When the Yankees learned in late July of the 2012 regular season that their injured starting outfielder, Brett Gardner was unlikely to return to the active roster before the end of the year, they traded pitchers D. J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the Mariners for the aging native of Kasugai, Japan. I liked the deal immediately because I thought New York had missed Gardner’s defense and his run-scoring ability and by adding Suzuki they were actually getting someone who was an even better outfielder and run scorer than Gardner.
From the moment he put on the pinstripes, it has been a pleasure to watch this guy play the game. Unlike most of the high-paid sluggers in this current Yankee lineup, Suzuki is content to take what he is given from opposing pitchers and as a result, he’s a very tough out. What was most surprising to me, however, was his ability to turn on an inside fastball and drive it easily into Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch.
The highpoint of his first year as a Yankee was a five-game mid-September stretch he put together against the Blue Jays and Orioles. He went 14-20 in those games, scoring seven runs, driving in five and New York won them all. Without that five game win streak, the Yankees would have not won the AL East and without Suzuki, there would have been no five game win streak.
He ended up appearing in 67 regular season games for New York in 2012 and hitting .322. For some idiot reason, the Yankees had him batting at the bottom of the order when he first joined the team, because I think he would have scored a lot more runs than the 28 he did manage. After hitting just .217 in the Yankee victory over Baltimore in the ALDS, Suzuki was the only member of New York’s lineup who could hit Detroit pitching in the 2012 ALCS, averaging .353 against the Tigers.
Even though he turns 39-years-old today, New York should make every effort to sign Suzuki for at least the 2013 season and if he insists, the 2014 season as well. He shares his October 22nd birthday with one of his own Yankee teammates.
The argument is easy to make that Whitey Ford is the greatest Yankee starting pitcher of all time. “The Chairman of the Board” was a winner from the get-go, helping New York capture the 1950 pennant in his rookie season by winning nine of ten regular season decisions. He then pitched eight and two thirds innings of shutout ball to earn his first of ten World Series victories in that year’s Fall Classic against the Philadelphia Whiz Kids.
After a two-year hitch in the military, Ford rejoined the Yankees in 1953 and began a streak of thirteen consecutive winning seasons. I firmly believe that if anyone other than Casey Stengel managed the Yankees during the fifties, Ford would have had a lot more regular season victories. Stengel liked to manipulate his rotation so he could match up Ford against the opposing team’s best pitcher, which caused Whitey to average about six to eight less starts per season than the aces of other Major League teams during that decade. When Ralph Houk took over from Stengel in 1961, he gave Ford the ball every fourth game down the stretch and the southpaw responded well to the regularity and extra workload. He had his best year in 1961, when he captured the Cy Young Award with a stunning 25-4 record. In 1963, he went 24-7 and in 1964, eight of his seventeen victories were complete game shutouts.
A native New Yorker, Whitey, country bumpkin Mickey Mantle, and the fiery Californian, Billy Martin, formed a friendship triumvirate that created a lot of success for the Yankees on the field but lots of trouble off of it. Since Ford only played once every five games, he could party hard six nights a week and rest up the evening before his scheduled start. As position players, Mantle and Martin didn’t have that luxury and there were many an early afternoon game when Whitey would sit in the dugout laughing at the play of his two hung over drinking buddies while Stengel fumed.
Ford retired in 1967 after spending his entire seventeen-year career in a Yankee uniform. His 236 regular season victories are still number 1 on New York’s all-time list. His incredible .690 career winning percentage is also still the best of any pitcher with 300 or more career decisions.
Back in 2008, during the ESPN television broadcast of the final game at Yankee Stadium, Ford and his longtime battery mate and fellow Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra, were invited up to the broadcast booth to share their memories of playing in the Stadium. Those thirty minutes listening to two of my heroes talk about their Yankee playing days was the personal highlight of that 2008 baseball season. Whitey turns 84-years-old today. How did all those years come and go so fast?
I remember the first time I saw Jose Veras get summoned in from the bullpen to pitch in a Yankee game. I’m not sure if it was during this Dominican’s first cup of coffee stay in the Bronx in 2006 or his second call-up in 2007, but I do remember how his huge physical size made an impression on me. This right-hander is six feet six inches tall and goes about 250 pounds. It took him three tries to finally stick with the Yankees but when he did start clicking it happened at an opportune time for both team and player.
When the Yankees opened up the 2008 season the plan was to have both Kyle Farnsworth and the previous year’s rookie sensation, Joba Chamberlain serve as the late inning bridges to closer Mariano Rivera. That strategy collapsed when rookie starters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy struggled out of the gate and Chamberlain was taken from the bullpen and inserted in the rotation. That put too much of the late-inning workload on Farnsworth and Joe Girardi gave Veras the opportunity to fill Chamberlain’s vacated slot.
He responded well to the challenge and became one of the bright spots in an otherwise disappointing 2008 season for the Yankees. Veras appeared in 60 games that year and finished with a 5-3 record with a 3.58 ERA and 10 Holds. Unfortunately for Veras, he got off to a slow start in 2009. Meanwhile, Phil Hughes began pitching brilliantly in a late-inning role and newcomer David Robertson was impressing everyone with his ability to get outs. That made Veras expendable and that June, he was sold to the Indians. He hasn’t had a chance to unpack his suitcase since, as he pitched for the Marlins in 2010, the Pirates in ’11 and spent last season with the Brewers. He has pitched well since switching to the National League.
In yesterday’s PBB post we celebrated the birthday of Alan Mills, a member of one of the worst pitching staffs in Yankee history, back in 1991. Wade Taylor was a teammate of Alan’s and one of the starters on that woeful Yankee pitching staff. He had compiled a two-season record of 16-9 for the Yankee farm teams in Columbus and Albany, when New York called him up to pitch for the big boys in June of that season. He went 7-12, finishing behind only Scott Sanderson for most victories by a starter on that staff. That was not good enough to earn him a spot in the rotation the following season and he found himself pitching back in Columbus. Taylor never again appeared in a big league game.
The only other Yankee to have been born on October 19th is this former second baseman who had two sons who both became Major League All Star players.
You have to be a pretty strong Yankee fan to remember when this right-handed reliever wore the pinstripes. He pitched for New York during his first two big league seasons, in 1990 and 1991. He was a member of two of the worst pitching staffs in Yankee franchise history during those years. After the 1991 season, the Yankees traded him to the Orioles. After going 1-6 with New York with an ERA of over four, Mills became a middle relief animal for the Birds in 1993, winning ten of fourteen decisions and compiling an ERA of 2.61. That’s why I remember Alan Mills. As soon as the Yankees dealt him, he became exactly the type of pitcher the Yankees needed so desperately back then. Though he never again achieved those lofty 1993-level numbers on the mound, he was an effective member of the Orioles’ bullpen for the next seven seasons and then signed a pretty nice free agent deal with the Dodgers. He retired in 2001. Mills is a native of Lakeland, FL who was born on this date in 1966.
Another former Yankee born on this date was being groomed by Casey Stengel to take over for the Scooter, Phil Rizzuto, as Yankee shortstop. Problem was, this guy wanted to play third base.
Today is Danny Pasqua’s 51st birthday. The native of Yonkers joined the Yankees at the end of May in 1985 after tearing up Minor League pitching at both Nashville and Columbus. He spent the next two-and-a-half seasons teasing Bomber fans with with his power. He was a streaky hitter and back in the eighties, if you were a young Yankee prospect who went into a slump, you’d be sent back down to the minors to hit your way out of it. Pasqua made return trips to the Clippers in each of his three seasons in pinstripes and in November of 1987, the impatient Yankee front office traded him to the White Sox for starting pitcher Rich Dotson. He was a left handed hitter who couldn’t hit lefties. Of his 117 career home runs, only 11 were served up by left-handers and Pasqua’s career average against southpaws was below .200. That weakness forced him into a platoon role with both New York and Chicago. He played for Chicago from 1988 until 1994, his final big league season. He hit 117 home runs during his decade-long career, including the 42 he hit during his 275 games (two-plus seasons) in pinstripes.
Also born on this date is this Yankee third baseman who scored 100 or more runs as a Yankee for seven consecutive seasons.
Somebody once said that if you ask Tim McCarver what time it is, he will respond by telling you how a watch works. The ex NL All Star catcher turned sportscaster/analyst certainly likes to talk and at times can be a bit numbing with his explanatory soliloquies, but I’ve always liked the guy. I should say “almost always” because I was not too fond of him 48 years ago in the top of the tenth inning in Game 5 of the 1964 World Series when his three-run home run off Pete Mikkelsen gave the Cardinals a 3 games to 2 lead in that Fall Classic.
This native of Memphis was only 17 years old when he caught in his first big league game in 1959 for the Cards. He nearly had signed with the Yankees instead. The great Yankee catcher, Bill Dickey had been following McCarver’s high school career closely and would visit the youngster’s home and woo his parents with a cooler filled with fresh catfish caught in nearby Arkansas. When it came signing time, Dickey offered McCarver a $68,000 bonus and the Cardinals offered him $75,000. McCarver later admitted the only reason he had not signed with New York was because the Yankees already had Yogi Berra and Elston Howard behind the plate and were also wooing Jake Gibbs.
During the next decade he was the rock behind the plate for those great St Louis teams that appeared in three World Series, winning two of them. He would end up spending 21 years as a big league catcher retiring in 1980 and then immediately joining NBC as a back-up color commentator on Game of the Week broadcasts. He quickly advanced up the broadcasting career ladder until he was recognized as the number one baseball analyst on television, winning three Emmy’s for his work in that capacity.
He joined the Yankee broadcasting booth in 1999 and covered the Bronx Bombers for the MSG Network through the 2001 season. He fell in love with Derek Jeter (though he once called him “Jerek Deter” on the air) and the Yankee teams he covered went to three straight World Series winning two of them.
The only Yankee player born on this date is this former reliever from the 1970s.
When I first became a Yankee fan in the early sixties, my Uncle would take me to Yankee Stadium two or three times each season. From 1960 until 1968, I probably saw a couple dozen games live. My hero back then was the great Mickey Mantle. One of my frequent disappointments during those trips to the Bronx was rushing to my seat to look up at the starting lineups that were always posted on the old Stadium’s giant center field scoreboard and not seeing Mantle’s number 7. Instead I’d be forced to watch guys like Bob Cerv, Jack Reed, and Hector Lopez take Mantle’s place. These utility outfielders were called “Mickey Mantle’s legs,” because Mantle’s oft-injured lower appendages were usually blamed for his frequent absences from the starting lineup.
Today’s birthday celebrant was known as “Babe Ruth’s legs,” but for a slightly different reason. Unlike Mantle, Ruth was not a great defensive outfielder but like Mickey, he was a hall-of-fame party animal. Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy would regularly replace Babe with Byrd in the late innings of Yankee games for better defense and as a remedy for Ruth’s prodigious hangovers. Sammy Byrd was born on October 15, 1907, in Bremen Georgia.
Byrd was actually a very good all-around baseball player. The only obstacle he faced to becoming a star in the big leagues was the fact that his contract was owned by a Yankee organization that already had the most talented roster in Baseball. During his six seasons subbing for the Bambino, Byrd hit .281 for New York and was superb defensively as well. During one short stretch in his pinstripe career, he actually supplanted Earle Combs as New York’s starting center fielder. But it was Ruth himself, late in the Babe’s career, who was directly ahead of Sammy on the Yankee depth chart. Then, ironically, after Ruth was let go by New York the Yankees got rid of Byrd too by selling him to Cincinnati.
Instead of thriving with the Reds, Sammy had a pretty mediocre first season there and then got injured in his second. That’s when he made a decision to switch careers. Byrd may have not been as good a baseball player as Babe Ruth, after all, nobody was. But Byrd was a better golfer. In fact, Sammy Byrd was and still is the best golfer to ever play Major League Baseball. In 1937 he put away his bats for good and grabbed his clubs and competed on the pro golf tour against the likes of Sammy Snead, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan. Byrd won 23 tournaments as a pro, finished second to Byron Nelson in the 1945 PGA and twice finished third at the Masters. He then became a club pro and built a reputation as one of the great golf instructors in the game. Sammy died in 1981 at the age of 74, in Mesa, Arizona.
Born on October 14, 1948 in Ciales, Puerto Rico, this guy never received the credit he deserved for helping the Yankees recapture their pennant-winning mo-jo during the mid seventies. In fact, the 1975 trade that brought Figueroa and the speedster center fielder Mickey Rivers from the Angels for Bobby Bonds has to be one of the best trades ever made by a Yankee front office.
In three seasons, from 1976 through 1978, this right-hander won 55 regular season games for New York, helping them get to three consecutive World Series. He threw eight shutouts during that span and in 1978, became the first big league pitcher of Puerto Rican descent to win 20 games in a season. Figueroa was so critical to New York’s success that his serious elbow injury in 1979 and the Yankees falling to fourth place in the AL East standings were anything but a coincidence. An operation to repair that elbow failed and Fiqueroa was sold to the Texas Rangers during the 1980 season.
About the only thing Ed Fiqueroa couldn’t do in a Yankee uniform was win in the postseason. He started seven games in October and didn’t get the win in any of them. I’m hoping Fiqueroa’s postseason failures do not rub off on another Yankee who shares Ed’s October fourteenth birthday. That would be this current New York skipper. This former Yankee second baseman was also born on this same date.
Tim Raines, Lou Piniella, Hector Lopez, Bob Cerv, Irv Noren, the great Yankee teams of the past had well-known fourth outfielders who usually could have started for most other big league teams of their era. Back in the days of the great Yankee Murderer’s Row teams of the roaring twenties, it was Ben Paschal who filled that role for New York.
A farm boy from Alabama, Paschal signed on with a class D minor league team as a nineteen-year-old. He played well enough immediately to get signed to a short-term contract by the Cleveland Indians and appear in his first nine big league games that same year. He didn’t stick with Cleveland and returned to the minors the following season. It took him five more years to reappear in the majors, this time with the Red Sox. He did much better for Boston, hitting .357 in a nine-game September call-up during the 1920 season. But again he didn’t stick and it would take him another 4 seasons of minor league play to get back to the big dance. This time it was another September call-up and Paschal was now wearing the uniform of the New York Yankees. He went 3-for-3 in his debut for manager Miller Huggins’ team and performed impressively enough to earn an invite to the club’s training camp the following spring.
The Yankees were auditioning for a new starting center fielder that preseason and the competition pitted Paschal against another southern farm boy named Earle Combs. Huggins gave the job to Combs but liked Paschal’s effort enough to keep him on the roster too. It proved to be a brilliant move. The outfielder’s first full season as a Yankee coincided with Babe Ruth’s “big belly ache,” which in actuality was a complete physical and mental breakdown caused by the “Bambino’s” punishing physical excesses off the field. Ruth’s illness gave Paschal the opportunity to get into 89 games during that 1925 season and he made the most of it by hitting 12 home runs, driving in 59 and averaging a robust .360. He spent the next three seasons ably subbing for Ruth, Combs, and Long Bob Meusel and putting together batting averages of .287, .317 and .316. But when he slumped to just .208 in 1929, the Yankees decided to not offer him another contract. By then, Paschal had tuned 33 years old.He did continue to play very well for quite a few years back in the minors. The truth was that he had signed with the wrong team, one with two Hall-of-Famers already starting in the outfield and a third who many have argued should also have been voted into Cooperstown. So Paschal’s .309 lifetime average as a Yankee was overlooked and never fully appreciated.