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, this former reliever 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.

Year Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
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 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.

Year Tm Lg W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP
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.

Year Tm Lg W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP WHIP
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.