December 2011

December 9 – Happy Birthday Joe Kelley

kelley_joeI doubt there’s a Yankee fan who ever heard of Joe Kelley. Yet, he was one of the original Yankee franchise’s first stars and he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1971. Kelley’s anonymity within Pinstripe Nation is due to two factors. The first is that he played most of his baseball back in the 19th century. The second reason is that he played just 60 games for the Yankee franchise and those games were played in 1902, when the team was still based in Baltimore and nicknamed the Orioles.

There is no doubt, however, that Kelley was one of baseball’s brightest stars back when Grover Cleveland and William McKinley lived in the White House.  He was a lifetime .317 hitter, who was consistently among league leaders in most offensive categories and also recognized as one of baseball’s best defensive outfielders. He had a 17 year-career, but his best seasons were spent in Baltimore, when the Oriloles were still part of the senior circuit. He teamed with John McGraw, Wee Willie Keeler and Hughie Jennings to lead Baltimore to three straight pennants and averaged .352 during his six year tenure with that team. He once had nine consecutive base hits in an Orioles’ double-header. Kelley was also quite the lady’s man back in the day. He was often seen in public with beautiful members of the opposite sex, enjoying the night-life of Baltimore and other NL home cities, sort of like a 19th century version of A-Rod.

He was traded to Brooklyn in 1899 and helped that team win two straight pennants, but his heart and his family were still in Baltimore. By 1902, the Orioles were part of Ban Johnson’s upstart American League. That year, Kelley jumped the NL to return to the O’s. When his former teammate and current Oriole manager, John McGraw got into a personal squabble with Ban Johnson. McGraw reversed Kelley’s geographical path and jumped from Baltimore back to the Big Apple to manage the Giants. Though it was Wilbert Robinson who took over for McGraw as the official manager, Kelley actually became that Oriole team’s co-skipper. He ended up appearing in 60 games that year and hit .311. When it was learned that Johnson had finagled the transfer of the financially troubled Orioles’ franchise to New York, Kelley jumped back to the NL and became a player-manager for the Reds.

Kelley shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and this former Yankee utility infielder.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1902 BLA 60 263 222 50 69 17 7 1 34 12 34 16 .311 .405 .464 .869
17 Yrs 1853 8139 7006 1421 2220 358 194 65 1194 443 911 430 .317 .402 .451 .853
BLN (7 yrs) 781 3624 3048 768 1069 181 98 40 653 290 482 178 .351 .446 .514 .960
CIN (5 yrs) 487 2042 1774 270 492 78 36 6 210 53 186 116 .277 .353 .372 .725
BRO (3 yrs) 384 1678 1484 275 471 66 43 16 249 75 163 67 .317 .391 .452 .843
BSN (2 yrs) 85 310 273 32 70 9 3 2 20 5 29 32 .256 .332 .333 .666
PIT (1 yr) 56 222 205 26 49 7 7 0 28 8 17 21 .239 .297 .341 .639
BLA (1 yr) 60 263 222 50 69 17 7 1 34 12 34 16 .311 .405 .464 .869
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/9/2013.

December 8 – Happy Birthday Mike Mussina

You’d probably have to go back to Nelson Rockefeller to find someone who had a more self-satisfying final performance than the one Mike Mussina enjoyed during the 2008 season. “Moose” had been one of the most effective starting pitchers in the Majors during the previous seventeen years of his career but had never been able to win twenty games in a single season. Plus, after a mediocre performance in 2007, the pundits were saying Mussina was past his prime and the Yanks would be better off giving the ball to younger studs like Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain instead of the aging 38-year-old right-hander.

We Yankee fans all saw what happened to our young studs during that ill-fated season and I can’t imagine how much worse Joe Girardi’s first year as Manager would have been if Mike Mussina had decided to call it quits instead of pitching one more year.

He went 20-9 with an ERA of just 3.37 and pitched over 200 valuable innings for a Yankee staff that was decimated by injuries and ineffectiveness. The 20 victories gave Mussina 270 for his career and made his case for getting to Cooperstown a heck of a lot stronger.

Most other veteran hurlers who had the type of season and career numbers Mussina had as a 39-year-old would be anxious to cash in on one more multi-million dollar contract and continue their pursuit of 300-wins. Not Moose. He has always been a quiet guy who cherished family more than fame and retirement was an easy choice for him to make. Mike was born in Williamsport, PA, in 1968. He shares his December 8th birthday with this outfielder the Yankees acquired during the 2013 preseason,  this former Yankee reliever and this one-time Yankee shortstop.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2001 NYY 17 11 .607 3.15 34 34 0 4 3 0 228.2 202 87 80 20 42 214 1.067
2002 NYY 18 10 .643 4.05 33 33 0 2 2 0 215.2 208 103 97 27 48 182 1.187
2003 NYY 17 8 .680 3.40 31 31 0 2 1 0 214.2 192 86 81 21 40 195 1.081
2004 NYY 12 9 .571 4.59 27 27 0 1 0 0 164.2 178 91 84 22 40 132 1.324
2005 NYY 13 8 .619 4.41 30 30 0 2 2 0 179.2 199 93 88 23 47 142 1.369
2006 NYY 15 7 .682 3.51 32 32 0 1 0 0 197.1 184 88 77 22 35 172 1.110
2007 NYY 11 10 .524 5.15 28 27 0 0 0 0 152.0 188 90 87 14 35 91 1.467
2008 NYY 20 9 .690 3.37 34 34 0 0 0 0 200.1 214 85 75 17 31 150 1.223
18 Yrs 270 153 .638 3.68 537 536 0 57 23 0 3562.2 3460 1559 1458 376 785 2813 1.192
BAL (10 yrs) 147 81 .645 3.53 288 288 0 45 15 0 2009.2 1895 836 789 210 467 1535 1.175
NYY (8 yrs) 123 72 .631 3.88 249 248 0 12 8 0 1553.0 1565 723 669 166 318 1278 1.212
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/10/2013.

December 6 – Happy Birthday Gary Ward

Long time Yankee fans look back at the 1980s as the era of bad free agent signings for the franchise. After taking brilliant advantage of the Supreme Court’s striking down of baseball’s reserve clause in the 1970s, the Yankee front office led by the impetuous and impatient George Steinbrenner, evolved into one of the worst judges of free agent talent in all of baseball. They’d sign guys with games that did not complement the Yankee lineups they were expected to join or were not conducive to the dimensions of the old Yankee Stadium. It was these poor fits that used to upset me most. They’d give lots of bucks to players who performed well on their old teams and in their old ballparks but once they put on the pinstripes, it seemed as if they lost half their skills and most of their confidence. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was a classic example.

Gary Ward had been in the big leagues for eight seasons when the Yankees signed him to a three-year, two million dollar free agent contract on the day before Christmas, in 1986. He had averaged right around .290 with both Minnesota and Texas and could be counted on to hit between 15-to-20 home runs and drive in close to 80 runs every season. The Yankees were depending on the burly native of L.A. to produce similar numbers in pinstripes and take up a significant chunk of the offensive slack and one of the two outfield holes created with the departures of both Ricky Henderson and Dan Pasqua.

During the first half of the 1987 season it looked as if the Ward signing was a stroke of genius, as he got off to a torrid start at the plate. Even though he slumped badly in the second half of the season, he still managed to produce 16 home runs and 78 RBIs during his initial year as a Yankee but as his slump worsened, his average plummeted into the .240s. He was unfortunately in the process of discovering how the spacious left field of Yankee Stadium acted as a burial ground for well-hit balls off the bats of right-handed hitters.

In 1988, things got much worse for Ward. He averaged just .225, hit only four home runs and drove in the putrid total of just 24 runs. By the second half of that season he had become a part-time player and the Yankees ended up giving him his outright release during the first month of the 1989 regular season. The Tigers picked him up and he spent his last two big league seasons in Motown, as Detroit’s fourth outfielder.

Gary shares his December 6th birthday with this Hall-of-Fame Yankee second baseman, this former Yankee coach, this former Yankee catcher and this Cuban defector who became a Yankee starting pitcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1987 NYY 146 569 529 65 131 22 1 16 78 9 33 101 .248 .291 .384 .675
1988 NYY 91 262 231 26 52 8 0 4 24 0 24 41 .225 .302 .312 .614
1989 NYY 8 20 17 3 5 1 0 0 1 0 3 5 .294 .400 .353 .753
12 Yrs 1287 4892 4479 594 1236 196 41 130 597 83 351 775 .276 .328 .425 .753
MIN (5 yrs) 417 1681 1543 216 439 80 20 51 219 26 115 260 .285 .333 .461 .794
TEX (3 yrs) 414 1715 1575 228 461 64 16 41 200 45 125 264 .293 .345 .432 .777
NYY (3 yrs) 245 851 777 94 188 31 1 20 103 9 60 147 .242 .297 .362 .659
DET (2 yrs) 211 645 584 56 148 21 4 18 75 3 51 104 .253 .312 .396 .707
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/7/2013.

December 5 – Happy Birthday Gary Roenicke

Gary Roenicke was best known as a Baltimore Oriole. Born in Covina, CA in 1954, he spent eight of his twelve big league seasons with the Birds as an outfielder and had his best year in 1982, when he achieved career highs of 21 HRs and 74 RBIs for an Earl Weaver managed team that won 94 games but finished one behind the Brewers. The Yankees got him in a December 1985 trade and Lou Piniella used him as a fourth outfielder the following season behind future Hall of Famer’s Dave Winfield and Ricky Henderson and second-year player, Dan Pasqua. Roenicke got into 69 games for New York that year, hitting an unremarkable .265. The Yankees released him after that season and he signed with Atlanta.

As I researched Roenicke’s history, it got me thinking about other trades that have taken place between the Oriole and Yankee franchises. There have been some doozies over the years. For shear volume, you can’t top the deal the two teams made after the 1954 season that involved a total of seventeen players. The Yankees got the best of that one because they received future Cy Young Award winner, Bullet Bob Turley and 1956 World Series perfect game pitcher Don Larsen in the deal. In June of 1976 the two teams put together another blockbuster and this one was especially noteworthy because it took place in the middle of a regular season during which the two teams were battling for the same division flag. The Yankees won that flag with lots of help from Doyle Alexander, Ken Holtzman and Grant Jackson, the three pitchers they received in that ten player deal. The Orioles, however, got the biggest longterm benefit because they got a great starting pitcher in Scott McGregor, a wonderful reliever in Tippy Martinez and an outstanding catcher and team leader in Rick Dempsey. The following season, the Yankees got outfielder Paul Blair from the Birds for outfielder Elliott Maddox and a pitcher named Rick Bladt. Blair became a valuable reserve on two consecutive Yankee World Championship teams. The last time the two teams did a deal in which players exchanged uniforms was the 2006 post season trade of pitcher Jared Wright to Baltimore for pitcher Chris Britton.

Roenicke shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever and this long-ago Yankee second baseman.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1986 NYY 69 165 136 11 36 5 0 3 18 1 27 30 .265 .388 .368 .756
12 Yrs 1064 3204 2708 367 670 135 4 121 410 16 406 428 .247 .351 .434 .785
BAL (8 yrs) 850 2634 2217 311 555 114 3 106 352 15 335 342 .250 .355 .448 .803
ATL (2 yrs) 116 309 265 36 59 13 0 10 35 0 40 38 .223 .324 .385 .709
MON (1 yr) 29 96 90 9 20 3 1 2 5 0 4 18 .222 .260 .344 .605
NYY (1 yr) 69 165 136 11 36 5 0 3 18 1 27 30 .265 .388 .368 .756
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/5/2013.

Great Christmas Gift Idea for Big Apple Sports Fans

Looking for a great Christmas gift or perhaps  just an easy-read that will make you laugh out loud every few pages? I humbly suggest you preview my brand new book, “Not Just Another Christmas Story.”

If you were raised in a big-city Italian American neighborhood during the 1950s, chances were very good that your life was dominated by family, old-country tradition, the Catholic Church and in a direct or indirect way, organized crime. Pinstripe Birthday’s poignant, often hilarious recollections place the reader back inside one of these vibrant neighborhoods (in Brooklyn) for one crazy Holiday week and describe how a family being pulled apart struggles to stay together.

Big Apple sports fans will especially love the surprise Yankee Stadium ending to this suspenseful tale. You can preview the first chapter and order your hard copies here.

The Kindle edition is available here.