Jay Johnstone turned the role of a team’s fourth outfielder into a twenty-year big league career that included parts of the 1978 and ’79 seasons in pinstripes. Nicknamed “Moon Man” because he once claimed to have lost a fly ball he misjudged in the moonlight, the Manchester, CT native came to New York with outfielder Bobby Brown from the Phillies in a 1978 trade for reliever Rawley Eastwick. He played well enough for Manager Bob Lemon’s World Champions that year to make the Yankees’ World Series roster but when he got off to a slow start the following season, he was jettisoned to the Padres for someone named Dave Wehrmeister. Yankee fans’ most notable memory of Johnstone came while he was playing for the Dodgers during the 1981 Fall Classic, when his two run pinch-hit homer in the sixth inning of the fourth game against New York cut a three run Yankee lead to a single run, in a game LA eventually won to tie that Series at two games apiece. He was a genuine ”Flake” who loved playing tricks on teammates. The Yankees were one of the eight teams he played for and he retired after the 1985 season with a .267 lifetime average and 1,267 career hits.
Also born on this date is the second Manager in Yankee franchise history.
In the five years after World War I ended, the Yankees and Red Sox made nine major player transactions. The Yankees came out of most of those deals so far ahead of the Red Sox that many Boston fans and sports writers were sure Red Sox owner Harry Frazee also had an ownership stake in New York’s franchise. Just before Christmas in 1921, Frazee made yet another deal with New York. A total of seven players were involved in the transaction including each team’s starting shortstop. Boston got New York’s Roger Peckinpaugh and then quickly traded him to Washington for another future Yankee, Jumpin Joe Dugan. New York got Everett Scott from the Red Sox who at the time of the trade had played in a then Major League record of 830 consecutive games. That streak would not end until May 5 1925, during Scott’s fourth and final season with New York, when Yankee Manager, Miller Huggins decided his shortstop needed to rest a sore back. At the time he had played in 1,307 consecutive games. Just a couple weeks later, Scott’s Yankee teammate, a young first baseman named Lou Gehrig began a consecutive game playing streak that would eventually overwhelm Scott’s achievement. The player they called “Deacon” was not much of a hitter but he was one of baseball’s best defensive shortstops during his day. And although he didn’t hit for average, Scott barely struck out, making him a valuable hit-and-run weapon. He was also very smart and worked very hard at his craft. That’s probably why Miller Huggins made the guy a Yankee Captain. Old Everett won three World Series with Boston and was a key member of the first-ever Yankee team to win the Fall Classic in 1923. In all he played thirteen big league seasons in five different uniforms and hit .249 lifetime. He was born on November 19, 1892 in Bluffton, IN and died almost 68 years later, in nearby Ft Wayne.
Up until Phil Hughes filled the role during the 2009 season, the Yankees had not had an effective eighth inning relief specialist since the man they called “Flash” handled that responsibility in the New York bullpens of 2004 and 2005. Gordon had been a long-time starter for the Kansas City Royals who was converted into a closer one year after signing as a free agent with the Red Sox in 1996. He saved 46 games for Boston in 1998 but then was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery when he blew out his right elbow the following season. If that injury hadn’t happened, Gordon might still be saving games in Beantown. Instead he was forced to sit out the entire 2000 season and then spent the next three years pitching for three different teams while recovering his arm strength. The Yankees signed him at exactly the right time and he and Rivera successfully shortened many Yankee games to seven innings during their two years of partnership in the Bronx. I absolutely loved watching Flash take the ball in the eighth inning and completely dominate three hitters from the opposing lineup. When he had his fantastic curveball working, which was most of the time he wore the pinstripes, Gordon really was near unhittable. He was 14-8 as a Yankee and gave up less than one combined walk and hit per inning during his stay in the Big Apple. That success earned him a handsome three year deal from the Phillies after the 2005 season and forced the Yankees to spend the next three plus seasons looking for a new bridge to Mo.
Gary Sheffield was Gordon’s teammate on those 2004 and ’05 Yankee teams and also the most productive bat in New York’s lineup during that time. He also celebrates a birthday today.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant succeeded two Hall-of-Famers when he became the third manager in Yankee franchise history. John McGraw skippered the club during its first two seasons in existence while it was still located in Baltimore and known as the Orioles. “Little Napoleon” was followed by Clark Griffith, “the Old Fox,” who would later bring baseball to our Nation’s Capitol and join McGraw in Cooperstown. Unlike McGraw and Griffith, Gentleman George Stallings hardly played any Major League ball, getting just a couple of hits in 20 at bats in the Big Dance. He learned what he knew about the game while spending thirteen years toiling in the minors, at one time or another playing every position on the baseball field except the hot corner.
Stallings started managing in the minors in 1893 for a team located in his home town of Augusta, Georgia. He eventually took over as field boss of the Detroit Tigers, before that team became an AL franchise. He was then hired to manage the Philadelphia Phillies in 1898. He lost that job two months into his second season and then returned to Detroit where he remained skipper when the Tigers were admitted as a franchise in Ban Johnson’s newly formed American League. Johnson owned a large share of the Detroit ball club and when he suspected Stallings of conspiring to jump the team to the rival National League, he fired him as skipper.
Stallings then returned to manage in the minors and when no minor league team wanted him, he went back to farming in his native Georgia for a spell. He finally got another skipper’s job in Newark, NJ in 1908, so he was just across the river when the New York Highlanders finished the 1908 season, dead last in the AL and Clark Griffith threw his hands up and walked away from his job as the New York’s Manager. Highlander owner, Frank Farrell asked Stallings if he wanted the job and he accepted. He then led the team back to respectability in 1909 as they finished with a 74-79 record. It looked as if Gentleman George had found a home but the incorrigible and highly talented Yankee first baseman, Hal Chase, had other ideas.
Chase had become the regular New York Highlander first baseman in 1905 and remained in that position for a little more than eight seasons and over 1,000 games. “Prince Hal” was a smart and gifted athlete who immediately became a fan favorite in New York. It was Chase who first began the now accepted defensive strategy of charging the plate in likely sacrifice situations. He also pioneered the practice of moving into the outfield to receive and relay cut-off throws. In addition to being an excellent and innovative fielder, Chase was also a strong hitter and a great base runner. He had a .291 lifetime batting average and his 248 stolen bases made him the all-time Yankee base stealer until Willie Randolph and Ricky Henderson passed him seven decades later.
Chase, however, had one passion greater than his love for baseball and that was money. Perhaps, if he lived in today’s era of free agency and multi-million dollar contracts, his story and career would have had a different ending. But at the turn of the century, professional baseball players were not paid royally. As a result, many of them were forced to earn a living doing other things.
Before the 1908 season, Chase tried holding out on the Yankees, to force team management to pay him more money. Even though the tactic was successful, Chase still jumped to the outlawed California league and played for the San Jose franchise using a fake name. Caught in this charade, Chase was suspended by the Highlanders but his immense popularity with New York fans quickly got him reinstated.
It was at that point that George Stallings began to suspect Chase of throwing games. The skipper’s suspicions grew so strong during the 1910 season, he leveled the charges publicly. But Chase’s popularity on the field helped him earn enough support with Yankee owner Farrell and League President Ban Johnson to beat back Stallings’ charges and actually get the manager fired. Adding insult to injury, Chase got himself named to replace Stallings as the team’s field boss.
Although he didn’t realize it at the time, getting double-crossed by Chase and Farrell actually was a career blessing for the fired manager. Stallings went back to managing in the minors for the next two years and then was hired by the Boston Braves, who were one of the worst teams in the National League. That Braves team had finished in last place the previous four seasons in a row, so when Stallings got them to a fifth place finish in 1913, it was considered a minor miracle. But the real miracle took place the following season, when the Braves won the NL Pennant by 10.5 games and then shocked the mighty Philadelphia A’s by sweeping them in the 1914 World Series. It was certainly Stallings finest hour in the big leagues and he continued to manage the Braves through the 1920 season, but he never again led them to a Pennant.
Stallings shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever.
For those first initial glorious years of ”Doc’s” career, he was the best pitcher in all of baseball. He won the Rookie of the Year award his first season with the Mets, the Cy Young Award his second, and a World Championship in his third. He won 24 games, led the National League in strikeouts and ERA, and threw eight shutouts when he was just 20 years of age. Unfortunately for Gooden and the Mets, he couldn’t handle his immense success. He gave it all up for cocaine.
George Steinbrenner made Doc a Yankee in 1996 and Gooden responded with 11 wins and that glorious no-hitter against Seattle. But the Gooden-pitched Yankee game I’ll remember most is the fourth game of the 1997 ALDS against Cleveland. Even though New York was leading that series two games to one at the time, the Indians had hit both a hurting David Cone and a healthy Andy Pettitte hard in earlier games. Doc was Torre’s surprise choice to start the next game at Jacobs Field. When he took the mound, it had been ten days since he last pitched and Gooden probably surmised that New York was not going to re-sign him for ’98. He had gone a lackluster 9-7 that regular season and Yankee fans like me would not have been surprised if the hard-hitting Indians got to him early. Instead, Gooden was masterful for about as long as he could be. The only blemish had been a David Justice home run and when Torre came to the mound to take him out of the game with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees were leading 2-1.
Of course, New York went on to lose that game and that series but Doc had certainly impressed the heck out of me. He must have impressed the Indians quite a bit as well because less than two months later, Cleveland signed him to a two year deal for over $5.5 million. It seemed Gooden had conquered his demons at last, but of course we have found out since that he had not. What could have been.
Today is also my beautiful wife Rosemary’s birthday and my lovely sister-in-law Maria’s birthday too. Happy with love birthday ladies.
This lefthander, the only former or current Yankee who celebrates a birthday on November 15, was born in West Wyoming, PA in 1916. It took him a while to get to the big leagues. After graduating from college in 1938, Ostrowski was a high school teacher for three years and then signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox. After two seasons of minor league ball, he spent 1943, ’44 and ’45 in the US Army Air Force. In 1947 he was traded to the Browns’ organization and he made his big league debut with St. Louis as a 31-year-old rookie the following season. He evolved into an important part of the Browns’ bullpen during the next three years and then was traded to New York in the deal that ended the pinstripe career of Snuffy Stirnweiss.
Ostrowski pitched for the 1950, ’51 and ’52 Yankee World Championship teams, making his biggest contribution during the 1951 season, when he won six games and saved five more. He made his only World Series appearance that same season, finishing Game Three against the NY Giants by pitching two innings of shutout ball to preserve the Yankee victory.
Ostrowski wore glasses during his playing days which made him look very professorial while on the mound. Since he actually had taught high school before beginning his pro career, his teammates gave him the nickname “Professor.” After a poor year in 1952, the Yankees released the then 35-year-old southpaw after that season. He spent one more season pitching in the minors and then returned to the classroom and taught at the high school level for the next 25 years. He passed away in 2003.
In 1995, you’re the number 2 rated Minor League prospect in all of America, you’re in the farm system of the Yankees who are about to win the next four of five World Series and you’re the cousin of a guy named Mariano Rivera who is on the threshold of becoming MLB’s greatest closer. The sky certainly seemed to be the limit for twenty-one-year-old Ruben Rivera at the time, but that sky turned gray and cloudy for the young Panamanian very quickly. At first he did OK in the big leagues, hitting .284 in a 48-game stint during New York’s 1996 World Championship season. He even made the Yankee’s postseason roster that year.
But New York’s front office was looking for starting pitching and at the time there was an All Star hurler from Japan named Hideki Irabu refusing to sign with the San Diego Padres who had purchased his signing rights from his team in Japan. The Yankees packaged Rivera with one of their top Minor League pitching prospects named Rafael Medina and $3 million dollars and bought Irabu’s signing rights at the beginning of the 1997 regular season. By 1999, Ruben was starting in the Padres outfield and although he showed signs of good big league power, he struggled to get his average above .200. His finest moment was hitting .800 against his former Yankee teammates in the 2000 World Series but after the Padres lost to New York in four straight, San Diego released Rivera. He then played for the Reds in 2001 before rejoining the Yankee organization and his famous closing cousin in 2002. That’s when a bizarre spring training incident took place. Rivera allegedly stole and sold Derek Jeter’s baseball glove to a nostalgia dealer for $2,500 and his Yankee teammates actually voted him off the team. He then played a bit for the Rangers and Giants before ending up in the Mexican League for several more years.
Also born on this same date is another former Yankee outfielder who was supposed to take the place of the departing free agent, Bobby Abreu, when the Yankees got him from Pittsburgh during the 2008 season.
Just as he was during his tenure as the team’s pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre was under- appreciated as a Yankee starting pitcher. He did the bulk of his hurling during one of the bleakest ten-year periods in Pinstripe history. Yet he finished his career with a 2.97 ERA, 40 shutouts and averaged 16 victories per season.
Born in Hazelton, MO in 1941, Stottlemyre became one of my favorite players when the Yankees brought him up from the minors at the 1964 mid season and he won nine of twelve decisions to help the team come from behind and win the pennant. He then pitched two great games against the Cardinals in that season’s Fall Classic. I still remember watching the final game of that Series when Yankee Manager,Yogi Berra gave the 22-year-old right-hander the starting assignment a third time on just two-days rest because Whitey Ford couldn’t lift his left arm. Mel gave up three runs in the fourth inning on a walk and a bunch of singles. Berra’s decision to replace Stottlemyre with Al Downing an inning later immediately backfired when Downing gave up a lead-off home run to Lou Brock and a couple of more hits and the Cardinals scored three more runs. That negated the impact of Mickey Mantle’s three-run blast the following inning. The Yankees and Stottlemyre lost the game, Berra lost his job and my favorite team didn’t get back to a World Series for the next 11 years.
My anti-Yankee friends like to point out that Stottlemyre did almost all of his pitching before the American League implemented the designated hitter rule in 1973. This, they contend, explains why his ERA and shutout numbers are much more impressive than today’s starting pitchers. Not so fast. Stottlemyre’s record during the 1973 season, his only full year pitching to a DH, shows 16 victories, 4 shutouts, and an ERA of 3.07 for a Yankee team that had the third worst rated offense in the league that season.
In fact, if it were not for a rotator cuff injury that ended his career at the age of 32, in 1974, I believe Stottlemyre would have remained an effective sinker-balling starter for the great Yankee teams of the mid-seventies. In the process, he might have won a World Series, close to fifty more career victories and had his uniform number retired.
Besides pitching, the other thing Mel did very well was help others become better pitchers. Both his sons ended up pitching in the big leagues and Mel was the pitching coach for both the 1986 World Champion Mets and the four Joe Torre-led World Champion Yankee teams.
The best year I ever saw any Yankee team have was the 1998 squad. With Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius leading the offense and David Cone, David Wells, Andy Pettitte and Mo Rivera the pitching corps, Joe Torre’s team won an incredible 114 regular season games and then put together an 11-2 postseason which included a four-game sweep of the shell shocked Padres in the World Series. That team had everything including a bullpen filled with specialists of every kind and a bench packed with guys who knew their roles and filled them brilliantly. One of the subs was the super-quick Homer Bush. He was used as a pinch runner, pinch hitter and once in a great while, a spare infielder. His job was to get on first base, disrupt the opposing pitcher’s rhythm and score runs. In just 78 plate appearances that season, Bush had 27 hits and walked five times for an on-base-percentage of .420. He also scored 17 runs for the Bomber’s high powered offense. The following February, New York traded Bush along with Wells and reliever Graeme Lloyd to the Blue Jays for Roger Clemens. Given a chance to play regularly, Homer hit .320 for Toronto in 1999 and stole 32 bases. That performance got him a three-year $7.5 million contract from the Jays following the season. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there for the native of East St Louis, IL. Bush hurt his hip and was never again an everyday player and in 2002 he was released by both the Jays and the Marlins. He tried a comeback unsuccessfully with the Yankees in 2004.
Also born on November 12, this native of Kentucky proceeded to become a two-time twenty game winner for the Yankees.
Slim pickings as far as Yankees born on Veterans Day are concerned. In fact the first member of the team’s all-time roster I found to be born on 11-11 came into this world before that date was even officially recognized as Veterans’ Day. His name was Ownie Carroll and he was born in 1902, in Kearney, NJ. Before he pitched in the big leagues, Carroll became a legend at Holy Cross, compiling a 50-2 collegiate record. He then signed with Detroit and evolved into a pretty successful pitcher for the Tigers during the late twenties. He was 10-6 in 1927 and then 16-12 the following year. He slumped to 9-17 in 1929. That’s probably why he was traded to the Yankees, who offered Detroit pitcher Waite Hoyt and New York’s starting shortstop, Mark Koenig in exchange for Carroll, outfielder Harry Rice and one other nondescript Tiger player. Ownie’s career in New York was brief and unsuccessful. He appeared in just ten games for the Yankees during the 1930 season, mostly in relief, losing his only decision. The Reds purchased him after that season and he ended his career with Brooklyn, in 1934. He went onto become a very successful varsity baseball coach for Seton Hall University for 24 years. That school renamed its baseball stadium Owen T. Carroll Field in his honor. Carroll died in 1975.
The only other Yankee born on November 11th is this seldom used former reliever.