June 2012

June 30 – Happy Birthday Jerry Kenney

When WWII began, the Yankees were on top of the baseball world with a roster full of stars in the primes of their careers. After Pearl Harbor, when many of those stars volunteered or were required to change uniforms and serve their country, it helped even up the playing talent in Major League Baseball. As a result, the Yankees’ pennant chances immediately declined, and they could no longer be counted on to be the odds on favorite to make it to the World Series every year. When WWII ended and players like DiMaggio, Henrich, Rizzuto, Keller, and Chandler put back on the pinstripes, it wasn’t long before the Yankees were once again winning pennants and rings with regularity.

Yankee history however, certainly did not repeat itself when Vietnam became a full scale war in the mid sixties. First of all, the Yankee’s decline from the status of perennial contender had already occurred by 1965 and was caused not by a military draft but instead by advancing age, injuries and poor personnel decision-making. Guys like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Ellie Howard were in no danger of being drafted but they were also beyond their playing peaks and could no longer carry the fight to the enemy in the Bronx much less in Khe Sanh or Que. Mandatory military service did however, disrupt the development of several of the crown jewels of the Yankee farm system.

I can remember very clearly the hype surrounding the simultaneous demilitarization of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant and Bobby Murcer and their mutual return to the Yankees’ 1969 spring training camp. Kenney had excited Yankee fans two seasons earlier, when he had hit .310 in a 20-game late-season call-up and homered in his very first big league at-bat.

After having a sub-five hundred record for three consecutive seasons from 1965 – ’67, and finishing in 6th, last and next-to-last place respectively, the 1968 Yankee team had climbed back into the first division with an 83-79 record. They had assembled a strong young rotation of starting pitchers and the hope was that with Kenney and Murcer back in the lineup, and divisional play commencing that season, the team’s aging offense would be rejuvenated and New York would once again be in the mix for postseason play. The Yankees’ 1969 Opening Day lineup featured Kenney as the starting in the outfield and Murcer starting at third. Both had two hits and New York beat the Senators 8-4 that day. Yankee fans couldn’t help thinking this young dynamic duo just might be the missing ingredient to the Bronx Bombers’ return to glory.

Murcer would end up having a decent season, hitting 26 home runs and leading the team with 82 RBIs. Kenney would not do nearly as well but did steal 25 bases and hit just enough (.257) to warrant another chance the following year. Defensively, neither player was showing Gold Glove potential at their original positions so Manager Ralph Houk switched them. In 1970, the Yankee fans were pleasantly surprised as the team won 93 games and finished a distant second to the mighty Orioles. Murcer again had a decent year at the plate as did another Yankee youngster, catcher Thurman Munson. Kenney, however, was horrible. He played in 140 games and hit just .193, which should tell you all you needed to know about the incredible thinness of that year’s Yankee roster. He would rebound to hit .262 in 1971 but finally lose his third base starting position to Celerino Sanchez.

By then, George Steinbrenner was in control of the franchise and his management team knew that the Yankees could not challenge the Orioles by starting punchless third basemen like Kenney and Sanchez. That’s why in November of 1972, the first-ever great Steinbrenner-era trade took place with the Yankees trading Kenney, Johnny Ellis, Charley Spikes and Rusty Torrez to the Indian’s for Cleveland’s slick-fielding Graig Nettles.

Kenney would appear in just five games for Cleveland during the 1973 season and never again participate in a big league ball game. He was born in St. Louis on June 30, 1945, six weeks before Japan surrendered, ending WWII. Other Yankees sharing Kenney’s birthday include this former Met herothe shortstop who lost his starting position to Derek Jeter and this one-time Yankee reliever.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1967 NYY 20 74 58 4 18 2 0 1 5 2 10 8 .310 .412 .397 .808
1969 NYY 130 509 447 49 115 14 2 2 34 25 48 36 .257 .328 .311 .639
1970 NYY 140 461 404 46 78 10 7 4 35 20 52 44 .193 .284 .282 .566
1971 NYY 120 395 325 50 85 10 3 0 20 9 56 38 .262 .368 .311 .679
1972 NYY 50 136 119 16 25 2 0 0 7 3 16 13 .210 .304 .227 .531
6 Yrs 465 1594 1369 165 325 38 13 7 103 59 184 139 .237 .326 .299 .626
NYY (5 yrs) 460 1575 1353 165 321 38 12 7 101 59 182 139 .237 .326 .299 .625
CLE (1 yr) 5 19 16 0 4 0 1 0 2 0 2 0 .250 .316 .375 .691
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/30/2013.

June 29 – Happy Birthday Wilbert Robinson

Back in the first part of the twentieth century, managerial changes were pretty much a rarity when it came to Big Apple baseball teams. The Giants had the legendary John McGraw as their skipper for thirty years. For the Yankees, it was Miller Huggins from 1918 until 1929 and it took the death of “Hug” for the Yankees to make a change. In Brooklyn, it was “Uncle Robbie.” Before he got the field skipper’s job with Brooklyn, however, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had been a very good catcher with the old Baltimore Orioles teams of the 1890’s, when that franchise was part of the original National League. He was sold to the Cardinals in 1900. Just a year later, the new American League was formed and Baltimore was granted a franchise.  Robinson’s old Oriole teammate, John McGraw was named manager and he convinced Wilbert to return to Baltimore and play for the new team. The catcher did so but when McGraw was later suspended by AL President Ban Johnson, he left the league and took a job as the manager of the New York Giants. Robinson then became the Orioles’ player Manager in 1902. The Orioles finished 24-57 that season prompting Wilbert to accept McGraw’s invitation to become the Giant pitching coach, a job he held for over a decade. That same season, the Orioles AL franchise was relocated to New York and became the Highlanders.

In 1914, Brooklyn hired Robinson to replace Bill Dahlen as Dodger skipper. He stayed in that job for eighteen seasons and helped bring respectability to a franchise that had pretty much become a laughing stock for its ineptness. Under Robinson, Brooklyn won the NL pennant in both 1916 and 1920 and he compiled a 1,375 – 1,341 career record. He shares his birthday with this long-ago Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee reliever who also played in pinstripes.

June 28 – Happy Birthday Al Downing

I used to get mad at Al Downing every fall. As a nine and ten year-old kid who thought he knew everything about baseball, I blamed Downing for helping convert the Yankees from perennial World Series winners to World Series losers. After all, he lost his only start against the Dodgers in the 1963 4-game sweep disaster and then in 1964, Downing pitched in three of the four games the Yankees lost to the Cardinals that year.

Since then of course, I’ve matured a bit and fully realize that the Yankee’s sudden October misfortune was not Al’s fault. He was actually one of the better pitchers in the American League during the seven full seasons he pitched for New York. During his first five years in pinstripes he was a double digit winner and he led the AL in Ks with 217 during the 1964 season. He was 72-56 during that time and he threw a dozen shutouts. For comparison sake, Andy Pettitte has thrown three shutouts during his 13 plus seasons in pinstripes.

The Yankees traded Downing to the A’s after the 1969 season in return for Danny Cater. He ended up in Los Angeles, pitching for the Dodgers by 1971 and he had his first and only 20-game victory season that included five more shutouts. Downing’s last year with the Dodgers was also his final big league season and he finished his career with 123 victories and 24 shutouts. He will probably be most remembered for giving up Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. He also got a chance to pitch in another World Series game as a Dodger in 1974 against Oakland. Unfortunately, he lost that one too.

Downing was born on this date in 1941, in Trenton, NJ. He shares his June 28th birthday with this former Yankee DH, this one-time NY back-up first baseman and a former teammate and pitcher who was born on the same exact day as Downing.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1961 NYY 0 1 .000 8.00 5 1 3 0 0 0 9.0 7 8 8 0 12 12 2.111
1962 NYY 0 0 0.00 1 0 1 0 0 0 1.0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0.000
1963 NYY 13 5 .722 2.56 24 22 2 10 4 0 175.2 114 52 50 7 80 171 1.104
1964 NYY 13 8 .619 3.47 37 35 2 11 1 2 244.0 201 104 94 18 120 217 1.316
1965 NYY 12 14 .462 3.40 35 32 2 8 2 0 212.0 185 92 80 16 105 179 1.368
1966 NYY 10 11 .476 3.56 30 30 0 1 0 0 200.0 178 90 79 23 79 152 1.285
1967 NYY 14 10 .583 2.63 31 28 2 10 4 0 201.2 158 65 59 13 61 171 1.086
1968 NYY 3 3 .500 3.52 15 12 1 1 0 0 61.1 54 24 24 7 20 40 1.207
1969 NYY 7 5 .583 3.38 30 15 5 5 1 0 130.2 117 57 49 12 49 85 1.270
17 Yrs 123 107 .535 3.22 405 317 37 73 24 3 2268.1 1946 938 811 177 933 1639 1.269
NYY (9 yrs) 72 57 .558 3.23 208 175 18 46 12 2 1235.1 1014 492 443 96 526 1028 1.247
LAD (7 yrs) 46 37 .554 3.16 170 120 18 25 12 1 897.2 814 380 315 68 326 532 1.270
OAK (1 yr) 3 3 .500 3.95 10 6 0 1 0 0 41.0 39 19 18 5 22 26 1.488
MIL (1 yr) 2 10 .167 3.34 17 16 1 1 0 0 94.1 79 47 35 8 59 53 1.463
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/28/2013.

June 26 – Happy Birthday Bill Robinson

The dismantling of the greatest Bronx Bomber lineup of my childhood, the offense that fueled the 1961 Yankees to 109 regular season wins, began in November of 1962 when Moose Skowron was traded to the Dodgers for pitcher Stan Williams. At least the Yankees had a decent prospect from their farm system, Joe Pepitone ready to take Skowron’s place. Yogi Berra was next to go when he switched roles from Yankee player to the team’s manager in 1964. Shortstop Tony Kubek’s sore back forced him into retirement after the 1965 season during which the Yankees fell from first to fifth in the AL final regular season standings. When the team fell all the way to last place the following year, all hell broke loose in the Yankee front office. Second baseman Bobby Richardson retired, Roger Maris was traded to the Cardinals for third baseman Charley Smith who would be needed to replace Clete Boyer who had just been traded for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.

I remember hoping that Bill Robinson was everything the Yankee front office was promising he would be when they swung that Boyer deal with the Atlanta Braves. They were using superlatives like the “next Mickey Mantle” to describe this then 24-year-old native of McKeesport, PA. He was supposed to be one of those five-tool-players who couldn’t miss at the big league level and he was going to lead the Yankees back to the top of the AL standings.

Unfortunately for Robinson and the Yankees, the young outfielder was no match for the hype that had accompanied him to the Big Apple. He hit a putrid .196 during his first season in New York and Boyer rubbed salt in the wounds of Yankee management by having a career year during his first season in Atlanta. Robinson then improved his batting average to .240 in 1968 but his 6 home runs and 40 RBIs that year reminded nobody of Mantle. When his batting average again went south of the Mendoza line in 1969, a shell-shocked Yankee front-office optioned him to their Syracuse farm team before finally trading him to the White Sox for somebody named Barry Moore.

Eventually, Robinson did evolve into a solid big league outfielder first for the Phillies and then Pittsburgh. He had his best big league season in 1977, when he hit 26 home runs, drove in 104 and batted .304 for the Pirates. Robinson later told Baseball Digest that getting traded to the Yankees was the worst thing that ever happened to him. He said he tried too hard to live up to his press clippings and when he hit a home run during his second-ever at bat as a Yankee, he found himself actually trying to become the next Mantle. The turning point came after he was traded to Chicago. The White Sox wanted Robinson to spend a second consecutive season in the minors. He was ready to call it quits but the parent club’s front office convinced him to be patient instead. He decided then and there to quit trying to be anybody but Bill Robinson and to simply have fun playing the game. Too bad that epiphany didn’t come to him about five years earlier.

Robinson never became the Yankee legend we hoped he would but he does share his birthday with a guy who did. This former New York LOOGY was also born on June 26th.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1967 NYY 116 381 342 31 67 6 1 7 29 2 28 56 .196 .259 .281 .539
1968 NYY 107 378 342 34 82 16 7 6 40 7 26 54 .240 .294 .380 .674
1969 NYY 87 239 222 23 38 11 2 3 21 3 16 39 .171 .226 .279 .505
16 Yrs 1472 4730 4364 536 1127 229 29 166 641 71 263 820 .258 .300 .438 .738
PIT (8 yrs) 805 2649 2451 328 677 135 15 109 412 46 136 469 .276 .313 .477 .790
PHI (5 yrs) 351 1072 996 119 260 61 3 41 136 13 57 201 .261 .300 .452 .752
NYY (3 yrs) 310 998 906 88 187 33 10 16 90 12 70 149 .206 .264 .318 .582
ATL (1 yr) 6 11 11 1 3 0 1 0 3 0 0 1 .273 .273 .455 .727
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/25/2013.

June 25 – Happy Birthday Bob Shirley

Most Yankee fans around my age can clearly remember the famous shower-room scuffle between Goose Gossage and Cliff Johnson in 1979 but how many of you can recall a similar incident between Don Mattingly and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant that took place eight years later, during the 1987 season? At the time, the southpaw Shirley was in his fifth year as a Yankee pitcher. He had been signed by New York as a free agent after the 1982 season and went 5-8 as a member of Billy Martin’s starting rotation in ’83. After that inauspicious beginning, he was demoted to the bullpen and became the Yankees’ primary left-handed long reliever. He thrived in that role for the next two seasons and had his best year in pinstripes in ’85 when he appeared in 48 games and posted a career-low ERA of 2.64. He then had a horrible year in 1986, going 0-4 with an ERA that exploded to over five runs for every nine innings he pitched. So Shirley was already on pretty thin ice when according to published reports in June of 1987, he and Donnie Baseball engaged in a playful wrestling match in the visitors’ locker room of Milwaukee’s County Stadium, where the Yankees were playing a series against the Brewers. Mattingly ended up on the DL with two ruptured discs in his back. Though both players and their teammates denied the wrestling had taken place, George Steinbrenner was reportedly livid and ordered that Shirley be released the next day. Mattingly continued to insist that his former teammate was not the cause of his injury, explaining to reporters that Shirley was now looking for a job and he did not want other teams to think that the pitcher was some kind of locker room trouble maker.

Mattingly’s chronic back trouble would of course end up stunting the glorious start he had put together as a Yankee. Shirley would sign on with the Royals one week after being let go but pitched horribly during his only three appearances with Kansas City and was quickly released. He never again pitched in a big league game. He finished his 165-game Yankee career with a 14-20 record, 5 saves and a 4.05 ERA. Lifetime, he was 67-94 during his 11 big league seasons with 18 saves and a 3.82 ERA. Shirley shares his June 25th birthday with this former Yankee catcher. Besides George “Babe” Ruth and Shirley, can you think of any other Yankees who have a girl’s first name as their surname?

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1983 NYY 5 8 .385 5.08 25 17 3 1 1 0 108.0 122 71 61 10 36 53 1.463
1984 NYY 3 3 .500 3.38 41 7 11 1 0 0 114.1 119 47 43 8 38 48 1.373
1985 NYY 5 5 .500 2.64 48 8 9 2 0 2 109.0 103 34 32 5 26 55 1.183
1986 NYY 0 4 .000 5.04 39 6 9 0 0 3 105.1 108 60 59 13 40 64 1.405
1987 NYY 1 0 1.000 4.50 12 1 6 0 0 0 34.0 36 20 17 4 16 12 1.529
11 Yrs 67 94 .416 3.82 434 162 105 16 2 18 1432.0 1432 689 608 127 543 790 1.379
NYY (5 yrs) 14 20 .412 4.05 165 39 38 4 1 5 470.2 488 232 212 40 156 232 1.368
SDP (4 yrs) 39 57 .406 3.58 197 92 55 10 1 12 722.0 718 329 287 59 274 432 1.374
KCR (1 yr) 0 0 14.73 3 0 1 0 0 0 7.1 10 12 12 5 6 1 2.182
STL (1 yr) 6 4 .600 4.08 28 11 5 1 0 1 79.1 78 42 36 6 34 36 1.412
CIN (1 yr) 8 13 .381 3.60 41 20 6 1 0 0 152.2 138 74 61 17 73 89 1.382
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/25/2013.

June 24 – Happy Birthday Rollie Hemsley

Of the eight Yankee catchers who have made the AL All Star team, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant is perhaps the least recognized. That’s because he was actually the team’s second string catcher the year he was honored and it happened during WWII when America’s focus was more on the battles going on in Europe and the Pacific and not on baseball. Rollie Hemsley may not have been very well known as a Yankee, but prior to him wearing the pinstripes, the Syracuse, Ohio native had caught in the big leagues for thirteen seasons for five different big league ball clubs and made four other AL All Star teams. His best years were spent as the starting catcher for the Browns from 1934 through 1937. He hit a career-high .309 for St. Louis during the 1934 season and was better than adequate defensively, behind the plate.

The Yankees signed him in July of 1942, after he had been released by Cincinnati. New York needed an extra catcher because their starter, Bill Dickey had been injured. Hemsley ended up hitting .294 in the 31 games he appeared in for New York that season which got him an invite back the following year when he became Dickey’s primary backup. By 1944 Dickey was in military service and Hemsley pretty much shared the Yankee catching position with Mike Garbark. Though he was already 37 years-old at the time, Rollie thrived with the added playing time, hitting a solid .268 and earning his fifth and final All Star game nod.

During the 1945 spring training season, rookie catcher Aaron Robinson impressed the Yankee brass enough to feel they could sell Hemsley to the Phillies. Rollie was 40-years-old when he played his last game in the majors in 1947. He later became a big league coach for many years. He ended up catching in 1,482 big league games. He shares his birthday with this Yankee starting pitcher and this long-ago Yankee outfielder.

Here are the seven other Yankee catchers who have made the AL All Star team during their careers in pinstripes:

Bill Dickey (11 times)

Here are Hemsley’s Yankee and career playing stats.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1942 NYY 31 92 85 12 25 3 1 0 15 1 5 9 .294 .333 .353 .686
1943 NYY 62 199 180 12 43 6 3 2 24 0 13 9 .239 .290 .339 .629
1944 NYY 81 299 284 23 76 12 5 2 26 0 9 13 .268 .290 .366 .656
19 Yrs 1593 5511 5047 562 1321 257 72 31 555 29 357 395 .262 .311 .360 .671
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
SLB (5 yrs) 515 1932 1741 184 475 101 20 8 182 11 155 149 .273 .334 .368 .701
PIT (4 yrs) 252 789 727 93 192 37 16 2 101 5 40 56 .264 .302 .367 .670
CLE (4 yrs) 390 1415 1302 160 344 58 17 10 130 6 89 84 .264 .311 .358 .669
NYY (3 yrs) 174 590 549 47 144 21 9 4 65 1 27 31 .262 .297 .355 .652
PHI (2 yrs) 51 155 142 7 32 4 1 0 12 0 9 10 .225 .272 .268 .539
CIN (2 yrs) 85 241 231 16 35 9 2 0 14 0 10 19 .152 .187 .208 .395
CHC (2 yrs) 126 389 355 55 99 27 7 7 51 6 27 46 .279 .330 .454 .783
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/24/2013.

June 23 – Happy Birthday Bam-Bam Meulens

Yankee fans remember the 1980′s as a bleak period in franchise history. The decade started out with such promise, when Dick Howser led the 1980 team to a 100-win season. That good Karma reversed itself quickly however, as “the Boss” fired Howser for failing to beat the Royals in the 1980 ALCS and the team’s signing of Dave Winfield did not result in another decade full of World Championship banners flying over the House that Ruth built.

Instead, the Yankee PR machine once again began to tout the team’s prospects down on the farm as the elixir the Yankees needed to get back on top again. As much as we fans wanted to believe there was a pinstriped fountain of youth flowing in towns like Columbus, Nashville and Albany, the most promising harvests of the Yankee farm system were either busts at the big league level or were quickly traded away for veterans who would then perform ineffectively once they reached the Bronx.

Two such prospects with outstanding and alliterative nicknames framed the 1980′s for New York. The first was Steve “Bye-Bye” Balboni who was supposed to become the best slugging Yankee first baseman since Lou Gehrig. Instead he became a strikeout magnet and was traded to the Royals in 1984. Then at the end of the 80′s came “Bam-Bam,” today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Hensley Meulens was a bonafide home run hitter, who would indeed hit over 330 home runs as a professional ball player. Unfortunately for Bam Bam and Yankee fans, he hit about 315 of them while playing in the minors, Japan, Korea and Mexico and just a dozen during the four seasons the Yankees bounced him back and forth between the Bronx and Columbus.

Meulens did make history when he made his big league debut for New York on August 23, 1989. On that day he became the first native of Curacao to play Major League baseball. By then, Steve Balboni had completed his long tenure with the Royals and Mariners and was also back in pinstripes. So for a time, the Yankees had both Bye-Bye and Bam-Bam on their roster but the duo didn’t help them win-win anything.

Muelens shares his June 23rd birthday with this former Yankee pitching prospect, this one-time Yankee starting catcher and this legendary Yankee GM.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1989 NYY 8 30 28 2 5 0 0 0 1 0 2 8 .179 .233 .179 .412
1990 NYY 23 95 83 12 20 7 0 3 10 1 9 25 .241 .337 .434 .771
1991 NYY 96 313 288 37 64 8 1 6 29 3 18 97 .222 .276 .319 .595
1992 NYY 2 6 5 1 3 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 .600 .667 1.200 1.867
1993 NYY 30 61 53 8 9 1 1 2 5 0 8 19 .170 .279 .340 .618
7 Yrs 182 549 496 67 109 17 2 15 53 4 42 165 .220 .288 .353 .641
NYY (5 yrs) 159 505 457 60 101 16 2 12 46 4 38 149 .221 .290 .344 .633
ARI (1 yr) 7 15 15 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 6 .067 .067 .267 .333
MON (1 yr) 16 29 24 6 7 1 0 2 6 0 4 10 .292 .379 .583 .963
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/22/2013.

June 21 – Happy Birthday Russ Van Atta

Talk about hot starts, southpaw starting pitcher Russ Van Atta’s big league and Yankee debut on April 25, 1933 could have melted hard steel. The New Jersey native not only threw a complete game five-hit shutout against the Washington Senators in our nation’s capitol that day, he also had a perfect 4-for-4 day at the plate, scoring three runs and driving in another in New York’s 16-0 victory. The guy they called “Sheriff” would go on to win 12 of his 16 decisions in his rookie season and lead the AL with a .750 winning percentage. He also would end up hitting .283 that first season. You couldn’t blame the Yankee brass for thinking that Van Atta would be a key member of the their team’s starting rotation for at least the rest of that decade. It didn’t quite work out that way.

That December, a fire broke out in Van Atta’s home and while fighting or trying to escape the blaze, the Augusta, New Jersey native suffered a severe cut on his pitching hand. That injury severely impacted his pitching performance for the rest of his career. He began the ’34 season still a member of the Yankee rotation, but after getting hit hard in his first four starts, Joe McCarthy demoted Van Atta to the bullpen. Having watched both Joba and Phil Hughes try to go back and forth between the Yankee rotation and bullpen the past few seasons, it was not surprising for me to learn that Van Atta had problems making the moves as well. For the rest of that ’34 season he was used as a reliever and spot starter. He finished the year with a 3-5 record and a 5.30 ERA. He also developed a sore arm.

He was back in the bullpen to start the 1935 season but not for long. On May 15th of that year he was sold to the St. Louis Browns. He continued to struggle with his new team for the next four years, until his contract was sold to a minor league team in Toronto. After appearing in two games there, he hung up his glove for good. He finished his seven-year big league career 15-9 as a Yankee and 18-32 with St. Louis. He shares his June 21st birthday with another Yankee southpaw starting pitcher and the first Mormon to ever wear the Yankee pinstripes.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1933 NYY 12 4 .750 4.18 26 22 3 10 2 1 157.0 160 81 73 8 63 76 1.420
1934 NYY 3 5 .375 6.34 28 9 9 0 0 0 88.0 107 69 62 3 46 39 1.739
1935 NYY 0 0 3.86 5 0 2 0 0 0 4.2 5 5 2 0 4 3 1.929
7 Yrs 33 41 .446 5.60 207 76 66 17 3 6 712.1 838 498 443 39 368 339 1.693
SLB (5 yrs) 18 32 .360 5.95 148 45 52 7 1 5 462.2 566 343 306 28 255 221 1.774
NYY (3 yrs) 15 9 .625 4.94 59 31 14 10 2 1 249.2 272 155 137 11 113 118 1.542
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/21/2013.

June 19 – Happy Birthday Doug Mientkiewicz

When I was a kid, pick-up baseball games were commonplace. Back then, there seemed to be at least ten guys you could call at any time of day or night to meet up for a game. You’d decide where to play based on the total number of kids who showed up. Four man sides worked just fine in the old mill yard across from my Grandmother’s house. It was a small area, boxed in by buildings on both sides and a huge green fully enclosed metal walking ramp that led from the third floor of the mill to the street level in dead center. That ramp served as our version of the “Green Monster.” We also played in a Veterans’ park at the western most end of our city, where a huge memorial with a life-sized bronze soldier standing guard at the top, served as both our center field wall and permanent spectator. Second base at the park was a cast iron silver painted urn that caused lots of bleeding injuries to both aggressive base runners and inattentive fielders.

When we could get eighteen guys together, we’d head down to the huge grass field that sat alongside one of the locks on the Mohawk River. Even back in the early sixties, when neighborhood kids use to actually play with each other, getting eighteen kids together was not easy and usually required a mixing of ages. That’s why, whenever we’d play down by the river, there’d always be at least one “older” kid who was strong enough to drive a ball the three hundred or so feet that separated home plate from the then-pretty-polluted Mohawk. Every official home run down by the river was a “Walk-off” home run because it meant the ball needed to play the game was gone for good and everyone had to go home.

It was always a lack of a simple ball that disrupted many of those glorious contests during my childhood. After all, most kids brought their own gloves to these games and at least a couple of the guys would bring bats. Gloves and bats weren’t perishable but those damn balls seemed to disappear in a hurry. That’s why, the most serious offense any kid could commit was taking the game ball home with him before that game was actually over. We used to let guys from our neighborhood who didn’t know a baseball bat from an umbrella play in those games simply because they owned a new baseball. Of course, the older guys who ran the games then pulled every trick in the book to prevent the talentless ball-owners from coming to bat or making a play in the field during the contest.

One of their favorite techniques was  “No Ralph you’re not up this time around, Joey is going to pinch hit for you.” In those long ago games in the Veterans’ park, I can remember kids being told to go play the field behind the huge memorial, where they would stare up at the butt of the huge bronze soldier waiting for a ball to fly over the huge granite edifice so they could retrieve it. Eventually, some of these persecuted ball-suppliers would get wise to the exploitation being put upon them and would grab their ball and go home. This of course was considered a mortal sin in our neighborhood, punishable by banishment from all future neighborhood sporting activities, sometimes for life, or at the very least until you showed up at one of these future events with the only ball again.

The above memories were the first things that flashed through my mind when I heard that today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant grabbed the game ball after the last out of the final game of the 2004 World Series and brought it home with him. Doug Mientkiewicz had replaced David Ortiz at first base for the Boston Red Sox earlier in that game which is why he caught pitcher, Keith Foulke’s throw to first to end that contest and complete Boston’s four-game sweep of the Cardinals in that Fall Classic. He then just kept the ball and took it home with him. When someone from the Red Sox eventually asked for it, Mientkiewicz refused to hand it over, explaining he could sell it for enough money to cover his own kid’s college costs. Needless to say, that line did not go over to well with Red Sox Nation. He eventually agreed to loan the ball to the Red Sox.

Unfortunately for Mientkiewicz, keeping that ball will be what he’s remembered for most. Even though he was one of baseball’s best defensive first baseman during his 12-years in the big leagues and a Gold Glove winner, it will be the baseball he wouldn’t give back that defines him.

Three years after the incident, the Yankees signed the player nicknamed “Eye Chart” to play first base so that Jason Giambi’s porous glove could be removed from the lineup. He got into 72 games that year and hit a respectable .277. A broken wrist he suffered when Mike Lowell collided with him at first base disrupted his season and then he went hitless for New York during the 2007 postseason. The Yankees let him go and he signed with the Pirates the following year.

Mientkiewicz was a high school teammate of A-Rod’s in Florida when their team won that state’s baseball championship. He also won a Gold Medal as part of the US baseball team that beat Cuba in the 2000 Olympics. His last big league game was in a Dodger uniform in 2009. He retired with a .271 career average, 899 hits and that damn baseball. He also happens to share his birthday with another Yankee first baseman who I’m sure was the source of plenty of lost baseballs when he was a kid.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2007 NYY 72 192 166 26 46 12 0 5 24 0 16 23 .277 .349 .440 .789
12 Yrs 1087 3844 3312 422 899 221 11 66 405 14 438 472 .271 .360 .405 .765
MIN (7 yrs) 643 2505 2147 273 590 146 6 43 266 11 300 308 .275 .367 .408 .776
KCR (1 yr) 91 361 314 37 89 24 2 4 43 3 35 50 .283 .359 .411 .770
NYM (1 yr) 87 313 275 36 66 13 0 11 29 0 32 39 .240 .322 .407 .729
PIT (1 yr) 125 334 285 37 79 19 2 2 30 0 44 28 .277 .374 .379 .753
BOS (1 yr) 49 119 107 13 23 6 1 1 10 0 10 18 .215 .286 .318 .603
LAD (1 yr) 20 20 18 0 6 1 0 0 3 0 1 6 .333 .400 .389 .789
NYY (1 yr) 72 192 166 26 46 12 0 5 24 0 16 23 .277 .349 .440 .789
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/19/2013.

June 18 – Happy Birthday Felix Heredia

The only member of the Yankee all-time player roster to be born on June 18 (1975) is their former reliever, Felix Heredia. The Yankees claimed the southpaw  off waivers during the 2003 season and he pitched real well out of  their bullpen for the remainder of that year, making 12 appearances during which he allowed just two earned runs in fifteen total innings. That effort represented an ERA of just 1.20 prompting New York to sign him to a new two-year contract. But during his second season in pinstripes, Heredia struggled with control problems and his Yankee ERA ballooned by over five times causing Joe Torre to eventually lose faith in him. The Yankees traded him to the Mets after the 2005 season in a deal that returned Mike Stanton to the Yankee bullpen. Heredia retired after the 2005 season with a 28-19 record for his ten years in the big leagues and 6 career saves. During that decade he pitched for six other teams in addition to the Yankees.

The only other member of the Yankee baseball family to be born on this same date is this announcer, who’s most famous call had nothing to do with Yankee baseball.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2003 NYY 0 1 .000 1.20 12 0 4 0 0 0 15.0 13 5 2 1 5 4 1.200
2004 NYY 1 1 .500 6.28 47 0 9 0 0 0 38.2 44 28 27 5 20 25 1.655
10 Yrs 28 19 .596 4.42 511 2 128 0 0 6 458.1 448 259 225 45 232 351 1.484
CHC (4 yrs) 15 6 .714 5.01 221 0 54 0 0 3 163.1 166 102 91 20 80 146 1.506
FLA (3 yrs) 6 7 .462 4.72 118 2 27 0 0 2 114.1 112 68 60 5 72 102 1.609
NYY (2 yrs) 1 2 .333 4.86 59 0 13 0 0 0 53.2 57 33 29 6 25 29 1.528
NYM (1 yr) 0 0 0.00 3 0 1 0 0 0 2.2 1 0 0 0 1 2 0.750
CIN (1 yr) 5 2 .714 3.00 57 0 18 0 0 1 72.0 61 27 24 9 28 41 1.236
TOR (1 yr) 1 2 .333 3.61 53 0 15 0 0 0 52.1 51 29 21 5 26 31 1.471
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/18/2013.