April 2012

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.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1996 NYY 0 2 .000 17.47 13 0 0 0 0 0 5.2 12 11 11 1 5 6 3.000
1997 NYY 1 1 .500 3.31 46 0 17 0 0 1 49.0 55 24 18 6 20 26 1.531
1998 NYY 3 0 1.000 1.67 50 0 8 0 0 0 37.2 26 10 7 3 6 20 0.850
10 Yrs 30 36 .455 4.04 568 0 175 0 0 17 533.0 560 274 239 51 161 304 1.353
MIL (4 yrs) 7 16 .304 3.67 183 0 62 0 0 7 193.2 190 87 79 16 53 99 1.255
NYY (3 yrs) 4 3 .571 3.51 109 0 25 0 0 1 92.1 93 45 36 10 31 52 1.343
MON (2 yrs) 11 8 .579 4.81 125 0 42 0 0 6 101.0 115 59 54 11 29 61 1.426
KCR (1 yr) 0 2 .000 10.95 16 0 4 0 0 0 12.1 29 18 15 0 7 8 2.919
NYM (1 yr) 1 2 .333 3.31 36 0 12 0 0 0 35.1 39 16 13 2 7 17 1.302
FLA (1 yr) 2 2 .500 4.44 25 0 5 0 0 0 26.1 26 13 13 1 11 20 1.405
TOR (1 yr) 5 3 .625 3.63 74 0 25 0 0 3 72.0 68 36 29 11 23 47 1.264
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/23/2014.

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 and this long-ago first baseman were also born on April 7.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2009 NYY 1 2 .333 5.23 15 0 7 0 0 0 20.2 19 12 12 5 7 11 1.258
14 Yrs 100 103 .493 4.65 397 266 39 13 2 2 1816.0 1898 1011 939 255 582 1209 1.366
SDP (3 yrs) 12 11 .522 4.41 45 36 3 3 0 0 241.0 240 123 118 36 71 161 1.290
CIN (3 yrs) 29 26 .527 4.35 89 79 2 2 0 0 508.2 479 264 246 67 171 389 1.278
SFG (2 yrs) 19 22 .463 4.26 65 61 2 5 1 1 384.2 401 197 182 39 121 222 1.357
LAD (2 yrs) 10 18 .357 5.24 77 30 10 0 0 0 216.1 247 142 126 30 71 155 1.470
SEA (2 yrs) 10 6 .625 4.82 43 12 11 0 0 1 127.0 134 77 68 21 55 81 1.488
KCR (1 yr) 2 7 .222 6.97 16 10 1 0 0 0 60.2 80 49 47 11 13 40 1.533
STL (1 yr) 13 9 .591 5.28 33 32 0 2 0 0 202.2 252 126 119 35 57 114 1.525
OAK (1 yr) 4 1 .800 2.95 6 6 0 1 1 0 36.2 31 12 12 7 6 22 1.009
TEX (1 yr) 0 1 .000 4.58 8 0 3 0 0 0 17.2 15 9 9 4 10 14 1.415
NYY (1 yr) 1 2 .333 5.23 15 0 7 0 0 0 20.2 19 12 12 5 7 11 1.258
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/23/2014.

April 6 – Happy Birthday Bronson Sardinha

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant has a name that’s a lot harder to forget than his brief Yankee career. The sky was considered the limit, when the Yankees made Hawaiian born Bronson Sardinha their first round pick in the 2001 Amateur Draft. Just 18 years-old at the time, he became the highest school-boy draft pick (34th overall pick) in the island state’s history and the Yankees signed him to a million dollar deal. A shortstop in high school, that’s where he began his minor league career, with the Tampa Yankees of the Gulf Coast League in 2001. He had a great offensive season that year, hitting .303 but his defensive work at short convinced the Yankee brass to switch him to the outfield the following year. Over the course of the next five seasons, Baseball America had Sardinha rated as a better prospect than both Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang. But unlike those two future stars, the six-foot one-inch , 220 pound Honolulu-born Sardinha could not get over the triple A hump. He did get his shot in the Bronx as a late-season call-up in September of 2007 and though he was used mostly as a pinch-runner, he did get ten at bats, scored six runs and collected three hits. That, however, has turned out to be his only taste of the big leagues. The following December, the Yankees released him and though he has since been signed by three different big league teams, chances are getting slimmer and slimmer that we will see Sardinha back in the big leagues. If he never gets a second shot he will retire with a lifetime Yankee and big league batting average of .300 and Bronson Kiheimahanaomauiakeo Sardinha will remain in first place on the all-time Yankee list for players with the longest middle names.

Ironically, the two other former Yankees born on April 6th also never made the successful transition from hot-Yankee prospect to Major League regular. They included this pitcher from the late seventies and this first baseman from Sardinha’s own era.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2007 NYY 10 12 9 6 3 0 0 0 2 0 2 1 .333 .417 .333 .750
1 Yr 10 12 9 6 3 0 0 0 2 0 2 1 .333 .417 .333 .750
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/23/2014.

April 5 – Happy Birthday Ron Hansen

Hansen.jpgThe 1960 AL Rookie of the Year with Baltimore, Ron spent the 1970 and ’71 seasons with the Yankees as their primary utility infielder. During his first season in pinstripes, Hansen was able to hit .297 in his part-time role but when he slumped to .207 the following season New York released him. In 1968, he became the first player to pull off an unassisted triple play since 1927 and the feat wasn’t accomplished again until 1994 (by Boston shortstop John Valentin.) In a very unique vote, when Hansen won his 1960 AL ROY award, two of his Orioles’ teammates finished second (pitcher Chuck Estrada) and third (first baseman Jim Gentile) in the balloting for the first year honor. Hansen shares his April 5th birthday with this former Yankee reliever and the first starting third baseman in Yankee franchise history.

Hansen hailed from Oxford, NE and is one of 25 members of the Yankee’s All-Time roster to win Rookie of the Year honors, eight of whom did it as Yankees. Here’s my picks for the all-time lineup of Yankees who won the coveted first-year honor. Alongside each player’s name is the year they won the honor and the team they played for at the time:

1B Chris Chambliss (1971 – Indians)
2B Steve Sax (1982 – Dodgers)
3B Gil McDougald (1951 – Yankees)
SS Derek Jeter (1996 – Yankees)
C   Thurman Munson (1970 – Yankees)
OF Lou Piniella (1969 – Royals)
OF Darryl Strawberry (1983 – Mets)
OF David Justice (1990 – Braves)
P   Dwight Gooden (1984 – Mets)
CL Dave Righetti (1981 – Yankees)

Here are Hansen’s Yankee seasonal and MLB career stats:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1970 NYY 59 113 91 13 27 4 0 4 14 0 19 9 .297 .420 .473 .892
1971 NYY 61 159 145 6 30 3 0 2 20 0 9 27 .207 .245 .269 .514
15 Yrs 1384 4964 4311 446 1007 156 17 106 501 9 551 643 .234 .320 .351 .672
CHW (7 yrs) 769 2875 2488 261 594 95 10 55 282 5 319 318 .239 .325 .351 .676
BAL (5 yrs) 393 1469 1282 136 301 42 7 37 155 4 166 234 .235 .324 .365 .689
NYY (2 yrs) 120 272 236 19 57 7 0 6 34 0 28 36 .242 .317 .347 .665
KCR (1 yr) 16 33 30 2 4 0 0 0 2 0 3 6 .133 .212 .133 .345
WSA (1 yr) 86 315 275 28 51 12 0 8 28 0 35 49 .185 .281 .316 .598
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2014.

April 2 – Happy Birthday Jon Lieber

Jon Lieber’s Yankee career was both short and sweet. After the Yankees lost the 2003 World Series to the Marlins they also lost most of their starting pitching staff. Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells were all lost to free agency and a fourth starter, the disappointing Jeff Weaver, was traded to the Dodgers for the guy New York thought would anchor their rotation for the next couple of seasons, Kevin Brown. That same off-season, the Yankees also traded for the Expo fireballer, Javier Vazquez and signed Cuban refugee, Jose Contreras. A year earlier, the Yankees had also signed a then 31-year-old Lieber to a free agent contract. No one paid too much attention because at the time, the Council Bluffs, Iowa native, who had won 20 games for the Cubs in 2001, was recuperating from Tommy John surgery and would miss the entire ’03 campaign.

As we now know, Brown and Contreras were both disappointing in pinstripes and after getting off to a 10-5 start and making the AL All Star Team, Vazquez was just 4-5 during the second half of the ’04 season. When another starter, Mike Mussina went into a bad spell at the same time as Vazquez, the Yankee starting pitching situation looked bleak indeed. But after starting the season 5-5, Lieber’s surgically repaired arm was finally regaining all its strength and he went 9-3 the rest of the way, including five straight wins in September. It was Lieber and a rejuvenated Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez who pitched the Yankees to the 2004 AL East Division title.

Lieber did not pitch well in his first postseason start against the Twins that year but he then came back to beat the Red Sox in Game 2 of that year’s ALCS. He also pitched well against Boston in Game 6, in a losing effort that became part of the greatest postseason collapse in Yankee franchise history. I still believe it was the shock of that collapse that so stunned New York’s front office that they let Lieber get away and sign a free agent contract with the Phillies. Instead, the Yankees got Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano and Jared Wright, three more poor pitching choices, while Lieber won 17 games for the Phillies. He lasted three more seasons, retiring in 2008 with a 131-124 career record. he shares his April 2nd birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and this former Yankee outfielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA FIP G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2004 NYY 14 8 .636 4.33 3.71 27 27 0 0 0 0 176.2 216 95 85 20 18 102 1.325
14 Yrs 131 124 .514 4.27 4.02 401 327 18 25 5 2 2198.0 2388 1158 1043 285 422 1553 1.278
PIT (5 yrs) 38 47 .447 4.36 3.99 151 104 10 4 0 2 682.2 750 383 331 84 158 508 1.330
CHC (5 yrs) 50 39 .562 4.04 3.93 147 122 7 17 3 0 874.1 912 429 392 114 159 640 1.225
PHI (3 yrs) 29 30 .492 4.55 4.33 76 74 1 4 2 0 464.1 510 251 235 67 87 303 1.286
NYY (1 yr) 14 8 .636 4.33 3.71 27 27 0 0 0 0 176.2 216 95 85 20 18 102 1.325
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/16/2014.

When people ask me who is the best, most loyal Yankee fan I know, I answer without hesitation, Marty Tambasco. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve had the pleasure of discussing Yankee baseball with Marty during the close to half-century we’ve known each other, and I am thrilled to be able to say, we continue to do so to this day. It is only fitting that a man who loves baseball and the Yankees as much as Marty does, celebrates his own birthday as each new season of our National Pastime begins anew. Have a super day Marty!