February 2012

February 3 – Happy Birthday Larry MacPhail Sr.

Larry MacPhail Sr.  was anything but an ordinary guy. The son of a prominent banker, Larry attended private schools, went on to get his law degree and then enlisted in the army to fight WWI as an artillery captain. As the armistice was being negotiated, he accompanied his commanding officer on an unsanctioned and unsuccessful mission to kidnap the Kaiser. After the war, he practiced law, ran a department store and became part owner of a minor league baseball team. That team was affiliated with the St Louis Cardinals and through that affiliation, Larry developed a working relationship with the Cardinal’s chief executive, the legendary Branch Rickey. A few years later, the Cincinnati Reds were looking for a new GM and Rickey recommended MacPhail for the job and the game of baseball was never the same. MacPhail was an innovator. He introduced night baseball, air travel and television to the sport and for good measure, he gave the game Red Barber. After leaving the Reds he became GM of the Dodgers and turned a very bad Brooklyn team into a pennant winner within two seasons. Then in 1945, he was brought into a partnership by Dan Topping and Del Webb that purchased the New York Yankees from the estate of Jacob Rupert. Neither Webb or Topping knew anything about running a baseball team and after witnessing MacPhail’s success with Brooklyn, they figured he was the right guy to make baseball decisions.

The problem with MacPhail was he loved the booze as much as he loved running a baseball team and he too often let the two mix. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy quit the team when MacPhail became its President and so did his successor, Bill Dickey. One night while drinking with Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey in Toots Shoor’s restaurant in Manhattan, MacPhail actually traded Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams. When Yawkey sobered up the next morning, he called old Larry and nixed the deal. After both McCarthy and Dickey quit as Yankee skippers, MacPhail started courting Leo Durocher, who was being investigated by the Commissioner’s office for his association with known gamblers. It soon became clear to Webb and Topping that MacPhail was not a good fit. The situation came to a head after the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the 1947 World Series. MacPhail was already drunk before the final game ended. During a team celebration that followed at Manhattan’s Biltmore Hotel, the seriously inebriated executive insulted every one in his path including Topping. Author Roger Kahn later wrote that MacPhail was actually suffering a nervous breakdown during the event. Whatever the case, Topping and Webb quickly forced him out of the partnership. He never again ran a big league ball club.

MacPhail passed away in 1975 at the age of 85. Three years later he was inducted  into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His son Lee was also a Yankee GM and joined his Dad in the Hall of Fame in 1998, becoming the only father-son tandem in Cooperstown. Larry Sr. shares his February 3rd birthday with this former Yankee pitcherthis one too and this one-time Yankee third-baseman.

February 2 – Happy Birthday Mike Garbark

His name was Nathaniel Michael Garbark but everybody called him “Mike.” Growing up in Texas, he was a great all-around athlete and after completing an outstanding football career at Villanova University, he followed his older brother Bob into a career in professional baseball. When he signed with the Yankees in 1938, New York hoped he might some day replace the great Bill Dickey. But Garbark’s weakness was his hitting. He struggled at the plate for the next six years, at every level of the Yankee farm system. By 1944, however, Garbark and 37-year-old Rollie Hemsley were the two best catchers left in the Yankee organization who had not yet been drafted. Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy, promoted Garbark to the big league roster that year and as the 1944 season started, he served as Hemsley’s backup. Then in mid-August of that year, Hemsley was drafted and the 28-year-old Garbark became the starter. He caught 29 straight games and earned the admiration of his Manager, teammates and the Big Apple sports media by doing a decent job behind the plate and surprising everyone by hitting a solid .261 in 89 games of action.

That performance earned him a second season as the Yankee starting catcher and that’s when his offensive problems returned. He was hitting .038 at the end of April. Incredibly, he went hitless in May and lowered his average to .020. At one point, Garbark went on an 0-49 streak at the plate. After one fruitless at bat, the frustrated Garbark returned to the Yankee dugout and did his Paul O’Neill interpretation by smashing the water cooler, destroying the bat rack and kicking the bench. McCarthy actually had to physically sit him down, rub the guy’s shoulders and tell him not to worry about his hitting because he was going to keep catching for the team, no matter what. That assurance probably helped because Garbarak did start hitting a bit and by the end of August, he had his average back up to .218. But the Yankees had also brought in new catchers like Aaron Robinson and Bill Drescher. By the end of the 1945 season, the war was over and so was Garbark’s big league career. He went on to become a Manager in the minor leagues.

So why wasn’t Garbark drafted also? He was declared 4-F by his draft board but I couldn’t locate the reason cited for that classification. He passed away in 1990, at the age of 80. Garbark shares his February 2nd birthday with this outfielder who was known as “Mickey Mantle’s legs”this one-time Yankee outfielder nicknamed Papa Bear and this current Yankee play-by-play announcer.

1944 NYY 89 327 299 23 78 9 4 1 33 0 25 27 .261 .320 .328 .648
1945 NYY 60 201 176 23 38 5 3 1 26 0 23 12 .216 .310 .295 .605
2 Yrs 149 528 475 46 116 14 7 2 59 0 48 39 .244 .316 .316 .632
162 Game Avg. 162 574 516 50 126 15 8 2 64 0 52 42 .244 .316 .316 .632
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/9/2014.

February 1 – Happy Birthday Cecilio Guante

Cecilio Guante became a Yankee in one of those “win now, worry about the future later” type deals George Steinbrenner so often pushed and approved during the 1980s. This one took place in November of 1986 and sent future Cy Young Award winner, Doug Drabek along with Brian Fischer and Logan Easley to Pittsburgh for the Pirates’ top starter Rick Rhoden, Guante and a pitcher named Pat Clements. As the Yankees hoped, Rhoden had a good year for New York in ’87, going 16-10 but Guante, who had been a workhorse in Pittsburgh’s bullpen for the previous two seasons, got hurt and then got lost in manager Lou Piniella’s bullpen.

The following year two things happened that impacted Guante’s playing time. Billy Martin took over as Yankee Manager and Dave Righetti, New York’s all-star closer, came down with a tender pitching elbow. Since Rags threw from the left side and Guante was a right-hander, Martin began platooning his closer slot between the two of them to save wear and tear on Righetti’s elbow. For quite a while, the move worked.

Guante was a tall mean-looking guy on the mound who loved to throw inside and up and in to intimidate opposing hitters. He also barely spoke even if spoken to. During the Yankees 1988 spring training camp he did open his mouth but only to request a trade because he did not think he figured in the Yankees’ bullpen plans that season. Righetti’s sore elbow had solved that problem. He started the year off hot and busy, appearing in 25 games during April and May, winning twice and saving five more. But in June he hit a rough patch. Though he saved four games that month he also blew saves in four others. You could actually feel the Yankees’ confidence in the guy eroding with each bad outing and sure enough, before the season was even over they had dealt Guante to Texas for a reliever named Dale Mahorcic. 1988 was also Rick Rhoden’s last year in pinstripes.

Cecilio’s last big league game was in 1990. His career record was 29-34 with 35 saves. He compiled a 3.45 ERA in the 363 games he appeared in during the nine seasons he pitched in the big leagues. Guante was born on February 1, 1960 in the Dominican Republic. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee shortstopthis former Gold Glove-winning center fielderthis one-time Yankee outfielder and this one too.

1987 NYY 3 2 .600 5.73 23 0 9 0 0 1 44.0 42 30 28 8 20 46 1.409
1988 NYY 5 6 .455 2.88 56 0 37 0 0 11 75.0 59 25 24 10 22 61 1.080
9 Yrs 29 34 .460 3.48 363 1 164 0 0 35 595.0 512 256 230 61 236 503 1.257
PIT (5 yrs) 13 17 .433 3.06 201 0 90 0 0 20 355.2 299 139 121 25 136 293 1.223
TEX (2 yrs) 6 6 .500 3.79 57 0 22 0 0 3 73.2 74 36 31 8 40 73 1.548
NYY (2 yrs) 8 8 .500 3.93 79 0 46 0 0 12 119.0 101 55 52 18 42 107 1.202
CLE (1 yr) 2 3 .400 5.01 26 1 6 0 0 0 46.2 38 26 26 10 18 30 1.200
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/9/2014.