February 2012

February 29 – Happy Birthday Terrence Long

Terrence Long was the Number 1 pick of the New York Mets (and 20th overall) in the 1994 MLB Amateur Draft. At the beginning of the 1999 season, the Mets brought the young outfielder north with the team after spring training but he appeared in just three games with the Amazin’s before getting sent back down to the minors. That July, the Mets traded Long to Oakland for veteran pitcher Kenny Rogers. Long made the A’s big league roster the following year and quickly became the team’s starting center fielder. He put together an outstanding rookie season, averaging .288, scoring 104 runs, with 168 hits, 18 home runs and 80 RBIs. That performance earned him a second place finish behind Seattle’s first-year closer, Kazuhiro Suzaki, in the 2000 AL Rookie of the Year voting. Long then pretty much disappeared in his first postseason, hitting just .158 in the A’s five-game loss to the Yankees in that year’s ALDS.

Terrence would then put together another solid regular season in his sophomore year with the green & gold in 2001. He hit .283 with 178 hits and 85 RBIs. He then had an outstanding ALDS against those same Yankees in the 2001 postseason. He hit .389 in that series, going 7-18 in that five-game affair including 2 home runs but it would be a double he hit in the the third game that would begin a play that will forever be part of Yankee lore. New York was down 2-games to none in that series and facing elimination. Mike Mussina had pitched brilliantly in Game 3 and New York was hanging onto a precarious 1-0 lead as the teams entered the bottom half of the seventh. After two quick outs, Oakland’s Jeremy Giambi singled. Long then hit a ball down the right field line that Shane Spencer fielded. When Spencer’s subsequent throw sailed over two Yankee cutoff men, a scrambling Derek Jeter grabbed it at the first-base foul line and famously flipped the ball to catcher Jorge Posada just in time to nip Giambi before his foot touched the plate with the tying run. The Yankees would go on to win the game and the series.

Long remained the A’s center fielder for the next two seasons but in both years, his average was down in the .240s. The A’s again reached the ALDS in both seasons and failed to advance. After their fourth straight first round postseason elimination, the A’s traded Long and Ramon Hernandez to the Padres for Mark Kotsay. He did well as San Diego’s fourth outfielder in 2004, hitting .295. After that one season, the Padres traded him to the Royals, where he started in left field in 2005 and hit .279. The Royals released him following that year and he failed to stick with the Reds. In May of 2006, he signed a minor league deal with New York and when Hideki Matsui broke his wrist, the Yankees brought up Long. He appeared in just 12 games in pinstripes that season and hit only .167. He never again appeared in a big league contest.

February 27 – Happy Birthday Willie Banks

I was watching a well-done sports documentary about Bob Hurley Sr. on ESPN this past weekend when the name and image of Willie Banks appeared on my television screen. Hurley is the legendary high school basketball coach at St Anthony’s High School in Jersey City New Jersey. You can add up all the World Series won by Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel and Joe Torre and the total doesn’t exceed the number of New Jersey State Basketball Championships St. Anthony’s has won since Hurley became coach of the program. All of his players graduate, most go to college, a bunch get full rides to do so and quite a few, like Hurley’s own son Bobby Jr. make it to the NBA.

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant graduated from St. Anthony’s and played basketball for Hurley Sr. on the same team Bobby Jr played. But basketball was Willie Banks’ second best game. He also played baseball and when he was a student athlete at St Tony’s, Banks’ right arm could already throw a baseball from the pitchers mound to home plate at speeds over ninety miles per hour. In 1987 he became the highest ever draft pick for a New Jersey high school-er when he was selected in the first round (third pick overall) of the 1987 MLB Amateur Draft by the Minnesota Twins. He made the big leagues for the first time in 1991 and in January of 1997 he signed a minor league contract to pitch for the Yankee organization. He spent most of that season in Columbus where he was used primarily as a starter and went 14-5. In September, with the Yankees close to clinching the AL Wild Card spot, Banks was called up to the big leagues and pitched brilliantly, finishing with a 3-0 record and a 1.93 ERA. That strong performance earned him a spot in New York’s bullpen to open the ’98 season. Unfortunately for Banks, he was not able to begin his second season in the Big Apple as effectively as he had finished his first and with an ERA of over ten, he was traded to the Diamondbacks that June for two guys I’ve still never heard of.

Banks kept pitching both in the Majors and minors until 2005 and then stopped when his Mom passed away. She had raised Willie and his brothers by herself in the toughest projects in Jersey City. Banks was extremely close to her and went into a deep depression upon her death. He credits his former Yankee teammate, Tim “Rock” Raines with giving him a reason to live again. Raines was managing the Newark Bears in 2009 and he convinced Banks to come pitch for the team. Willie spent the next two years doing so, finally retiring in 2010 at the age of 41. His big league career record ended up at 33-39 with 2 saves and a 4.58 ERA. By the way, if you get a chance to see that ESPN special about St. Anthony’s, I recommend it highly.

Banks shares his February 27th birthday with another one-time Yankee reliever, this former catcher/coach and this former Yankee back-up catcher.

1997 NYY 3 0 1.000 1.93 5 1 1 0 0 0 14.0 9 3 3 0 6 8 1.071
1998 NYY 1 1 .500 10.05 9 0 5 0 0 0 14.1 20 16 16 4 12 8 2.233
9 Yrs 33 39 .458 4.75 181 84 40 1 1 2 610.1 632 370 322 65 302 428 1.530
MIN (3 yrs) 16 17 .485 4.61 52 45 5 0 0 0 259.2 287 152 133 24 127 191 1.594
BOS (2 yrs) 2 1 .667 2.72 34 0 19 0 0 1 49.2 37 19 15 5 18 36 1.107
CHC (2 yrs) 8 13 .381 6.18 33 23 2 1 1 0 150.0 166 111 103 21 68 100 1.560
NYY (2 yrs) 4 1 .800 6.04 14 1 6 0 0 0 28.1 29 19 19 4 18 16 1.659
ARI (1 yr) 1 2 .333 3.09 33 0 8 0 0 1 43.2 34 21 15 2 25 32 1.351
LAD (1 yr) 0 2 .000 4.03 6 6 0 0 0 0 29.0 36 21 13 2 16 23 1.793
FLA (1 yr) 2 3 .400 4.32 9 9 0 0 0 0 50.0 43 27 24 7 30 30 1.460
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/2/2014.

February 26 – Happy Birthday J. T. Snow

By the early nineties it had become pretty evident that Don Mattingly was never going to regain the stroke that had made him the very best hitter in baseball during the first half of his career. The Yankees would need to find a new first baseman in the very near future and the question became would they go the free agent route, make a trade or was their a prospect down in the minors who had the game to at least attempt to fill “Donnie Baseball’s” hard-to-fill cleats. The best first base prospect at the time in New York’s farm system was today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant.

Jack Thomas Snow, better known as “J. T.” had the genetics of a professional athlete. His Dad was the great All-Pro receiver for the LA Rams, Jack Snow. The younger Snow played his college ball at the University of Arizona and the Yankees had selected him in the fifth round of the 1989 Amateur Draft. I saw him play for the Albany Colonie Yankees in the Eastern League in 1991. He had both a good bat and a fine glove. By 1992 he had made it to the top rung of New York’s farm system and put together a strong season for the Columbus Clippers, averaging .313 with 15 home runs and 78 RBIs. That was also the year that Snow made his big league debut via a seven-game call-up with New York in late September.

As it turned out, the Yankees needed started pitching back then more than they needed a replacement for Mattingly. In December of ’92, they went after the Angels one-handed starter, Jim Abbott. New York had to include Snow in the deal to close it. Getting a chance to watch the remarkable Abbott pitch regularly was certainly a thrill for me but California had gotten the best player in that trade. Snow started at first immediately for the Angels. By 1995, he had won his first Gold Glove and also hit 24 home runs and drove in 102 for California. But when he slumped at the plate the following season, the Halo’s traded him to the Giants, where he would play for the next nine years. His best years in San Fran were his first four, when he won the Gold Glove for first basemen each year while averaging 22 home runs and 94 RBIs per season. By then, Tino Martinez had also replaced Mattingly in New York. Martinez would prove to be the better choice for the Yankees but I’ve always felt J.T. Snow would have handled the job pretty well, himself. We’ll never know.

Snow shares his birthday with this former and pretty famous Yankee third-string catcher and this Yankee pitcher from the roaring twenties.

1992 NYY 7 19 14 1 2 1 0 0 2 0 5 5 .143 .368 .214 .583
16 Yrs 1716 6553 5641 798 1509 293 19 189 877 20 760 1142 .268 .357 .427 .784
SFG (10 yrs) 1183 4497 3822 561 1043 228 15 124 615 14 565 806 .273 .369 .438 .807
CAL (4 yrs) 488 1984 1761 231 455 64 4 65 256 6 182 323 .258 .330 .410 .740
BOS (1 yr) 38 53 44 5 9 0 0 0 4 0 8 8 .205 .340 .205 .544
NYY (1 yr) 7 19 14 1 2 1 0 0 2 0 5 5 .143 .368 .214 .583
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/2/2014.