It was certainly fun to watch the Yankees spoil Fenway Park’s 100th Anniversary Celebration earlier this season when they overcame a 9-run deficit to beat Boston in front of thirty-something thousand stunned members of Red Sox nation and just about every living former Red Sox on the planet. A century ago, it was the Red Sox who overcame a three-run Yankee lead to win the inaugural game at Fenway, 7-6. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was New York’s starting right-fielder in that 1912 game, who became the first man ever to get a Fenway Park base hit, when he took a half-swing at Boston hurler Buck O’Brien’s pitch and tapped the ball slowly on-the-ground toward the mound. O’Brien got to the ball but when he wheeled to throw to first, no one was covering the bag and Harry Wolter was safe and part of Fenway Park history.
Wolter had joined the Yankees (who were then called the Highlanders) in 1909, when the Red Sox put him on waivers and Yankee Manager, George Stallings grabbed the then 24-year-old native of Monterey, CA. Like many position players from that era, Wolter had spent the early part of his career doubling as a pitcher, before devoting himself full time to the outfield once he came to New York. The Yankees had picked him up at exactly the right time in his career. Wolter started in right field for New York in 1910 and hit a respectable .267 and scored 84 runs. After Wolter’s home run beat the Red Sox in an early season game that year, Skipper Stallings told the press that the $1,500 paid to get the young outfielder was indeed a bargain. Wolter was just getting started.
During his second season in New York, he hit .304, belting 132 hits that included 17 doubles, 15 triples and 4 home runs. Although not especially big physically, this guy had good pop in his bat and the Yankees really did expect him to evolve into one of the league’s top stars. Unfortunately, that evolution pretty much ended 12 games into the 1912 season, when Wolter broke his ankle sliding into second. He would come back the following year and once again start in right field, but he had lost much of his speed and his average fell to .254. The Yankees did not re-sign him following that 1913 season and he went back to California, where in addition to playing in the Pacific Coast League, he got involved coaching for the Stanford University baseball team. He would eventually serve as head baseball coach at that prestigious school for a record (since broken) 26 seasons.
Also born on this date was a former Yankee pitcher with a name so complicated, even his mother couldn’t pronounce it.
It seems the Yankees have been short on left-handed relievers forever. At least that’s the reason Brian Cashman gave to the press to explain why he had offered a then 39-year-old well-traveled southpaw named Buddy Groom, a one-year $850,000 contract if he could make New York’s roster out of the 2005 spring training season. The Yankees had only 38-year-old lefty Mike Stanton in their bullpen at the time and the Yankee GM felt Groom was better than any alternatives the organization had in their farm system.
Groom had come up to the big leagues with the Tigers in 1992 and did not win a game during his first three seasons in MoTown, going a combined 0-7, while picking up two saves. He finally got his first big league victory for Detroit in ’95 but was traded to the Marlins that same season. He then signed as a free agent with the A’s in 1996 and went 5-0 during his first of what would be four seasons with Oakland. Groom next signed with the Orioles in 2000 and stuck around Baltimore for the next five years, setting a career best in saves with 11 for the Birds 2001 team. He had been used frequently by all three of those teams and at one point had put together seven consecutive seasons of seventy or more appearances and nine straight of sixty or more.
Joe Torre started calling on his new reliever during the latter part of April in 2005 and the Dallas native was practically un-hittable during his first six appearances in pinstripes. He then went through a rough patch in late May that included appearances against Yankee arch rivals, the Red Sox and Mets, during which Groom got lit up pretty good. He then rebounded with a fantastic June, not surrendering a single run in his seven appearances that month. But he struggled again in July and Cashman sent him to the Diamondbacks at the trading deadline as part of a conditional deal. New York then replaced Groom with another lefty reliever named Alan Embree. Groom would lose his only decision with Arizona and then hang up his glove for good. He ended his 14 year big league career with a 31-32 record and 27 saves.
Tex Clevenger’s real first name was Truman. In Maury Allen’s book ”Where Have You Gone Yankees?” he told the author that Boston Red Sox second baseman, Johnny Pesky, gave him the nickname “Tex” when Clevenger was a member of the Red Sox organization in the early fifties. He had established himself as a very good relief pitcher during a five-year stretch with the lowly Senators that ended in 1960 when he was left unprotected in the AL expansion draft and selected by the Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees got him and Bob Cerv from LA in a 1961 trade that sent Yankee reliever Ryne Duren out west. That happened to be the first trade ever made by the Angels’ franchise.
Houk then put Tex in Duren’s vacated spot in the Yankee bullpen but Clevenger’s first year in New York was a struggle. At the beginning of the ’62 season he found himself pitching in Richmond. When Houk brought him back up to the parent club that May, a reporter for the New York Times wanted to know why he wasn’t the same pitcher in pinstripes as he was when he was saving games for the Senators. Instead of evading the question, the plain-speaking Clevenger answered it honestly.
“There’s a sort of ease and relaxation when you’re with a second-division club that gets in your blood.” the right-hander explained. “Sure we all try to win but if you lose, well shucks, you’re with a club that isn’t expected to win too often so you just shrug it off. But when you come to a pennant-winner like the Yankees, boy that sure is a big difference. You suddenly find yourself with a club where every game means something and a lot of money can ride on every pitch if the game is close. Its something you have to adjust yourself to. I think things will be different for me this year.”
Clevenger did pitch better in ’62. He appeared in 21 games, won both of his decisions and got his ERA down to under three after it was near five during his first Yankee season. He also got his second World Series ring even though he didn’t pitch in either of those Fall Classics. That would be his last season as a Yankee and his final one in the big leagues. Houk sent him back to Richmond in 1963 and after staying there all year, he was released and decided to retire. He went on to own an auto dealership in California, where he still lives.
Kevin Russo impressed Joe Girardi with his hustle and versatility during the team’s 2010 spring training season. That’s why when Nick Johnson made his much anticipated trip to the DL in May of that season, Girardi asked for Russo to be added to the big league roster. It sure looked like a stroke of managerial genius at the time, because in his first-ever start as a Yankee, Russo drove in both runs in the New York’s 2-1 victory over the crosstown Mets. Unfortunately, that turned out to be the highlight of Russo’s first tour in the big leagues and unless something drastic happens, this West Babylon, NY native, who was raised in Colorado, will probably not be returning to the Bronx in a Yankee uniform.
He can play second, third and anywhere in the outfield but his offensive skills, though sufficient for Triple A level play, are not quite good enough to keep him in the big leagues. He also turns 28 years old today, which is considered young in most professions but bordering on senior citizenship if you’re a minor league baseball player. I just checked his 2012 stats and he’s hitting in the high .280′s in Triple A with 79 hits, 13 stolen bases and 35 runs scored in the 68 games he’s played thus far this season. But the Yankees this year seem to have decided that they will use their farm system when they need pitching but if the need to replace a position player, they prefer signing out-of-work big league vets like Jason Nix, DeWayne Wise and most recently, Darnell McDonald.
Russo shares his July 8th birthday with this former outstanding Yankee utility player.
Yesterday’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the son of a National League umpire. Today’s ex-Yankee birthday boy actually became a big league umpire himself, after his playing days were over and was also the father of an MLB player.
Bill Kunkel spent the third and final season of his big league career as a member of the Yankees’ 1963 bullpen. That squad won 104 regular season games, finishing a full ten and a half games ahead of the second place White Sox. With both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris injured much of the season, the Bronx Bombers’ offense was pretty bomber-less that year and the team lived off its excellent pitching staff. Whitey Ford and Jim Bouton had outstanding 20-win seasons as starters and were joined in the rotation by fire-balling rookie, Al Downing and the veteran Ralph Terry. These four guys pitched deep into almost every game, easing the burden on a patched together Yankee bullpen that featured Hal Reniff as the closer. Kunkel was a valuable member of the relief staff as well, appearing in 22 games that season, winning three of his five decisions and posting an ERA of just 2.72.
Kunkel was a New Jersey native who had originally been signed by the Red Sox in 1955, when he was nineteen years old. A right-hander, he bounced from organization to organization in the minors, finally getting his first taste of the big leagues with the Kansas City A’s in 1961. The Yankees got him from the Braves in the rule 5 draft of 1962. The 1963 season would be his only season with New York and also his final season as a big league pitcher.
The Yankees released him and after he spent a couple more years pitching in the minors, he hung up his glove and turned to umpiring. He became an American League Umpire in 1968. He was good at his new craft and highly respected. His son Jeff became a big league infielder in 1984 and during that year’s exhibition season, when the younger Kunkel was designated to bring his team’s lineup card to home plate, the two became the first and only father and son to ever appear in a big league game as an umpire and player.
Kunkel retired that August. At the time, he had already survived two bouts with cancer and was now facing a third. Sadly, the disease won the final encounter and Kunkel passed away in 1985 at the age of 47. He shares his birthday with a Yankee infielder who got into an infamous argument with an umpire that cost New York a postseason game.
Back in the early forties, Yankee front-office guru, Ed Barrow was busily signing every catching prospect he could find, knowing that the Yankee’s all-time great, Bill Dickey was nearing the end-of-the-line as the team’s starting receiver. One such prospect was Ken Sears, who’s dad, Ziggy was then a National League umpire.
Sears had played collegiate ball at the University of Alabama and had good power. Since he swung a bat from the left side, Barrow was hoping he’d be a good fit for that short right field porch in the old Yankee Stadium. Sears played his first year of professional ball in my hometown, with the 1939 Amsterdam Rugmakers of the old Class C Canadian American League. The following season he smashed 38 home runs for the Yankees Class B team in Norfolk, VA. That impressive power output got him moved up to the double A level of the Yankee organization, where he continued to pound the ball. There is little doubt that the migration of young Yankee catchers into military service during World War II helped Sears earn his first big league roster spot with the 1943 parent club, but by then he had also established himself as one of the franchise’s prime candidates to succeed Dickey.
His Yankee career got off to a great start on Opening Day 1943, when he hit his first big league home run. He got into 64 games that season as Dickey’s backup and hit .278. He helped the Yankees capture the AL Pennant but he did not get to play in what would be McCarthy’s seventh and final World Series win as a Yankee manager that fall.
What Sears was not able to do that year was hit with anywhere near the level of power he had exhibited at the minor league level. His Opening Day blast was one of just two home runs he managed during his rookie season. That issue became moot when Sears was also called into military service and missed playing the next two years. When he returned to the club, so had all of the other Yankee catchers who had made the switch from baseball to WWII military uniforms. Sears was out of shape and lost his spot on the Yankee catching depth chart quickly. New York then sold him to the Browns who would later try and return the catcher to New York, complaining he had reported to St. Louis with a bum throwing arm. The seven games he played for the Browns in 1946 would be the last of his big league career. Sears died in 1971 at the age of just 58. Sears shares his July 6th birthday with this former Yankee Captain.
The Washington Senators would become perennial last place finishers in the American League by the 1950s, but in the roaring twenties, they seemed at the early stages of developing a dynasty. Under kid manager, Bucky Harris, they had won the 1924 World Series and just got nipped from winning their second straight Fall Classic, by the Pirates in 1925. That Senator team had a solid pitching staff led by two aging right-handers, Walter Johnson and Stan Coveleski, who would both end up in Cooperstown. But after falling to fourth place in ’26, the Senators knew they needed to get younger arms into their rotation and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant became one of them.
His real name was Irving Darius Hadley, but everyone called him “Bump,” after a popular storybook character from that era named Bumpus. Hadley was born in Lynn, MA on July 5, 1904 and attended Brown University. He would go 14-6 during his rookie season with the Senators but Washington’s 89 victories that year would leave them in third place behind both the Yankees and the Philadelphia A’s. Those two teams would pretty much dominate the junior circuit for the next 15 seasons while the Senators would not make it back to a World Series until 1965, when they were known as the Minnesota Twins. Hadley would pitch for Washington until 1932, when he was traded to the White Sox, who quickly traded him to the Browns. He would then lose 20 games in both the 1932 and ’33 seasons for St Louis and find himself back with the Senators, by 1935. That’s when fortune shined upon him.
The Yankees were on the prowl for more starting pitching and they made a deal with the Senators that put Hadley in pinstripes. He went 14-4 during his first season in New York for Manager Joe McCarthy’s 1936 Pennant-winners and then pitched the game of his career, winning a classic 2-1 pitcher’s duel against Freddie Fitzsimmons of the New York Giants in Game 3 of the ’36 Series. Hadley would go 13-7 for New York in 1937, but during that season, he would also throw a “brushback” pitch that ended the playing career of and almost killed Tiger player-manager, Mickey Cochrane.
Hadley remained in pinstripes until 1940 and won four rings during his stay. Though he was overshadowed by Hall-of-Famers, Red Ruffing, and Lefty Gomez on that great Yankee pitching staff, Hadley played a significant role in that team’s success, going 46-26 in the four World champion seasons and 2-1 in those postseasons. After falling to 3-5 in 1940, the Yankees sold Hadley to the New York Giants. The 1941 season would be his last in the majors. He later became a pioneer and very popular television broadcaster for the Boston Red Sox and Boston Braves. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1963, at the age of 58. His overall big league record was 161-165.
The Yankees purchased today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant from the San Francisco Giants during their 1972 spring training season and I could never figure out why. Hal Lanier had been the weak-hitting decent fielding starting shortstop for the Giants for the previous eight seasons but the Yankees already had their own weak-hitting, decent-fielding shortstop in Gene “the Stick” Michael. What that Yankee team really needed was a starting third baseman with some pop in his bat to compete with their AL East rivals. The previous year, New York had started Jerry Kenney at the hot corner while Baltimore had perennial All Star Brooks Robinson and the Red Sox, the hard-hitting Rico Petrocelli as starting third basemen.
Kenney would end up losing his third base job during that ’72 season to a guy named Celerino Sanchez. When Sanchez failed to hit, Ralph Houk tried playing Lanier at third. But when both Michael and Lanier started in the infield, opposing pitchers couldn’t wait to face the bottom of the Yankees’ lineup. Lanier got into 60 games that season and hit a putrid .213. That turned out to be five points higher than he would hit during his second and final season with New York, which also turned out to be his final year as a big league player. It would be during that same 1973 season that the Yankees finally went out and got themselves a premier third baseman by the name of Graig Nettles.
Lanier would go on to a new career as a manager. He won a division title as skipper of the ’86 Astros but besides the three seasons he spent as Houston’s skipper, all of his other managerial assignments have been at the minor league level. Lanier was born on in Denton, NC in 1942. His dad was Max Lanier, an All Star pitcher with the Cardinals during WWII, who won over 100 big league games during his own 14-year career.
I consider Gabe Paul to have been the most successful Yankee GM during the Steinbrenner era, but the guy who has been sitting in that same seat since 1998 would be the choice of many. Brian Cashman turns 45-years-old today. He got his current job when George Steinbrenner’s ranting and raving drove Bob Watson’s blood pressure up into the stratosphere. Certainly, a big reason Cashman is still in the chair is that his reign as Yankee GM coincided with the physical decline of “the Boss.” Let’s face it, the George Steinbrenner of the seventies and eighties would have blamed and fired or driven Cashman away long before now.
But with the legendary Yankee owner first de-clawed and now gone from the scene, Cashman has done a pretty good job of establishing himself as the new decider in the Yankee hierarchy. Don’t get me wrong, if Hal Steinbrenner disagrees with Cashman on any move, that move doesn’t get made. But the truth is that while the Boss’s boy may understand how baseball works, Cashman lives, eats and breathes it.
Cashman began his Yankee career as an intern who got that job because his Dad, who raised harness horses for a living, had a friend who knew the race-horse-loving George Steinbrenner. It was Watson who recommended Cashman, who was by then Watson’s assistant, be hired as his successor, but not before he warned his ambitious apprentice to consider refusing it.
Cashman’s ascension, however, was blessed by perfect timing. The 1998 Yankee team he inherited was about to put forth one of the greatest seasons in MLB history and because Cashman had little to do with its formation, he got little credit from the media for the achievement. This greatly pleased Steinbrenner, who had a well-publicized mania about any Yankee front office executive being praised for the team’s success. Cashman also was a master at accepting Steinbrenner’s insults, taunts and criticisms. He learned quickly that when things did not work out for the team on the field to act as if it was his fault but if and when they did, to give credit to others, especially the Boss. Then as George got older and sicker, he gradually became less and less involved with the team’s personnel decisions. As the Yankees kept winning, the only real battle for authority Cashman had to fight was with Steinbrenner’s famous Florida-based team of baseball advisors. It appears he won it when in 2005, he threatened to accept the GM’s job for the Washington Nationals if the Yankees didn’t give him authority over George’s sunshine boys.
Cashman has made several adept moves during his tenure. One of his most recent was the trade that put Curtis Granderson in pinstripes. He has also made several errors, especially involving free agent pitchers, which have cost millions upon millions of Yankee bucks. But there’s no doubt that the guy works hard and is well respected by his peers around the league.
So what have I got against Cashman? Believe it or not, his treatment of Derek Jeter during the Captain’s most recent salary negotiation turned me off to the guy. I don’t blame him for being a tough bargainer and trying to sign the living legend for as little as possible. I do however blame Cashman for taking it public, even after Jeter guaranteed the Yankees at the outset that he would not negotiate or sign with any other team. It was as if Cashman was trying to prove to everyone how tough he was by acting that way with a Yankee legend when all he accomplished was to embarrass Jeter for absolutely no good reason.
Oh well, happy birthday Brian Cashman. I wish you a future filled with good health and happiness. There are quite a few Yankee personalities who share Cashman’s July 3rd birthday. Here’s seven of them.
When relief ace, Luis Arroyo hurt his arm during the 1962 season, the Yankee bullpen struggled to make up for the devastating loss. The front office decided to go into New York’s farm system to find a successor and his name was Hal Reniff. A pudgy right-hander nicknamed “Porky,” Reniff responded well to the challenge.
Reniff, who had been born in Ohio but grew up in California, had been a starter in the Yankee farm system and a good one at that. He had won 20-games for New York’s Class C team in Modesto, CA. But when he went to spring training with the parent club in 1961, then Manager Ralph Houk told him he wanted Reniff to become a reliever. At first, the pitcher resisted but when Houk made it clear the choice was the Yankee bullpen or back to the minors, he made the switch.
After getting sent back down to Richmond to work on the transition, he was recalled to the Bronx that June and put together a strong half-season for that ’61 Yankee team. He appeared in 25 games, won both his decisions, saved two and compiled a stingy 2.58 ERA. But he didn’t make that year’s Yankees’ World Series roster and then spent most of the following season in the military, while Arroyo’s arm was shutting down.
Returning to full-time action the following year, he won 4 and saved 18, establishing himself as Houk’s best reliever on that 1963 Yankee pennant-winning team. He then pitched brilliantly in the ’63 World Series with little fanfare as his three scoreless and hitless innings of relief were lost in the Dodgers four-straight-game destruction of the Yankees in that Fall Classic.
The following year, Reniff developed some arm problems and Yogi Berra began using Pete Mikkelsen as his closer. When Mikkelsen faltered, the Yankees brought in Pedro Ramos. Still, Hal pitched well when called upon. His seven-season pinstripe career ended in 1967 with 41 career saves and an 18-21 Yankee record, when he was sold to the cross-town Mets. When the Amazin’s released him, Reniff returned to the Yankee farm system, pitching for Syracuse for five more seasons until he hung up his glove for good.
In an interview for Maury Allen’s book Yankees, Where have You Gone, Reniff told the author his best friend on the Yankees was Roger Maris. Like Maris, Reniff was mostly quiet and reserved during his playing days. He liked to do his job and go home and he hated all the media attention the Yankees attracted wherever they went.
Reniff shares his July 2nd birthday with this former AL Rookie of the Year and MVP who is now referred to as “The Chemist.”