January 2013

January 25 – Happy Birthday Steve Roser

phillpsroserHe was considered the best pitcher in the history of Clarkson University, a small engineering school in northwestern New York State. Born in Rome, New York in 1918, his real first name was Emerson but his Clarkson coach started calling him “Steve” instead because it was easier to both say and remember. Roser had a choice to make in 1940. He could either finish his senior year at Clarkson or sign a contract with the Yankees. He signed the contract and spent the next four years pitching his way up  New York’s minor league ladder.

Joe McCarthy put him on the parent club’s roster for the first time in 1944, and Roser pitched well enough to stick around the entire season. His big league debut came on May 5th of that year against the Red Sox. He relieved starter Atley Donald in the top of the fifth inning with the score tied and finished the game, which the Yankees won, earning him his first career victory. He got his first career start two months later and earned a complete game 8-2 win over the Tigers. He would finish that first season with a 4-3 record and one save and he earned good marks from McCarthy who kept Roser on the roster the following season.

In 1946, his slow start combined with the mass return of Yankee pitching talent from military service in World War II got the right-hander sold to the Boston Braves in early May. He pitched OK but sparingly in Beantown for a few weeks and then spent the second half of the season with the Braves triple A team in Indianapolis. Despite a good record in Indy, he failed to make the Braves roster the following spring and when he pitched poorly during the 1947 season in the minors, he quit the game for good. Roser returned to upstate New York where he and his wife opened a sporting goods store and a restaurant. Roser passed away in 2002.

He shares his birthday with this long-ago Yankee starting catcher and this one-time Yankee reliever.

January 24 – Happy Birthday Tim Stoddard

Born in East Chicago, IL on January 24, 1953, Stoddard came to New York from San Diego during the 1986 season and almost immediately won four games in relief for the Yankees. The huge right-hander spent the next two seasons in the Yankee bullpen and earned a total of 10 wins and 11 saves while wearing the pinstripes. His best years were with Baltimore, including a 26-save season in 1980.

The Baltimore-New York connection was an historical one. Before the Yankees moved to New York (as the Hilltoppers) in 1903, they were the Baltimore Orioles. Beginning when the relocating St Louis Browns brought AL baseball back to B’town in 1954, many former Baltimore players have worn the pinstripes and vice-versa. Some guys who have worn both include;

Don Larsen
Bob Turley
Ryne Duren
Gus Triandos
Bob Kuzava
Ron Hansen
Curt Blefary
Pat Dobson
Tippy Martinez
Rick Dempsey
Paul Blair
Reggie Jackson
Doyle Alexander
Elrod Hendricks
Rich Coggins
Sidney Ponson
Mike Mussina

Stoddard shares his birthday with another well-traveled former Yankee reliever and this long-ago starting second baseman. Stoddard’s Yankee and career stats are shown below:

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1986 NYY 4 1 .800 3.83 24 0 6 0 0 0 49.1 41 23 21 6 23 34 1.297
1987 NYY 4 3 .571 3.50 57 0 23 0 0 8 92.2 83 38 36 13 30 78 1.219
1988 NYY 2 2 .500 6.38 28 0 9 0 0 3 55.0 62 41 39 5 27 33 1.618
13 Yrs 41 35 .539 3.95 485 0 262 0 0 76 729.2 680 343 320 72 356 582 1.420
BAL (6 yrs) 19 14 .576 3.65 229 0 162 0 0 57 313.0 294 137 127 28 141 249 1.390
NYY (3 yrs) 10 6 .625 4.39 109 0 38 0 0 11 197.0 186 102 96 24 80 145 1.350
SDP (2 yrs) 2 9 .182 4.27 74 0 29 0 0 1 105.1 96 55 50 9 71 89 1.585
CLE (1 yr) 0 0 2.95 14 0 7 0 0 0 21.1 25 7 7 1 7 12 1.500
CHC (1 yr) 10 6 .625 3.82 58 0 26 0 0 7 92.0 77 41 39 9 57 87 1.457
CHW (1 yr) 0 0 9.00 1 0 0 0 0 0 1.0 2 1 1 1 0 0 2.000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/24/2014.

January 23 – Happy Birthday Johnny Sturm

sturmJohnny Sturm was not your prototypical Yankee starting first baseman. He was instead, a singles hitter. In fact, no Yankee starting first baseman in the history of the franchise ever had a slugging average lower than the .300 figure turned in by Sturm during the 1941 regular season.

Lou Gehrig had set the impossible-to-fill mold all future Yankee first sackers would be measured by. Babe Dahlgren, the Iron Horse’s immediate successor had not hit more than 15 home runs or averaged above .264 during his two seasons in the position. Meanwhile, Sturm was hitting well over .300 and averaging 180 base-hits per year while playing first base for the Yankee’s farm team in Kansas City. At the end of New York’s 1941 spring training camp, Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy made the decision to put Sturm and two other infielders from that Kansas City farm club, second baseman Jerry Priddy and shortstop Phil Rizzuto on the Yank’s Opening Day roster. With an outfield full of home run power (DiMaggio, Henrich and Keller would each hit 30 round-trippers in 1941) plus Joe Gordon, Marse Joe figured any of these rookies and maybe even all three would be perfect table setters for the Yankees’ big bats.

The plan seemed reasonable but during the season a couple of hitches emerged. After getting the Opening Day start at first, Sturm was quickly benched so that Joe Gordon could move to first and McCarthy could play Priddy and Rizzuto together in the middle of the Yankee infield. But Priddy could not get himself untracked at the plate and by mid-May, “Marse Joe” had moved Gordon back to second and was starting Sturm at first. Almost immediately, Sturm went on an 11-game hitting streak and by the end of it, McCarthy had moved him into the leadoff spot of the Yankee lineup where he would remain for the rest of the ’41 season. Like Priddy however, Sturm also struggled with big league pitching, averaging just .239 during his rookie season. As a result, he scored just 58 times in 568 plate appearances. Despite that poor showing, McCarthy stuck with his punchless rookie in that year’s World Series and the then-25-year-old Sturm came through with a .318 average in the Yankees’ victory over Brooklyn, hitting safely in each of that Fall Classic’s five games.

So why did McCarthy stick with Sturm’s inefficient bat at first instead of giving Priddy another chance at second? After all, Phil Rizzuto always insisted that Priddy was a much better ballplayer than the Scooter was and could do everything well on a baseball field. From what I’ve read, it seems Priddy was a very cocky kid who thought nothing of mouthing off at his veteran Yankee teammates and vocally insisting he was as good as or better than most of them. Such brashness, especially from a rookie, did not sit well with his teammates. As a result, few if any of them showed any sympathy or offered to help Priddy with his offensive struggles, while reacting in the exact opposite way with the much more likable Sturm. I’m sure McCarthy realized all this and kept Priddy on the bench in part because he didn’t want to antagonize his veteran players.

Sturm’s very good 1941 postseason performance convinced most Yankee observers that he would be back at first base come the following season, but two months later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. On January 13, 1942, Sturm became the first married big league ballplayer to be drafted into military service. He spent most of his time in the Army playing baseball but he also was part of a detail that built baseball fields on army posts. While driving a tractor on one such detail, Sturm was involved in an accident that resulted in the amputation of two fingers on his non-throwing hand. When he tried to rejoin the Yankees in 1946, that injury destroyed his chances at being successful. Instead, he became a player-manager in the Yankees farm system and one day in 1948, while serving in that role for New York’s Class C Western Association League franchise in Joplin, Sturm’s phone rang. A father of a high school player was calling to request a tryout for his son. Sturm listened to the voice on the other end of the line tell him why this kid was worth looking at and was convinced enough to place a call to Yankee scout Tom Greenwade and arrange a tryout. The name of the dad who called Sturm that day was Mutt Mantle and the rest is Yankee history.

This one-time All Star closer and  this former Yankee number 1 draft pick were also born on this date.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1941 NYY 124 568 524 58 125 17 3 3 36 3 37 50 .239 .293 .300 .592
1 Yr 124 568 524 58 125 17 3 3 36 3 37 50 .239 .293 .300 .592
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/24/2014.