is almost impossible for even the most skilled big league hitters to get the meaty part of their bat on the ball. I heard Jim Kaat try to explain it during one Yankee broadcast by explaining that Mariano had very long fingers, which helped him get more spin on the cutter than most other pitchers who threw it. Add in his flawless mechanics which enable him to precisely replicate his elegant delivery pitch after pitch and you have the formula for closing perfection that dances to the tune of “Enter Sandman.”
It has been an absolute thrill to be able to watch this guy pitch for New York all these years. In addition to his pitching prowess, Rivera is a great fielder and has been called the best athlete on the Yankee team. The late Bobby Murcer used to say that Mo was the fastest runner and the best outfielder on the Yankees. He is also a soft spoken leader of the team who considers it a privilege to wear the Pinstripes. When interviewed after the Yankee’s 2009 World Series victory, during which he finished all four Yankee victories, Mo indicated he wanted to pitch five more seasons. That was two seasons and 77 saves ago. He turns 42 years-old today. Mo’s 44 saves in 2011 represented the eighth time he has exceeded the 40-save mark in his career. He’s now in the final year of his contract and if recent columns in the sports pages of the New York tabloids are to be believed, there seems to be a chance that Rivera will retire after the 2012 campaign. God I hope not. My advice to all Yankee fans is to watch, enjoy and most of all appreciate this guy as much as you can during his remaining time in pinstripes.
Yankee Nation got really excited when this kid made his Yankee Stadium big league debut in September of 2011. In 18 end-of-the-season games, he hit .328 with 4 HRs and 12 RBIs and exhibited the opposite field power a right hand hitter needs to prosper in “the new house that Jeter helped build.” He then went 2-for-2 in his only postseason appearance in the Yankee’s Game 4 ALDS victory over Detroit. I joined thousands of other Yankee fans thinking we might really be witnessing the next home-grown pinstriped impact player. But that vision turned out to be a mirage.
If Jesus is going to turn out to be a team’s savior in the next few years, the team that will benefit will be the Mariners. That’s because Brian Cashman rolled the dice after the 2011 playoffs and sent Montero to Seattle with pitcher Hector Noesi in exchange for big Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.
Even though he had a disappointing 2012 season for Seattle (15 HRs, 62 RBIs, .260 ave. and .685 OPS) Montero produced much more for Seattle than Pineda did for NY since the pitcher ended up injured and on the DL the entire year. But Montero also confirmed the doubters who said he hadn’t yet developed the level of catching skills he would need to start at that position in the big leagues. Combine that with his less-than-acceptable .228 average against right-handed pitching last season and you’ll understand why Yankee fans are feeling a lot less bitter about the deal than they would have if Montero had been able to turn his Mariner debut into a breakout performance.
The 6’5″, 225 pound Montero turns just 23-years-old today and barring a blockbuster type deal. Former Yankee receiver Butch Wynegar, who managed Montero in the Minors is pretty confident that this Venezuelan will evolve into a competent Major League receiver. He’s already proved he has the stroke to average .300 against southpaws and I remain confident he will hit 30 home runs per year at the Major League level so I’m really hoping Pineda or Campos does at some point become a significant contributor to the Yankee pitching fortunes.
Today is also the birthday of former Yankee closer and the current pitching coach of the San Francisco Giants.
When Jorge Posada’s shoulder injury put him on the injured reserve list during the early part of the 2008 season, the Yankees hoped the replacement combination of Jose Molina and Chad Moeller would be enough to get them into the playoffs. The duo was OK defensively but their offensive shortcomings left a glaring hole in the Yankee lineup. New York tried to fill that hole when they sent reliever Kyle Farnsworth to Detroit for I-Rod after the All Star break. Unfortunately, the move backfired. Rodriguez hit just .219 during his 33-game stint in pinstripes and the absence of Farnsworth hurt the late-inning relief pitching effectiveness of the Yankee bullpen. Rodriguez has won a World Series (Marlins 03), an AL MVP (1999), thirteen Gold Gloves and has been named to 14 All Star teams. His next major honor will be his almost certain entry into Cooperstown. Ivan was born in Manati, Puerto Rico on November 27, 1971.
He shares his November 27th birthday with this long-ago Yankee pitcher.
His real name was Vernon Louis Gomez. He was born in Rodeo, CA. If he was still alive, today would be his 103rd birthday. He was part Irish and part Portuguese. His second nickname was “El Goofy” and if I was alive back in the thirties he would have been one of my favorite Yankees. Why? Because by all accounts, Lefty was not just one of the great pitchers of his day he was also the guy who kept the Yankee clubhouse loose.
Yesterday I wrote about how Joe DiMaggio turned into a bitter man but that was only after Gomez retired and could no longer room with him or drink with him. Lefty forced DiMaggio not to take himself so darn seriously all the time. For example, he’d always tell reporters he made DiMaggio famous because nobody knew he could go back on a ball until he started playing behind me.
My favorite Gomez story was when Bill Dickey came out to the mound to ask Gomez what he wanted to throw to Red Sox slugger Jimmie Foxx, who had just come up to the plate. Gomez told Dickey, “I don’t want to throw him nothing. Maybe he’ll get tired of waiting and just leave.”
Despite his sense of humor and his affinity for Manhattan’s nightlife, Lefty was an incredibly good pitcher. He was a four-time twenty game winner and he went a perfect 6-0 in the World Series. After hurting his arm in 1940, Gomez struggled through the final few years of his career and was coldly sold by the Yankee front office to the Boston Braves in January of 1943. His lifetime regular season record in pinstripes was 189 and 101 and included 28 shutouts. The Veterans Committee voted Lefty into the Hall of fame in 1972. He passed away in 1989, at the age of 80.
Missing the playoffs for the first time in thirteen years was certainly not the right way to close down the old Yankee Stadium. And since it was evident that George Steinbrenner was not calling the shots any more, we Yankee fans were left to wonder how his heirs would react to the failure. Within a few short postseason months we had our answer. We got Sabathia, we got Burnett and then we got Teixeira. It was powerful three part testimony that even though there had been a changing of the guard at the top, the Yankees were still in it to win it regardless of cost. So why I asked myself were we starting the 2009 season with a guy named Nick Swisher as our starting right fielder?
The 2009 Yankees’ offense was designed to be generated by its $100,000,000 infield. Throw in the rejuvenated starting pitching staff and the cutter-throwing legend in the bullpen and Brian Cashman was figuring he could play Luis Polonia in right field and still make fall ball happen in the new Yankee Stadium that October. New York had traded for Swisher in November of 2008, sending Wilson Betemit and two pitching prospects to the White Sox in exchange for the then 28-year-old switch-hitter. The deal took place before New York decided to go hard after Teixeira and their original intent was to play “Swish” at first base. Once they signed “Tex,” Swisher became part of that year’s outfield mix which included the veteran Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera and the youngster, Brett Gardner.
Velarde started his big league career with the Yankees in 1987 and was the team’s top utility infielder for the better part of nine seasons. He looked like a movie star and as each year passed he seemed to get his body more ripped. His best seasons in pinstripes were 1992, when he played in 121 games and hit .272 and 1992, when he batted .301. When the Yankees finally made it back to the playoffs in 1995 after missing the postseason for the previous fourteen years, Velarde was an important and versatile part of that team’s infield. When the Yankees lost in the first round of the playoffs to Seattle however, Velarde hit just .200 in that series. An overreacting George Steinbrenner then fired Manager Bucky Showalter and also replaced starters Mike Stanley, Don Mattingly, Pat Kelly and Velarde, who became a free agent. Randy then signed a pretty nice four-year deal with the Angels for right around $4 million. He had the three best years of his career as an Angel before being traded to the A’s during the 1999 season. He joined the Yankees a second time in 2001 but appeared in just 15 games. He retired after the 2002 season.
If you’re younger than the age of 30, you probably never saw “El Tiante” pitch in the Major Leagues. That’s your loss. This guy was one of the most entertaining and skilled starting pitchers of his era. I remember his incredible 1968 season when he won 21 games for Cleveland. He was the ace of a very strong Indians pitching staff that led the AL with 23 shutouts, nine of which were thrown by Tiant. Cleveland won a total of 83 games that season and in over a quarter of those victories they shutout the opposition.
Tiant’s career was almost derailed by a rash of injuries and he actually was released by both the Twins and the Braves before he found his true home with the Red Sox. After an awkward start in Beantown, when Tiant went 1-7 in 1971, he won 120 games during the next seven seasons, winning the hearts of Red Sox fans in the process. It was Tiant’s two-hit shutout against the Blue Jays that got the Red Sox into the 1978 one-game playoff for the AL East crown. I still say if the Red Sox could have started this guy instead of Mike Torrez in that next game, Bucky Dent’s heroics never would have happened. Tiant pitched his very best at the the biggest of moments.
In 1979, Tiant joined the Yankees as a free agent and pitched very well for a team torn apart first by management issues and then by the tragic death of their captain, Thurman Munson. Tiant won 13 games that season including his 49th and final career shutout. He fell to 8-9 the following year and the Yankees let him go. For you younger fans who never saw him pitch, think El Duque, only better. Tiant was born on November 23, 1940, in Marianao, Cuba.
The Yankees certainly thought Lew Burdette was going to be a good big league pitcher, when they signed him to a contract out of the University of Richmond in 1947. He ended up spending most of his first year in minor league ball right in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY, pitching for New York’s Rugmakers farm team in the Class C Canadian-American League.
What might have prevented him from getting the opportunity to become a big winner for the Yankees was the fact that he was a right-handed finesse pitcher who depended on stuff instead of power to get batters out. When righthanders without a good fastball struggled with their stuff on the mound of the old Yankee Stadium, balls had a tendency to fly off the bats of the opposing team’s left-handed hitters and quickly get over the waist-high railing of the old Stadium’s short right field porch. A second reason Burdette probably didn’t get to spend a large part of his career wearing pinstripes was the plethora of starting pitching Yankee GM, George Weiss had assembled in the late 1940s. That stable included Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, Eddie Lopat, and Whitey Ford. Weiss also knew if he needed more pitching he could easily exchange young arms for veteran arms, which by the way is exactly what happened to Burdette.
After getting his first call-up to the Bronx in September of 1950 he appeared in two games out of Casey Stengel’s bullpen. Those would be his only two games as a Yankee because in August of the following season, Weiss sent Burdette and $50,000 to the Braves for veteran pitcher Johnny Sain. For the next three seasons, Sain was the best combination starter/reliever in baseball for New York. It was the Braves however, who ended up getting the better end of the deal. Burdette evolved into one of the best starting pitchers in the NL for the next decade. He won 179 games during his 13 seasons with that team which included back-to-back 20-victory seasons in 1958 and ’59. He teamed with Warren Spahn to give Milwaukee one of the Senior League’s elite starting pitching tandems. Together, they won 443 Braves games in thirteen years and led Milwaukee to two NL Pennants and, in what was Burdette’s finest big league moment, the 1957 World Championship versus his original big league employers, the Yankees..
In that Fall Classic, Burdette beat Bobby Shantz, 4-2, in Game 2. He next won Game 5 with a brilliant 1-0 shutout. Then, when Spahn came down with the flu, Burdette got the Game 7 start on just two-days’ rest and threw his second straight shutout in a 5-0 Brave victory. The two teams would meet again the following October and Burdette would beat the Yankees a fourth straight time before New York finally figured him out in Game 7, capturing the Series with a 6-2 victory over their nemesis.
Burdette was one of the meanest men in baseball. He once called Roy Campanella a “nigger” during a Braves-Dodger game. He was also a bit of a flake on the mound, always fidgeting with his arms and hands and talking to both himself and the baseball. He was dogged throughout his career by accusations that he threw a spitball. Burdette did little to dispel the rumor that he doctored the baseball, knowing it kept opposing hitters on edge. He died in 2007, at the age of 80.
The Pinstripe Birthday Blog’s celebrant for November 20 was the first guy to manage the Yankees after the franchise was moved to New York from Baltimore. Clark Griffith was born in Clear Creek, MO, in 1869. One of the legendary names in the history of baseball, Griffith began that legend as a very good right-handed pitcher for the National League’s old Chicago Nationals way back in the 1890s. He was a seven-time 20-game winner during his days in the Windy City, where his cunning on the mound earned him the nickname, “The Old Fox.” He was also a very shrewd follower of the business of baseball. He became the first NL star player to jump to Ban Johnson’s new American League, when it was formed in 1901. At first, Griffith remained in the Windy City, becoming the player-manager of Charley Comiskey’s new Chicago White Sox franchise and winning the first-ever AL pennant in 1901. When the new league transferred its Baltimore franchise to the Big Apple and re-named it the Highlanders in 1903, Griffith took over as Skipper of the New York club. That’s him in the big center image in the 1903 team picture that accompanies today’s post.
He remained New York’s field boss until a disagreement with the team’s owners during the 1908 season forced him out of the job and he returned to the NL to manage the Reds. Two years later, he was invited to become part owner of the Washington Senators and from that point on, the name “Griffith” became synonymous with the game of baseball in our Nation’s Capitol. Griffith never got over being fired by New York. As a result, he never tried to disguise his hatred of the Yankees which became a primary reason why subsequent trades between the two clubs hardly ever took place. In 1946, Clark Griffith was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
This former Yankee utility outfielder was also born on November 20th.