My first thought when I saw Melky Mesa head back to third base after missing the bag when he attempted to score the winning run in his very first appearance as a Yankee was that he would never get a second appearance in pinstripes. Today’s birthday boy had been sent in to run for third baseman Eric Chavez, who had singled to lead off the bottom of the 14th inning in a huge game versus the A’s on September 22nd of the 2012 season. At the time, New York held a precarious on-game lead over the pesky Baltimore Orioles in the AL East Division race and every was critical. Fortunately for him and the Yankees, Mesa finally scored the winning run with two outs on an error by Oakland first baseman, Brandon Moss and the Yankees went on to win the AL East race too. Nine days later, Mesa got his first big league hit and first RBI in a pinch-hitting role against the Red Sox.
There’s an outside chance that Yankee fans will be seeing a lot more of Melky in 2013. New York needs to replace Andruw Jones as the team’s right-handed DH and Mesa will be given a shot to win that role in spring training. Since signing with the Yankees as an amateur free agent, this native Dominican has spent the past seven seasons in New York’s farm system. Although he’s averaged just .244 during that time he’s got decent power, great speed on the base paths and is a solid defensive outfielder. He hit 23 home runs playing for both Trenton and Scranton in 2012.
One of the last things George Steinbrenner did as the active owner of the New York Yankees to upset me was harping and complaining about Mel Stottlemyre’s coaching style just enough to cause one of my all-time favorite Yankees to resign as the team’s pitching coach. I always thought Stottlemyre was one of the best pitching mentors in the game and his work with the Mets’ staffs of the mid eighties and the Yankee pitchers in the nineties produced outstanding results. Nevertheless, the Boss had a long history of blaming his team’s coaches for the players’ failures and Stottlemyre became part of that history after the 2005 season. The Yankees had hired today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant as a scout that same season.
Joe Kerrigan had an unspectacular three-plus season big-league career as a reliever during the late 1970s and than became the Expos bullpen coach in 1983. After four seasons in that position he became a pitching coach in the Expos farm system and after completing that three-year apprenticeship, he was promoted to the same position with the parent club. He did great work with that Montreal pitching staff for the next few seasons and is credited with helping a young Pedro Martinez become a premier pitcher.
In 1997, Kerrigan was hired as the Red Sox pitching coach and one year later, he was reunited with Martinez, when Boston traded Carl Pavano to the Expos for the ace right-hander. During the next three seasons the two helped Boston’s staff evolve into one of the best in the game and in August of 2001, Kerrigan was rewarded for his good work, when Red Sox GM Dan Duquette hired him as the team’s new Manager and gave him a multi-year contract. In a shocking development, Kerrigan lost the job after his team finished the 2001 season with a lackluster 17-26 record. Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner and John Henry had purchased the franchise during the offseason and wanted to move in a different direction, so they lowered the boom on the just-hired skipper and replaced him with Grady Little.
So when Brian Cashman found himself without a pitching coach after Stottlemyre quit in 2005, the Yankee GM immediately considered his new scout Kerrigan, as the leading candidate to replace him. Instead, the Yanks hired Ron Guidry to fill the slot but did make Kerrigan the Yankee’s new bullpen coach. Gator was counting on Kerrigan to help him communicate with the ornery Yankee ace, Randy Johnson. Steinbrenner had blamed Stottlemyre for not being able to get Johnson pitching better during his first season in pinstripes and the departing coach agreed that he had a tough time communicating with the multiple Cy Young Award winner. Kerrigan had spent three seasons working with the Big Unit back in the late eighties when Johnson was an Expos’ minor league prospect and the two had a good relationship.
Instead of improving however, Johnson got worse in 2006 and his ERA ballooned to a career-worst 5.00. Both Guidry and Kerrigan were replaced after the 2007 season, as was Torre. Kerrigan became the Pirates’ pitching coach the following year. In February of 2009, Torre’s book, “The Yankee Years” was released. In it he cited the hiring of Kerrigan as one of the examples of Brian Cashman trying to undercut his authority as Yankee Manager. It seems Cashman really wanted Kerrigan and not Guidry to get that pitching coach job in 2006, while Torre insisted on Guidry. According to the former skipper, Cashman made it a point to criticize Guidry’s methods during his entire tenure in the job. Joe Kerrigan had landed himself right in the middle of the famous Bronx Zoo.
Kerrigan shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever.
Bob Watson was a very talented Yankee GM who hated working for George Steinbrenner. But before the Boss’s constant undercutting and criticism sent his blood pressure through the roof, forcing him to quit, the guy known as “Bull” made some outstanding moves for New York. Take the 1996 Yankee roster as an example. It was the beleaguered Yankee GM who engineered the trade that brought Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to the Bronx from Seattle. It was Watson who got Joe Girardi in a deal with the Cubs. Watson’s the guy who signed Mariano Duncan as a free agent that year and it was Duncan who led New York in batting average during the 1996 regular season. Watson got Cecil Fielder from Detroit and he also picked up Charlie Hayes, David Weathers and the indomitable infielder, Luis Sojo. If you followed the Yankees during that 1996 season and you look at the names of the players mentioned above, you realize just how much Watson’s general managing contributed to that year’s World Chamionship. Oh, and I almost forgot, in June of 1996 Watson also acquired today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
At the time, the Yankees were looking for another left-handed bat to add to their bench. Watson zeroed in on Mike Aldrete, a ten-year big-league veteran who was then playing for the Angels as a fourth outfielder and hitting just .150. But he was a career .260-ish hitter, who could play the corner outfield positions and first base. Aldrete had come up with the Giants in 1986. His best year offensively was his sophomore season, when he hit .325 and started in the Giants’ outfield. The Yankees would be his seventh and last big league team.
New York manager, Joe Torre used Aldrete efficiently, getting him into 32 games during the second half of the ’96 season during which he got 77 at bats. Though he hit just .250 in pinstripes, he created some timely offense for the Bronx Bombers. In late June he had a key hit and RBI to help beat the second place Orioles. On July 1st, his home run off Roger Clemens was the winning run against Boston and four days later he drove in four runs to lead the Yankees to a rout of the Brewers. Tendinitis in Aldrete’s wrist benched him for pretty much the complete month of August but he was reactivated in September and played well enough to make the Yankees postseason roster as a left-handed pinch-hitter. He went hitless in his two pinch-hitting appearances in the World Series against the Braves, but he did win his first and only ring.
The Yankees released him after the Series and his big league career was over. Watson lasted as Yankee GM until February of 1978, when he resigned and recommended his assistant GM, Brian Cashman, as his replacement. Before doing so, he advised Cashman not to take the job.
|SFG (3 yrs)||349||1111||962||121||274||51||5||14||126||13||132||149||.285||.370||.392||.762|
|OAK (3 yrs)||231||640||558||81||145||26||1||18||72||3||73||103||.260||.344||.407||.751|
|CAL (2 yrs)||49||71||64||6||12||1||0||3||11||0||5||12||.188||.239||.344||.583|
|MON (2 yrs)||172||359||297||34||69||15||2||2||30||2||56||61||.232||.355||.316||.671|
|SDP (1 yr)||12||18||15||2||0||0||0||0||1||0||3||4||.000||.167||.000||.167|
|CLE (1 yr)||85||222||183||22||48||6||1||1||19||1||36||37||.262||.380||.322||.702|
|NYY (1 yr)||32||77||68||11||17||5||0||3||12||0||9||15||.250||.338||.456||.794|
When Lyn Lary joined the Yankees during his rookie season of 1929, Miller Huggins was still the Manager and Leo Durocher was New York’s starting shortstop. Huggins liked Durocher’s tough take no prisoners attitude, which he felt made up for the fact that Leo was not a very good hitter. Huggins tragically died from an eye infection during that 1929 season and when veteran Yankee pitcher Bob Shawkey was given the Skipper’s job in 1930, the much better-hitting Lary replaced Durocher as New York’s starting shortstop. In 1931, this native of Armona, CA had a terrific year, scoring 100 runs and driving in 107. That RBI number remains the single-season record for New York shortstops. But Lary had some bad moments that season as well, none worse than the time he cost Lou Gehrig sole possession of the 1931 home run title. That happened in an early season game against the Senators, in Washington. The Iron Horse hit a towering fly ball over the center field wall that caromed off the concrete bleachers and bounced back onto the field. Lary was on first base when Gehrig hit the ball and after rounding second with his head down, Lary looked up in time to see the Senator center fielder catch the ball as it bounced back on the field. Thinking it was a fly out and also thinking he could not back to first in time to avoid the double play, Lary just ran straight back into the Yankee dugout. He was ruled out, the Yankees lost two runs and Gehrig was also ruled out and credited with a triple instead of a home run. Lou ended up tied for the league lead in home runs that year with teammate Babe Ruth. Each had 46. Perhaps it was that sort of lackadaisical play that got Lary pushed out of his starting job by a young Frank Crosetti in 1932. He was eventually sent to the Red Sox. He played for six different clubs during the next seven seasons. In 1936, while playing with the Browns, his 37 stolen bases were tops in the American League. He retired after the 1940 season with 1,239 hits and a .269 lifetime average over a 12-year career.
|NYY (6 yrs)||496||2009||1717||322||471||81||26||21||237||42||238||154||.274||.368||.388||.756|
|CLE (3 yrs)||300||1403||1214||204||339||82||11||11||128||41||176||130||.279||.372||.392||.764|
|SLB (3 yrs)||275||1246||1044||195||289||56||14||4||90||62||185||104||.277||.388||.369||.757|
|WSH (1 yr)||39||121||103||8||20||4||0||0||7||3||12||10||.194||.278||.233||.511|
|STL (1 yr)||34||96||75||11||14||3||0||0||9||1||16||15||.187||.330||.227||.556|
|BOS (1 yr)||129||501||419||58||101||20||4||2||54||12||66||51||.241||.344||.322||.667|
|BRO (1 yr)||29||46||31||7||5||1||1||0||1||1||12||6||.161||.409||.258||.667|
One could sum up today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s career with three words, “strange but interesting.” It started out late but promising. Though this right-handed hurler never played an inning of minor league ball, he was already 28-years-old when he signed with the Yankees in 1924. Up until then, he had been playing semi-pro baseball for a company-sponsored team back in his native New Jersey. Such teams were common throughout the country during much of the first half of the 20th century and the competition was certainly, in many cases, minor-league quality. In fact, Gaston’s semi-pro team regularly played exhibition games versus Major League clubs and through the years, he had offers from several of them to pitch for their organizations. But it wasn’t until the Yankees offered him a contract that he decided to make the move.
That happened in 1924. Gaston joined a Yankee team that had won the franchise’s first World Series the year before. Miller Huggins was his manager and a fellow rookie, Lou Gehrig, his first big league roommate. Huggins liked Gaston a lot and got him into 29 games during his rookie season, mostly as a reliever. In fact, he won his first four straight big league decisions coming out of the bullpen, before Huggins gave him a chance to start. Gaston’s signature pitch was a fork ball that moved so much, there were times he had no idea where the ball was going. As a result, he would often walk an awful lot of hitters, and in his first ever big league start, he issued eight bases on balls against the St. Louis Browns in six-plus innings and suffered his first loss. But all-in-all, his rookie season had been a success. He finished it with a 5-3 record and a save, a budding friendship with the Iron Horse, plus Huggins liked his stuff. Gaston was certainly in a good place to be with his baseball career. But not for long.
The 1924 Yankees had failed to make it back to the World Series for the first time in three years, and New York owner Jacob Rupert, who was George Steinbrenner before George Steinbrenner was even born, wanted better pitching. He heard the St. Louis Browns wanted to trade their four-time 20-game winner, Urban Shocker and he went after him hard. The deal between the two teams was reached a week before Christmas in 1924. The Yanks sent Gaston, starting pitcher Bullet Joe Bush and another pitcher named Joe Giard to the Browns for Shocker. When Huggins told Gaston he had been traded, the Yankee manager also told the departing pitcher he hated to lose him.
Thus, Gaston’s pinstriped career ended but he would go on to establish a few unusual Major League firsts. He holds the record for giving up the most hits in a shutout, 14. He also owns the record for taking part in the most double plays as a pitcher in a single game, 4. Though he was teammates with 17 different future Hall of Famers during his eleven-year career, they all must have been in hitting slumps on the days Gaston pitched because his career record was 97-164, which gives him the record for most games below the .500 mark for pitchers with at least 100 decisions. In addition to the Yankees and Browns, he also pitched for the White Sox, Senators and Red Sox, and while with Boston, he got the opportunity to pitch to his older brother, catcher Alex Gaston, during the 1929 season. Milt Gaston kept setting records after he retired in 1934. He became the only former player with at least ten years of service to live to 100. He died in his sleep in a Massachusetts nursing home in 1996.
|SLB (3 yrs)||38||49||.437||4.60||111||87||15||51||1||2||707.0||786||439||361||39||302||200||1.539|
|CHW (3 yrs)||21||48||.304||4.95||87||78||6||24||3||1||527.2||607||353||290||35||217||131||1.562|
|BOS (3 yrs)||27||52||.342||3.95||100||80||18||44||3||4||635.2||674||335||279||34||220||215||1.406|
|WSH (1 yr)||6||12||.333||5.51||28||22||4||8||3||0||148.2||179||102||91||3||53||45||1.561|
|NYY (1 yr)||5||3||.625||4.50||29||2||20||0||0||1||86.0||92||48||43||3||44||24||1.581|