Having three brothers talented enough to become professional anythings is not easy. Take my family as an example. My older brother Matt has a great singing voice. People tell me I could have been the next Sinatra. But any chance the three Cinquanti brothers might have had to become professional entertainers was squashed by our oldest brother Jerry, who couldn’t carry a tune to save his life.
The three Alou brothers, on the other hand, had no weak link when it came to baseball talent. The oldest, Felipe, was the best all-around player of the three. The youngest, Jesus, put together a .280 lifetime batting average over fifteen big league seasons. But only middle sibling, Matty, won a batting championship and finished his big league career with a batting average above .300 (.307).
Matty was not always the best hitting Alou brother. When he came up with the Giants, he used a light bat and an upper cut swing because that’s the way his older brother did it. It was not until he got traded to Pittsburgh, in 1966, and came under the hitting tutelage of Harry “The Hat” Walker that Matty started hitting for average. Walker gave his new outfielder a heavier bat and using Roberto Clemente as an interpreter, convinced Matty to start swinging down on the ball. The results were immediate. Matty won the 1966 NL batting title with a .342 average and did not hit below .331 during his first four seasons with the Pirates. When he finally did (.297 in 1970), Pittsburgh traded him to St Louis.
He ended up with Oakland and a championship ring in 1972 and the Yankees got him in a trade before the 1973 season. For a while, he was reunited with Felipe until New York traded the elder Alou to Montreal late in that same season. Matty hit .296 during his one year in pinstripes and then got sold back to the Cardinals.
How good were the Alou brothers? Between the three of them, Joe, Dom and Vince DiMaggio had 4,853 career hits during their big league careers. Felipe, Matty and Jesus had 5,094.
Matty was born December 22, 1938 and was three years younger than Felipe and four years older than Jesus. He passed away in November of 2011 from complications caused by diabetes. He was 72-years-old.
The 2000 season was supposed to have been D’Angelo Jimenez’s first full year as a New York Yankee. The native Dominican had completed a noteworthy seven-game-long cup-of-coffee stint in the Bronx the previous September, during which he belted eight hits in his twenty at-bats and drove in four runs. That performance had impressed manager Joe Torre, the team’s front-office and many Yankee fans, including me as well. I can remember being certain that this then 21-year-old switch-hitter would be the Yankees’ fifth infielder in 2000. That didn’t happen.
In an incident that reminded me of the one that had destroyed former Yankee shortstop, Andre Robertson’s big league future, fifteen years earlier, Jimenez broke his neck in a car accident in the Dominican Republic, one month before the 2000 spring training camp opened. A year and a half later, the Yankees traded him to the Padres for reliever Jay Witasick.
While Jimenez had been recovering from his injuries, another Yankee infield prospect named Alfonso Soriano had leap-frogged ahead of him on the organization’s depth chart. Since Derek Jeter, Chuck Knoblauch and Scott Brosius were also firmly ensconced at short, second and third for a Yankee team that had just captured its third-straight World Series, hardly anyone noticed this kid had been traded.
Over the next seven seasons, Jimenez would play for six different big league teams. His best stretch occurred in Cincinnati, where he became the Red’s starting second baseman and Barry Larkin’s double play partner in 2003 and ’04. He hit .290 that first year and than poked 12 home runs and set a career high with 67 RBIs the following season. But after getting off to a slow start in 2005, he lost his job to Rich Aurilia. The Reds released him and he spent the final two years of his big-league career living out of his suitcase, as he played for Texas, Oakland and the Nationals.
Jimenez is still playing baseball. He played for an independent minor league team in 2012 and than joined the Mexican League, where he hit .328 in 21 games. I still think if he didn’t break his neck, he’d have been a great utility infielder for that 2000 Yankee team, instead of Clay Bellinger, who would hit just .207 in that role. That would have put Jimenez in a perfect slot to take over the regular second base job when Knoblauch’s case of Steve Blass throwing disease started. Instead, Jose Vizcaino was given the position and a year later it was Soriano and not today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant who would become a big league all star.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the legendary Branch Rickey revolutionized Major League Baseball not once but twice. His first engineered earth change took place when he created a farm system for the St. Louis Cardinals. There had always been minor leagues and minor league teams in US baseball, but not one of those teams had ever been formally affiliated with a big league franchise. The “Mahatma” changed that. As first manager and then president of the St. Louis Cardinals, he began buying portions of ownership in select minor league teams so that he could control the development and contracts of the players on those teams. It was the fruit from Rickey’s pioneer farm system that provided the core players who formed the great St. Louis Gashouse Gang teams that would win six pennants and three World Series before WWII.
Next stop for Rickey was as GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. In that role he engineered the breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier which helped convert the Dodgers into a National League dynasty.
But before he became the greatest baseball executive in the history of the sport, Rickey actually played it. He broke into the big leagues as a catcher with the Browns in 1905. The following year, he started 55 games behind the plate for St. Louis, averaged .284 and threw out close to 40% of the runners attempting to steal against him. The New York Highlanders’ starting catcher, Red Kleinow, had hit just .220 that same season and his back-up, Deacon McGuire was 42 years old. This may help explain why New York traded an outfielder named Little Joe Yeager to the Browns for Rickey, after the 1906 season.
Rickey’s catching career in New York, however, would end up consisting of just 11 games. The biggest reason for that miniscule level of playing time was an injured throwing arm and that bum arm explains Rickey’s only appearance in the MLB record book as a player. When every other Highlander catcher on the roster came down with more serious injuries than Rickey’s at one point during that 1907 season, he was forced to play behind the plate during a game between New York and the Senators. Thirteen Washington base runners were credited with successful stolen base attempts against the then 25-year-old New York catcher that afternoon. In the eleven games in which he was New York’s catcher that year, he made nine errors. His injured wing and his .182 Highlander batting average probably explains why the future Hall of Famer quit playing baseball that year and went to law school. The rest is, as they say, history.
Rickey was born on this date in 1881, in Flat, Ohio. He died in 1965. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee DH and outfielder.
Besides paying him lots and lots of money, the Yankees did very little to help Raffie Soriano feel comfortable or even wanted, when he first put on the pinstripes. He was coming off a league-leading 45-save, 2010 season with the Tampa Bay Rays and had declared free agency. Everyone assumed the Dominican right-hander would get signed to a huge contract by a team that badly needed a closer. Everybody was mostly wrong. Soriano got the huge contract alright, but it was with the Yankees, a team that already had the greatest closer who ever played the game in their bullpen. Not only would Soriano not be closing, the GM of his new team let it be publicly known that he was against his signing.
I had seen Soriano pitch with the Rays the previous two years and he certainly looked mean and intimidating on the mound. But after watching him try to acclimate to an eighth inning set-up role during his first season in New York, this new Yankee looked more unhappy when he was pitching than anything else. After holding opponents scoreless in his first two appearances, he got roughed up by the Twins for four runs in his third and finished his first month in New York with an ERA over seven. Than he got hurt in the middle of May and was on the DL for the next month and a half. By the time he got back, David Robertson had firmly ensconced himself in the Yankee’s eighth-inning set-up role and Soriano had to be wondering what his future was with his new team. But instead of sulking, he sucked it up and kept pitching and though he got roughed up a couple of times in the final two months of that 2011 season, I could tell the guy was a battler.
When the 2012 season started, the press crew covering the Yankees were all trying to figure out if it would be Mariano Rivera’s final year. Robertson’s brilliance in 2011 dictated he’d start the year as the eighth-inning set-up guy and Sori was once again expected to work the seventh. Then on May 3, the Yankees were taking batting practice in Kansas City and Rivera fell awkwardly on Kaufman Stadium’s center field warning track while pursuing a hard-hit ball off the bat of A-Rod. I’m sure lots of Yankee fans watching replays of Rivera being carted off the field felt New York’s hopes of making the postseason were being carted away with him.
I remember thinking how badly Soriano must have felt when Joe Girardi turned to Robertson in the first save situation the Yankees faced without Rivera, especially because the opponent was Soriano’s former team, the Rays. Robertson was successful in that first attempt but he blew the next save and then injured his ribs. Suddenly, Soriano was the new Yankee closer. Forty-two saves later he was arguably the most valuable Yankee of the 2012 regular season. Considering his shaky start the season before, it was a truly remarkable performance, one of the most clutch in franchise history.
After New York’s disappointing 2012 postseason, during which he pitched four and a third innings of scoreless ball, Soriano decided to take advantage of the opt-out clause in his Yankee contract and again become a free agent. Fortunately for New York, Mariano Rivera announced he was coming back in 2013. Still, losing Soriano represents a major depletion in the Yankees’ 2013 bullpen. I’m so glad Hal Steinbrenner overruled Cashman two years ago and insisted the Yankees sign this guy. I’m going to miss him staring inside his hat before facing a batter and untucking his jersey after nailing down a save. I hope that’s all I end up missing.
It was appropriate that Scott Nielsen pitched three of his four big league seasons in the city of Wall Street because he was traded so often, he might have qualified for a slot on the big board. Selected by the Mariners in the sixth round of the 1983 draft, New York got him the first time a year later, for Larry Milbourne. He pitched well in the Yankee farm system, especially in 1986, when he had already won 13 games by the time he was called up to the Bronx in July of that season to fill in for Ron Guidry, who had suffered a severe cut on his pitching hand. Nielsen ended up going 4-4 for manager Lou Piniella that season, with a 4.02 ERA.
The following January, the Yankees traded the right-hander to the White Sox in the deal that brought Randy Velarde to New York. The Salt Lake City native saw quite a bit of action in the Windy City during the 1987 season as a reliever and spot starter. He finished that year with a 3-5 record and an ERA over six. That November the White Sox sent Nielsen back to New York along with former 20-game winner, Rich Dotson in exchange for Yankee outfielder, Dan Pasqua and two other players. The Yankees put him back in Columbus to start the ’88 season and he became the Clippers best starting pitcher. He was 13-6 in Triple A when he was called back up to the parent club in August of that year. But he didn’t pitch well for New York during the last two months of that season. The following July, he was traded to the Mets for Marcus Lawton but he would never again pitch in a Major League game. He ended his four-year big league career with a 9-11 record and three career shutouts. In 1988, Nielsen became one of just 38 big league pitchers who have allowed more home runs than batters struck out in the same season, when he gave up five HRs but struck out just 4 opposing hitters.
Nielsen shares his birthday with this great Yankee first baseman who passed away earlier this year.
Probably like most pretty passionate baseball fans, when I see the name “Bob Ojeda,” two things come to mind quickly. The first is that 1986 Met season when today’s birthday celebrant was the very best pitcher in the outstanding starting rotation of that World Championship team. The second is the tragic Florida boating accident that took place during the Cleveland Indians’ 1993 spring training season, in which Ojeda was seriously injured and two of his Cleveland teammates, Steve Olin and Tim Crews, lost their lives.
What most of us forget, when we come across the name of this talented left-hander who pitched in the big leagues for all or parts of 15 seasons, is that he finished that career in pinstripes. Ojeda was able to recover from the injuries he suffered in that boating accident and actually pitch for Cleveland during the final two months of the 1993 season, but was then released. The Yankees had just finished a strong 1993 season in second place in the AL East under second-year manager Buck Showalter and felt they were one starting pitcher away from being a post season participant in 1994. When Yankee GM Gene Michael couldn’t make a trade for that starter, he decided to throw the role up for open competition during New York’s ’94 spring training camp. Participants in that competition included the team’s top prospects at the time, Sterling Hitchcock and Mark Hutton and the veteran Ojeda, who Michael had signed to a one-year minor league deal.
Ojeda ended up pitching better in that exhibition season than not only both youngsters, but also Scott Kamieniecki, who had been the fifth starter in New York’s ’93 rotation. It was decided that Kamieniecki would start the year in the bullpen and Ojeda would go to Triple A Columbus for a few practice starts to strengthen his arm before joining the Yankee starting rotation.
He made his first start for his new team on April 16th of that season in a game against the Tigers in Detroit and was hammered hard, not surviving the first inning. He got his second chance a week later, this time at the Stadium, versus Oakland and was hammered again, not making it out of the third inning. He did not get a third chance. Michael and Showalter decided they were better off starting Kamieniecki and they released Ojeda.
A few months ago, Ojeda wrote one of the best self-retrospective articles I’ve ever read written by a professional athlete. It appeared in a May 2012 edition of the New York Times and you can read it here. In it he reveals that his left arm has been chronically sore since he was a 12-year-old little league pitcher and only a constant mixture of drugs, ice, booze and denial throughout his career kept him pitching.
How many ballplayers can say they once replaced Mr. October during an October baseball game? Today’s birthday celebrant can. He made his last appearance in Pinstripes by replacing Reggie Jackson in right field at the start of the third inning, during an October 5, 1980 game against Detroit. It was New York’s regular season finale and the Yankees had already clinched their Division. New York Manager, Dick Howser let Reggie get an at bat (he tripled) and then pulled his superstar out of the meaningless contest and replaced him with Wilborn. Ted’s real name is Thaddeus Inglehart Wilborn. He was born in Waco, TX, on December 16, 1958.
New York had originally drafted this speedster in the 4th round of the 1976 Major League Draft but then lost him to Toronto in the Rule 5 Draft two years later. The Yankees got him back from the Blue Jays in the same 1979 deal that had brought catcher Rick Cerone to the Bronx. He appeared in just eight games for New York during his only season in pinstripes. He went back down into the Yankee farm system the following year and ended up getting packaged in a 1982 trade with the Giants for Doyle Alexander. He went on to steal over 200 bases in the Minors but never again played in a big league game.
In 1951, ’52 and ’53, first baseman Eddie Robinson was in the peak years of his Major League Baseball career. Like many players of his era, that career was interrupted early by military service in WWII. Three seasons after Robinson returned from the war, the trades that marked his entire career began. He went from the Indians to the Senators in 1949 and then to the White Sox during the 1950 season. By 1952, however, it looked like he had found a home in the Windy City. He had put together two straight 100 RBI seasons for Chicago, making the All Star team both years. But instead of settling in, Eddie was traded again, this time to the Athletics, who were still in Philadelphia at the time. In the “City of Brotherly Love,” he combined with slugger Gus Zernial to provide the A’s with most of their offense as he reached the 100-RBI mark and made the All Star team for the third year in a row. That’s when the Yankees got him as part of a huge ten player deal that turned out not to have much positive impact for either team.
Simply put, the Yankees did not need the guy. George Weiss thought Robinson would replace the lighter hitting Joe Collins as the Yankee starting first baseman. The crafty GM, however, did not anticipate that rookie Moose Skowren, a powerful right hand hitting first baseman would hit .340 in 1954. Stengel ended up platooning Skowren at first base with Collins, who was the best fielder of all three players and used Robinson more as a pinch hitter. Eddie did very well in that role for two plus seasons in the Bronx but it was truly a waste of the overall talents of this four-time All Star.
In June of 1956, Weiss traded Robinson back to the A’s, who by then had relocated to Kansas City. Unfortunately, Eddie was already 35-years old at the time and he never again would be the hitter he was when New York acquired him three years earlier. When Eddie hung up his spikes in 1957, he began a career in baseball’s front offices that continued through 1996 when he finally retired as head of scouting for the New York Yankees.
Another Yankee born on this date was this AL Rookie of the Year winner in 1968.
I can’t explain exactly why, but one of the things I’ve always enjoyed doing is picking up first my children and now my grandchildren from school. Maybe its because I still remember how good I myself felt on those very few afternoons when I was between five and seven years-old and I’d walk out the huge glass-plated doors of Guy Park Avenue School and see my own normally-at-work Mom, standing there waiting to walk or drive me home. Maybe its because I didn’t get the chance and still don’t get the chance to perform this welcomed activity very often. Or maybe its because I’ve just always loved little kids.
When kids are that age and younger, not only do they need their parents most, they also enjoy being with us most. In addition to feeding and clothing and taking care of them, during that short time in their life we actually are their best friends. They truly enjoy being with you and look forward to seeing you and telling you things and asking you all the questions they really want answers to. Every parent and grandparent who’s ever picked up their little ones at school knows exactly what I mean. That sparkle in their eyes and the smile that appears on their faces when they come out that school door and see you there waiting for them is priceless. If you wonder what love looks like? That’s it right there.
Those sparkling eyes and heartwarming smiles are what I was thinking about yesterday as I listened to and watched the news of the horrible tragedy unfolding in Connecticut. All those terrified parents, rushing to that school, not knowing what to expect, praying for the best, fearing the worst. They put their beautiful, completely innocent babies on the bus or drove them to school that morning without a second’s hesitation. A few hours later, they were immersed in agony, desperately hoping and praying that a door would open and their child would come out of it, see them and smile.
This morning, I woke up at 4AM thinking of the 20 sets of parents who’s children did not leave that school. How do they go on? I don’t know if I myself could or would even want to try. I think of all those children who witnessed such unspeakable evil in a place they thought was perfectly safe and wonder not “if ” but instead “when” and “how” it will negatively impact their lives.
The only possible thing any of us can do to honor the lives of those beautiful sweet children and the heroes who died trying to protect them is to finally say enough is enough. Regardless of which metric is used, America leads the world by far in deaths caused by guns. Each and every day of the year, an average of 32 people in this country are killed with a bullet fired from a gun. We as a society must do much better than we’ve done so far when it comes to answering the question “How can we reduce the number of deaths in this country caused by guns?”
Based on everything being reported thus far, the evil young man who carried out yesterday’s massacre, had no criminal record or documented history of mental illness. Since his mother was once an aide or volunteer at the school, some are assuming the principal recognized his face when it was captured by the security camera positioned at the school’s locked front door and he was buzzed into the building. One of the weapons he used to commit this unconscionable slaughter, was the same type of rapid fire rifle our military troops use in Afghanistan. Reports indicate, this assault rifle belonged to his mother, who he also had killed at home, earlier yesterday morning.
So it looks like he broke not a single law until he used this weapon, which is designed for the express purpose of very quickly killing large numbers of human beings, to begin doing exactly that. There is absolutely no reason for any person on this earth other than a soldier fighting in a war (or law enforcement officials) to have access to or use the type of weapon. Did you know that before being issued a firearm of any kind, every law enforcement professional is required to take and pass psychological testing and classes on the proper use of force and weapons. Did you know that anyone in America 21 years or older without a criminal record can purchase an assault rifle with just a drivers license?
My personal opinion is that the sale or possession of this type of weapon should be banned forever in this country. If you agree, or have a better idea that will more effectively prevent what happened in Newtown yesterday morning from ever happening again, I beg you to write your congressman and senators and tell them to immediately do whatever is necessary to make this happen now.
Mr. Roland is one of just two former Yankees I came across, who were born on December 14. I remember him mostly as a pitcher for the Twins in the early sixties. He went 4-1 for Minnesota in ten starts during his rookie season of 1963 and the Twins used him as their fifth starter at the beginning of the next season. Unfortunately for Roland, he did not pitch well in 1964 and he spent the entire 1965 season back in the minors where he was forced to watch the Twins make it to that year’s World Series. He was back in the big leagues for good by 1967, got sold to Oakland in 1969 and then the Yankees in 1972. He relieved in 10 games for New York, losing his only decision and failing to earn a save. The Yankees traded him to Texas and he retired after failing to catch on with the Rangers. Roland’s most impressive career performance actually took place against the Yankees during the 1964 season when he started and completed a 12-inning 7-2 victory over the eventual AL Champions. The southpaw died of cancer at the age of 67.
I was much more personally familiar with another almost-Yankee born on this same date. His name was Mitch Lyden, but unfortunately for Mitch, all his Yankee games took place as a member of the Albany Colonie Yankees, New York’s Double A Eastern League affiliate back in the eighties and early nineties. Mitch was a catcher who spent 16 seasons in the minors, including parts of five with Albany Colonie. His only taste of the big leagues was a six-game call-up with the Marlins in 1993. It seemed as if every time I took my kids to an Albany Colonie Yankee game, Mitch would hit a home run. In fact, his 47 career HRs and 170 career RBIs are the most ever for an Albany Colonie player.
The only other big league Yankee I could find who was born on December 14th was this switch-hitting outfielder who played for New York’s AL franchise way back in 1904.