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.
|CHW (12 yrs)||1358||4924||4229||485||1122||186||9||124||631||17||525||360||.265||.358||.402||.759|
|SLB (3 yrs)||333||1154||990||127||263||52||4||29||158||3||139||73||.266||.364||.414||.778|
|NYY (2 yrs)||33||72||70||4||15||0||1||1||10||0||2||11||.214||.236||.286||.522|
|CLE (1 yr)||28||70||62||7||15||6||0||1||9||0||5||9||.242||.299||.387||.686|
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.
|PHA (6 yrs)||575||1943||1619||238||428||69||40||18||202||49||216||207||.264||.369||.390||.759|
|NYY (5 yrs)||529||1935||1627||225||483||86||22||16||213||28||223||140||.297||.390||.406||.796|
|SLB (4 yrs)||385||1302||1043||160||307||54||17||21||168||17||215||101||.294||.423||.439||.862|
|BOS (3 yrs)||323||1160||942||137||274||53||11||4||126||26||181||114||.291||.412||.383||.796|
|DET (1 yr)||30||91||76||9||14||2||0||0||2||1||14||11||.184||.311||.211||.522|
When Johnny Ellis first came up to the Yankees in 1969, he was a catcher. The problem for Ellis back then was that the other catcher the Yankees promoted from their farm system that same season was a guy by the name of Thurman Munson. So the Yankees started playing Ellis at first base and he did OK there. In fact, I do remember having hope back then that this New London, CT native would become the next great Yankee first baseman. That didn’t happen.
He was never really more than a part-time player during his four seasons in the Bronx and then was included in a package of players that was dealt to Cleveland in November of 1972 for Graig Nettles. He had his two best big league seasons as Cleveland’s DH and part-time first baseman and then put back on his catching gear when he was traded to Texas in 1976, where he was the Rangers’ backup receiver for the final half-dozen seasons of his 13-year Major League career. In 883 games lifetime, Ellis averaged .262 and hit 69 home runs.
Also born on this same date was this last great Yankee closer before Mariano.
On August 5, 1987, the Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians, 5-2 to remain in first place in the AL East, a half-game ahead of the Blue Jays and three games ahead of third place Detroit. After the game, reporters asked then Yankee skipper Lou Piniella, what he thought about the performance of his rookie right-hander, Brad Arnsberg, who made his second-ever big league start that evening and got his first-ever Yankee victory. Sweet Lou took a puff on his victory cigar and praised the poise of the then-24-year-old, six foot four inch Arnsberg, telling reporters the youngster had shown a lot of poise out there.
Arnsberg had been showing a lot of poise since he first signed with the Yankees after New York selected him in the first round of the secondary phase of the 1983 MLB Amateur Draft. He had been assigned to the Yankees’ Greensboro farm team in the single A level Sally League and finished 12-5 with 4 shutouts in 1984. In ’85, the Yankees brought him north to Albany-Colonie, which is where I got to see him pitch for the first time and where he frequented the headlines of the Times-Union sports pages all season by going 14-2 for the double A A/C Yankees, with a microscopic 1.59 ERA. That got him a ticket to Columbus and triple A ball, where Arnsberg stumbled at first, going just 8-12 against the stiffer competition. He then rebounded to 12-5 for the Clippers the following year and everyone in the Yankee organization thought he was ready for the big show. His performance that night against Cleveland seemed to confirm those expectations.
Five days after that victory against Cleveland, Piniella gave the kid a start against the Royals and Arnsberg got hammered, giving up seven earned runs and three home runs against the Royals in Kansas City in a 10-1 Yankee loss. By then, New York had fallen a half game behind the Jays. They would end the season in fourth place nine games behind first-place Detroit who nipped ahead of second-place Toronto in September. Arnsberg would make a couple of more relief appearances in pinstripes but never again get the opportunity to start for Piniella or the Yankees. That November, the once promising Yankee right-hander became the property of the Texas Rangers, when New York made him the player to be named later in the trade they had made with Texas for Don Slaught.
After spending much of his first year with Texas on the DL and back in the minors, the Rangers put Arnsberg in their bullpen in ’89 and the following year, he appeared in 55 games, went 6-1 and saved 5, including Nolan Ryan’s 300th victory. That would be the Medford, Oregon native’s finest big leagues season. Within two years he found himself back in the minors and he eventually became a big league pitching coach for the Marlins, Blue Jays and most recently the Astros.
|TEX (3 yrs)||8||3||.727||3.44||78||1||25||0||0||6||120.1||111||56||46||15||60||78||1.421|
|NYY (2 yrs)||1||3||.250||4.94||8||3||3||0||0||0||27.1||35||15||15||6||14||17||1.793|
|CLE (1 yr)||0||0||11.81||8||0||1||0||0||0||10.2||13||14||14||6||11||5||2.250|
Those of us who are old enough to have been Yankee fans back in 1961, remember today’s birthday celebrant fondly. Bobby Richardson was born on today’s date in 1935, in Sumter, SC. He was the lead-off man and starting second baseman for one of the great teams and most impressive starting infields in Pinstripe history. He combined with first baseman Moose Skowren, shortstop Tony Kubek and the late Clete Boyer at the hot corner to provide New York’s pitching staff with an outstanding first line of defense. The seven-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner had a productive bat as well. He reached the .300 mark twice during his twelve-year career, led the league in hits with 209 in 1962 and drove in a record 12 RBIs in a losing effort against Pittsburgh, during the 1960 World Series. His only weakness was his inability to draw more walks as a lead-off man. In 1961, for example, Richardson drew just 30 base-on-balls in over 700 plate appearances. How many more RBI’s would his teammates Mantle and Maris have had that year if Bobby wasn’t such a free swinger?
Richardson retired from the Yankees in 1966, just 31 years-old at the time. He became a successful college baseball coach at the University of South Carolina and ran for Congress in the mid seventies. Always a deeply religious man, younger Yankee fans were introduced to Bobby when he officiated at teammate Mickey Mantle’s funeral.
Richardson shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher, who afterwards became the Yankee scout who signed Ron Guidry.