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.
Al Mamaux seemed to be on top of the baseball world after putting together consecutive 21-victory seasons for his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates in 1915 and ’16. His bubble quickly burst the following season, however, when he went just 2-11 and was also suspended by Pittsburgh Manager, Hugo Bezdek for violating “team rules” during a road trip to New York. When I first found out about the suspension, it caused me to surmise that perhaps Mamaux, who was just 22 years old at the time, had let success go to his head. A closer look at this right-hander’s season stat lines indicated other reasons may have existed for his quick and precipitous downfall. During his two big seasons with the Pirates, he had pitched more than 550 innings of baseball, far more than he had ever thrown over a two season period. All those innings must have put a tremendous strain on his young right arm because he was never again able to approach that same level of success in the big leagues.
The Pirates traded him and Burleigh Grimes to Brooklyn in 1918 in a deal that sent future Yankee skipper Casey Stengel to Pittsburgh. Mamaux hardly pitched for his new team in 1918 but recovered to win 10 games in 1919 and 12 more in 1920. He would spend a total of six seasons with Brooklyn and his big league career was just about over when the Yankees purchased his contract in 1924. He appeared in 14 games for New York in 1924, splitting his only two decisions. That performance ended his big league playing days but put him on the path to his second career as a very successful manager of the Yankees’ Newark Bears farm team. Before he took over as Newark’s field boss, he anchored the Bears starting rotation for four seasons during which he won 79 games. In 1930 he replaced Tris Speaker as skipper of the Bears. His Newark teams were considered the very best in that proud franchise’s illustrious International League history and Mamaux would later become a highly regarded college coach at Seton Hall.
The only other Yankee born in this date made his debut as a Yankee pitcher during the same season Mamaux became the Bears’ manager.
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.
One of the true bright spots of the first two months of the Yankees 2012 season has been the performance of their bullpen. If someone told you a year ago that Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson would all be on the DL at the same time but their absence would have little negative impact on the quality of New York’s relief pitching, you’d call that person crazy. But that’s exactly what’s happening, right now. Raffie Soriano and Boone Logan are stepping up big time and their getting a huge assist from today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
As of today, Cory Wade has appeared in 19 games for New York this season and pitched 21.2 innings. He has struck out 25 hitters, walked just three and allowed only five earned runs for an ERA of 2.08. He’s no flash in the pan either. Last year, this right-handed native of Indianapolis appeared in 40 games for the Yankees, went 6-1 with an ERA of just 2.04.
Wade came up to the big leagues with the Dodgers in 2008 and pitched well for Manager Joe Torre. He then injured his shoulder in 2009 and required surgery. The Dodgers released him and he signed with Tampa but never pitched an inning for the Rays. The Yankees signed him in June of 2011 and with his arm completely healed, Wade’s been pitching well ever since. He’s not a hard thrower. His fastball tops out at about 90 miles per hour but he has very good command of four different pitches and has been mixing speeds masterfully since he donned the pinstripes. Let’s hope it continues.
Wade shares his May 28th birthday with another very effective Yankee relief pitcher from the 1950s. Happy Memorial Day.
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.
The year was 2003. The Yankees would win 101 games that season and capture the AL East Divison, the ALDS against the Twins, the ALCS against the Red Sox but then lose the Series to the Marlins. Coming out of that year’s spring training season, most of the reporters covering the Yankees were predicting Juan Rivera would be Joe Torre’s selection as the team’s fourth outfielder. Instead, Torre chose Chris Latham.
New York had signed the Idaho native the previous September after he had spent the entire 2000 season in the Mets farm system. But Latham did have prior big league experience. He had made his debut in the Majors for the Twins in 1997 and saw action in Minnesota’s outfield for three straight seasons. He had also played for Toronto during the 2000 season, where he hit a career high .274 in 43 games as a utility outfielder.
Reports at the time indicated Torre had selected Latham over Rivera because his speed made him a better pinch-running option, he was a switch-hitter and had experience playing center field. He made his debut in pinstripes as a pinch runner for Raul Mondesi on April 6, 2003, during the sixth inning of game against Tampa Bay. He scored a run and remained in the game to play right field. He got his first Yankee at bat three innings later and singled off Jorge Sosa.
Even though Latham had made the Yankee roster, his agent continued to look for opportunities that would permit his client to play more and make a higher salary. He found such an opportunity with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. Latham asked the Yankees if they would agree to negotiating a deal with the Giants that would permit him to play there and the team graciously agreed. Before he departed for Yomiuri, he got one more at bat as a Yankee against his old team the Twins and singled. That hit would make him the only Yankee in history to leave New York with more than one official at bat and a 1.000 career batting average.
The only other Yankee born on May 26th was this former first baseman.
Bobby Brown started his Yankee career during the tumultuous 1979 season, when he was acquired from the Blue Jays in June of that year. At the same time New York traded for Brown, George Steinbrenner, replaced Manager Bob Lemon with Billy Martin. After winning two straight World Championships, New York was floundering in that year’s AL Pennant race. The “Boss” thought Lemon had lost control of the team and especially center-fielder Mickey Rivers. The Yankee owner felt Martin was the guy who could make the Yankees and “Mick the Quick” play hard again.
Instead, Rivers continued to drift and on August 1, 1979, the speedy outfielder was dealt to the Rangers. That same day, Thurman Munson crashed his plane and the rest of the 1979 baseball season suddenly didn’t matter to anybody.
In one of his best moves as Yankee owner, Steinbrenner then approved the hiring of long-time Yankee coach Dick Howser as the team’s new skipper. The Yankees also swung a deal for the young Mariner center-fielder, Rupert Jones. Everyone thought Jones would become the Yankees next great center fielder. Fortunately for Bobby Brown, that didn’t happen.
With Jones struggling to keep his average over .200, Dick Howser began playing Brown in the middle of his outfield during that 1980 season. Brown’s speed helped him cover the huge dimensions of center field in the old Yankee Stadium and it helped him steal 27 bases that season. Howser also liked the fact that Brown was a switch hitter. Bobby responded well, hitting .260 and poking 14 home runs in his official rookie season. But the Howser-Brown mutual admiration society was about to get disbanded.
Howser was fired by an irate Steinbrenner after the Yankees got knocked out of the 1980 playoffs in three-straight games by the Royals. Brown went hitless in that series, which did not go unnoticed in the Yankee front office. At the very end of New York’s 1981 spring training season, New York traded Jones to the Padres for San Diego’s talented center fielder, Jerry Mumphrey. That trade signaled the official end of Brown’s career as the Yankee’s starting center fielder.
Bobby began the 1981 season in Columbus and then got called back up to the parent club in late May. He remained in pinstripes during the rest of that strike-shortened 1981 season, but he hit only .226. Still, the Yankees kept him on their post-season roster, which ended up giving Brown one more opportunity to make Steinbrenner livid. It happened during the pivotal Game 4 of that year’s Fall Classic against the Dodgers. Yankee Manager, Bob Lemon had inserted Brown as a pinch runner for Oscar Gamble in the sixth inning with the Yankees ahead 6-3. But instead of putting Jerry Mumphrey in center the following inning, Lemon sent Brown out to play the field. Mumphrey was considered to be a much better defensive outfielder than Brown. Later in the game, with the score tied 6-6, Brown misplayed Rick Monday’s blooper into a double, which led to a two-run inning and a Dodger victory and a deadlocked Series. Los Angeles would go on to win the next two games and the World Championship. The following April, Brown was playing for the Mariners.
The Yankees actually traded for Bobby Brown two different times. They originally acquired him in 1978, when he was still a minor leaguer in the Phillies’ organization but then lost him to the Mets in the 1978 rule 5 Draft. In that trade with the Phillies, the Yankees got Brown and outfielder Jay Johnstone for reliever Rawley Eastwick. When New York traded Bobby Brown to the Mariners in 1982 they got starting pitcher Shane Rawley in return. This makes Brown the only Yankee in history who was traded to the team and from the team for guys who shared the name Rawley.
Bobby turns 58-years-old today. He shares his May 25th birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and minor league pitching instructor.
You’re fourteen years old, you love the Yankees and for the previous three years you’ve watched them degrade from perennial World Series participants to AL cellar dwellers. All your favorite pinstriper’s have grown old instantly together and you’re desperate for some good news. Is Bobby Murcer the next Mickey Mantle? Will Jerry Kenney make us forget about Clete Boyer.? Is Horace Clarke better than Bobby Richardson? You keep watching and listening to game after game and scouring the box scores to get the answer to these questions and even though it quickly became obvious that this next generation of Yankees were simply pale imitations of the previous ones, you didn’t give up hope.
It was this never-give-up-hope attitude that helps me clearly remember when today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant made his debut in the Bronx. It was a Sunday afternoon game at the Stadium in late May of 1968 and I can almost hear Scooter make the first-ever big league introduction of this native Puerto Rican. It probably went something like this; “and batting eighth and doing the catching is, holy cow Messer, this kid’s name is Ellie Rodriguez and he’s doing the catching. If he’s anything like the last Ellie (Elston Howard) who caught for the Yankees, we may have something special here.”
But alas, Ellie Rodriguez was no Ellie Howard. He went 0-3 in his Yankee debut that afternoon and was hitting just .167 by mid-June, when the Yankees sent him back to their Syracuse Chiefs farm team. He’d get called back up a couple of times that year but he did not do much better, finishing his nine-game debut season with a .209 batting average. New York had this other young catcher named Munson playing for Binghamton that same season, who was impressing everyone in the organization, so they left Ellie II unprotected in the AL expansion draft. The Kansas City Royals made him their 13th pick.
It turned out to be a big break for Rodriguez because he became the Royals’ starting catcher in 1969 and made the AL All Star team. Three seasons later he repeated that feat as the Brewers starting catcher. The Brewers traded him to the Angels following the ’73 season and he caught 137 games for California in 1974, a career high. He would end up spending nine years in all as a big league catcher, and then he played four more seasons in Mexico. Lifetime he hit .245 and threw out 41% of the runners attempting to steal against him. He may not have been the next Ellie Howard but he did just fine.
Rodriguez shares his May 24th birthday with this veteran pitcher who played an important role in the Yankees’ 2011 starting rotation.
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 season as the Yankee field boss but was replaced by Gene Michael just 14 games into the 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 and this one-time back up catcher.
My wife dragged me to a performance of Les Miserables at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady, NY several years ago. I was not a fan of the place because the seats were built for munchkins and there was absolutely no way for a person my size to get comfortable. Plus if you’re familiar with the epic play about the French Revolution, you know I was not in for a night of excitement and laughs.
Sure enough, as soon as the curtain opened I started fidgeting and with my knees crammed against the seat in front of me, both of my legs quickly went to sleep. I was just about to close my eyes and force myself into a numbing nap when I heard my wife whisper, “That’s that Yankee pitcher’s son singing.” I opened up my program and sure enough, one of the lead characters was Tommy John’s boy. I think it was Travis and he had an absolutely amazing voice.
In spite of this connection to my all-time favorite baseball team, my legs were getting prickly, the lady next to me was pushing my arm off the armrest and I spent the rest of the evening in a painful agony. I remember how good it felt when the final curtain came down and we were able to get up and start walking toward the theater’s exit. As we crawled along with the large crowd approaching the door leading outside, I noticed a man leaning against the wall in the corner nearest me. As I passed him I smiled and told him that his son had a wonderful voice. Tommy John smiled and mouthed back the words “Thank you.”
I liked Tommy John when he pitched for the Yankees but I liked him even more when I saw him that night at Proctor’s Theater. After all, John is 6’3″ tall just like me so I know his legs were sore too. I knew then and there that in addition to being a great pitcher, Tommy was also a good father.
John may be most famous for the surgery (ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction) named after him but he was a pretty good Yankee pitcher too. He had two twenty-victory seasons with New York during his first stay in the Bronx and then went 13-6 for them as a 44-year old in 1987. One of the things that most surprised me when I was doing research for this post was finding out that Tommy won more games as a Yankee (91) than he did for the Dodgers (87) or White Sox (82.) As of right now, those 91 wins place him in the 20th spot on the Yankees’ all-time career wins list. He has more wins as a Yankee than Roger Clemens (83), Bob Turley, David Wells (68) or Catfish Hunter (64) were ever able to achieve in pinstripes.
John was born in Terre Haute, Indiana on May 22, 1943, the only member of the Yankee all-time roster to be born on today’s date. I was also surprised to find out that there were not too many former Yankee all-star-level players born in Indiana. The best of the Hoosier-born Yankees were Don Mattingly, Don Larsen and John.