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.
Arnsberg shares his August 20th birthday with this outstanding former Yankee third baseman.
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.
When Joe Gordon was inducted into the Hall of Fame three summers ago, he became the 51st former Yankee player, manager or team executive to join the Hall. (Jacob Rupert later became the 52nd) Most of the names on this list are familiar ex-Yankees but there are a few who, though well-known as great baseball players, were not at all noted or remembered for their time wearing Pinstripes. The two ex-Yankee members of Cooperstown who are tied for spending the least amount of time in a New York uniform are the great hitter and outfielder, Paul “Big Poison” Waner and today’s birthday celebrant, Burleigh Grimes. Both appeared in just ten Yankee games at the very end of their illustrious careers. Grimes was baseball’s last and arguably most famous legitimate spitball pitcher. In fact, his 270th and final big league win came as a Yankee in 1934 and marked the last time in the history of Major League baseball that the winning pitcher was permitted to throw a spitball. Grimes was born in Emerald, WI on August 18, 1893.
Also born on this date, 51 years after Grimes was born, was this former Yankee third baseman and third base coach.
Chad Qualls was what you would call a Yankee band aid. As the season progresses, a player on your roster gets injured, goes into a slump or for one reason or another does not perform well in a certain situation that is frequently encountered by your team. This causes a “hole” in your team’s roster that needs to get filled or covered over. Cory Wade had been pitching super out of the bullpen since the Yankees signed him as a free agent in June of 2011. He went 6-1 last year for New York and after his first fifteen appearances this season, his ERA was just 1.59 and he looked near un-hittable. Then all of a sudden, he couldn’t get anyone out. By the end of June, his ERA had exploded to 5.79 runs per game. In his first appearance in July, he was called in to pitch with one out in the seventh inning of a Yankee/Red Sox game with his team trailing 5-4. Seven batters later, it was still the seventh inning, Boston was ahead 9-4 and Wade was being replaced by Clay Rapada on the mound. A day later, he was replaced on the Yankee roster by today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
Chad Qualls has been pitching relief in the big leagues since coming up with the Astros in 2004. By the time he put on the pinstripes, this huge 6’5″ right-hander had already won 39 games and saved 51 more. After four solid seasons in Houston, the Diamondbacks acquired Qualls in a trade for Jose Valverde and eventually made him their closer. He saved 24 games for Arizona in 2009 but in late August of that season he injured his knee and required surgery and he hasn’t been the same pitcher since.
After losing the closer’s job in Arizona in 2010, he pitched for the Rays, Padres and Phillies before Brian Cashman acquired him from Philadelphia for future considerations. In his second appearance for New York, he got the victory in a 6-5 win over the Angels. Two days later, he was shelled for three runs by those same Angels. Nine days later he walked the only hitter he faced in the bottom of the seventh inning of a game against the Mariners. It would be that game that eventually cost Qualls his pinstripes but it wasn’t that walk. In the top half of the same inning, King Felix had hit Alex Rodriguez on the hand with a pitch and broke his finger. A-Rod ended up on the DL. Eric Chavez was the Yankee backup at third but he hit left-handed. New York had the right-handed Jason Nix on the roster who could also play third, but Nix was not considered a power-hitter and Joe Girardi and Cashman liked having some offensive pop at that position. Suddenly, a new but very small hole had opened up on the Yankee roster that either could remain open until A-Rod got back from the DL in September or could be covered with a temporary band aid. That band aid turned out to be Casey McGehee, a right-handed Pirate third baseman who had hit a bunch of homers for the Brewers earlier in his career. The cost for McGehee was Chad Qualls.
Qualls turns 34-years-old today. he shares his birthday with this great Yankee catcher.
The one guy who beats Manager Joe Girardi to Yankee Stadium on most Game Days is third base coach Rob Thomson. Usually when Girardi rolls into the Stadium’s inside parking garage, Thompson’s SUV has already been there for almost a half hour. The Yankee Manager has told reporters that Thomson is one of the hardest working coaches in baseball.
The native of Ontario, Canada was born on this date in 1963. He played collegiate baseball at the University of Kansas and was selected by the Tigers in the later rounds of the 1985 draft. He played third base and catcher in the minors, but neither well enough to make it to the big leagues as a player. He gave up trying in 1988 and became a minor league coach in the Detroit organization. Two years later he was hired in the same capacity by the Yankees. By 1998 he was working in the Yankee front office and in 2000, he was named the Yankee’s Director of Player Development. He started his big league coaching career in 2008, when the newly hired Girardi made Thomson his bench coach. A year later he took over as third base coach and has been flashing the on-the-field offensive signals for the Yankees ever since. He is also the the team’s outfielders’ coach.
I’ll admit that sometimes, Thomson drives me up the wall. Earlier this season for example, in a game against Tampa, the Yankees were down by a run early and with nobody out, he waved the lumbering Mark Teixeira home on a sharp ground ball single hit directly at a charging left-fielder. The guy had the ball in his glove before Teixeira got to third and the catcher had the ball so early in the play, he could have ate a sandwich waiting for Teixeira to reach the plate. But for the most part, you don’t even notice Thomson during a game which is a sign of an excellent base coach.
Thomson shares his August 16th birthday with this great Yankee outfielder from the late nineteen-forties and early fifties.
Right about 1985, I remember thinking Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner had gone insane. It had been four seasons since the Yankees had made the postseason and “the Boss” seemed to be on two missions. The first was to absolve himself from any role in the team’s recent failures to make it to fall ball. He made sure the media understood that he had made or wanted to make all the correct player moves necessary to keep the Yankees in the playoffs perpetually. He had let his “baseball people” talk him out of some of those moves and in the deals he had orchestrated, the players he had acquired had simply choked. His second mission back then was to prove he could single-handedly maneuver the Yankees back into World Series play.
I have never been a big George Steinbrenner fan however, I had appreciated the fact that he was hell-bent on turning my favorite baseball team into winners again. But after that 1985 season, he made a move that absolutely stunned me. He traded Joe Cowley. I loved Joe Cowley. New York had signed the native of Lexington, KY as a free agent in 1983 and sent him to their Triple A team in Columbus. He began the ’84 season going 10-3 for the Clippers. The Yankees brought him up in July of that same year and he became the best starting pitcher on the parent club’s staff in August and September, winning eight straight decisions. Then in 1985, he went 12-6, helping New York win 97 games that season, finishing second to the Blue Jays, who won 99.
So here’s a guy who’s gone 21-8 for New York over two seasons and proven he can win in pinstripes and what’s Steinbrenner do? In December of ’85 he trades him to the Chicago White Sox for Britt Burns. Maybe you’ve never heard of Burns or didn’t realize he had pitched for the Yankees? That’s because he never did. Turns out the guy had a bad hip and never appeared in a single game for New York. Cowley didn’t last too long in Chicago either. He went 11-11 in his only season in the Windy City. In his last-ever victory for the White Sox, he threw a complete-game no-hitter. He lost his next two starts that year and Chicago traded him to the Phillies during the following off-season. After the big right-hander lost his first four starts in 1986, Philadelphia released him and he never again pitched in a big league game. That makes Cowley the only pitcher in big league history who’s last big league victory was a no-hitter.
Cowley shares his August 15th birthday with this MVP of the 1998 World Series.
When the Marlins fired Fredi Gonzalez as their Manager during the 2010 season, he was replaced by today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Edwin Rodriguez. Rodriguez was a former big league infielder from Ponce Puerto Rico, who had signed with the Yankees back in 1980 when he was 19-years-old. Two years later, the Yankees brought him up at the end of September for a look-see and then-NY-Manager, Clyde King gave him two starts at second base. He went 3-for-9 in those two games and never played another as a Yankee. The following September he was traded to San Diego with Dennis Rasmussen in the deal that brought John Montefusco to the Bronx. He played his last big league game for the Padres in 1985. He shares his August 14th birthday with this former Yankee shortstop.
Rodriguez was the second former Yankee player to manage the Marlins. Joe Girardi was the first. I’ve put together the following all-time lineup of Yankee players who managed in the big leagues:
1b – Don Mattingly
2b – Billy Martin*
3b – Bobby Cox*
ss – Leo Durocher*
c – Joe Girardi*
of – Hank Bauer*
of – Lou Piniella*
of – Yogi Berra
dh – Don Baylor
p – Eddie Lopat
Other former Yankee players who’ve become big league skippers include; Willie Randolph, Bucky Dent, Gene Michael, Red Rolfe, Bob Shawkey, Ralph Houk*, Felipe Alou, Roger Bresnahan, Frank Chance*, Hal Chase, Ben Chapman, Billy Gardner, Bob Geren, Toby Harrah, Dick Howser*, Billy Hunter, Hal Lanier, Lee Mazzilli, John McGraw*, Bill McKechnie*, Jerry Narron, Johnny Oates, Steve O’Neill*, Roger Peckinpaugh, Wilbert Robinson, Tommy Sheehan, Ken Sylvestri, Robin Ventura.
*Won at least one World Series as a manager.
It wasn’t too long ago that pitcher Boone Logan’s claim to fame was as a traveling companion to former Yankee pitcher, Javier Vazquez. When Vazquez was dealt by the White Sox to the Braves after the 2008 season, Logan went to Atlanta with him. Than when Brian Cashman decided to give Javier a second chance in pinstripes in 2010, it was again the left-handed reliever who accompanied the starting pitcher back to the Bronx.
One year before “El Duque” fled Cuba and signed with the Yankees and a year after his older brother, Livan did the same, there was another Cuban named Hernandez who made the same escape. His first name was Michel, he was no relation to the Hernandez siblings and he was a 23-year-old, highly heralded catcher. The Yankees managed to sign him but not without controversy. Major League Baseball began an investigation of allegations that some of the necessary paperwork filed by New York was forged.
As it turned out, Michel was not quite good enough to enjoy a long career as a Major League catcher. He spent five unspectacular years in the Yankee farm system before getting his only shot at the parent club. That opportunity came in September of the 2003 season. Joe Torre got him into his first four games as a late-inning replacement for Jorge Posada and then started him against the Orioles. He got his first hit against Baltimore’s Rodrigo Lopez when he led off the bottom-of-the-eighth inning of a tied game with a line drive single. Torre then sent Alfonso Soriano into run for him and Michel Hernandez’ Yankee career was over.
The following January the Yankees put him on waivers and he was claimed by the Red Sox. It would take the catcher another five years to get his second shot at the Big Leagues and by then, he was a member of the Ray’s organization. In 2009, he got into 35 games for Tampa as their back-up catcher and hit his first and only big league home run against Josh Beckett. He’s still playing minor league ball for the Cleveland organization.
The only other Yankee born on August 12th is this pitcher. One of my favorite actors of all time, John Cazale, who played Fredo in the Godfather movies, Sal in Dog Day Afternoon and Stosh in the Deer Hunter was also born on this date in 1936. He died on March 12, 1978 from lung cancer during filming of the Deer Hunter. Cazale was only in five movies during his short lifetime and all five were nominated for the Academy Award’s Best Picture Oscar.