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.
Gulden shares his June 10th birthday with this popular Yankee game announcer.
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.
Del Paddock is one of two not-well-known former Yankee franchise infielders to celebrate their birthday on June 8th. Paddock played 46 games for New York way back in the 1912 season, when they were still known as the Highlanders. He could hit decently, averaging .288 for New York that year, which was higher than any other of the team’s starters could manage except outfielder Birdie Cree. Paddock’s problem was fielding. He evidently had hands of stone, committing 14 errors in 41 games.
It was probably that bad glove that got him released by New York after that 1912 season. He would spend the rest of his playing career in the minors and eventually fight in WW I. Paddock died in 1952, two years before this one-time Yankee infielder who shares Paddock’s birthday was born.
“Boomer” was not the first Wells to pitch for the Yankees. That honor belonged to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, a southpaw named Ed “Satchelfoot” Wells. The Tigers originally signed this Ashland, OH native in 1922 with the condition that he could keep attending college full-time and pitch during the summer. He made his big league debut for Detroit in June of 1923. His first manager was the legendary Ty Cobb. Though most guys who played with, against and for the “Georgia Peach” hated him, Wells was an exception. The two got along great even though Cobb admitted he couldn’t help his young left-hander get better because he knew nothing about pitching.
Wells was with Detroit for five seasons and went 12-10 for them in 1926 and led the AL with four shutouts that year. But his inconsistency got him released after the ’27 season. He spent 1928 with the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League where he went 28-7 and caught the attention of the Yankees. New York brought him to the Bronx in 1929 and he went 13-9 during his first season in pinstripes. He followed that up with a 12-3 season in 1930 but his ERA was over five. Fortunately for Wells he was pitching for an offense that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, et. al. who made scoring more than five runs per game a habit that boosted the pitcher’s winning percentage.
Wells Yankee Stadium locker was situated right in between Ruth’s and Gehrig’s so he became good friends with both men. He also was the object of one of the Bambino’s most famous practical jokes. Ruth invited the pitcher to go on a double date with him after a Yankee road game in Detroit. When the two Yankees knocked on the door of the girl’s apartment, a guy claiming to be her husband opened it holding a pistol which he fired directly at Ruth. A horrified Wells turned and ran all the way back to his Detroit hotel. By the time he got there, Tony Lazzeri told him Ruth had been shot and was up in his room asking to see Eddie.
When Wells entered the Babe’s suite, the lights were turned down low and Ruth was laying in a bed with ketchup spilled on the white sheets and talcum powder all over his face to feign a dearly pale. Wells took one look at his famous teammate and fainted on the spot.
He ended up pitching a total of four years for New York, before getting sold to the Browns just before the 1933 season started. He had the misfortune of becoming a Yankee right at the time managerial instability. His first Yankee Skipper, Huggins died unexpectedly during the 1929 season and then Bob Shawkey got fired to make room for Joe McCarthy. Wells was 37-20 in Pinstripes and 68-69 when he left the big leagues for good in 1934. He shares his June 7 birthday with this great Yankee catcher.
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.
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.
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.
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 last November. Rays’ manager, Joe Madden intends to use the now 37-year-old Jose as his team’s starting receiver. Through yesterday’s games, Molina was hitting an anemic .188.
I was completely against the Yankees signing the then 39-year-old Raul Ibanez as their left-handed DH this year. 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 Andrew Jones and began their search for a lefty to platoon with him.
Quite a few names were thrown out there by 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.
Fortunately for the Yankees, signing Ibanez has proved to be one of the better moves the team made this off season. He got off to a quick start at the plate which helped counteract the slow starts of several of his New York teammates. He seems like a class act both on the field and in the clubhouse and his swing seems perfectly suited to Yankee Stadium.
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. He’s hit 261 home runs during his career and driven in 1082.
Ibanez shares his June 2nd birthday with this former Yankee second baseman.
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 Yankee born on June 1 is this outfielder who started for New York during WWII.