December 2011

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.