July 2012

July 16 – Happy Birthday Tom Metcalf

There are only 35 former Major League ballplayers who have July 16th as a birthday and not one of them is still playing the game. The most famous of this group is “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Perhaps they should have called old Shoeless “Luckless” instead. In addition to being suspended from playing Major League baseball for life for allegedly conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series, Jackson once hit .408 in a season and didn’t win the batting title. Remember  Terry Pendleton? In 1990 and ’91 he was the best third baseman in baseball, winning an NL batting crown with the Braves and a Gold Glove as well. Pendleton turns 53 today.

Tom Metcalf is exactly 20-years-older than Pendleton. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is not a well known Yankee but even though this Amherst, WI native pitched for New York way back in the 1963 season and won just one game in pinstripes, I vividly remember that Yankee victory. The date was September 1, 1963 and the Yankees were playing the Orioles at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.

The Orioles were leading 3-0 when Manager Ralph Houk replaced reliever Steve Hamilton with Metcalf. One month earlier, Metcalf had made his big league debut in a relief effort against this same Baltimore team and been shelled. He didn’t get another chance to pitch for ten days and even went to Houk and told him if he wasn’t going to get a chance to pitch to send him back to Richmond. Instead, Houk began calling on him and Metcalf started pitching well.

Now against the Orioles a second time, the right-hander pitched two innings and gave up one run and then was lifted for  a pinch-hitter with the score 4-1. That pinch-hitter happened to be Mickey Mantle. Mantle had broken his foot earlier in that ’63 season, in a game against these same Orioles in this same ballpark.  He was chasing a fly ball and his foot became entangled in a chain link fence that used to run along Memorial Stadium’s outfield. When Houk sent him in to hit for Metcalf, it was his first appearance since coming off the disabled list from that injury. While I watched on my parents’ old black & white Sylvania, Mickey hit a two-run homer and three batters later, Tom Tresh hit another two-run shot for his second homer of the game and the Yankees and Metcalf had their victory.

Metcalf’s promising career ended with an injury to his pitching arm. Not too many Yankees hail from Metcalf’s home state of Wisconsin. The best of the few that do, is Tony Kubek. Former Yankee fireballing reliever, Ryne Duren is a also a native of the Badger State.

This other pitcher with a very short Yankee resume was also born on July 16th.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1963 NYY 1 0 1.000 2.77 8 0 4 0 0 0 13.0 12 4 4 1 3 3 1.154
1 Yr 1 0 1.000 2.77 8 0 4 0 0 0 13.0 12 4 4 1 3 3 1.154
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/15/2013.

July 15 – Happy Birthday Bubbles Hargrave

hargraveBubbles and his brother Pinky made careers out of back-up catching. His real first name was Eugene and he was four years older than Pinky. He played in 852 big league games in a career that spanned a dozen seasons, most of them in Cincinnati. For a part-time player, Bubbles could really handle the bat. In fact, he won the NL batting title in 1926 with a .353 average back when all a hitter had to do to qualify was appear in 100 games (Bubble had 115 hits in just 326 at bats that season.) He retired with a very noteworthy .310 lifetime batting average. The Reds let him go after the 1928 season and he spent all of 1929 catching for a double A franchise in St Paul, MN. In 1930, the Yankees signed him to back up their young catching phee-nom, Bill Dickey. Hargrave appeared in 45 games that season for New York, hitting .278. He then caught for a few more years in the minors before hanging his tools of ignorance up for good. He was born on July 15, 1892 in New Haven, IN. He died in 1969 in his adopted hometown of Cincinnati.

He shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and this long-ago 1902 Oriole first baseman, who both committed suicide.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1930 NYY 45 121 108 11 30 7 0 0 12 0 10 9 .278 .339 .343 .682
12 Yrs 852 2852 2533 314 786 155 58 29 376 29 217 165 .310 .372 .452 .824
CIN (8 yrs) 766 2671 2367 298 744 146 57 29 359 27 206 147 .314 .377 .461 .838
CHC (3 yrs) 41 60 58 5 12 2 1 0 5 2 1 9 .207 .220 .276 .496
NYY (1 yr) 45 121 108 11 30 7 0 0 12 0 10 9 .278 .339 .343 .682
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/15/2013.

July 14 – Happy Birthday Johnny Murphy

This Big Apple native son was the first great Yankee reliever. He had come up to the Yankees as a starter in 1934, winning 14 games in his rookie season. It was only after the Yankees paid him a starter’s salary that he agreed to the pleadings of then Manager Joe McCarthy, to become one of baseball’s first full-time relief specialists. During the next eight years he led the AL in relief victories six times and in saves, four times.

How important was Murphy to the Yankee’s great success during the late thirties? When New York’s Hall-of-Fame hurler, Lefty Gomez was asked how he felt before a big game, he responded, “How I feel isn’t important. The important thing is how Murphy feels!” McCarthy liked to refer to Murphy as “My pennant insurance.” Murphy was given the nickname “Fireman” and was so dominant in his role that that same nickname became the term used to describe each team’s best bullpen pitcher. In all, Murphy pitched 12 seasons in pinstripes with all but one of those seasons coming before he entered military service in 1943. He finished his Yankee career with a record of 93-53 and 107 saves. He then became a front office executive with the Red Sox and then the Mets. He passed away in 1970, at the age of 71.

This former Yankee third baseman and this long-ago starting pitcher both share Murphy’s July 14th birthday.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1932 NYY 0 0 16.20 2 0 2 0 0 0 3.1 7 6 6 0 3 2 3.000
1934 NYY 14 10 .583 3.12 40 20 13 10 0 4 207.2 193 79 72 11 76 70 1.295
1935 NYY 10 5 .667 4.08 40 8 19 4 0 5 117.0 110 67 53 7 55 28 1.410
1936 NYY 9 3 .750 3.38 27 5 12 2 0 5 88.0 90 38 33 5 36 34 1.432
1937 NYY 13 4 .765 4.17 39 4 30 0 0 10 110.0 121 59 51 7 50 36 1.555
1938 NYY 8 2 .800 4.24 32 2 26 1 0 11 91.1 90 47 43 5 41 43 1.434
1939 NYY 3 6 .333 4.40 38 0 34 0 0 19 61.1 57 33 30 2 28 30 1.386
1940 NYY 8 4 .667 3.69 35 1 28 0 0 9 63.1 58 27 26 5 15 23 1.153
1941 NYY 8 3 .727 1.98 35 0 31 0 0 15 77.1 68 20 17 1 40 29 1.397
1942 NYY 4 10 .286 3.41 31 0 26 0 0 11 58.0 66 27 22 2 23 24 1.534
1943 NYY 12 4 .750 2.51 37 0 32 0 0 8 68.0 44 22 19 2 30 31 1.088
1944 Did not play in major leagues (Military Service)
1945 Did not play in major leagues (Military Service)
1946 NYY 4 2 .667 3.40 27 0 24 0 0 7 45.0 40 22 17 4 19 19 1.311
13 Yrs 93 53 .637 3.50 415 40 293 17 0 107 1045.0 985 464 406 52 444 378 1.367
NYY (12 yrs) 93 53 .637 3.54 383 40 277 17 0 104 990.1 944 447 389 51 416 369 1.373
BOS (1 yr) 0 0 2.80 32 0 16 0 0 3 54.2 41 17 17 1 28 9 1.262
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/14/2013.

July 13th – Happy Birthday Ken Hunt

So who is Ken Hunt? A lot of the readers of this blog are old enough and good enough baseball fans to remember Ron Hunt, the former big league second baseman who was the real first “star” of the Mets. Ron Hunt would have won the 1963 NL Rookie of the Year Award if it weren’t for the fact that Pete Rose was also in his rookie season that same year. But I don’t think too many of you remember Ken Hunt. I do because of two reasons. I was a baseball card collector and a die-hard Yankee fan.

Ken Hunt had been signed by the Yankees way back in 1952 when he was just 17 years old. He had just graduated from high school in Grand Forks, ND and the Yankees assigned him to their lowest level (D) farm team. He climbed the first three letters of the minor league alphabet pretty quickly, but once he got to the multiple A level, his ascent sort of stalled because the next rung of his career ladder was the New York Yankee outfield, which was at the time pretty loaded with high performing veterans.

Despite that crowded situation, Hunt was given his first call-up to the Bronx in September of 1959 and then actually made New York’s big league roster with a good 1960 spring training performance. He hit .294 as a utility outfielder on that 1960 Yankee team through the first two months of the season before he was sent back down to Richmond. He also developed a lasting friendship with another Yankee who made his home in North Dakota, a guy named Roger Maris.

I remember pretty clearly reading the list of players in the New York Daily News who had been selected by the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators during the 1960 AL Expansion Draft. They included Yankee pitchers Eli Grba, Bobby Shantz and Duke Maas along with two Yankee first basemen, Dale Long and Bud Zipfel. The list also included Ken Hunt who was the 40th selection in that draft. His new team was the Angels.

During the Angels’ first season, the team played its home games in cozy little minor league ballpark named, coincidentally, Wrigley Field. Since it was located near Hollywood, the Stadium became a popular place to film movies that involved baseball games and also served as the host of television’s popular “Home Run Derby” show, which use to air in the 1950s. Due to the fact that the park’s power alleys were just 345 feet in both right center and left center, home runs were plentiful during the Angels 1961 inaugural season helping Ken Hunt end his first full year in the big leagues with 25 of them and also lead the team with 84 RBIs.

Unfortunately for Hunt, he suffered an aneurism near his throwing shoulder the following season and was limited to just twelve games of action. While recovering from the surgery, however, he met and married a single Mom who’s son was Butch Patrick, the child actor who played Eddie Munster in the popular TV series, The Munsters. Eventually, Ken was cast as a baseball player in an episode of his step son’s series and got his Screen Actors Guild card. He would go on to play an extra in other Hollywood films.

Hunt needed a second career because his repaired shoulder continued to bother him. Though he did manage to hit 16 home runs in just 66 games of action for the Angels in 1963, his average fell into the .180’s and he was sold to the Senators in September of that same season.

He ended up divorcing Patrick’s Mom a few years later and starting a new career in the aerospace industry. It was there that he met and married his new wife and they opened a bar together near the aerospace plant where they both worked. He continued his close friendship with Roger Maris until Maris passed away from cancer. Hunt continued to return to North Dakota every year to play in the Memorial Golf Tournament. In fact, on the evening before he was supposed to leave for North Dakota to play in the 1997 event, he died of a heart attack while watching his former team, the Angels play on television.

Hunt shares his July 13th birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this one too and this former Yankee reliever.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1959 NYY 6 13 12 2 4 1 0 0 1 0 0 3 .333 .308 .417 .724
1960 NYY 25 29 22 4 6 2 0 0 1 0 4 4 .273 .407 .364 .771
6 Yrs 310 888 782 107 177 42 4 33 111 9 85 222 .226 .303 .417 .720
LAA (3 yrs) 221 711 632 91 150 35 4 31 101 9 65 174 .237 .310 .453 .762
WSA (2 yrs) 58 135 116 10 17 4 0 2 8 0 16 41 .147 .248 .233 .481
NYY (2 yrs) 31 42 34 6 10 3 0 0 2 0 4 7 .294 .375 .382 .757
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2013.

July 11 – Happy Birthday Harry Wolter

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.

This  former Yankee pitcher and this one too were also born on July 11th.