March 2012

March 23 – Happy Birthday Chris Turner

As the Yankees’ 2000 season approached, Jorge Posada was entering his prime. The one thing Joe Torre had learned about his sensitive catcher was that he hated not playing. That helps explain why the Yankees had let his predecessor, Joe Girardi sign with the Cubs as a free agent after the 1999 season. Torre knew there were not enough games or innings available in a season to keep both guys happy so he fully committed to Posada and the Yankees began their search for a backup catcher who was good enough to catch a game when necessary but not good enough to pose a consistent threat to Jorge’s playing time.

During the 2000 spring training season, it looked as if Tom Pagnozzi would be the guy. But he had a horrible spring and a sore shoulder to boot. Today’s Birthday Celebrant, Chris Turner was Pagnozzi’s primary competition in camp and he had not set the world on fire while in Florida either. So when the team headed north it went without either guy and Jim Leyritz was designated Jorge’s backup as the season started. Then when Nick Johnson got hurt at the end of April and went on the DL, the Yanks brought up Turner and he was ready.

The Bowling Green, KY native had spent his first five big league seasons as a reserve catcher with the Angels. In 1998, he caught four games for the Royals and the following year, he got into twelve games with the Indians. Now with the Yankees, Turner got off to a hot start with his bat. At the end of July, he was hitting .360 and had an on base percentage of .418. Torre figured out how to get him into games by making him David Cone’s personal catcher. “Conie” was having a horrible 2000 season but had pitched pretty well the two times he was matched up with Turner as his battery mate. Torre made the pairing permanent.

Unfortunately for both the pitcher and his catcher, it didn’t help. Cone finished the season 4-14 and Turner finished it in a horrific slump that saw his .360 average of July fall to just .236 by season’s end. Compounding Turner’s difficulties was the fact that with Cone on the mound, base runners ran frequently and Turner was only able to prevent three of the twenty-two runners attempting to steal against him.

After the Yankees beat the Mets in that year’s Series (in which Turner did not play) New York’s brain trust decided that despite Posada’s sensitive side, they had to shore up the back up catcher’s spot with somebody who could more effectively replace Jorge, both offensively and defensively, in case he got hurt. They released Turner and signed veteran Bob Oliver. Turner’s playing career was over at the age of 31.

Other Yankees born on March 23rd include this up and coming pitching prospect and this one-time first baseman.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2000 NYY 37 102 89 9 21 3 0 1 7 0 10 21 .236 .320 .303 .623
8 Yrs 158 427 379 49 90 16 2 4 36 5 36 89 .237 .307 .322 .629
ANA (5 yrs) 105 293 260 37 65 13 2 3 29 4 25 56 .250 .316 .350 .666
KCR (1 yr) 4 10 9 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 .000 .100 .000 .100
CLE (1 yr) 12 22 21 3 4 0 0 0 0 1 1 8 .190 .227 .190 .418
NYY (1 yr) 37 102 89 9 21 3 0 1 7 0 10 21 .236 .320 .303 .623
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/13/2014.

March 22 – Happy Birthday Glenallen Hill

Put your memory cap on and think back to the Yankees’ 2000 season. That Bronx Bomber team opened the year with plenty of punch in its line up but it finished it with lots more. On the last day of June, 2000 they picked up David Justice from the Indians. Three-and-a-half weeks later, they added Glenallen Hill and then on August 8th of that year, Jose Canseco became a Yankee. Justice would prove to be the biggest spark to New York’s drive to the 2000 postseason. In just 78 games, he hit 20 home runs, drove in 60 and averaged .305. Canseco did OK in his 37 games in pinstripes during which he contributed a half-dozen homers and 19 RBIs. But it was today’s birthday celebrant who was the most surprising of the three. In just 132 at bats, Hill belted 16 HRs. If he played a full season for New York and was able to maintain that pace, he’d have hit right around 64 dingers. He had already been in the big leagues for a decade by the time he joined the Yankees and the most home runs he had ever hit in a full season were the 24 he managed for the 1995 Giants.

A New York Times reporter interviewed the Santa Cruz, California native in September of that season and asked him where his suddenly prodigious power emanated from. Hill told the guy some story about how in 1997, while he was still with San Francisco he noticed during a game against St. Louis that Mark McGuire’s right hand was coming off the bat in the middle of his swing. Hill said he asked Big Mac about it and the slugger explained it gave him a better angle on his swing which resulted in more home runs. Hill claimed he had been trying to master that maneuver ever since and was finally getting it down just in time to help the Yankees win a pennant.

I don’t know how much truth there was to that explanation but I do know there is evidence that may indicate McGuire and Hill talked to each other about more than just there swings. Both players were later linked to PEDs and after Hill was out of the big leagues, he acknowledged using them. Canseco of course is the Godfather of Steroids and rumors of David Justice’s use of the juice have been circulating for years. In hindsight, if I had to render an opinion, I would have to say that at least some of the power surge this trio supplied my favorite baseball team’s offense during the second half of that 2000 season might just have been chemically enhanced. Hill turns 47 years old today. He shares his March 22nd birthday with this former Yankee pitcher turned pitching instructorthis Yankee hurler who met a tragic death and this one-time Yankee catcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2000 NYY 40 143 132 22 44 5 0 16 29 0 9 33 .333 .378 .735 1.112
13 Yrs 1162 4033 3715 528 1005 187 21 186 586 96 270 845 .271 .321 .482 .804
CHC (5 yrs) 331 993 908 154 276 37 3 59 167 25 81 216 .304 .360 .546 .906
SFG (3 yrs) 358 1388 1274 174 341 83 8 54 217 38 91 280 .268 .319 .473 .792
CLE (3 yrs) 205 725 665 72 160 26 3 28 88 20 47 153 .241 .293 .415 .708
TOR (3 yrs) 138 441 411 65 100 16 5 16 50 12 28 98 .243 .290 .423 .714
ANA (1 yr) 16 66 66 4 9 0 0 1 2 0 0 20 .136 .136 .182 .318
NYY (1 yr) 40 143 132 22 44 5 0 16 29 0 9 33 .333 .378 .735 1.112
SEA (1 yr) 74 277 259 37 75 20 2 12 33 1 14 45 .290 .332 .521 .853
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/13/2014.

March 15 – Happy Birthday Bobby Bonds

bonds.jpgBobby 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.

This former Yankee third baseman, this much more recent Yankee third baseman and this long-ago first baseman also celebrate their birthday on March 15th.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1975 NYY 145 626 529 93 143 26 3 32 85 30 89 137 .270 .375 .512 .888
14 Yrs 1849 8090 7043 1258 1886 302 66 332 1024 461 914 1757 .268 .353 .471 .824
SFG (7 yrs) 1014 4610 4047 765 1106 188 42 186 552 263 500 1016 .273 .356 .478 .834
CAL (2 yrs) 257 1106 970 151 256 33 12 47 169 71 115 231 .264 .340 .468 .808
STL (1 yr) 86 270 231 37 47 5 3 5 24 15 33 74 .203 .305 .316 .621
TEX (1 yr) 130 555 475 85 126 15 4 29 82 37 69 110 .265 .356 .497 .853
CHC (1 yr) 45 190 163 26 35 7 1 6 19 5 24 44 .215 .323 .380 .703
CLE (1 yr) 146 631 538 93 148 24 1 25 85 34 74 135 .275 .367 .463 .830
NYY (1 yr) 145 626 529 93 143 26 3 32 85 30 89 137 .270 .375 .512 .888
CHW (1 yr) 26 102 90 8 25 4 0 2 8 6 10 10 .278 .347 .389 .735
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/8/2014.

March 13 – Happy Birthday Cliff Mapes

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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1948 NYY 53 94 88 19 22 11 1 1 12 1 6 13 .250 .298 .432 .730
1949 NYY 111 369 304 56 75 13 3 7 38 6 58 50 .247 .369 .378 .747
1950 NYY 108 415 356 60 88 14 6 12 61 1 47 61 .247 .338 .421 .760
1951 NYY 45 55 51 6 11 3 1 2 8 0 4 14 .216 .273 .431 .704
5 Yrs 459 1383 1193 199 289 55 13 38 172 8 168 213 .242 .338 .406 .743
NYY (4 yrs) 317 933 799 141 196 41 11 22 119 8 115 138 .245 .342 .407 .749
DET (1 yr) 86 221 193 26 38 7 0 9 23 0 27 42 .197 .295 .373 .669
SLB (1 yr) 56 229 201 32 55 7 2 7 30 0 26 33 .274 .360 .433 .792
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/7/2014.

March 12 – Happy Birthday Ruppert Jones

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.

Jones shares his March 12th birthday with this 1994 Rookie of the Year outfielder this 1983 Rookie of the Year outfielder, this former Yankee reserve first baseman and this former NL All Star.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1980 NYY 83 373 328 38 73 11 3 9 42 18 34 50 .223 .299 .357 .656
12 Yrs 1331 5041 4415 643 1103 215 38 147 579 143 534 817 .250 .330 .416 .746
SDP (3 yrs) 354 1316 1156 164 297 66 6 28 149 36 140 214 .257 .335 .397 .732
CAL (3 yrs) 336 1140 974 164 227 46 7 46 144 19 141 207 .233 .330 .436 .767
SEA (3 yrs) 451 1921 1691 242 434 79 20 51 200 68 195 283 .257 .333 .418 .750
KCR (1 yr) 28 54 51 9 11 1 1 1 7 0 3 16 .216 .259 .333 .593
NYY (1 yr) 83 373 328 38 73 11 3 9 42 18 34 50 .223 .299 .357 .656
DET (1 yr) 79 237 215 26 61 12 1 12 37 2 21 47 .284 .346 .516 .862
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/7/2014.