December 2012

December 27 – Happy Birthday David Aardsma


When Joe Girardi made a pitching change in the bottom of the eighth inning with the Yankees trailing by five runs in a September 27th game against Tampa in 2012, there was only one thing especially noteworthy about the move. It marked the first time in two years and eight days that David Aardsma made an appearance in a big league ball game. The six foot three inch, right-handed native of Denver had been one of the American League’s most effective closers, saving 69 games for the Mariners during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, when he injured both his left hip and his right shoulder, requiring surgery on both joints.

The Yankees signed him during the 2012 preseason knowing he might never pitch an inning for them. New York GM, Brian Cashman called the signing and “R&D move,” At the time, Mariano Rivera was hinting around that 2012 might be his final season and the Yanks were looking at Aardsma as a possible set-up guy for the 2013 season, taking over either David Robertson’s or Raffie Soriano’s slot, depending upon which of the two succeeded the great Rivera as the new Yankee closer. Cashman gave Aardsma a $500,000 one year deal with incentives and an option for a second season.

In a twist of fate, it is Soriano who won’t be pitching in New York in 2013, after he exercised an option in his contract and became a free agent after a superb 2012 season as Yankee closer. Rivera than announced he will be returning in 2013 and the Yanks have exercised their option on Aardsma and are bringing him back as well. In about five or six months we will know if Cashman’s R&D investment returns any big league dividends. Aardsma’s situation brings back memories of Jon Lieber. The Yankees signed the former Cub and 20-game winner in 2003 knowing he would miss that entire year recovering from arm surgery. Lieber than won 14 games as a starter for New York in 2004. Will Aardsma be another Lieber? Yankee fans certainly hope so.

Aardsma shares his December 27th birthday with this former Yankee postseason hero and this great Yankee switch-hitter.

December 26 – Happy Birthday Jay Tessmer

tessmerJay Tessmer was a tall, Pennsylvania-born, 19th-round Yankee draft-choice in 1995, who had the misfortune of being one of the organization’s top bullpen prospects during an era when New York’s bullpen featured Mo Rivera, Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson and Ramiro Mendoza. So even though the side-arming former University of Miami reliever saved 176 games in the minors, he couldn’t pitch well enough to become a permanent part of the parent club’s bullpen during the prime years of his career.

He got his first call-up to the Bronx in August of the 1998 season, when both Stanton and Mendoza were hurting and he enjoyed immediate success. Joe Torre had used all of his available stalwart relievers in a Thursday night game against the Angels and the score was tied 5-5 going into the top of the eleventh inning. He called on Tessmer, who had just arrived from Columbus that same day to take the mound. The 26-year-old retired the three hitters he faced, striking out both Phil Nevin and Darin Erstad in the process. In the bottom of the inning, Bernie Williams hit a walk-off double, driving in Derek Jeter and Tessmer had a win in his big league and Yankee debut. That would be his first and last big league victory and his only career decision. He would get three more shots during the 1999, 2000 and ’02 seasons but fail to stick more than seven games in any of them.

Tessmer shares his day-after-Christmas birthday with this former first baseman who hit one of the most dramatic home runs in Yankee franchise history.

December 25 – Happy Birthday Ben Chapman

Only two New York Yankees have led the American League in stolen bases three times while wearing pinstripes and both celebrate their birthdays on Christmas day. Today’s birthday celebrant accomplished it in consecutive seasons beginning in 1931.

Chapman began his big league career in 1930, when Bob Shawkey made the rookie the Yankees’ starting third baseman. The Nashville native had a terrific first year, hitting .316 and driving in 81 runs. When Joe McCarthy took over as New York manager the following season, he switched Chapman to left field, where he teamed with Babe Ruth and Earle Combs to give the Yankees one of their best outfields in franchise history. Chapman was more than just a base-stealer. He drove in 327 runs during the next three seasons while the Bambino had 403 RBIs of his own during that same span. Chapman later replaced Combs as the Yankee starting center fielder.

During his seven seasons in the Bronx, Chapman averaged .305 and played great defensively. So why did the Yankees trade such a talented ballplayer to the Senators for a guy named Jake Powell just before the midway point of the 1936 season? There were actually two reasons. The first was a young center fielder named Joe DiMaggio, who showed up in the Bronx in 1936. But perhaps the biggest reason Chapman was dealt was because he also happened to be one of the meanest and most unfriendly Yankees to ever put on the uniform. He got into fights with everybody, umpires, opponents, teammates, it didn’t matter who. He insulted Babe Ruth, was suspended for hitting an umpire and told his first wife he wanted a divorce just two months after they were married. Worst of all,  Chapman was also considered by many to be a vocal racist and an anti-semite. And he must of got meaner as he got older because once the Yankees got rid of him, Chapman was traded seven more times during the next dozen years. His meanest and lowest moments came after he retired as a player when in 1947, while he was manager of the Phillies, Chapman became infamous for his relentless and unusually cruel hazing of the great Jackie Robinson.

Chapman was definitely the Yankee Grinch who stole a lot of bases.

You can read about the Yankees’ other Christmas Day-born base-stealing champion here. This former Yankee third baseman was a Christmas baby too.

1930 NYY 138 565 513 74 162 31 10 10 81 14 43 58 .316 .371 .474 .845
1931 NYY 149 686 600 120 189 28 11 17 122 61 75 77 .315 .396 .483 .879
1932 NYY 151 663 581 101 174 41 15 10 107 38 71 55 .299 .381 .473 .854
1933 NYY 147 654 565 112 176 36 4 9 98 27 72 45 .312 .393 .437 .830
1934 NYY 149 665 588 82 181 21 13 5 86 26 67 68 .308 .381 .413 .795
1935 NYY 140 629 553 118 160 38 8 8 74 17 61 39 .289 .361 .430 .791
1936 NYY 36 156 139 19 37 14 3 1 21 1 15 20 .266 .338 .432 .769
15 Yrs 1717 7425 6478 1144 1958 407 107 90 977 287 824 556 .302 .383 .440 .823
NYY (7 yrs) 910 4018 3539 626 1079 209 64 60 589 184 404 362 .305 .379 .451 .830
WSH (3 yrs) 160 750 641 123 195 49 8 5 82 29 105 31 .304 .403 .429 .832
PHI (2 yrs) 25 54 52 5 16 2 0 0 4 0 2 1 .308 .333 .346 .679
BOS (2 yrs) 240 1040 903 168 293 63 19 13 137 40 122 68 .324 .405 .480 .885
BRO (2 yrs) 33 68 60 13 17 4 0 0 14 1 7 5 .283 .358 .350 .708
CLE (2 yrs) 292 1285 1093 183 315 71 15 10 132 31 165 75 .288 .384 .408 .792
CHW (1 yr) 57 210 190 26 43 9 1 2 19 2 19 14 .226 .297 .316 .612
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/26/2013.

December 24 – Happy Birthday Kevin Millwood

millwoodThis big right-hander was coming off the worst season in his 14-year big league career, when the Yankees signed the Gastonia, North Carolina native to a free agent minor-league contract just before the 2011 season opened. Millwood’s 4-16 record with the Orioles in 2010 had scared away most big league teams but his 159 lifetime wins and the uncertainty of New York’s own starting rotation convinced Brian Cashman to grab the former NL All Star and hold him in reserve. The Yanks assigned Millwood to their Scranton-Wilkes Barre Triple A team. If either Freddie Garcia or Bartolo Colon had failed to perform for the parent club during the opening weeks of the 2011 season, New York intended to use Millwood as their replacement.

Millwood pitched well during his opening month in the minors but both Colon and Garcia were doing likewise with the Yankees. Instead of waiting around for circumstances to change, Millwood chose to opt out of his Yankee contract and sign with the Red Sox. By that August, Millwood was 7-2 for the season in Triple A but with no hope of getting called up by the Red Sox either. When the Rockies were looking for a starter, he got Boston to release him and he ended up in Colorado’s rotation during the last two months of the 2011 regular season, going 4-3. He pitched the 2012 season with the Mariners.

The only member of the Yankee all-time roster who actually played for the big league club is this former outfielder who lived to be 100 years-old.

December 23 – Happy Birthday Fritz Maisel

maiselBack when I first became a Yankee fan, the team was in the final six years of a glorious 45 year run that author Peter Golenbock would later so aptly describe with the title of his excellent book “Dynasty.” The Bronx Bombers had dominated baseball during that era, not just with pennants and World Series, but also with record-breaking individual accomplishments. We had Babe Ruth and his home runs, Lou Gehrig and his games played streak, Joe D’s 56-straight and in 1961, the M&M boy’s glorious race to destiny. The Yankee strategy for winning had not changed since the spitball was outlawed, umpires began replacing balls that had been scuffed or gotten dirty and Ruth arrived in New York. The team lived and died by the three-run home-run. Yankee fans considered any form of small-ball to be a sacrilege and as a result, though lightening-quick Yankees like the great Mantle could have stolen 50 bases a year, they didn’t have to. Their orders were to get on a base and stay there until somebody else drove them in. Why on earth argue with success, right?

Well to tell you the truth, the fact that my Yankees were dead last in the American League in stolen bases during their glorious 1961 season bugged the heck out of me. They swiped a base just 28 times that season, 72 fewer than the league-leading Chicago White Sox, who had the great base-stealer, Luis Aparicio on their team at the time. “Little Louie” would turn a single or base-on-balls into a double about fifty times a year and I can remember thinking that as much as I loved Tony Kubek, if the Yankees traded him for Aparicio, it would propel New York to the top of the league’s stolen base chart. It never dawned on me of course that the Yankee offense had no need for stolen bases at the time or that the White Sox wouldn’t have traded their superlative shortstop and future Hall-of-Famer for six Tony Kubek’s.

While waiting for the Aparicio-for-Kubek deal to be consummated, I also remember coming across a list of all-time team records in my Yankee yearbook at the time and finding the name “Fritz Maisel” listed for most steals in a season. In 1914, this native of Catonsville, Maryland set both the big league and the Yankee team record by stealing 74 bases for New York. Ty Cobb would make short-work of Maisel’s league record by breaking it the following season, but those 74 steals by the former third-baseman would remain the all-time single-season mark for the Yanks until Ricky Henderson surpassed it in 1985 with his 80 steals.

Maisel may have been able to break his own record and become one of the great base-stealers in league history. In 1915, he followed up his record-breaking stolen-base season by hitting a career-high .281 and stealing 51 more. But in 1916, he hurt his throwing shoulder and could no longer make the throw from third-to-first. When his shoulder didn’t improve, the Yanks went out and got Frank “Home Run” Baker to play third and tried playing Maisel at second, where the strength of his throwing arm would matter less. The switch failed and not just because of his sore arm. Maisel’s bat also failed him. He hit just .198 during his final season as a Yankee in 1917 and was traded to the Browns. By the way, Ricky Henderson broke his own Yankee single-season stolen-base mark with his 93 steals in 1988, which remains the franchise standard.

Maisel shares his December 23rd birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and this one too.

1913 NYY 51 224 187 33 48 4 3 0 12 25 34 20 .257 .371 .310 .681
1914 NYY 150 630 548 78 131 23 9 2 47 74 76 69 .239 .334 .325 .659
1915 NYY 135 592 530 77 149 16 6 4 46 51 48 35 .281 .342 .357 .699
1916 NYY 53 183 158 18 36 5 0 0 7 4 20 18 .228 .318 .259 .578
1917 NYY 113 466 404 46 80 4 4 0 20 29 36 18 .198 .267 .228 .495
6 Yrs 592 2450 2111 295 510 56 24 6 148 194 260 177 .242 .327 .299 .626
NYY (5 yrs) 502 2095 1827 252 444 52 22 6 132 183 214 160 .243 .324 .305 .630
SLB (1 yr) 90 355 284 43 66 4 2 0 16 11 46 17 .232 .341 .261 .602
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/24/2013.