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.
The 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 one of baseball’s greatest business minds.
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 and became one of Baseball’s premier starting pitchers, 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.
Even though I was just eight years old at the time, I can still remember the sadness I felt when I learned that the Yankees had traded the “Moose” to the Dodgers after the 1962 season. He was one of my favorite Yankees. I can also remember opening a pack of baseball cards the next spring and seeing Moose’s first non-Yankee card. As shown here, he’s pictured hatless, still wearing the pinstripes with the words “Los Angeles Dodgers, first base” printed below his name. It remains one of my least favorite cards. Reflecting on that trade three and a half decades later, giving up Moose was the first step the Yankees took in the dismantling of that great Yankee team of the late fifties and early sixties. Perhaps not coincidentally, Moose’s last season in the Bronx was the last time the Yankees won a World Championship until fourteen full seasons later.
As far as Bill “Moose” Skowron was concerned, what you saw was not always what you got. Take his face for example, he looked like one of those ornery, tough-talking, short-fused Marine drill sergeants. In reality, Moose was one of the kindest, most gentle Yankees to ever play the game. Moose had a finely sculpted, muscular body. But rips, pulls, and spasms to those muscles caused Moose to spend much of his career in terrible crippling pain. Skowren was also one of the most helpful and encouraging members of the Yankee team. It was Moose who would show up at the Stadium hours early to help a teammate drill and practice his way out of a hitting or fielding slump. Another Yankee player could strike out four times in a row and still get a pat on the back and some kind words from Moose. But as nice as Moose was to everyone else he was impossibly critical and tough on himself. He could be three for three, drive in five runs and still smash a water cooler and scream obscenities at himself because he hit a ball off the end of his bat the fourth time up.
Skowron was born in Chicago on December 18, 1930. He was a star schoolboy athlete and received the nickname “Moose” from a grandfather who, for some reason, was reminded of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini when he looked at his grandson. Skowron was a two-sport athlete at Purdue University where he was signed to a Yankee contract right off campus.
Skowron became an immediate hit as a Yankee when he batted .340 in 87 games during his 1954 debut season with the parent club. Moose topped the .300 mark the next three years, also. Even though he batted right-handed, Moose had a powerful opposite field swing, perfectly suited to Yankee Stadium. His Yankee career numbers saw Moose hit 25 homeruns and drive in 100 for every 162 games he played.
In the early stages of his Yankee career, crafty and merciless Yankee GM George Weiss, exploited Moose by paying him thousands of dollars less than Skowron’s achievements on the field deserved. Finally, his Yankee team mates grew tired of seeing Skowron taken advantage of and lectured the timid and shy first baseman on the art of salary negotiation. A much better-informed Moose was then able to get Weiss to fork over more equitable amounts.
In the late fifties, a series of disabling back injuries cheated Skowron of playing time and prevented him from putting up even more impressive numbers during his Yankee career. The pain at times grew so bad, Moose could not get off a chair without assistance or even tie his own shoes. But by 1960 and 1961, Moose was healthy enough to enjoy two of his finest years as a Yankee. Together with Mantle, Maris, Berra, Howard, Richardson, Kubek, and Boyer, Skowron was part of one of the most productive offensive and defensive starting line-ups in the history of the game.
Moose was a solid World Series performer, in seven fall classics as a Bomber. He batted .283, smacked 7 round trippers and drove in 26 runs in a total of 35 Series games. Skowron’s eighth and final Series performance was in a Dodger uniform against his beloved former teammates in 1963. Moose was a hitting star for Los Angeles, batting .385 in a four game sweep of New York.
Back when Moose was a rookie, as much as he craved playing time, the fact that he was getting it at the expense veteran first-sacker, Joe Collins, was upsetting to the kind-hearted Skowron. It was not until Collins himself approached Moose and actually started helping the rookie take over his position, that Skowron’s sympathy for Collins began to subside. Eight years later, a brash, loud-mouthed Joe Pepitone showed little respect for the man he was trying to replace, constantly telling Moose his days as the Yankee regular first baseman were numbered. Skowron, ever the pro, remembering how Collins helped him as a rookie, now offered the same assistance to the outspoken Pepitone.
Compounding the fact that Moose was being pushed out of his position by this talented rookie, Skowron’s marriage began to disintegrate. When the Yankees traded Moose to the Dodgers for starting pitcher, Stan Williams, Pepitone was able to replace Moose’s offensive numbers and defensive skills, but not the positive and giving attitude Skowron exhibited toward his Yankee teammates.
Moose passed away on April 27, 2012 at the age of 81. He shares his December 18th birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
I have a Roland Sheldon 1962 baseball card like the one pictured here. As you can see, he looks like a high school kid in a Yankee uniform. On the back of this card, it lists Sheldon’s date of birth as December 17, 1936, which means he would have been 24 years old during his 1961 rookie season with New York. That year he went 11-5 as the fifth starter on one of the greatest teams in the history of the franchise. He sure as heck doesn’t look 24 years old in his picture on this baseball card. That’s why I was pretty shocked when I came across an old newspaper article in which it was reported that some of Sheldon’s old classmates from his Putnam, CT high school claimed he lied about his age. According to them, Sheldon was born in 1932 which meant he would have been 28 years old during that rookie season. In any event, Rollie spent a little bit more than three seasons with the Yankees and won 23 of 38 decisions. He was traded to Kansas City in 1964. He retired after the 1966 season. So happy 75th or 79th birthday, Rollie.
Bahnsen was a real cornhusker, who was born in Council Bluffs, IA, in 1944 and played baseball for the University of Nebraska. He earned AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1968 when he won 17 games in his first full season in pinstripes and posted an incredible earned run average of just 2.05 runs allowed per nine innings pitched. I remember that season well. The Yankees had finished in last place in 1966 and next to last the following year. When they added the 23-year-old Bahnsen to a starting rotation that already included Mel Stottlemyre and Fritz Peterson, who were both just 26-years old at the time, things finally began looking up for New York.
In doing research for this post, I came across a very funny story involving Stan. It seems that in addition to being a wife swapper, Fritz Peterson was one of the Yankee’s all-time practical jokers. He used to always carry a set of padlocks with him and one day, after the final game of a Yankee series, he padlocked Bahnsen’s buckled shoes together. There was a bus outside the stadium waiting to take the Yankees to the airport to catch a plane to LA. Manager Ralph Houk and a bewildered Bahnsen were the last two people in the Yankee locker room. When Houk saw Bahnsen sitting there with no shoes on he told him to finish dressing and get on the bus. When Bahnsen told him he couldn’t put on his shoes, Houk asked him why. When Bahnsen told him that Peterson had locked his footwear together, Houk just about had a fit.
Bahnsen won 37 more games as a Yankee starter during the next three seasons before being traded to the White Sox in 1972 for a guy named Rich McKinney. He proceeded to win 21 games during his first season in the Windy City. He then went 18-21 the following season and then his right arm began rebelling. He had pitched over 950 innings in four seasons in New York and then over 750 more during his first three years with the White Sox. He ended up his 16-year big league career in the bullpen, retiring after the 1982 season with a 146-149 record.
The “Bahnsen Burner” shares his December 15th birthday with this former Yankee first baseman Also, at the end of yesterday’s PBB post recognizing John Anderson, who was the first native Norwegian born Yankee, I asked who was the second Yankee to be born in Norway and gave the hint that he had been catcher Bill Dickey’s backup for most of the thirties. The correct answer is Arndt Jorgens.
His nickname was Honest John and he was the first native Norwegian to play in the Major Leagues. He was also the first New York Yankee (Highlander) starting position player to bat from both sides of the plate. Anderson was already familiar with the Big Apple when the St Louis Browns traded the then 30-year-old to New York after the 1903 season because he had been a starting outfielder for Brooklyn for most of the previous decade. With New York, he joined Wee Willie Keeler and Patsy Dougherty to form a strong Highlander outfield that helped lead that team to a 92-victory season, falling just one and a half games short (to Boston) of the franchise’s first AL pennant. Anderson hit .278 and led the team with 82 RBIs. When he had a slow start at the plate the following year, New York waived him and he was picked up by the Senators, with whom he rebounded nicely by hitting .290 the rest of that season. During his second season playing in our Nation’s Capitol, he led the AL with 39 stolen bases in 1906. Honest John retired after the 1908 season with 1,843 hits and a .290 lifetime batting average during his fourteen seasons of big league ball.
The only other Major League position player to have been born in Norway was also a Yankee, serving as Bill Dickey’s backup at catcher for most of the 1930′s. Do you know his name? I’ll give the answer in tomorrow’s post.
Today is also the birthday of this former Yankee relief pitcher.
This devout Christian was the Lord and saver of the Yankee bullpen in 1970 when he saved 29 games, won 9 of 14 decisions and posted a 2.01 ERA in 62 relief appearances. He had come to New York in a 1968 trade with San Francisco for Bill Monboquette. Born in Hollis, OK, in 1935, McDaniel was 32 years-old at the time of that deal and had already posted 97 big league wins and 112 career saves, mostly as a Cardinal. He pitched five plus seasons for New York, compiling a 39-29 record in pinstripes and 58 more career saves. Even his departure from the team was productive for the Yankees when he was traded to the Royals after the 1973 season because it brought Lou Piniella’s bat to the Bronx. Lindy retired after the 1975 season, his 21st year in the big leagues, with 141 wins and 172 career saves. He also holds the distinction of being the last Yankee pitcher to hit a home run.
On May 6, 1925, the Yankees were scheduled to play the Philadelphia A’s at the old Yankee Stadium. Manager Miller Huggins picked that particular contest to do something he hadn’t done in the previous 475 regular season Yankee games. That was to start a Yankee player at shortstop who was not named Everett Scott. In fact, up until that afternoon Scott had played in 1,307 consecutive regular season games, which was the all-time record at the time. Huggins felt the streak was putting too much pressure on Scott so he decided to take it upon himself to end the thing. In Scott’s place, Huggins started a 22-year-old rookie shortstop named Paul Wanninger. The kid was only 5’7″ tall and weighed just 150 pounds, which earned him the nickname Pee-Wee. He went 0-2 that afternoon against the A’s and was himself removed for a pinch hitter as he was about to take his third at bat.
One of the smallest players in baseball during the time he played, this 5’8″ outfielder used one of the biggest gloves in baseball history. Polonia, a native of the Dominican Republic, had three tours of duty in pinstripes. In June of 1989 he was traded to New York by the A’s in the deal that sent Rickey Henderson back to Oakland. He hit .313 during the second half of that season but an alleged sexual escapade with a minor after a game in Milwaukee in August of that year, nearly destroyed his career. The Yankees sent him to the Angels the following April. He then had his best big league seasons with California, averaging over 50 stolen bases per season during the next three years. In 1994, he rejoined New York and batted .311 in 94 games of action as the Yankees’ starting left-fielder. Then in 2000, Louis played his final 37 big league games in a Yankee uniform. In all, Luis played 12 seasons in the Majors, batting .293 lifetime.