May 2012

May 31 – Happy Birthday Tippy Martinez

I remember the trade as if it was yesterday. It was an old-fashioned “blockbuster” deal that involved two teams and ten different players. The Yankees got the short-term benefit they needed to win the 1976 AL East pennant, but Baltimore got three players who would help make the Orioles a very tough team to finish ahead of in the standings for the next decade.

The trade took place in June of 1976. New York got pitchers Ken Holtzman, Doyle Alexander, Grant Jackson and Jimmy Freeman along with Baltimore catcher Elrod Hendricks in exchange for catcher Rick Dempsey, pitchers Rudy May, Scott McGregor, Dave Pagan and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Tippy Martinez. In his excellent biography of George Steinbrenner, author Peter Golenbock told us that Gabe Paul was completely against the deal and tried to talk the Boss out of it. Unbelievably, it had been Steinbrenner’s 12-year-old son Hank, who had convinced his old man that Holtzman would win the Yankees the pennant.

Tippy was a home grown Yankee reliever who had made his debut for New York in 1974 and led the team in saves the following season. He was an excellent complement to ace closer Sparky Lyle and together, those two had transformed the Yankee bullpen into one of the best in the league.

As Paul had predicted, the Yankees eventually regretted parting with Martinez who became a mainstay and workhorse in the Orioles’ pen for a dozen seasons, retiring with 115 lifetime saves. Tippy was born in La Junta, CA in 1950. He shares his May 31 birthday with this former Yankee center-fielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1974 NYY 0 0 4.26 10 0 4 0 0 0 12.2 14 7 6 0 9 10 1.816
1975 NYY 1 2 .333 2.68 23 2 13 0 0 8 37.0 27 15 11 2 32 20 1.595
1976 NYY 2 0 1.000 1.93 11 0 3 0 0 2 28.0 18 6 6 1 14 14 1.143
14 Yrs 55 42 .567 3.45 546 2 320 0 0 115 834.0 732 357 320 53 425 632 1.387
BAL (11 yrs) 52 40 .565 3.46 499 0 298 0 0 105 752.1 665 320 289 49 366 585 1.370
NYY (3 yrs) 3 2 .600 2.67 44 2 20 0 0 10 77.2 59 28 23 3 55 44 1.468
MIN (1 yr) 0 0 18.00 3 0 2 0 0 0 4.0 8 9 8 1 4 3 3.000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/31/2013.

May 29 – Happy Birthday George McQuinn

Many Yankee historians will agree that today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had one of the worst cases of timing of any player in franchise history. Why?

McQuinn was signed by the Yankees in 1930, as a slick-fielding, solid-hitting first baseman. In 1930, Lou Gehrig averaged .379, hit 41 home runs and drove in 174 runs as the Yankees starting first baseman. Gehrig was also approaching the 1,000 consecutive game mark in what would become his trademark streak. The only person who could have possibly replaced the Iron Horse as the Yankees’ starting first baseman back then walked on water and raised the dead.

That’s why, after five seasons of solid play in the minors, New York traded McQuinn to the Reds. But the 26 year-old native of Arlington, VA couldn’t answer the bell in Cincinnati, averaging just .206 in his first 36-game big league trial. The Reds then sold him back to the Yankees and McQuinn would put together a monster 1937 season for New York’s top farm team in Newark. By then, however, he was 27-years-old. Gehrig was still going strong in the Bronx so the Yankees left McQuinn exposed in the Rule 5 draft and he was selected by the St. Louis Browns. One year later, Gehrig got the tragic news he was dying.

Over the next eight seasons McQuinn became one of the best defensive first basemen in the big leagues. I’m talking Teixeira-level defensive skills without the modern day glove or immaculately groomed infields the Yankee’s current first-baseman enjoys. Since he was 28-years-old during his real rookie season in 1938, McQuinn’s age at the time WWII began made him less desirable for military duty so he was able to continue playing for the Browns through the war years.

Meanwhile, the Yankees had not been successful finding a long-term replacement for Gehrig at first base and that search was still going on eight years later when new Yankee part-owner Larry MacPhail and his manager, Bucky Harris targeted the then 37-year-old McQuinn to play first for New York during the 1947 season. The Browns had traded him to the A’s in 1946 and Philadelphia had released him after just one season.

Finally getting the opportunity to play the position for which he was always destined, McQuinn did not disappoint. He of course fielded it brilliantly but also contributed a .304 batting average, thirteen home runs and 80 RBIs to a Yankee offense that won the AL Pennant. That October, New York beat Brooklyn in a seven-game World Series and McQuinn had his first and only ring. But once again, McQuinn’s timing was bad. He would turn 38-years-old during the 1948 season and the Yankees cupboard of up-and-coming first baseman was getting fully stocked. He was released by New York that October. He completed his twelve-year big league career with 1,588 hits, 135 home runs and a .276 batting average. He passed away on Christmas Eve, 1978 at the age of 68.

McQuinn shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielderthis former Yankee utility player and this one-time Yankee third baseman.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1947 NYY 144 609 517 84 157 24 3 13 80 0 78 66 .304 .395 .437 .832
1948 NYY 94 346 302 33 75 11 4 11 41 0 40 38 .248 .336 .421 .757
12 Yrs 1550 6596 5747 832 1588 315 64 135 794 32 712 634 .276 .357 .424 .781
SLB (8 yrs) 1138 4939 4310 663 1220 254 47 108 625 28 520 446 .283 .361 .439 .800
NYY (2 yrs) 238 955 819 117 232 35 7 24 121 0 118 104 .283 .374 .431 .805
PHA (1 yr) 136 556 484 47 109 23 6 3 35 4 64 62 .225 .317 .316 .633
CIN (1 yr) 38 146 134 5 27 3 4 0 13 0 10 22 .201 .262 .284 .546
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/29/2013.

May 27 – No Yankees but Happy 100th Birthday Sam Snead

No Yankee birthdays to celebrate today. Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell are the two best baseball players to be born on this date but not one Yankee, past or present will have the Happy Birthday song sung to them today. In fact, there is not a single player currently active in the Majors today to be born on May 27th and that hardly ever happens.

In a way, I’m sort of glad that there are no Yankee birthdays to write about this morning because I’ve got an early tee time to play golf with my brother Jerry, Mike Sampone and Angie Verderese. I don’t know why I bother golfing because I really suck at the game. The last time I played, I crushed my drive on the short par four 17th hole at Amsterdam Muny and had a half a wedge into the green for my second shot. I took my time, kept my head down swung easy and proceeded to hit the next shot into the middle of the third fairway.

For those of you who are not familiar with the layout of my hometown’s Muny Golf Course, the best way to describe how impossibly horrible this shot was is to tell you that after I hit it, I looked over at Mike Sampone who was my playing partner that day and he had fallen out of the cart and was on his hands and knees laughing so hard that drool was coming out of one side of his mouth.

Sam Snead’s 100th birthday is today. My goal playing golf at Muny this morning will be to beat Sam Snead’s age. I just wish the guy had been born a couple decades earlier.

May 23 – Happy Birthday Clyde King

Of all the managers George Steinbrenner hired and fired during his tenure as managing owner of the New York Yankees, none were more loyal to the “Boss” than today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Clyde King. The native of Goldsboro, North Carolina began his big league career in 1944 with the Dodgers. During the first six years of his playing career he pitched out of the Brooklyn bullpen. After getting traded to the Reds, where he played his final big league season in 1953, King became a minor league manager, then a big league pitching coach and eventually a manager for both the San Francisco Giants and the Atlanta Braves. But King disliked managing because he had a tough time communicating with modern day ballplayers. He was big on discipline and felt the players union had made it more difficult than necessary for Major League skippers to exercise control over their teams.

In 1976, King joined the Yankees as an advance scout and Steinbrenner took a liking to him. Like George, King was a pessimist who found it much easier to criticize than praise. The two got along famously and King became the only man in history to serve as the Yankee pitching coach, manager and GM. He got his shot at managing the Yankees during their tumultuous 1982 season. Bob Lemon had started that year as the Yankee field boss but was replaced by Gene Michael just 14 games into the new season. Michael hated the job because Steinbrenner meddled so much and he asked the Boss to put him back in the front office. “The Stick” got his wish and was replaced by King who led the team to a 29-33 finish.

The following year George brought Billy Martin back to the Yankee dugout and returned King to the front office, where he took part in two controversial moments in franchise history. The first occurred in 1985, when Steinbrenner broke his promise to let Yogi Berra manage the entire season. It was King who did the actual firing. Eleven years later, during the Yankees 1996 spring training camp, King convinced the Boss that the Yankees could not win with Derek Jeter starting at shortstop. Fortunately, Gene Michael defended Joe Torre’s desire to start the talented youngster and Steinbrenner reluctantly relented.

King would remain one of the Yankee owner’s most loyal and trusted advisors until the day Steinbrenner died in July of 2010. King would follow his Boss to the grave just four months later, at the age of 86. King shares his birthday with another former Yankee manager this first voice of the Yankees and this one-time back up catcher.

Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
5 1982 58 New York Yankees AL 3rd of 3 62 29 33 .468 5
San Francisco Giants 2 years 204 109 95 .534 2.5
Atlanta Braves 2 years 198 96 101 .487 4.0
New York Yankees 1 year 62 29 33 .468 5.0
5 years 464 234 229 .505 3.6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/23/2013.

May 21 – Happy Birthday Chris Widger

I can remember thinking the 2002 New York Yankees were going to roll to the team’s fifth World Series championship in seven seasons. They finished 103-58 during the regular season and had Mussina, Clemens, Pettitte and Wells in their rotation. They were loaded offensively as well, with Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano and Bernie Williams all driving in 100 runs that year and every member of the starting lineup hitting double figures in home runs.

Yankee catcher, Jorge Posada also had a strong regular season, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 99 while catching 131 games. During those rare games when Posada wasn’t behind the plate for New York, the honor went to today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant.

The Yankees signed Chris Widger to a free agent contract in February of 2002. The Wilmington, Delaware native had broken into the big leagues in 1995 with Seattle and had been the Expos’s starting catcher from 1997 until he was traded back to the Mariners in August of 2000. Widger then hurt his shoulder and was forced to sit out the entire 2001 season.

Back then, Posada was hypersensitive about playing time. He had broken in with New York behind Joe Girardi and hated sitting the bench when Torre gave Girardi his share of time behind the plate. After letting Girardi sign with the Cubs after the 1999 season, the Yankee front-office decided to quell Posada’s anxiety by using only journeymen for his back-ups. That’s why they had signed both Widger and former Met reserve catcher Albert Castillo before the ’02 season.

It was Castillo who started the year behind Posada that April, but when he hit just .135 during the first half of the season, the Yankees decided to give Widger a shot. When he started his Yankee career with a six-game hitting streak that July, one had to wonder if Posada started getting edgy. Widger followed that up with a five game streak in August and finished the reason hitting .297. The Yankees kept him on the postseason roster but he saw no action in the team’s bitterly disappointing loss to the Angels in the first round of the playoffs.

He went to spring training in Tampa the following February and in an ungraceful move, the Yankees waited until the first week of April to release him. He did get to play that season with the Cardinals and remained in the big leagues until 2006. Widger shares his birthday with a former Yankee third baseman who was voted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2014. This long-ago Yankee pitcher was also born on May 21.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2002 NYY 21 68 64 4 19 5 0 0 5 0 2 9 .297 .338 .375 .713
10 Yrs 613 1998 1826 180 435 104 7 55 222 10 141 384 .238 .296 .393 .689
MON (4 yrs) 426 1484 1359 139 330 79 7 48 180 10 108 291 .243 .302 .417 .719
SEA (3 yrs) 41 73 67 4 12 0 0 2 3 0 4 18 .179 .233 .269 .502
CHW (2 yrs) 72 241 217 24 48 11 0 5 18 0 19 42 .221 .285 .341 .626
STL (1 yr) 44 112 102 9 24 9 0 0 14 0 6 20 .235 .279 .324 .603
NYY (1 yr) 21 68 64 4 19 5 0 0 5 0 2 9 .297 .338 .375 .713
BAL (1 yr) 9 20 17 0 2 0 0 0 2 0 2 4 .118 .211 .118 .328
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/20/2013.