April 2012

April 18 – Happy Birthday to the original Yankee Stadium

On April 18, 1923, the most famous stadium in baseball history first opened its gates. To die hard Yankee fans like myself, the original Yankee Stadium was a shrine. Two years ago at this same time, the YES Network cameras kept shooting scenes of that shrine during televised Yankee games being played in the new site, showing the once regal “House that Ruth built” in an eerie state of partial demolition. It was upsetting to see it like that.

I’m a bit embarrassed because I’m not exactly sure of the date I attended my first game at Yankee Stadium. It may have been 1961 but it was probably more likely in 1962. I can guarantee you that we left Amsterdam at 4:00 AM that morning and drove down to the Bronx in my Uncle Jim’s 1951 two-door Lincoln coupe. As we drove down the Deegan past the George Washington Bridge I will never forget the exact moment the brown stone facade of the Stadium first became visible.

I know that we were one of the first cars to park in the outdoor lot that used to sit directly across from the old Stadium. I’m sure we went to Jerome’s, a cafeteria-style restaurant that was located kitty corner to the Stadium and that I was able to take perhaps two total sips from the fullest, hottest, and strongest cup of coffee I had ever had in my then short lifetime.

I remember getting in line in one of those old ticket kiosks that used to encircle the Stadium and being startled by the sudden sound of the kiosk’s window opening as tickets for that days game went on sale. I remember wondering how the tallest and fattest ticket agent that I’ve still ever seen managed to get inside the telephone booth sized structure without me seeing him do so. I will never forget my Uncle, who to this day has never been able to make a decision on his own, kept asking the impatient agent question after question about the best places to sit to see the field, be out of the sun, buy a hot dog and get to the bathroom. I remember my Uncle finally buying three field box seats, halfway between first base and the right field foul pole giving the guy a twenty-dollar bill and actually getting change.

I remember how disappointed I was when my Uncle told me we still had a few hours to wait before the Stadium gates actually opened for that day’s double-header with the Senators. I don’t remember if we headed back to Jerome’s to wait or took the subway to downtown Manhattan because we ended up doing one or the other whenever my creature of habit Uncle took us to a game. But what I do still remember, as if it was yesterday morning instead of over 45 years ago, was after finally getting inside running up the ramp to the field-level box seat section behind home plate and for the very first time seeing that beautifully manicured green grass field and that huge Centerfield scoreboard with the Ballantine Beer logo.

The Yanks swept the double header that day. My Uncle bought me a yearbook and I used the money my parents had given me for a souvenir to purchase a package of five by eight glossy photographs of each player on the Yankee team. I remember reading every page of that Yearbook, including the ads, during the long ride home. And as we made our way back upstate and afternoon turned to nighttime, I remember squinting my eyes in the darkness of the backseat of my Uncle Jim’s big Lincoln to stare at my black and white photos of Mantle, Maris, Ford, Skowren, Richardson, Berra, Howard and the rest of the Bronx Bombers. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

Fortunately. I’ve had the chance to relive the magic of that moment quite a few times when both of my sons, my wife and my two daughters each made their first visits to Yankee Stadium. My last of what has been over 100 trips to one of my favorite places in the world took place in June of 2008, when my two sons treated me to a Yankee game as a Fathers Day gift. As usual, I had a blast.

I’ve been to the new place across the street and it certainly is magnificent. But for me, Yankee Stadium will always be the place where Ruth changed the sport forever; where Gehrig considered himself the luckiest man on Earth; where the great DiMaggio roamed center field; where Mantle and Maris chased destiny; where great Yankees like Murcer and Mattingly kept alive the Pinstripe pride during long absences from postseason play; where young kids like Jeter evolved into Hall of Famers and where the Yankees won their first 26 World Series.

April 18th is also the birthday of this former Yankee pitcher and this long-ago Yankee outfielder.

April 17 – Yankee Report Card for 2012 Season Start

No Pinstripe Birthday Celebrants exist for April 17th so like last year on this same date, I offer a report card for the Yankee’s play at the start of the new season. After ten games played the Yankees record is 5-5 for the new season, compared to their 6-4 start last season. They are a game behind the AL East Division leading Orioles and half-game behind the second place Blue Jays.

 The incomparable Derek Jeter is off to a great start at the plate and has led the Yankees offensively. Nick Swisher and Raul Ibanez have been New York’s biggest run producers but in general, New York’s vaunted offense has really not gotten itself untracked.

As for the soon-to-be over crowded Yankee rotation, Ivan Nova and Hideki Kuroda have turned in the most impressive starts. CC Sabathia has had some rough patches in both of his appearances and Phil Hughes and Freddie Garcia have been downright disappointing. If Pettitte and Michael Pineda were to show up today in the Bronx, ready to pitch, it would be Hughes’ and Garcia’s spots that they would take.

The Yankee bullpen has been the team’s strong point thus far in 2012. From the moment Mariano blew that opening game save in Tampa until Cory Wade got roughed up last night by the Twins, the Pinstriped relief corps has performed pretty close to flawlessly.

The MVP for the first ten games would be Jeter, the most surprising start would belong to reliever David Phelps and the most disappointing would probably go to Hughes. But its a long season, my friends and by this time next month, we will have a much more reliable reading on the postseason potential of this Yankee team.

April 16 – Happy Birthday Paul Waner

Even close followers of baseball history are probably surprised to learn that Hall of Famer, Paul Waner was a Yankee. Waner was best known as a Pittsburgh Pirate where he played in the same outfield with his younger brother and fellow Hall of Famer Lloyd from 1927 until 1940, when Paul was released and signed on with Brooklyn. Paul was nicknamed “Big Poison” and they called Lloyd “Little Poison. ” Together they collected 5,611 base hits during their careers, beating both the three DiMaggio brothers and the three Alou’s for most hits by Major League siblings.

Paul won three NL batting titles during his career and collected his 3,000th career hit after joining the Boston Braves, in 1941. In September of 1944, the Yankees found themselves chasing the St. Louis Browns for the AL Pennant and they signed the then 41 year-old Waner, hoping he’d be the spark that led the team to the postseason. That’s not what happened. Waner got just one hit in nine at bats for New York that season and the Yankees ended up finishing in third place.

Waner is one of just five Yankees who have collected 3,000 hits during their playing careers. The others are Derek Jeter, Ricky Henderson, Wade Boggs and Dave Winfield.

Other Yankees born on April 16th include this former back up catcher and this one-time utility infielder.

1944 NYY AL 9 9 7 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 2 1 .143 .333 .143 .476
1945 NYY AL 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1.000
20 Yrs 2549 10766 9459 1627 3152 605 191 113 1309 104 0 1091 376 .333 .404 .473 .878
PIT (15 yrs) 2154 9536 8429 1493 2868 558 187 109 1177 100 909 325 .340 .407 .490 .896
BRO (3 yrs) 176 475 396 50 115 20 1 1 46 0 70 16 .290 .398 .354 .752
NYY (2 yrs) 10 10 7 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 3 1 .143 .400 .143 .543
BSN (2 yrs) 209 745 627 83 168 27 3 3 85 3 109 34 .268 .377 .335 .712
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/15/2013.

April 15 – Happy Birthday Aaron Laffey

The Yankees claimed former Seattle Mariner pitcher, Aaron Laffey off waivers in August of 2011 to get a second left-hander in their bullpen. Laffey had spent his first four big league seasons with Cleveland, where he was considered a very decent pitching prospect. He caused quite a stir in 2008 when he started the season by winning his first four decisions but he just couldn’t get over the hump. By 2010, the Tribe had relegated him to the bullpen where he has spent the balance of his career.

The Cumberland, MD native made his pinstripe debut on August 20th of that 2011 season against the Twins but hardly anybody noticed. That’s because it was in the same game that television cameras caught an angry AJ Burnett screaming something in Joe Gerardi’s direction after the Yankee manager lifted his erratic starter in the third inning with the bases full of Twins. Laffey was probably happy to not get any post game attention since he gave up five hits, two walks and two runs in his initial three-inning stint.

He got his first Yankee win in his next appearance against the Orioles, thanks to Jesus Montero’s first two big league home runs. Laffey continued to pitch well in most of his appearances for New York, winning two of three decisions and finishing the season with a 3.38 ERA. That was not good enough to make the team’s postseason roster or keep him from being released by New York. He started the 2013 season as a member of the New York Mets’ bullpen.

Laffey is just the second member of the all-time Yankee roster to celebrate his birthday on April 15th. This merry old right-handed pitcher would have turned 124 years-old today.
2011 NYY AL 2 1 .667 3.38 11 0 0 0 0 0 10.2 13 4 4 0 5 6 1.688
7 Yrs 25 29 .463 4.39 150 66 13 0 0 1 479.2 536 260 234 46 187 239 1.507
CLE (4 yrs) 18 21 .462 4.41 79 49 4 0 0 1 320.1 359 177 157 22 128 155 1.520
NYM (1 yr) 0 0 5.06 2 1 1 0 0 0 5.1 10 3 3 0 1 6 2.063
NYY (1 yr) 2 1 .667 3.38 11 0 0 0 0 0 10.2 13 4 4 0 5 6 1.688
SEA (1 yr) 1 1 .500 4.01 36 0 7 0 0 0 42.2 54 20 19 7 16 24 1.641
TOR (1 yr) 4 6 .400 4.56 22 16 1 0 0 0 100.2 100 56 51 17 37 48 1.361
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/15/2013.

April 14 – Happy Birthday David Justice

My in-laws became huge Atlanta Braves’ fans in the 1980s, which of course meant they adored Dale Murphy. I’m not certain of this but I think I do remember my mother-in-law actually crying on the day the team traded “the Murph” to the Phillies, in August of 1990. The guy who took over for the Braves’ legend was David Justice. He got off to a great start, winning the 1990 NL Rookie of the Year Award by hitting 28 home runs and averaging .282 in his first full big league season. He then had two consecutive 21 home run seasons before suddenly exploding with 40 round trippers and 120 RBIs in 1993.

The following season, Justice tore his shoulder muscle and was never again the force he had been in Atlanta’s lineup. He had also married the actress, Halle Barry in 1992 and their life together became fodder for the tabloids for the next few years. Their coupling ended pretty badly just a couple of years after it began and the outfielder’s marriage to the Braves also broke up shortly thereafter.

In March of 1997, Justice switched tribes when Atlanta traded him and fellow Braves’ outfielder, Marquis Grissom to the Indians for Kenny Lofton and pitcher Alan Embree. My mother-in-law didn’t cry that day but she wasn’t happy a year later when Lofton, who had hit .333 during his one season in Atlanta, became a free agent and rejoined the Indians. He and Justice, who hit 31 home runs and drove in 101 runs, led Cleveland to the 1997 World Series.

In June of 2000, Justice came to the Yankees. I had never been a big David Justice fan so when New York made the mid-season trade with Cleveland to get him that year, my first reaction was disappointment that the New York front office had given up on Ricky Ledee, who was part of the trade. But boy did Justice make me forget Ledee in a hurry. In just 78 games in pinstripes that season, he smacked 20 home runs, scored 58, and drove in 60 more. He pretty much put the team on his back and carried them to the playoffs. Then in the ALCS against Seattle, Justice drove in eight more runs. Without him, I doubt seriously the Subway Series of 2000 would ever have taken place.

In 2001, Justice suffered a groin injury that plagued him almost the entire season. He played in only 111 games, hit just 18 home runs and averaged a career low .241. Those numbers got him traded after the 2001 season, first to the Mets who then immediately turned around and traded Justice to the A’s, where the then 36-year-old three-time all-star played the final season of his 14-year big league career. He quit with 305 career home runs and two rings. But baseball wasn’t through with Justice yet.

Five years after he played his final big league game, his name showed up in “the Mitchell Report,” the Major League’s official expose of steroid and HGH abuse. An informant claimed to have sold Justice HGH after the 2000 World Series. Justice has steadfastly denied he ever used any PEDs during his career. What’s the truth? When Justice hit those 40 homers in 1993, the two guys who finished ahead of him in the NL MVP race were Barry Bonds and Larry Dykstra. When the Yankees traded for Justice during the 2000 season, it was only after Brian Cashman failed in his efforts to bring Sammy Sosa or Juan Gonzalez to New York. Justice played and peaked during the same era as Bonds, Dykstra, Sosa and Gonzalez. We know PEDs were part of the game. Are they still? Who really knows? That’s the damn shame.

Justice shares his April 14th birthday with this former Yankee reliever.

2000 NYY AL 78 318 275 43 84 17 0 20 60 1 0 39 42 .305 .391 .585 .977
2001 NYY AL 111 439 381 58 92 16 1 18 51 1 2 54 83 .241 .333 .430 .763
14 Yrs 1610 6602 5625 929 1571 280 24 305 1017 53 46 903 999 .279 .378 .500 .878
ATL (8 yrs) 817 3349 2858 475 786 127 16 160 522 33 31 452 492 .275 .374 .499 .873
CLE (4 yrs) 486 2025 1713 299 503 102 4 96 335 14 12 288 316 .294 .392 .526 .918
NYY (2 yrs) 189 757 656 101 176 33 1 38 111 2 2 93 125 .268 .357 .495 .853
OAK (1 yr) 118 471 398 54 106 18 3 11 49 4 1 70 66 .266 .376 .410 .785
AL (6 yrs) 793 3253 2767 454 785 153 8 145 495 20 15 451 507 .284 .381 .502 .883
NL (8 yrs) 817 3349 2858 475 786 127 16 160 522 33 31 452 492 .275 .374 .499 .873
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/14/2013.

April 13 – Happy Birthday Mark Leiter

Of the two Leiter brothers from Toms River, NJ who were both Yankee pitching prospects, it was older brother Mark who was more impressive in the Minors and younger brother Al who did best as a pro. Mark was two years older than Al and threw right-handed while his younger sibling was a southpaw. But in 1986 Mark hurt his pitching shoulder and underwent surgery. That same shoulder was cut open two more times in the next seventeen months forcing Leiter to sit out three full seasons. By the time he finally got a shot with the Yankees, his brother Al had already been traded and Mark wasn’t the same pitcher he had been four years earlier. He split his only two decisions in pinstripes before being shipped to Detroit the following year. In 11 big league seasons Mark won 65 and lost 73 while Al went 162-132 during his nineteen-year Major League career.

Mark shares his April 13th birthday with this WWII-era third baseman and  the first starting shortstop in Yankee franchise history.

1990 NYY AL 1 1 .500 6.84 8 3 2 0 0 0 26.1 33 20 20 5 9 0 21 1.595
11 Yrs 65 73 .471 4.57 335 149 88 15 1 26 1184.1 1205 664 602 155 424 43 892 1.375
DET (3 yrs) 23 18 .561 4.36 100 42 18 3 0 1 353.1 352 184 171 42 137 14 248 1.384
SFG (2 yrs) 14 22 .389 4.38 53 51 0 8 1 0 331.0 336 184 161 44 105 11 247 1.332
PHI (2 yrs) 17 22 .436 4.98 100 31 50 3 0 23 271.1 283 168 150 33 111 9 232 1.452
MON (1 yr) 4 2 .667 4.39 12 12 0 1 0 0 69.2 68 35 34 12 19 1 46 1.249
CAL (1 yr) 4 7 .364 4.72 40 7 15 0 0 2 95.1 99 56 50 13 35 6 71 1.406
SEA (1 yr) 0 0 6.75 2 0 0 0 0 0 1.1 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 1.500
NYY (1 yr) 1 1 .500 6.84 8 3 2 0 0 0 26.1 33 20 20 5 9 0 21 1.595
MIL (1 yr) 2 1 .667 3.75 20 3 3 0 0 0 36.0 32 16 15 6 8 2 26 1.111
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/12/2013.

April 12 – Happy Birthday Antonio Osuna

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is Antonio Osuna. I remember not being at all happy when the Yankees sent Orlando Hernandez to the White
Sox for this Mexican reliever just before the 2003 spring training camps opened. Then the Sox immediately dealt Hernandez to the Expos. Osuna had just had his best big league season in the Windy City in 2002 but I loved El Duque.

The deal turned out OK for the Yanks. Osuna was nothing special pitching for them out of the pen during his only season in the Bronx but El Duque got hurt and did not pitch an inning for the Expos in 2003. Montreal then released Hernandez  and the Yankees re-signed him in 2004. Torre put Hernandez in a struggling Yankee rotation in July of that year and he won eight straight.

Osuna ended up pitching in 48 games for Joe Torre’s team in 2003. He finished that season with a 2-5 record and a 3.73 ERA and was left off the New York’s postseason roster and then released. He was the last Yankee to wear uniform number 13 before it became the property of A-Rod. Osuna then signed with San Diego in 2004 and the following season he pitched in his last big league game as a member of the Nationals.  He then played a few more years in his native Mexico. He was 36-29 during his 11-season big league career and earned 21 saves.

Osuna shares an April 12 birthday with this former Yankee outfielder who lost his starting job to Babe Ruth and this other outfielder, who was acquired from Detroit just before the 2013 regular season started.

2003 NYY AL 2 5 .286 3.73 48 0 16 0 0 0 50.2 58 22 21 3 20 3 47 2 1.539
11 Yrs 36 29 .554 3.68 411 0 140 0 0 21 488.2 432 217 200 44 209 27 501 17 1.312
LAD (6 yrs) 24 21 .533 3.28 265 0 89 0 0 10 327.0 261 131 119 32 141 18 346 9 1.229
CHW (2 yrs) 8 2 .800 4.88 63 0 28 0 0 11 72.0 72 42 39 4 30 5 72 5 1.417
SDP (1 yr) 2 1 .667 2.45 31 0 6 0 0 0 36.2 32 11 10 3 11 0 36 1 1.173
WSN (1 yr) 0 0 42.43 4 0 1 0 0 0 2.1 9 11 11 2 7 1 0 0 6.857
NYY (1 yr) 2 5 .286 3.73 48 0 16 0 0 0 50.2 58 22 21 3 20 3 47 2 1.539
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/12/2013.

April 10 – Happy Birthday Ken Griffey Sr.

griffey.jpegAfter a nine-year career as a star outfielder for Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, Ken Griffey Sr. was signed as a free agent by the Yankees after the 1981 season. That was right after the fractious players strike, the crazy split-season format caused by the work action and New York’s loss to the Dodgers in the 1981 World Series. All three of those events impacted George Steinbrenner’s ownership philosophy to a point where he stopped listening to his baseball people and started making baseball decisions and deals on his own. Nothing symbolized the Boss’s going rogue better than the signing of Griffey and the trade for his Cincinnati outfield teammate, Dave Collins. The Yankees ended up with six outfielders on their 1982 roster making it difficult for Griffey and completely impossible for Collins to feel like they fit in. A solid but not spectacular player, Griffey later admitted to Baseball Digest that he felt much more comfortable playing in the National League. He lasted four and a half seasons in the Bronx, averaging .285 during that span. Just before the 1986 All Star break, the Yankees traded Griffey and shortstop Andre Robertson to the Braves for Claudell Washington and Paul Zuvella. Griffey couldn’t wait to get back to the Senior Circuit.

He would end up playing nineteen seasons in the big leagues, finally retiring in 1991, with a lifetime average of .296 and 2,143 hits. He was the second best ballplayer to be born in Donora, PA behind Stan “the Man” Musial and the second best ballplayer to be born in his own family behind his superstar son and former Mariner teammate, Ken “the Kid” Griffey.

This former Yankee, also born on April 10th, was New York’s starting DH in the Opening Day lineup of Griffey’s first game in pinstripes in 1982.

April 9 – Happy Birthday Graeme Lloyd

If you have been a Yankee fan for at least the past couple of decades, chances are that you agree that 1996 and 1998 were two of your all-time favorite baseball seasons. In 96 the Bombers weren’t picked to win anything and ended up winning everything, terminating a drought that had lasted for 18 years. Then two years later, the 1998 team put together the greatest season in franchise history. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the Yankees picked up Graeme Lloyd during the 96 season, just to get out tough lefty hitters in late-inning situations. By 1998, this 6’7″ Aussie had perfected that role and helped make the Yankee bullpen the envy of baseball.

The Yankee team of the mid nineties had a hunger and a team-spirit they have had a difficult time replicating. Veteran specialty role players like Lloyd, who had no ego and knew exactly what was expected of him, helped nurture this positive environment.

One of my all-time favorite “weird” Yankee moments was when Lloyd charged the mound and threw one of the funniest looking punches I have ever seen at Oriole reliever Armando Benitez, during a 1998 early-season contest with the Orioles. Both team’s benches and bullpens had cleared after Benitez threw a pitch at Tino Martinez.

Lloyd also pitched for the Mets in 2003, in what was his last season in the big leagues.

A decade after Lloyd pitched in the Yankee bullpen, this fireballing reliever, also born on April 9th, did the same. This long-ago starting pitcher shares their birthday.

April 7 – Happy Birthday Brett Tomko

Brett Tomko started his Major league career in May of 1997, when beleaguered Cincinnati Reds’ Manager, Ray Knight needed to bolster his team’s starting rotation. The 24-year-old Tomko delivered, getting 19 starts that year and finishing with an 11-7 rookie year record and a 3.43 earned run average. The six-foot four-inch Cleveland-born right-hander followed up that strong first-year performance with a thirteen-win sophomore season and Reds fans head every reason to expect that Tomko would be a big part of their rotation for years to come. That didn’t happen and in fact, those same Reds fans were thrilled to see him go.

After he slumped to just 5-7 in 1999, Ken Griffey Jr. had made it known that he wanted to finish his baseball career in the same place his All Star father had begun his. In February of 2000, the Reds traded Tomko, Mike Cameron, Antonio Perez and Jake Meyer to the Mariners to bring “Junior” Home.

So Tomko packed his bags for the move to Seattle. Little did he know that he was about to become the unofficial and unpaid Major League spokesman for Allied Van Lines. He pitched two years in Seattle and got traded to the Padres. After just a season in San Diego, he was dealt to the Cardinals. That turned out to be the last time Tomko was ever traded but it was far from his last big league relocation. Beginning in 2003 when the Cards let him go, Brett Tomko has been released more than the trigger of Buffalo Bill’s Winchester.

The Giants let him walk in 2005. Ditto for the Dodgers in 2007. Then it was back to San Diego for a few weeks and then Kansas City. The Royals said good bye in 2008 but then the good-old-Padres invited him back for a three-month visit. In February of 2009, Brian Cashman signed Tomko and he started the season pitching for the Yankees Triple A team in Scranton. And what a start it was. In fourteen innings of pitching, he saved four games won another, struck out 17 hitters and had an ERA of 0.64. He got called up to the Bronx that May and Joe Girardi used him in 15 games. After a shaky first appearance against the Orioles, Tomko was sharp in five of his next six times out and it looked like he was settling into an important role in that Yankee bullpen. But then in a June inter-league game against the cross-town Mets, he relieved an ineffective Joba Chamberlain in the fourth inning and also got shelled in a 9-8 Yankee defeat. After getting his Yankee ERA down to 2.16, he experienced several bad outings and saw it explode to over six. Joe Girardi stopped calling his number. The Yankees released him on July 29, 2009 and he immediately signed on with Oakland. He then spent the entire 2010 season in the minors after which the A’s released him. He signed with Texas in 2011 and this past February he came back to where it all began fifteen years ago in Cincinnati.

If you add it all up, Tomko has pitched for ten different big league teams and fourteen different minor league ball clubs. He has a big league record of 100 wins and 104 losses with 2 career saves and 2 shutouts. He lost number 100 while he was wearing the Yankee pinstripes. You look at all the places he’s been and all the time’s he’s had to relocate and you can’t help feeling sorry for a baseball nomad like Brett Tomko, right? Well don’t waste any tears. He’s made at least $22 million in salary during his big league career and probably half that amount in reimbursed moving expenses.

Like Tomko, this former pitcher was born on April 7 and joined a Yankee team that would go on to win the World Series. The first manager in Yankee franchise history was also born on April 7.