Their dynasty had already crumbled by the time the Yankees drafted today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant in the 54th round of the 1966 amateur draft. Rusty Torres was born in Puerto Rico but grew up in Queens, where he starred in baseball as a high school and sandlot player. It took him five plus seasons to work his way up the Yankee ladder of farm teams, but when he hit 19 home runs and averaged .290 for the Triple A Syracuse Chiefs in 1971, Ralph Houk decided to give the switch-hitting youngster an opportunity to become New York’s starting right-fielder, alongside Bobby Murcer and Roy White.
Torres proved not up to the task. He got into 80 games during the 1972 season but hit a putrid .211 with just 3 home runs and 13 RBIs in 199 at bats. That November, the Yankees sent Torres, Charley Spikes, Johnny Ellis and Jerry Kenney to Cleveland to obtain third baseman, Graig Nettles.
Even though his lifetime average was just .212, Torres defensive skills as an outfielder helped him last nine seasons in the Majors. His only year as a starter was 1976, when he was the Angels’ everyday center fielder.
Torres shares his September 30th birthday with this long-ago Yankee starting pitcher.
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|NYY (2 yrs)||89||245||225||20||52||10||0||5||16||0||18||52||.231||.291||.342||.633|
|CHW (2 yrs)||106||254||214||33||57||8||0||11||30||0||29||44||.266||.359||.458||.817|
|KCR (1 yr)||51||80||72||10||12||0||0||0||3||1||8||7||.167||.250||.167||.417|
Once again, researching for this blog has taught me something I did not know (or had at least forgotten) about my favorite baseball team. Every Yankee fan over the age of 20 remembers Hideki Irabu. He was the Japanese pitcher the Yankees signed with great fanfare back in 1997, who went a disappointing 29-20 during his two-plus seasons in Pinstripes and who was infamously labeled a “fat toad” by impatient Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ordered Irabu traded after the 1999 season and Brian Cashman obliged by sending him to the Montreal Expos that December for three young pitching prospects. All three of those prospects were assigned to Yankee minor league teams in 2000 and two of them, a right-hander and a southpaw are still pitching in the big leagues today and have compiled over 220 career victories thus far between themselves. Only ten of those victories, however, belong to the Yankees.
The southpaw New York got in that Irabu deal was Ted Lilly and the right-hander is today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Originally assigned to the Yank’s triple A team, then located in Columbus, Westbrook was called up to the parent club in June of 2000 and lost his only two career starts in pinstripes. Later that same month, the Yankees sent Westbrook, outfielder Ricky Ledee and a pitching prospect named Zach Day to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for slugger, David Justice. Westbrook spent most of the next decade starting for the Indians and then signed a free agent contract with the St Louis Cardinals in November of 2010. In 2011, his 12-9 regular season record helped St. Louis make the postseason and he ended up getting and his first World Series victory (against Texas in Game 6) and his first championship ring that year. He’s currently 13-11 for this year’s Cardinals who are in the thick of the 2012 NL Wild Card chase.
As of today, Westbrook’s 35th birthday, he has 98 victories. Lilly, currently a Dodger and on the DL, has won 130 big league games. Both are doing much much better than poor Irabu, who hung himself in Los Angeles in July of 2011.
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|STL (4 yrs)||36||32||.529||4.28||93||91||0||2||1||0||548.2||600||288||261||40||199||309||1.456|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||2||.000||13.50||3||2||1||0||0||0||6.2||15||10||10||1||4||1||2.850|
I remember very well the first time I realized the purpose and power of a good first baseman’s mitt. I was 11 years old and playing for St. Agnello Club, a team in my hometown’s youth baseball league. During our first practice before the season began, the coach of my team had asked me what position I played. Although Mickey Mantle was my favorite player back then I knew center fielders had to do a lot of running and the only running I did at that time was to get to the dinner table before my two older brothers ate all the good stuff. So I told my coach I played first base.
He looked at the “Rocky Colavito” model Rawlings’ outfielders’ glove I was wearing on my left hand and said, “You can’t play first base with that tiny thing, you need the Trapper.” He then picked up and reached into the large burlap equipment bag that was lying alongside the batting cage and pulled out the biggest wad of rawhide leather I’d ever seen in my young life. It was a genuine first baseman’s mitt.
I put that monster on my hand and went over to first base for my first-ever official infielder’s practice. Coach hit the first ground ball to our third baseman, who happened to also be one of the two sons he had playing on that year’s team. He bobbled the grounder a couple of times before finally getting the ball into his throwing hand and making a pretty hard throw toward my direction. I could tell the ball was not going to reach me and it was going to be wide of first toward right field, so I did my best Joe Pepitone impersonation and put my right toe on the side of the first base bag while reaching across my body to attempt a sweeping backhand scoop catch of the misdirected thrown ball. I may have also closed my eyes. Somehow, the ball ended up in the huge webbing of the “Trapper” and a couple of the parents who were watching the practice started clapping. I heard my coach yell “Looks like we found our new first baseman.”
For the rest of that practice and the first six or seven games of that first season, me and the Trapper caught every ball hit or thrown within four feet of first base. That glove was magical. If a baseball touched it anywhere on its palm side surface it seemed to stick to it like an EZ Pass sticks to the inside of a car’s windshield.
Then before one game, I went to the burlap bag to grab the Trapper for infield practice and it wasn’t there. One of my coach’s sons had taken it out of the bag to play with it that week and left it in their garage. I was forced to play first with my tiny Colavito glove. Sure enough, the first ball in play that game was a grounder to our second baseman. His throw to me was hard but true and I still remember the horror of watching that ball bounce off the pocket of my glove and onto the ground in front of me. After picking up the dropped ball and throwing it back to our pitcher, I remember turning toward our bench to see what the coach’s reaction was to my first-ever miscue and seeing him get into his pick-up truck and drive away. He was on his way home to get the Trapper. From that moment on, the glove never left my side. I remember almost crying when I finally was forced to return it to coach when the baseball season ended.
So why am I telling you all this? Because today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant would probably be in Cooperstown today if he had the chance to play first base with the Trapper. In fact, if Jack Fournier had a modern day first baseman’s mitt, Lou Gehrig might have never been signed by New York or might have instead been traded by the Yankees before Wally Pipp got that famous headache. Why?
In 1918, Pipp left the Yankees for WWI military service. New York signed Fournier to take his place. The French-American native from Au Sable, Michigan got into 27 games for Manager Miller Huggins ball club and instantly became one of the best hitters on that team, scorching the ball at a .350 clip during his 27 games of action. After such an impressive offensive performance, you’d figure the Yankees would quickly offer the guy a contract for the following season or at the very least invite him to next year’s spring training. Instead, the Yankees dropped him like a hot potato. How come?
Jack Fournier might just have been the worst-fielding first baseman in baseball history. During just those 27 games he played as a Yankee, the guy made 7 errors. During his 14 seasons in the big leagues, he made over 200. In Nelson Chip Green’s excellent SABR Baseball Biography profile of Fournier’s career, he quotes from a 1916 LA Times article describing the Chicago White Sox chances for success in the upcoming baseball season. Fournier played his first six big league seasons for the Pale Hose. Here’s that quote: “[t]he only weak defensive point in the infield is at first base,” where “Fournier will again try his hand at playing that position. For every run that he lets in,” suggested Williams, “he will drive in another, making it a so-so proposition.”
It seems that Fournier had hands of stone and played first base like his feet were stuck in cement. Balls thrown or hit directly at him were frequently dropped. Those that passed just a foot to either side of him were considered automatic base runners. Managers tried to hide him in the outfield but he was even worse defensively out there.
The one thing Fournier could do on a baseball field was hit. His lifetime average was .313 and once a livelier baseball was introduced to the game in 1920, Fournier became a power hitter, who was often referred to as the National Leagues “Babe Ruth.” He led the NL with 27 home runs while playing for Brooklyn in 1924. Truth was that Fournier was a great DH before there was a DH in Major League Baseball.
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|BRO (4 yrs)||519||2176||1866||322||629||85||35||82||396||22||242||129||.337||.421||.552||.973|
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|BSN (1 yr)||122||433||374||55||106||18||2||10||53||4||44||16||.283||.368||.422||.790|
|NYY (1 yr)||27||110||100||9||35||6||1||0||12||7||7||7||.350||.393||.430||.823|
The only Yankee I could find who was born on this date is a right-handed starting pitcher named Don Schulze. Schulze started two games for the 1989 Yankees, winning one and losing the other. He went 16-25 during his six-season big league career, during which he also pitched for the Cubs, Indians, Mets and Padres. The Yankees traded Schulze and third baseman Mike Pagliarullo to the Padres right after the 1989 All Star break for Walt Terrell. He is now a pitching coach in the Oakland A’s organization.
As the Yankees wind down their regular season this week, its a good time to share my Pinstripe Birthday 2012 Yankee Team Report Card. You can use the comments feature at the end of this post to let me know if you agree or disagree with my grading:
INFIELD – B
1B Mark Teixeira (B-) – Its been a disappointing season for Tex. He got off to another slow start at the plate in April and then slumped again in June. He’s also had a tough time staying healthy. He’s strained his calf muscle twice and those injuries have cost him right about forty games of inaction this season. Defensively, he’s remained close to brilliant. He’s currently got 23 home runs and 81 RBIs, decent numbers considering he’s missed a quarter of the schedule.
2B Robbie Cano (B+) – A lot was expected from Robbie in 2012. He got moved to the middle of the order this year and he did hit 30 home runs for the first time in his career but he has driven in just 80 thus far. For a while, it seemed to me that he was trying to hit everything out of the park instead of spraying the ball to all fields and he was once again swinging at way too many bad pitches. He’s been hot of late and is still the best all-around second baseman in baseball, hands down. A pure hitter and superb defensively.
SS Derek Jeter (A) – I am a Derek Jeter fan. Always have been, always will be. His April-to-September brilliance this season finally quieted the media morons who kept insisting the Yankee Captain was in permanent decline.
3B Alex Rodriguez (C) – For the third consecutive season, A-Rod has experienced physical breakdowns that have limited his playing time. This year it was a broken finger at the end of July that caused him to miss approximately 40 games. Now looks to me like his 30-40 homer, 100 RBI seasons are history. Still, when he’s healthy and in the Yankee lineup, it is a much more productive lineup.
Infield Reserves – Chavez (A-) Nix (B-) – Chavez filled in close-to-brilliantly when A-Rod was hurt this season but the Yankees had a tougher time winning with him in the line-up. Nix hit better than I thought he would and proved to be much more versatile defensively than Nunez was.
C – Russell Martin (C+) – Had a horrible first five months at the plate. Looked like he was trying to pull everything. I also think his defense was down a notch this year. I’ll raise his grade if he finishes these last few games like he’s been playing this final month.
Backup Catcher – Chris Stewart (B) – Definitely an improvement defensively over Francisco Cervelli. Offensively, he’s certainly no Thurman Munson. Still, I was impressed by the way Stewart handled pitchers when he was behind the plate. I don’t expect him to be in pinstripes too much longer but he’s certainly worn them well.
Outfield – B+
OF – Curtis Granderson (B+) – They pay Granderson to hit bombs, drive in runs and play a solid center field. He did all three with a lot more line-up shuffling going on this year than last. Yes he strikes out a lot and he appeared to have more trouble with southpaws this year than he did last season but the Grandy-Man is still this team’s stud outfielder
OF – Nick Swisher (B+) – Another solid Swisher-like season from a guy who has given the Yankees four years of maximum effort. The question now becomes will he get a chance to extend that streak as a Yankee.
OF – Ichiro Suzuki (A) – Great move by Yankees to bring Ichiro east. After an OK start in pinstripes he’s been a fireball recently and huge reason why Yankees are on their current hot streak.
DH – B
During the first part of the season, there were times Ibanez (B+) and Jones (C) carried the Yankee offense. Both went stone cold in the second half though Ibanez’s bat has certainly come back recently.
Starting Pitching -B
Sabathia gets a B+. That tender elbow slowed him down but his last two starts tell me he’s back in force. Kuroda gets a B+ too, for taking over as ace in Sabathia’s absence, though I still think he loses too many close decisions to make a huge difference to a team in a pennant race. I give Hughes a B because he’s rebounded nicely after another horrid start but I still won’t hand him the ball before a must-win game in the postseason. Nova gets a C-. He needs to watch Pettitte pitch and try and mimic him on the mound, exactly. Pettitte gets an incomplete for now. I’ll wait to give him his final grade until after the season because I think he’s got a shot at an A+. Phelps and Garcia both pitched better than I thought either would this season. We will see more of Phelps in pinstripes, I’m sure.
Bullpen – A
When the greatest closer ever was lost for the season, there were probably more Yankee fans who thought it would be David Robertson (C-) and not Rafael Soriano (A+) who tried to fill the gaping hole Rivera’s injury left in the team’s bullpen. We were wrong. The “Un-tucker” had a brilliant season while Robertson let it be known he was not yet ready for primetime. Eppley, Rapada, Logan and more recently Joba and Lowe gave the Yankees one of the League’s better bullpens in 2012.
Manager Joe Girardi – Incomplete
Managers who win their Division deserve an A for their regular season performance. Managers of teams with a ten-game lead in July that lose their Division, don’t. I’ll wait and see.
Intangibles: One of the things I like most about this Yankee team is their professionalism. They play the game the right way. All they seem to care about is winning games and they keep trying to do that and believing they can, regardless of the score until the very last out is made. I love the fact that they don’t brag about themselves and they don’t disrespect their teammates or their opponents.
When it came to baseball, nothing came easy for Johnny Sain. He was born in Arkansas in 1917, five months after America’s entry into WWI. His dad was a pretty good semi-pro pitcher in his day and a patient father, who took the time to teach his son the basic mechanics of pitching, including how to throw a curve ball. Although he was a physically big kid ( 6 feet 2 inches tall and close to 200 pounds) Sain never developed a fastball and as a result failed to impress any big league scouts during his high school pitching career. In fact, when Sain’s dad invited fellow Arkansawyer, Bill Dickey to talk to his son about a Major League career after one of Sain’s high school games, the Yankee catcher refused because he didn’t want to have to tell the youngster that he didn’t have what it would take to pitch in the big league.
Despite the lack of interest from big league teams, Sain persevered and got himself signed to a minor league contract in 1935. Seven years later, he made his big league debut with the Boston Braves, one of baseball’s worst teams at the time. That Brave team was managed by Casey Stengel and the “Ol Perfessor” wasn’t shy about using his rookie right-hander, getting Sain into 40 games that year as both a starter and reliever. Sain finished his 1942 rookie season with a 4-7 record and then enlisted in the Navy and went to aviation school. He eventually served as a flight instructor and later credited his flight schooling as a key to his later success as a pitcher because it forced him to improve his concentration skills and he applied what he learned about aerodynamics to improving his curve ball.
He returned to the Braves in 1946 and went 20-14 with an outstanding 2.21 ERA. By 1947, Warren Spahn had joined him as a Braves’ 20-game winner and a year later, the dynamic mound duo pitched Boston into the World Series and the rally cry of “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain!” was born. The Indians beat the Braves in that Fall Classic in six games, but Sain did beat Bob Feller, 1-0 in a classic pitchers’ duel in Game 1. He also pitched a second complete game in Game 4, losing a 2-1 heartbreaker. In 1948, Sain achieved the 20-victory mark for the third season in a row. After slumping to 10-17 the following year, he won 20 again for Boston in 1950. But Sain had developed a sore shoulder during the 1949 season, trying to learn how to throw a screwball. By 1951, it looked as if his career might be over, when he slumped to 5-13. At the end of August during that ’51 season, the Braves jumped at the opportunity to trade “The Man of a Thousand Curves” to the Yankees for New York pitching phee-nom, Lew Burdette. Boston also received $50,000 badly needed Yankee dollars in that deal.
In New York, Sain was reunited with Stengel, his first big league manager. Casey and Yankee pitching coach Jim Turner made the great decision to return Sain to the same role he had filled during his rookie season with the Braves, a reliever and spot starter. He went 11-6 with 7 saves in 1952 and 14-7 with 9 saves in ’53. The Yankees won World Series rings in both those seasons and Sain’s versatile pitching was a big reason why. In ’54, the Yankees converted Sain into a full-time reliever and he led the AL in saves with 22.
When the 1955 season began, Sain was 37-years-old and Yankee GM George Weiss was convinced he was finished as a big league pitcher. The cold-hearted Weiss dealt both him and 39-year-old Enos Slaughter to the Kansas City A’s in May of that year. Sain’s playing career was in fact over. He would retire after the ’55 season with a 139-116 record for his 11 year big league career, with 51 saves. (His Yankee record was 33-20 with 39 saves.)
In 1961, Yankee manager Ralph Houk would hire Sain as his pitching coach and he would perform brilliantly in that role. It was Sain who convinced Houk to go from Stengel’s five-man pitching rotation to a four-man version and Whitey Ford credits that move with rejuvenating his career. In his best selling book, “Ball Four,” Jim Bouton called Sain “the greatest pitching coach who ever lived!” Sain left the Yankees after the 63 season but would later serve as pitching coach for both Minnesota and Detroit. He developed a reputation for being tremendously loyal to and protective of the pitchers under his care. In addition to Yankee hurlers Ford, Bouton and Ralph Terry, he is also credited with helping Denny McLain, Mudcat Grant, Jim Kaat, Mickey Lolich and Earl Wilson become 20-game-winners. Sain was also one of baseball’s best hitting pitchers during his playing career, compiling a lifetime .245 batting average and striking out just 20 times in over 800 career at bats.
Sain was born on the very same day as this Hall-of-Fame Yankee shortstop and also shares a birthday with Robinson Cano’s predecessor as Yankee starting second baseman and this one-time Yankee reliever from the 1990’s.
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|NYY (5 yrs)||33||20||.623||3.31||130||39||76||19||1||39||456.2||451||186||168||51||107||200||1.222|
|KCA (1 yr)||2||5||.286||5.44||25||0||13||0||0||1||44.2||54||28||27||10||10||12||1.433|
This Cortland, NY native spent the last year of his nine-season big league career in pinstripes as a designated hitter and backup third baseman. That was 1980, the season the Dick Howser-managed Yankees won 103 games and reclaimed the AL East crown. It was also the same season the Kansas City Royals finally avenged their three consecutive losses to New York in the AL Championship Series by sweeping the Yankees to capture the team’s first pennant. Soderholm batted .287 that season and hit 11 home runs. His best big league season was 1977 when he came back from a knee injury to hit 25 homers for the White Sox. He finished his career with 102 round-trippers and a .264 lifetime batting average. According to his Wiki article, when his career was over, Soderholm became a ticket agent and played a huge role in lobbying for the legislation that made it legal for ticket selling firms to add huge service fees to ticket prices.Soderholm turns 64 years-old today.
|MIN (5 yrs)||407||1527||1345||184||345||56||7||36||161||14||151||215||.257||.336||.389||.725|
|CHW (3 yrs)||329||1258||1127||165||300||45||6||51||168||4||105||110||.266||.330||.453||.783|
|TEX (1 yr)||63||166||147||15||40||6||0||4||19||0||12||9||.272||.325||.395||.720|
|NYY (1 yr)||95||304||275||38||79||13||1||11||35||0||27||25||.287||.353||.462||.815|
As the Yankees try to get in the playoffs for the seventeenth time in the last eighteen years, Yankee fans like me have had a lot to be thankful for. It certainly is nice to have your favorite baseball team still competing every October. But I can’t help but think how many more World Series trophies would now be on display in the new Stadium’s Yankee Museum if the team’s front office were better judges of pitching ability and more efficient developers of pitching talent. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant provides a good example of the fabled franchise’s ongoing deficiencies in both areas.
Six seasons ago, Joba Chamberlain burst into the big leagues with some of the most impressive relief pitching I have seen in my fifty years as a fan. He didn’t just get opposing hitters out, he abused them. His ERA in 19 games, all played during pennant race crunch time was 0.38. Most of his outs were K’s and he seemed to have Mariano-like control of the strike zone. The Yankee front office promised us he would be an even better starter and I for one was sure they were right. But then the playoffs came and those stinking bugs swooped in off of Lake Erie and started swarming in Jacobs Field and consuming Joba that night on national TV, right in front of all our eyes. Chamberlain has not been the same pitcher since.
I was lucky enough to see Koufax pitch in his prime. In addition to great stuff, what made him so special was his ability to focus on what he needed to do and wanted to do with every single pitch he threw. Even when the pain in his left arm felt like a chain saw cutting through his flesh, Koufax was never distracted from focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of the hitter in front of him and what the mission of his next pitch had to be. When Joba first came up and things were going so well, I let myself think that maybe, just maybe I was looking at the next Hall of Fame Yankee pitcher. Even when the bugs attacked him, I figured any pitcher, even Koufax would be unnerved by such an occurrence. But since then, I’ve watched Joba walk too many bottom of the order types and make too many bad pitches when he’s ahead of the hitter.
It took the great Koufax a full six years at the beginning of his big league career to hit his stride. This season is Joba’s sixth in the big leagues and I was really hoping it would be the year this guy began to master the art of pitching at the big league level. But instead its been pretty much another lost season for the Lincoln, Nebraska native following his freak trampoline accident in Florida during the Yankees’ exhibition season. Chamberlain did dedicate himself to recovering and rehabbing both his arm and ankle quickly enough to get back on the mound in time for the Yankees’ 2012 stretch run but I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that he will never be the dominant pitcher I and thousands of other Yankee fans hoped he would. I’m ready to admit New York should have traded Joba instead of Ian Kennedy.
You remember Kennedy. He was one of the Holy Trinity of young Yankee hurlers that included Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, who were supposed to resurrect and anchor the Yankees starting rotation for the next decade. None of the three pitched well in their 2008 debut as starters but it was Kennedy who was banished from the Bronx while Chamberlain and Hughes kept getting new chances to redeem and redefine themselves.
I’m not sure who has been making the pitcher acquisition decisions or who’s in charge of young pitcher development for the Yankees but neither has done their job too well over the past decade. From Jeff Weaver for Ted Lilly, the signing of Kevin Brown, giving up on Contreras, getting Jared Wright, Denny Neagle, Karl freaking Pavano, Randy Johnson with a bad back, spending the farm on a second go-round with Clemens then trying to go save money on your eighth inning set-up slot with names like Veras, Vizcaino and Proctor, giving AJ all those years and all that cash, going after Igawa and Vazquez II. Those moves cost millions of Yankee dollars and helped facilitate several quick exits from postseason. Then there’s the whole Joba Rules thing and the “Who’s the real Phil Hughes” game show being played out the past few seasons. How come there were no “Ivan Rules” being enforced? And what on earth has happened to the three Killer B’s who were supposed to anchor the Yankees’ starting rotation for the next decade? I love Curtis Granderson but it sure would have been nice to have both him and Ian Kennedy in pinstripes the last couple of seasons. The Yankees could really use a bottle of Windex to clean that crystal ball they’ve been using to see the future of their pitching personnel, but hey, 16 postseasons in 17 years, I got nothing to complain about.
This former Yankee GM shares Joba’s birthday. Today is also the third birthday of my precious granddaughter, Francesca Rose Cinquanti. Her parents got the inspiration for her name from Yankee catcher Francisco Cervelli. Happy 2nd Birthday Frankie! Poppi loves you with all my heart!
While researching materials for this post, I came across an absolutely wonderful quote from today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. In a July 1988 interview he did with then Times reporter (and present-day YES Network analyst) Jack Curry, Bob Geren was asked why he had endured over 800 games as a Minor League catcher. “People who think I should quit have probably never experienced the game of baseball,” was Geren’s response. So many of us who grew up playing different versions of America’s favorite pastime; in playgrounds and parks; off the steps of front porches and against solid brick walls; from the time we became strong enough to hold and swing a bat until our knees gave out in our final game of softball; we all would have instantly switched places with Geren on that day.
He had just been named the International League’s All Star catcher for the ’88 season and earlier that same year, he had gotten to play in his first big league game for the New York Yankees. The following year, Geren got called up from Columbus in May and pretty much shared the Yankees’ catching position the rest of that season, hitting a solid .288 and impressing the Yankee brass with his handling of the Yankee pitching staff and his strong throwing arm. But if you’re old enough to remember that 1989 Yankee season than you know it wasn’t too hard to stand out on that team. That was the first Yankee squad to finish below .500 in a regular season in fifteen years. Neither Dallas Green or his late-season predecessor, Bucky Dent could right the ship and George Steinbrenner was far too immersed in the aftereffects of his Dave Winfield/Howie Spira embarrassment to offer any help from ownership.
The following April, Geren joined illustrious company like Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Ellie Howard and Thurman Munson when he was named the Yankees’ Opening Day starting catcher for the 1990 season. Unfortunately for the native of San Diego, that’s where the comparisons to these pinstriped legends ended. Not only did the Yankees finish in last place for the first time in 23 years, Geren’s batting average plummeted to .211 and not a single Yankee starting pitcher won more than nine games that season or had an ERA of less than 4.11. It was a complete shipwreck of a season for the once proud franchise and a quick end to Geren’s tenure as New York’s starting backstop. The following year, New York brought in Matt Nokes from Detroit and Geren was once again relegated to back-up duty. But in addition to losing the starting job, Geren also confirmed he had lost his ability to hit big-league pitching when his 1991 season’s batting average came in at just .219. That November, the Yankees put the then 30-year-old catcher on waivers.
Geren would resurface as the Padres backup receiver in 1993 but he again failed to hit and his big league playing career ended that season. He became a minor league coach and manager. In 2007, he was hired to manage the Oakland A’s. Finally, in 2010, a Major League team that Bob Geren either played for or managed, ended a regular season without a losing record when that year’s A’s finished at 81-81. After Oakland got off to a slow start in 2011, Geren was fired and replaced by Bob Melvin.
|NYY (4 yrs)||249||680||620||54||147||15||1||19||70||0||36||151||.237||.284||.356||.641|
|SDP (1 yr)||58||162||145||8||31||6||0||3||6||0||13||28||.214||.278||.317||.596|
You most likely never heard of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant but he was the valuable fourth outfielder on the Yankees first-ever World Championship team in 1923. Smith played 70 games for Manager Miller Huggins’ team that year. Back then the Yankees would frequently switch Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel between left and right field. The left-hand hitting Smith would usually play right field against right handed pitching with Babe in left. He thrived in that role, hitting .306 with 7 home runs and 35 RBIs in just 183 at bats.
The native of Erie County, Ohio had been an outfielder for the Indians during most of his big league career, which had been interrupted by military service during WWI. Smith’s best big league season was 1920, when he hit .316 for Cleveland with 103 RBIs. In Game 5 of that year’s World Series between Cleveland and Brooklyn, he hit the first Grand Slam in World Series history. He had been traded to Boston during the 1922 regular season and the Yankees had acquired him and Joe Dugan from the Red Sox a year later. Perhaps Smith’s biggest contribution to Yankee history was the January 7, 1924 transaction that sent him and $50,000 of Yankee owner Jake Ruppert’s money to the Louisville Colonels of the American Association in exchange for center-fielder and future Hall of Famer, Earle Combs. Smith ended up living in Kentucky after his playing days were over and he died there in 1984, at the age of 91.
|CLE (7 yrs)||672||2491||2185||328||615||135||41||46||379||40||219||250||.281||.350||.444||.794|
|WSH (2 yrs)||80||325||285||20||62||14||6||2||44||5||23||42||.218||.283||.330||.613|
|NYY (2 yrs)||91||239||210||31||61||6||2||8||40||3||24||26||.290||.363||.452||.816|
|BOS (1 yr)||73||264||231||43||66||13||6||6||32||0||25||21||.286||.358||.472||.830|
|CIN (1 yr)||96||320||284||47||77||13||7||8||46||6||28||20||.271||.339||.451||.789|
The New York Yankees had won the 1976 AL Pennant but had then been swept by the Reds in that year’s Fall Classic. After watching my favorite team miss the postseason for eleven straight years, I for one was satisfied with that season’s results and I remember looking forward to the ’77 season with lots of positive anticipation. I’ll tell you who wasn’t satisfied though, George Steinbrenner. The Boss was OK with Pennants but what he really wanted was rings and after he watched Cincinnati’s lineup of all stars undress his outmatched ball club in that ’76 Series, the Yankee owner was determined to field players at every position who could match up with their counterparts on the Big Red Machine.
Steinbrenner’s goal was not that far-fetched. The Yankees already had seven bonafide all stars in their ’76 lineup in Thurman Munson, Chris Chambliss, Wille Randolph, Graig Nettles, Mickey Rivers, Lou Piniella and Roy White. His signing of Reggie Jackson that offseason made it eight. The only missing link was at shortstop. Fred “Chicken” Stanley had held down that position the previous season and performed well. He was more than adequate defensively but Steinbrenner would point to his .239 average during the 1976 season and insist the Yankees couldn’t win a championship with Stanley at shortstop.
New York was actively shopping around for an all star replacement for Chicken. The best one available in that year’s free agent pool was the Oakland A’s veteran, Bert Campaneris. But Campy was already 34 years old at the time and Yankee GM Gabe Paul was convinced he was on the downside of his brilliant career. Instead, Paul convinced Steinbrenner to try and sign Bobby Grich, the Baltimore second baseman who also became a free agent after the ’76 season. Paul was certain that Grich could be converted into a shortstop and he and the Boss went after the about-to-be ex-Oriole hard. But Grich, a native of California chose the Angels instead. Out of free agent options and still determined that Stanley was not the solution, Steinbrenner and Yankee manager Billy Martin agreed that they would give the franchise’s top minor league shortstop every chance to win the starter’s job during New York’s 1977 spring training season.
At the time, I was well aware of Mickey Klutts’ impressive numbers at the minor league level. Back then, the Syracuse Chiefs were the Yankee’s triple A farm team. I had a cousin living in Syracuse who was a huge Yankee fan, who would follow the Chiefs closely and let me know if there were any especially promising prospects on their way to the Bronx. That cousin was crazy about Klutts. He was a right-handed hitter who was just 21 years-old in 1976 and he had hit 24 home runs for the Chiefs that season and driven in 80 in just 119 games. The Yankees had brought him up to the parent club for a short time that same year and Billy Martin took a liking to the kid’s attitude. Since his first name was Mickey, he had good power and he was starting out as a shortstop, I couldn’t help hoping Klutts would have even more in common with another Yankee named “Mickey” at the end of his career as he did starting out.
Unfortunately for Klutts, he jammed his wrist in his first ’77 spring training game. Day’s later, he was diagnosed with a broken thumb. An impatient Steinbrenner was in no mood to wait around for his prospect’s injury to heel. He ordered Paul to trade for White Sox shortstop, Bucky Dent. As soon as Dent became a Yankee, Klutts’ future with the team became clouded. After his hand recovered, he went back to Syracuse and put together a solid season. That August, he returned to the big league roster. During the final game of the ’77 season, Klutts hit a two-run home run against the Tigers. That would be the only home run he would hit while wearing the pinstripes.
The Yankees and Steinbrenner got their ring at the end of that ’77 season with Dent starting at shortstop. The following June, Mickey Klutts was traded to the A’s for outfielder Gary Thomasson. He would spend the next four years as a utility infielder and outfielder with Oakland and then play one more season with Toronto before his big league career was officially over. Mickey shares his birthday with another former Yankee shortstop prospect.
|OAK (4 yrs)||169||510||473||42||112||24||1||10||50||1||31||88||.237||.283||.355||.638|
|NYY (3 yrs)||8||24||20||4||6||2||0||1||4||0||2||2||.300||.417||.550||.967|
|TOR (1 yr)||22||45||43||3||11||0||0||3||5||0||1||11||.256||.289||.465||.754|