March 2012

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.

March 11 – Happy Birthday Dock Ellis

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.

This former Yankee right-fielder who wore uniform number 53 and this long-ago-outfielder who wore a uniform without a number were also born on March 11th.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1976 NYY 17 8 .680 3.19 32 32 0 8 1 0 211.2 195 83 75 14 76 65 1.280
1977 NYY 1 1 .500 1.83 3 3 0 1 0 0 19.2 18 9 4 1 8 5 1.322
12 Yrs 138 119 .537 3.46 345 317 10 71 14 1 2128.0 2067 958 817 140 674 1136 1.288
PIT (9 yrs) 96 80 .545 3.16 231 208 6 51 12 0 1430.1 1356 598 502 78 438 869 1.254
TEX (3 yrs) 20 18 .526 3.82 55 53 1 10 1 1 355.1 353 175 151 33 104 145 1.286
NYY (2 yrs) 18 9 .667 3.07 35 35 0 9 1 0 231.1 213 92 79 15 84 70 1.284
NYM (1 yr) 3 7 .300 6.04 17 14 3 1 0 0 85.0 110 60 57 9 34 41 1.694
OAK (1 yr) 1 5 .167 9.69 7 7 0 0 0 0 26.0 35 33 28 5 14 11 1.885
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/4/2014.

March 9 – Happy Birthday Bert Campaneris

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.

Campy shares his March 9th birthday with this Yankee who hit one of the most famous home runs in franchise history, this sidearming southpaw, this former Yankee outfielder and this former AL MVP.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1983 NYY 60 155 143 19 46 5 0 0 11 6 8 9 .322 .355 .357 .712
19 Yrs 2328 9625 8684 1181 2249 313 86 79 646 649 618 1142 .259 .311 .342 .653
OAK (13 yrs) 1795 7895 7180 983 1882 270 70 70 529 566 504 933 .262 .314 .348 .662
TEX (3 yrs) 256 977 830 109 191 24 10 6 63 50 68 125 .230 .291 .305 .595
CAL (3 yrs) 217 598 531 70 130 14 6 3 43 27 38 75 .245 .296 .311 .607
NYY (1 yr) 60 155 143 19 46 5 0 0 11 6 8 9 .322 .355 .357 .712
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/4/2014.