January 2013

Hall of Fame voters unfortunately got it right this time

I was not disappointed with the Hall of Fame vote yesterday, just sad. Sad because the lack of an inductee emphasized for me just how much “cheating” has screwed up our sports and our society. Forgive me for the simplicity Bill James, but it used to be that if you hit 400 home runs, got 3,000 hits or won 200 games as a pitcher, you’d have a good shot at getting into Cooperstown. Not any more. Why? Because those numbers and the athletes who compile them can’t be trusted. Just like bicycle race winners, 100 meter dash times, and 260 pound chiseled NFL linebackers with sprinter speed can’t be trusted. We will never again take performance on the athletic field of competition at face value. Why? Because greed and ego have turned the pursuit of victory and honor into anything but that. Now I’m not naive enough to believe that every one of the existing Hall-of-Famers were men of sterling character and I’m certain that if they had the opportunity to take PEDs many would have. But now that we have actual proof that some on the list of eligible candidates did, the absence of honor and honesty is no longer a question and that makes me sad.

January 10 – Happy Birthday Rich Dotson

dotsonI began paying attention to the White Sox starting pitching rotation right around 1980. That was the season a former Yankee minor league phee-nom named Lamarr Hoyt made his first big league start for Chicago and went an impressive 9-3 in his rookie year. The Yankees had included Hoyt in the package of players they used to acquire shortstop Bucky Dent from the White Sox three seasons earlier and I had kept an eye on Hoyt’s progress ever since.

The Chicago rotation Hoyt joined that season included some very good young pitchers headed by 21-year-old Britt Burns, who led the staff with 15 victories that season. Hoyt and Burns were joined by 22-year-old left-hander Steve Trout and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Rich Dotson. Dotson was a 21-year-old rookie at the time, who finished the year with an impressive 12-10 record. Back then, the Yankee rotation by contrast was ancient but still effective, with 39-year-old Luis Tiant, 37-year-old Tommy John and 35-year-old Rudy May helping 29-year-old Ron Guidry win the AL East. Yankee fans like me couldn’t help but notice the young guns being assembled in the Windy City and wish our favorite team was as well-stocked with fresh young arms.

Dotson had a superb start to his sophomore year. By June 9th of the ’81 season, the young right-hander was 7-3 and four of those seven victories were complete game shutouts. Two days later the season stopped when players went on strike. The disruption clearly bothered Dotson, who went just 2-5 during the second half of the split season.

The Cincinnati native would reach his apex as a pro two years later when he went 22-7 to help lead the White Sox to an AL West Division flag. It looked as if he was on his way to becoming one of baseball’s premier right-handed pitchers after he started the ’84 season with 11 wins in his first 15 decisions and made the All Star team. But he fell apart in the second half of that year and the White Sox collapsed in the standings. A circulatory problem was later discovered in Dotson’s throwing shoulder and it limited him to just nine starts in 1985. After two more losing seasons in Chicago, he was traded to the Yankees in November of 1987, for outfielder Dan Pasqua.

Ironically, both Steve Trout and Britt Burns had preceded their former pitching mate to the Bronx in earlier deals and both had failed miserably. Dotson fared better in pinstripes than both of them, winning 12 games for New York in 1988, but his ERA hit five and the Yankees finished in a disappointing fifth place in the AL East. When he continued to struggle the following year, new Yankee manager Dallas Green demoted Dotson to the bullpen and a few weeks later, the pitcher was given his unconditional release. He retired after the 1990 season with a lifetime record of 111-113.

Dotson shares his January 10th birthday with this long-ago Yankee starting second baseman and this former Yankee outfielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1988 NYY 12 9 .571 5.00 32 29 0 4 0 0 171.0 178 103 95 27 72 77 1.462
1989 NYY 2 5 .286 5.57 11 9 2 1 0 0 51.2 69 33 32 8 17 14 1.665
12 Yrs 111 113 .496 4.23 305 295 7 55 11 0 1857.1 1884 964 872 194 740 973 1.413
CHW (10 yrs) 97 95 .505 4.02 254 250 4 50 11 0 1606.0 1594 799 718 156 637 873 1.389
NYY (2 yrs) 14 14 .500 5.13 43 38 2 5 0 0 222.2 247 136 127 35 89 91 1.509
KCR (1 yr) 0 4 .000 8.48 8 7 1 0 0 0 28.2 43 29 27 3 14 9 1.988
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/10/2014.

January 9 – Happy Birthday Ralph Terry

An on-the-field failure by today’s birthday celebrant, actually left me in tears. Yeah, I know Tom Hanks insisted “there’s no crying in baseball” in the movie “A League of Their Own,” but he wasn’t a six year old at the time, watching his beloved Yankees lose the final game of the 1960 World Series.

In fact, the pitch that Ralph Terry threw to to Bill Mazeroski on that October afternoon in Pittsburgh almost fifty years ago, is the first memory I have of being a Yankee fan. When that ball sailed over the ivy-covered left field wall of old Forbes Field, my tears started flowing. I was more livid with Mazeroski than anybody else. How dare this perennial singles hitter get lucky against the world’s greatest baseball dynasty. And my grudge lasted against the Pirate’s longtime second baseman. When the Veteran’s Committee put him into Baseball’s Hall of Fame years later, I distinctly remember cursing the committee. I was pretty upset with Terry too, but it did not take long for my hostile feelings against the tall right-hander to dissipate.

In 1961, Terry went 16-3 for one of the greatest Yankee teams in history as the Bombers reclaimed the World Championship by beating Cincinnati four games to one, in that year’s World Series. Terry was the loser in the one game the Yankees lost to the Reds so he still wasn’t entirely off my list of “players I was angry at.”

But it was 1962 that forever changed the way I felt about Ralph Terry. First off, he won 23 regular season ball games that year. When you’re a Yankee fan, however, you don’t measure players by their regular season performance. Instead it becomes all about the post season. That year, the Yankees faced a very talented San Francisco Giants team, led by Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal.

The series was tied three games apiece. Terry had pitched well in the second game but lost 2-0, his fourth consecutive Series defeat over the past three seasons. He finally broke that skid when he came back to get the win in Game 5 but I’m sure I was feeling pretty nervous when New York Manager, Ralph Houk gave his big righthander the ball to start the seventh and deciding game. Terry pitched brilliantly that day and had held the home team Giants scoreless thru eight innings. In the bottom half of the ninth, with the Yankees leading by just one run, Matty Alou led off with a bunt single. Terry then settled down and struck out Matty’s brother, Felipe and Chuck Hiller. Willie Mays then doubled sending Alou to third with the tying run. The next hitter, Willie McCovey blasted a line drive toward right field. If “Stretch” had hit that ball just a few inches further left or right, Ralph Terry might have officially replaced Bill Mazeroski as my most despised baseball player in history. Fortunately, however, McCovey’s screaming liner was hit directly at Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson, who after the game admitted he just threw his glove up and luckily snared it. Richardson still claims it was the hardest hit ball he’d ever fielded.

Terry was born in Big Cabin, OK, in 1936. He became a golf pro after his baseball playing days were over and actually competed on the PGA Senior Tour. He shares his January 9th birthday with this former co-owner of the Yankee franchisethis one-time Yankee outfield prospect and this one too.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1956 NYY 1 2 .333 9.45 3 3 0 0 0 0 13.1 17 15 14 2 11 8 2.100
1957 NYY 1 1 .500 3.05 7 2 2 1 1 0 20.2 18 7 7 1 8 7 1.258
1959 NYY 3 7 .300 3.39 24 16 1 5 1 0 127.1 130 55 48 7 30 55 1.257
1960 NYY 10 8 .556 3.40 35 23 7 7 3 1 166.2 149 78 63 15 52 92 1.206
1961 NYY 16 3 .842 3.15 31 27 2 9 2 0 188.1 162 74 66 19 42 86 1.083
1962 NYY 23 12 .657 3.19 43 39 2 14 3 2 298.2 257 123 106 40 57 176 1.051
1963 NYY 17 15 .531 3.22 40 37 2 18 3 1 268.0 246 103 96 29 39 114 1.063
1964 NYY 7 11 .389 4.54 27 14 9 2 1 4 115.0 130 60 58 20 31 77 1.400
12 Yrs 107 99 .519 3.62 338 257 37 75 20 11 1849.1 1748 844 744 216 446 1000 1.186
NYY (8 yrs) 78 59 .569 3.44 210 161 25 56 14 8 1198.0 1109 515 458 133 270 615 1.151
KCA (4 yrs) 18 33 .353 4.03 85 69 4 13 4 2 457.2 457 238 205 60 142 282 1.309
NYM (2 yrs) 0 1 .000 4.18 13 1 7 0 0 1 28.0 28 14 13 1 11 19 1.393
CLE (1 yr) 11 6 .647 3.69 30 26 1 6 2 0 165.2 154 77 68 22 23 84 1.068
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/10/2014.

January 8 – Happy Birthday Brian Boehringer

boehringerBack during the 1995 season, Yankee manager Buck Showalter decided to give four of the Yankees’ young pitching prospects a shot at becoming part of the parent club’s starting rotation. The quartet included Andy Pettitte, Sterling Hitchcock, Mariano Rivera and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Brian Boehringer. It was rough going for all four at first. At the end of June Hitchcock was 3-4 with an ERA over five. Rivera was 1-2 with an ERA over nine. Pettitte was actually pitching pretty effectively with an ERA in the mid three’s but he’d managed to lose four of his seven decisions. Boehringer couldn’t get anybody out. His ERA was just under twelve and with the Yankees mired near the bottom of the AL East standings, you couldn’t blame Showalter for being ready to throw the towel in on his prospect experiment and ask the front office to go get him a reliable starter.

Just one-month later, the Yankee skipper was in a much better mood. Pettitte, Hitchcock and Rivera had all pitched much more effectively in July and on the 29th of that month, the Yankees pulled off a stunning trade that brought David Cone to the Bronx from Toronto for three Yankee minor leaguers. Cone’s addition to the starting staff freed up Rivera to go to the bullpen. A Yankee team that was 26-31 at the end of June, finished the strike-shortened season at 77-65 and made the playoffs.

Of the four young Yankee starters included in the experiment, only Boehringer failed to make an impact on that ’95 playoff team. He did a bit better the following year after getting called up from Columbus in August and even got the decision in one of the Yankees’ ALDS victories over the Rangers in the ’96 postseason. But it wasn’t until 1997 that he really hit his stride as a Yankee. That year he appeared in 34 games for Joe Torre’s AL Wild Card winners, going 3-2 with a career-best ERA of 2.63. I remember he pitched real well during the last month of that season, surrendering just a single earned run in his final twelve appearances. That’s why I also remember being a bit surprised when the Yankees left this right-handed native of St. Louis unprotected in the 1997 AL expansion draft. He was the 30th selection in that draft, going to Tampa but he was immediately traded, on that same day to San Diego. He then put together two decent seasons for the Padres before injuring his arm. After a couple of surgeries, it took Boehringer a while to regain his arm strength and the Yankees actually re-signed him as a free agent in the middle of his comeback. He struggled through two seasons, going a combined 0-7 in 2000 and ’01 before landing in the Pittsburgh bullpen in 2002. He went 10-10 as a Pirate reliever during the final three years of his big league career. Instead of hanging his glove up for good after Pittsburgh released him in 2004, he pitched three more seasons of minor league ball.

Boehringer shares his birthday with this former Yankee first baseman and this oft-injured former Yankee pitcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1995 NYY 0 3 .000 13.75 7 3 0 0 0 0 17.2 24 27 27 5 22 10 2.604
1996 NYY 2 4 .333 5.44 15 3 1 0 0 0 46.1 46 28 28 6 21 37 1.446
1997 NYY 3 2 .600 2.63 34 0 11 0 0 0 48.0 39 16 14 4 32 53 1.479
2001 NYY 0 1 .000 3.12 22 0 8 0 0 1 34.2 35 15 12 3 12 33 1.356
10 Yrs 26 32 .448 4.36 356 21 98 0 0 3 534.2 522 280 259 64 274 432 1.489
NYY (4 yrs) 5 10 .333 4.97 78 6 20 0 0 1 146.2 144 86 81 18 87 133 1.575
PIT (3 yrs) 10 9 .526 4.36 153 0 42 0 0 1 167.1 156 83 81 18 80 132 1.410
SDP (3 yrs) 11 10 .524 3.91 96 15 27 0 0 0 186.1 190 91 81 24 90 140 1.503
SFG (1 yr) 0 3 .000 4.19 29 0 9 0 0 1 34.1 32 20 16 4 17 27 1.427
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/8/2014.

January 7 – Happy Birthday Johnny Grabowski

GrabowskiToday’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the back up catcher on one of the greatest teams in MLB history, the 1927 Yankees. Johnny Grabowski had broke into the big leagues with the White Sox in 1924 and spent three seasons in the Windy City as a backup receiver to Hall of Fame catcher Ray Schalk. In January of 1927, Chicago traded him and a second baseman named Ray Morehart to the Yankees for second baseman, Aaron Ward. Ward had lost his starting position in New York to a rookie phee-nom named Tony Lazzeri in 1926, making him expendable. Grabowski was the key to the deal for New York. He had developed a reputation with the White Sox as a good defensive catcher and the Yankees wanted him to backup their regular receiver, Pat Collins.

Grabowski filled that spot admirably in 1927, getting 56 starts behind the plate that season and averaging a healthy .277. With Ruth and Gehrig providing the punch, that Yankee team set a record for wins in a 154 game season with 110 and then swept the Pirates in four games in the 1927 World Series. The juggernaut continued the following year as the Yankees won their second straight pennant and pulled off their second straight four-game World Series sweep, this time versus the Cardinals. Grabowski actually started more games behind the plate than any other New York catcher during the 1928 regular season, but his batting average plummeted to just .238 and that offensive ineptitude got him left off that year’s World Series roster. When Grabowski’s offensive troubles continued during the first half of the 1929 season, the Yankees released him.

Grabowski eventually returned to the minors and then got a second shot at the big leagues with Detroit in 1931. When he failed to stick there, he turned to umpiring. He was advancing up the ladder as a minor league man in blue when he was tragically killed attempting to fight a fire in his Guilderland, NY home, in May of 1946. Grabowski was only 46 years old at the time of his death. He shares his January 7th birthday with this former Yankee second baseman and this one-time MVP.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1927 NYY 70 223 195 29 54 2 4 0 25 0 20 15 .277 .350 .328 .678
1928 NYY 75 215 202 21 48 7 1 1 21 0 10 21 .238 .274 .297 .571
1929 NYY 22 64 59 4 12 1 0 0 2 1 3 6 .203 .242 .220 .462
7 Yrs 296 889 816 84 206 25 8 3 86 1 47 84 .252 .295 .314 .609
NYY (3 yrs) 167 502 456 54 114 10 5 1 48 1 33 42 .250 .303 .300 .604
CHW (3 yrs) 89 243 224 21 60 8 2 1 24 0 8 23 .268 .293 .335 .628
DET (1 yr) 40 144 136 9 32 7 1 1 14 0 6 19 .235 .268 .324 .591
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/8/2014.

January 6 – Happy Birthday Tom Ferrick

dferrickIn 1950, long before the two Major Leagues expanded to their current day six-division, thirty-team format, there were only 16 ball clubs competing for just two postseason berths. In the AL that season, the Yankees found themselves in a tight race for that year’s flag with Detroit, Boston and Cleveland. By mid-June it was Detroit who stood in first place with a game and a half lead over the Bronx Bombers. Casey Stengel had one of baseball’s best starting rotations that year but New York’s bullpen had fallen into disarray as both closer Joe Page and Fred Sanford, the team’s best right-handed reliever were experiencing mediocre seasons.

In an effort to shore up the team’s relief corps, GM George Weiss acquired two pitchers from the St. Louis Browns. One of them was a left hander named Joe Ostrowski who would not contribute much during his first half-season in pinstripes but would pitch very well out of Stengel’s bullpen in 1951. The second reliever Weiss got from the Browns was a 35-year-old veteran named Tom Ferrick. This native New Yorker had made his big league debut with the Philadelphia A’s in 1941. His career was interrupted by military service in WWII and since his return from that service, he’d pretty much been living out of his suitcase. The Yankees were to be his fifth different team in five years.

Ferrick’s pinstriped career began with two scoreless appearances but in his next three, he was hit hard and often. He then pitched four innings against the Senators in a July 4th contest and got the save. That began a hot streak for Ferrick that would last two solid months during which he would win seven straight decisions and save seven more. By the end of August, the Yankees had grabbed a two game lead over the second place Tigers. They would go on to win their second straight pennant and successfully defend their World Championship. Tom Ferrick played a huge role in both. He won eight games during his first half-season as a Yankee and saved nine more. He was also the winning pitcher in Game 3 of New York’s four–game sweep of the Phillies in the 1950 World Series.

Though he would only pitch in eight games for the Yanks the following year, Ferrick would play a valuable role in the team’s third straight pennant and third consecutive world championship. That’s because the Yankees used him in a trade with Washington that brought reliever Bob Kuzava to New York. Kuzava would go on to duplicate the eight second half victories Ferrick gave the Yankees a year earlier and then save the sixth and final game of the 1951 World Series.

Ferrick shares his January 6th birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this one-time Yankee shortstop, this long-ago Highlander starter and another former New York bullpen pitcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1950 NYY 8 4 .667 3.65 30 0 22 0 0 9 56.2 49 26 23 5 22 20 1.253
1951 NYY 1 1 .500 7.50 9 0 5 0 0 1 12.0 21 12 10 4 7 3 2.333
9 Yrs 40 40 .500 3.47 323 7 210 4 1 56 674.0 654 306 260 44 227 245 1.307
WSH (4 yrs) 9 15 .375 3.31 117 0 82 0 0 22 226.0 221 96 83 9 76 102 1.314
SLB (3 yrs) 11 8 .579 3.70 91 1 58 0 0 13 160.2 152 79 66 12 53 53 1.276
CLE (2 yrs) 3 2 .600 2.54 40 2 18 2 0 4 99.1 81 32 28 6 36 37 1.178
NYY (2 yrs) 9 5 .643 4.33 39 0 27 0 0 10 68.2 70 38 33 9 29 23 1.442
PHA (1 yr) 8 10 .444 3.77 36 4 25 2 1 7 119.1 130 61 50 8 33 30 1.366
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/7/2014.

January 5 – Happy Birthday Art Fletcher

fletcherI’m writing this post about a month before pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Tampa for the start of the Yankees’ 2013 spring training camp. You’d think at this time of year the only number New York’s front office would be concerned with would be “28,” because that’s the number of World Championships the franchise would have if they can get to and win the 2013 World Series. But instead of “28,” Yankee fans have been reading a whole lot about the number “189,” as in $189,000,000, the amount of money Major League Baseball has established as each team’s salary cap for the 2014 season. If the Yanks can get their payroll down to that level, the team will save millions in penalties. The question is however, can a team that has always spent its way to the top of the standings get there on a reduced budget?

Money has not been the object in Yankee Universe since two filthy-rich Colonels, Rupert and Huston, purchased the franchise in 1915. They immediately began spending their way to the top of the AL standings by looking for, trading for and paying for the best talent money could buy. And it wasn’t just talented proven big league players they coveted, they wanted the best minor league prospects, the best managers and yes even the best coaches. Which brings me finally to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.

Art Fletcher had been the outstanding starting shortstop for the New York Giants, during most of that team’s John McGraw-led golden era, from 1909 until 1920. He was a scrappy, singles-hitting, .277 lifetime hitter who knew every trick in the book when it came to winning a baseball game. McGraw traded him to the Phillies in the middle of the 1920 season when Fletcher was 35-years-old. Two years later, he was made manager of that team and he remained in that job for four seasons. In 1926, Miller Huggins approached him with a job offer to become a coach for the Yankees. Fletcher had figured out he was too high strung and aggressive to enjoy the manager’s role, especially for a losing team like the Phillies, so he accepted Hug’s offer. He remained on the New York staff until he suffered a heart attack during the 1945 season and was forced to retire.

During his nineteen seasons in pinstripes, Fletcher became a legend in the coaching box. He was a master at learning and playing the strengths of each Yankee player against the specific weaknesses of each of their opponents. Huggins loved the guy and when the diminutive Yankee skipper died tragically during the 1929 season, it was Fletcher the Yankees turned to as his interim replacement. During his tenure in New York, Fletcher turned down numerous offers to manage other teams and the Yankees made it worth his while to stay in pinstripes. His annual salary rose to $10,000, an unheard of sum for a coach at the time.

Fletcher willingly returned to a coaching role when the Yankees hired Bob Shawkey to manage the club in 1930. But when Shawkey’s team failed to win the Pennant that year, Rupert hired the former Cubs’ skipper, Joe McCarthy to take his place. Since there had been bad blood between McCarthy and Fletcher dating back to the time when they were opposing managers in the senior circuit, the rumor mill was rampant that Marse Joe would fire the coach when he took control of his new team. That didn’t happen. McCarthy recognized Fletcher’s sky-high baseball IQ and the two worked brilliantly together. So brilliantly in fact that by the end of Fletcher’s career with New York, he had cashed $75,000 worth of World Series checks. (The Yankees won ten AL Pennants and nine World Series during Fletcher’s Yankee coaching career.)

Fletcher shares his January 5th birthday with this former AL Rookie of the Year and this former Bronx-born Yankee outfielder.

January 4 – Happy Birthday Gabe Paul

PaulIn 1972, a group of Cleveland-based investors headed by George Steinbrenner attempted to purchase the Cleveland Indian baseball team from frozen food magnate, Vernon Stouffer. Having negotiated the terms of the deal himself with the owner’s son Jimmy, who was his good friend and former school classmate, the Boss-to-be had confidently assembled many of his fellow investors at the headquarters of his Cleveland-based shipping company and waited for the elder Stouffer’s phone call, telling them the offer had been accepted.

The phone rang, Steinbrenner answered it and proceeded to listen in disbelief as Stouffer angrily rejected the deal, accusing Steinbrenner of trying to steal his team with an undervalued offer. A bitterly disappointed Boss did not at that moment realize that Stouffer had done him a gigantic favor, actually two favors. The rejection left Steinbrenner and many of his investor buddies free to purchase another baseball team at a later date and the Cleveland negotiations had given the Boss the opportunity to get to know Indians’ GM Gabe Paul.

As Bill Madden later detailed in his book; Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, Steinbrenner placed a call to Paul after the offer was rejected and let him know how much he had enjoyed the opportunity to work with him. In the process, the Boss had discovered that Paul knew everybody who was anybody in the game and business of baseball and he now told the veteran GM to keep his ears open for news of another club for sale so the two men could go in on it together.

A few months later, Paul made a phone call to Steinbrenner and told him CBS was interested in selling the Yankees. When the deal was complete, Steinbrenner was the new managing owner of the Bronx Bombers and Gabe Paul was the club’s President. Over the next few years, Paul orchestrated transactions that put Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Oscar Gamble, Dick Tidrow, Lou Piniella, Ed Fiqueroa, Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph and Bucky Dent in pinstripes and he signed free agents Catfish Hunter and Don Gullett. He hung around long enough to see the Yankees win the 1976 AL Pennant and the 1977 World Series and than he went back to Cleveland, claiming he had to escape the maniacal management style of George Steinbrenner, who Paul had grown to detest.

This native of Rochester, NY passed away in 1998 at the age of 88. He shares his January 4th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and this one-time Yankee starting pitcher.

January 3 – Happy Birthday Frenchy Bordagaray

frenchyStanley “Frenchy” Bordagaray spent just one season as a Yankee utility outfielder in 1941 but prior to donning the pinstripes, he had already developed a reputation as one of baseball’s most colorful characters during the 1930′s. Despite the nickname, the Bordagaray family had emigrated from the Basque region of Spain and settled in California. Their ball-playing son was born there on January 3, 1910 and grew up to become a great athlete, lettering in three sports at Fresno City College. He then became a star in the Pacific Coast League, where he caught the attention of several big league clubs. He signed with the White Sox and made his Major League debut in the Windy City in 1934.

That December he was traded to Brooklyn, where he spent two seasons playing for mediocre Dodger teams managed by the free-spirited Casey Stengel. Frenchy loved to have fun before during and after a game, explaining once to a reporter that he was only making $3,000 a year playing baseball so he couldn’t take the sport too seriously. Antics aside, the guy could play the game. He was a solid hitter, averaging .283 during his 11-season career. After hitting .282 during his first season with D’em Bums, Bordagary showed up at the Dodgers’ 1936 spring training camp sporting a mustache and goatee, which he had grown for a bit role he was given in a Hollywood movie shot that offseason. Baseball players with facial hair had disappeared from the big leagues over two decades earlier so Frenchy’s ‘tache and beard caused quite a stir. Stengel finally forced him to shave explaining that there was room for only one clown on that team and Casey had already claimed that role for himself. In one of his most famous episodes, the outfielder was fined by Stengel for failing to slide into third base. The next day, Frenchy hit a home run and slid into each bag on his way around the bases, earning an even larger fine from the Ol’ Perfessor.

The Dodgers traded him to the Cardinals after the 1936 season and two years later, St Louis dealt him to Cincinnati. Though he made it to the World Series with the 1939 Reds team, his average that year had plummeted to .197. He was traded to the Yankees in January of 1940 and spent the next season with New York’s Kansas City farm team, where he averaged .358. That got him an invitation to the parent club’s ’41 spring training camp

Frenchy’s play in Florida impressed Joe McCarthy enough to get him an Opening Day roster spot as a utility outfielder. The problem was that the Yankee starting outfield that season included Joe DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich and Charley Keller who would combine for 94 home runs and 332 RBIs during that ’41 campaign. That team also had veteran outfielder and former All Star, George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk on its roster. That meant few and far between playing opportunities for Bordagaray. He managed to get into 36 games that season and in 73 at bats averaged .260. He also won his first and only ring.

He would return to the Dodgers in 1942 and Brooklyn manager, Leo Durocher eventually made Frenchy his team’s starting third baseman during the WWII years. He remained in Brooklyn until the war was over and then remained in the game for a couple more years as a player manager in the minors. After retiring, he invested in restaurants and cemeteries in the midwest before returning to California and beginning a career in the recreation department of the city of Ventura. He died in 2001, at the age of 91.

Frenchy shares his birthday with this former Yankee “pie-thrower” and this talented former Yankee utility infielder.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1941 NYY 36 81 73 10 19 1 0 0 4 1 6 8 .260 .325 .274 .599
11 Yrs 930 2870 2632 410 745 120 28 14 270 66 173 186 .283 .331 .366 .697
BRO (6 yrs) 625 2072 1894 307 542 95 21 13 194 48 132 126 .286 .336 .379 .715
STL (2 yrs) 177 490 456 62 132 16 5 1 58 13 23 34 .289 .329 .353 .682
CIN (1 yr) 63 136 122 19 24 5 1 0 12 3 9 10 .197 .252 .254 .506
NYY (1 yr) 36 81 73 10 19 1 0 0 4 1 6 8 .260 .325 .274 .599
CHW (1 yr) 29 91 87 12 28 3 1 0 2 1 3 8 .322 .344 .379 .724
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/4/2014.

January 2 – Happy Birthday Scott Proctor

Joe Torre did a lot of things when he managed the New York Yankees but one of the things he did most often, especially during his final two seasons in the Bronx, was summon Scott Proctor from the bullpen to pitch. In 2006, the right hander led the AL in appearances with 83 and probably would have led it again the following season if he hadn’t been traded to the Dodgers for Wilson Betamit in July of 2007.

It is probably fair to say that most Yankee fans didn’t love Proctor but most of us admired him. Born in Stuart, FL on today’s date in 1977, he was drafted by the Dodgers out of Florida State University, in the fifth round of the MLB amateur draft in 1998. The Los Angeles organization wasn’t sure if the former Seminole should start or relieve so he spent most of his Dodger minor league years switching back and forth between roles. Then in July of 2003, the Dodgers traded him and outfielder Bubba Crosby to New York for Robin Ventura. He began his big league career in pinstripes the following season and gradually grew into the role of Torre’s workhorse. According to New York Times baseball correspondent, Tyler Kepner, Torre ruined Proctor’s pitching arm by overusing him in 2006 and ’07. Ironically, after Scott was traded to LA in 2007, Torre took over as skipper there the following year and again wasn’t shy about using him. Proctor ended up blowing out his elbow and missed the entire 2009 season. After reconstructive surgery, he reappeared briefly last season with the Braves. The pitcher does not hold Torre or the Yankees accountable for his arm injury. He blames drinking as the reason he the Yankees got rid of him. Proctor is a recovering alcoholic who credits Yankee closer Mariano Rivera with getting him to confront his demon. Another great save by Rivera.

Update: Proctor got a second chance to pitch for New York in September of 2011 but was unfortunately, bloody awful. In eight games out of the bullpen he went 0-3 with no saves and an ERA of 9.00. He was the losing pitcher in the September 28th game against Tampa on what turned out to be one of the most exciting days in baseball history. Evan Longoria’s 12th inning home run against Proctor that day capped an amazing come-from behind victory for Tampa. Moments later, Baltimore’s Robert Andino’s single off of Joanathan Papelbon in the bottom of the ninth drove in the winning run and the Soxplosion of 2011 was complete.

This Yankee pitcher, also born on today’s date, is the only guy to win twenty games in a season for both the Mets and the Yankees.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2004 NYY 2 1 .667 5.40 26 0 12 0 0 0 25.0 29 18 15 5 14 21 1.720
2005 NYY 1 0 1.000 6.04 29 1 11 0 0 0 44.2 46 32 30 10 17 36 1.410
2006 NYY 6 4 .600 3.52 83 0 12 0 0 1 102.1 89 41 40 12 33 89 1.192
2007 NYY 2 5 .286 3.81 52 0 10 0 0 0 54.1 53 27 23 8 29 37 1.509
2011 NYY 0 3 .000 9.00 8 0 3 0 0 0 11.0 19 13 11 6 12 11 2.818
7 Yrs 18 16 .529 4.78 307 1 76 0 0 1 343.0 337 200 182 58 167 291 1.469
NYY (5 yrs) 11 13 .458 4.51 198 1 48 0 0 1 237.1 236 131 119 41 105 194 1.437
LAD (2 yrs) 5 0 1.000 4.84 72 0 15 0 0 0 70.2 66 44 38 11 39 73 1.486
ATL (2 yrs) 2 3 .400 6.43 37 0 13 0 0 0 35.0 35 25 25 6 23 24 1.657
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/2/2014.