Buck Showalter inherited a pretty bad team when he took over the Yankee’s managerial responsibilities from Stump Merrill after the 1991 season. The Yankees had a mediocre lineup and an even worse starting pitching rotation. In January of ’92, the team made a move to try and shore up that rotation. They sent second baseman Steve Sax to the White Sox in return for Melido Perez and two additional pitching prospects. Perez had been in the big leagues since 1987 when he came up with the Royals. He had spent the previous four seasons starting for the White Sox and compiling a 44-45 record. He was about to become the second Perez brother to pitch in pinstripes. His older brother Pascual had put together some good seasons on the mound with both the Braves and Expos but had pitched sparingly and ineffectively for New York in both 1990 and ’91. A third brother, Carlos would later become a starter for the Expos in 1995.
With the Yankees, Melido would become part of a starting rotation that included the veterans Scott Sanderson and Tim Leary along with Scott Kamieniecki. Having just completed the dark ages of the Merrill era, I remember that going into that season I did not expect any of them to pitch very well. The only one who did was Perez. He didn’t just pitch well, at times he was downright dominating. He gave the Yankees 33 starts and a career high 247-plus innings. He struck out 218 hitters and compiled an ERA of just 2.87. He finished with a 13-16 record but he could have easily won 20 games. In ten of his losses the opposition scored three runs or less. He pitched three more seasons for Showalter and the Yankees but never again really came close to the brilliance he exhibited during that 1992 season. Fortunately, the Yankees were gathering new arms to staff their rotation and were able to become winners again without too much help from Perez.
|NYY (4 yrs)||33||39||.458||4.06||93||92||1||12||1||0||631.1||589||317||285||64||246||519||1.323|
|CHW (4 yrs)||44||45||.494||4.20||147||106||16||8||4||1||713.0||661||371||333||78||300||568||1.348|
|KCR (1 yr)||1||1||.500||7.84||3||3||0||0||0||0||10.1||18||12||9||2||5||5||2.226|
The Yankees, Dodgers and Giants were the last three big league teams to provide regular radio broadcasts of their games. It wasn’t until 1939 that the Big Apple baseball franchises set aside their fear that such broadcasts would reduce gate attendance and joined the rest of baseball by putting their home games on the air. The thrifty Yankees and Giants decided to share an announcer since the teams never played home games on the same dates and they co-hired a play-by-play veteran named Arch McDonald who had been doing the radio broadcasts for the Washington Senators. Needing to replace McDonald, the Wheaties cereal people, the Senator’s radio sponsor, hired a young CBS game-show announcer who had also done some news reporting and college football assignments for the network. His name was Mel Allen Israel. But before the Birmingham, AL native announced his first Senator game, Clark Griffith vetoed the hiring so that Washington pitching legend, Walter Johnson, could take the job. By 1940, McDonald was looking for a new assistant in New York and ended up giving the job to Allen who at the behest of CBS had dropped the Israel surname.
During the next two and a half decades, Mel Allen became the “Voice of the Yankees” and the most well-known sportscaster in all the world. His signature phrases “Hello there everybody,” “How about that?” and “Going going gone!” became part of every Yankee fans’ vocabulary as did the nicknames he assigned to Yankee legends. Joe DiMaggio became “Joltin Joe,” Tommy Heinrich, “Old Reliable” and Mickey Mantle, “The Magnificent Yankee.” Allen did not like it when the Yankees teamed him up with another Big Apple baseball broadcasting legend, Red Barber, in the mid fifties. He and Barber would become the first two diamond broadcasters to be enshrined in Cooperstown. Mel also did not approve of Phil Rizzuto being given a microphone in the Yankee booth when New York’s front office forced Scooter to hang up his playing uniform during the 1956 season. First of all, the Scooter’s hiring caused the firing of Allen’s much-liked protege, Jim Woods. Mel also strongly disapproved of Rizzuto’s lackadaisical attention span and his misuse of the English language. Ironically, it had been Allen’s invitations to Scooter to join him in the booth during the later innings of games at the end of Rizzuto’s playing career that led to his hiring.
Allen was unceremoniously dumped when CBS purchased the Yankees in 1965 in a cost-cutting move. George Steinbrenner got him rehired to do games on cable during the mid seventies and Allen’s hosting of the popular “This Week in Baseball” once again made him one of the sports best known voices for a whole new generation of fans. He died in 1996. It wasn’t until last month, when my wife and I took a tour of the new Yankee Stadium that I realized Allen had been given a plaque in the team’s Monument Park. He certainly earned one.
Imagine if at some time during the 2012 season, Joe Girardi held a press conference after a Yankee defeat to announce to the media that he suspected Mark Teixeira had just purposely played poorly in that game. How would the public react if Girardi went on to accuse Teixeira of throwing the game for gambling reasons? Then try to comprehend Teixeira pleading his case to Hal Steinbrenner, who ends up believing his star first baseman’s story, fires Girardi, and names Teixeira, of all people, to become the next Yankee manager. Unbelievable! Right? Such a course of events involving the current star Yankee first baseman is beyond the realm of imagination of today’s baseball fans. But this is exactly what happened to the very first star first baseman in the franchise’s history.
Hal Chase became the regular New York Highlander first baseman in 1905 and remained in that position for a little more than eight seasons and over 1,000 games. “Prince Hal” was a smart and gifted athlete who immediately became a fan favorite in New York. It was Chase who first began the now accepted defensive strategy of charging the plate in likely sacrifice situations. He also pioneered the practice of moving into the outfield to receive and relay cut-off throws. In addition to being an excellent and innovative fielder, Chase was also a strong hitter and a great base runner. He had a .291 lifetime batting average and his 248 stolen bases made him the all-time Yankee base stealer until Willie Randolph and Ricky Henderson passed him seven decades later.
Chase, however, had one passion greater than his love for baseball and that was money. Perhaps, if he lived in today’s era of free agency and multi-million dollar contracts, his story and career would have had a different ending. But at the turn of the century, professional baseball players were not paid royally. As a result, many of them were forced to earn a living doing other things.
Before the 1908 season, Chase tried holding out on the Yankees, to force team management to pay him more money. Even though the tactic was successful, Chase still jumped to the outlawed California league and played for the San Jose franchise using a fake name. Caught in this charade, Chase was suspended by the Highlanders but his immense popularity with New York fans quickly got him reinstated. It was after this episode that Chase’s reputation as an unsavory character began to emerge.
His manager, George Stallings, began to suspect Chase of throwing games. The skipper’s suspicions grew so strong during the 1910 season, he leveled the charges publicly. But Chase’s popularity on the field helped him earn enough support with Yankee President Frank Farrell and League President Ban Johnson to beat back Stallings’ charges and actually get the manager fired. Adding insult to injury, Chase got himself named to replace Stallings as the team’s field boss.
Chase was not a good manager and his continued unpredictable behavior on the playing field led to the resurfacing of attacks on Chase’s integrity as a ballplayer. By 1913, even the Yankee brass became convinced Chase could not be trusted and they shipped him to the White Sox, where in 1914, Chase chased the money again and jumped to the Buffalo team entry in the upstart Federal League. The smaller than normal confines of the Buffalo home field helped Chase accumulate 17 home runs during the 1915 season, so that when the league folded after that season, the Cincinnati Reds welcomed him to the National League with wide open arms.
Even though Chase won the National League batting title with a .339 average in 1916, the Reds skipper, Hall-of-Famer Christy Matthewson, felt the first baseman was involved in throwing games and promptly suspended him. This time the team ownership and league officers backed the Manager instead of Chase and upheld his suspension. The next year was the year of the Black Sox scandal effectively destroying any chance a player with Chase’s shady reputation would ever have of playing Major League Baseball, again.
Hal Chase’s story is a sad one, but only three other Yankee first sackers had more hits or more runs scored as a Yankee than Chase did. The fact of the matter is that if Hal Chase had not gotten himself accused of throwing baseball games, his career with New York would have been longer and his numbers and stature as a Bomber, even more impressive.
This former Yankee, also born on this date, once quarterbacked the Michigan Wolverines to a Big Ten title and a Citrus Bowl victory over Auburn. This former teammate of Chase’s and this one-time Yankee shortstop were also born on February 13.
|NYY (9 yrs)||1061||4466||4158||551||1182||165||50||20||494||248||147||367||.284||.311||.362||.674|
|CIN (3 yrs)||368||1479||1403||167||429||69||33||10||206||48||47||112||.306||.330||.423||.754|
|BUF (2 yrs)||220||900||858||128||266||50||19||20||137||33||26||81||.310||.333||.483||.815|
|CHW (2 yrs)||160||650||590||76||165||21||15||2||59||18||39||60||.280||.329||.376||.705|
|NYG (1 yr)||110||443||408||58||116||17||7||5||45||16||17||40||.284||.318||.397||.715|
One of the ramifications of the wild love/hate dynamic between Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner is that it actually may have destroyed some promising players’ careers. Take Dave Revering as an example. He had been a very good minor league player in the Reds’ organization at a time when the Big Red Machine was so stacked with talent it was difficult for prospects like Revering to make the parent club’s roster. As often happens in that situation, Cincinnati dealt their promising young first baseman to the A’s for Oakland reliever Doug Bair during the 1978 spring training season.
Revering went from a spring training camp where he faced an almost certain return trip to the minors to another one where he was almost certain to be added to a big league roster. The then 25-year-old Roseville, California native proved he was more than ready for the big leagues when in his 1978 rookie season he hit .271 with 141 base hits and 16 home runs. The big left-handed hitter did even better in his second season, hitting 18 home runs, driving in 77 and raising his average to .288. Not too many people were paying attention to Revering because he was playing on some pretty awful Oakland teams.
In 1980, Revering finished with a higher batting average (.290) for the third consecutive year. More significantly, the A’s had hired Martin to manage the team that season and the former Yankee skipper led them to a much-improved second-place finish in the AL Western Division. Martin was a big fan of surrounding himself with players who he trusted, not just on the field but off of it as well. First baseman Jim Spencer was one of those guys. So when Revering got off to a slow start during the 1981 season, the A’s were able to swing a deal with the Yankees to swap Revering and a couple of young pitching prospects for Spencer and pitcher Tom Underwood.
The mid-May timing of the transaction couldn’t have been worse because just three weeks later the season was halted by a players’ strike. When it was over, a split season format was instituted which, if you were old enough to remember it, turned that year’s regular season into an embarrassing circus. Revering immediately took over the left-handed component of the Yankees’ first-base platoon duo (with Bob Watson the right handed piece) and got off to a slow start. Just as he got into a groove, the strike commenced. When play resumed, Revering struggled again to find his swing and finished his first season in pinstripes with a .235 average, the lowest of his career. Though the Yankees kept him on their postseason roster through the crazy split-season AL playoff series, they left him off their World Series roster that year.
Revering’s hitting struggles continued in spades at the beginning of the 1982 regular season. It was evident he was having a crisis of confidence at the plate. Of course, he wouldn’t be given much of a chance to work through it on that Yankee team. In early May, he was part of a three player package dealt to the Blue Jays for the veteran John Mayberry. Mayberry was of course over the hill at the time and would do little as a Yankee. The Revering that left New York in no way resembled the confident young hitter he had proven to be in Oakland.
|OAK (4 yrs)||414||1578||1456||172||406||68||14||52||195||2||103||169||.279||.325||.452||.777|
|NYY (2 yrs)||59||174||159||10||34||6||1||2||9||0||14||24||.214||.276||.302||.578|
|SEA (1 yr)||29||92||82||8||17||3||1||3||12||0||9||17||.207||.283||.378||.661|
|TOR (1 yr)||55||159||135||15||29||6||0||5||18||0||22||30||.215||.321||.370||.691|
Very slim pickings when it comes to Yankees born on this particular date. I remember when Sammy Ellis was a pretty talented starting pitcher for Cincinnati back in the sixties. He was good enough to win 22 games for the Reds during the 1965 season. After ending his playing career in 1969, Ellis got into coaching and was eventually hired as the Yankee pitching coach three different times between 1982 and 1986, serving under managers Gene Michael, Billy Martin and Sweet Lou Piniella. Since Ellis was born in Youngstown, Ohio, I thought I’d take a look and see what other Yankees were native Buckeyes. Here’s my list of the top five Ohio-born Pinstripers of all time:
Number 1 – Thurman Munson
Number 2 – Paul O’Neill
Number 3 – Miller Huggins
Number 4 – Roger Peckinpaugh
Number 5 – Gene Woodling
What happened to Hideki Kuroda during the second half of the 2013 regular season was exactly what I feared would happen to the Japanese native when the Yankees originally signed him as a free agent in January 2012. After going 16-11 during his first year in Pinstripes and having a great first four months in his second, this right-handed native of Osaka, Japan fell apart in August of 2013 and lost seven of his last eight decisions.
He went from being practically un-hittable during the first half of the year to regularly getting shelled during the last two months. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Kuroda picked the very worst time of the year to slump. He lost twice each to Boston and Tampa during his swoon, killing any chance the Yanks had to catch either of their biggest AL East rivals in the process. He finished 2013 with an 11-13 record.
Kuroda uses four pitches, the best of which is his fastball, which he can crank up to 97 mph when necessary. He has decent control but he also gets into stretches when he will surrender too many home runs to that short right field porch in Yankee Stadium and his ERA suffers as a result.
He turns 37-years-old today and the Yankees just gave him a third straight one year deal. I’m hoping he can replicate his 2012 record in 2014 and if he does, the Yanks should reach postseason as a result.
|LAD (4 yrs)||41||46||.471||3.45||115||114||0||2||2||0||699.0||667||308||268||64||163||523||1.187|
|NYY (2 yrs)||27||24||.529||3.31||65||65||0||4||3||0||421.0||396||165||155||45||94||317||1.164|
He may have been a member of perhaps the most famous Yankee team in history, but even the most diehard and long time Bronx Bomber fans have probably never heard of Julie Wera. He was a reserve third baseman on the 1927 Murderers’ Row team and his $2,400 salary made him the lowest paid player on that great squad’s roster. Wera was just 5 feet 8 inches tall and when 5 foot 6 inch Manager, Miller Huggins got his first look at his rookie third baseman during the Yankees’ 1927 spring training season, he took an immediate liking to him. In fact, according to a March, 1927 New York Times article, the usually tight-lipped Huggins told every sports writer in that camp that Vera was one of the most impressive rookie players he had seen come up from New York’s farm system in “quite a while.”
Julie did not live up to that hype. Huggins put the Winona Minnesota native into 38 games that season and Wera hit just .238 with one home run and eight RBIs. Even though it would have been impossible for the youngster to earn a starting berth n that great team, Wera’s lack of playing was not because of any lack of ability on his part. During that season he blew out his knee and was never again the same ballplayer Huggins had raved about that spring. But he remained on the Yankee roster the entire year and even though he didn’t get a chance to play in the 1927 World Series, he did get a ring and a full winning share. Then it was back to the minors for a couple seasons and another quick five-game cup-of-coffee visit with the Yankees in September of 1929. He spent the next eight years in the minors and by 1939, he ended up working in a butcher shop back home in Minnesota. That same summer, he was working behind the meat counter when a surprise visitor showed up at the shop. It was his old Yankee teammate Lou Gehrig. The Iron Horse was in town getting medical tests at the Mayo Clinic and when he found out Wera worked nearby he decided to go say hello and ended up putting on a butcher’s apron and posing for pictures with his old friend. Hours later, Gehrig would receive the devastating news that he had ALS.
Wera’s name again showed up in the newspapers nine years later, when the New York Times reported on September 14, 1948 that he had killed himself by overdosing on sleeping pills. The article reported that a suicide note had been left explaining he was distraught over separating from his wife. It was also erroneously reported in that same article that Wera had made his big league and Yankee debut at the age of 16 and hit a home run off of the great Walter Johnson in his first game. It was later learned that the dead man had been posing as Vera in order to get a front-office position with a minor league baseball team in Oroville, California. He told his employers that his face had been disfigured in World War II and the resulting plastic surgery had changed his appearance.
The real Julie Wera actually lived until December of 1979, when he was felled by a fatal heart attack.
Wera shares his February 9th birthday with another much more successful Yankee third baseman, this one-time Yankee second base prospect and also with this former Yankee catching prospect. Today is also the 90th birthday of the man who took me to my very first Yankee game in 1961 and dozens more after that. Happy Birthday Uncle Jim Gentile.
Fritz Peterson, who was born on this date in Chicago in 1942, was a lot of different people rolled into one pinstriped uniform. I guess first off, he was a very talented left-handed starting pitcher who won 20 games for the 1970 Yankees, won 109 games during his nine seasons in New York, pitched over 1,800 innings, threw eighteen shutouts and compiled an impressive 3.10 ERA for a string of Yankee teams that were not exactly known for their offensive or defensive prowess. He loved pitching in “the House that Ruth built” and I was surprised to discover that he had the lowest career Yankee Stadium ERA (2.52) of any pitcher on New York’s illustrious all-time roster.
Fritz was also one of the whackiest guys in the Yankee clubhouse. His first Yankee roommate, Jim Bouton once confessed to Peterson that he pitched better when he was really nervous about something. Before Bouton’s next start, Fritz walked up to him and told him that if New York didn’t win the game, Bouton’s infant son was going to die.
Peterson was super intelligent and after retiring from the game, he became a devout born again minister and sometimes insurance salesman. Regardless,in spite of all his accomplishments on the field and all of the wild and diversified things he did off of it, the first thing about Fritzie that comes to mind for Yankee fans like me who remember watching Peterson pitch will always be the wife swap he and fellow Yankee pitcher Mike Kekich made during the 1973 preseason. I’d never seen anything like it happen to a Yankee team before and I doubt very much I will ever see a similar exchange take place among Yankee teammates again.
|NYY (9 yrs)||109||106||.507||3.10||288||265||9||81||18||1||1857.1||1796||747||640||139||332||893||1.146|
|CLE (3 yrs)||23||25||.479||4.34||63||63||0||9||2||0||346.0||400||193||167||34||87||118||1.408|
|TEX (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||3.60||4||2||0||0||0||0||15.0||21||7||6||0||7||4||1.867|
I like to refer to February 6th as “Yankee Christmas.” Because on this date in 1895 in the not-so-little town of Baltimore, the New York Yankees all-time greatest player and the savior of Major League Baseball was born. Ruth’s life story has been told in scores of biographies and several times on the big screen. He was such a bad kid, his bar-owning father gave up custody of his only son to a Catholic reform school for boys when Ruth was just seven years old. That horrible parental decision turned out to be the biggest break in Ruth’s life when a Brother at the school taught young George Herman how to play baseball.
By 1911, he was playing minor league ball for the Baltimore Orioles and in 1914, his contract was sold to the Boston Red Sox where he quickly became one of the American League’s star lefthanded pitchers. But disaster was brewing for the national past time. The 1919 Black Sox scandal threatened to destroy the public’s interest in the game. The sale of Ruth to the New York Yankees, his conversion to an everyday player and the profound ongoing success the Bambino had with his bat not only brought back the sport’s disgruntled fans, it helped bring millions of new fans to the game as well. First, Ruth and the Yankees replaced the Giants as the most popular baseball team in New York City. Then, as the roaring twenties unfolded, Ruth’s prodigious slugging and his team’s consistent winning turned the Yankees into the most popular and successful sports franchise in the country if not the world.
The thing that always convinced me that Ruth truly was the greatest all around hitter in the history of the game was how much better he performed than his peers. In 1920, his first season with New York, Ruth hit 54 home runs. There was only one other entire team in baseball that hit more round trippers that year than Ruth hit himself. The National League’s Philadelphia Phillies managed to hit 64 home runs as a team. Let’s do a little bit of statistical comparison to put what Babe Ruth did over nine decades ago in today’s terms.
In 2011, the Texas Rangers finished second in Major League Baseball in home runs, with 210. (By the way, the Yankees led all of baseball in home runs last year with 222.) To match what Ruth did in 1920, which was hit 84% as many home runs as the team that finished second in the entire league in that category, the 2011 Major League home run champion would have had to hit 176 home runs. Jose Bautista led the league in 2011 with 43.
Though he was close to perfect on a baseball field, he had lots of behavioral problems off of it. His appetites for booze, food, gambling and women were as prodigious as the power of his swing. He was completely self-centered and often and unbelievably played years with teammates without even bothering to learn their names. He lacked manners, morals and memory. But boy could he hit a baseball.
Ruth injected no steroids in his butt. He swung no corked bats. The baseballs he hit over walls were not nearly as live as those in use today. Oh yeah, almost forgot, in 1920, when he hit those 54 home runs, Ruth’s batting average was .376. His lifetime batting average of .342 was ninth best of all time and he is at the top of the career list in Slugging, Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and OPS. If he remained a pitcher for sixteen big league seasons and won at the same pace he established when pitching regularly for the Red Sox at the beginning of his career, he’d have been a 300 game winner. His lifetime ERA on the mound was 2.28. He really was “The God of Baseball.”
Ruth’s hitting stats:
|NYY (15 yrs)||2084||9198||7217||1959||2518||424||106||659||1978||110||1852||1122||.349||.484||.711||1.195|
|BOS (6 yrs)||391||1332||1110||202||342||82||30||49||230||13||190||184||.308||.413||.568||.981|
|BSN (1 yr)||28||92||72||13||13||0||0||6||12||0||20||24||.181||.359||.431||.789|
Ruth’s pitching stats:
|BOS (6 yrs)||89||46||.659||2.19||158||143||11||105||17||4||1190.1||934||378||290||9||425||483||1.142|
|NYY (4 yrs)||5||0||1.000||5.52||5||4||1||2||0||0||31.0||40||22||19||1||16||5||1.806|
He was the first starting shortstop in New York Yankee team history. Peckinpaugh won the job in 1913, the same year the New York Highlanders officially became the New York Yankees. He kept that position for the next eight seasons, long enough to become the first Yankee starting shortstop to play in the old Yankee Stadium and also to play for New York in a World Series. He was a brilliant fielder, an excellent base runner and a fierce and volatile competitor. In 1914, when team skipper Frank Chance was fired with 20-games left in the regular season, New York made Peckinpaugh player/manager and the Yanks finished the season 10-10 under his stewardship. His lifetime totals in Pinstripes included 1,170 hits, over 1,200 games played, a .257 batting average and 143 stolen bases.
In December of 1921, Roger was part a seven player swap with the Red Sox that included Boston’s starting shortstop, Everett Scott. By 1925, Peckinpaugh had been traded to Washington, where he hit .294 and was named AL MVP for leading the Senators to the World Series. But in that year’s Fall Classic against the Pirates, Peckinpaugh committed the unbelievable total of eight errors, which remains a Series record, today. He ended his playing career in 1927 and re-started his managing career the following season as skipper of the Indians. He managed for seven seasons and then took a job in Cleveland’s front office. Roger died in 1977, at the age of 86.
Since today’s post is about the first great shortstop in pinstripe history, let’s take a look at my list of the five greatest Yankee shortstops ever:
Number 1 – Derek Jeter: Five rings, eight pennants, seventeen postseasons, 3,000 hits. Simply the best.
Number 2 – Phil Rizzuto: Ted Williams described Scooter as one of the greatest players of his era. Nine pennants, seven rings, an MVP and Hall-of-Famer.
Number 3 – Frankie Crosetti: The starting shortstop on 6 World Championship teams. A total of nine pennants and eight rings as a player. Reached 1,500 hits and 1,000 runs during his career.
Number 4 – Peckinpaugh
Number 5 – Tony Kubek: His three rings, seven pennants and 1,109 hits during a brief nine-year career easily beats out Bucky Dent for the final spot.
Peckinpaugh’s Yankee regular season and career playing stats:
|NYY (9 yrs)||1219||5263||4555||670||1170||174||53||36||427||143||508||457||.257||.334||.342||.676|
|WSH (5 yrs)||639||2566||2180||293||583||72||18||11||261||46||268||146||.267||.349||.332||.681|
|CLE (3 yrs)||86||308||281||20||59||4||1||1||28||14||17||61||.210||.258||.242||.500|
|CHW (1 yr)||68||246||217||23||64||6||3||0||23||2||21||6||.295||.360||.350||.710|
Peckinpaugh’s managerial stats: