December 2012

December 17 – Happy Birthday Bob Ojeda

ojedaProbably 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.

Ojeda shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this one too and this former Yankee outfielder.

1994 NYY 0 0 24.00 2 2 0 0 0 0 3.0 11 8 8 1 6 3 5.667
15 Yrs 115 98 .540 3.65 351 291 26 41 16 1 1884.1 1833 856 764 145 676 1128 1.332
BOS (6 yrs) 44 39 .530 4.21 140 113 16 20 5 1 718.2 734 363 336 64 285 425 1.418
NYM (5 yrs) 51 40 .560 3.12 140 109 10 17 9 0 764.0 690 305 265 52 213 459 1.182
LAD (2 yrs) 18 18 .500 3.39 60 60 0 4 2 0 355.2 350 158 134 23 151 214 1.409
CLE (1 yr) 2 1 .667 4.40 9 7 0 0 0 0 43.0 48 22 21 5 21 27 1.605
NYY (1 yr) 0 0 24.00 2 2 0 0 0 0 3.0 11 8 8 1 6 3 5.667
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/17/2013.

December 16 – Happy Birthday Ted Wilborn

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.

This former Yankee reliever was also born on December 16.

1980 NYY 8 8 8 2 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 .250 .250 .250 .500
2 Yrs 30 22 20 5 2 0 0 0 1 1 1 8 .100 .143 .100 .243
NYY (1 yr) 8 8 8 2 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 .250 .250 .250 .500
TOR (1 yr) 22 14 12 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 7 .000 .077 .000 .077
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/16/2013.

December 15 – Happy Birthday Eddie Robinson

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. 

December 15 – What is wrong with us?

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.

December 14 – Happy Birthday Jim Roland

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.

1972 NYY 0 1 .000 5.04 16 0 10 0 0 0 25.0 27 14 14 3 16 13 1.720
10 Yrs 19 17 .528 3.22 216 29 64 6 1 9 450.1 357 185 161 34 229 272 1.301
MIN (6 yrs) 10 9 .526 3.42 95 24 32 4 1 5 244.2 197 110 93 22 123 151 1.308
OAK (4 yrs) 9 7 .563 2.59 100 5 21 2 0 4 177.1 126 58 51 8 88 104 1.207
TEX (1 yr) 0 0 8.10 5 0 1 0 0 0 3.1 7 3 3 1 2 4 2.700
NYY (1 yr) 0 1 .000 5.04 16 0 10 0 0 0 25.0 27 14 14 3 16 13 1.720
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/15/2013.