If the Yankees had won the 1959 pennant, Duke Maas would probably be a much more recognizable name for New York’s baby-boomer aged fans. That was the season the veteran right-hander from Utica, MI finished 14-8 for Manager Casey Stengel’s disappointing third place team. The Yankees had acquired Maas from Kansas City during the 1958 season in exchange for Bob Grim and Harry “Suitcase” Simpson. Duke had a great start in pinstripes, winning 7 of 10 decisions to help New York win the 1958 pennant. He got shelled in his only appearance against the Braves in the World Series that year but bounced back to become one of the team’s few bright spots the following season. He had another strong year in 1960, going 5-1 with 4 saves as the Yankees recaptured the AL flag. Loaded with pitching, New York left Maas unprotected in the 1961 AL Expansion draft and he was taken by the Angels. LA then traded Duke back to New York before the start of the ’61 season. After just one appearance that year, Duke’s arm gave out and he never again pitched in the big leagues. Duke died at the very young age of 47, in 1976.
|NYY (4 yrs)||26||12||.684||4.21||96||35||28||5||2||8||310.0||314||179||145||29||124||145||1.413|
|DET (3 yrs)||15||27||.357||4.22||89||49||24||13||4||6||369.1||382||195||173||39||147||192||1.432|
|KCA (1 yr)||4||5||.444||3.90||10||7||3||3||1||1||55.1||49||25||24||3||13||19||1.120|
It didn’t take me long to become a huge Willie Randolph fan after the Yankees acquired the second baseman in a December, 1975 trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I did not appreciate how the Mets dumped Randolph as Manager during the 2008 season and I can remember being just as upset when the Yankees signed Steve Sax as a free agent to take over the starting second baseman’s job from Willie, after the 1988 season.
Sax had been the NL Rookie of the Year for the Dodgers in 1982 and because he was good looking and did most of his ball-playing right next to Hollywood, you kept seeing him pop up on TV shows whenever a script called for a real ballplayer. But what he was most famous for was the mysterious case of the “Steve Blass” throwing disease he developed during the 1983 season. For those of you who don’t know, Blass was a Pirate pitcher who woke up one day and could no longer throw a baseball over the plate from the pitchers’ mound. I’m not talking about pitches ending up just a little bit off the plate, Blass’s tosses would regularly sale in all directions, five feet from the catcher. Sax’s throws were doing the same thing to his first baseman and it became such a running joke at Dodger Stadium that fans sitting in the box seats behind first base would show up wearing batting helmets. Dodger Manager, Tommy Lasorda tried everything he could think of to fix Sax’s problem. One of his remedies was a gag. Lasorda had a guy put the head of a greased pig in his second baseman’s hotel bed one night with a note threatening Sax with physical harm if he made another errant throw. Sax insists that pig’s head discovery straightened him out. Whatever.
Sax did enjoy three productive seasons in New York from 1989 through 1991, topping the .300 batting average mark in both his first and final years in pinstripes. He also stole 117 bases as a Yankee. Sax was rewarded for his success in New York with a huge eight-figure, four-year contract with the Chicago White Sox. He was a dud in the Windy City, hitting just .236 in his first season with Chicago and getting released by the club the following season. Steve was born in Sacramento and turns fifty-two years old today.
By the way, that’s former Yankee hitting instructor, Frank “Hondo” Howard, pictured with Sax in the above baseball card. Sax must have been standing on a step stool at the time this photo was taken because at 6’7″, big Frank was at least eight inches taller than Sax. Do you remember this other Yankee second baseman who developed his case of Steve Blass throwing disease while he was wearing the pinstripes?
|LAD (8 yrs)||1091||4745||4312||574||1218||159||35||30||333||290||363||406||.282||.339||.356||.696|
|NYY (3 yrs)||471||2104||1918||243||563||88||7||19||161||117||142||128||.294||.342||.376||.718|
|CHW (2 yrs)||200||759||686||94||162||31||4||5||55||37||51||48||.236||.289||.315||.603|
|OAK (1 yr)||7||24||24||2||6||0||1||0||1||0||0||2||.250||.250||.333||.583|
Bill White appeared in 1,673 big league games but not one of them while wearing a Yankee uniform. Instead, he made his most significant mark as a player as the hard-hitting starting first baseman for the Cardinal teams of the late 1950’s and early 60’s. In 1964, he helped St Louis win a World Championship, beating the Yankees in a seven game series. The following season, both the Cardinals and White had off-years and St Louis traded him to the Phillies. White completed his playing career in 1969, retiring with a .286 lifetime batting average, 202 home runs and 870 RBIs over thirteen seasons.
He had first gotten involved in broadcasting hosting a radio show while he was playing for St Louis. After he retired from the Phillies, he got into television as a sportscaster for a station in the City of Brotherly Love. In 1971, he joined the Yankee broadcasting team of Phil Rizzuto and Frank Messer. For the next eighteen seasons, his distinctive voice became synonymous with Yankee baseball. I loved listening to White do Yankee games. He was well-spoken, concise and always prepared. What I enjoyed even more was the banter between him and Scooter that usually left White cackling in laughter.
He remained a key component of the Yankee broadcasting team for eighteen years, becoming the first black person to do play-by-play regularly for a Major League baseball team. In 1989, he accepted Baseball Commissioner Bart Giametti’s offer to become the first African-American president of the National League. He served in that office for five years.
I’ve embedded the above audio clip of White’s most famous call as a Yankee announcer. I’m sure listening to it will bring back a great memory for long-time fans of the Bronx Bombers. White shares his January 28th birthday with this one-time Yankee second baseman and this more recent Yankee first baseman.