October 2012

October 25 – Happy Birthday Mike Harkey

Mike Harkey is currently the New York Yankee bullpen coach, but twenty-five years ago, he was the number 1 draft choice of the Chicago Cubs. In fact, he was almost the number 1 overall pick. Since Mariners’ owner George Arygos lived in Orange County, California, he had taken an active interest in the baseball program at nearby Cal State Fullerton. The Titans had won the NCAA Division 1 baseball title in 1984 and a year later the 6’5″ Harkey joined the program and became a dominant right-handed collegiate pitcher. As draft day approached in 1987, the Mariners owned the top pick overall and Arygos let his front office know he wanted to use it to take Harkey. Seattle’s scouting office had other ideas and they were successful convincing their boss they were right. So Seattle used that top pick on Ken Griffey Jr. and Harkey was selected by the Cubs two picks later.

Harkey’s problem was a chronically weak right shoulder. After putting together a 16-4 record in his first full season in the Cub farm system, his shoulder gave out plus he injured his knee and he missed the entire 1989 campaign. Cubs manager, Don Zimmer made Harkey his fifth starter to open the 1990 season and the rookie responded by winning five of his first six decisions. Frustrated by his team’s mediocre record, Zimmer decided to go with a four man rotation during the second half of that season and Harkey’s shoulder just couldn’t bear the added strain. He managed to finish that season 12-5, good enough to get him a fifth place finish in that year’s Rookie of the Year voting but he would never again pitch as many innings (179) or win as many games (12) during his eight-year big league career.

The San Diego native got into coaching after his playing days were over and in 2006 he was hired by the Marlins as Joe Girardi’s bullpen coach. When Girardi became the Yankee Manager two years later, he hired Harkey to serve in the same capacity with New York and he’s been mentoring the team’s reliever corps ever since.

Harkey shares his October 25th birthday with this former Yankee shortstop, this former Yankee reliever, this former Yankee GM and this former Yankee third baseman turned medical doctor.

October 24 – Happy Birthday Bunny High

Yesterday, we celebrated the birthday of a starting Yankee outfielder nicknamed “Birdie.” Today, we celebrate the birthday of the guy who took Birdie’s job and his nickname is “Bunny.” Hugh “Bunny” High was the oldest of three brothers to play big league baseball. He made his Major League debut in 1913 as an outfielder with the Detroit Tigers. At the time the Tigers had one of baseball’s best outfields in Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford and Bobby Veach so High spent much of his first two big league seasons watching games from the Detroit dugout.

In 1915, the financially troubled New York Yankee franchise had been sold to Jake Ruppert and Tillinghast Huston and both men were determined to upgrade the team’s mediocre roster. One of their first purchases brought High and the slugging Tiger first baseman, Wally Pipp to New York. High immediately replaced Birdie Cree as the Yankees’ starting center fielder for the 1915 season and then became New York’s starting left-fielder for the next two years. Back then the league’s cumulative batting average was only in the high .240s so when High averaged .258 and .263 during his first two seasons in New York, it was considered a very respectable performance. But when he slumped to .236 in 1917 he became a marked man, especially after the Yankees fired Manager Wild Bill Donovan at the end of that season and replaced him with the much more demanding Miller Huggins. With World War I raging, baseball lost many of its upper tier outfielders to military service in 1918 so High was still a Yankee when that season opened but Huggins kept him on the bench. It became evident to the then 30-year-old outfielder that his future with New York was not very bright with Huggins calling the shots so he asked the team to trade him and when no deals for his services resulted, he simply left the team to begin a new career in the shipyards.

I couldn’t find out how Hugh High got the nickname of Bunny. If he had played for New York a half century later than he did, you could make a case that it was derived from another famous “Hugh” who had a special affinity for “bunnies.” In any event, Bunny shares his October 24th birthday with another Yankee outfielder and this 2013 Yankee relief pitcher.

1915 NYY 119 505 427 51 110 19 7 1 43 22 62 47 .258 .356 .342 .698
1916 NYY 116 452 377 44 99 13 4 1 28 13 47 44 .263 .349 .326 .675
1917 NYY 103 432 365 37 86 11 6 1 19 8 48 31 .236 .329 .307 .636
1918 NYY 7 11 10 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .091 .000 .091
6 Yrs 516 1837 1546 176 386 54 21 3 123 56 212 168 .250 .345 .318 .662
NYY (4 yrs) 345 1400 1179 133 295 43 17 3 90 43 158 123 .250 .343 .323 .666
DET (2 yrs) 171 437 367 43 91 11 4 0 33 13 54 45 .248 .349 .300 .649
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/24/2013.

October 23 – Happy Birthday Birdie Cree

His real name was William Franklin Cree. He got his nickname when after he hit for the cycle in his very first game at Penn State University, an excited teammate who had watched Cree fly around the bases that whole day said he looked like a “bird” out there. After being signed by the A’s organization and then getting traded to the Tigers, he ended up in the Highlander organization. He made his big league debut on September 17, 1908 as New York’s starting center fielder, when he was 25-years-old. That New York team was one of the worst in franchise history, finishing the ’08 season with a horrendous 51-103 record. That level of roster ineptitude certainly helped Cree get invited back to try out for the Highlanders the following spring and he was successful. Over the course of the next four seasons he established himself as a starting outfielder for the club, highlighted by his performance in 1911, when he hit a career high .348 with 181 hits, 88 RBIs and 90 runs scored. His 22 triples that season are still the second most ever hit by a Yankee in a single season.

After such an outstanding performance, sports pundits of that era figured Cree was on his way to stardom. That ascent ended the following June in a game against Boston when Cree was struck on the left hand by a pitch that resulted in a broken wrist and ended his season. He was hitting .332 at the time of the injury. He was never again the same hitter. When he returned to full time play in 1913, he hit just .272. The following year he was relegated to team’s utility outfielder’s spot and when he hit just .215 in that role in 1915, his baseball career was over but it was his own decision to end it.

Not wanting to face the possibility of a demotion back to the minor leagues, Cree returned to his home town in Pennsylvania and accepted an entry-level position with a local bank and continued to work there until he died at the age of 60 in 1942. Cree shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher who now is part of the YES Yankee broadcasting team.