December 2012

December 22 – Happy Birthday Matty Alou

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.

Alou shared his December 22nd birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and this one-time Yankee catcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1973 NYY 123 538 497 59 147 22 1 2 28 5 30 43 .296 .338 .356 .694
15 Yrs 1667 6220 5789 780 1777 236 50 31 427 156 311 377 .307 .345 .381 .726
SFG (6 yrs) 453 1131 1048 136 272 32 7 12 72 21 59 101 .260 .304 .338 .642
PIT (5 yrs) 743 3224 3018 434 986 129 34 6 202 98 147 165 .327 .360 .398 .758
STL (3 yrs) 268 1103 1024 132 322 45 8 10 106 30 59 50 .314 .352 .403 .756
OAK (1 yr) 32 136 121 11 34 5 0 1 16 2 11 12 .281 .341 .347 .688
SDP (1 yr) 48 88 81 8 16 3 0 0 3 0 5 6 .198 .241 .235 .476
NYY (1 yr) 123 538 497 59 147 22 1 2 28 5 30 43 .296 .338 .356 .694
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/22/2013.

December 21 – Happy Birthday D’Angelo Jimenez

jiminezThe 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.

Jimenez shares his birthday with this former home run hitter, this former Yankee reliever and a former Yankee outfielder who’s promising career took a u-turn when he slipped on a wet Shea Stadium outfield.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1999 NYY 7 23 20 3 8 2 0 0 4 0 3 4 .400 .478 .500 .978
8 Yrs 641 2480 2159 290 568 105 17 36 228 36 291 391 .263 .351 .377 .728
CIN (3 yrs) 260 1102 958 124 260 48 5 19 103 22 130 165 .271 .359 .391 .751
SDP (2 yrs) 173 706 629 84 162 30 4 6 66 6 73 131 .258 .333 .347 .679
CHW (2 yrs) 100 433 379 57 100 15 8 8 37 6 48 56 .264 .347 .409 .756
OAK (1 yr) 8 20 14 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 6 7 .071 .350 .071 .421
TEX (1 yr) 20 68 57 7 12 3 0 1 8 0 10 6 .211 .328 .316 .644
WSN (1 yr) 73 128 102 14 25 7 0 2 10 2 21 22 .245 .379 .373 .752
NYY (1 yr) 7 23 20 3 8 2 0 0 4 0 3 4 .400 .478 .500 .978
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/22/2013.

December 20 – Happy Birthday Branch Rickey

RickeyThere 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 the first starting second baseman in Yankee franchise history and this former Yankee DH and outfielder.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1907 NYY 52 152 137 16 25 1 3 0 15 4 11 25 .182 .253 .234 .487
4 Yrs 120 380 343 38 82 8 6 3 39 8 27 54 .239 .304 .324 .628
SLB (3 yrs) 68 228 206 22 57 7 3 3 24 4 16 29 .277 .338 .383 .721
NYY (1 yr) 52 152 137 16 25 1 3 0 15 4 11 25 .182 .253 .234 .487
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/20/2013.

December 19 – Happy Birthday Rafael Soriano

rsorianoBesides 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 represented a major depletion in the Yankees’ 2013 bullpen. I’m so glad Hal Steinbrenner overruled Cashman three years ago and insisted the Yankees sign this guy.  Once he left New York, I actually missed seeing him stare inside his hat before facing a batter and untucking his jersey after nailing down a save. He ended up saving 43 games for the Nationals in 2013.

Soriano was born on this date in 1979. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee super scoutthis former Yankee pitcher and this one-time Yankee outfielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2011 NYY 2 3 .400 4.12 42 0 8 0 0 2 39.1 33 18 18 4 18 36 1.297
2012 NYY 2 1 .667 2.26 69 0 54 0 0 42 67.2 55 17 17 6 24 69 1.167
12 Yrs 18 27 .400 2.82 521 8 292 0 0 175 568.2 430 186 178 56 177 578 1.067
SEA (5 yrs) 4 8 .333 2.89 116 8 31 0 0 4 171.0 134 57 55 16 53 177 1.094
ATL (3 yrs) 4 10 .286 2.95 162 0 85 0 0 39 161.2 107 56 53 19 51 188 0.977
NYY (2 yrs) 4 4 .500 2.94 111 0 62 0 0 44 107.0 88 35 35 10 42 105 1.215
TBR (1 yr) 3 2 .600 1.73 64 0 56 0 0 45 62.1 36 14 12 4 14 57 0.802
WSN (1 yr) 3 3 .500 3.11 68 0 58 0 0 43 66.2 65 24 23 7 17 51 1.230
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/23/2013.

December 18 – Happy Birthday Scott Nielsen

NielsenIt 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 and this former Yankee super scout.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1986 NYY 4 4 .500 4.02 10 9 1 2 2 0 56.0 66 29 25 12 12 20 1.393
1988 NYY 1 2 .333 6.86 7 2 1 0 0 0 19.2 27 16 15 5 13 4 2.034
1989 NYY 1 0 1.000 13.50 2 0 0 0 0 0 0.2 2 1 1 0 1 0 4.500
4 Yrs 9 11 .450 5.49 38 18 9 3 3 2 142.2 178 94 87 26 51 47 1.605
NYY (3 yrs) 6 6 .500 4.83 19 11 2 2 2 0 76.1 95 46 41 17 26 24 1.585
CHW (1 yr) 3 5 .375 6.24 19 7 7 1 1 2 66.1 83 48 46 9 25 23 1.628
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/20/2013.