The starting rotation for the 1990 New York Yankees pitched so poorly that I clearly remember thinking the team’s manager, Stump Merrill should seriously have considered letting his bullpen start games. The combined record of starters Tim Leary, Andy Hawkins, Dave LaPoint, Chuck Cary and Mike Witt was a woeful 32-59 that season. The team’s top five relievers on the other hand had a combined record of 26-20 plus 36 saves by closer Dave Righetti. In fact, one of those relievers, right-hander Lee Guetterman actually led the entire staff in wins that year with 11.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was a member of that 1990 Yankee bullpen. Jeff Robinson had made his big league debut as a starter with the San Francisco Giants in 1984, putting together a 7-15 record in 33 starts during his rookie season. He then spent most of the next season back in the Pacific Coast League and when he reemerged in San Francisco in 1986 he had been converted into a reliever. During the next five seasons he evolved into one of the NL’s better bullpen pitchers. His best year happened in 1988. By then, this native of Santa Ana, CA had been traded to Pittsburgh. He went 11-5 that season with 9 saves and an ERA of 3.03. In 1989, the Pirates converted Robinson back into a starter during the second half of that year and the results were pretty ugly. After winning his first three starts, the big right-hander lost 7 of his final 9 decisions and was traded to the Yankees that December, as part of the trade that sent catcher Don Slaught to Pittsburgh.
Robinson appeared in 54 games for New York in 1990. He pitched pretty well, going 3-6 with a 3.45 ERA and 57 strikeouts in the 57 innings he pitched that season. Merrill inserted him in the rotation in mid July and he won two of his first three starts impressively. In his fourth start he gave up 4 runs to Detroit in 5 and 1/3 innings and then was sent back to the bullpen, where he remained for the rest of the season.
That 1990 season was the final year of Robinson’s contract and he became a free agent. The Yankees showed little interest in retaining his services so he signed with the Angels and got his first and only million dollar payday. He had a bad 1993 season for California and then bounced back with the Cubs, going 4-3 in 1992 with a 3.00 ERA. Chicago cut him on the final day of the 1993 spring training season and Robinson’s nine-year big league career was over.
There was actually another Jeff Robinson who was a big league pitcher during the same time today’s Birthday Celebrant pitched in the big leagues. In fact, the other Robinson was pitching for the Orioles in 1990 when this Robinson was pitching in New York. The two never faced each other in a big league game. Just to confuse you a bit more, this other Jeff Robinson celebrates his birthday tomorrow, on December 14th. Meanwhile, the ex-Yankee Jeff Robinson shares his December 13th birthday with this former Yankee closer and this son of a former Yankee manager.
The 1998 Yankees had a near perfect team. Every player had a role, every player knew his role and every player performed his role perfectly enough to generate a franchise record number of regular season wins (114) and an 11-2 postseason run that culminated in a World Series sweep of a shell-shocked San Diego Padres team.
The pitching staff featured a five-man starting rotation of double digit winners led by David Cone who went 20-7. The bullpen was anchored by the amazing Rivera, and he was surrounded by situational workhorses Mike Stanton, Ramiro Mendoza, Jeff Nelson and Graeme Lloyd. I loved watching that team play. To this day, I can easily name 24 of the players who composed that team’s core 25-man roster for the majority of the regular season. The only name I have a tough time recalling is that of relief pitcher Mike Buddie. The native of Berea, Ohio was the 11th member of the Yankee pitching staff that season. He spent most of the season on the parent club’s roster, appearing in 24 games, including two starts and finishing with a very nice 4-1 record but a rather high ERA of 5.62. It was most likely that lofty earned run average and Buddie’s control problems that got the big right hander left off the Yankees’ 1998 postseason roster. But nobody can take away that beautiful championship ring he earned as a significant contributing member of that team.
Bidde spent most of the 1999 season back pitching in Columbus, where he put together an impressive 9-2 record. After he started the 2000 season still with the Clippers and lost three of his first four decisions, the Yankees released him. He was able to immediately catch on with the Brewers’ organization. During the next three seasons, his career continued on its yo-yo trajectory between Triple A and the big show. He earned his only two big league saves with Milwaukee in 2001 and earned his first and only victory as a Brewer the following season. 2002 would be his final year in the Majors and he quit playing entirely after one more season in Triple A. He than went to work in the athletic department of his alma mater, Wake Forest University.
They called him”Hal” and “Skinny” but his real name was Hector. He was 6’2″ and weighed about 180 pounds. Just before he retired, the great Ted Williams told reporters that Brown had never thrown him a “fat pitch” and called Skinny a “great pitcher.” Who could be more qualified than the “Splendid Splinter” to make a judgment like that. Brown had a terrific slider and later in his career he learned how to throw a knuckleball. Those two pitches helped him stay in the big leagues for 14 seasons, coming up with the White Sox, in 1951. He was traded to the Red Sox in1953 and went 11-6 for Boston that year in his first shot as a regular starting pitcher. But it wasn’t until he was traded to Baltimore, two seasons later that Brown really hit his pitching stride. In eight years with the Birds, Hal started and relieved his way to a 62-48 record. The Yankees purchased Brown from Baltimore in the last month of the 1962 season and he got his first and only start in pinstripes against the Red Sox, two days later. Boston battered him pretty good and he left in the fifth inning, trailing 9-2. He got just one more relief appearance that season and then was sold to the Houston Colt 45s the following April. Brown is the only member of the Yankee all-time roster I could find who was born on December 11. The Greensboro, NC native was born on this date in 1924. I could find no other Yankee who shares his birthday.
This post is happening at the same time the Yankees are considering signing former Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youklis to play third base in 2012. If the deal goes through, Youklis would join Hal Brown and a whole bunch of other former big leaguers who played for both the Yankees and Red Sox during their careers. Here’s my all-time lineup of Yankee/Red Sox:
1b: George Boomer Scott
2b: Mark Bellhorn
3b: Wade Boggs
ss: Everett Scott
c: Elston Howard
of: Babe Ruth
of: Johnny Damon
of: Ricky Henderson
dh: Don Baylor
sp: Red Ruffing
cl: Sparky Lyle
By July of the 1993 season, the Yankee bullpen had the highest earned run average in the American League. Closer Steve Farr was in the final year of his three-year Yankee contract and his ERA had skyrocketed to over four. There wasn’t a middle reliever or set-up guy who was doing much better. Steve Howe and Paul Gibson, the team’s two left-handed relievers, couldn’t seem to get anyone out. That’s why the Yankees felt it was imperative to acquire southpaw Paul Assenmacher from the Chicago Cubs at the All Star break. The Detroit native had spent his first seven-and-a-half big league seasons pitching out of the NL bullpens of the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs, compiling a 39-30 record with 41 saves and a 3.41 ERA. He was also a workhorse, having pitched in more than 70 games in each of his three previous seasons.
Second year Yankee manager, Buck Showalter put his new bullpen acquisition to work immediately and the results were not instantly encouraging. Assenmacher blew a save opportunity in his first pinstriped appearance. But than he got hot. In his next 12 games he gave up just one run while winning both of his decisions and being credited with five holds. He got lit up pretty good in his first appearance in September versus the White Sox but pitched well from there on out. He finished his half year as a Yankee with a 2-2 record and an ERA of 3.12. I thought those numbers were good enough to earn him a spot on New York’s 1994 roster but he was instead traded to the White Sox for right-hander Brian Boehringer about two weeks before the new season started. The Yanks would have done better keeping Assenmacher. During the next four years he went 11-6 with two saves and an ERA in the low threes while Boehringer was going 5-9 with no saves for New York.
Big Paul would continue pitching until 1999, retiring with a 61-44 record, 56 saves and a lifetime ERA of 3.53. No pitcher in baseball appeared in more than the 644 games Assemacher pitched in during the 1990s. He later became a baseball coach at a Catholic High School in Atlanta. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and this one-time Yankee backup receiver.
I remember not being thrilled by the news that the Yankees had traded this big right-hander to Pittsburgh just before Christmas in 1975. I was a Doc Medich fan. He was born George Francis Medich on today’s date in 1948, in Aliquippa, PA. He had gone 14-9 during his first big league season in 1973, including three shutouts and finished third in that year’s AL Rookie of the Year balloting. Then in ’74, he stepped up big when Yankee ace Mel Stottlemyre was injured, winning 19 games, including four more shutouts and helping New York finish second, just two games behind Eastern Division winner, Baltimore. Doc was 6’5″ tall and weighed right around 230 pounds so you expected he’d have a real good fastball but he did not. He was much more of a finesse and control pitcher. He was also one smart cookie, attending medical school during the off season and eventually becoming a practicing physician.
After New York finished so close to the Orioles, George Steinbrenner traded Bobby Murcer for Bobby Bonds and then signed Catfish Hunter. Everyone expected the Yankees to win their Division in 1975. That didn’t happen. Medich went 16-16 that year, still pitching well but not well enough to suit the Yankee brass. The following December, New York traded Medich to Pittsburgh for pitchers Ken Brett, Dock Ellis and a young second baseman named Willie Randolph.
He lasted just one disappointing season with the Pirates and then pitched for three different teams during the 1977 season before ending up with the Rangers. He remained in Texas for almost five years. Doc’s lifetime record was 124 – 105 over eleven big league seasons and 49-40, with a 3.37 ERA in pinstripes. He practiced medicine full time after he retired from the big leagues in 1982. Seventeen years later, he lost his medical license when he was convicted of writing fake prescriptions and illegally possessing painkillers. At that time he admitted he had been battling a drug addiction for years.
Medich shares his birthday with a Yankee franchise Hall-of-Famer nobody remembers.
Young Yankee fans have been spoiled by Derek Jeter. When I was a kid, having a shortstop who could rap 200 hits a year or average .300 just didn’t happen. In fact, good-hitting shortstops were so rare that when Minnesota’s Zoilio Versailles hit 19 home runs and drove in 77 in 1965, he was awarded the freaking AL MVP award.
The prototypical shortstop of the 1960′s was a great fielder who was paid to prevent runs with his glove and not worry about producing any with his bat. Eddie Brinkman fit that prototype perfectly. A native of Cincinnati who was a pitcher on the same high school team as Pete Rose, the guy I called “Steady Eddie” made his big league debut with the Senators in 1961, when he was just 19-years-old. By 1963, he was starting for Washington and developing a reputation as one of the league’s smoothest fielding shortstops. He failed to hit above .228 during his first eight years as a Senator, than suddenly got his average up to .266 in 1969 and .262 in ’70. In October of 1970, Brinkman was included in a blockbuster trade that brought two-time Cy Young award winner Denny McLain to Washington along with future Yankee Elliott Maddox, third baseman Don Wert, and reliever Norm McRae. The great fielding third baseman, Aurelio Rodriguez and pitchers Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan accompanied Brinkman to MoTown.
Brinkman’s sleek fielding continued with his new team but unfortunately, his batting average reverted back toward just north of the Mendoza line. He remained in Detroit for five seasons before getting traded to San Diego in November of 1974. Perhaps sensing the Tigers were about to get rid of him, Brinkman had left Detroit with a bang by smashing a career high 14 home runs during the ’74 season. San Diego owned his contract for jus a few minutes because they immediately shipped him to St Louis to complete a trade they had made with the Cardinals earlier in that year. St. Louis traded him to Texas on June 4, 1975 and nine days later, the Rangers sold the then 33-year-old Brinkman to the Yankees.
Yankee GM Gabe Paul had been trying to acquire Brinkman since the beginning of that ’75 season. He told a New York Times reporter he had called St. Louis GM Bing Devine at least a hundred times about acquiring the shortstop but couldn’t make a deal. The Yankee starting shortstop during that 1975 season was Jim Mason, who averaged just .152 that year and though strong defensively, was not as good a fielder as Brinkman. Paul was hoping those 14 home runs Brinkman had hit the previous season for Detroit were not an aberration, but that’s exactly what that one-year power display turned out to be. Brinkman hit just .175 in his 44 games in pinstripes that season. New York invited him back to their 1976 spring training camp but he was released a week before the team headed north.
He retired with a lifetime average of .224 and 60 home runs during his fifteen years in the big leagues. He won a Gold Glove with Detroit in 1972. After hanging up his glove, he began a long career as a White Sox scout and coach. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 66. His younger brother Chuck was a big league catcher with the White Sox. Brinkman shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and this former Yankee reliever.
Eric Chavez turns 35-years-old today. Yesterday, his two year career in pinstripes came to an end, when he signed a one-year, three million dollar deal with the Diamondbacks. The Yankees paid Chavez a total of $2.4 million during the past two seasons to serve as A-Rod’s back-up. It proved to be a wise investment, as Rodriguez made several trips to the DL during that span. Chavez, a Los Angeles native, filled in brilliantly during most of those absences, providing a steady glove and a potent bat.
The Yankees first signed Chavez in February of 2010 and gave him a chance to make the club in spring training. He did so easily and was playing well early in the season, when he broke his foot running the bases. Injuries have hounded the six-time Gold Glove winner since 2007, during his final three seasons with the A’s. He mostly avoided getting hurt this past year with the Yankees, appearing in 113 games in 2012, hitting 16 home runs and averaging .281. Like most of the Yankee lineup, Chavez’s bat went stone cold in the 2012 postseason. He was 0-16 in fall ball against the Orioles and Tigers. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Yankee GM Brian Cashman didn’t make re-signing this guy a top priority during the offseason. I have to admit I was shocked when I read he had signed with Arizona, especially since just a few days before, the Yankees learned A-Rod would miss at least half of the 2013 regular season due to hip surgery.
2016 will be Chavez’s sixteenth season in the Majors. He will enter it with 248 big league home runs and a career OPS of .818. He shares his birthday with this great Yankee first baseman and these two former Yankee outfielders.
Larry Bowa was not blessed with a huge amount of natural ability. The reasons why he was able to play shortstop in the big leagues for sixteen seasons, win two Gold Gloves and become a five-time All Star were an incredible work ethic and a tremendous amount of passion for the game. He was also a quick study. He realized early on that knowledge was power on a baseball field so he learned everything he possibly could by observing the opposition in every aspect of every game. In 2006, he brought this same work ethic, passion and hunger for knowledge to the Yankees when he accepted an offer to coach third base and infield defense for Joe Torre.
The thing I loved most about Bowa during his two seasons in New York’s third base coaching box, was his loyalty to Torre and the Yankee players and his obvious intensity. He refused to permit Yankee runners to lose their focus on the base paths. Pity the poor pinstriper who ignored or missed a Bowa delivered signal of any kind. Its been well established that it was Bowa who got a young Robbie Cano to improve his level of concentration whenever he was on the field. The naturally gifted second baseman flourished offensively and defensively under Bowa’s strict tutelage. Alex Rodriguez told reporters that Bowa was the best in the business and I’ve read that Jeter loved this guy too.
One of the reasons I hated to see Joe Torre leave as Yankee manager after the 2007 season was that he took Bowa with him to Los Angeles. Bowa admired the way Torre managed a ball club and handled players. Once a manager himself, Bowa had a tough time controlling his intensity and some of his players rebelled against his high pressure approach. Torre’s calm demeanor as skipper complemented Bowa’s brash coaching style and made the relationship tick. When he left for the Dodger job, the Yankee players instantly missed his motivational mentoring and though I respect Robbie Thompson, I wish Bowa was still stationed in New York’s third base coaching box. Bowa shares his December 6th birthday with this Hall-of-Fame Yankee second baseman, this Cuban defector who became a Yankee starting pitcher and this former Yankee DH.
Four hundred bucks for my ticket
and you want me to accept the sight
of watching the Yankees play a platoon
of Schierholtz and Hairston in right?
Forty dollars to park my car
and twelve more for a bottle of beer
then you start Stewart and Francisco behind the plate
and you still expect me to cheer?
Now we learn A-Rod is on the shelf
and you want to replace him cheap too?
I love Chavez, but him and Keppinger
just ain’t gonna do!
Getting the payroll down to 189
may save you a 50 million dollar fee,
but if you save your way out of postseason play
its empty seats and lower YES cash you’ll see.
Its time to re-sign Suzuki
and go after Josh to play right
or at least make a deal for Headley
so I can start sleeping at night.
Together, Yankee skipper Joe Torre had called on 35-year-old Paul Quantrill and 36-year-old Flash Gordon to pitch 166 times during the 2004 season. The question entering 2005 was; “Would the right arms of both these guys endure another season of such heavy use?” Instead of waiting to find out, the Yankees acquired some insurance in a December 2004 deal with the Phillies for a nine-year-veteran reliever named Felix Rodriguez. The native Dominican had spent most of those years as a middle reliever for the Giants, compiling a 34-19 record in that role, with 5 saves and a 3.06 ERA.
New York had almost traded for Rodriguez a couple of seasons earlier. At that time, they had been negotiating with the Rangers to acquire Ugueth Urbina as Mo Rivera’s new set-up man. When Texas sent Urbina to Florida instead, the Yankees’ options became Rodriguez and Armando Benitez. They ended up taking Benitez
Ironically, it would be Rodriguez and not Gordon or Quantrill, who broke down first during that 2005 season, tearing cartilage in his knee in early May. Quantrill, however, could not get anyone out during the first half of that year and the Yankees gave up on him in early July, dealing him to San Diego. When Rodriguez returned from the DL, he took Quantrill’s spot in the bullpen but failed to pitch effectively. His walk ratio went up and his strikeout rate went down, helping his ERA climb over the five run mark. He failed to make the Yankees postseason roster and New York released him on October 27, 2005.
Rodriguez was originally signed by the Dodgers in 1989 as a catcher. He hit .291 in his first season in the LA organization but his throwing arm was so strong, the Dodgers convinced him to convert to pitching. He spent his final big league season with the Nationals in 2006 and then continued his playing career in Korea. Felix shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee outfielder.