August 2012

August 31 – Happy Birthday Eddie Plank

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 Ruppert, 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 Ruppert 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.

August 30 – Happy Birthday Billy Johnson

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 this former Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee starting pitcher.

1943 NYY 155 655 592 70 166 24 6 5 94 3 53 30 .280 .344 .367 .710
1946 NYY 85 335 296 51 77 14 5 4 35 1 31 42 .260 .334 .382 .716
1947 NYY 132 545 494 67 141 19 8 10 95 1 44 43 .285 .351 .417 .768
1948 NYY 127 493 446 59 131 20 6 12 64 0 41 30 .294 .358 .446 .805
1949 NYY 113 383 329 48 82 11 3 8 56 1 48 44 .249 .348 .374 .722
1950 NYY 108 372 327 44 85 16 2 6 40 1 42 30 .260 .346 .376 .722
1951 NYY 15 48 40 5 12 3 0 0 4 0 7 0 .300 .404 .375 .779
9 Yrs 964 3659 3253 419 882 141 33 61 487 13 347 290 .271 .346 .391 .737
NYY (7 yrs) 735 2831 2524 344 694 107 30 45 388 7 266 219 .275 .349 .395 .743
STL (3 yrs) 229 828 729 75 188 34 3 16 99 6 81 71 .258 .339 .379 .718
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/31/2013.

August 28 – Happy Birthday Aaron Ward

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,  this one-time Yankee pitcher who also gave up Bucky Dent’s home run and this former Yankee reliever.

1917 NYY 8 27 26 0 3 0 0 0 1 0 1 5 .115 .148 .115 .264
1918 NYY 20 36 32 2 4 1 0 0 1 1 2 7 .125 .176 .156 .333
1919 NYY 27 39 34 5 7 2 0 0 2 0 5 6 .206 .308 .265 .572
1920 NYY 127 551 496 62 127 18 7 11 54 7 33 84 .256 .304 .387 .691
1921 NYY 153 634 556 77 170 30 10 5 75 6 42 68 .306 .363 .423 .786
1922 NYY 154 641 558 69 149 19 5 7 68 6 45 64 .267 .328 .357 .685
1923 NYY 152 642 567 79 161 26 11 10 82 8 56 65 .284 .351 .422 .773
1924 NYY 120 476 400 42 101 13 10 8 66 1 40 45 .253 .324 .395 .719
1925 NYY 125 502 439 41 108 22 3 4 38 1 49 49 .246 .326 .337 .663
1926 NYY 22 34 31 5 10 2 0 0 3 0 2 6 .323 .364 .387 .751
12 Yrs 1059 4143 3611 457 966 158 54 50 446 36 339 457 .268 .335 .383 .717
NYY (10 yrs) 908 3582 3139 382 840 133 46 45 390 30 275 399 .268 .331 .382 .713
CLE (1 yr) 6 11 9 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .111 .200 .111 .311
CHW (1 yr) 145 550 463 75 125 25 8 5 56 6 63 56 .270 .360 .391 .751
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/31/2013.

August 27 – Happy Birthday Ed Herrmann

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

August 25 – Happy Birthday Pedro Feliciano

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.

Feliciano shares his August 25th birthday with this reliever who did get a chance to pitch in pinstripes and this former Yankee starting shortstop.