September 2012

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.

September 23 – Happy Birthday Joba Chamberlain

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!

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2007 NYY 2 0 1.000 0.38 19 0 3 0 0 1 24.0 12 2 1 1 6 34 0.750
2008 NYY 4 3 .571 2.60 42 12 5 0 0 0 100.1 87 32 29 5 39 118 1.256
2009 NYY 9 6 .600 4.75 32 31 0 0 0 0 157.1 167 94 83 21 76 133 1.544
2010 NYY 3 4 .429 4.40 73 0 18 0 0 3 71.2 71 37 35 6 22 77 1.298
2011 NYY 2 0 1.000 2.83 27 0 3 0 0 0 28.2 23 10 9 3 7 24 1.047
2012 NYY 1 0 1.000 4.35 22 0 5 0 0 0 20.2 26 11 10 3 6 22 1.548
2013 NYY 2 1 .667 4.97 44 0 14 0 0 1 41.2 45 23 23 8 25 38 1.680
7 Yrs 23 14 .622 3.85 259 43 48 0 0 5 444.1 431 209 190 47 181 446 1.377
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/24/2013.

September 22 – Happy Birthday Bob Geren

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.

He shares his birthday with this former Yankee skipper and this long-ago Yankee starting pitcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1988 NYY 10 12 10 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 3 .100 .250 .100 .350
1989 NYY 65 225 205 26 59 5 1 9 27 0 12 44 .288 .329 .454 .782
1990 NYY 110 303 277 21 59 7 0 8 31 0 13 73 .213 .259 .325 .584
1991 NYY 64 140 128 7 28 3 0 2 12 0 9 31 .219 .270 .289 .559
5 Yrs 307 842 765 62 178 21 1 22 76 0 49 179 .233 .283 .349 .632
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/22/2013.

September 21 – Happy Birthday Elmer Smith

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.

He shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee DH and first baseman and this former hard-throwing pitcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1922 NYY 21 31 27 1 5 0 0 1 5 0 3 5 .185 .267 .296 .563
1923 NYY 70 208 183 30 56 6 2 7 35 3 21 21 .306 .377 .475 .853
10 Yrs 1012 3639 3195 469 881 181 62 70 541 54 319 359 .276 .344 .437 .781
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/21/2013.

September 20 – Happy Birthday Mickey Klutts

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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1976 NYY 2 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
1977 NYY 5 18 15 3 4 1 0 1 4 0 2 1 .267 .389 .533 .922
1978 NYY 1 3 2 1 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.500 2.500
8 Yrs 199 579 536 49 129 26 1 14 59 1 34 101 .241 .289 .371 .660
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/21/2013.