January 27 – Happy Birthday Milt Gaston
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.