April 2012

April 29 – Happy Birthday Mickey McDermott

Long before Karaoke made its way from Japan to our shores, big league pitcher Mickey McDermott loved to sing in bars. Perhaps the biggest reason he loved to sing in bars was because he had to be in a bar in order to do it which meant he could drink and if their was one thing old Mickey liked to do in bars more than sing in them, it was drink in them. Born in Poughkeepsie, NY on April 29, 1929 and raised in New Jersey, his full name was Maurice Joseph McDermott. Big league scouts drooled over his fastball and the Red Sox won the race to sign him by doing so when he was just fifteen years-old. His shifty father actually forged a birth certificate that claimed his talented son was 18 years old. The elder McDermott than pocketed $5,000 of his son’s bonus money. Mickey made his big league debut for Boston when he was just 19 and by 1949 he was splitting his time between the team’s starting rotation and its bullpen.

I’ve found testimony from great big league hitters like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams that indicate this guy could be very impressive on the mound. He showed many moments of brilliance in his early career and seemed to be putting it all together in 1952 when he went 10-9 in Beantown and then followed that up with an 18-10 1953 season that included 4 shutouts. Making him even more valuable was the fact that he was an extremely gifted hitter who averaged .252 lifetime and was frequently used as a pinch hitter.

McDermott’s achille’s heel was his desire to party, which is what made Tom Yawkey’s decision to approve trading him after his great 1953 season an easy one. It turned out to be one of the best deals Boston ever made because in return for McDermott, they got a gifted, ex-Yankee outfielder from Washington by the name of Jackie Jensen. By 1958, Jensen would become an AL MVP winner and McDermott would find himself pitching back in the Minor Leagues.

Mickey would start for the lowly Senators for two seasons, compiling a 17-25 record in our Nation’s capital. The Yankees then acquired him in a seven player trade in February of 1956. New York had just lost the 1955 Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers and Yankee GM George Weiss and Manager Casey Stengel both knew the team needed to get some pitching. Weiss and Stengel had been the beneficiaries of one of the greatest starting rotations in the club’s history when Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat and then Whitey Ford had pitched the team to five straight World Series wins between 1949 and ’53. With Reynolds, Raschi and Lopat now all gone from the team, Weiss knew he had to replace them with quality arms but the thrifty GM was determined to do so as cheaply as possible. That was his goal when he agreed to send a five player package of Yankee subs and prospects to the Senators for McDermott, figuring that lot’s of mediocre bodies for one quality pitcher would end up being a steal. Weiss thought the vaunted Yankee offense combined with McDermott’s talent would make him a big winner in New York. Instead, even though none of the five players the Yankees gave up became stars in Washington, the Senators still were the big winners in the McDermott deal.

That’s because instead of taking advantage of New York’s powerful lineup when he got to the Big Apple, Mickey McDermott took advantage of the City’s vibrant night life. He would finish 2-6 during his only season in pinstripes and then become part of a thirteen player deal with the A’s in February of 1957 that brought Clete Boyer to New York. McDermott did get a chance to pitch in his only World Series as a Yankee and Stengel let him take an at bat in that 1956 Fall Classic as well. Mickey uncharacteristically took advantage of an opportunity by singling in the eighth inning of Game 2 so that he finished his career with a 1.000 postseason average.

McDermott was out of the big leagues for good by 1962 and back in the minors, where he continued his hard-partying lifestyle. After hanging up his glove for good, his self-destructive ways continued. Ironically, his old drinking buddy with the Yankees, Billy Martin hired Mickey as a coach for the Oakland A’s but both were fired in 1982. McDermott then became a player agent until his affinity for alcohol ruined that career too. He hit rock bottom in 1991, when he was sent to jail for multiple DWI offenses. That’s when he became sober. That same year, he and his wife hit the Arizona Lottery for $7 million.

McDermott decided to chronicle his crazy life in a book. He did so in his well received autobiography “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cooperstown,” which was published in 2003. He died of cancer at the age of 73, just as his book went on sale.

Mickey shares his April 29th birthday with this long-ago utility infielder, this other Yankee pitcher and this one too.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1956 NYY 2 6 .250 4.24 23 9 11 1 0 0 87.0 85 46 41 10 47 38 1.517
12 Yrs 69 69 .500 3.91 291 156 86 54 11 14 1316.2 1161 655 572 86 838 757 1.518
BOS (6 yrs) 48 34 .585 3.80 153 97 36 34 9 8 773.2 647 359 327 47 504 499 1.488
WSH (2 yrs) 17 25 .405 3.58 61 46 11 19 2 2 352.1 312 170 140 17 210 173 1.482
KCA (2 yrs) 1 4 .200 6.15 33 4 15 0 0 0 74.2 82 59 51 9 60 32 1.902
STL (1 yr) 1 0 1.000 3.67 19 0 13 0 0 4 27.0 29 17 11 3 15 15 1.630
NYY (1 yr) 2 6 .250 4.24 23 9 11 1 0 0 87.0 85 46 41 10 47 38 1.517
DET (1 yr) 0 0 9.00 2 0 0 0 0 0 2.0 6 4 2 0 2 0 4.000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/29/2013.

April 26 – Happy Birthday Virgil Trucks

At one time, Virgil Trucks was one of the premier pitchers in the American League. The right-hander from Birmingham, AL won 177 big league games during his seventeen season career that began with the Tigers in 1941 and he’s one of just four pitchers to have thrown two no-hitters in the same season. The others are Johnny Vander Meer, Allie Reynolds and Nolan Ryan.

By the time he joined the Yankees however, just minutes before the 1958 regular season trading deadline, Trucks was 41 years old and his best days were behind him. The Yankees got the veteran pitcher and reliever Duke Maas from the A’s for outfielder Harry Simpson and pitcher Bob Grim.

Trucks would appear in 25 games for Casey Stengel’s AL Pennant winners during the second half of the ’58 season, finishing his brief Yankee career with a 2-1 record and a single save. Though he was left off of the team’s World Series roster, his Yankee teammates still voted him a full $8,759.10 winners’ share after they knocked off the Braves in that year’s Fall Classic.

Trucks never again played a big league ball game. He did stay in the game as a coach for the Pirates and then a scout for the Tigers, retiring in 1990. He turns 95 years-old today and is currently the oldest ex-Yankee still living. Update: Trucks passed away on March 23, 2013 in Alabama.

Trucks shares his April 26th birthday with this veteran pitcher the Yankees released to make room for Trucks on their 1958 roster. This current Yankee reliever and this long-ago hard-partying hurler also share that birthday.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1958 NYY 2 1 .667 4.54 25 0 13 0 0 1 39.2 40 24 20 1 24 26 1.613
17 Yrs 177 135 .567 3.39 517 328 113 124 33 30 2682.1 2416 1124 1009 188 1088 1534 1.306
DET (12 yrs) 114 96 .543 3.50 316 229 53 84 20 13 1800.2 1618 786 700 123 732 1046 1.305
CHW (3 yrs) 47 26 .644 3.14 96 80 10 36 11 4 616.0 551 225 215 46 223 345 1.256
KCA (2 yrs) 9 8 .529 2.87 64 7 35 0 0 10 138.0 124 52 44 14 77 70 1.457
NYY (1 yr) 2 1 .667 4.54 25 0 13 0 0 1 39.2 40 24 20 1 24 26 1.613
SLB (1 yr) 5 4 .556 3.07 16 12 2 4 2 2 88.0 83 37 30 4 32 47 1.307
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/25/2013.

April 25 – Happy Birthday Juan Miranda

MLB scouts first took notice of Juan Miranda when he played left field and hit over .400 for the Cuban National Team that won the first World University Championship Series gold medal in 2002. He defected from the Castro-ruled island in 2005 and signed with the Yankees in 2006. He put together some solid seasons in the Yankee farm system that earned him late season call-ups to the Bronx in both 2008 and ’09. He got his real shot with the parent club in 2010, when Manager Joe Girardi played him pretty regularly during the second half of May. He hit his first big league home run against Boston’s Josh Beckett in a losing effort on May 18th of that season and two days later he went deep against Tampa Bay’s James Shields. Unfortunately, he had a tough time proving he could hit big league pitching consistently and when the Yankees sent him back down that June, his average was just .217. The following November, Miranda was traded to the Diamondbacks. The change of scenery didn’t help. He hit only .213 for Arizona last year. He began the 2012 season with Tampa’s Triple A affiliate in Durham.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2008 NYY 5 14 10 2 4 1 0 0 1 0 0 2 4 .400 .500 .500 1.000
2009 NYY 8 9 9 2 3 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 4 .333 .333 .667 1.000
2010 NYY 33 71 64 7 14 2 1 3 10 0 0 7 12 .219 .296 .422 .718
4 Yrs 111 296 257 29 58 11 3 11 37 0 1 32 68 .226 .320 .420 .740
NYY (3 yrs) 46 94 83 11 21 3 1 4 14 0 0 9 20 .253 .330 .458 .788
ARI (1 yr) 65 202 174 18 37 8 2 7 23 0 1 23 48 .213 .315 .402 .717
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/24/2013.

April 24 – Happy Birthday Joe Verbanic

Late in the 1964 season, the Yankees traded for Cleveland’s Pedro Ramos. The veteran right-hander from Cuba saved 8 games for New York down the stretch and together with rookie Mel Stottlemyre, pitched Yogi Berra’s team to the AL Pennant. Just two seasons later, the Yankees were near the very bottom of the AL standings when they traded Ramos to Philadelphia for Joe Verbanic, a skinny right-hander with a good fastball and decent slider.

Verbanic spent his first season in pinstripes as a reliever, winning four, saving two and posting a very nice 2.80 ERA. That performance earned him a shot at New York’s starting rotation in ’68 and he responded with a 6-7 record which included a shutout plus four more saves. That wasn’t good enough to prevent his return to the minors the following season. Vebanic did play a role in a significant piece of Yankee trivia. Elston Howard’s last at-bat as a Yankee was as a pinch-hitter for Verbanic.

One of the nicest things that has happened to me since I started writing this Pinstripe Birthday Blog has been the messages I’ve received from former Yankees and their friends and relatives. My absolute biggest thrill came when after reading in one of my posts that I had not read his classic book, former Yankee 20-game winner, Jim Bouton sent me an autographed copy of “Ball Four.” If you have not read it yet, do something nice for yourself and get a copy. In addition to giving you a unique, up close perspective of what life was like for baseball players in the late sixties, it will make you laugh out loud many many times. It also makes a perfect birthday gift for any Yankee fans in your life.

Bouton is the first author/player I’ve ever read who spends significant page space describing the men he had as coaches during his playing career. He loved Johnny Sain, one of the pitching instructors he had when he was on the Yankees. He was not a fan of two of his other New York coaches, Frank Crosetti and Jim Turner. It was Turner who happened to see Bouton squeezing two baseballs together in his pitching hand one day. The pitcher had indicated in his book that pitching coach Turner had spent more time and attention protecting the Yankees’ supply of team baseballs than he had helping Yankee pitchers become better pitchers. When he saw Bouton squeezing the two balls he asked him what he was doing and the “Bulldog” explained the exercise helped him strengthen his fingers. Thinking Bouton was attempting to steal the balls, Turner demanded Bouton put them back in the bag. Bouton’s good friend and fellow Yankee pitcher Fritz Peterson had overheard Turner reprimand his buddy so he convinced Joe Verbanic, Steve Hamilton and three or four other pitchers on that Yankee staff to each grab two balls from the bag and walk in front of Jim Turner while squeezing them in their pitching hand. According to Bouton, this drove Turner crazy.

Verbanic shares his April 24th birthday with this Yankee outfielder, this one-time Yankee third baseman and this Yankee starting pitcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP WHIP
1967 NYY 4 3 .571 2.80 28 6 11 1 1 2 80.1 74 27 25 6 21 3 39 2 1.183
1968 NYY 6 7 .462 3.15 40 11 16 2 1 4 97.0 104 36 34 6 41 8 40 6 1.495
1970 NYY 1 0 1.000 4.60 7 0 3 0 0 0 15.2 20 9 8 1 12 0 8 1 2.043
4 Yrs 12 11 .522 3.26 92 17 33 3 2 6 207.0 210 81 75 15 84 14 94 9 1.420
NYY (3 yrs) 11 10 .524 3.12 75 17 30 3 2 6 193.0 198 72 67 13 74 11 87 9 1.409
PHI (1 yr) 1 1 .500 5.14 17 0 3 0 0 0 14.0 12 9 8 2 10 3 7 0 1.571
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/24/2013.

April 19 – Happy Birthday John Wyatt

The Boston Red Sox Impossible Dream pennant in 1967 would really have been impossible without reliever John Wyatt. The right-handed native of Chicago, IL had made his Major League debut in 1961 with Kansas City and during the next five seasons, had developed into one of the better closers in the AL. The Red Sox got him in a mid-season trade in 1966 and he quickly became became the ace of Boston’s bullpen. During that ’67 season, Wyatt appeared in 60 games for Manager Dick Williams’ Beantowners and many of them were must wins. He ended up winning 10 games, saving 20 and posting a 2.60 ERA. But he also ended up that regular season with a stiff arm and enraged Williams by insisting he wasn’t healthy enough to pitch. The cantankerous skipper told the Boston sports press he thought Wyatt was imagining his maladies. Wyatt responded by writing a letter to a Boston newspaper, complaining about the way he was being treated by Williams and demanding to be traded.

He got his wish in May of 1968, much to the delight of Yankee manager Ralph Houk, when the Red Sox sold the angry pitcher to New York. The problem with the deal was that even though that 1968 Yankee team had several weaknesses, the bullpen wasn’t one of them. New York had both Steve Hamilton and Lindy McDaniel already closing games with pretty good efficiency. What Houk really needed was offense which was why, less than a month after purchasing Wyatt from Boston, they sold him to Detroit to make room for the newly acquired one-time home-run slugger, Rocky Colavito. So Wyatt’s Yankee career ended up consisting of just seven appearances and two losses. As it turned out, the reliever’s arm was more than tired. It was worn out completely. He finished the ’68 season with the Tigers and then rejoined the A’s in ’69 but only appeared in 4 games before calling it quits for good.

Another more recent Yankee pitcher who had a bad relationship with his manager shares Wyatt’s April 19th birthday, as does this former Yankee shortstop.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP
1968 NYY 0 2 .000 2.16 7 0 2 0 0 0 8.1 7 3 2 1 9 0 6 1.920
9 Yrs 42 44 .488 3.47 435 9 291 0 0 103 687.1 600 290 265 72 346 39 540 1.376
OAK (7 yrs) 27 29 .482 3.77 296 9 206 0 0 73 473.0 428 214 198 58 254 29 367 1.442
BOS (3 yrs) 14 13 .519 2.92 110 0 73 0 0 28 175.2 139 64 57 11 72 8 142 1.201
NYY (1 yr) 0 2 .000 2.16 7 0 2 0 0 0 8.1 7 3 2 1 9 0 6 1.920
DET (1 yr) 1 0 1.000 2.37 22 0 10 0 0 2 30.1 26 9 8 2 11 2 25 1.220
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/18/2013.