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.
|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|
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.
|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|
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.