May 2012

May 13 – Happy Birthday D. J. Mitchell

Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances may be considered the two top pitching prospects in the Yankee organization, but if you go by Minor League player metrics, D.J. Mitchell’s numbers stack up more than favorably with those of both “killer B’s”. As of 05-13-12, Banuelos has a minor league record of 19-19 with a 3.08 ERA, 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched (SO/9) and a walks plus hits per inning allowed average (WHIP) of 1.302. Betances is 26-25 with a 3.62 ERA, an SO/9 of 10.1 and a WHIP of 1.309. Mitchell is 40-21 with a 3.29 ERA, a WHIP of 1.301 and a SO/9 of 8.1.

Mitchell turns 25 years old today, a year older than Betances and four years older than Banuelos. His real name is William Douglas Mitchell and he was born in Winston-Salem, NC. He attended Clemson University and was a tenth round Yankee selection in the 2008 amateur draft. He began his college and amateur career as a full-time outfielder and part-time pitcher.

While the press focused all their attention on the two “B’s,” when pitchers reported to the 2012 Yankee spring training camp, it was Mitchell and Dave Phelps who pitched the best of all the young pinstriped prospects in March. The two battled for the long reliever slot on the big league roster. Joe Girardi indicated selecting one over the other was one of his toughest decisions and he ended up taking Phelps north with the team and sending Mitchell back to triple A. Then at the end of the first month of the 2012 regular season, Girardi demoted the struggling Freddie Garcia to the bullpen, inserted Phelps in the starting rotation and called up Mitchell too. D.J. made his Major League debut on May 1 against the Orioles. Girardi brought him in to pitch the top of the ninth inning with Baltimore ahead 7-1. I watched on TV as Mitchell proceeded to strike out the first big league hitter he ever faced, Orioles’ shortstop  J.J. Hardy, on three straight pitches. He subsequently survived two singles and posted a scoreless inning.

Two days later, Girardi replaced Clay Rapada with Mitchell in the fifth inning of a game in Kansas City with a man on first, one out and the Yankees losing 2-1. He gave up two-hits and allowed two runs to score before that inning was over but came back to pitch a perfect sixth inning. Mitchell was then sent back down to make room for outfielder DeWayne Wise.

UPDATE: D. J. Mitchell was sent to Seattle in July of 2012 as part of the Ichiro Suzuki trade but is now pitching in the farm system of the New York Mets.

Mitchell shares his May 13th birthday with another Yankee pitching prospect from over a quarter century ago and also this current Yankee catching prospect.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2012 NYY 0 0 3.86 4 0 3 0 0 0 4.2 7 2 2 1 3 2 2.143
1 Yr 0 0 3.86 4 0 3 0 0 0 4.2 7 2 2 1 3 2 2.143
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/13/2013.

May 12 – Happy Birthday Hank Bowery

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is Hank Borowy, who was generally considered the ace of the Yankee pitching staff during the WWII years and one of the best wartime pitchers in baseball. The right-hander was born in Bloomfield, NJ on May 12, 1916. He went to Fordham University in the Bronx, where he pitched for the Rams’ varsity baseball team for three seasons, and compiled a 33-1 record. Since Fordham is located in the Bronx, Borowy’s collegiate pitching brilliance did not escape the attention of Yankee super scout, Paul Krichell.

Krichell had signed some of the greatest Yankee stars of all time but none were tougher negotiators than Borowy. First of all, Krichell had to fend off rival scouts from the Red Sox, Giants, Dodgers and Cubs. He accomplished that with an $8,000 bonus offer. Then Borowy flinched during his initial read of his Yankee contract because it required him to begin his career in single A ball. He told Krichell he wanted to start pitching at the double A level instead and would not sign the document unless the Yankees agreed to that. The legendary scout verbally committed to making the change and then handed the about-to-be-newest member of the Yankee organization his own fountain pen. When Borowy put pen to paper, the writing utensil was out of ink. Krichell left for just a few moments to refill the pen and when he got back, Borowy told him he had reconsidered and was now demanding an additional $500 in his bonus money. The flustered Krichell reluctantly agreed and probably also never attended another player signing without first making sure his fountain pen was full of ink.

As Borowy had demanded, he was assigned to the Yanks double A franchise in Newark, NJ and got better in each of the three seasons he pitched there. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 and President Roosevelt decided that our national past time must continue despite the war,  the Yankees decided to bring Borowy to the big leagues and he put together one of the better rookie pitching performances in franchise history by going 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA and 4 complete game shutouts. It would be a mistake to assume that Borowy’s first-year brilliance was a direct result of the migration of the best players in baseball into military service. The full dilution of talent did not really take place until the ’43 season. Borowy spent his first year in the league playing against the premier pre-war lineups. He was indeed the real deal.

With the Yankees trailing the Cardinals 2 games to 1 in the 1942 World Series, New York Manager, Joe McCarthy gave his rookie the ball to start Game 4. Borowy was able to hold St. Louis scoreless for three innings but then got shelled in the fourth and the Yankees went on to lose that contest and the Fall Classic in five games.

By the 1943 regular season, baseball’s rosters were being thinned by the military and Borowy stats undoubtedly benefitted as a result. He won 14 games that year and 17 in 1944, kept his ERA below three and threw 6 more shutouts. He also got his first World Series victory and ring in the Yankees’ 1943 fall ball rematch against the Cardinals.

When the 1945 season began, the war was nearing completion and the Yankees had just been sold to a triumvirate of new owners, Del Webb, Dan Topping and Larry MacPhail. MacPhail was a certified baseball genius who had turned the moribund Brooklyn Dodgers into one of the National League’s best and most profitable franchises. But MacPhail was also a crude, hard-drinking bully, who was disliked throughout the game almost as much as he was admired. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy was one guy who hated MacPhail.

When the 1945 season began, Borowy continued to pitch well for New York, reaching ten victories by the end of July. Suddenly, MacPhail put Borowy’s name on the Waiver wire.  Placing a good player on waivers had become a common practice by Major League teams back then, as a way of testing the interests and weaknesses of their competitors. If an opposing team claimed a player it was an indication that they might be interested in trading for him and that player’s name could simply be withdrawn from waivers and bartering between the two teams could begin.

So when Borowy’s name showed up on the waiver wire in July of 1945, all the other AL teams figured it was just MacPhail gauging trade interest in his team’s best wartime pitcher. And don’t forget, this happened at a time when everyone knew the war was close to being over. Big league teams that may have needed pitching knew their best pitchers would be returning from military service soon, which further decreased their desire to play the waiver game with the cantankerous MacPhail. So not one AL team claimed Borowy and as a result, he cleared waivers, which meant MacPhail could now deal him to any NL team interested. The Cubs, who were fighting for that season’s NL Pennant were more than interested. They gave MacPhail close to $100 thousand for his star pitcher. Baseball owners howled in protest and McCarthy was livid. He had thought his Yankees could win the 1945 AL Pennant with Borowy and the fact that MacPhail would sell his best pitcher without even consulting his manager (though MacPhail insisted he had done so) would prove to be Marse Joe’s breaking point with MacPhail and the Yankee organization. MacPhail told the press he had traded Borowy because he was a terrible second half pitcher.

Borowy went to the Windy City and finished the season 11-2 as a Cub, making him a 20-game winner for the first and only time in his career. He would then appear in four games against the Tigers in the 1945 Fall Classic, going 2-2 in Chicago’s losing effort. Hank’s would continue pitching in the Majors until 1951 and he would also pitch for the Phillies, Pirates and Tigers. He finished his three-plus season Yankee career with an impressive 56-30 record and was 108-82 for his ten-year big league career. He passed away in 2004 in his native New Jersey.

This Hall-of-Fame Yankee catcher, this former Yankee Murderer’s Row third baseman and this famous baseball older brother were all also born on May 12th.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1942 NYY 15 4 .789 2.52 25 21 2 13 4 1 178.1 157 56 50 6 66 85 1.250
1943 NYY 14 9 .609 2.82 29 27 1 14 3 0 217.1 195 75 68 11 72 113 1.229
1944 NYY 17 12 .586 2.64 35 30 4 19 3 2 252.2 224 93 74 15 88 107 1.235
1945 NYY 10 5 .667 3.13 18 18 0 7 1 0 132.1 107 61 46 6 58 35 1.247
10 Yrs 108 82 .568 3.50 314 214 53 94 16 7 1717.0 1660 769 668 108 623 690 1.330
CHC (4 yrs) 36 34 .514 3.85 126 84 28 28 4 4 633.1 671 308 271 39 220 267 1.407
NYY (4 yrs) 56 30 .651 2.74 107 96 7 53 11 3 780.2 683 285 238 38 284 340 1.239
PHI (2 yrs) 12 12 .500 4.24 31 28 0 12 1 0 199.2 193 103 94 19 67 46 1.302
DET (2 yrs) 3 3 .500 5.42 39 3 14 1 0 0 78.0 81 54 47 6 43 28 1.590
PIT (1 yr) 1 3 .250 6.39 11 3 4 0 0 0 25.1 32 19 18 6 9 9 1.618
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/12/2013.

May 7 – Happy Birthday Dick Williams

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was actually George Steinbrenner’s first managerial hiring as the owner of the New York Yankees. There would be many many more such hirings, each of them controversial and this very first one served as a sign of things to come. When Steinbrenner took over the team, he inherited long-time Yankee skipper (and one-time GM) Ralph Houk as his team’s field boss. Nicknamed the “Major,” Houk had come home from WW II with a Bronze and Silver Star and began his Yankee career as one of the team’s back-up catchers. When his playing days ended, he became a highly successful minor league manager in the organization, then a coach for Casey Stengel and then Stengel’s successor as Yankee Manager in 1961. He won two straight World Series in his first two years managing New York and led them to three straight AL Pennants before accepting the GM job. It was as Yankee GM that Houk first encountered failure. He presided over the dismantling of the Yankee dynasty in the mid sixties and it seemed almost as if he was being punished for that failure, when he fired Johnny Keane in 1966 and took back his old job.

Back then, the Yankees were owned by CBS, who seemed to ignore all aspects of the team’s operation and let the franchise run itself. That’s how George Steinbrenner, a shipbuilder’s son from Cleveland was able to pretty much steal the franchise from the huge entertainment company for practically nothing. But unlike CBS, Steinbrenner was a hands on owner. Actually, he proved to be more like a vise grips owner and Houk hated the change in his work environment. The “Major” who had led men on the battlefield’s of WWII was now being ordered by the “Boss” with a silver spoon in his mouth to tell his Yankee players when they had to shave and when it was time for a haircut.

While all this had been happening in New York, Dick Williams also had his hands full working for his own controversial hands-on team owner. Williams had began his playing career as an outfielder in the Brooklyn Dodger organization. An injury to his throwing shoulder early in his career sapped the strength in his throwing arm and forced Williams to become an infielder. The Brooklyn Dodger infield of the early fifties was loaded with All Stars so Williams sat the bench but instead of wasting his time there, he learned how managers made decisions and he learned how to become one of baseball’s great bench jockeys. His big league career as a utility infielder would last for 13 seasons and when it ended in 1964, he took a job as manager in the Boston Red Sox farm system. His big break came when he skippered the 1967 Red Sox to their Impossible Dream Pennant.

During his three seasons in Beantown, Williams developed a reputation as a tough, no nonsense manager who was not afraid to discipline his players in private or in public. That caught the attention of A’s owner, Charlie Finley. Finley had been assembling a roster full of marvelous young players over in Oakland and he knew Williams would be the perfect choice to manage them. Williams became the A’s field boss in 1971 led them to three straight pennants and World Championships in both 1972 and ’73. But it was during the 1973 World Series that Williams long-time resentment of Finley’s meddling ways came to a head. When Oakland second baseman, Mike Andrews made two errors on back-to-back plays in the 12th inning of Game 2 against the Mets, Finley forced the infielder onto the DL. When Williams defended Andrews and resigned as A’s Manager immediately after winning that series with a Year remaining on his contract, the sports world praised him for giving up a World Series winning team on a matter of principle. As Williams would later admit, he was angry but not foolish.

It seems that a month before the Series began, Steinbrenner had ordered his Yankee front office to approach Williams with an offer to manage the Yankees. George had already decided that Ralph Houk had to go and when Houk obliged him by tendering his resignation as manager at the end of the 1973 season, the Yankee owner was ecstatic. Back then as now, making offers to players and managers already under contract to another team is considered tampering and not permitted by any professional sports league. Steinbrenner knew that but as the Boss would later prove many times, he felt rules were simply obstacles that needed to be overcome and not necessarily followed. So when Williams requested that Finley release him from the final year of his contract so he could become the Yankee manager, the thrifty millionaire insurance magnate refused. That didn’t stop Steinbrenner from hiring Williams any way, even holding a Yankee Stadium press conference to introduce him as the new Yankee skipper. The case went to the baseball commissioner’s office. Finley was demanding the Yankees give him Otto Velez, New York’s best hitting prospect and Scott MacGregor, their best pitching prospect as compensation for Williams. Steinbrenner countered with a list of lesser prospects but Bowie Kuhn ruled the Yankee signing had violated the rules and declared it null and void.

That’s how George Steinbrenner was forced to replace the first Yankee manager he ever hired before the guy got to manage a single game and that’s why Bill Virdon managed the Yankees in 1974. Finley would let Williams accept an offer to manage the California Angels in June of that 1974 season. Williams would manage in (and lose) one more World Series with San Diego in 1984. He got  elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008. He passed away on July 7, 2011.

Two other Yankees, a pitcher and an outfielder, who unlike Williams did get a chance to wear the pinstripes, were also born on May 7th.

May 3 – Happy Birthday Red Ruffing

Thumbnail image for ruffing.jpgThis right-hander started his Major League career as a member of the the Red Sox in 1924. In the slightly more than five seasons he spent in a Boston uniform, Ruffing’s won-lost record was an atrocious 39-96. This slow start to his big league pitching career was most likely attributable to the combination of a pretty putrid era of Red Sox offense and the fact that Ruffing was originally an outfielder, who only began pitching after a mining accident cost him four toes. In any event, Boston readily accepted the Yankee’s offer of $50,000 and a reserve outfielder named Cedric Durst in exchange for Ruffing, during the second month of the 1930 season.

Old Red then proceeded to go 15-5 in his debut season in Pinstripes. During the next 14 years, he won 231 games, lost just 124, and enjoyed four 20-victory seasons. He also compiled a 7-2 record in seven World Series and was the ace on six world championship Yankee teams. Since he was also originally a good-hitting outfielder, Ruffing became one of the best hitting pitchers in MLB history, compiling a .269 lifetime batting average. Charles Herbert “Red” Ruffing was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967.

So what happened to Cedric Durst? He got into 102 games for the Red Sox in 1930, batted .240 and then never played in another Major League game. Ruffing shares his May 3rd birthday with this catcher, who became his Yankee teammate in 1941 and this long-ago Yankee pitcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1930 NYY 15 5 .750 4.14 34 25 8 12 2 1 197.2 200 106 91 10 62 117 1.325
1931 NYY 16 14 .533 4.41 37 30 5 19 1 2 237.0 240 130 116 11 87 132 1.380
1932 NYY 18 7 .720 3.09 35 29 6 22 3 2 259.0 219 102 89 16 115 190 1.290
1933 NYY 9 14 .391 3.91 35 28 7 18 0 3 235.0 230 118 102 7 93 122 1.374
1934 NYY 19 11 .633 3.93 36 31 3 19 5 1 256.1 232 134 112 18 104 149 1.311
1935 NYY 16 11 .593 3.12 30 29 1 19 2 0 222.0 201 88 77 17 76 81 1.248
1936 NYY 20 12 .625 3.85 33 33 0 25 3 0 271.0 274 133 116 22 90 102 1.343
1937 NYY 20 7 .741 2.98 31 31 0 22 4 0 256.1 242 101 85 17 68 131 1.209
1938 NYY 21 7 .750 3.31 31 31 0 22 3 0 247.1 246 104 91 16 82 127 1.326
1939 NYY 21 7 .750 2.93 28 28 0 22 5 0 233.1 211 88 76 15 75 95 1.226
1940 NYY 15 12 .556 3.38 30 30 0 20 3 0 226.0 218 98 85 24 76 97 1.301
1941 NYY 15 6 .714 3.54 23 23 0 13 2 0 185.2 177 87 73 13 54 60 1.244
1942 NYY 14 7 .667 3.21 24 24 0 16 4 0 193.2 183 72 69 10 41 80 1.157
1945 NYY 7 3 .700 2.89 11 11 0 8 1 0 87.1 85 32 28 2 20 24 1.202
1946 NYY 5 1 .833 1.77 8 8 0 4 2 0 61.0 37 13 12 2 23 19 0.984
1947 CHW 3 5 .375 6.11 9 9 0 1 0 0 53.0 63 39 36 7 16 11 1.491
22 Yrs 273 225 .548 3.80 624 538 69 335 45 18 4344.0 4284 2115 1833 254 1541 1987 1.341
NYY (15 yrs) 231 124 .651 3.47 426 391 30 261 40 9 3168.2 2995 1406 1222 200 1066 1526 1.282
BOS (7 yrs) 39 96 .289 4.61 189 138 39 73 5 9 1122.1 1226 670 575 47 459 450 1.501
CHW (1 yr) 3 5 .375 6.11 9 9 0 1 0 0 53.0 63 39 36 7 16 11 1.491
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/3/2014.