The New York Yankees had won the 1976 AL Pennant but 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 cousins living in Syracuse who were huge Yankee fans, who would follow the Chiefs closely and let me know if there were any especially promising prospects on their way to the Bronx. My cousins were 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 broke his thumb. An impatient Steinbrenner was in no mood to wait around for his snake-bitten prospect’s injuries 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.
This hard-throwing right-hander nicknamed Bullet-Bob, made his big league debut with the St Louis Browns in 1951, but he was supposed to have made that debut as a Yankee. Back in 1948, when Turley was graduating from high school in East St Louis, Illinois, a Yankee scout was sent to sign the young pitcher but made a mistake and instead signed Turley’s two-year-older uncle named Ralph Turley. The Browns took advantage of New York’s carelessness and snatched up the fire-balling nephew.
By 1954, the Browns had relocated to Baltimore and become the Orioles and Turley had evolved into a key member of that team’s starting rotation. He went 14-15 for a terrible O’s squad that finished that season with just 50 victories. Turley also led the AL that same year with 185 strikeouts. His problem was control. He had basically one pitch back then, a blazing fastball that he could only throw for strikes about fifty percent of the time. As a result, he also led the AL with 181 walks during the ’54 season, which helps explain why Baltimore was willing to include him in the record 17-player transaction they made with the Yankees in November of 1954.
Turley had a decent first year in pinstripes, putting together a 17-13 record for Casey Stengel’s 1955 AL Pennant winners, but the wildness continued. He again led the AL in bases on balls with 171 and then got hammered in his only start against Brooklyn in that year’s World Series. It was the Yankees’ legendary pitching coach, Jim Turner, who got Turley to begin working on a no-wind-up delivery with the hope that less motion would result in more control and the results proved Turner right. His command of the strike zone improved and his bases on balls per nine innings went from a high of 7.0 in 1956 to just 4.3 the following year.
In 1958, Turley put everything together and went 21-7 for the Yankees with a 2.97 ERA and 6 shutouts. He won the Cy Young Award and finished second to Boston’s Jackie Jensen in that year’s AL MVP Award voting. He then went on to win the 1958 World Series MVP Award even though he was hammered and lost his first start against the Braves in Game 2 of that Fall Classic. He came back in Game 5 to pitch a five-hit shutout and then relieved Ryne Duren in the bottom of the tenth inning in Game 6 to get the last out and his first World Series save. The gambling Stengel called on Turley yet again to relieve his old Baltimore pitching mate, Don Larsen in the third inning of Game 7. Bullet Bob pitched the final six innings to earn his second win of the Series and clinch the World Championship for New York.
Turley’s performance that year brought him nationwide fame and the prestigious Hickcock Belt, awarded annually to our nation’s top athlete. Still just 27-years-old, he seemed destined to take his place among the great Yankee pitchers of all time. But that did not happen. In 1959, Turley’s fastball became much more hittable and his record dropped to just 8-11. He had pitched 245 innings during his Cy Young season but would never again exceed 175 for the rest of his career. He remained with the Yankees through 1962 and then was sold to the Angels. He retired after the 1963 season with a lifetime record of 101-85 (82-52 as a Yankee.)
Turley was one of baseball’s all-time best sign stealers. He is credited with helping Mickey Mantle hit several of his home runs by whistle-signalling what pitch was coming for the legendary Yankee slugger. After Turley retired, he began selling stocks and securities and became a millionaire. Oh and by the way, Bob’s Uncle Ralph ended up playing two seasons in the Yankee organization but never made it past D league ball. Bob Turley shares his September 19th birthday with this Yankee first baseman named Nick, this other Yankee first baseman named Nick and this former Yankee pitcher.
After fourteen seasons as one of the upper tier starting pitchers in the Major Leagues, George “The Bull” Uhle had just about reached the end of the line as the 1933 season reached the halfway point. He was only 34 years old at the time but his right arm had already thrown 3,000 big league innings and the New York Giants had just released him. He had been a three-time twenty-game winner with the Indians during the 1920s, leading the league in victories twice and throwing a total of 25 shutouts. The Yankees were the defending 1932 World Champions but they would not be able to catch the upstart Senators who would eventually win the AL Pennant that year. New York picked up Uhle off waivers and Manager Joe McCarthy pitched him exclusively out of the bullpen at first before giving him a semi-regular spot in the starting rotation. Old George responded well by winning six of his seven decisions that year in pinstripes including four complete games. That effort earned him an invitation back the following year but he could not maintain that level of effectiveness. After a comeback try with the Indians failed in 1936, George Uhle retired for good with an even 200 career victories.
The less famous Brett brother is another former Yankee who celebrates his birthday on September 18. You’ll find Ken Brett’s PBB post here.
This year, it is Chris Dickerson. In the past decade, its been easy-to-forget names like Kevin Thompson, Kevin Reese, Charlie Gipson, Marcus Thames and Michael Coleman. All of these guys were in their mid-to-late twenties, playing in the outfields of Yankee triple A farm teams when they got their late-season call-ups to the Bronx. It usually happened in September, when big league rosters expanded to forty slots and the parent club was looking to rest their regular outfielders or keep them healthy for the postseason. For most of these Yankee “utility” outfielders with the exception of Thames, those September moments became the extent of their big league careers and just about every one of them made a memorable play or had key at bats that would become their contributions to Yankee history and nostalgia.
That moment for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Greg Golson, came during a crucial three-game mid September series against the Rays during the 2010 season. In game 3 of that set, Golson caught a pop fly to medium right field near the foul line and then gunned down speedster Carl Crawford who tried to tag on the catch and reach third base. It was a dramatic, bang-bang type of play and it ended the game and gave New York their only win in the critical series.
Originally a first round draft choice of the Phillies, Golson’s bounced around the minors for five seasons, striking out a bit too much to catch on with a big league team. The Yankees got him from Texas in January of 2010. He’s spent most of the following season in Scranton, where he averaged .263 and poked ten home runs. Golson was gifted with above average speed and was also a good base-stealer. He ended up appearing in 23 games and hitting .261 during his 2010 Yankee season. I thought he might have had a chance to make the roster the following spring as New York’s fourth outfielder but the Yankees signed Andruw Jones instead. Golson did get back to the Bronx in September of 2011 for another eight-game look see but was released by the Yankees following last-year’s postseason. He played in the White Sox organization in 2012. The Austin, TX native was born on this date in 1985.
The Texas Rangers became Golson’s second big league organization when the Phillies traded him for John Mayberry Jr, the son of former big league slugger and former Yankee, John Mayberry. Coincidentally, this only other member of the Yankee all-time roster to be born on September 17th was a prime candidate to replace the elder Mayberry as the Yankee starting first baseman when John Sr called it quits in 1982.
In an interview I came across over a year ago, Derek Jeter confirmed that Tim Raines was one of his favorite all-time teammates. “Rock” spent three years as a Yankee, from 1996 through 1998 and was an extremely valuable utility outfielder, DH and pinch hitter in each of those seasons. Jeter loved the fact that Raines was always smiling and always looking on the bright side of every situation.
Raines’ baseball life however, had not always been so rosy. The speedy outfielder shocked all of baseball in his 1981 rookie season with the Expos, when he led the National League in stolen bases by compiling an amazing 71 thefts in just 88 games. He won the next three NL stolen base crowns as well, setting a personal season high of 90, in 1983. His lifetime total of 808 places Raines fifth on the All-Time stolen bases list and the thing that separated him from most other big base stealers was his efficiency. Percentage-wise, Rock was thrown out attempting to steal less than any player in history with 300 or more steals.
Raines shocked the baseball world a second time in a different way when it was revealed that he had played the first part of his career addicted to cocaine. I still remember reading his revelation that he would make head first slides on stolen base attempts so that he would not break the vials of cocaine he regularly carried in his uniform back pocket during Expos’ games. He credits his Montreal teammate, Andre Dawson, with getting him into rehab and swears he’s been off the stuff since. But cocaine wasn’t the only thing that hurt Raines career.
Back in the eighties, MLB owners began to privately rebel against free agency. They had grown tired of the system’s bidding wars and dealing with players’ agents and decided among themselves that they were not going to play anymore. As a result, upper tier players like Raines and Dawson, who entered free agency in the late eighties found no demand for their services. The owners collectively simply stopped bidding for stars from other teams and Raines, who had been expecting a huge payday, was forced to re-sign with the Expos for what he felt was a token raise. The courts eventually ruled in the players’ favor and owner collusion ended. Raines finally got the opportunity to shop his talents after the 1990 season and left the tight-fisted Montreal organization to sign a five-year $20 million dollar deal with the White Sox. He did not have his greatest statistical years during his time in the Windy City but his performance was solid and he had a great influence on young White Sox players like Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura. Raines’ Chicago teams won many more games than they lost.
His base-stealing days were behind him by the time he joined New York but he could still handle a bat and get on base, averaging .299 with an on base percentage of close to .400 during his stint in Pinstripes. Like Jeter described in the interview, whenever a television camera panned Raines sitting in the Yankee dugout, he always had a huge smile on his face. Why not? This was a guy who battled cocaine and collusion and was now getting the opportunity in the twilight of his career to win three World Series rings as a member of a great team. His bat, base running and outfield defense were all important parts of that Yankee team’s winning formula and his veteran leadership had a huge influence in that Yankee clubhouse.
Raines was born on September 16, 1959 in Seminole, FL.
Gaylord Perry turns 72-years-old today. He and his older brother Jim were born in Williamston, NC. Their Dad was a farmer but he was also a semi-pro baseball player so when his two sons weren’t helping him plow fields, he made sure they were playing ball. It really didn’t matter what kind of ball they played because the Perry boys were good at football basketball and especially baseball. In fact, with the two of them alternating between the mound and third base when the other was pitching, their high school team won a state championship. During one stretch, the brothers threw nine consecutive shutouts that season. Even though Gaylord had numerous scholarship offers to play college basketball, he followed his brother into baseball and when the Giants gave him a $60,000 bonus to sign with their organization in 1958, Gaylord gave half of it to his Dad. The rest his history.
Perry went on to win 318 games during a 22-season big league career that began with ten years in San Fancisco and ended with 12 years of nomadic pitching for six different organizations. He won 20 games for thee different teams and he was the AL Cy Young Award winner for the Indians in 1972 and the NL Cy Young Award winner eight seasons later, with the Padres. The story line of Perry’s career was always underscored by rumors that he threw a spitball. In fact, Perry even wrote a book while he was still pitching in which he confessed to throwing the doctored pitch early in his career but had since stopped doing so. Many baseball pundits felt Perry’s admission was part of a masterful con game to unsettle and distract opposing lineups.
In August of 1980 the Yankees were locked in a close pennant race with the Orioles and they traded pitcher Ken Clay to the Texas Rangers for Perry. The Yankees won that pennant but without much help from Gaylord. He went 4-4 for New York down the stretch and Yankee manager Dick Howser did not use him in the postseason. Perry signed to play with Atlanta the following year. His short stay in the Big Apple did make Perry one of the four 300-game-winning-pitchers to wear Yankee pinstripes. The other three one-time Yankee hurlers who accomplished the feat are Phil Niekro, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.
Jim Perry ended up winning 215 games during a 17 year career which gave the Perry brothers 533 big league wins between them. The record for lifetime sibling victories however, is held by Phil and Joe Niekro, who won 539 games during their combined careers.
Gaylord shares his birthday with this former Yankee third baseman.
Oh Doctor! True baseball fans know these words as the signature phrase of long-time San Diego Padre play-by-play announcer, Jerry Coleman. Only very long-time baseball fans, however, can remember when that same Jerry Coleman was the starting second baseman for the first three of Casey Stengel’s five straight New York Yankee championship teams from 1949 through 1951. Where was Coleman when the Yankees won the ’52 and ’53 titles? He was in the Marines flying a jet fighter during the Korean War while his starting Yankee position was taken over by Billy Martin.
He spent a total of nine seasons in Pinstripes. His best year was 1950, when Stengel used him in 153 games and he batted .287. Coleman also had a .275 lifetime batting average in six World Series.
When I was a kid, I would have to pilfer my older brother’s GE transistor radio to listen to radio broadcasts of Yankee games on the front porch of our house on Guy Park Avenue. That was my first encounter with Coleman, who was doing New York’s games on the radio back then.
The older I get the more respect and awe I have for athletes like Coleman, who excelled at their sport, served their country in an active combat position during what would have been their peak performance years and then excelled in the careers they entered when their playing days were over. Coleman was born September 14, 1924, in San Jose, CA.
Coleman shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher who was acquired by New York in exchange for the great first baseman, Moose Skowren.
This 2012 Yankee season reminds me a bit of the team’s 2000 campaign. That year was the only year a Joe Torre Yankee-managed team failed to win 90 games in a regular season. They were well on their way to doing so. On September 13th of that season they were in first place in the AL East with a nine game lead and an 84-59 record. That July, New York had made two acquisitions they hoped would help fuel the team’s second-half drive. First they got David Justice from Cleveland and two weeks later they sent a package of four “good” minor league prospects, which included Drew Henson and pitcher Ed Yarnall, to Cincinnati for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, the southpaw Denny Neagle.
After making his big league debut with the Twins in 1991, Neagle had spent the next eight seasons pitching in the National League for Pittsburgh, Atlanta and the Reds. He had won 20-games for the Braves in 1997 and made two NL All Star teams and at the time of the deal, was just a few months short of becoming a free agent.
Both these new Yankees paid immediate dividends to their new team. Justice went on a tear at the plate and literally put the Yankee offense on his back and carried it to the postseason. Neagle won his first two starts in pinstripes in impressive fashion to bring his cumulative 2000 season record to 10-2.
I remember after those first couple of starts, everyone, including me was thinking that New York would be signing Neagle to a long term deal at any minute. Even after the six foot four inch native of Gambrills, Maryland lost his next three starts, I still thought ESPN would soon be announcing his Yankee contract extension, especially after he righted himself and won five of his next six decisions. But his September 12th victory over Toronto would prove to be his final win ever in pinstripes. He got hammered in his next three starts and finished his half-season as a Yankee with a 7-7 record. From September 13th until the end of the year, the Yankees went 3-15, crawling to the AL East Pennant by two-and-a-half-games over second place Boston. Even then, most Big Apple Yankee pundits thought it was a better than even-money bet that Neagle would end up with a new Yankee contract.
He most likely blew that deal with his shaky performance in the 2000 postseason. He lost both his starts against the Mariners and Torre coldly pulled him with two-outs in the fifth inning in his Game-4 World Series start against the Mets. In that contest, Neagle had let the Mets close a three-run Yankee lead to a single digit in the third inning when he surrendered a two-run home run to the Mets’ Mike Piazza. With Piazza about to hit again two innings later, Torre decided he was not going to risk history repeating itself. When a manager doesn’t give his starting pitcher the opportunity to get one more out so that he can qualify for a World Series win, you surmise there might be a lack of trust in their relationship. Torre would later tell the press that when he told Neagle he was through for the night he could see the look of shock in his pitcher’s eyes. Neagle was not only shocked, he was bitterly disappointed. That December, he ended up signing with Colorado, where he would close out his 13-season big-league career with three horrible seasons. His final big league record was 124-92.
Many Yankee historians believe New York’s 1939-1943 outfield of Keller in left, Joe DiMaggio in center and Tommy Henrich in right was the greatest in pinstripe history. Keller was built like a fire hydrant and with his thick bushy eyebrows atop a set of piercing eyes, he was sort of intimidating to look at. He was even more intimidating with a bat in his hand. Lifetime he had a .286 batting average with 189 home runs and an impressive .518 slugging percentage.
He appeared in five AL All Star games and four World Series as a Yankee and he retired with three championship rings. More than anything else, Keller was an old country boy who loved horses and shied away from life in the big city. He didn’t like to fly in airplanes, he never boasted about himself or his team and he treated the game and his opponents with respect. He just put on his uniform and gave his best effort every inning of every game and when he took that uniform off for the last time, he returned to his Maryland countryside to raise horses.
Also born on today’s date in 1907, nine years earlier than Keller, was this former Yankee pitcher and AL MVP.
It was certainly no fun being a Yankee fan in the late eighties. Not only was my favorite Yankee player, Don Mattingly, beginning to lose his home run power thanks to a back injury, it seemed as if every prospect, trade, and free agent signing turned out to be a bust. I can remember, for example, when the New York front office was telling us fans that Joel Skinner was going to be the Yankee catcher of the future. That notion died quickly when after two seasons, it became apparent that Skinner would have problems keeping his batting average over .220. That’s when the Yankees made a trade with the Rangers for today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant. Texas was grooming a young Mike Stanley as their starting catcher and no longer wanted Slaught. The Yankees sent pitcher Brad Arnsberg to the Rangers, who was another of those late eighties can’t miss Pinstripe prospects who ended up missing.
Slaught had a phenomenal start with the Yankees in 1988 and made GM Lou Piniella look like a genius by reaching that season’s All Star break with a .340 batting average. But after he hit just .236 the second half and .251 the following year, New York realized Slaught was not going to make Yankee fans forget Thurman Munson and traded the Long Beach, CA native to Pittsburgh where he thrived as a part-time receiver for the next six years. Bob Geren took over for Slaught as the Yankee’s starting catcher followed by Matt Nokes, Mike Stanley, Joe Girardi, Hip Hip Jorge, and currently Russell Martin!
Slaught shares his September 11th birthday with this former Yankee third base prospect.