February 2012

February 15 – Happy Birthday Melido Perez

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.

This Yankee catcher and this former Yankee outfielder share Perez’s February 15th birthday.

1992 NYY 13 16 .448 2.87 33 33 0 10 1 0 247.2 212 94 79 16 93 218 1.231
1993 NYY 6 14 .300 5.19 25 25 0 0 0 0 163.0 173 103 94 22 64 148 1.454
1994 NYY 9 4 .692 4.10 22 22 0 1 0 0 151.1 134 74 69 16 58 109 1.269
1995 NYY 5 5 .500 5.58 13 12 1 1 0 0 69.1 70 46 43 10 31 44 1.457
9 Yrs 78 85 .479 4.17 243 201 17 20 5 1 1354.2 1268 700 627 144 551 1092 1.343
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/26/2014.

February 14 – Happy Birthday Mel Allen

imagesThe 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.

February 13 – Happy Birthday Hal Chase

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.

1905 NYY 128 501 465 60 116 16 6 3 49 22 15 62 .249 .277 .329 .606
1906 NYY 151 637 597 84 193 23 10 0 76 28 13 48 .323 .341 .395 .736
1907 NYY 125 528 498 72 143 23 3 2 68 32 19 39 .287 .315 .357 .672
1908 NYY 106 430 405 50 104 11 3 1 36 27 15 34 .257 .285 .306 .591
1909 NYY 118 513 474 60 134 17 3 4 63 25 20 50 .283 .317 .357 .674
1910 NYY 130 560 524 67 152 20 5 3 73 40 16 41 .290 .312 .365 .677
1911 NYY 133 571 527 82 166 32 7 3 62 36 21 40 .315 .342 .419 .762
1912 NYY 131 566 522 61 143 21 9 4 58 33 17 40 .274 .299 .372 .671
1913 NYY 39 160 146 15 31 2 4 0 9 5 11 13 .212 .268 .281 .548
15 Yrs 1919 7938 7417 980 2158 322 124 57 941 363 276 660 .291 .319 .391 .710
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/26/2014.

February 12 – Happy Birthday Dave Revering

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.

Revering shares his February 12th birthday with this one-time Yankee utility infielderthis former Yankee starting pitcher and this one too.

1981 NYY 45 130 119 8 28 4 1 2 7 0 11 20 .235 .300 .336 .636
1982 NYY 14 44 40 2 6 2 0 0 2 0 3 4 .150 .205 .200 .405
5 Yrs 557 2003 1832 205 486 83 16 62 234 2 148 240 .265 .318 .430 .748
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/26/2014.

February 11 – Happy Birthday Sammy Ellis plus top 5 Pinstriped Buckeyes

ellis 65T.jpg

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

This Yankee reliever and  this utility outfielder were also born on February 11.