December 2011

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.