July 2012

July 28 – Happy Birthday Vida Blue

According to Baseball-Reference.com, only 27 former big-league players were born on this date. Other than February 29, I’ve come across no other date during the year when fewer Major League players celebrate a birthday. The most famous player born on this date also once became a Yankee, unofficially for three days anyway. That would be the mega-talented left-handed pitcher, Vida Blue, who first burst on the big league scene in 1970 with Oakland, when he pitched two shutouts including a no-hitter in six late-season starts. Then in 1971, Blue became the best pitcher in baseball with a 24-8 record, a 1.82 ERA and 301 strikeouts for the A’s, winning the AL MVP and Cy Young Awards and leading Oakland to the first of what would become five straight division titles. He also pitched 312 innings with his 21-year-old arm. I guess there was no such thing as a Joba rule back then, huh?

In any event, by the mid seventies, the A’s whacky and egotistical owner, Charley Finley, had become disillusioned with free agency and modern day ballplayers so he tried to cash in by selling the most valuable members of his team’s very loaded roster. Blue was one of those players. On June 15, 1976, Finley struck a deal with a guy who would succeed Charley O as baseball’s most whacky and egotistical owner, the one and only George Steinbrenner, to sell Blue to the Yankees. Three days later, MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided the deal ruling that it was detrimental to the league’s competitive balance. Blue went onto pitch seventeen seasons in the big leagues and win 209 games. He also developed a cocaine addiction and spent time in prison.

There was also an official Yankee born on July 28th who made a sensational final out catch to help the Yankees capture their first-ever Pennant.

July 27 – Happy Birthday Enrique Wilson

Enrique Wilson was a valuable utility infielder for the New York Yankees from 2001, when he was first acquired from the Pirates for pitcher Damaso Marte, through the 2004 season. During that span, he appeared in 104 games at second base, 83 at short and 62 at third. He was only a .244 lifetime hitter during his 9 seasons in the big leagues and hit just .216 during his four years in the Bronx. But when long-time Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez was on the mound, the light-hitting Wilson turned into a reincarnation of Rod Carew. He faced Martinez 25 times in a Yankee uniform and had ten hits against him for an average of .400.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Wilson was a switch-hitter. I admired the guy because of his defensive versatility and his ability to come up big whenever the Yankees faced their arch-rivals from Beantown. I remember one Boston-New York game during the 2002 season when Wilson hit a grand slam off of Red Sox reliever Rich Garces to break a 2-2 tie. Joe Torre was a big fan of Enrique’s and when the Yankees traded Soriano for A-Rod, the Yankee manager told the media that Wilson would be his starter at second base. But Wilson’s bat got real cold and by June of the 2004 season he had lost his job to Miguel Cairo. That September, when Torre didn’t start Wilson against Boston with Martinez on the mound, the disappointed second baseman told reporters he would be leaving the Yankees at the end of the season and that’s exactly what happened.

Wilson shares his July 27th birthday with this current Yankee slugger,  this former lippy shortstop and this former Yankee utility infielder.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2001 NYY 48 108 99 10 24 5 1 1 12 0 6 14 .242 .283 .343 .626
2002 NYY 60 119 105 17 19 2 2 2 11 1 8 22 .181 .239 .295 .534
2003 NYY 63 147 135 18 31 9 0 3 15 3 7 14 .230 .276 .363 .639
2004 NYY 93 262 240 19 51 9 0 6 31 1 15 20 .213 .254 .325 .579
9 Yrs 555 1537 1406 155 343 73 5 22 141 14 89 169 .244 .288 .350 .638
CLE (4 yrs) 190 607 554 72 159 37 1 6 49 9 36 62 .287 .328 .390 .718
NYY (4 yrs) 264 636 579 64 125 25 3 12 69 5 36 70 .216 .261 .332 .593
PIT (2 yrs) 86 269 251 18 56 9 1 4 23 0 14 36 .223 .262 .315 .577
CHC (1 yr) 15 25 22 1 3 2 0 0 0 0 3 1 .136 .240 .227 .467
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/27/2013.

July 26 – Happy Birthday Norm Siebern

Ichiro Suzuki recently became the newest starting left fielder for the New York Yankees. In franchise history, left field is traditionally the least glamorous of the team’s three outfield positions. Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle converted the Yankee’s starting center field assignment into the first step in baseball sainthood. Babe Ruth played right field for the Yankees and there has been no shortage of MVPs and Hall of Famers who can also now say the same. But left fielders in Yankee history through the years never seem to find a permanent home there. Instead they come and go. Many, like DiMaggio, Ruth and Dave Winfield began their pinstriped playing careers playing the “sun-field”, but got quickly switched closer to the opposite foul line as vacancies occurred. Others, like Yogi Berra, Tom Tresh, Chuck Knoblauch and Elston Howard have been forced to play left for New York because somebody better than them was playing in their natural positions. Sure there have been a few like Roy White and Gene Woodling, who started in left, starred in left and stayed in left for their entire Yankee careers, but they were certainly exceptions to the rule. Today’s Pinstriped Birthday Celebrant is a classic example of a very good Yankee player who got lost in the team’s left-fielder shuffle.

Norm Siebern was a superb high school athlete, growing up in St. Louis. He starred in both baseball and basketball as a kid and after signing his Yankee contract, he actually played college hoops during his minor league team’s off-seasons. He got his first call-up to the Bronx during the 1956 season and it was not an impressive debut for the then 22-year-old. The platoon master, Casey Stengel was using Elston Howard as his starting left fielder at the time because Yogi Berra was still behind the plate for New York. Though not a particularly great outfielder, Howard was a strong hitter. Stengel tried platooning the left hand hitting Siebern with the right-hand hitting Howard. When Siebern hit just .204 that season he was returned to Denver the following year.

In 1958, Siebern got his second chance to play left field for the Yankees and this time, he was very ready. Stengel played him in 134 games and not only did Siebern hit .300, he also won a Gold Glove for his defense. Then, however, the youngster had a horrible World Series against the Braves. Not only did he hit just .125 against Milwaukee, he also made some critical defensive mistakes in the outfield. Though Stengel joked about it with both the press and Siebern after the Series, I don’t think anyone would have been laughing if the Yankees had failed to eventually beat the Braves in that ’58 Series. Poor postseason performances have plagued dozens of Yankee careers over the years. As Yankee fans, we all can remember instances when our favorite team has traded players or not re-signed free agents who experienced substandard individual performances in the postseason. The end may not come immediately, but Yankee front offices (and Casey Stengel) historically have had long memories when it comes to Fall Classic failures.

Siebern continued to start most of the time in left for the 1959 Yankees, but his average dipped to .271 and he experienced a decline in most of his offensive categories. He wasn’t alone, as that Yankee team finished a disappointing third in the ’59 AL Pennant race , winning just 79 games. That December, the Yankees dealt Siebern, an aging Hank Bauer, World Series hero Don Larsen and “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry to the A’s for a young outfielder named Roger Maris who had something Siebern lacked, a perfect left-handed power stroke for that short right-field porch in the old Stadium. Siebern would go on to become the A’s best player and make three consecutive All Star teams. Maris would go on to make baseball history.

Siebern, who also would play for Baltimore, the Angels and Boston, retired after the 1968 season with a .272 lifetime average and 1,217 big league hits. He shares his July 26th birthday with this one-time Yankee pinch-hitter,  this “unhappy” starting pitcher and this much more recent. Yankee hurler.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1956 NYY 54 184 162 27 33 1 4 4 21 1 19 38 .204 .286 .333 .619
1958 NYY 134 532 460 79 138 19 5 14 55 5 66 87 .300 .388 .454 .842
1959 NYY 120 431 380 52 103 17 0 11 53 3 41 71 .271 .341 .403 .744
12 Yrs 1406 5267 4481 662 1217 206 38 132 636 18 708 748 .272 .369 .423 .792
KCA (4 yrs) 611 2615 2236 331 647 117 19 78 367 6 343 329 .289 .381 .463 .844
NYY (3 yrs) 308 1147 1002 158 274 37 9 29 129 9 126 196 .273 .354 .415 .769
BOS (2 yrs) 60 80 74 2 11 0 2 0 7 0 6 13 .149 .213 .203 .415
BAL (2 yrs) 256 949 775 136 193 37 6 20 88 3 156 136 .249 .373 .390 .763
SFG (1 yr) 46 72 58 6 9 1 1 0 4 0 14 13 .155 .319 .207 .526
CAL (1 yr) 125 404 336 29 83 14 1 5 41 0 63 61 .247 .361 .339 .701
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.