Stanley “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.
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.
Legendary Yankee scout, Paul Krichell signed some of the best players in Yankee history, including Lou Gehrig and Whitey Ford. He was once asked which of the players he had signed most surprised him by not making it in the big leagues. One of his answers was Charlie Devens. The Yankees gave Devens a huge bonus when the fire-balling right-hander graduated from Harvard in 1932 and wasted no time throwing him into the fire. He got his first start in Pinstripes against Boston in Fenway and threw a complete game victory. He had a blazing fastball and loads of confidence but he also had a family that owned a bank and a girl friend who was the daughter of a former Massacusetts’ Governor. After bouncing back and forth between the Yankees and their Minor League affiliate in Newark for the next two seasons, it wasn’t too difficult a decision for Charlie to walk away from the Yankees in 1934 for a job in his family’s bank and to marry his well-heeled sweetheart.
Another Yankee born on the first day of the year was this former first baseman nicknamed “the Earl of Snohomish.”