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.

January 24th – Happy Birthday Neil Allen

The Yankees are not the baseball team most fans think of when they hear the name Neil Allen. That’s because today’s birthday celebrant made his big league debut as a starter for the New York Mets in 1979 and is best remembered as that team’s closer from 1980, when he took over that role from Skip Lockwood until the ’83 season. That was the year the Mets gave the closer role to Jesse Orosco and made Allen a starter once again. In June of that season, he was traded to St Louis in the deal that brought Keith Hernandez to Shea Stadium. During that first partial season in St Louis, Allen continued to be used as a starter and went 10-6 with two shutouts. He was then sent back to the bullpen the following year but not to close, because St Louis had the great Bruce Sutter to finish their games. You have to believe that all these changes in pitching roles were detrimental to Allen’s career. He joined the Yankees for the first time in June of 1985, when New York purchased him from the Cardinals. He pitched well in his seventeen games in pinstripes that year, winning his only decision and posting a 2.76 ERA. The following February, the Yankees traded him to the White Sox. Chicago made him a starter again and he went 7-2 in the Windy City in 1986. But when he began the ’87 season 0-7, he was released and signed as a free agent with the Yankees that September. He had his best season in pinstripes in 1988, appearing in 41 games, going 5-3 and even pitching a complete game shutout in one of the two starting assignments he was given that year. But with his contract expiring at the end of that season, New York chose to let him walk away. He pitched one more season for the Indians and then left the big leagues for good. Sixty nine of his seventy four lifetime saves came during his years as a Met. His lifetime record was 58-70, with a 3.88 career ERA. Since retiring, Allen has been a minor league pitching coach in both the Blue Jay and Yankee organizations and also served as New York’s bullpen coach in 2005.

This other Yankee reliever shares Allen’s January 24th birthday as does this long-ago New York Highlander second baseman.

January 23 – Happy Birthday Charley Spikes

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was the fifth first round draft choice in Yankee franchise history. Labeled a “can’t miss prospect,” the Yankees didn’t miss Charley at all because they used him as part of a package of players they traded to obtain third base great, Graig Nettles from Cleveland in 1972. Spikes’ entire Yankee career consisted of fourteen games at the end of the 1972 season. He played well for Cleveland during his first few seasons there and stuck around to enjoy a nine-year career in the big leagues, which ended with the Atlanta Braves in 1980. Spikes shares his birthday with this former Yankee first-round draft pick and this one-time Yankee first baseman.

Counting Ty Hensley in 2012, the Yankees have selected 48 total players in the first round of Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft. Here’s my list of the best ten Yankee first round draft choices in franchise history based on the eventual Major League success of the players chosen:

1 – Derek Jeter (1992)
2 – Thurman Munson (1968)
3 – Scott McGregor (1972)
4 – Phil Hughes (2004)
5 – Carl Everett (1990)
6 – Pat Tabler (1976)
7 – Eric Milton (1997)
8 – Mark Prior (1998)
9 – Rex Hudler (1978)
10 – Terry Whitfield (1971) See Whitfields Yankee and career stats below:
Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1972 NYY 14 35 34 2 5 1 0 0 3 0 1 13 .147 .171 .176 .348
9 Yrs 670 2232 2039 240 502 72 12 65 256 27 154 388 .246 .304 .389 .693
CLE (5 yrs) 539 2025 1848 219 454 61 12 62 228 27 143 321 .246 .305 .392 .697
ATL (2 yrs) 107 140 129 18 36 9 0 3 23 0 8 48 .279 .321 .419 .740
NYY (1 yr) 14 35 34 2 5 1 0 0 3 0 1 13 .147 .171 .176 .348
DET (1 yr) 10 32 28 1 7 1 0 0 2 0 2 6 .250 .344 .286 .629
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/24/2014.

January 21 – Happy Birthday Andy Hawkins

I did not find myself watching too many complete Yankee televised games back during the 1990 season. Why? Because the Yankee team was so bad that year, if I watched more than three or four innings of a game, something bad or stupid would usually happen that would give me agita and cause me to turn the channel. But I do clearly remember watching every single inning of a game that took place on July 1 of that season. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant started that contest against the White Sox.

The Yankees had signed Hawkins as a free agent in December of 1988, after the big right hander had spent his first seven big league seasons pitching for the Padres. The 1988 Yankees had finished in fifth place in the AL East but they had done so with a respectable 83-78 record and an aging starting pitching staff that included Tommy John, John Candelaria and Rick Rhoden. All three veteran hurlers were at the end of their careers and the Yankee front office was hoping that the younger Hawkins would become the ace of their staff for the next few years. He did become that ace during the 1989 season, but considering the rest of that staff included Clay Parker, Dave LaPoint, Greg Cadaret and Walt Terrell, that designation was not especially flattering. Hawkins finished 15-15 that season and New York again finished fifth in the AL East but this time they lost thirteen more games than they won.

With Steinbrenner stuck in the murky aftermath of the Howie Spira/Dave Winfield scandal, the Yankee front office was a complete mess. That explains why the team tried to fix their starting pitching woes with names like Tim Leary, Mike Witt and Chuck Cary. The 1990 Yankees turned out to be one of the worst New York teams in my lifetime.

Which brings me back to that July 1st game Hawkins pitched against the White Sox that year. He pitched perfect for four innings and ended up completing the game and not allowing a single hit. One other thing. The Yankees lost that day. New York’s defense crumbled in the eighth inning when three errors and a couple of walks led to four unearned Chicago runs. Hawkins wasn’t even credited with an official complete game no-hitter because as the visiting pitcher of the losing team, he only threw eight innings.

That loss was Hawkins’ fifth in six decisions that year. He would finish the season with a record of 5-12. Four weeks after Hawkins pitched his no-hitter-NOT, George Steinbrenner was suspended for his role in the Spira affair. The Yankees would end up in last place in their division in 1990, with the embarrassing record of 65-97. It was certainly not a great time to be a Yankee fan.

Hawkins shares his birthday with this Yankee reliever and this former Yankee catcher and frequent postseason Yankee opponent.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1989 NYY 15 15 .500 4.80 34 34 0 5 2 0 208.1 238 127 111 23 76 98 1.507
1990 NYY 5 12 .294 5.37 28 26 1 2 1 0 157.2 156 101 94 20 82 74 1.510
1991 NYY 0 2 .000 9.95 4 3 1 0 0 0 12.2 23 15 14 5 6 5 2.289
10 Yrs 84 91 .480 4.22 280 249 17 27 10 0 1558.1 1574 815 731 152 612 706 1.403
SDP (7 yrs) 60 58 .508 3.84 199 172 14 19 7 0 1102.2 1089 531 471 99 412 489 1.361
NYY (3 yrs) 20 29 .408 5.21 66 63 2 7 3 0 378.2 417 243 219 48 164 177 1.534
OAK (1 yr) 4 4 .500 4.79 15 14 1 1 0 0 77.0 68 41 41 5 36 40 1.351
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.

January 20 – Happy Birthday Kevin Maas

maas.jpgLong time Yankee fans would like to forget the team’s seasons of the late eighties and early nineties. Everything seemed to fall apart during that era. New York reached the depths of despair in 1990, winning just 67 games that season and finishing dead last in their division. Don Mattingly’s bad back kept him out of 62 games and helped lower his batting average to just .256. The lineup around “Donnie Baseball” was pretty putrid. So bad that Jesse Barfield led the team with just 78 runs batted in. Not one starting pitcher on the 1990 squad achieved double digit wins or finished that season with a winning record. Somehow, the Yankee’s closer, Dave Righetti saved 36 games that season and would have been the only bright spot if it weren’t for the debut of Yankee phee-nom Kevin Maas.

Maas made his first appearance with the Yankees as a DH on June 29, 1990 against the White Sox in old Comiskey Park. He went 1-3, singling to right field in the fourth inning off of Jack McDowell. He drove in his first run the next day and then hit his first big league home run off of the Royals’ Brett Saberhagen on the Fourth of July. He ended up hitting 21 home runs in just 79 games in his rookie season, finishing second to the Indians, Sandy Alomar in that year’s AL Rookie of the Year voting.

My sons and I became big fans of Maas. We had so little else to get excited about that all we could do was hope for the future. We even envisioned Maas and a healthy Mattingly becoming a modern day version of the Yankees M&M boys, a new version of Mantle and Maris for the nineties. Boy were we hallucinating.

Kevin did manage to hit 23 home runs in his sophomore season in the Bronx, but he struck out 128 times and hit just .220. It became clear that the AL pitchers knew how to get him out on a regular basis and by 1993, New York released him. He will always have the appreciation of Yankee fans for giving us something to smile about during the bleak, directionless era of Yankee Manager Stump Merrill. Kevin was born on January 20, 1965, in Castro Valley, CA. He shares his birthday with this USC sports legend and this former Yankee catching prospect.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1990 NYY 79 300 254 42 64 9 0 21 41 1 2 43 76 .252 .367 .535 .902
1991 NYY 148 592 500 69 110 14 1 23 63 5 1 83 128 .220 .333 .390 .723
1992 NYY 98 315 286 35 71 12 0 11 35 3 1 25 63 .248 .305 .406 .710
1993 NYY 59 177 151 20 31 4 0 9 25 1 1 24 32 .205 .316 .411 .727
5 Yrs 406 1448 1248 171 287 43 1 65 169 10 5 182 310 .230 .329 .422 .752
NYY (4 yrs) 384 1384 1191 166 276 39 1 64 164 10 5 175 299 .232 .332 .427 .759
MIN (1 yr) 22 64 57 5 11 4 0 1 5 0 0 7 11 .193 .281 .316 .597
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.

January 19 – Happy Birthday Pat Maloney

The worst team in Yankee franchise history was probably the 1912 Highlanders. They finished at the bottom of the American League standings with a 50-102 record and no New York team before or since has ever won that few games in a full regular season. Only the St Louis Browns scored fewer runs than New York did that year and the Highlander pitching staff led the league in earned runs allowed. Pat Maloney, a 24-year-old outfielder born in Grosvenordale, CT, was on that Highlander team. He appeared in 22 games that year, batting just .215. That was Maloney’s first and last season of Major League play as he spent the next seven years in the minors interrupted by his service in WWI. That 1912 season was also the last year New York’s American League franchise was known as the Highlanders. In 1913, they moved to the Polo Grounds and became the New York Yankees.

Mr. Maloney shares his birthday with  this huge  journeyman starting pitcher and this one time Yankee outfield prospect.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1912 NYY 25 90 79 9 17 1 0 0 4 3 6 6 .215 .279 .228 .507
1 Yr 25 90 79 9 17 1 0 0 4 3 6 6 .215 .279 .228 .507
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.