January 2012

January 31 – Happy Birthday Duke Maas

maas1.jpgIf 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.

This former Yankee and Met shortstop, this long ago outfielder and this current Yankee prospect were also born on the last day of January.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1958 NYY 7 3 .700 3.82 22 13 2 2 1 0 101.1 93 51 43 9 36 50 1.273
1959 NYY 14 8 .636 4.43 38 21 9 3 1 4 138.0 149 82 68 14 53 67 1.464
1960 NYY 5 1 .833 4.09 35 1 17 0 0 4 70.1 70 44 32 6 35 28 1.493
1961 NYY 0 0 54.00 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.1 2 2 2 0 0 0 6.000
7 Yrs 45 44 .506 4.19 195 91 55 21 7 15 734.2 745 399 342 71 284 356 1.401
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/11/2014.

January 29 – Happy Birthday Steve Sax

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?

Sax shares his birthday with this former Yankee utility outfielder and this former Yankee set-up man.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1989 NYY 158 717 651 88 205 26 3 5 63 43 52 44 .315 .364 .387 .751
1990 NYY 155 680 615 70 160 24 2 4 42 43 49 46 .260 .316 .325 .641
1991 NYY 158 707 652 85 198 38 2 10 56 31 41 38 .304 .345 .414 .759
14 Yrs 1769 7632 6940 913 1949 278 47 54 550 444 556 584 .281 .335 .358 .692
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/29/2014.

January 28 – Happy Birthday Bill White

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.

January 27 – Happy Birthday Fred Heimach

After seven seasons of pitching in the big leagues, left-handed fireballer, Fred Heimach found himself back in the minors in 1927, pitching for the St Paul Saints. The Camden, New Jersey native had been a combination starter/reliever for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s during his first half-dozen big league seasons before getting traded to the Red Sox during his seventh. Boston had a horrible team and “Lefty” had a horrible year pitching for them, going just 2-9 with an ERA of 5.65, which set the stage for his demotion to St Paul. His fortunes changed in Minnesota. He won 34 games for the Saints over the next two seasons and caught the attention of the New York Yankees, who purchased his contract in August of 1928.

Yankee Manager, Miller Huggins immediately added Heimach to the Yankee starting rotation that season and he finished 2-3 in his first 13 appearances (including 9 starts) in pinstripes. The following season, Freddie finally realized the full benefits of pitching for the Yankees’ magnificent offensive lineup. In his ten starts and twenty-five relief appearances during the 1929 season, he finished 11-6 with three shutouts and four saves. It was his best year in the big leagues but ironically, it also ended up being his last season in pinstripes. Heimach’s biggest problem was consistency. He’d look great in one outing and putrid in the next. According to Yankee skipper Huggins, all Freddie needed to become a star was a good change up. Unfortunately, the diminutive Yankee manager died during the 1929 season and Heimach lost his biggest booster. Huggins’ replacement, Bob Shawkey was not impressed by the pitcher’s performance during New York’s 1930 spring training season and Lefty Heimach’s roster spot was given to a 21-year-old pitcher from San Francisco named Lefty Gomez.

Heimach ended up pitching most of the next four seasons for Brooklyn. He was out of the big leagues by 1934 and ended up becoming a cop on the Miami Beach police force. He shares his January 27th birthday with this one-time Yankee who won the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year Award, this long-ago Yankee pitcher and this much more recent Yankee hurler.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1928 NYY 2 3 .400 3.31 13 9 3 5 0 0 68.0 66 30 25 3 16 25 1.206
1929 NYY 11 6 .647 4.01 35 10 15 3 3 4 134.2 141 72 60 5 29 26 1.262
13 Yrs 62 69 .473 4.46 296 127 104 56 5 7 1288.2 1510 755 639 65 360 334 1.451
PHA (7 yrs) 29 37 .439 4.57 142 67 44 28 1 1 644.0 773 392 327 37 208 185 1.523
BRO (4 yrs) 18 14 .563 4.31 86 28 38 14 1 2 340.0 411 189 163 15 65 81 1.400
NYY (2 yrs) 13 9 .591 3.77 48 19 18 8 3 4 202.2 207 102 85 8 45 51 1.243
BOS (1 yr) 2 9 .182 5.65 20 13 4 6 0 0 102.0 119 72 64 5 42 17 1.578
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/29/2014.

January 25 – Happy Birthday Les Nunamaker

nunamaker.jpgLes Nunamaker was the second starting catcher in New York Yankee history. He succeeded a guy named Jeff Sweeney who in addition to being the first starting catcher for the Yankees in 1913, had also been the last starting catcher for the New York Highlanders the season before. The Yankees purchased Nunamaker from the Red Sox during the 1914 season and immediately put him in the starting lineup. He set a record that first season with New York that can never be broken, when he threw out three runners attempting to steal second base all in the same inning. Not a great hitter, Nunamaker was a big burly guy who was fearless behind the plate. He caught for New York for four years until Miller Huggins took over for Bill Donovan as Yankee skipper after the 1917 season. Huggins included Nunamaker in a package of five players that he traded to the Browns for future Hall of Fame hurler Eddie Plank and Del Pratt, in January of 1918.

After one season in St Louis, Nunamaker was traded to the Indians where he became best buddy with and a regular fishing and hunting partner of the great Tris Speaker. He was also involved in a whacky moment off the field during the 1920 season. One morning he awoke in his hotel bedroom to find a wad of bills wrapped up under his pillow. Since this was just one season after the Black Sox scandal, Nunamaker immediately turned over the cash to then baseball commissioner, Ban Johnson. When the wad was unrolled it was found to consist of sixteen Confederate one dollar bills. Nunamaker played until 1922 and then became a coach and manager in the minor leagues. He passed away in his native Nebraska in 1938 at the very young age of
49-years-old.

Other Yankees born on this date include this former New York pitcher and this one too.