August 4 – Happy Birthday Jim Coates
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was one of the meanest Yankee pitchers ever to take the mound. Jim Coates was a tall skinny right-handed starter and reliever for New York from 1959 until he was traded to the Senators in ’62, for an even taller and skinnier pitcher named Steve Hamilton. Coates’ nickname was “the Mummy,” given to him by his Yankee teammates because he always slept with his eyes open. On one Yankee plane trip, Manager Casey Stengel’s wife accompanied the team and when she passed a napping Coates on a return-trip from the bathroom, she told Casey one of his players was sitting back there dead.
Born in the tiny village of Farnham, Virginia, Coates had been signed by the Yankees in 1951 and pitched in their farm system for eight long years. His problem was control. He had none. In one minor league game he walked 13 hitters in a row. Fortunately for Coates, he got on a team managed by former Yankee pitcher, Eddie Lopat. Lopat helped him with his delivery and his tempo and pretty soon Coates had evolved into the organization’s very best pitching prospect. After a cup-of-coffee visit to the Bronx in 1956, Coates came up for good in 1959. He went 30-9 during his first three seasons with the team and finished his four year Yankee career with a 37-15 record. Except for one relief appearance for Whitey Ford in the 1961 World Series against the Reds, he did not pitch well in his three postseasons with New York and never really became the star the Yankees thought he would be.
Coates had a very bad temper and a reputation as one of baseball’s most aggressive headhunters. I’ve also read that he was considered pretty much a racist by some of his Yankee teammates. But the guy had a knack for winning quite a few more games than he lost every season for some very good Yankee teams.