Today is like a holy day of obligation for Big Apple sports enthusiasts. On this date in 1916, the “Great DiMaggio” was born in Martinez, CA. He was and probably still is one of the most revered athletes in our country and perhaps the world. As a kid growing up, all I knew about DiMaggio was based on his statistics as a player, the nostalgic observations of sportswriters and the often embellished memories of the older generation of Yankee fans who were my neighbors on the west end of Amsterdam. While his stats indeed indicated DiMaggio was a great player, the latter two sources considered him a “God.” In fact, during my childhood, one of the most frequently heard lines in any argument between a young fan of Mickey Mantle and an older fan of Joe DiMaggio was “Mantle couldn’t carry DiMaggio’s jock strap.”
I’ve since read quite a few books about DiMaggio and about the Yankees during the DiMaggio era. The last one I read was the critical 2001 biography by Ben Cramer. I’ve come to the conclusion that much of the aura that surrounded the Yankee Clipper was based on his amazing baseball skills and achievements. But a large part of it was also due to the fact that the New York and national sports media of his era worshiped the guy and Joe maneuvered that worship brilliantly. This level of celebrity pandering by the media has become much less possible because today’s athletes get too much exposure. For example, Yankee fans can watch their team play every single spring training, regular and postseason game on high definition, big-screen TVs. Sportswriters are no longer free to embellish something that everyone is seeing with their own eyes. The Internet and the proliferation of sports bloggers has also made hiding a star player’s off-the-field behavior nearly impossible. Just ask A-Rod.
I would have loved to watch Joe DiMaggio play the game but I didn’t get the opportunity. As a die hard Yankee fan, I celebrate his accomplishments. But I believe the truth is that DiMaggio eventually got wrapped up in his own press clippings to the point that he actually believed he was perfect and that everyone else was out to get him. It was the pressure of maintaining that image that made DiMaggio a bitter man, the superstar who would not say a single word to a young Mickey Mantle during the Mick’s rookie season, who thought Casey Stengel was trying to embarrass him into retirement, and who pretty much abandoned his only son. Why is it that people who have so much going for them have such a difficult time just being happy?
Several years ago, I took my boys to a Yankee game and we were sitting next to a young Yankee fan who loved Don Mattingly. He knew everything about the then current team but not so much about Yankee history so when he told me that Mattingly was a better hitter than Mantle was, I couldn’t help myself. I found myself saying, “Son, Mattingly couldn’t carry Mickey Mantle’s jock strap.” I have to admit the line felt good coming out of my mouth until the completely unfazed kid responded with “What’s a jock strap, mister?”
Freddie Beene was one of those short-term Yankee players I will always remember. He was a little right-handed relief pitcher New York had picked up from Baltimore in a 1972 preseason trade. Yankee skipper Ralph Houk brought him north with the team after his first spring training season and he appeared in 29 regular season games that year. He won just one of his four decisions in ’72 but he saved three and finished with an excellent 2.34 ERA. He helped another Yankee newcomer that year named Sparky Lyle, rejuvenate the team’s bullpen.
But it was Beene’s 1973 season I remember best. Though he appeared in just 19 games that year including four as a starter, he was just about perfect in each of them. He finished 6-0 with one save and a microscopic 1.68 ERA. He entered the first month of the 1974 season as an established member of the Yankee pitching corp but by the time it ended, he was a member of the Cleveland Indians. On April 26, 1974, Yankee GM Gabe Paul had traded Beene, Fritz Peterson, Steve Kline and Tom Buskey to the Tribe for pitchers Dick Tidrow, Cecil Upshaw and the key player for New York in the deal, first baseman Chris Chambliss. Beene would spend his final two Major League seasons relieving in Cleveland, before returning to the minors, where he spent the final four seasons of his pitching career.
|NYY (3 yrs)||7||3||.700||1.99||54||5||25||0||0||5||158.2||131||46||35||9||53||96||1.160|
|BAL (3 yrs)||0||0||4.66||7||0||2||0||0||0||9.2||12||6||5||1||7||5||1.966|
|CLE (2 yrs)||5||4||.556||5.72||51||1||20||0||0||3||119.2||131||86||76||11||51||55||1.521|
By 1967 it had become clear to most of us Bronx Bomber fans from the baby boom generation that the Yankee dynasty was no more. Mantle’s knees buckled every time he swung his bat. All Star names like Maris, Kubek, Richardson and Boyer no longer appeared in the New York lineup, replaced by the likes of Whitaker, Clarke, Smith and Amaro. We became desperate for talent and hoped that every Yankee prospect who got a cup-of-coffee call-up to 161st street was the answer. Surely a Mike Hegan or a Ross Moschitto would evolve into a 30 home run hitter, or maybe it would be the Brooklyn native with movie star looks named Frank Tepedino. But none of them did.
Tepedino was just 19 years old when he made his pinstriped debut in May of 1967. He was a left-handed hitter who played first base so he was behind both Mickey Mantle and Hegan on that Yankee team’s depth chart and barely saw any action during the three months he was on the Yankee roster. About the only thing he proved he could do at the big league level was drink, and by the time New York sent him back to the minors, Tepedino had become a full fledged alcoholic. He would get three more shots with the Yankees in 1969, ’70 and ’71 before getting traded to the Braves in 1973 for starting pitcher Pat Dobson. He had his best big league season his first year in Atlanta, hitting .304 in 74 games. He remained with the Braves until 1975, which is when his eight-season career in the Majors ended.
Tepedino returned to New York City and became a fireman. On September 11, 2001, he was on his way to the Twin Towers when they collapsed. He stopped drinking years ago and has since made over 60,000 speeches to youth groups and schools about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. He might not have made it big as a Yankee but he certainly made sure his life after baseball has been meaningful.
He shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher who put together several great seasons on the mound, this former Yankee pitcher who put together just one and this one-time Yankee first baseman.
|NYY (5 yrs)||52||83||77||8||17||2||0||0||6||1||6||8||.221||.277||.247||.524|
|ATL (3 yrs)||160||354||324||31||84||10||1||4||45||1||23||36||.259||.307||.333||.640|
|MIL (1 yr)||53||112||106||11||21||1||0||2||7||2||4||17||.198||.234||.264||.498|
At the 1986 All Star break, just about everyone playing for and following that year’s Yankee team thought the club’s top acquisition priority was starting pitching. That’s why everyone was a bit surprised by the deal New York swung with the White Sox. The Yankees sent Chicago their starting catcher at the time, Ron Hassey and the organization’s top minor league shortstop, a guy named Carlos Martinez. In return, New York got power-hitting DH Ron Kittle, a new starting catcher in Joel Skinner and a scrappy middle infielder named Wayne Tolleson.
At the time of the deal, Tolleson, a native of Spartanburg, SC and an all-league star in baseball and football at Western Carolina was 30 years old. He had debuted in the big leagues in 1981 with Texas and became the Rangers starting shortstop in 1983. He was only five feet nine inches tall and weighed just 160 pounds, which helps explain why he would hit just 9 home runs during his decade in the big leagues. A switch hitter, he made up for his lack of pop with constant hustle, good speed and solid defense.
Yankee skipper, Lou Piniella made Tolleson his starting shortstop during the second half of the 1986 season, replacing Bobby Meacham. Tolleson put together a solid first half-season in pinstripes, averaging .284 and committing just five errors. That 1986 Yankee team finished with 90 wins but missed the postseason. Piniella stuck with Tolleson at short but his bat went ice cold and he hit just .221 during his first full season as a Yankee. That 1987 team again failed to reach the postseason and the New York front office decided Tolleson was no longer the answer at short. They went out and got Rafael Santana from the Mets and Tolleson his final three seasons in the Bronx as the Yankees top utility infielder.
This pitching star of the 1957 World Series, this hitting star of the 1998 World Series, this former third baseman and this current Yankee catching prospect all share Tolleson’s November 22nd birthday.
|TEX (5 yrs)||427||1357||1225||156||307||32||9||4||50||79||94||180||.251||.305||.301||.607|
|NYY (5 yrs)||355||947||837||106||187||21||5||2||54||16||87||161||.223||.298||.268||.565|
|CHW (1 yr)||81||310||260||39||65||7||3||3||29||13||38||43||.250||.342||.335||.677|
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.