There have only been three “Duke’s” in Yankee franchise history. The first was the very versatile starter and reliever, Duke Maas, who went 26-12 during Casey Stengel’s last three seasons as Yankee skipper. The second Yankee “Duke” was New York City native, Duke Carmel, who first played for Stengel’s Mets in 1963 before donning the pinstripes for just six games during the 1965 season. The third and most recent Bronx Bomber named Duke, was the veteran catcher, Duke Sims, who spent his first seven big league seasons doing a lot of catching and some pretty effective hitting for the Cleveland Indians. He then got traded to the Dodgers in 1971, was released by LA the following year and got picked up by the Tigers. He played parts of two seasons in MoTown and was again put on waivers during the 1973 season. That’s when the Yankees picked him up.
Sims was a solid defensive catcher with a strong arm and not to shabby offensively either. He had hit 23 home runs for the Indians in 1970 and though his lifetime average was just .239, he carried a .340 career on base percentage. But with Thurman Munson entrenched as Yankee catcher and both Jerry Mays and a youngster named Rick Dempsey backing him up, Sims was pretty much a luxury the Yankees couldn’t afford or find a spot to play. He got into only 4 games during the end of the 1973 season and just 5 more at the beginning of the following year. That’s when the Yankees made a terrific deal. They traded Sims to Texas for a left-handed pitcher named Larry Gura.
Sims would end up retiring that year after going to the Rangers and hitting .209. Gura, on the other hand would pitch another eleven seasons in the big leagues and win 123 more games before retiring. The only problem was that he got 111 of those victories wearing the uniform of the Kansas City Royals instead of the Yankee pinstripes. That’s because after going 12-9 during his first two seasons in New York, somebody in the front office got the bright idea to trade Gura for catcher Fran Healy. So instead of magically transforming the inexpensive waiver selection Duke Sims into one of the AL’s better southpaws during the late seventies and early eighties, the Yankees ended up with two easy-to-forget seasons of Fran Healy’s backup catching.
|CLE (7 yrs)||536||1823||1561||180||369||51||4||76||216||5||230||337||.236||.344||.420||.764|
|LAD (2 yrs)||141||432||381||30||92||14||2||8||36||0||47||62||.241||.326||.352||.678|
|NYY (2 yrs)||9||28||24||4||5||1||0||1||3||0||4||6||.208||.321||.375||.696|
|DET (2 yrs)||118||409||350||42||92||14||0||12||49||1||49||54||.263||.356||.406||.761|
|TEX (1 yr)||39||118||106||7||22||0||0||3||6||0||8||24||.208||.280||.292||.572|
I was an oversized kid. My first little league baseball coach kept asking me if I wanted to try catching. We already had a kid on the team doing the catching and I believe his name was John Malec. John had a tendency to get lazy back there and he would sometimes sit instead of squat in in his crouch at which point our coach would scream, “Get your damn rump off the ground Malec. If you’re tired go home!”
Young Malec was not alone. That same phrase or words very similar could be heard shouted to boys dressed in oversized catcher’s gear by coaches and parents at thousands of baseball fields across our country. It was against protocol and considered taboo for a catcher to let his buttocks come in contact with the dirt when assuming the catchers’ crouch position to await the next pitch. So every time Coach Aldi would ask me if I wanted to catch, I would quickly say no because I did not want to have anybody yelling at me to keep my rump off the ground.
Now if today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had started his Major League career in 1960 instead of 1980, either John Malec would be walking around with a lot fewer emotional scars or I myself might have even given the tools of ignorance a shot. Why? Because Tony Pena gave every lazy kid catcher an automatic retort to the phrase “Get your damn rump off the ground catcher.”
Pena sat on his rump (see photo) waiting to receive every pitch thrown to him during his eighteen-year career as a big league catcher. He sat down back there during his seven years catching for the Pirates, his three seasons as a Cardinal, the four summers he caught in Boston and during his eighteenth and final year split between Chicago and Houston. He sat down back there for 1,950 games, the fourth most by any big league catcher in history.
I was completely against the Yankees signing the then 39-year-old Raul Ibanez as their left-handed DH in 2012. It happened after New York surprised everyone by trading their young hitting prodigy, Jesus Montero to the Mariners. Montero was slated to DH for the Yankees against all pitching in 2012 but after he was dealt, the Yankees re-signed Andruw Jones and began their search for a lefty to platoon with him.
Quite a few names were thrown out there at the time by bloggers like me and the Big Apple media, including former Yankees Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. My personal choice would have been Matsui and I actually felt Jorge Posada should have been asked if he wanted the spot. But in the end Cashman went with this 17-year big league veteran. Believe it or not, my negative feelings for Ibanez stemmed from having him on my fantasy league team a couple of seasons back during his second year with Philadelphia. I’d start him for a week and he’d go 1-for-20 and then I’d bench him and he’d hit a homer and drive in three. I finally put him on waivers.
He got off to a quick start at the plate at the beginning of the 2012 regular season, which helped counteract the slow starts of several of his New York teammates and he was a class act both on the field and in the clubhouse . His swing seemed perfectly suited to Yankee Stadium. But then the Yankees lost Brett Gardner to an elbow injury and the 39-year-old Ibanez suddenly found himself playing every day including lots of time in the Yankee outfield. By the end of August, his average was stuck in the mid .230s and I really thought he was out of gas and would prove less than helpful during the team’s final month stretch drive, as New York tried to hold off the pesky Orioles.
The exact opposite happened. Raul suddenly started hitting again during the last ten days of the season and his clutch home run against the Red Sox on October 2nd helped New York maintain their half game lead over the O’s in the AL East. But he wasn’t done yet. With A-Rod not hitting at all in the postseason, Joe Girardi sent up Ibanez to pinch hit for Rodriguez in Game 3 of the ALDS and he homered off the Bird’s closer, Jim Johnson to tie the game. Three innings later, he hit a walk-off blast off of Brian Matusz. The magic continued for this guy in the first game of the ALCS against the Tigers when his homer off of Detroit closer Jose Valverdi capped a four-run Yankee rally that tied a game New York would go on to lose.
I honestly thought those last four outrageously clutch home runs Ibanez hit as a Yankee guaranteed he’d be back for one more tour of duty in the Bronx in 2013. I was wrong. The Yanks let him sign with Seattle instead.
Ibanez was actually born in New York City but then moved to Miami as a youngster. He broke into the big leagues with the Mariners back in 1996. In addition to the Phillies, he also played three seasons with the Royals.
|SEA (11 yrs)||1020||3902||3528||503||995||201||19||136||570||21||332||608||.282||.344||.465||.809|
|KCR (3 yrs)||398||1527||1384||209||403||81||16||55||247||13||121||208||.291||.347||.492||.839|
|PHI (3 yrs)||433||1776||1596||233||421||100||9||70||260||10||157||333||.264||.329||.469||.798|
|NYY (1 yr)||130||425||384||50||92||19||3||19||62||3||35||67||.240||.308||.453||.761|
Hank Severeid was one of baseball’s better catchers during the pre and post WWI eras, when he started behind the plate for the St Louis Browns. Like a fine wine, this native of Iowa seemed to improve with age, especially with his bat. Always considered a good defensive backstop, by 1921, Severeid’s tenth year in the big leagues, he had turned himself into a .300 hitter. He was also an iron man in baseball’s toughest position. He caught 100 games or more in eight of the ten seasons he played in St Louis. In 1917, he became (and remains) the only big league catcher in history to catch no-hit games on consecutive days.
In June of the 1925 season, the Browns traded Severeid to the Senators, where he backed up the popular Washington catcher, Muddy Ruel. After hitting .355 during his first half season in that role, he got off to a horrible start at the plate in 1926 and the Senators put him on waivers.
The Yankees snapped him up and used him as a backup to their primary receiver, Pat Collins. When Collins injured his arm, Severeid found himself playing every day and helped that Yankee team win the 1926 AL Pennant. With Collins still hurting, Severeid was behind the plate in all seven games of that year’s World Series which matched New York against the St. Louis Cardinals. He hit .273 during that Fall Classic and his best moment came during the historic seventh game.
St. Louis had a 3-1 lead in the bottom half of the sixth inning when Severeid came to the plate with two outs and New York’s “Jumping Joe” Dugan on first base. Hank hit a line-drive double to left field off of Cardinal pitcher Jesse Haines, scoring Dugan. In the next inning, Haines loaded the bases with Yankees with two outs. Cardinal manager, Rogers Hornsby brought in Grover Alexander, who struck out Tony Lazzeri to end the threat and then pitched two more innings of hitless relief to seal the game and the Series for St. Louis.
That double Severeid hit against Haines turned out to be his last hit as both a Yankee and a Major Leaguer. He returned to minor league play in 1927 and kept catching until he was 46 years old. During his 15-year big league career he had a .289 lifetime batting average with 1,245 hits. He would eventually become a big league scout.
|SLB (11 yrs)||1182||4289||3865||367||1121||181||36||17||485||34||290||139||.290||.342||.369||.711|
|CIN (3 yrs)||95||193||176||15||44||6||4||0||23||0||12||18||.250||.302||.330||.631|
|WSH (2 yrs)||72||162||144||13||46||9||1||0||18||0||16||8||.319||.388||.396||.783|
|NYY (1 yr)||41||142||127||13||34||8||1||0||12||1||13||4||.268||.336||.346||.682|