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.
Peterson shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee utility player.
They were called “Bonus Rules” and before salary caps and luxury taxes existed, they were used to prevent Baseball’s richest teams from signing up all the best amateur talent around the country so their competition could not. Teams like the Yankees would then stock the rosters of their minor league affiliates with these outstanding prospects and keep them down on the farm until they were needed at the big league level or could be sold at hefty profits to other talent-starved organizations.
Major League Baseball’s first Bonus Rule went into effect in 1947. It stated that any amateur player signed by a big league team for a bonus of $4,000 or more had to remain on that team’s 40-man big league roster for a minimum of two full years. If the prospect was removed from the roster before his two years were up, the team lost its contract rights to the player and he was automatically placed on waivers. This rule was repeatedly challenged, put on temporary moratorium and frequently modified but some version of it remained in force right up until Baseball’s Amateur Draft began in 1965. The Bonus Rule is partially credited with destroying the big league career of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
His name was Frank Leja. When he was signed by legendary Yankee scout Paul Krichell, this powerful 6’4″ native of Holyoke, MA was being favorably compared with another first baseman signed by Krichell who was known by the nickname “the Iron Horse.” Leja’s first workout at Yankee Stadium became part of franchise legend. At one point, the young left-handed slugger hit nine of the ten pitches he was thrown into the Stadium’s stands in fair territory. This helps explain why the Yankees paid this kid a $100,000 bonus to sign with them in 1953 and the Bonus Rule helps explain why New York then let this kid spend his first two seasons under contract rotting on their big league bench instead of developing his skills in live-game action as a member of one of their minor league ball clubs.
When the two-year time period expired, Leja was finally sent down. He was still just 20-years-old and the Yankees were hoping that he would simply turn his game-playing switch back on and get his career going. That didn’t happen. He spent the next four seasons hitting a decent number of home runs for Yankee affiliates in Binghamton, New Orleans and Richmond but by the time he might have been really ready for a big league trial, Moose Skowren had a solid hold on the parent club’s first base position. Perhaps if he had been able to spend those first two wasted years after his signing playing instead of sitting, Leja would have been ready to challenge Skowren before big Moose had locked up the job.
The Yankees ended up trading Leja to the Cardinal organization in 1960. His entire Yankee career consisted of nineteen games, eighteen plate appearances and just one hit, all of which took place during his 1954 and ’55 Bonus Rule sit-the-bench mandated seasons. He would eventually get another shot at the big leagues in 1962 as a member of the Los Angeles Angels but that didn’t work out either. Leja passed away at the very young age of 55, in 1991. He shares his February 7th birthday with this one-time Yankee infield prospect.
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.”
This former Yankee pinch hitter was also born on the Bambino’s birthday.
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 and an excellent base runner. 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 began 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.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had over 4,300 plate appearances during his fifteen-year big league career but only one of them was in a Yankee uniform. That was too bad for that era’s Yankee fans because William Herman Schaefer, or “Germany,” as he liked to be called, was one of the funniest, most entertaining Major League baseball players in the history of the game. He came up with the Cubs in 1901 and spent most of the rest of his career with Detroit and Washington. He played all of the infield positions at one time or another but mostly second base. He got his only Yankee at bat during the 1916 season and made an out. He also served as a coach on that New York team.
I don’t know who first came up with the saying, “You can’t steal first base,” but before 1920, Major League Baseball players actually could and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant invented the maneuver. During a game against the White Sox in 1911, Germany was the runner on first and with a teammate on third the signal was on for a double steal. Schaefer did his part, making it safely to second. But when he looked over at third, the runner was still standing there. On the next pitch, old Germany became the first player in history to steal first base. He figured he had to do it so that the double steal could be attempted again and because it had never been done before, the umpires allowed it. Eventually the league passed a rule outlawing the maneuver.
In 1907, he hit his only home run of the season off Philadelphia A’s, Rube Waddell. Schaefer carried the bat with him around the bases and when he got to home plate, aimed it like a rifle at Hall of Fame hurler’s noggin and pulled the trigger. Every pitch Germany saw from Waddell for the rest of that season was aimed directly at his head. He once hit a home run and slid into every base on his way to home plate. If his team was ahead late in a game and it started raining, Schaefer would come to the plate wearing a raincoat or carrying an umbrella. Schaefer was so good at making the fans laugh he started a baseball-related vaudeville act after his playing days were over. That act served as the inspiration for the Hollywood film, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Schaefer also quickly changed his nickname from “Germany” to “Liberty” when America entered WWI .
He died of a heart attack, while on a train bound for Saranac Lake in northern New York state in 1919. Germany shares his birthday with this long-ago starting Highlander outfielder.
Pinstripe Birthdays’ Super Bowl XLVI Prediction – Patriots will do everything possible to negate Giant pass rush and I’m not buying all this talk about Gronkowski being less than 100%. Manning and Brady will each play well. This game is going to be tight and I think it will be the surprising effectiveness of the Giant running game that gives Big Blue the edge in the end. Giants win 30-27!
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 pitcher, this one too and this one-time Yankee third-baseman.
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” and this one-time Yankee outfielder nicknamed Papa Bear.
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 Gold Glove-winning center fielder, this one-time Yankee outfielder and this one too.