September 2012

September 27 – Happy Birthday Don Schulze plus the 2012 Yankee Report Card

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.

Use the form below to tell me if you agree or disagree with any of my Yankee 2012 regular season grades.

September 25 – Happy Birthday Johnny Sain

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.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1951 NYY 2 1 .667 4.14 7 4 2 1 0 1 37.0 41 17 17 5 8 21 1.324
1952 NYY 11 6 .647 3.46 35 16 15 8 0 7 148.1 149 70 57 15 38 57 1.261
1953 NYY 14 7 .667 3.00 40 19 19 10 1 9 189.0 189 68 63 16 45 84 1.238
1954 NYY 6 6 .500 3.16 45 0 39 0 0 22 77.0 66 27 27 11 15 33 1.052
1955 NYY 0 0 6.75 3 0 1 0 0 0 5.1 6 4 4 4 1 5 1.313
11 Yrs 139 116 .545 3.49 412 245 124 140 16 51 2125.2 2145 947 824 179 619 910 1.300
BSN (7 yrs) 104 91 .533 3.49 257 206 35 121 15 11 1624.1 1640 733 629 118 502 698 1.319
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/25/2013.

September 24 – Happy Birthday Eric Soderholm

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.

Soderholm shares his September 24th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee pitcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1980 NYY 95 304 275 38 79 13 1 11 35 0 27 25 .287 .353 .462 .815
9 Yrs 894 3255 2894 402 764 120 14 102 383 18 295 359 .264 .335 .421 .756
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/24/2013.