It looks as if Casey McGehee’s Yankee days may already be over. New York GM Brian Cashman was looking for a right-handed corner infielder with some pop to play third or first while A-Rod and Mark Teixeira recovered from injuries, when he sent reliever Chad Qualls to the Pirates for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant on July 31, 2012. McGehee, a native of Santa Cruz, CA had hit 23 home runs for the 2010 Brewers and driven in over 100 that same year. I joined Cashman in hoping that this guy would get better pitches to hit when he was surrounded by a stronger Yankee lineup. That didn’t happen.
He got a real chance to make an impression in the Bronx during the middle of August, when Girardi started him just about every game. His pinstriped high point came in the second game of a series in Toronto, on August 13th. He hit his first and only home run as a Yankee that day and drove in three runs in New York’s 5-2 victory over the Blue Jays. But it was downhill from there offensively and when A-Rod returned from the DL, probably the only reason the Yanks kept this guy on the team was because the roster expanded to 40 players on September 1. The more crowded Yankee bench, however, meant even fewer chances for McGehee to make a better impression down the stretch and when he went 0-for-September at the plate he lost his ticket on the Yankee’s postseason train to Baltimore.
McGehee turns 30 today, still young enough to contribute to a Major League team. I just don’t think that team will continue to be the Yankees. He shares his October 12th birthday with this outstanding former Yankee shortstop and this one-time Yankee reliever.
Blaylock was signed by the Cardinals out of high school in 1950 and then it took him nine years to climb his way through the St. Louis farm system and make it to the parent club. In his first big league start against the Cubs, the right-hander from Clarkton, Missouri pitched eight strong innings but lost a tough 1-0 decision. By May 16th, he was 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA and Cardinal fans were most likely thinking they had a keeper. But it went downhill quickly from there for Blaylock and by late July of that ’59 season with his record at 4-4 and his ERA up to 5.13, the Cards pulled the plug and put him on waivers.
A couple weeks later, the Yankees claimed the pitcher and inserted him in Casey Stengel’s bullpen. That ’59 Yankee team Blaylock joined was an underachieving ball club that would finish the season in 3rd place behind Chicago and Cleveland. They were already a full 11.5 games behind the White Sox when Blaylock made his first appearance in pinstripes on August 2nd. After a rough first time out with New York, he pitched well in his next three appearances and Stengel rewarded him with his one and only Yankee start against the Tigers. He got shelled, failing to make it out of the second inning. He stayed on that Yankee roster through the end of the season but his career in the Bronx ended at that point and Blaylock would never again pitch in a big league game. This Cuban defector shares Blaylock’s October 11th birthday.
Let’s take a look at my selections of the all time team of players who like Blaylock played for both the Cardinals and Yankees during their professional careers.
Bobby Tiefenauer is the only member of the Yankee all-time roster to celebrate a birthday on this date. He was born in Desloge, MO, in 1929. He lasted parts of ten seasons in the Majors. His specialty was the knuckleball. In 1965, this right-hander pitched ten games in relief for the Yankees. During that season New York sent him to Cleveland and the Indians then traded Bobby for another former Yankee pitcher named Rob Gardner. Though Tiefenauer’s career had few highlights I did turn up something interesting about Gardner’s. Only passionate, long-time Yankee fans will remember that Rob Gardner won eight games as a part-time starter for the 1972 Yankees. The Yankees traded him to the Oakland A’s at the beginning of the 1971 season for one-time All-Star Felipe Alou. New York then reacquired Gardner from the A’s eight weeks later. Then, after the 1972 season, the Yankees traded Gardner back to the A’s for Felipe’s brother, Matty Alou, making Gardner the only Yankee in history traded for two brothers.
Meanwhile, Tiefenauer wore number 29 during his brief tenure in pinstripes, the same digit worn currently by Raffael Soriano. Other notable Yankee number 29′s included Francisco Cervelli, Mike Stanton and Hall of Famer, Catfish Hunter.
Tiefenauer died in June of 2000. Thus far, he is the only member of the Yankee all-time player roster to be born on this date but he does share his October 10th birthday with this great performer who played in Yankee Stadium for 31 seasons.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the surprise Yankee rookie of the year during the 2012 regular season. Born in St. Louis on this date in 1986, Phelps played his college ball at Notre Dame until his junior year, when he was selected by New York in the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft. He then pitched well at every rung of the Yankees’ minor league ladder until injuring his shoulder in 2011 while pitching for Triple A Scranton.
I confess I had never paid any attention to Phelps until the end of New York’s 2012 spring training season, when it became clear he was heading north with the team. He had out-pitched the Yankees’ more highly touted “”Killer B” duo of Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos and with newcomer Michael Pineda injured and out for the year and the suddenly un-retired Andy Pettitte, not yet ready to go, Phelps got the roster slot.
Manager Joe Girardi pitched him exclusively out of the bullpen during the first month of the 2012 season. He caused a bit of a stir by retiring the first 12 big league hitters he faced. When Freddie Garcia struggled early, Phelps took his spot in the rotation. He made two decent starts but was then sent back to the bullpen when Pettitte was finally ready to go in mid May. Then Ivan Nova went on the DL and Phelps was again switched from reliever to starter and remained in the rotation for most of the rest of the season.
When all was said and done, Phelps went 4-4 during his rookie year, appearing in 33 games, 11 as a starter. He posted a solid 3.34 ERA with 96 Ks and just 39 BBs in 99 innings. He has good command of all his pitches and doesn’t seem to get too flustered when he’s dealing with runners in scoring position. Unless the Yankees have some trade or free agent pitching acquisition plans in mind for the offseason, Phelps will most likely battle the suddenly struggling Nova for the fifth spot in the Yankees’ 2013 rotation.
I call them the side-winders. Southpaw Clay Rapada and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Cody Eppley were two of the surprising reasons why the Yankee bullpen never missed a beat in 2012, despite losing the world’s all-time greatest closer, when Mo Rivera tore his ACL just one month into the season. Both guys throw the ball with sidearm motions and both of them did so effectively enough to become work horses for Manager Joe Girardi ‘s AL East Division-winning team.
Eppley was originally drafted by the Rangers in the 43rd round of the 2008 MLB amateur draft. He made his big league debut with Texas in 2011 but was then put on waivers at the opening of the 2012 season. The Yankees claimed him at that time and he’s been remarkably consistent in the 59 games he’s been called upon to pitch in since. He posted an ERA of 3.33 and ended the year with a streak of nine scoreless relief appearances. The biggest difference between the Eppley that pitched for the Rangers in 2011 and the one who performed in pinstripes in 2012 was improved control. The Dillsburg, PA native lowered his base-on-balls per nine inning rate from five with Texas to a bit higher than three as a Yankee.
Since they’re both middle inning relievers, Eppley and Rapada often are called upon to warm up together in the tight spaces found in most AL Stadium bullpens. Since they both throw sidearm, Rapada must use the left-side bullpen mound and Eppley the right one to avoid smashing their pitching hands together on a simultaneous sidearm warm up delivery. Eppley shares his October 8th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and this one-time Yankee hitting coach.
Leavitt “Bud” Daley overcame some pretty incredible odds to become an All Star pitcher in the big leagues. When Daley was born on October 7, 1932 in Orange, CA. his right hand was permanently injured during a difficult delivery. Daley grew up hiding it well, especially on a baseball field. The only sign of problems with the hand was that he was forced to wear his baseball glove at an odd angle.
The Cleveland Indians signed Daley in 1951, when he was 19-years-old. After several trials with the Indians, Daley was traded to the Baltimore Orioles on April Fool’s Day in 1958 along with Gene Woodling and Dick Williams for Larry Doby. Two weeks later, Baltimore dealt Daley to Kansas City. The A’s gave him a spot in their 1959 starting rotation and he responded by winning 16 games in each of the next two seasons and becoming a two-time All Star. The Yankees traded for the southpaw two years later and he became a starter-reliever for the legendary 1961 Bronx Bomber team. Even though he finished that year with a lackluster 8-9 record, Yankee Manager Ralph Houk claimed Daley was a valuable, unsung hero of that great squad.
Perhaps his most important contribution during that season came during the September 1st opener of a three-game series against second-place Detroit. At the time, the Tigers were just two-and-a-half games in back of New York and could have taken over first place with a sweep of the three-game set. Houk put Daley in the scoreless game when starter Whitey Ford tired. He pitched three plus innings of scoreless relief before handing the ball to closer Luis Arroryo and the Yankees prevailed 1-0 and went on to sweep the three games. Daley then came on in relief of the Ralph Terry in the third inning of that year’s fifth and final World Series game against Cincinnati and pitched the final six innings to earn the win. Daley went on to win seven games and save four more for the 1962 Yankees, his best year in pinstripes. He injured his arm during the 1964 season and his big league career was over at the age of 31.
Daley shares his October 7th birthday with this one-time Yankee pitcher.
Born October 6, 1947 in Wenatchee, WA, this tall right-hander was brought up from the Yankee farm system in 1970 and pitched extremely well during his first three seasons in Pinstripes. Back then, Joba Rules didn’t exist for young Yankee mound prospects and Kline was asked to pitch 636.3 innings (including 78 in the minors) during those first three seasons, all before he reached the age of 25. He had his best Yankee season in 1972 when he went 16-9 with a sparkling 2.40 ERA and four shutouts. That’s when all those innings started taking their toll and injuries limited him to just 74 innings of pitching in 1973. At the beginning of the following season he was made part of a four pitcher package that was traded to Cleveland for Chris Chambliss. By then, Kline’s arm was dead and he never again pitched effectively in the big leagues, retiring after a failed 1977 comeback trial with the Braves with a lifetime record of 43-45.
When Mariano Duncan stopped hitting in 1997, the Yankees began experimenting with replacements at second base. One was veteran Pat Kelly, who Duncan had supplanted from the position the previous year.
Another was the popular former Mariner, Luis Sojo and still another was today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant and former Cub, Rey Sanchez. Sojo ended up seeing the most action of the four and was the best fielder in the group as well, but in 37 games that year, Sanchez hit .312 and also played well in the field. The Yankees released Rey following that season and after spending 1998 with the Giants, he joined the Royals and played the best baseball of his career during his two-plus seasons as Kansas City’s starting shortstop. He then turned into a journeyman infielder, playing for seven different teams during the last six years of his fifteen-year career including a return to pinstripes in 2005, which was his final season as a player in the big leagues. He retired with 1,317 career hits.
Also born on this date is this former Yankee outfielder.
The amazing thing about Ray Fisher’s Yankee pitching career was that as good as he was at getting Major League hitters out, it was instead his coaching and dedication to players at the collegiate level that serves as his most significant contribution to the game. He was the son of a Vermont farmer who became a star pitcher of his high school baseball team and a three sport athlete at Vermont’s Middlebury College. The Yankees took an interest in him wile he was pitching minor league ball in Hartford, CT and signed him just before the Red Sox made him a better offer.
Fisher made his debut as a New York Highlander on July 2, 1910 against the Chicago White Sox’ Hall of Fame pitcher, Ed Walsh. George Stallings, the New York Manager at the time later told Fisher he figured the Yankees had no chance of beating Walsh that day so he decided to throw his rookie and save his better pitchers for weaker match ups. Fisher ended up out-pitching Walsh and getting the 2-1 victory.
Fisher would spend the next eight seasons pitching for some very bad Highlander/Yankee teams and some pretty bad managers. His best year was 1915 when he went 18-11 with a 2.11 ERA. He signature pitch was a then legal spitball that he juiced with saliva and a piece of slippery elm bark he always chewed while working on the mound.
In 1917, he came down with pleurisy and then missed the entire next season when he was drafted into the Army for service during WWI. It was while he was in the military that the Yankees traded him to the Reds, who immediately lowered Fisher’s $6,500 Yankee salary by $3,000 for the upcoming 1919 season. Fisher had a great year for Cincinnati, going 14-5 and helping the Reds win the 1919 NL Pennant. They then went on to win the 1919 World Series against the White Sox, allegedly benefitting from the infamous Black Sox scandal, in which several White Sox players took money from gamblers to throw the Series. Poor Fisher still lost Game 3 of that forever-tainted Fall Classic.
In 1920, Major League Baseball banned the spitball, but Fisher was one of the hand full of pitchers exempted from the ban. The veteran right-hander went 10-11 that year and started thinking about finding a new career. He had a young daughter at home who he never got to see and his 33-year-old body was growing tired of the extensive traveling and stress of big league life. Compounding the problem was the penny pinching ways of the Reds front office. Fisher decided to accept an offer to manage the University of Michigan’s baseball team. He would remain in that position for the next 39 years and his Wolverine teams would compile a 661-292 record and win 14 Big Ten baseball titles and the 1953 National Championship..
His new job may have been in Michigan, but Ray Fisher’s heart never left Vermont. Every offseason he would return to his camp on Lake Champlain in the Green Mountain State. But instead of spending all his time fishing, Fisher would actually continue to pitch for local semipro teams in the area until he was well into his late forties. He also became manager of the Twin City Trojans of Vermont’s Northern League, and battled long and hard with the NCAA to permit college baseball players to earn some extra money by playing in summer leagues.
Ray Fisher died in 1982 at the age of 95. At the time, he had become the last surviving member of the old New York Highlanders. His record was 76-78 during his eight seasons in New York and 100-94 with a 2.81 ERA for his complete ten-season big league career. He shares his October 4th birthday with this long-time Yankee shortstop and coach.
Johnny Broaca was one of the strangest dudes ever to wear the pinstripes. The son of poor Lithuanian immigrants, Johnny was a super athlete during his high school days in Lawrence, MA. He was a good enough pitcher to sign a big league contract out of high school but as Broaca explained to a Boys Life Magazine reporter during his rookie year with the Yankees, he realized a baseball career was short-lived and he knew a good education would be essential to a good life after
baseball so he worked his way through Yale. He was the best pitcher on the Bulldogs baseball team for three straight seasons but he was also a loner. Unlike many of his wealthier Yale teammates and classmates, Broaca had no time to socialize. When he wasn’t playing ball or studying, he was working and he soon formed an inferiority complex that would impact his ability to form relationships for the rest of his life.
He convinced a Yankee scout to sign him to a contract after his junior year of college and played for the Newark Bears in 1933. One year later he was wearing pinstripes in the Bronx and made Joe McCarthy’s starting rotation, finishing his 1934 rookie season with a 12-9 record for a Yankee team that finished second to the Tigers. He was even better in 1935, finishing 15-7 but once again the Yankees lost the AL pennant to Detroit. New York finally overcame the Tigers the following year, taking first place in the AL as Broaca finished with a 12-7 record. But Broaca didn’t make an appearance in the Yankees five game victory over the Giants in the 1936 World Series. It was all downhill from there for the bespectacled right hander. He got married during that off-season but according to his wife, he was a jealous, abusive and penny-pinching husband. He also lived with a sore right arm since his high school days and during the 1937 season he began arguing with McCarthy about the negative impact his practice and warm-up regimens were having on that soreness. When “Marse Joe” brought him into pitch relief in a mop-up role, Broaca jumped the team, the first Yankee in history to do so. At the time, his record was a miserable 1-4.
In the next few years, Broaca divorced his wife, tried professional boxing and then took a low paying job back in his hometown just so he could minimize the alimony and child support payments to his former Mrs. In researching this post, I also discovered that Broaca was not only one of the worst hitters in baseball history, he actually hated to even take batting practice. At the plate, he got to a point where he would stand there with his bat on his shoulder and wait for the opposing pitcher to strike him out. He once actually walked back to the dugout when with two strikes on him, the opposing pitcher was still in his windup. The umpire had to call him back to the plate when the pitch was ruled a ball. During batting practice,Yankee pitchers back then were required to field balls in the outfield. Johnny would stand there with a glove on his hand and refuse to go after any ball hit near him. He did not want to stress his sore arm on throws back to the infield. When he finished his career with the Indians, Broaca once got in a fake fight with a Cleveland teammate in the dugout so that a wild punch could “accidentally” be thrown at the team’s highly disliked manager. Johnny Broaca, a Yale University graduate and former Yankee starting pitcher ended up dying from a heart attack, at the age of 75, while living the life of a recluse in his tiny Lawrence apartment.
Today is also the 59th birthday of Dave Winfield, one of my all-time favorite Yankees.