June 2012

June 6 – Happy Birthday Bill Dickey

One of the all-time great catchers in baseball history, Dickey was superb both at the plate and behind it. He hit .300 in ten of his first eleven seasons as the starting Yankee receiver and drove in over 100 runs in a season four times during his Hall of Fame career. This eleven-time All-Star played in eight World Series with New York, winning seven rings in the process. Dickey’s prime was the four-year-period from 1936 through 1939, during which he averaged 26 home runs, and 115 RBIs with a batting average of .326. He entered Military service in 1943, returning to the team in 1946. When Yankee skipper, Joe McCarthy fell ill and resigned, the team made Dickey the player-manager for the balance of the ’46 season. After leading New York to a 57-48 finish that year, he ended both his big league playing and managing career. He then accepted the Yankee’s offer to manage their Minor League team in Dickey’s hometown of Little, Rock Arkansas. After one season there, he was back in the Bronx to begin a decade long career as a Yankee coach. His Hall-of-Fame Yankee successor at catcher, Yogi Berra credits Dickey for teaching him how to play the position.

Dickey was a quiet hard-working professional, much like his close friend and roommate, Lou Gehrig. He played hard on the field and behaved himself off of it. His playing career lasted 17 seasons. The Yankees retired his uniform number 8 (shared with Berra) and a plaque in his honor now rests in the Monument Park of the new Yankee Stadium. It certainly belongs there.

Dickey shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee prospect.

Dickey’s record as a Yankee player:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1928 NYY 10 16 15 1 3 1 1 0 2 0 0 2 .200 .200 .400 .600
1929 NYY 130 474 447 60 145 30 6 10 65 4 14 16 .324 .346 .485 .832
1930 NYY 109 396 366 55 124 25 7 5 65 7 21 14 .339 .375 .486 .861
1931 NYY 130 524 477 65 156 17 10 6 78 2 39 20 .327 .378 .442 .820
1932 NYY 108 459 423 66 131 20 4 15 84 2 34 13 .310 .361 .482 .843
1933 NYY 130 532 478 58 152 24 8 14 97 3 47 14 .318 .381 .490 .871
1934 NYY 104 438 395 56 127 24 4 12 72 0 38 18 .322 .384 .494 .878
1935 NYY 120 491 448 54 125 26 6 14 81 1 35 11 .279 .339 .458 .797
1936 NYY 112 472 423 99 153 26 8 22 107 0 46 16 .362 .428 .617 1.045
1937 NYY 140 609 530 87 176 35 2 29 133 3 73 22 .332 .417 .570 .987
1938 NYY 132 532 454 84 142 27 4 27 115 3 75 22 .313 .412 .568 .981
1939 NYY 128 565 480 98 145 23 3 24 105 5 77 37 .302 .403 .513 .915
1940 NYY 106 424 372 45 92 11 1 9 54 0 48 32 .247 .336 .355 .691
1941 NYY 109 397 348 35 99 15 5 7 71 2 45 17 .284 .371 .417 .788
1942 NYY 82 295 268 28 79 13 1 2 37 2 26 11 .295 .359 .373 .732
1943 NYY 85 284 242 29 85 18 2 4 33 2 41 12 .351 .445 .492 .937
1946 NYY 54 156 134 10 35 8 0 2 10 0 19 12 .261 .357 .366 .723
17 Yrs 1789 7064 6300 930 1969 343 72 202 1209 36 678 289 .313 .382 .486 .868
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/6/2013.

Dickey’s record as a Yankee manager:

Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
1 1946 39 New York Yankees AL 2nd of 3 105 57 48 .543 3 Player/Manager
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/6/2013.

June 5 – Happy Birthday Duke Sims

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.

Sims shares his birthday with the Yankee pitcher who still holds the record for most wins in a single season and also the official “Truck” of the Yankees.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1973 NYY 4 12 9 3 3 0 0 1 1 0 3 1 .333 .500 .667 1.167
1974 NYY 5 16 15 1 2 1 0 0 2 0 1 5 .133 .188 .200 .388
11 Yrs 843 2810 2422 263 580 80 6 100 310 6 338 483 .239 .340 .401 .741
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/5/2013.

June 4 – Happy Birthday Tony Pena

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 Cleveland 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.

How appropriate is it that after eighteen seasons of sitting on a job that he wasn’t supposed to be sitting, he’s now standing on a job in which it is OK to sit. In fact, the title of the job is “New York Yankee Bench Coach,” and bench’s were made for sitting, right? So how come every time the Yes Network cameras pan the Yankee dugout during a game, there’s Pena, STANDING, near or next to Joe Girardi. Oh well, Happy 56th Birthday to the former receiver who literally invented the “sit-down strike” and is now a “real stand-up guy,” Yankee bench coach, Tony Pena.Tony shares his June 4th birthday with this harmonica-playing former Yankee shortstop and this long-ago Yankee outfielder.

June 3 – Happy Birthday Jose Molina

Former Yankee catcher, Jose Molina was born on this day in 1975, in Bayamon Puerto Rico. He became Jorge Posada’s backup receiver on July 21, 2007 when the Yankees acquired him from the Angels for a Minor League pitcher named Jeff Kennard. In what I always thought had been a cool arrangement, up until that deal was made Jose had been sharing the Angels’ catching position with his younger brother Bengie. He also has another brother with the absolute best first name in baseball (Yadier; pronounced yah-dee-yay), who has been a very good starting catcher for the Cardinals since 2005. Together, the catching Molina brothers have collected five World Series rings during the past decade. Both Bengie and Yadier are better hitters than their older brother and have each won multiple Gold Gloves. Jose’s inability to hit right-handed pitching usually prevents him from taking over a team’s starting catcher role but his arm and his abilities behind the plate are every bit as good if not better than his younger brothers.

The Yankees had been using Will Nieves as Posada’s backup during the first half of that 2007 season, but he was only hitting .164. When Molina took over that role he became an instant hit with Yankee fans, impressing us with defensive skills that were superior to Posada’s and also hitting a surprisingly robust .318 during his first half-year playing in the Bronx. In fact, it wasn’t till Molina put on the pinstripes and I got to watch him semi-regularly that I really began noticing Posada’s weaknesses behind the plate. I will never forget the evening Molina left me stunned with my mouth open staring at my big screen after he threw a would-be base-stealer out at second from his knees.

His play impressed the Yankee brass too. New York signed him to a two-year-$4 million deal to play for them in 2008 and’ ’09. When Posada was injured in ’08, Molina got the opportunity to start. Unfortunately, by then he had stopped hitting and the Yankees eventually felt forced to go out and get Ivan Rodriguez in a failed effort to put some more offense into their lineup. The move didn’t help New York, as the team missed postseason play for the first time since 1993 but I-Rods inability to hit did help convince the Yankee front-office to keep Molina as Posada’s backup the following year. Jose did get the opportunity to engrave his name in Yankee lore that season. On September 21, 2008 in the bottom of the fourth inning in a game against Baltimore, Jose hit a 2-0 pitch off the then Orioles Chris Waters deep into the left field stands for a two run home run. That blast would turn out to be the very last home run ever hit in the original Yankee Stadium.

In 2009, A.J. Burnett became a Yankee and Molina pretty quickly became Burnett’s personal catcher. Jose helped guide the whacky right-hander to what would turn out to be his best season in pinstripes, helping New York capture their 27th World Championship. But Molina’s bat continued to fail him as he hit just .217 during the ’09 regular season. The Yankees chose not to re-sign him when his contract expired and rookie Francisco Cervelli took over the back-up catcher’s role in 2010.

Jose ended up playing two seasons as Toronto’s second catcher before signing a rather surprising two-year deal With Tampa Bay in November of 2011. Rays’ manager, Joe Madden is using the now 38-year-old Jose as his team’s starting receiver.

Molina shares his birthday with this Yankee DH.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2007 NYY 29 71 66 9 21 5 0 1 9 0 2 13 .318 .333 .439 .773
2008 NYY 100 297 268 32 58 17 0 3 18 0 12 52 .216 .263 .313 .576
2009 NYY 52 155 138 15 30 4 0 1 11 0 14 28 .217 .292 .268 .560
14 Yrs 805 2340 2134 221 510 107 3 38 202 16 121 476 .239 .286 .345 .631
LAA (7 yrs) 363 1043 958 92 227 49 2 15 97 9 44 221 .237 .274 .339 .613
NYY (3 yrs) 181 523 472 56 109 26 0 5 38 0 28 93 .231 .281 .318 .599
TBR (2 yrs) 139 379 347 38 80 15 0 9 39 4 23 78 .231 .285 .352 .636
TOR (2 yrs) 112 374 338 32 89 16 1 9 27 3 24 80 .263 .323 .396 .720
CHC (1 yr) 10 21 19 3 5 1 0 0 1 0 2 4 .263 .333 .316 .649
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/3/2013.

June 2 – Happy Birthday Raul Ibanez

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.

Ibanez shares his June 2nd birthday with this former Yankee shortstop and  this former Yankee second baseman.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2012 NYY 130 425 384 50 92 19 3 19 62 3 35 67 .240 .308 .453 .761
18 Yrs 1981 7630 6892 995 1911 401 47 280 1139 47 645 1216 .277 .339 .471 .810
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/1/2013.

June 1 – Happy Birthday Hank Severeid

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.

The only other Yankees born on June 1 are this outfielder and this one-time 20-game-winner.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1926 NYY 41 142 127 13 34 8 1 0 12 1 13 4 .268 .336 .346 .682
15 Yrs 1390 4786 4312 408 1245 204 42 17 538 35 331 169 .289 .342 .367 .709
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/31/2013.