Even though he was 37 years old at the time and suffering from painful bone chips in his throwing elbow, Yankee catcher Elston Howard still managed to catch 113 games during the 1966 season. But his batting average had dipped into the .250s and he had lost almost all of the pop in his once powerful bat. Concerned that their aging receiver would not last the season, the Yankees had made a trade in July of that year with Kansas City that brought the A’s one-time starting catcher, Bill Bryan to New York.
Bryan, a native of Morgan, Georgia, had put together his best big league season the year before, establishing career highs with 15 home runs, 51 RBIs and a .251 batting average. But the 6 foot 4 inch receiver had gotten off to a horrible start in 1966 and had lost his starting catching job in KC to Phil Roof. He was hitting just .132 when the Yankees traded for him in early June of that year.
During his first three months in New York, he backed up Howard and Jake Gibbs, but by September, Elston was physically spent and Gibbs was injured so Bryan took over as the starter. He finished the year with a putrid .172 batting average but Yankee manager Ralph Houk decided to keep him around for another look the following year. That was probably because Bryan had shown some evidence that he could reach the old Stadium’s short right field porch with his left-handed swing. But Houk’s second look only lasted a couple of months before Bryan was sent down to Syracuse in May of 1967. He played well in Triple A and was called up to back-up Gibbs, after New York traded a shocked and disappointed Howard to the Red Sox that August. Ellie was only hitting .196 for New York at the time that deal was made. Believe it or not, that was almost 30 points higher than Bryan would average for New York in the 16 games he ended up playing in that year.
The Yankees left him exposed in the 1967 Rule 5 draft and he was selected by the Senators. He played his final big league season for Washington in 1968. Bryan shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and manager and this one-time Yankee pitching prospect.
Yankee fans will need a long and good memory to remember when today’s birthday celebrant played in pinstripes. In fact, many of you may have a tough time remembering Gene Nelson at all, even though he was a very steady big league reliever for a dozen seasons with Seattle, the White Sox and Oakland, retiring after the 1993 season. But before Nelson went to the bullpen, he was a 20-year-old Yankee starting pitcher prospect, who found himself inserted into Gene Michael’s starting rotation in May of the Yankee’s strike-split 1981 season. He did better than OK. In seven starts, he won three of his four decisions, including a strong eight and a third inning effort against the Orioles on June 4th that would prove to be his last victory as a Yankee. One week later, Major League Baseball players went on strike.
When the work stoppage ended seven weeks later, Nelson was still a Yankee but Bob Lemon had replaced Michael as Yankee manager and the relationships between MLB owners and the players had been severely damaged. Lemon left his young right-hander off the Yankees’ postseason roster that year and just before the 1982 season got under way, the Yankees traded Nelson to the Mariners in the deal that brought starting pitcher Shane Rawley to the Bronx.
Nelson was born in Tampa, FL. His lifetime big league won-loss record was 53-64 and he had 28 career saves. The highlight of his career was the 1988 ALCS, when he got two of Oakland’s three victories, as the A’s beat Boston in four games. He also won a ring with Oakland in 1988. He shares his December 3rd birthday with this former Yankee first baseman and this one-time Yankee outfielder.
For the second day in a row, we celebrate the birthday of a Yankee that few Yankee fans have ever heard of. James Donald Breslin was born in Augusta, Maine on December 2, 1903. After a great collegiate pitching career at Georgetown University, he began his Minor League career in 1926 by going 11-5 with the Lewiston Twins of the B-level New England League. In 1932, he went 26-8 for the Newark Bears, who were the Yankee’s International League affiliate at the time.
That was good enough to give him a trial with the parent club the following season. Brennan became the fifth starter for Manager Joe McCarthy’s 1933 Yankees in a rotation that included two future Hall of Famers Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez plus Johnny Allen and Russ Van Atta. Brennan got ten starts that year and won five of six decisions. McCarthy also used him out of the bullpen in eight additional games and the right- hander stuck around to finish six of those contests and earn three saves.
That first-year performance caught the attention of the Cincinnati Reds who made an offer to purchase Brennan in March of 1935 that the Yankees did not refuse. He then became a busy, somewhat effective member of Cincinnati’s bullpen for the next three plus seasons. After a short stint with the Giants in 1937, his big league career was over. Brennan does hold a Major League record. His 21 career victories are the most ever for any pitcher born in Augusta, Maine. Of course, Brennan is the only big league pitcher to be born in Augusta and is the only Yankee to be born on today’s date.
December 1 in general is not a very noteworthy date for baseball birthdays of any kind. The only member of Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame born on this date, played in just 1 big league game, but he managed in 3,658 of them and won four World Series rings. That would be Walter Alston, who managed the Dodgers for 23 years and beat the Yankees in two of those Fall Classics (1955 and 1963.) The greatest all-around big league player born on this date would probably be former Expo and Rockies outfielder, Larry Walker, who retired in 2005 with a .313 lifetime average and 383 home runs.
The only member of the Yankee all-time roster who celebrates his birthday on December 1 is a former pitcher named Cecil Perkins. You’ve never heard of him because his entire big league and Yankee career consisted of two appearances during the 1967 season. The first was as a starter against the Twins on July 5th of that year. Perkins lasted just three innings, giving up five runs and five hits and getting the loss in a 10-4 Minnesota victory. Former Yankee announcer, Jim Kaat, got the complete game win for the Twins that day. Perkins gave up his first big league hit, a triple to Rod Carew in the first inning. Later in the game, Minnesota third baseman Rich Reese hit what would become the only big league home run ever given up by the right hander. That loss extended a Yankee losing streak to five games. Three days later, Yankee Manager Ralph Houk inserted Perkins in the sixth inning of a game against the Orioles, in Baltimore. The Yankees were trailing 8-3 at the time and Perkins pitched two inning of one-hit, shutout ball, including a strikeout of the great Oriole reliever, Moe Drabowsky, which turned out to be Perkins only big league career K. He was then sent back down to Syracuse for the balance of the 1967 season and was gone from baseball for good after the following season.
Perkins was born in Baltimore in 1940. Other former Yankees born in Baltimore include; Phil Linz, Jeff Nelson, Tommy Byrne, Ron Swoboda and the Big Bam, Babe Ruth.