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.
|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|
It did not take long after the Yankees picked up Kerry Wood from the Indians in July of 2010 for me to become a fan of the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year. The big right-hander pitched lights out baseball during the final two months of that season, permitting just two earned runs in the 26 innings he pitched wearing pinstripes. His stuff was electric during that spell and the only weakness he exhibited during his short stay in New York was a tendency to encounter streaks of wildness. I was really hoping the Yankees would sign him to a new contract. He was coming off a huge $20 million two year deal he had signed with the Indians so I could understand the Yankees reluctance to get into a bidding war for a 13-year veteran with a history of DL stays. That’s why I was shocked when Wood signed with the Cubs for just $1.5 million that December and even more shocked when New York then paid Rafael Soriano $35 million over three years to basically replace Wood as the Yankee’s eighth inning bridge to Mo Rivera. According to press reports I read at the time, Wood made the decision to return to the Windy City and the big league team he started with after attending the funeral of Cub great, Ron Santo. He is revered in Chicago and he keeps his family home there. Wood pitched well for a very bad Cubs’ team last season, but recurring blistering problems on his pitching hand prevented him from displaying the type of dominance he had shown in pinstripes. He tried to play again this season but after nine appearances he told the Cubs front office he was through. He then made one final ceremonial appearance against the cross town White Sox a few days later and ended his big league career by striking out Dayan Viciedo on three straight pitches.
|CHC (12 yrs)||80||68||.541||3.67||341||178||69||11||5||35||1279.0||1000||556||521||137||609||1470||1.258|
|CLE (2 yrs)||4||7||.364||4.80||81||0||68||0||0||28||75.0||69||41||40||10||39||81||1.440|
|NYY (1 yr)||2||0||1.000||0.69||24||0||1||0||0||0||26.0||14||2||2||1||18||31||1.231|
Joe Girardi has been one of Eduardo Nunez’s biggest fans and boosters since the young Dominican infielder made his big league and Yankee debut in August of 2010. Several of the team’s talent developers have also predicted that Nunez would one day succeed his boyhood idol, Derek Jeter as Yankee shortstop. Members of the Yankee front-office have been quoted as labeling this kid as untouchable. I’m not that optimistic about this guy.
Don’t get me wrong, he has potential. I just have not seen strong enough evidence that he’s anywhere near ready to take over Jeter’s position anytime soon. He was a valuable utility infielder for Girardi in 2011, appearing in 112 games that season and averaging .265 as a fill-in for Jeter and A-Rod who both were forced into long absences with injuries. But his defensive lapses at both short and third were often glaring and far too frequent for a big league infielder.
It was those same defensive shortcomings in several early-season games this season that finally forced Girardi to OK Nunez’s return to Triple A. I do think he has the offensive skills necessary to play regularly at the big league level but he lacks the power necessary to hold down the Yankees’ DH spot. Making Nunez’s return to the Bronx even more difficult is the fact that he can’t focus his time in the minors mastering one infield spot. With A-Rod, Jeter and Robbie Cano pretty firmly ensconced at their respective positions for the next few years, Nunez must learn to play all three adequately.
During the 1979 spring training season, Thurman Munson had nicknamed the then 22-year-old Brad Gulden the “Little Midget” and told the youngster he would one day replace Munson as the Yankees’ starting catcher. I’m sure neither player was thinking that prophecy would be realized just six months later.
The Yankees had acquired Gulden in a trade with the Dodgers in February of 1979. When he was later interviewed for Marty Appel’s book “Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain,” Gulden recalled how Munson befriended and encouraged him that spring and how the two would sit and talk about baseball and flying. According to Gulden, Munson spent much more time with him than a veteran should with a rookie and Gulden loved him for it.
Gulden’s Yankee debut took place the day after Munson was killed, when he replaced Jerry Narron behind the plate in the ninth inning of that evening’s game against Baltimore. Yankee skipper, Billy Martin then gave Gulden an opportunity to take over Munson’s spot by regularly starting him behind the plate for much of the rest of that season. But Gulden hit just .163 in those 40 games and the Yankees instead traded for Rick Cerone during the 1979 off-season.
Gulden did become part of Yankee trivia history in 1980. That November, the Yankees traded him to Seattle for infielder Larry Milbourne and a player to be named later. The following May, the Mariners completed the traded by sending Gulden back to the Yankees as the “player to be named later” part of the trade. This makes Gulden the only Yankee ever traded for himself.
|NYY (2 yrs)||42||108||95||11||16||4||0||1||8||0||9||16||.168||.240||.242||.482|
|SFG (1 yr)||17||24||22||2||2||0||0||0||1||0||2||5||.091||.167||.091||.258|
|LAD (1 yr)||3||4||4||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|CIN (1 yr)||107||332||292||31||66||8||2||4||33||2||33||35||.226||.307||.308||.615|
|MON (1 yr)||5||7||6||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||.000||.143||.000||.143|
|SEA (1 yr)||8||16||16||0||3||2||0||0||1||0||0||2||.188||.188||.313||.500|
The only thing I liked when I heard that Brian Cashman had signed today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant as a free agent before the 2010 season, was his last name. I was hoping Randy Winn could somehow help the Yankees win in 2010, but I was not optimistic.
Winn’s signing was a big part of Cashman’s effort to reduce the Yankees’ payroll. After winning the 2009 World Series the team let both Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon walk away as free agents. Evidently, Cashman did not wish to “embarrass” either veteran with low-ball offers to remain in pinstripes so instead, he gave Winn, who was a 36-year-old, twelve-year veteran at the time, 1.1 million Yankee dollars to compete for one of New York’s starting outfield positions.
Remember, in addition to losing Matsui and Damon, Cashman had also traded the Yankees other 2009 starting outfielder, Melky Cabrera to the Braves for Javier Vazquez Part II. The 2010 opening day outfield for New York was Curtis Granderson in center, Nick Swisher in right and Brett Gardner in left. Winn was expected to challenge either Swisher or Gardner for playing time.
The switch-hitting Winn was not up to that challenge. He ended up playing in just 29 games in pinstripes and batting just .213. The Yankees released him at the end of May and he finished out the 2010 season with St. Louis. He has been out of the big leagues since then. Though he did not work out as a Yankee, Winn did put together a solid career, averaging .284 lifetime with 1,759 hits and 215 stolen bases. He is an LA native and shares his June 9th birthday with this former Yankee manager and this former Yankee GM.
|TBD (5 yrs)||519||2047||1836||264||513||94||28||24||182||80||165||347||.279||.342||.400||.743|
|SFG (5 yrs)||666||2799||2533||343||735||169||18||51||262||73||209||367||.290||.345||.432||.776|
|SEA (3 yrs)||416||1799||1612||233||462||96||11||31||193||56||131||259||.287||.345||.417||.762|
|STL (1 yr)||87||162||144||16||36||8||1||3||17||5||13||22||.250||.311||.382||.693|
|NYY (1 yr)||29||71||61||7||13||0||1||1||8||1||8||15||.213||.300||.295||.595|