The 1917 season had ended, Miller Huggins had just taken over as manager of the Yankees and he was intent on completely re-hauling New York’s underachieving roster. The new skipper desperately wanted to add a good second baseman to his new team’s lineup. That second baseman’s name was Del Pratt, who was playing for the St. Louis Browns at the time and was considered the second best player at that position in the American League, behind only the future Hall-of-Famer, Eddie Collins. Huggins got the permission of Yankee co-owner, Jacob Rupert, to send three Yankee starting position players and two of the team’s younger pitchers to the Browns for Pratt and the future Hall-of-Fame pitcher Eddie Plank. The problem was that Plank, who was already 42-years-old at the time, had already told the Browns he was retiring. Huggins knew that but he told Rupert he could talk the veteran southpaw out of quitting to pitch for New York.
Plank had spent the first 14 years of his brilliant career pitching for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s. He had perfected a distinctive cross-body, side-arm pitching motion that helped him win 326 games and throw 69 shutouts. Though he pitched in an era of pitching legends and was often pushed out of the headlines by the likes of Cy Young, Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson, “Gettysburg Eddie” was as good as it gets on a Major League pitching mound. To visualize Plank at work, think of Mark Fydrich. Like “the Bird,” Plank employed constant motion and muttering on the pitching mound. When he wasn’t tugging at his jersey, tightening the laces on his spikes or furiously rubbing up the baseball, he’d be talking to himself, the batter, his catcher, the ump or anyone who’d listen to him. If you’re one of the many who thinks it takes Josh Beckett too long to throw a pitch, you’d probably would have been screaming at Plank. He could take forever to agree on a sign with his catcher and God forbid if there was a runner on first base because Eddie would often just stare at him until the player shortened his lead or Plank’s stare lulled him to sleep and he picked the guy off.
In 1915, Plank had abandoned the A’s and jumped to the rival Federal League to play for the St. Louis franchise, where he won 21 games. When that franchise went under, its owner purchased the Browns and brought Plank back to the AL. Though he was able to win 16 games at the age of 40, the years were catching up to him and when he went 5-6 for St Louis in 1917, he told the team he was going back to his farm in Pennsylvania and staying there.
Huggins assured the New York sports press that he would convince Plank to pitch again in 1918. The Yankee skipper’s plan was to stop by Plank’s farm on the way to spring training, make him an offer he couldn’t refuse and bring Plank south with him. But when Huggins arrived at spring training he was alone and Plank was still on his farm. The Browns sent the Yankees a rebate check for $2,500, a great career was over and the newest Yankee was never a Yankee after all.
This former Yankee outfielder shares Plank’s August 31 birthday.
Joe McCarthy first laid eyes on Billy Johnson in the spring of 1943, during a snowy morning at a Newark Bears’ training camp in Asbury Park, NJ. Marse Joe evidently liked what he saw because just a few short weeks later, the 24-year-old native of Montclair, NJ opened the 1943 season as the starting third baseman for McCarthy’s Yankees.
The “Bull” justified his manager’s faith in him by putting together a great rookie season at the hot corner. He played in every single game that season and drove in 94 runs, hit .280, played great defense and actually finished fourth in that year’s AL MVP voting. He followed that up with a strong performance in the 1943 World Series. He hit .300 against the Cardinals and his three run triple in the eighth inning of Game 3 erased a 2-1 St. Louis lead, as the Yanks went on to beat the Red Birds in five games.
Johnson then entered the armed services and did not play another big league game until the middle of the 1946 season. By 1947, he was an AL All Star. That year he hit .285 and drove in a career high 95 runs. That fall he won his second ring, when New York beat Brooklyn in a seven-game Fall Classic. He would end up winning a total of four rings during his seven seasons in pinstripes.
Johnson was one of the many ex-Yankees who did not play himself out of a job but was instead pushed out by the constant influx of high quality prospects produced by baseball’s best minor league system. It also didn’t help that Billy was constantly haggling with the Yankee front office about his contract. In 1948, then Yankee skipper, Bucky Harris began platooning Johnson at third with a young Bobby Brown. Brown was a better hitter than Bull was but he was also a terrible fielder. When Gil McDougald was ready for the big leagues a couple of seasons later, New York traded Johnson to St Louis. I’d compare Johnson’s career as the Yankee starting third baseman with that of Scott Brosius. It didn’t last long but it was very good while it lasted.
Billy shares his birthday with his former Yankee teammate, outfielder Johnny Lindell.
You have to be a very good and long-time Yankee fan to remember when George Zeber played for the Yankees. It was back in 1977, and Zeber surprised everyone by making the team in spring training. That year’s Yankee squad were the defending AL Champions. Manager Billy Martin liked the fact that Zeber could play second, short and third so he brought the native of Elwood City, PA north that April and made him one of his primary utility infielders.
At the time, Zeber was already 27 years old and his path to the Majors had been anything but a cakewalk. His Dad had died when he was just five years old. Fortunately, the man his Mom then married was a great guy and baseball fan who got his new stepson involved in the game. He was a fifth round draft choice of the Yankees in 1968 but after just one year in the minors he was drafted and actually spent a year in front line combat duty in the jungles of Vietnam. He survived the war but when he returned to the minors he suffered a severe knee injury that pretty much stalled his development for two years. All that adversity would serve him well when he became part of Manager Martin’s Bronx Zoo Clubhouse.
He got his first big league at bat that May and remained on the roster the entire season, appearing in 25 games, getting 75 plate appearances and hitting a healthy .325. He even made that year’s World Series roster getting two at bats against the Dodgers but striking out both times. In 1978 he lost his roster spot to Brian Doyle and was sent back down to Syracuse, never again appearing in a big league game. He played the 1978 season with the Yankee’s Tacoma affiliate and then hung up his spikes for good. He then got into real estate and built a successful career for himself. It probably didn’t hurt that he was wearing a New York Yankee World Championship ring when he introduced himself to new realty clients.
His Yankee teammates used to call him “Wardie.” He had put on the pinstripes for the first time in 1917, when he was just 20 years-old. A year later, Miller Huggins became Yankee Manager and Ward sat on his bench for two seasons, listening, watching and learning how the game was played. In 1920, the wife of Yankee third baseman, Frank “Home Run” Baker, died suddenly. Baker decided to take a year off from playing baseball to be with his two young children. “Hug” started playing Ward at third that season and the Akansas native did OK, hitting 11 home runs and driving in 54 for an improving Yankee team that also featured newcomer Babe Ruth that year. When Baker decided to return to the game the following year, the Yankees traded their starting second baseman, Del Pratt to the Red Sox and Huggins made Ward the team’s new starting second sacker.
For the next three seasons, he was as valuable a Yankee as any with the exception of Ruth. Ward hit a career high .306 in 1921, helping Huggins and New York reach their first World Series, which they lost to their hometown rivals, the Giants. They lost to them again in the ’22 Fall Classic but the third time proved to be the charm the following year and Ward played a huge roll in the Yankees first-ever World Championship. He hit .284 in the regular season and drove in a career-high 82 runs. Than in the ’23 World Series, Wardie led the Yankees with 10 hits and a .417 batting average, while providing excellent defense at second. Yankee owner, Jacob Rupert told the press that Ward deserved as much credit as Ruth and Huggins, for the Yankees’ first title.
Neither the Yankees or Ward could continue their success in 1924, as the team finished in second place and the second baseman slumped to .253. The bigger problem facing Huggins was Ruth’s outlandish personal behavior and the impact it was having on not only the Bambino’s play but also the attitude of the entire Yankee team. It came to a head in 1925, the year of Ruth’s famous “big bellyache,” which in actuality was a complete physical and mental breakdown. The Yankees fell all the way to seventh place in the final standings.
The Bambino had been scared straight. He worked harder during the 1925 off season than he ever had before and helped the Yankees win another AL Pennant in ’26. But he sure didn’t do it by himself. New York had introduced a whole new right side of their infield that year. Lou Gehrig took over for Wally Pipp at first and Aaron Ward lost his job at second to a kid named Tony Lazzeri. He appeared in just 22 games during his final season in the Bronx and then got traded to the White Sox. He retired two seasons later with a .268 lifetime average and 966 hits during his dozen-year big league career.
Wardie shares his birthday with this former Cy Young Award winner, this outfielder known for his sweet swing and this one-time Yankee pitcher who also gave up Bucky Dent’s home run.
Ed Herrmann had been the pretty-good hitting starting catcher for the Chicago White Sox for six seasons when the Yankees picked him up in a trade one week before Opening Day in 1975 for four minor leaguers. I couldn’t understand why the Yankees made the deal at the time. They already had Thurman Munson and Rick Dempsey on that team. As it turned out, Herrmann, a San Diego native who was born on this date in 1946 ended up DH-ing more games (35) than he caught (24) that year.
He had some pop in his left handed bat, having reached double-figures in home runs during his previous five seasons in the Windy City. He ended up hitting a half-dozen round-trippers during his one and only year in pinstripes. He was sold to California in the off-season. None of the four minor leaguers the Yankees gave up for Herrmann ever appeared in a big league game. Ed spent part of just one season in California before getting traded to Houston. He retired after the 1978 season with a .240 lifetime average and 80 homeruns during an eleven-year big league career.
Hermann is one of quite a few players who saw time with both the Yankees and White Sox during their big league playing careers. Here’s my all-time line-up of Yankee/White Sox:
1b – Moose Skowren
2b – Steve Sax
3b – Robin Ventura
ss – Bucky Dent
c – Sherm Lollar
of – Tim Raines
of – Dan Pasqua
of – Claudell Washington
dh – Carlos May
p – Tommy John
rp – Goose Gossage
mgr – Bob Lemon
When the Yankees brought up Jayson Nix in May of 2012 to take the place of Eduardo Nunez as the team’s primary utility infielder, I thought someone in the front office had made a big mistake. I agreed that Nunez’s defensive shortcomings warranted the demotion, but Nix had batted just .169 for the Blue Jays in 2011, making me think he’d be too big of an offensive liability to play very much. What a difference a couple of months can make.
I’ve now nicknamed Nix “the Caulk Gun” because he’s done such a credible job filling in the numerous cracks that have developed this season in both the Yankee’s offense and defense. Thus far in 2012 he’s appeared in 56 games for New York, making 24 starts. He’s played all or parts of 18 games at third, 15 at short, 8 at second and 11 in left field, plus he’s DH’d in a couple more. He’s been more than adequate defensively in each of those positions and he’s also hit a very respectable .250, while contributing some mighty timely hits along the way. About the only negative thing Nix has done since donning the pinstripes is hit the ball in batting practice that Mariano Rivera was attempting to catch when the fabled closer blew out his ACL.
The Caulk Gun was born on this date in Dallas in 1982. He came up with the Rockies in 2008 and in addition to the Blue Jays, he’s also played for the White Sox and Indians. His older brother Laynce is a big league utility outfielder, who currently plays for Philadelphia. Nix shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee third baseman.
It was another bad pitching acquisition decision by Brian Cashman. Pedro Feliciano had been the Mets’ ironman in the bullpen for the previous six seasons when the Yankee GM signed the lefty to a two-year $8 million deal just before Christmas in 2010. After watching the Red Sox add two more left-handed bats to their lineup with the signings of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford earlier in that same postseason, Cashman knew he needed to counter by adding some left-handed pitching to the Yankee bullpen. At the time, Boone Logan was New York’s only southpaw reliever. Signing Feliciano was like adding two lefties in one because the guy had proven he could pitch just about every day. “Perpetual Pedro” had led the National League in appearances the previous three seasons, setting a new record by appearing in 266 games during that span.
The situation started smelling fishy when Feliciano reported to his first Yankee spring training camp with a sore left shoulder. Turned out he had torn the posterior capsule in that critical throwing joint and was shelved for the entire 2011 season. He hasn’t pitched in 2012 either. When the injury was discovered, a bitter Cashman blamed the Mets for abusing Feliciano by pitching him too much. Dan Warthen, the Mets pitching coach actually admitted the Amazin’s had not made any attempt to re-sign the guy because of his heavy workload history, but he denied the Mets knew about the pitcher’s injured wing. The ironic thing about the whole scenario was that the Yankees had signed Feliciano in part, because he seemed to have a left arm that never tired. You can bet the Yankees were planning to pitch him about 70 times last year if he had been available.
As his Yankee contract nears completion, there is a possibility that Feliciano may get a chance to actually take the mound in pinstripes. He’s currently pitching for the Yankee’s Gulf Coast league team and by all reports he seems to be throwing the ball well. With Mariano on the shelf, Joba’s comeback a bust thus far and a tiring Yankee bullpen, Cashman’s $8 million acquisition may actually still get an opportunity to pay some dividends.
A salesman who used to call on me had a thirty-something-year-old son who had never left home. We’d go out to lunch and this guy would unload on me, telling me how this “kid” would drink his beer, drive his car, wear his clothes and spend his money. Evidently, his wife didn’t mind having the son around and whenever he tried to discuss his unhappiness over the situation with the “boy,” a heated argument would ensue and the “kid” would scream “You’ll miss me when I’m gone!” and than storm out of the house, get in his father’s car and drive off.
Today’s question is; Do the Yankees miss Brett Gardner? Even though their AL East lead has shrunk to just three games as I update this post, you’d have to conclude that the answer to this question has to be; “Not too much.”
This current Yankee team was built around its $90 million infield, CC Sabathia and its bullpen. But it has been the play of its less heralded outfield that has helped the ball club continue to achieve regular season success in recent years. Despite his too-frequent strikeouts, center fielder Curtis Granderson has been a force. Nick Swisher has over-achieved since he donned the pinstripes. And up until this season, Brett Gardner was evolving into a better than average big league outfielder.
On April 17th, in a game against the Twins, Gardner dove to make a play on a ball in left field and injured his right elbow. At the time of the injury, no one thought it was serious, but the pain has lingered all season long. In July, the Yankees decided to shut him down for the rest of the season.
At first, the Yankees used the triumvirate of Raul Ibanez, Andrew Jones and Dewayne Wise in left and had good success. But the team’s front office was concerned that the ages of Ibanez and Jones would catch up with them by the end of the season and they evidently didn’t think Wise was the answer either, because they went out and acquired Ichiro Suzuki from Seattle in late July. My personal conclusion is that all this maneuvering has helped the team move forward minus Gardner without missing a beat. But I am concerned that by missing all this time, Gardner’s evolution as a Yankee may have been permanently stalled.
There are things about Gardner’s play that continue to bug me. For example, he still waits too long in the count to attempt most of his stolen bases. He strikes out way too much for a small-ball specialist. I’ve seen him swing at some horrible full count pitches and he doesn’t seem as willing to accept base-on-balls as he used to be. But he has proven to be a much better hitter than I thought he was and he has become an excellent big league outfielder. Gardner’s great speed can change the dynamic of a game at any point and forces Yankee opponents to throw lots of hit-able fast balls when he is on the base paths. He led the AL in stolen bases with 49 thefts in 2011. He has also proven he is a good leadoff hitter and when he hits ninth, he remains one of the best bottom of the lineup guys in all of baseball.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s career initially suffered from poor timing. He started out as a catcher in the Cleveland organization right about the time the Indians’ Jim Hegan was just beginning to establish himself as one of the best defensive receivers ever. When he was brought up to the parent club in 1946, he begged management to send him back down instead of letting him rot on the bench. Instead, that December, the Cleveland front office traded the right-hand hitting Lollar to the Yankees.
Poor timing again. The Yankee organization and big league roster were both loaded with promising catchers. In 1947, they included Aaron Robinson, Ralph Houk, Ken Sylvestri and a young left-handed receiver named Yogi Berra. Lollar was sent to New York’s Newark farm team and he had a solid year with the Bears. The Yankees decided to give him a look-see late that season and ended up keeping him on their postseason roster. When Lollar got into two World Series games that year against Brooklyn and went 3-for-4 at the plate, his standing in the organization went up dramatically.
But the following year, the Yankees added the right-hand hitting Gus Niarhos to their big league roster and skipper Bucky Harris began platooning him and Berra behind the plate while Lollar again sat the pine. He got into just 22 games that season while Berra, who played the outfield when he wasn’t catching, had a breakout season at the plate, hitting .305 and driving in 98 runs. That’s when the timing in Lollar’s career went from bad to good. That October, the Yankees replaced Harris as Yankee manager with Casey Stengel. Though the Ol’ Perfessor would establish a legacy as the master of platooning, he would soon ignore that strategy when it came to Berra, and Yogi would go on to catch close to 1,700 games as a Yankee. Two months after Stengel got his pinstripes, Lollar lost his when he was traded to the Browns. In St. Louis, he finally got a chance to play regularly and quickly began to realize his potential. But after just three years there, Lollar was again traded, this time to the Chicago White Sox. It would be in the Windy City where this native of Durham, Arkansas would establish his legacy as one of baseball’s best catchers. He played a dozen seasons for the White Sox, and during the first nine of them, the team never finished below third in the AL Pennant race. Lollar’s career year was 1959, when his 22 home runs and 84 RBIs led Chicago to that year’s World Series, which they lost to the Dodgers.
Lollar would continue playing for Chicago until 1963, when he retired with 155 career home runs and a .264 lifetime batting average. He died suddenly from a heart attack in 1977, when he was just 56-years-old. In his NY Times obituary, the White Sox GM who traded for Lollar, the legendary Frank Lane was quoted as saying that trade was the best one he ever made. As Lane went on to explain, “Sherm turned out to be one of the best catchers in the American League behind only Yogi Berra and maybe Jim Hegan.” Some things never change.
Lollar shares his August 23rd birthday with this MLB’s first-ever DH.
Wally Schang was one of baseball’s premier catchers for close to two decades beginning in 1913 and he was also the first of the long line of star players who started behind the plate for baseball’s most successful franchise. The son of a western New York State farmer, he signed with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s team in 1913, when the club was in the middle of its first dynasty. He won his first World Series ring in his rookie season and then became the team’s starting catcher the following year. In 1915, he set a big league record by throwing out six would-be base stealers in a single game. A switch-hitter, in 1916 he became the first player in history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game. In addition to great defensive skills and above-average power, Schang had an outstanding batting eye. During his 19 seasons in the big leagues he averaged .284 lifetime but his career on-base percentage was a hefty .393.
In 1918, Mack made a trade with the Red Sox that sent Schang to Boston just in time to win his second World Series ring. He would spend three total seasons as starting catcher in Beantown before following his Red Sox batterymate, Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1921.
Again blessed with good timing, Schang was Miller Huggins’ starting catcher on the 1921, ’22 and ’23 AL Pennant winners and won his third World Series ring on that 1923 Yankee squad, the first World Championship team in franchise history.
During his five seasons as New York’s signal-caller, Schang hit .297 and threw out just less than half the runners who attempted to steal against him. He hit .316 during his first season in pinstripes and .319 in his second. By the 1925 season, he had reached 35 years of age and was losing playing time to the younger Benny Benough. Just before the 1926 Yankee spring training camp opened, New York traded Schang to the Browns for pitcher George Mogridge and cash.
Determined to prove he could still play the game, Schang hit .330 during his first season in St. Louis and caught there for an additional three seasons. His last big league season was 1931 with Detroit, when he was 41 years-old. The depression made it impossible for him to return to farming, so he kept playing and then coaching in the minor leagues. As one of the Game’s best catchers of his era, Schang deserved a lot more attention in Hall-of-Fame voting than he ever received. He died in 1965 at the age of 75.
Schang shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.