February 2013

February 24 – Happy Birthday Dewayne Wise

Dewayne_WiseBrett Gardner had just had his best game of the young season on April 17, 2012. Going 2 for 4 with two walks at the plate and scoring tree runs. But he had also made a dive in the outfield trying to catch a ball and sprained his right elbow. For the next several weeks, Yankee physicians would treat the lingering injury as a strain and kept telling Joe Girardi that his speedy outfielder should be returning in a week or so.

At first, the Yanks tried to fill Gardner’s spot in left field with their near-medicare-eligible-supposed-to-DH tandem of Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez. After two weeks of playing every day both guys were dragging and Gardner’s elbow was still hurting. Girardi tried using his utility infielders, Edwin Nunez and Jayson Nix in left for a few games and then someone in the Yankee front office evidently brought up a great point, “Hey, we signed Dewayne Wise last January and the good-fielding, nine-year veteran big league outfielder is hitting over .300 for our top farm club. Why don’t we call him up until Gardner’s elbow feels better?”

It turned out to be the “wisest” move the Yankees made all year. During the next three months, Wise, a native of Columbia, South Carolina appeared in 56 Yankee games. The team’s record in those games was 44-12.

Dewayne had made his big league debut with Toronto in 2000, but had never been more than a utility outfielder with any of the six teams he had played with before joining New York. He did however, already have an ESPN-worthy career highlight reel. White Sox manager, Ozzie Guillen made Wise a starter during the 2008 ALDS versus Tampa Bay and he was Chicago’s best hitter, driving in five runs during their three-game defeat and averaging .286. Then in 2009, Guillen inserted him into a July game against that same Tampa team as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning with Chicago pitcher Mark Buehrle just three outs away from a perfect game. No fan of big league baseball who has seen the amazing catch Wise then made of a would-be-home run hit by Tampa’s Gabe Kapler, will ever forget it. In case you have, I’ve included a video of that catch here.

Wise averaged .262 in his 56 games in pinstripes, with 3 home runs and 8 RBIs. His presence also made it possible for Girardi to give the aging veterans throughout the Yankee lineup the periodic rests they needed. He also added a catch to his ESPN highlight reel, even though he really didn’t catch it. That took place in late June of the 2012 season when he leaped into Yankee Stadium’s left field stands attempting to catch a foul ball hit by Cleveland’s Jack Hannahan. The ball his his glove as he tumbled into the crowd but slow-motion replays clearly showed the ball exit his glove before he hit the ground. As the outfielder exited the stands, Umpire Mike DiMuro never asked to see the ball and Wise never offered to show it to him. If you missed this entertaining moment too, I’ve got it for you here.

The Yankee doctors finally figured out that Gardner’s injury was a lot more serious than they first thought and required surgery to repair. By late July, they were saying the speedy outfielder would not make it back for the rest of the season. I thought that might be good news for Wise’s future with the Yankees. Instead, Brian Cashman decided to go out and get Ichiro Suzuki from Seattle and the Yankees released Wise, permitting him to again once join the White Sox, where he finished the 2012 season as Chicago’s primary center-fielder and lead-off hitter.

Wise shares his birthday with this former Yankee prospect and World Series MVP.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2012 NYY 56 63 61 11 16 3 1 3 8 7 2 12 .262 .286 .492 .778
11 Yrs 576 1184 1109 149 253 45 16 31 115 55 46 245 .228 .264 .381 .645
CHW (4 yrs) 216 538 498 63 121 22 6 14 54 26 22 113 .243 .281 .396 .676
TOR (4 yrs) 142 290 278 41 55 7 4 8 29 12 9 64 .198 .228 .338 .567
CIN (2 yrs) 36 46 43 4 8 2 1 0 2 0 1 7 .186 .205 .279 .484
ATL (1 yr) 77 175 162 24 37 9 4 6 17 6 9 28 .228 .272 .444 .716
NYY (1 yr) 56 63 61 11 16 3 1 3 8 7 2 12 .262 .286 .492 .778
FLA (1 yr) 49 72 67 6 16 2 0 0 5 4 3 21 .239 .278 .269 .546
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/1/2014.

February 23 – Happy Birthday Roy Johnson

roy.johnsonThrough the years, there have been several members of the Yankees’ all-time roster who have had brothers playing in the big leagues at the same time. The most current example would be Yankee catcher Austin Romine, who’s brother Andrew has thus far had three cup-of-coffee trials as a middle infielder for the Los Angeles Angels. The first ever New York Highlander team had a starting pitcher named Jesse Tannehill, who’s brother Lee was a starting third baseman for the White Sox.

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant also had a brother in the big leagues when he became a Yankee in 1936. At the time, Roy Johnson was just coming off three straight seasons as the starting left fielder for the Boston Red Sox during which he averaged .313, .320 and .315. He had also driven in a career high 119 runs during the 1934 season. But when that RBI number fell to 66 the following year, Boston GM Eddie Collins took $75,000 of Tom Yawkey’s money and went out and got Doc Cramer from the A’s to play right field and traded Johnson to the Yankees.

Roy’s younger brother Bob was one of the best-hitting outfielders in the American League for most of the 1930′s. He had his best seasons for Connie Mack’s terrible Philadelphia A’s teams during that decade. Bob had much more power than his older sibling and put together seven straight 20 home run-100 RBI seasons. He also made seven AL All Star teams, an honor his brother never received.

The Yankee outfield picture Roy Johnson joined was one in transition. Babe Ruth had left New York two seasons earlier. The team’s 1935 starting left fielder, Jess Hill had been traded and the starting center fielder, the temperamental Ben Chapman would get dealt to the Senators three months into the 1936 regular season. It therefore looked like Johnson would have a pretty good shot at earning a starting berth with his new team until he got to spring training and ran into a rookie from the Pacific Coast League named Joe DiMaggio.

Johnson’s poor timing relegated him to the fourth outfielder’s spot on that ’36 Yankee team. He played in 63 games that year and hit .265, but he also got to appear in his one and only World Series (2 games and 1 hitless at-bat) and won a ring. He again made the team in spring training the following year but was placed on waivers by New York in early May and claimed by the Boston Braves. This part Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma retired with a .296 lifetime batting average. His younger brother would later leave the big leagues with the same exact lifetime average.

Johnson shares his birthday with this great Yankee catcher and this former Yankee outfielder.

Here’s my all-time team of Yankees who had brothers playing in the big leagues while they wore the pinstripes:

1b Jason Giambi (brother of Jeremy)
2b Steve Sax (brother of Dave)
3b Clete Boyer (brother of Ken)
ss Jerry Hairston (brother of Scott)
of Joe DiMaggio (brother of Vince & Dom)
of Bob Meusel (brother of Irish)
of Matty Alou (brother of Felipe & Jesus)
c Bill Dickey (brother of George)
dh Carlos May (brother of Lee)
p Phil Niekro (brother of Joe)

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1936 NYY 63 170 147 21 39 8 2 1 19 3 21 14 .265 .361 .367 .728
1937 NYY 12 54 51 5 15 3 0 0 6 1 3 2 .294 .333 .353 .686
10 Yrs 1155 4891 4359 717 1292 275 83 58 556 135 489 380 .296 .369 .437 .806
BOS (4 yrs) 515 2205 1954 313 611 130 30 31 327 48 227 147 .313 .386 .458 .844
DET (4 yrs) 473 2133 1918 352 550 126 48 23 181 77 199 183 .287 .355 .438 .793
BSN (2 yrs) 92 329 289 26 77 8 3 3 23 6 39 34 .266 .354 .346 .700
NYY (2 yrs) 75 224 198 26 54 11 2 1 25 4 24 16 .273 .354 .364 .718
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/1/2014.

February 22 – Happy Birthday Karl Drews

kdrewsThe phone rang and he let it ring one more time before picking it up. His family, friends and coaches who were gathered in his Sarasota, Florida living room that early June day in 1993 all fell silent and turned their attention to the expression on the face of the eighteen-year-old high school pitcher who was now holding the receiver tightly to his ear. As soon as they saw the huge grin break out across his face, every person in the room knew not only who was on the other end of that phone conversation but also what he had just said. The caller was Yankee scout Paul Turco, and he had just told the talented teenager that he had been selected with the Yankees first draft pick (13th overall) in Major League Baseball’s 1993 Amateur Draft.

The kids name was Matt Drews and right after he hung up the phone that day, his Dad, Ron Drews handed him a Yankee cap and told him it was his now. But unlike the brand new New Era team lids most modern day top picks get to place on their heads, the Yankee hat Matt’s Dad had handed him looked a bit aged and odd. That’s because at the time, that particular hat was close to a half-century old. It had been given originally to Matt’s grandfather by Joe DiMaggio as a gift for Matt’s Dad. Ron Drew’s Dad and Matt Drew’s Grandfather was former Yankee pitcher and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Karl Drews. In his rookie year of 1947, Karl had gone 6-6 for New York, appearing in 30 games for Yankee skipper Bucky Harris, including ten starts. Six years earlier, Karl was pitching for the Class C farm team that used to play in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY. He had signed with the Yankees in 1939 and was working his way up the minor league ladder when he was called into the military for service in WWII. That’s why he was already 27 years-old during his first full season in the big leagues.

Drews threw very hard but he had trouble finding the strike zone consistently. Still, Harris had enough faith in his rookie to use him twice in the 1947 World Series against Brooklyn. After his first appearance in Game 3 of that Fall Classic, the gracious DiMaggio walked up to him in the clubhouse after the game and handed him the Yankee cap, telling Drews to give it to his boy as a souvenir of his first World Series game.

DiMaggio would return to three more World Series as a Yankee before retiring but unfortuntely for Karl Drews, 1947 would be his one and only appearance in postseason play. The following season, the Yankees found themselves in a year-long and eventually unsuccessful battle with the Red Sox and Indians to defend their AL Pennant. Drews was actually pitching better baseball than he had the season before, walking fewer hitters and lowering his ERA by over a full run, to 3.79. That didn’t prevent the Yankees from selling Drews to the St. Louis Browns in early August of that 1948 season.

Now pitching for one of the worst teams in baseball, Drews went 4-12 for the Browns in 1949 and was sent back to the minors, where he broke his skull in a base path collision. He got back to the big leagues with the Phillies in 1951 and had his best big league season a year later, as a member of Philadelphia’s starting rotation. He went 14-15 with a sparkling 2.72 ERA and threw 5 shutouts. He would last two more years in the big leagues and then settled with his family in Hollywood, Florida. On August 15th, 1963, he was taking his daughter to swimming practice when his car stalled on a Florida highway. When he got out of the disabled vehicle and attempted to wave a passing car down, the drunken driver of the car plowed into Drews and killed him instantly. He was just 43 years old at the time of his death and he would never get to meet his grandson Matt.

matt.drewsUnlike his grandfather, Matt Drews never made it to the mound of Yankee Stadium. His career started out well, as he went 22-13 during his first two seasons in the lowest levels of New York’s farm system, but during the next five he was 16-58. He left baseball after the 2000 season.

He shares his birthday with this former 20-game-winning pitcherthis one-time Yankee closerthis new Yankee infielder and this former Yankee phee-nom.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1946 NYY 0 1 .000 8.53 3 1 1 0 0 0 6.1 6 6 6 0 6 4 1.895
1947 NYY 6 6 .500 4.91 30 10 9 0 0 1 91.2 92 57 50 6 55 45 1.604
1948 NYY 2 3 .400 3.79 19 2 8 0 0 1 38.0 35 17 16 3 31 11 1.737
8 Yrs 44 53 .454 4.76 218 107 44 26 7 7 826.2 913 493 437 72 332 322 1.506
PHI (4 yrs) 25 25 .500 3.74 93 60 9 22 5 3 453.0 478 221 188 43 117 187 1.313
NYY (3 yrs) 8 10 .444 4.76 52 13 18 0 0 2 136.0 133 80 72 9 92 60 1.654
SLB (2 yrs) 7 14 .333 6.94 51 25 10 3 1 2 177.2 223 148 137 14 104 46 1.841
CIN (1 yr) 4 4 .500 6.00 22 9 7 1 1 0 60.0 79 44 40 6 19 29 1.633
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/1/2014.