December 2011

December 30, 2011 – The Top Five Yankee Highlights of 2011

Since no current or former Yankees are born on today’s date, I thought it would be an appropriate time to review the Pinstripe Birthday Blog’s five favorite moments of the Yankees 2011 season.

Number 1 – Derek Jeter getting his 3000th hit – Those who’ve read this blog over the three-plus years it has been live know my feelings for the Yankee Captain. I’ve watched Yankee baseball closely for over fifty years and can honestly say that no other player has given me more great memories as a Yankee fan than Mr. Jeter has. He’s a class act. So when the Yankee front office started blabbing to the media about their closed-door negotiations to re-sign the shortstop over the past winter and then when that same New York press started piling on Jeter for his slow start this past season at the plate, I was pretty upset. On July 9, during an afternoon game against Tampa at Yankee Stadium, Jeter once again proved why he is one of the most admired and loved Yankees in franchise history. When that game started, he had needed two hits to reach the 3,000 mark and he went out and got five. And after weeks of listening to and reading idiots write about how Jeter was now just a Punch & Judy singles hitter, Derek’s hallmark hit was a deep home run, pulled to left field. A great moment for a great Yankee. (The answer to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Trivia Question is – Jeter had 162 hits during the 2011 regular season.)

Number 2 – Mariano Rivera getting his 602nd save – Yankee fans have been especially blessed over the past decade and a half because in addition to Jeter, we’ve watched the very best closer in the history of baseball get the last crucial outs in hundreds of Yankee games. On September 19th of this past season, Mo was called in to pitch the ninth inning of an afternoon game against the Twins at the Stadium. He was given a two-run lead and proceeded to pitch a perfect final inning with the record-setting third out coming on a called third strike on Twin first baseman Chris Parmelee. The save was the 602nd of Rivera’s unbelievable career, sending him past Trevor Hoffman to the top spot on the All-Time career Saves list.

Number 3 – Jorge Posada playing in his last Yankee game – This one was bittersweet because you know it breaks Posada’s heart to realize he will almost certainly never take another at-bat in Yankee pinstripes. I was afraid his farewell tour was headed for a disastrous ending when he refused to play in the Boston game after Girardi demoted him in the lineup. But cooler heads prevailed and Jorge sucked it up and reminded everyone why he has become one of the most beloved Yankees of his era. If his solid hitting performance during the Yankees 2011 ALDS versus Texas turns out to have been his Yankee swan song, all I can say is; Hip Hip Jorge! You have been a great Yankee!

Number 4 – The emergence of Ivan Nova – I have to admit that as the 2011 spring training season opened, I did not think this kid was quite ready for prime time but he certainly proved me wrong. He was pretty much phenomenal the whole year and really showed the mettle of a professional when after he was unfairly demoted early in the season, he just kept pitching.

 

 

Number 5 (tie) – The emergence of David Robertson – After being spoiled for a decade and a half watching the most dominating closer in baseball do his stuff game after game, I found myself wondering if it was actually possible that his successor was already wearing Yankee pinstripes. That’s how good David Robertson looked on the mound in 2011.

 

 

Number 5 (tie) – Curtis Granderson’s outstanding season – I have watched and followed Yankee baseball pretty closely for a very long time and I do not remember a player who conquered a weakness in his game as dominantly as Granderson has overcome his inability to hit left-handers. In my opinion, he was the Yankee MVP of 2011 as he helped fill the power deficit caused by A-Rod’s frequent absences from the lineup, especially against southpaw pitching.

December 29 – Happy Birthday Jaret Wright

Jaret Wright’s pitching career got off to a great start from the second he was born and found out his Dad was former big league pitcher and 20-game-winner Clyde Wright. Sure enough, the youngster developed into a fireballing right-handed pitcher with a 98 mile per hour fastball and a biting curve to boot. He was in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians by June of 1997, when he was just 21-years-old and he helped that Indian team make it to the World Series by going 8-3 during the second half of the regular season and then beating the Yankees twice in the five-game ALDS. The Indians loved this kid so much that after he won Game 4 of the World Series against the Marlins, they gave him the ball again in Game 7 and Wright responded with a six-plus innings stint of solid pitching giving the bullpen a 2-1 lead in a game Cleveland eventually would lose. Coming out of that season, Wright was considered one of Baseball’s premier young arms.

Wright then went 12-10 in his sophomore season but as the innings mounted, his pitching shoulder started aching. He lost both of his starts in the 1998 postseason and then the bottom pretty much fell out. He spent his final four seasons in Cleveland either pitching in pain or on the DL, winning just 15 decisions over that period while losing 19. The Indians let him walk after the 2002 season and the Padres took a shot with a one-year deal. After a horrible 1-5 start in San Diego, he was dealt to the Braves, a franchise well known for its handling of pitching talent. Atlanta proved to be Wright’s elixir. By 2004, he had learned how to pitch with an 89 mile per hour fastball and finished 15-8. But then he got shelled in that year’s ALDS against the Astros, losing twice and giving up 14 hits and 10 runs in the nine-plus innings he pitched.

It was the Wright who pitched so well in the 2004 regular season that the Yankees thought they were getting when they signed him to a three-year, $21 million contract the following December. That was the same offseason New York also went out and signed Carl Pavano for $40 million. Brian Cashman thought he had fixed the Yankee starting pitching problems with the two deals. Instead, he had made them even worse not to mention much, much more expensive.

Wright’s first year in pinstripes was a disaster. He pitched just 63 innings, spent most of the year nursing a sore shoulder and finished 5-5 with an ERA over six. He did much better in his second regular season in New York, going 11-7 but then for some reason, Joe Torre picked Wright to start game 4 of that year’s ALDS against the Tigers. Detroit held a 2-1 lead in the best of five series and when Wright got shelled, giving up two bombs, and four runs in the 2.2 innings he pitched, both New York’s postseason and the beleaguered pitcher’s Yankee career were over. He was banished to Baltimore, with the Yankees agreeing to pay more than half his $7 million salary for 2007. That turned out to be his final season in the big leagues. He finished with a 68-60 career record during his eleven injury filled seasons of play.

Wright shares his December 29th birthday with this long-ago Yankee outfielder, this former Yankee first baseman and this one too.

December 27 – Happy Birthday Jim Leyritz

One thing became pretty clear to me as I researched Jim Leyritz for this post. It sounded like he was considered to be a pretty big jerk by most of the guys who managed him in the Yankee organization and also by quite a few of the guys who played with him. Bucky Dent couldn’t stand him and evidently Buck Showalter felt that way too. Joe Torre tolerated him but heck, Leyritz’s game-tying home run off of Atlanta’s Mark Wohlers in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series just may have saved Torre’s job. Don Mattingly nicknamed Leyritz “the King” because he was always telling everyone else how great he was.

Actually, I also sort of already knew that Leyritz was somewhat of a jerk before doing research for today’s post. My son’s good friend was related to a girl who once dated Jimmy boy. My son’s friend attended a family dinner to which Leyritz had also been invited. She told us that she had never met a more conceited human being in her entire life.

So now that I’ve established that Mr. Leyritz will never win any Most Popular Yankee awards, there was no argument about his ability to hit in the biggest of situations. That home run against Wohler was preceded by his two-run game-winner in the 15th inning of the 1995 ALDS against Seattle. He took his “big moment bat” to San Diego in 1998 and hit three huge home runs for the Padres that postseason. He then rejoined New York the following year and his Game 4 home run in 1999 World Series helped New York sweep the Braves.

The Yankees dealt Leyritz to the Dodgers for Jose Vizcaino in June of 2000 and after finishing that season in LA, he never played in another big league game. He played all or parts of nine of his eleven big league seasons in pinstripes and hit 58 of his 90 lifetime regular season home runs as a Yankee. He also hit eight postseason home runs in 28 total games of Fall Ball.

Leyritz has had tremendous problems trying to survive outside of baseball. The most infamous incident was the tragic accident he had the day after his 44th birthday in 2007 in the state of Florida. Leyritz was driving drunk when his car collided with one being driven by a young female who, as it turned out, was also driving while intoxicated. Authorities arrested the ex-Yankee, charging him with vehicular manslaughter. The case finally came to trial in November of 2010 and Leyritz was acquitted of the manslaughter charge.

Shortly after the first draft of this blog post appeared, a friend of Leyritz’s e-mailed me to present a different and more updated perspective of the former Yankee. According to him, Leyritz has been dating his sister for a while and has always treated her and her children great. The e-mailer also assured me that Leyritz is a “great” Dad to his own kids and good friends with his ex Yankee teammates, including David Cone and Bernie Williams.

This former Yankee outfielder and this current Yankee reliever share Leyritz’s December 27th birthday.

December 26 – Happy Birthday Chris Chambliss

The Kansas City Royals had rallied for three runs to tie the score in their half of the eighth inning and Royal reliever Mark Littell, who had not allowed a run to score in the 4 2/3 innings he had already pitched in the 1976 American League Championship Series, was about to face Yankee first baseman Chris Chambliss.  My brother Jerry and I were sitting in his living room watching the game and I have to admit, doubts about a Yankee victory were beginning to enter my mind.

Chambliss had blistered Royal pitching up to that point of the AL playoff series but as he stepped to the plate, all I could focus on was the fact that the Yankees had not been to a World Series in 12 years.  What happened next was one of the most magical moments in the magical history of America’s most successful sports franchise.  Chambliss belted Littell’s first pitch, sending it on a high dramatic arch over the padded bright blue right centerfield wall in Yankee Stadium and the Yankees were winners again.  New York fans will never forget the complete bedlam that broke out in Yankee Stadium as Chambliss attempted to circle the bases after his historic round tripper. Fortunately, Chambliss was a 6’1″, 200 pound powerfully built athlete enabling him to steamroller his way through the hundreds of fans attempting to pat him on the back, shake his hand, grab his batting helmet, or rip a souvenir piece of clothing or flesh from his body.

If Chambliss did not do another thing in his Yankee career, that one at bat would guarantee him a spot on my all-time favorite list of Yankee players.  But, in fact, Chambliss was a key contributor on three Yankee pennant winning and two world championship teams.  He was the only Yankee player to have at least 170 base hits and drive in at least ninety runs in each of the 1976, ’77, and ,78 seasons and was the calming influence and rock of stability on a team that badly needed calm and stability. In all, he spent six productive seasons as New York’s first baseman during the “Bronx Zoo” years.

Born on December 26, 1948, this Dayton, Ohio native came up to the bigs as a Cleveland Indian, capping an effective debut season by being selected as the AL Rookie of the Year for 1971.  Chris had three good years for the Indians, but on April 27, 1974, he found himself part of a seven-player trade that made him a Yankee.  Chambliss immediately fell into a hitting slump, and batted just .242 for New York in 110 games that first season.  But Yankee fans noticed that Chambliss played hard all the time, and by 1975, Chris had become one of their favorites.

Chambliss evolved into a main cog in the middle of a powerful Yankee line-up that included Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, and Reggie Jackson.  Whenever lead-off hitters Mikey Rivers or Willie Randolph reached base, one of the hard-swinging quartet could be counted on to drive them in.  Chris was a good contact hitter who didn’t strike out often and his bat regularly produced hard line drives to the gaps of Yankee Stadium.  Chris was also an excellent fielder, winning the AL Gold Glove Award in 1978 as the Yankee first baseman.

The 1979 season was both disappointing and tragic for the the Yankees. They failed to make the post season for the first time in four years and lost their star catcher and team Captain Thurman Munson, who was killed in an airplane crash. Needing to replace Munson, the Yankee front office traded Chambliss to the Toronto Blue Jays during the 1979 off-season, in a six player deal that brought Blue Jay catcher Rick Cerone to the Bronx.  Seven days later, the Yanks signed free agent first baseman Bob Watson to replace Chambliss.  About a month later the Jays traded Chambliss to the Atlanta Braves.

Chambliss spent the last seven years of his playing career with the Braves hitting line drives and driving in runs, as always. After retiring as a player, Chris ended up back in the Yankee dugout for a while, serving as hitting coach for New York.

This one-time Yankee reliever was also born on the day after Christmas.

December 25 – Happy Birthday Ricky Henderson

Ricky Henderson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009. Few have deserved the honor more. Just ask Ricky. Ricky will also tell you he was the best Christmas present Major League Baseball ever received. He was born in Chicago on Christmas Day in 1958. The all-time leader in stolen bases, runs scored, and walks, he was the Yankee left fielder for four and a half seasons, beginning in 1985. His career in pinstripes lasted a total of 596 games, during which he set both the single season (93) and all-time (326) Yankee marks for steals before returning to the Athletics during the 1989 season.

In all, Ricky played the game for 25 big-league seasons and wore nine different uniforms doing it. He ended up hitting .279 lifetime and garnered 1,406 stolen bases. His career stolen-base mark will be a tough one to surpass. Number two on the list is Lou Brock who stole 938. The closest active player is Juan Pierre, who played for the White Sox last season and now has 554 career steals. Boston’s Carl Crawford is currently next among active players with 427.

Ricky led the league in steals three different times while wearing the pinstripes. Coincidentally, the only other Yankee who did so was also born on Christmas Day as was this former Yankee third baseman.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1985 NYY 143 654 547 146 172 28 5 24 72 80 99 65 .314 .419 .516 .934
1986 NYY 153 701 608 130 160 31 5 28 74 87 89 81 .263 .358 .469 .827
1987 NYY 95 440 358 78 104 17 3 17 37 41 80 52 .291 .423 .497 .920
1988 NYY 140 647 554 118 169 30 2 6 50 93 82 54 .305 .394 .399 .793
1989 NYY 65 293 235 41 58 13 1 3 22 25 56 29 .247 .392 .349 .741
25 Yrs 3081 13346 10961 2295 3055 510 66 297 1115 1406 2190 1694 .279 .401 .419 .820
OAK (14 yrs) 1704 7481 6140 1270 1768 289 41 167 648 867 1227 915 .288 .409 .430 .839
NYY (5 yrs) 596 2735 2302 513 663 119 16 78 255 326 406 281 .288 .395 .455 .850
SDP (3 yrs) 359 1432 1132 243 277 45 5 23 98 91 277 236 .245 .399 .354 .753
NYM (2 yrs) 152 650 534 106 159 31 0 12 44 42 107 102 .298 .416 .423 .839
BOS (1 yr) 72 222 179 40 40 6 1 5 16 8 38 47 .223 .369 .352 .721
LAD (1 yr) 30 84 72 7 15 1 0 2 5 3 11 16 .208 .321 .306 .627
ANA (1 yr) 32 144 115 21 21 3 0 2 7 16 26 23 .183 .343 .261 .604
SEA (1 yr) 92 395 324 58 77 13 2 4 30 31 63 55 .238 .362 .327 .689
TOR (1 yr) 44 203 163 37 35 3 1 4 12 22 35 19 .215 .356 .319 .675
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/26/2013.

December 23rd – Happy Birthday Tim Leary

When folks my age hear or read the name “Timothy Leary” the three-letter abbreviation that comes to mind is usually not “ERA.” If, however, you were a Met fan in 1980, that name represented the miracle drug the Amazin’s needed to become winners again. Leary was a teenage sensation as a schoolboy and American Legion pitcher in Santa Monica, CA, who went on to a great career at UCLA. He caught national attention when he anchored the USA’s World Cup team in 1978 and the Mets made the tall right hander the second overall pick in Baseball’s 1979 amateur draft.

New York City’s National League franchise was in one of its frequent “dark ages” at the time, so when Leary had an impressive 15-8 first season at the double A level, Met management made the fateful decision to bring him straight to the Majors the following season. In his first big league start in April of ’81, Leary pitched to just seven batters before leaving the game with a strained right elbow. That marked the beginning of another disastrous year for Met fans that was made even worse by a player strike that cut the regular season in half. As 1982’s spring training arrived, the team’s expectations for a healthy Leary rose once again but sadly, Leary’s elbow didn’t even make it out of the exhibition season.

During the next three years, Leary bounced up and down between Tidewater and Shea Stadium, trying to justify all the hype that surrounded his initial signing. That never happened and in January of 1985, convinced it never would, the Mets grew leery of Leary and dealt him to the Brewers. That began a big league odyssey that would take Leary to six different franchises over the next decade. Ironically, by 1990 he would find himself returning to the Big Apple, once again facing big expectations to help a floundering New York City baseball team get back to the top.

The Yankee franchise was in complete disarray at the end of the 1980s. George Steinbrenner was about to be suspended for his behavior in the Winfield/Spira scandal. The Yankees were switching managers as often as Phil Rizzuto would say “holy cow” and every player move the Yankees made seemed to backfire.

The team’s biggest problem back then was starting pitching. They had none. Ron Guidry had grown old and Steinbrenner was emptying the Yankee cupboard of pitching prospects, trading them it seemed, for any veteran hurler he could find who had ever had a decent big league season. That meant guys like Andy Hawkins,Dave LaPoint, Mike Witt and Leary became the Yankees’ 1990 starting rotation. Up until then, Leary’s only winning season had been in 1988 as an LA Dodger. He went 17-11 that season. The Yankees traded for him despite the fact that Leary followed up his career year by going 2-7 for the Reds in 1989.

What followed were three disastrous seasons for both Leary and the Yankees. His overall record in pinstripes was 18-35 with a 5.12 ERA. During his first year as a Yankee he led the AL with 19 losses, which for some reason was good enough to convince New York’s front office to sign him to a new two-year deal for $4 million. Leary’s “return-to-the-Big-Apple-tour” lasted until August of the 1992 season when he was sent to the Mariners for somebody named Sean Twitty.

Leary shares his December 23rd birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and this long-ago Yankee third baseman.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1990 NYY 9 19 .321 4.11 31 31 0 6 1 0 208.0 202 105 95 18 78 138 1.346
1991 NYY 4 10 .286 6.49 28 18 4 1 0 0 120.2 150 89 87 20 57 83 1.715
1992 NYY 5 6 .455 5.57 18 15 2 2 0 0 97.0 84 62 60 9 57 34 1.454
13 Yrs 78 105 .426 4.36 292 224 28 25 9 1 1491.1 1570 792 723 147 535 888 1.411
NYM (3 yrs) 4 4 .500 3.80 23 10 3 1 0 0 66.1 76 38 28 2 23 41 1.492
LAD (3 yrs) 26 29 .473 3.47 93 63 11 11 6 1 453.2 429 194 175 37 129 300 1.230
NYY (3 yrs) 18 35 .340 5.12 77 64 6 9 1 0 425.2 436 256 242 47 192 255 1.475
SEA (2 yrs) 14 13 .519 5.02 41 35 6 1 0 0 213.1 249 131 119 24 88 80 1.580
MIL (2 yrs) 13 16 .448 4.18 38 35 2 3 2 0 221.2 256 115 103 25 61 139 1.430
TEX (1 yr) 1 1 .500 8.14 6 3 0 0 0 0 21.0 26 19 19 4 11 9 1.762
CIN (1 yr) 2 7 .222 3.71 14 14 0 0 0 0 89.2 98 39 37 8 31 64 1.439
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/24/2013.

December 22 – Happy Birthday Tom Underwood

The Yankees acquired Tom Underwood in the same 1979 postseason trade in which they picked up catcher Rick Cerone from Toronto in exchange for Chris Chambliss and Damaso Garcia. At the time this transaction was made, I was not impressed with it because I did not think Cerone was that good an all-around player and I was also a huge Chambliss fan. As it turned out, New York did get a very good and very quick return on the deal. Cerone had a career year in his first season in pinstripes and Underwood became a valuable 13-game-winning member of New York’s 1980 starting rotation that included Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Luis Tiant and Rudy May. That Yankee team won an impressive total of 103 games and captured the AL East Division for skipper Dick Howser before they were knocked out of fall-ball by the Royals. Underwood did not get a start in that postseason series and when he started the following season going 1-4, the Yankees dealt him to the A’s.

This southpaw was born in Kokomo, Indiana on this date in 1953. His younger brother Pat also became a big league pitcher for the Tigers. The siblings actually faced each other in Pat’s first big league start in Toronto, on the last day of May in 1979. In a classic duel, Tom lost that game, 1-0 to his younger brother on an eighth-inning Jerry Morales home-run. In all, Tom pitched 11 seasons in the big leagues for a half-dozen different teams. He had a lifetime record of 86-87, with 18 saves and six shutouts. Unfortunately, Underwood passed away in 2010, a victim of pancreatic cancer. He was just 56-years-old.

This one-time Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee back-up catcher both share Underwood’s December 22nd birthday.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1980 NYY 13 9 .591 3.66 38 27 5 2 2 2 187.0 163 85 76 15 66 116 1.225
1981 NYY 1 4 .200 4.41 9 6 1 0 0 0 32.2 32 17 16 2 13 29 1.378
11 Yrs 86 87 .497 3.89 379 203 68 35 6 18 1586.0 1554 772 685 130 662 948 1.397
PHI (4 yrs) 28 20 .583 4.02 89 60 10 10 2 3 421.1 434 202 188 24 170 245 1.434
OAK (3 yrs) 22 15 .595 3.59 123 30 40 3 0 12 348.2 329 156 139 28 143 187 1.354
NYY (2 yrs) 14 13 .519 3.77 47 33 6 2 2 2 219.2 195 102 92 17 79 145 1.247
TOR (2 yrs) 15 30 .333 3.88 64 62 0 19 2 0 424.2 414 218 183 46 182 266 1.403
BAL (1 yr) 1 0 1.000 3.52 37 1 10 0 0 1 71.2 78 33 28 8 31 39 1.521
STL (1 yr) 6 9 .400 4.95 19 17 2 1 0 0 100.0 104 61 55 7 57 66 1.610
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/22/2013.

December 21 – Happy Birthday Dave Kingman

If you’re a baseball fan who is over forty years old, you most likely remember Dave “King-Kong” Kingman pretty well. His big league career lasted from 1971 when he debuted as a 22-year-old San Francisco Giant, until 1986. During that time he put on the uniform of seven different big league teams. In addition to the Giants, those teams included the Mets, A’s, Cubs, Padres, Angels and in 1977 for a very brief time, the New York Yankees.

He was a big guy, six and a half feet tall, who could hit a ball as far as any player I’ve ever seen play the game. I have no idea if actual statistics bear this out but I would guess that Kingman has to be among the all-time leaders in percentage of home runs per fair balls hit over a career. His problem was hitting the ball. He was a strike-out machine and since he was overly aggressive at the plate, pitchers could actually get him out by, in essence, pitching around him.

Still, I remember being real excited when the Yankees got King Kong Kingman from the Angels for the 1977 pennant drive. I never liked him when he played for the Giants or the Mets, but once he donned the pinstripes, I was ready to love him. He saw his first action on September 17th of that season in a Saturday afternoon game in Detroit. After striking out his first time up, he belted a two-run home run in the third inning, driving in Lou Piniella. He went on to homer in his next two games and in four of his first five. I was disappointed that the Yankees did not sign him after that season. He went on to have some very good seasons for both the Cubs and the Mets before retiring in 1986 with 442 career home runs and 1,816 strikeouts.

Kingman was born in Pendleton, OR on today’s date in 1948. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee center-fielder, this former Yankee reliever and this former Yankee infielder prospect.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1977 NYY 8 27 24 5 6 2 0 4 7 0 2 13 .250 .333 .833 1.167
16 Yrs 1941 7429 6677 901 1575 240 25 442 1210 85 608 1816 .236 .302 .478 .780
NYM (6 yrs) 664 2573 2323 302 509 70 6 154 389 29 211 672 .219 .287 .453 .741
SFG (4 yrs) 409 1403 1242 177 278 55 9 77 217 37 138 422 .224 .304 .469 .773
OAK (3 yrs) 449 1883 1702 204 406 58 1 100 303 8 139 359 .239 .296 .450 .746
CHC (3 yrs) 345 1317 1182 193 329 44 9 94 251 9 105 286 .278 .338 .569 .907
SDP (1 yr) 56 187 168 16 40 9 0 11 39 2 12 48 .238 .292 .488 .780
CAL (1 yr) 10 39 36 4 7 2 0 2 4 0 1 16 .194 .237 .417 .654
NYY (1 yr) 8 27 24 5 6 2 0 4 7 0 2 13 .250 .333 .833 1.167
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/22/2013.

December 20 – Happy Birthday Oscar Gamble

ogambleThe first thing long-time Yankee fans usually remember about Oscar is his remarkable “fro” hairstyle. He used to compress it under his Yankee cap but after each hard swing or whenever he had to run in the field or on the bases, his cap would jump of his head and that huge mass of hair used to bounce up like a jack-in-the-box. The second thing I remember about Gamble was his perfect for Yankee Stadium left-handed swing. During his first tour in the Bronx, in 1976, that stroke helped Billy Martin and New York capture the AL Pennant, producing 17 home runs, many of which came at key moments of big games.

The Yankees then traded Oscar to Chicago as part of the package that put Bucky Dent in pinstripes. Oscar had a very timely career year with the White Sox in 1977, blasting 31 home runs, which enabled him to sign a nice free agent contract with the Padres. His only season in San Diego was not a good one and he was traded to Texas in 1979 and then back to New York (for Mickey Rivers) in the same season. He remained in pinstripes for the next five seasons becoming a fan favorite with his happy- go-lucky nature and wonderful one-liner sense of humor.

My favorite Gamble story was when he came to the plate with a runner on first and Yankee third base coach, Dick Howser started flashing him the bunt sign. Oscar kept stepping out of the box and looking at Howser for another sign. Finally, the coach called timeout and met Gamble halfway up the third base line. Howser told Oscar, Billy Martin wanted to get a runner in scoring position. Gamble told Howser, “I’m already in scoring position.” Howser and Martin relented and sure enough, free from the bunt sign, Oscar hit a home run.

Gamble was born in Ramer, AL and turns sixty-three-years-old today. He shares his birthday with the first starting second baseman in Yankee franchise history and with  one of baseball’s greatest business minds.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1976 NYY 110 384 340 43 79 13 1 17 57 5 38 38 .232 .317 .426 .743
1979 NYY 36 126 113 21 44 4 1 11 32 0 13 13 .389 .452 .735 1.187
1980 NYY 78 229 194 40 54 10 2 14 50 2 28 21 .278 .376 .567 .943
1981 NYY 80 227 189 24 45 8 0 10 27 0 35 23 .238 .357 .439 .796
1982 NYY 108 382 316 49 86 21 2 18 57 6 58 47 .272 .387 .522 .910
1983 NYY 74 208 180 26 47 10 2 7 26 0 25 23 .261 .361 .456 .816
1984 NYY 54 151 125 17 23 2 0 10 27 1 25 18 .184 .318 .440 .758
17 Yrs 1584 5197 4502 656 1195 188 31 200 666 47 610 546 .265 .356 .454 .811
NYY (7 yrs) 540 1707 1457 220 378 68 8 87 276 14 222 183 .259 .361 .496 .858
CLE (3 yrs) 369 1346 1192 190 327 43 10 54 148 19 135 127 .274 .352 .463 .815
PHI (3 yrs) 254 771 690 72 166 28 7 8 55 10 67 88 .241 .308 .336 .644
CHW (2 yrs) 207 654 556 95 151 27 2 35 103 1 88 76 .272 .377 .516 .893
TEX (1 yr) 64 201 161 27 54 6 0 8 32 2 37 15 .335 .458 .522 .979
SDP (1 yr) 126 437 375 46 103 15 3 7 47 1 51 45 .275 .366 .387 .753
CHC (1 yr) 24 81 71 6 16 1 1 1 5 0 10 12 .225 .321 .310 .631
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/20/2013.

December 19 – Happy Birthday Ian Kennedy

Remember the Yankees’ last spring training camp? There were lots of questions about who would form the team’s starting rotation for the 2011 season. Although there was plenty of speculation that one might, most Yankee fans were not expecting any of the “Three B’s” to head north with that rotation in April. We knew Banuelos, Betances and Brackman were not yet ready for prime time, partly because a similar situation from 2008 was still fresh in our minds. Back then, Brian Cashman’s plan was to fill New York’s urgent starting pitching needs with another trio of young arms developed in the Yankees’ own farm system. Even though he had a phenomenal run as the bullpen’s bridge to Mariano Rivera during the 2007 regular season, Joba Chamberlain was being touted as the team’s next ace back then. Phil Hughes had also already provided New York fans with a glimpse of how good he could be, when he flirted with a no-hitter in his second big league start in May 2007 against the Rangers. Then, after fully recovering from an injury, Hughes finished strong by winning his final three starts that same season. The final part of that young Yankee pitching triumvirate was today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, a young right-hander from Huntington Beach, CA named Ian Kennedy.

As we all know now, none of the three were ready to take on the responsibility they were given at the start of that 2008 season. Instead of pitching inning after inning of lights out baseball as he had as Mo’s setup man the season before, Joba as a starter seemed to to struggle with both concentration and rhythm. Hughes stunk up the joint too, going 0-4 before a cracked rib forced him out of action. Both Chamberlain and Hughes remain enigmas in the Bronx.

As for Ian, well let’s just say his Yankee debut was another Kennedy assassination. He was 0-4 in 2008 with an ERA of over eight runs per game. In his last start that year in early August, he lasted just two innings against the Angels, giving up five runs in a 10-5 loss. When the Yankee media surrounded his locker after that game, Kennedy insisted he had pitched well. The Big Apple tabloids crucified him for the comment, which the young pitcher later explained was an attempt by him not to get too down on himself and destroy his self confidence.

Kennedy was sent back down to the minors and his Yankee career ended when he was included in the three-team trade in December of 2009 that brought Curtis Granderson to New York and landed Kennedy in Arizona. Ian was 9-10 for the Diamondbacks in his first season in Arizona, finishing strong by winning his last three starts and lowering his ERA to 3.80 for the year. Then in 2011, Kennedy finally busted out with an outstanding season, compiling a 21-4 record with 198 strikeouts and a sparkling 2.88 ERA as he led Arizona to the NL West Division flag. The Yankee front office had finally been proven right about Kennedy’s potential as a big league front line starter. Fortunately, they were also right about Curtis Granderson.

Also born on this date was this former Yankee super scout,  this former Yankee outfielder and this more recent Yankee closer.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2007 NYY 1 0 1.000 1.89 3 3 0 0 0 0 19.0 13 6 4 1 9 15 1.158
2008 NYY 0 4 .000 8.17 10 9 1 0 0 0 39.2 50 37 36 5 26 27 1.916
2009 NYY 0 0 0.00 1 0 0 0 0 0 1.0 0 0 0 0 2 1 2.000
7 Yrs 53 40 .570 4.00 143 141 1 2 1 0 865.1 808 412 385 106 290 759 1.269
ARI (4 yrs) 48 34 .585 3.82 119 119 0 2 1 0 748.1 693 340 318 91 228 661 1.231
NYY (3 yrs) 1 4 .200 6.03 14 12 1 0 0 0 59.2 63 43 40 6 37 43 1.676
SDP (1 yr) 4 2 .667 4.24 10 10 0 0 0 0 57.1 52 29 27 9 25 55 1.343
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/23/2013.