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.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
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.

February 25 – Happy Birthday Paul O’Neill

POneillI absolutely loved watching Paul O’Neill play baseball for the Yankees. I do admit, however, I had my doubts about the deal New York made with Cincinnati to bring him to the Bronx. To get O’Neill in the November 1992 transaction, the Yankees had to give up their starting center fielder at the time, Roberto Kelly. I’m sure there are some of you who have just read the previous line and are asking yourself one of two questions: “Roberto who?” or “Is this guy kidding?” Not so fast.

If you can remember the Yankee team that was on the field in the very late eighties and very early-nineties than you know how really bad that team was. In 1990, for example, New York finished dead last in the Major Leagues with a .241 batting average. Their lineup cards back then could have been mistaken for a list of players who had just cleared waivers. The only bonafide superstar they had was Don Mattingly and by then his crippled back had forever changed his once classic swing. The only player in their starting lineup who could run, hit, hit with power, field, and throw was Kelly. Perhaps his five tools may not have been of the Craftsman variety, but the guy was the very best all-around player on that Yankee team and I admit I cringed when I read they had just traded him away for Paul O’Neill.

Of course I knew little about O’Neill. I remembered him a bit from the 1990 playoffs. I was rooting for the Reds in that postseason because Sweet Lou Piniella was their manager at the time. O’Neill had a very good NLCS against the Pirates that October but then disappeared and was hardly a factor in Cincinnati’s surprising four-game sweep of the A’s in the World Series. A review of his stats during his time playing with the Reds also underwhelmed you. He hit just .259 during his eight years there and I clearly remember thinking that Piniella was pulling a “get-even” fast one on his old employer by helping to convince the Yankees to trade O’Neill for Kelly.

Simply put, if I were the Yankee GM in November of 1992, I would not have made that deal. (I was so bad at judging the talent of baseball players that my brother-in-law, who co-managed a Little League baseball team with me when both our sons played, would tell me the annual player draft began at 8:30 PM when it actually started two hours earlier.)

In any event, Paul O’Neill went onto become not just a great Yankee but one of my all-time favorite Yankees. He and Bernie Williams took over their starting outfield positions together on that 1993 team and within a year, helped transform New York into perennial postseason participants who would go on to capture four World Series flags. Getting the opportunity to watch O’Neill play regularly, I was amazed at how good he was defensively out in right. I also quickly realized how perfect his swing was for Yankee Stadium. The .259 career hitter as a Red became a .303 hitter during his nine seasons in pinstripes. We could count on him to provide 20 homers and right around 100 RBIs every season.

Though he was so instrumental in turning the Yankees into winners, ironically it was during a Yankee defeat that I feel O’Neill gave us his greatest moment in pinstripes. It was the dramatic five-game 1997 ALDS between New York and Cleveland. In the opener, O’Neill’s homer contributed to an 8-6 Yankee victory. He then hit a grand slam and drove in five runs in Game 3 to once again give New York a one-game edge. Then in Game 5, with New York down by a run and just a single out from elimination, O’Neill came to the plate and faced Cleveland’s ace closer, Jose Mesa. Every Yankee fan watching that day can still picture O’Neill’s bullet-like drive hitting Jacobs Field’s center field wall, just inches from becoming a game-tying home run. But it was O’Neill’s harrowing slide into second base on that play, just ahead of Marquis Grissom’s outstanding throw, that I will always remember. I thought he had knocked himself out during the slide but he stood himself up and when he saw a pinch-runner heading toward second, he angrily tried to wave him back to the dugout. That pinch-runner did not score and Cleveland won that game and the Series, but with that one play, O’Neill proved he was indeed a “Warrior” in pinstripes.

One of the things I’ve truly missed since O’Neill retired is watching him go nuts on himself in the Yankee dugout after a bad at bat and seeing his Yankee teammates try to keep from laughing at his antics. Hearing New York fans serenade him with their “Paul O’Neill” chant during the final Yankee home game in the 2001 World Series was also an absolute great moment in Yankee franchise history.

Sharing O’Neil’s February 25th birthday is this former Yankee first basemanthis WWII era Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee skipper.

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1993 30 NYY AL 141 547 498 71 155 34 1 20 75 2 44 69 .311 .367 .504 .871
1994 31 NYY AL 103 443 368 68 132 25 1 21 83 5 72 56 .359 .460 .603 1.064
1995 32 NYY AL 127 543 460 82 138 30 4 22 96 1 71 76 .300 .387 .526 .913
1996 33 NYY AL 150 660 546 89 165 35 1 19 91 0 102 76 .302 .411 .474 .885
1997 34 NYY AL 149 637 553 89 179 42 0 21 117 10 75 92 .324 .399 .514 .912
1998 35 NYY AL 152 672 602 95 191 40 2 24 116 15 57 103 .317 .372 .510 .882
1999 36 NYY AL 153 675 597 70 170 39 4 19 110 11 66 89 .285 .353 .459 .812
2000 37 NYY AL 142 628 566 79 160 26 0 18 100 14 51 90 .283 .336 .424 .760
2001 38 NYY AL 137 563 510 77 136 33 1 21 70 22 48 59 .267 .330 .459 .789
17 Yrs 2053 8329 7318 1041 2105 451 21 281 1269 141 892 1166 .288 .363 .470 .833
NYY (9 yrs) 1254 5368 4700 720 1426 304 14 185 858 80 586 710 .303 .377 .492 .869
CIN (8 yrs) 799 2961 2618 321 679 147 7 96 411 61 306 456 .259 .336 .431 .767
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/2/2014.

February 23 – Happy Birthday Elston Howard

I was a huge Elston Howard fan when I was a kid. He never seemed to get the amount of media attention accorded to his more famous Yankee teammates but he certainly got the attention of Yankee opponents. In 1961 he hit .348, a ridiculously high average for an everyday big league catcher. In 1962 he drove in 91 runs from the six-hole of the Yankee lineup. In 1963, he was selected the AL MVP and in 1964 he played in 150 games, hit .313 and was named to his seventh consecutive AL All Star team.

The Yankees were slow to integrate their team, waiting till 1956 to do it with Howard, who by then was already 26 years old. Compounding Ellie’s delayed development was a Yankee roster loaded with talent and his first Yankee manager, Casey Stengel’s platoon system, which combined to relegate Howard to less than 375 at bats in five of his first six big league seasons.

It wasn’t until Ralph Houk replaced Stengel in 1961 that Howard became a full-time part of the Yankee lineup and by then, he was already 32 years old. Give him those 450 at bat seasons beginning when he was 22 or 23 and Howard would have hit closer to 300 lifetime home runs instead of 167, he’d have easily added perhaps 700 more hits to his career total of 1,471, he’d have seven world series rings instead of four and perhaps he’d be in Cooperstown today.

This former Yankee outfielder  and this one too, also celebrate birthdays on today’s date.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1955 NYY 97 306 279 33 81 8 7 10 43 0 20 36 .290 .336 .477 .812
1956 NYY 98 316 290 35 76 8 3 5 34 0 21 30 .262 .312 .362 .674
1957 NYY 110 381 356 33 90 13 4 8 44 2 16 43 .253 .283 .379 .663
1958 NYY 103 406 376 45 118 19 5 11 66 1 22 60 .314 .348 .479 .827
1959 NYY 125 475 443 59 121 24 6 18 73 0 20 57 .273 .306 .476 .783
1960 NYY 107 361 323 29 79 11 3 6 39 3 28 43 .245 .298 .353 .651
1961 NYY 129 482 446 64 155 17 5 21 77 0 28 65 .348 .387 .549 .936
1962 NYY 136 538 494 63 138 23 5 21 91 1 31 76 .279 .318 .474 .791
1963 NYY 135 531 487 75 140 21 6 28 85 0 35 68 .287 .342 .528 .869
1964 NYY 150 607 550 63 172 27 3 15 84 1 48 73 .313 .371 .455 .825
1965 NYY 110 418 391 38 91 15 1 9 45 0 24 65 .233 .278 .345 .623
1966 NYY 126 451 410 38 105 19 2 6 35 0 37 65 .256 .317 .356 .673
1967 TOT 108 345 315 22 56 9 0 4 28 0 21 60 .178 .233 .244 .478
1967 NYY 66 216 199 13 39 6 0 3 17 0 12 36 .196 .247 .271 .518
14 Yrs 1605 5846 5363 619 1471 218 50 167 762 9 373 786 .274 .322 .427 .749
NYY (13 yrs) 1492 5488 5044 588 1405 211 50 161 733 8 342 717 .279 .324 .436 .760
BOS (2 yrs) 113 358 319 31 66 7 0 6 29 1 31 69 .207 .279 .285 .564
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/1/2014.

February 22 – Happy Birthday Steve Barber

It may be hard for younger fans to believe this but at one time, the Baltimore Orioles had one of the best pitching traditions in baseball. The Birds Golden Era of pitching was definitely the 1970’s. In fact, of the 12 AL Cy Young Awards presented from 1969 to 1980, half of them were won by Baltimore starters (Mike Cuellar, Jim Palmer(3) Mike Flanagan, Steve Stone.) Remember all the talk this time last year about how the Phillies’ staff had the opportunity to produce four twenty-game winners in 2011? The Orioles actually accomplished that in 1971 with Cuellar, Palmer, Dave McNally and one-time Yankee, Pat Dobson.

Baltimore’s outstanding breeding of pitching excellence had begun way back in the late fifties, just a few years after the franchise had moved to B-town from St. Louis. In 1959, a nineteen year-old right-hander with the rather odd name of Milt Pappas made his first big league start against the Senators. A year later, he was joined by a 22-year-old southpaw named Steve Barber. During the six seasons they pitched together on the Orioles, Pappas (85) and Barber (81) would win 166 games between the two of them, and help turn visiting team road trips to Memorial Stadium into many a batting slump.

In December of 1965, Pappas was traded to the Reds for future Hall-of-Famer, Frank Robinson. “Robbie” would lead Baltimore to the Oriole’s first World Championship the following season. Barber played a huge role in the team’s success by getting off to a 10-3 start that year. When he was named to the 1966 AL All Star team that July, his ERA stood at 1.96. Then tendinitis struck his pitching arm and he only appeared in seven games the second half of that season and completely missed the Birds World Series sweep of the Dodgers that year. By the start of the ’67 season, his left arm felt better and he was pitching the best ball of his career early that April. But he cooled off considerably in the following weeks, and at 29, Barber was by then the oldest member of a very young and very talented Orioles pitching staff, experiencing tendinitis in his throwing arm. Baltimore decided they didn’t need him and dealt him to the Yankees for a backup first baseman named Ray Barker and two Minor League pitchers. None of the three players the Orioles acquired ever appeared in a game for Baltimore.

I remember being thrilled about the trade because the 1967 Yankees were a really bad team that could use all the help it could get. Barber went from being the oldest member of the Orioles rotation to being the senior citizen on a Yankee starting staff that included Mel Stottlemyre, Al Downing, Fritz Peterson and Fred Talbot. Barber’s first start in pinstripes was against his former team in Baltimore on July 7, 1967. He got shelled for six runs and three innings and took the loss. But then he won three of his next four starts rather impressively giving Yankee fans hope that the old Steve Barber was back and now pitching for our side. Unfortunately, that was not the case. He ended up going 6-9 his first half-season in pinstripes and then just 6-5 in ’68. There were moments along the way where you could tell why he had been a 20-game winner in 1963 but for the most part, the old Steve Barber had disappeared. In October of ’68 he also vanished from New York when the Yankees left him unprotected in that year’s AL Expansion Draft and he was selected by the Seattle Pilots.

Barber would pitch until 1974 before retiring with a 121-106 lifetime record and a fine 3.36 career ERA during his fifteen-season big league career. He was born in Takoma Park, MD on February 22, 1938 and passed away in 2007. He shares his birthday with this grandfather of a number 1 Yankee draft pick,  this one-time Yankee closer, this new Yankee infielder and this former Yankee phee-nom.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1967 NYY 6 9 .400 4.05 17 17 0 3 1 0 97.2 103 47 44 4 54 70 1.608
1968 NYY 6 5 .545 3.23 20 19 0 3 1 0 128.1 127 63 46 7 64 87 1.488
15 Yrs 121 106 .533 3.36 466 272 90 59 21 13 1999.0 1818 870 747 125 950 1309 1.385
BAL (8 yrs) 95 75 .559 3.12 253 211 14 53 19 4 1414.2 1212 573 491 86 668 918 1.329
ATL (3 yrs) 3 2 .600 4.96 49 5 25 0 0 2 105.1 127 62 58 10 36 57 1.547
CAL (2 yrs) 7 6 .538 2.93 84 4 36 0 0 6 147.1 127 56 48 9 62 92 1.283
NYY (2 yrs) 12 14 .462 3.58 37 36 0 6 2 0 226.0 230 110 90 11 118 157 1.540
SFG (1 yr) 0 1 .000 5.27 13 0 6 0 0 1 13.2 13 12 8 0 12 13 1.829
CHC (1 yr) 0 1 .000 9.53 5 0 4 0 0 0 5.2 10 6 6 0 6 3 2.824
SEP (1 yr) 4 7 .364 4.80 25 16 5 0 0 0 86.1 99 51 46 9 48 69 1.703
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/1/2014.

February 21 – Happy Birthday Oscar Azocar

You have to be a pretty good Yankee fan to remember Oscar Azocar. Originally signed by the Yankees as a pitcher, this left-hander from Venezuela put together a 14-5 record in the minors with four shutouts and an ERA of 2.31. Evidently, that was not good enough to keep him in the organization because he was about to be released when a coach suggested he try the outfield. During batting practice, the team’s pitchers would play the outfield and according to the coach, it seemed as if Oscar could chase down anything hit out there. He made the move during the 1987 season and impressed everyone by hitting .359 that year. It took him five years after making the switch to make it to the Bronx for his first big league action. One of those years was spent playing for the Albany-Colonie Yankees, New York’s old AA Eastern League affiliate who’s home park was just a 30-minute drive from my house. His Manager at the time, a guy named Tommy Jones, remembered Azocar as a hitter who “doesn’t get cheated,” referring to Oscar’s tendency to be way too aggressive at the plate. Jones once told a reporter that Azocar’s strike zone extended from “his shoes to his hat.”

The Yankees called him up from Columbus in July of the 1990 season and benched football star Deion Sanders who was hitting .158 at the time as the Yankees primary utility outfielder. Azocar got off to a perfect start in his big league debut when Stump Merrill inserted him as a pinch-hitter for Alvaro Espinosa in the eighth inning of a game against the Royals and Oscar singled off future Yankee closer, Steve Farr. In his second game in pinstripes, he finished just a triple short of a cycle, hitting his first-ever big league home run off another future Yankee reliever, Tom Gordon. After his first twenty games, the free-swinging rookie was hitting .350 and starting for New York in left field. Azocar would not be able to keep up that torrid pace. When the season was over, his average had fallen to .248 and he had walked just 2 time in 218 at bats. Since he had minimum power, his inability to walk killed his run-scoring potential and the Yankees gave up on him after that single season and traded him to the Padres in December of 1990 for a young outfielder named Mike Humphreys. The Yankees also released Deion Sanders that September.

Oscar would spend just three seasons in the big leagues and then continue to play both in his native Venezuela and Mexico. On June 14, 2010, Azocar suffered a heart attack in Venezuela and died at the age of 45.

This former Yankee catcher and this former outfielder were also born on February 21st.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1990 NYY 65 218 214 18 53 8 0 5 19 7 2 15 .248 .257 .355 .612
3 Yrs 202 460 439 38 99 16 0 5 36 10 12 36 .226 .248 .296 .544
SDP (2 yrs) 137 242 225 20 46 8 0 0 17 3 10 21 .204 .239 .240 .479
NYY (1 yr) 65 218 214 18 53 8 0 5 19 7 2 15 .248 .257 .355 .612
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/1/2014.

February 20 – Happy Birthday Bill Gullickson

I remember when the Yankees acquired today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant in a straight-up one for one trade with Cincinnati for pitcher Dennis Rasmussen late in the 1987 season. I liked the deal even though Gullickson was a right handed pitcher coming to Yankee Stadium and Rasmussen was a southpaw, leaving it. Those of you who can remember when Gullickson started  for the Expos in the early eighties might recall that he was a very good pitcher for Montreal. During his six full seasons with the team he had won 72 games (still good for fourth best on the franchise’s all-time wins list.) He then got traded to the Reds after the ’85 season and he went 15-12 during his one full season there. Gullickson was a big guy, six foot three inches tall but he didn’t throw hard. Instead he depended on pinpoint control, walking an average of just two hitters per nine innings. He gave up quite a few home runs when he pitched but they usually occurred in non-crucial situations, which helps explain why his ERA as an Expo had been just 3.44.

A lot of Yankee fans hated seeing Rasmussen go because as mentioned before, he was a lefty, he had gone 18-6 for New York in 1986, and had a winning record (9-7) at the time the deal was made. At the same time, Gullickson was 10-11 for the Reds and his ERA was a tenth of a point higher than Rasmussen’s even though he had the advantage of pitching to lineups that included pitchers instead of DH’s. Both pitchers were 28-years-old and both were on cold streaks. Rasmussen had lost his last three starts as a Yankee and Gullickson had dropped five straight decisions.

Despite all that, I thought Gullickson was the better pitcher of the two and the future proved me correct. In 1991 he led all AL starters with 20 wins. The problem was he got those wins for the Tigers and not the Yankees. Gullickson would end up pitching just one month in pinstripes, going 4-2 in September of 1987. That was his option year. That also happened to be the same year big league owners allegedly colluded and agreed they would no longer bid for other team’s free agents. Rather than sign again with the Yankees, Gullickson decided to play in Japan for the next three years. In 1990, he returned to the MLB and pitched for the Astros. The following year he signed with the Tigers and put together his career year. He would retire after the 1994 season with a 14-year big league record of 162-136 and a career ERA of 3.93. He also pitched his entire career with diabetes.

Sharing Gullickson’s February 20th birthday is this outfielder who swung at one of the most famous third strikes in Yankee history,  this other outfielder who’s overthrow of a cutoff man turned into one of the most famous plays in Yankee history, this brand new Yankee catcher and this former Yankee catcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1987 NYY 4 2 .667 4.88 8 8 0 1 0 0 48.0 46 29 26 7 11 28 1.188
14 Yrs 162 136 .544 3.93 398 390 3 54 11 0 2560.0 2659 1228 1118 282 622 1279 1.282
MON (7 yrs) 72 61 .541 3.44 176 170 2 31 6 0 1186.1 1149 494 453 88 288 678 1.211
DET (4 yrs) 51 36 .586 4.68 118 116 1 11 1 0 722.2 826 403 376 109 163 290 1.369
CIN (2 yrs) 25 23 .521 3.98 64 64 0 9 3 0 409.2 417 202 181 57 99 210 1.260
NYY (1 yr) 4 2 .667 4.88 8 8 0 1 0 0 48.0 46 29 26 7 11 28 1.188
HOU (1 yr) 10 14 .417 3.82 32 32 0 2 1 0 193.1 221 100 82 21 61 73 1.459
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/28/2014.

February 18 – Happy Birthday Joe Gordon

My favorite story about “Flash” came from his Yankee teammate, Tommy Henrich. According to Old Reliable, reporters were questioning Yankee manager Joe McCarthy in New York’s locker room after a game and asked him why he liked Joe Gordon as a player so much. McCarthy had frequently claimed Gordon was the “best player in baseball.” Instead of answering the question, McCarthy called his second baseman over and asked him what his batting average was. Gordon replied that he did not know. Next, McCarthy asked Joe how many home runs he had hit so far that season and again the Flash told his skipper that he had no idea. McCarthy then excused the infielder and after he walked away, answered the reporters original question. “That’s what I like. All he does is come to beat you.”

Joe played for the Yankees from 1938 until 1943 and then served in WWII. During those six seasons the Yankees won five World Series, Gordon made five All Star teams and he won the 1942 AL MVP award. He was also a magnificent second baseman. When Scooter joined the Yankees in 1941 he and Flash formed a terrific middle infield until Pearl Harbor blew it apart. When Gordon returned to the Yankees from military service after the war, he hit just .210 and New York’s front office, thinking his best playing days were behind him, traded Joe to Cleveland for pitcher Allie Reynolds. It turned out to be one of those transactions that worked well for both teams. The hits and power returned to Gordon’s bat and he teamed with Indians’ player manager Lou Boudreau to lead Cleveland to a 1948 World Series victory. Gordon blasted 32 home runs and drove in 124 that season. He played for Cleveland until 1950, retiring after 11 big league seasons. He eventually became a manager, skippering Cleveland, the Athletics and the Royals.

Joe died in 1978 and was voted into Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee in 2009. I listened to his daughter make the acceptance speech and the loving words she shared about her Dad made it clear that Gordon was much more than just a great ballplayer. Joe was born in LA on February 18, 1915.

This former Yankee bullpen star, this long-ago Yankee starting pitcher and this former Yankee catcher also celebrate birthdays on February 18th.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1938 NYY 127 521 458 83 117 24 7 25 97 11 56 72 .255 .340 .502 .843
1939 NYY 151 648 567 92 161 32 5 28 111 11 75 57 .284 .370 .506 .876
1940 NYY 155 677 616 112 173 32 10 30 103 18 52 57 .281 .340 .511 .851
1941 NYY 156 665 588 104 162 26 7 24 87 10 72 80 .276 .358 .466 .824
1942 NYY 147 625 538 88 173 29 4 18 103 12 79 95 .322 .409 .491 .900
1943 NYY 152 649 543 82 135 28 5 17 69 4 98 75 .249 .365 .413 .778
1946 NYY 112 431 376 35 79 15 0 11 47 2 49 72 .210 .308 .338 .645
11 Yrs 1566 6538 5707 914 1530 264 52 253 975 89 759 702 .268 .357 .466 .822
NYY (7 yrs) 1000 4216 3686 596 1000 186 38 153 617 68 481 508 .271 .358 .467 .825
CLE (4 yrs) 566 2322 2021 318 530 78 14 100 358 21 278 194 .262 .354 .463 .817
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/28/2014.

February 17 – Happy Birthday Cody Ransom

Remember when Cody Ransom made his Yankee debut in August of the 2008 season? Joe Girardi inserted him in a blowout game versus Kansas City as a pinch-hitter for Jason Giambi and the native of Mesa, AZ hit a two-run-home run in his first ever Yankee at bat. Five days later, Girardi again pinch hit Ransom for Giambi, this time in the ninth inning of a game against Baltimore and Ransom hit a three run home run on his second-ever Yankee at bat. He remained hot right through the first half of September before cooling down quite a bit, and he provided a welcome respite for us Yankee fans during the emotional closing days of the old Yankee Stadium, as we sadly watched our favorite team miss the playoffs for the first time in fourteen seasons.

That strong showing convinced Girardi that Ransom could fill in for Alex Rodriguez at third base to begin the 2009 season, while A-Rod recovered from off-season hip surgery. I clearly remember hoping the experiment would work but it certainly did not. I’m not exactly sure why Ransom seemed like he had completely forgotten how to hit that April. It could have been nerves or perhaps American League pitchers had gotten wise to something, but whatever the reason, over the space of a single off season, this guy had become an automatic out. By April 24, he was hitting .180 and by May, he found himself back in Scranton. He did get called back up in late June of that season but he was not put on the Yankees’ postseason roster. Fortunately by October, A-Rod’s hip had completely healed and he put together that magical postseason run that led the Yankees to their 27th World Championship.

Ransom shares his February 17th birthday with this great Yankee first baseman, this former Yankee reliever and this Hall-of-Fame Yankee announcer.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2008 NYY 33 51 43 9 13 3 0 4 8 0 6 12 .302 .400 .651 1.051
2009 NYY 31 86 79 11 15 9 1 0 10 2 7 25 .190 .256 .329 .585
11 Yrs 383 858 752 111 160 47 2 30 105 6 88 274 .213 .303 .400 .703
SFG (4 yrs) 114 117 105 23 25 7 0 2 13 2 8 37 .238 .298 .362 .660
ARI (2 yrs) 38 125 111 14 26 9 0 6 20 1 10 39 .234 .320 .477 .797
NYY (2 yrs) 64 137 122 20 28 12 1 4 18 2 13 37 .230 .309 .443 .751
SDP (1 yr) 5 11 11 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .000 .000 .000 .000
CHC (1 yr) 57 182 158 21 32 10 1 9 20 0 22 57 .203 .304 .449 .753
PHI (1 yr) 22 46 42 6 8 0 0 2 5 1 3 11 .190 .244 .333 .578
HOU (1 yr) 19 46 35 9 8 2 0 1 3 0 9 9 .229 .413 .371 .784
MIL (1 yr) 64 194 168 18 33 7 0 6 26 0 23 79 .196 .293 .345 .638
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/26/2014.