For the past decade the voodoo drug in Major League Baseball has been steroids and its tentacles have extended into the Yankee locker room on several occasions, highlighted by the public confessions of A-Rod and Jason Giambi. I’m currently reading Jim Bouton’s incredibly good book “Ball Four,” in which he chronicles his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros. In it, “the Bulldog” makes it very clear that in the 1960′s, the voodoo drug of choice for professional baseball players was amphetamines (or “greenies” as they were called back then.) Before that, booze was the preferred poison of Major Leaguers. It was alcohol abuse that almost derailed Babe Ruth’s career in New York, rotted Mickey Mantle’s liver and allegedly contributed to the roll-over of the pickup truck that killed Billy Martin.
So illegal drugs and substance abuse of some sort or another have unfortunately become as big a part of the Yankee tradition as pennant drives and batting crowns. Its been going on forever and you can bet its not going away any time soon. I personally consider the most demoralizing period of substance abuse to have been the 1980s. Why? Cocaine.
Drinking booze was and still is considered as much of an accepted all-American pastime as the game itself. Greenies and steroids were not good for ballplayers but they were dispensed and administered under the premise that they would help a player perform better. But smack was different. Too many Americans had already witnessed or personally experienced the debilitating impact of cocaine addiction on people and whole communities.
Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Steve Howe, Tim Raines, Lee Mazzilli, and Dale Berra were all one-time Yankees who experienced highly publicized cocaine addictions. And then there was today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Rod Scurry was a California native who came up to the big leagues with the Pirates in 1980. He was a tall lean left-hander who became a workhorse in manager Chuck Tanner’s bullpen during the early eighties. But of all places, Pittsburgh, famously known as the Steel City, was also the Cocaine Center of Major League Baseball in the 80′s. In 1985 a Pittsburgh grand jury was convened to hear testimony from players on the Pirates and opposing teams who purchased cocaine from drug dealers permitted inside the home and visiting clubhouses of Three Rivers Stadium. (Raines, Mazzilli, Berra and Scurry all testified)
Trials were held, the dealers were jailed and the commissioner handed out fines and suspensions to the players involved. In September of 1985, while these legal proceedings were still in process, the Yankee purchased Scurry from Pittsburgh. Then-Yankee Manager Billy Martin inserted him into five games for New York during the last month of that season and Scurry pitched well, winning his only decision, earning a save and posting an ERA of 2.84.
The following March, MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth announced his penalties for all the players involved in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials. Scurry was quoted at the time in a NY Times article, referring to the penalties as “a great day for baseball.” In that same article, it was pretty clear that Scurry himself had doubts about his ability to stay off the drug. “It’s all in the past now. It’s a new start in life and in baseball. I’m on the way back up. Go back two years, and I was almost out of baseball. I think addiction overrides everything else, no matter how stiff the penalties are. You don’t care about anything; nothing matters. It’s not something you can turn off and on. I don’t know where it’ll end, if it’ll ever end.”
For Scurry, it did not end. He went on to pitch for New York in 1986, appearing in 31 games and finishing the season with a 1-2 record with 2 saves and ann ERA of 3.66. That December, the Yankees re-signed him to pitch for the club the following year. Just one month after that signing, Scurry was arrested for drunken driving in Reno, NV and refused a police request to undergo a chemical test. That incident pretty much ended his Yankee career.
I found the following in another NY Times article, describing events leading up to Scurry’s death in November of 1992: “…Scurry’s neighbors in Reno summoned Washoe County sheriff’s deputies to his home. They found the 36-year-old Scurry in the throes of what the coroner’s report later called an acute psychotic episode. The deputies said he complained that snakes were crawling on him and biting him. They said Scurry became violent and stopped breathing when they tried to place him in handcuffs and leg restraints. Hospitalized and placed on life-support systems in the intensive-care unit, Scurry died a week later. An autopsy disclosed that he died of a small hemorrhage within his brain after a cardiorespiratory collapse. A “significant condition,” the autopsy report said, was cocaine intoxication.”
Scurry shares his St. Patrick’s Day birthday with this one-time Yankee pitcher.
Bobby Bonds came to the Yankees in a blockbuster trade that sent Yankee fan favorite, Bobby Murcer to the Giants in 1974. After a strong 1975 season in Pinstripes, Bobby was traded to the Angels for Ed Fiqueroa and Mickey Rivers. Bond’s most memorable contribution to baseball was his son Barry. Bonds died of Lung Cancer in August 2003.
I was 20-years-old when the Bonds for Murcer trade was made and can remember it as if it were yesterday. As a lifelong Yankee fan who had watched the Bomber dynasty crumble in the latter half of the sixties, Murcer was my favorite player at that time. He didn’t have superstar skills but he was the best player on some of the worst Yankee teams in the franchise’s hallowed history.
I started watching baseball in 1960 as a six-year-old and back then, Yankee fans took for granted that every October we’d be able to watch our Bronx Bombers play in the World Series. And that was the case right up until 1965. Then, within a matter of just a few years, instead of rooting for guys like Mantle, Maris, Berra, Ford, Howard and Skowron to win a pennant, I found myself actually getting some satisfaction when players with names like Tepedino, Repoz, Whitaker, Amaro and Kenney could win just enough to keep my team out of the AL basement.
Murcer, Mel Stottlemyre, and a new kid named Munson were pretty much the only bright spots for us Yankee fans during that bleak period and then “The Boss” showed up in the Bronx. After putting together and heading a group of investors that purchased the team from CBS in January of 1973, George Steinbrenner began looking to make huge changes to the roster almost immediately, convinced he could deal his team back into the World Series.
He therefore was ready to jump at the opportunity to acquire Bonds from the SF Giants for Murcer. Baseball pundits at the time thought a lot more of Bonds’ skills than Murcer’s and they were right. Bonds was a genuine five-tool player who always seemed just on the verge of super stardom. Murcer on the other hand, earned his keep by playing hard every second he was on the field. Plus Bobby loved being a Yankee and always used to say that the saddest day of his life was the day the Yankees swapped him for Bonds.
As it turned out, Steinbrenner was right about this one but not because Bonds ended up leading New York back to the Fall Classic. Instead, after just one pretty good year in pinstripes, the Yanks swapped him for Fiqueroa and Rivers who immediately became two critical cogs in the team’s drive to the 1976 World Series.
I do remember getting pretty excited when New York acquired this veteran right-hander from the Dodgers after their 2003 World Series defeat to the Marlins. They had to give up Jeff Weaver to get him but Weaver had been unimpressive in pinstripes. New York also had to pay Brown’s salary of $15 million per year but the Yankees had the cash.
Brown’s initial season as a Yankee was filled with disappointments. First, his chronically sore back prevented him from pitching well over an extended string of starts. Next, a frustrated Brown injured his hand punching a concrete wall, angering his teammates. Finally, Brown pitched terribly in the seventh and deciding game of the disastrous 2004 ALCS against the Red Sox, sealing his reputation as a disappointment with Yankee fans. He then went 4-7 in 2005 and retired with a career record of 211-144.
Legendary Yankee GM, George Weiss was not one to judge a ballplayer’s talent by his physical appearance but he made an exception when it came to Cliff Mapes. Originally signed by the Cleveland Indians before WWII, the Yankees had picked up the outfielder in the 1946 supplemental draft. If a Hollywood casting agent put out a call for an actor to play a ballplayer, Mapes would have got the part on first look. He was 6’3″ tall and a chiseled 205 pounds of muscle. His problem was he couldn’t hit very well but Weiss was determined to keep him. He would tell anyone who asked about Mapes that he didn’t know if the Sutherland, Nebraska native would ever evolve into a big league ballplayer, but if he did, Weiss was determined it was going to be as a Yankee.
Mapes had seen his first action as a Yankee in 1948, hitting .250 in 88 at bats. He got his big opportunity at the beginning of the 1949 season, when Joe DiMaggio’s sore heals prevented him from playing. Casey Stengel started big Cliff in place of the Yankee Clipper in center and he fielded and hit just well enough to keep the job until DiMaggio returned. He had his best season in pinstripes in 1950, when he set career highs with 12 home runs and 61 RBIs as New York’s fourth outfielder. The following year, both Mickey Mantle and Jackie Jensen were added to the Yankee roster so when Mapes got off to a slow start that season, Weiss’s reluctance to let him go vanished and he was sold to the St Louis Browns. He would hit .274 during his half-season with St Louis and then got traded to Detroit. When he hit just .195 for the Tigers in 1952 he was released and rejoined the Yankee organization at the Minor League level. He never again played a big league game.
Mapes became sort of famous for the Yankee uniform numbers he wore. He was the last Bronx Bomber to wear number 3, before it was retired forever upon Babe Ruth’s death. He then donned jersey number 13 for the rest of the 1948 season before getting number 7 in 1949 and wearing it until he was sold to the Browns in 1951, at which time it became the property of Mantle. Mapes passed away in December of 1996 at the age of 74.
He shares his March 13th birthday with the starting second baseman on the Yankees 1996 World Championship team and the starting third baseman on the first two Yankee teams to compete in a World Series.
The day before Thurman Munson died on August 2, 1979, the Yankees had traded Mickey Rivers to Texas for Oscar Gamble. Then, during the 1979 offseason they went searching for a new catcher and a new center fielder. They didn’t waste much time, taking care of both needs on the same day. On November 1, 1979 New York traded for Toronto’s Rick Cerone to take Munson’s place behind the plate and they sent four players to the Mariners for Seattle’s starting center fielder, Ruppert Jones. “Rupe” was 25 years old at the time of that trade and had been in the big leagues since 1976. He was originally drafted by the Royals and later selected by Seattle in the 1976 expansion draft.
He made the All Star team during his rookie season of 1977, hitting 24 home runs. After getting hurt the following year and slumping badly at the plate, Jones had rebounded in 1979, hitting 21 dingers, scoring 109 runs and stealing 33 bases. It turned out to be the best season of his 12-year career, which explains why New York had to send Seattle four players including Jim Beattie, one of the team’s top pitching prospects at the time. I remember not being thrilled with either deal. The Yanks had to give up Chris Chambliss to get the weak-hitting Cerone and although the New York sports media had nice things to say about Jones, starting in center field in Seattle was a lot different than starting in center field in Yankee Stadium. The guy was a left-handed hitter with lots of pop so I was hoping he’d develop into a classic Yankee Stadium power broker but he never really got the chance.
Dick Howser was the Yankees new Manager in 1980 and he ended up doing a masterful job with that team. Cerone helped him by having a career year but Jones was a disaster in pinstripes. He was hurt much of the season and when he could play, he hit just .223. By the end of the year, Howser had made switch-hitting Bobby Brown his starter in center and Jones was left off the postseason roster.
Howser was infamously let go by George Steinbrenner after the Yankees lost the 1980 ALDS to the Royals. It was a chaotic Yankee front office that then traded Jones to San Diego for Padres center-fielder Jerry Mumphrey on the final day of New York’s 1981 spring training season.
Jones was actually a solid big league player, who played well for Seattle and San Diego but could not get it going as a Yankee. He retired after the 1987 season with 1,103 big league hits, 147 career home runs and a .250 lifetime batting average.
With a reputation as a flake and a substance abuser, Ellis came to the Bronx in the same trade that made Willie Randolph a Yankee and Doc Medich a Pirate. At first, I didn’t like the deal because I was a pretty big Medich fan and thought the Yankees could win with Sandy Alomar Sr. as their starting second baseman. It only took me about a month of watching Randolph play to realize how great a deal it was for New York, even if Ellis had never pitched a single inning in Pinstripes. But Dock ended up pitching 217 of them for New York that year, winning 17 games and helping the Yankees capture the 1976 AL Championship.
The Yankees traded Ellis to Oakland right after the 1977 season opened in the deal that put Mike Torrez in pinstripes. Dock was then sold to the Rangers in June of that same season. The flighty right hander later pitched for the Mets before ending his career as a Pirate, in 1979. Lifetime, Ellis won 138 games. Dock was one of those rare big league pitchers who could hit from both sides of the plate. He was born in LA on March 11, 1945. He died in December of 2008, a victim of cirrhosis.
When I first started following Yankee baseball in 1960, the stolen base was something other teams did but not my Bronx Bombers. The Yankees had built and sustained a dynastic offense on slugging power and in the early ’60′s if somebody stole a base who was wearing a pinstriped uniform, it was either by accident or Mickey Mantle’s legs were feeling particularly strong that day. Case in point, in 1961, the Yankees led all of baseball with 240 home runs and also trailed all of baseball with just 28 stolen bases.
It was the Chicago White Sox at the time, who lived and breathed by a small ball attack that depended on stolen bases to spark their offense it was their great shortstop, Luis Aparicio, who provided the lighter fluid. Little Louie had made his Windy City debut in 1956 and proceeded to win nine straight AL stolen base crowns. That’s why it was pretty shocking when today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant stopped Aparicio’s streak in 1965, by stealing 51 bases for the A’s in just his second big league season.
If you ask Jim Kaat, the one-time Yankee pitcher and game announcer, who Campaneris reminded him of, it might have been Mantle instead of Aparicio. “Kitty” was the first big league pitcher to face the 22-year-old Cuban in his rookie season of 1964 and Campy hit Kaat’s first pitch to him for a home run. He then homered off Kaat again in the same game. This incredibly talented shortstop brought an immediate element of excitement to a Kansas City team that had played horrible baseball for a very long time and gradually, he helped mold that ball club into a force that would win three consecutive World Championships. He would capture six AL stolen base titles in his first eight seasons. Then, just to prove he wasn’t a one-dimensional player, he decided to try and hit home runs during the 1970 season and hit 22 of them.
Campy’s career with the A’s ended after the 1976 season. The bitter Oakland owner Charley Finley had thrown up his hands at free agency and was cashing in his chips by unloading all of the team’s best players. Campaneris was one of the few A’s stars left from the three straight world championship teams to make it to free agency before being traded. He more than doubled his last A’s salary when he signed with Texas. But he was 35 years-old at the time and his best days were behind him. Over the next five seasons, he evolved into a utility infielder and pinch-runner first with the Rangers and then with the Angels. It looked as if his big league playing days were over for good when the Angels let him go and he played the 1982 season in Mexico.
The 1982 Yankee season had been a nightmare. The team finished in fifth place, below five-hundred and had gone through three managers. George Steinbrenner brought Billy Martin back to manage the 1983 club. When the Boss signed Reggie Jackson as a free agent after the 1976 season, Martin had wanted him to sign Campaneris instead. Campy contacted the Yankees about coming to spring training because he had heard they had a shortage of infielders. He was invited to camp and got a break when Roy Smalley went down with appendicitis. Though he didn’t go north with the team he did accept a roster spot with Columbus instead and was called up to the Bronx in early May. He ended up doing a better-than-decent job as Martin’s key infield reserve. He hit .322 in 60 games of action and even stole 6 bases, leaving him with a career total of 649. It was a fitting end to an outstanding 19-year career.
I’ve never read Ball Four. That surprises me because I’ve been reading about two books per month for the past forty years of my life and that includes just about every commercially successful piece of baseball non-fiction published during that time. For some reason, however, I’ve yet to read Jim Bouton’s classic about his life in baseball.
The Bulldog made a lot of money from that book, much more than he ever made on a pitching mound, but the experience has also cost him dearly. He was immediately ostracized by his former Yankee teammates for breaking the old cardinal rule of keeping what happens in the locker room inside the locker room. In Ball Four, Bouton evidently confirms that some pro ballplayers cheat on their wives, gamble too much, have huge egos, and serious substance abuse problems. The truth was that you could substitute just about any other occupation on earth for the word “ballplayers” in the previous sentence and write a book about it and no one would be shocked.
I may not have read Bouton’s book but I did see him pitch for the Yankees. He put absolutely every ounce of strength he had into every pitch he threw. In 1963, he was one of the best pitchers in either league. He won 21 games, threw six shutouts and had an ERA of 2.53. He then pitched brilliantly in game 3 of the that year’s World Series against Los Angeles, giving up just one run in the first inning, but the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale was even more brilliant that day.
By 1964 the strain on Bouton’s right arm was beginning to take its toll but he still won 18 times during the regular season and two more times against the Cardinals as the Yankees dropped their second straight World Series. The problem with Bouton’s delivery was that he threw as hard as he could across his body which put a tremendous amount of stress on his arm. After throwing 520 innings the previous two seasons, Bouton’s arm broke down in 1965 and he was never again the same pitcher.
Long-time Yankee fans like me can remember the days prior to the onslaught of steroid use by MLB players, when hitting thirty home runs in the big leagues was considered something really special. If a rookie did it, the feat was considered near majestic. That’s why when today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant came up to the Twins during the 1963 season and set an American League record by belting 33 home runs in his first year, it was pretty special. He broke a record that had been set by none other than the great Ted Williams, who had hit 31 during his rookie season of 1939. That 1963 Twins team had one of the best homer-hitting starting outfields in baseball history. Harmon Killebrew was the left fielder and he led all of baseball with 45 circuit blasts. Bob Allison played center and he had 35. The entire 1963 Minnesota lineup had some power, leading the league with 225 home runs, 37 more than the second place Yankees hit that season.
Hall played four years in the Twin Cities, made two AL All Star teams and helped Minnesota win the 1965 AL Pennant. After his average dipped by fifty points in 1966, the Twins traded Jimmy to California with big Don Mincher for a very good starting pitcher named Dean Chance. Hall would never again be the hitter he was but I still member getting sort of excited when the Yankees picked him up during the 1969 season. Why? That year’s struggling Yankee team had Bill Robinson starting in the outfield even though he was averaging in the one-seventies. I was hoping Hall’s left-handed swing would be rejuvenated by Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch. It wasn’t. Hall was traded to the Cubs right before the end of the 1969 season. 1970 was his last year in the bigs. He retired with 121 career home runs over eight seasons. He was born on March 7, 1938 in Mount Holly, NC and shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee reliever.
If you put together an all-time lineup of players who played for both the Yankees and Twins, it might look like the following:
1B Doug Mientkiewicz
SS Roy Smalley
OF Jimmie Hall
OF Cesar Tovar
DH Gary Ward
P Jim Kaat
CL Ron Davis
Mgr Billy Martin
This native Venezuelan emerged from the Yankee farm system when catchers Jorge Posada and Jose Molina both were hurt during the 2009 season. Cervelli did a surprisingly terrific job, hitting .298 in 42 games and earning the praise of the Yankee pitching staff for his work behind the plate. I use the word surprisingly because at the time, Cervelli seemed to handle big league pitching better than he did minor league stuff. That’s what I most liked about this kid. He seemed to step up when the pressure got more intense and that caused the expectations I had for the kid to rise up as the 2010 season approached.
Francisco got off to a rough start in 2010 when he was beaned on his birthday in spring training and suffered a concussion. When he returned he was wearing a new bulkier batting helmet that protected him better but also made it look like his head had shrunk. The new oversized lid also seemed to be making him a better hitter. When Posada got hurt early in the year, Cervelli took over as starter and had his batting average in the high .300′s well into May. I still remember blinking my eyes a couple of times when I checked a box score of a Yankee Red Sox game I missed that month and saw five RBI’s next to Cervelli’s name.
But the bat cooled off and more disappointingly, so did Francisco’s work behind the plate. The passed balls, errors and horrible throws started appearing in bunches and it convinced me that the kid was not yet ready to be a full-time catcher.
Give him credit though. Cervelli refused to give up on the notion that he and not Russell Martin, Jesus Montero or Austin Romine would be the next great Yankee behind home plate and he spent the winter of 2010 working like mad to get in the better physical shape he knew it would take to compete against that trio. But the injury bug hit him again during the 2011 exhibition season when a foul ball off his own bat fractured his foot. By the time he got back into action, Martin had not only solidified his hold on New York’s starting catching position, he proved to be an iron man back there and did not take many games off. As a result Cervelli played in just 43 games in 2011 and his season ended in early September when he suffered yet another concussion and missed the rest of the regular season and the Yankees’ two postseason series.
He arrived at New York’s 2012 spring camp knowing he was not going to push Martin out of his starting role and that he was going to have to compete with Austin Romine to keep his job as Martin’s backup. Everyone including Cervelli and me was shocked when Yankee GM Brian Cashman traded for San Francisco Giant back-up catcher, Chris Stewart just before Opening Day 2012 and Cervelli ended up getting sent back to Triple A for almost the entire regular season. Francisco actually broke into tears when Manager Joe Girardi gave him the news of his sudden demotion.
But Francisco has hung in there. Even though he had a bad season down on the farm, he came to the 2013 Yankee spring training camp knowing Russell Martin was gone and he’d have his best opportunity ever to win New York’s starting catcher’s job. He needs to beat out Stewart and Romine and I’d say his odds for doing so are fifty-fifty. I have to admit, however, that I found his alleged involvement in the recent Miami-based PEDs dispensing clinic investigation very disturbing. To me, Cervelli could serve as a classic example of a desperate ballplayer, at the crossroads of his career turning to performance enhancing pharmaceuticals to help him get to the next level. I hope my concern is proven to be completely unfounded when the results of the MLB investigation into this clinic are divulged.
During his five seasons in pinstripes, Cervelli has averaged .271.
Cervelli shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder.