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.
During his first half-season in pinstripes, it was a pleasure to watch this guy play the game. Unlike most of the high-paid sluggers in that Yankee lineup, Suzuki was content to take what he was given from opposing pitchers (except bases on balls) and as a result, he was 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.
He used that great first half-season in the Bronx as leverage to squeeze a contract for two more out of Brian Cashman. After Suzuki wilted under a full-time, full-season playing load in 2013 and hit just .267 with a .639 .OPS, I’m sure the Yankee GM regretted agreeing to that second year. Personally, I thought the epidemic of injuries to the Yankee offense that year robbed the aging Suzuki of the type of protection he now needs in a batting order to be effective. He was much more effective in the part-time role Joe Girardi carved out for him in 2014.
|SEA (12 yrs)||1844||8483||7858||1176||2533||295||79||99||633||438||513||792||.322||.366||.418||.784|
|NYY (3 yrs)||360||1180||1106||127||311||41||6||13||84||49||52||152||.281||.314||.364||.679|
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.
Update: Veras got a huge break at the trading deadline during the 2013 season, when he was traded from the lowly Astros to the playoff-contending Tigers. Detroit skipper Jim Leyland used him a lot from that point forward and the couple of times I saw him pitch during the 2013 playoffs he looked very effective, until last night that is. Veras was the guy who surrendered the back-breaking grand slam to Shane Victorino that sent Boston into the World Series and the Tigers into the off-season.
|NYY (4 yrs)||8||4||.667||4.43||106||0||32||0||0||3||103.2||89||51||51||14||55||94||1.389|
|CLE (1 yr)||1||2||.333||4.38||22||0||9||0||0||0||24.2||19||16||12||3||14||22||1.338|
|PIT (1 yr)||2||4||.333||3.80||79||0||19||0||0||1||71.0||54||32||30||6||34||79||1.239|
|DET (1 yr)||0||1||.000||3.20||25||0||7||0||0||2||19.2||16||8||7||2||8||16||1.220|
|HOU (1 yr)||0||4||.000||2.93||42||0||38||0||0||19||43.0||29||15||14||4||14||44||1.000|
|FLA (1 yr)||3||3||.500||3.75||48||0||11||0||0||0||48.0||32||20||20||5||29||54||1.271|
|MIL (1 yr)||5||4||.556||3.63||72||0||17||0||0||1||67.0||61||29||27||5||40||79||1.507|