Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant hit 27 home runs in just his second full big league season in 1970 and he also led the Royals that same year with 99 RBIs. After slumping the following season he was traded to the Angels in 1972. A versatile player, in ’73 he started 49 games at third for California, 47 in right field and 32 at first base. Toward the end of the 1974 regular season the Angels traded this native of Shreveport, Louisiana to the Orioles and during the subsequent Winter Meetings, Yankee GM Gabe Paul purchased his contract from Baltimore. The rumor circulating in the press at the time was that Paul was about to trade away Graig Nettles and he wanted Oliver to take over from “Puff” as the Yankee starting third baseman. Fortunately, it was only a rumor because although he was just 31 years old at the time, Oliver’s career was practically over. He hit just .158 during his 18 games in pinstripes and was released by New York at the 1975 All Star break. Nettles of course remained a Yankee and was an outstanding run producer and defensive force at the hot corner for two World Championship teams.
Oliver is the father of big league pitcher Darren Oliver. He shares his birthday with this 20-game-winning Yankee pitcher.
Garcia shares his February 7th birthday with this one-time Yankee prospect who was once hailed as “the next Lou Gehrig.”
Dale Long was born in Springfield, Missouri on February 6, 1926 and then moved to Massachusetts as a young boy. A multi-talented athlete as a youngster, he starred in semi-pro football and turned down an opportunity to sign with the Green Bay Packers to give a career in baseball a shot. That career started in 1944, when Long joined the Milwaukee Brewers, then a non-affiliated double A franchise in the American Association being managed at the time by Casey Stengel. During the next ten seasons, Long spent time with fourteen different minor league ball clubs in the organizations of five different Major League teams. In 1951, he made his big league debut as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, where GM Branch Rickey was determined to convert Long into a left-handed catcher. That experiment lasted two pitches. He ended up on waivers that year and spent four more seasons trying to get back to the big dance.
His second chance came in 1955, again with the Pirates. This time Long was ready. He averaged .291 with 16 home runs, 79 RBIs and led all of baseball with his 13 triples. The following year, Long swung his way into baseball history when he hit home runs in eight consecutive games. That stretch of power made him a national celebrity and his 27 home runs and 91 RBIs that season made him a National League All Star.
After a slow start in 1957, Long was traded to the Cubs and after three seasons in the Windy City, he was sold to the Giants just as the 1960 regular season was beginning. In August of that year, Yankee GM George Weiss was looking for some left-handed power to add to Casey Stengel’s bench and he purchased Long from San Francisco. At the time the deal was made, the big guy was hitting just .167 but when he got to the Bronx, he went on a tear. He hit a robust .366 in his 46 at bats with New York that year and made the Yankees’ postseason roster, getting a hit in three pinch-hitting appearances against his former Pirate teammates in the 1960 World Series.
Long was a left-handed pull hitter who’s stroke was perfect for reaching the short porch down the old Yankee Stadium’s right field line. New York really loved having him as a pinch hitter but they had too many other stars and prospects in their employ to protect Long during the 1960 AL Expansion Draft. Sure enough, the Senators selected the veteran slugger with the 28th pick and he became the new Washington franchise’s first starting first baseman during their inaugural 1961 season. In July of 1962, the Yankees were once again in need of a left-handed pinch hitter and they offered the Senators a very good right-hand-hitting outfielder prospect from their farm system by the name of Don Lock in exchange for Long. Washington jumped at the offer and Lock became their team’s starting center fielder for the next half-decade. Long again came through in his role as a Yankee pinch-hitter and Moose Skowren’s back-up at first base. In 41 games he averaged .298 with 4 home runs and 17 RBIs. He again got to play in a World Series and this time won his first and only ring when the Yankees defeated the Giants in the 1962 Fall Classic.
By the time the 1963 season rolled around, Long had reached 37 years of age and his bat and his body were slowing down. He was hitting just .200 that August, when the Yankees released him and his big league career was over. Years later, Long became a sports announcer for a local television station in my viewing area. He died in 1991, a victim of a heart attack at the age of 64.
Long shares his birthday with a Yankee God.
When I started following the Yankees in 1960, their best minor league outfield prospects required patience or a willingness to relocate. That’s because the parent club had Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, both in their primes, solidly stationed in center field and right, while in left they used a trio of highly skilled veterans that included Yogi Berra, Hector Lopez and Bob Cerv. There was simply not enough playing time available at the big league level for young promising outfield prospects like today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant to develop. As a result, they either stayed in the minors a very long time or they were traded to other teams to shore up weaknesses New York had in other areas.
Lee Thomas was one such prospect. The Yankees signed him right out of high school in 1954. He spent the next seven seasons climbing up the alphabet ladder of New York’s farm system, impressing everyone along the way with his patience at the plate, his ability to hit for average and his power. In his final two minor league seasons he averaged 27 home runs and 115 RBIs per season with a batting average right around .320. His only negative was a sometimes violent temper that would earn him the nickname “Mad Dog.”
By the 1961 Spring Training season, he was so good and so ready that first-year Yankee manager Ralph Houk had no choice but to put him on the Opening Day roster. But this was the same 1961 Yankee team that most baseball historians consider to be one of the great teams in MLB history, which is why during the first six weeks of the regular season, the only action Thomas had seen was two pinch-hitting opportunities. Finally, Roger Maris approached the rookie and told him he was too good a player to sit on the Yankee bench or get sent back down to triple A. Thomas explained what happened next in an interview documented in the book “The Yankees in the Early 1960′s,” authored by William J. Ryczek. On a flight to LA for a series against the Angels, Maris approached Thomas and told him he and Mantle had a plan to take care of the rookie. When the Yankees started batting practice in LA’s old Wrigley Field, the original home of the expansion team, Mickey, Roger and two other Yankee starters gave up their time in the batting cage so that Thomas could have an extended session in front of the watchful eyes of Angel skipper, Bill Rigney. These extended sessions continued for the next two games as well. Thomas took advantage of the showcase by smashing the ball all over the park. He said he hit at least fifteen home runs during those sessions and sure enough, before the Yankees left town, the Angels made a trade for the rookie.
Even though the deal meant a full-time big league starting position for Thomas, he admitted he hated leaving the Bronx Bombers. He knew that 1961 team was special, he knew they were going to win it all and he wanted to be part of it but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Thomas immediately became a star for the struggling expansion Angels. He hit 24 home runs for them in 1961 and in ’62, he made the AL All Star team and ended the season with 26 HRs, 105 RBIs and a .290 batting average. He appeared to have found a permanent home with the Halos but all of a sudden, he stopped hitting. Thomas’s average fell seventy points in 1963, and his home runs and RBIs that year dropped pretty much in half. When his slump continued into the first part of the 1964 season, the Angels sent him to the Red Sox for Boston outfielder, Lou Clinton.
The change of scenery seemed to help revive Lee’s bat a bit. He hit 13 home ruins for Boston during the final two thirds of the ’64 season and drove in 42 runs. The following year he did even better, with 22 home runs, 71 RBIs and he raised his batting average up to a more respectable .271. He probably thought he had found a new home in Beantown right up until ten days before Christmas in 1965, when he found out he had been traded to Atlanta for Braves’ pitchers Dan Osinski and Bob Sadowski.
He floundered horribly in Atlanta, and was hitting just .188 by the end of May when he was told he had been traded again, this time to the Cubs. After a season and a half in the Windy City and a final year playing with Houston, Thomas was gone from the big leagues for good. Thomas then got into managing at the minor league level for a few seasons before moving up to the big league front office of the Cardinals where he was named the organization’s Farm Director. He then got the Phillies’ GM job in 1988 and kept it for nine years. Thomas then returned to Boston where he served as assistant GM under Dan Duquette. He was born in Peoria, IL on February 5, 1936.
I’ve always loved conspiracy theories and the one I learned about while researching today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant is certainly a doozy. When Ban Johnson started his American League in 1901, it created a lucrative new market for players in the National League, who were willing to jump to the new junior circuit. Just about every team in the NL lost some of their best players during the resulting signing war in 1901 and ’02. The only exception strangely was the mighty Pittsburgh Pirates, who escaped pretty much unscathed. With absolutely no negative impact on their roster, the Pirates were able to win the NL Pennants in both ’01 and ’02 by comfortable margins. In fact, in 1902 the Bucs finished a full 27 1/2 games ahead of a heavily depleted second place Brooklyn Superba’s squad.
Some baseball historians surmised that Johnson and his fellow American League franchise owners conspired to not sign any of the Pirate players, instead concentrating their raid-efforts on the stars of the teams that could compete with the Bucs for the pennant. Their purpose was to leave Pittsburgh in such a dominant position that the team would win the flag by such a huge margin, the fans of other NL teams would lose interest and stop buying tickets. Others thought the reason why the Pirate stars were so sticky to Pittsburgh was because the owner of that team, a banker named Barney Dreyfuss, was so good to his players.
That stickiness ended when one of the Pirates’ best pitchers, Jess Tannehill separated his shoulder and while being treated for the injury, was administered ether. Unbelievably, while under the effects of that drug he confessed that he and a group of fellow Pirates had all been offered $1,000 to jump to the rival league. Dreyfuss was both shocked and angered by the news and ended up releasing all the players who were thinking of betraying him. That list included Tannehill, pitcher Jack Chesbro, third baseman Wid Conroy and an outfielder named Alfonzo “Lefty” Davis. All four signed on with the Highlanders.
Davis was an up and coming star for the Pirates who had missed half of the 1902 season wth a severely broken leg. A native of Nashville, TN, Davis had hit .313 for Pittsburgh in 1901 and was averaging .280 the following season, when the injury occurred.
In 1903, he joined the first New York Highlanders’ starting outfield with Willie Keeler and Herm McFarland. Unfortunately, his injured leg had not healed properly and he hit just .237. His loss of speed hindered him on the base paths and in the outfield. He would spend the next three seasons in the minors trying to regain his form but he never did. After one last shot with Cincinnati in 1907, his big league career was over.
Davis shares his birthday with a long-ago Yankee infielder.
You can’t make this stuff up Yankee fans. The New York Yankees once had a pitcher with the same name as the star correspondent of the 60-Minutes television show, Mike Wallace. Guess what the lifetime record of the pinstriped Mike Wallace was as a Yankee? 6-0!
I actually remember the Yankee Mike Wallace pretty well. That’s because he joined the Yankees from the Phillies during the 1974 regular season. That was the same year New York was making a surprising run at the AL East Division flag under manager, Bill Virdon, despite the fact that Mel Stottlemyre had torn his rotator cuff and his wonderful pitching career was over.
Doc Medich and Pat Dobson both took up the slack caused by Stottlemyre’s absence, when each won 19 games. Dick Tidrow and Rudy May rounded out the surprisingly decent rotation and Sparky “the Count” Lyle, held court in the Yankee bullpen. Wallace joined the team in late June and Virdon used him as his primary left-handed middle reliever the rest of that season. He appeared in 23 games for New York and in addition to the perfect 6-0 record, his ERA was just 2.41.
We all hoped the Gastonia, North Carolina native would be more than just a flash in the pan but that was his fate. After three appearances for the Yankees in 1975, Wallace’s ERA climbed to over thirteen and he was sold to St. Louis. He was out of the big leagues by 1977 and he is now a baseball commentator on the Mid Atlantic Sports network.
Jack Reed was one of the first Yankee outfielders to become “Mickey Mantle’s spare legs.” These were guys who would replace the oft injured, always-in-pain superstar in the late innings of games after The Mick would get his last at-bat. Often times, when Mantle made that final plate appearance, thousands of Yankee Stadium fans would head for the exits so usually, when Reed was coming into a game he’d see huge crowds of people leaving the stands.
As a result of his very specialized role, Reed was one of the select group of position players in Major League history to accumulate more games played than plate appearances during their careers. This Silver City, Mississippi native got into 222 games during his three season career in pinstripes that began in 1961, but came to the plate with a bat in his hand just 144 times. He hit just one home run during that span and I remember it very well.
It happened during a Sunday afternoon game against Detroit at old Briggs Stadium in July of 1962. As usual, Reed was on the bench when the game started. At the end of nine innings, the score was tied 7-7. It stayed that way for the next 12 innings. Reed had entered the game in the top of the thirteenth, to pinch hit for Phil Linz and was then inserted in right field. He was hitless in his first three at bats when he came to the plate in the top of the 22nd inning with one out and Roger Maris, representing the go-ahead run on first base. Reed hit a Phil Regan pitch into the stands for a two-run home run to knock in the winning runs of what was then, the longest game in Major League history. I think I can remember watching that entire game at my Grandmother’s house. It lasted for eight hours. Reed was born on this date in 1933 and still lives in Mississippi.
In addition to being a pretty good baseball player at Ol’ Miss, Reed had also been a real good collegiate football player. This second Yankee utility outfielder, also born on this date, was also good at baseball and football during his college days. He eventually made it into the Hall of Fame. Not the one in Cooperstown, the one in Canton. He also shares his birthday with this former Yankee war-time catcher.
When I saw the name of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant it instantly brought back good/bad memories. My good/bad memories are reminisces that at the time they originally occurred, gave me agita but now, remembering them decades later, they actually make me smile.
When I first started watching Yankee baseball in 1960, the team was almost unbeatable and when one of New York’s players got old, injured or drafted into military service and a replacement was needed, they’d reach down inside their well-stocked farm system and bring up a talented replacement. In 1962, for instance, rookies Tom Tresh, Joe Pepitone and Jim Bouton all made meaningful contributions to a Yankee team that won its second straight World Championship.
But just a few seasons later, that had all changed. Since almost the beginning of the franchise, the Yankees had been owned by very wealthy individuals with immense personal fortunes who loved winning. They’d pour huge amounts of money into the team’s farm system and sign up the best young talent from around the country. In 1965, however, the Yankees were sold to CBS, a corporation of stockholders concerned with just one thing, profits. At the same time, Major League Baseball instituted its amateur draft, which for the first time rewarded the teams with the worst records the ability to select the rights to sign the best amateur players in the country ahead of the teams with the best records and the most money.
There would be no more 1962′s for a long long time in Yankee universe. The farm system was gutted during CBS’s reign of error and that’s why Ron Woods got to wear pinstripes in the first place. By 1968, the Yankees had become one of the worst teams in the American League. They needed to replace their entire outfield and since prized franchise prospects like Steve Whitaker, Roger Repoz and Ross Moschitto all fizzled, Yankee GM Ralph Houk found himself forced to trade Yankee veterans for the best prospects of other teams. That’s why in 1969, New York traded Tresh to Detroit for a young outfielder named Ron Woods.
There were times during the previous seven seasons in the Tiger farm system that Woods looked like he had the potential to become one of those special five-tool outfielders. Unfortunately for Houk and the Yankees, potential on the farm doesn’t win games in the majors. Ron Woods was a complete bust during his two plus seasons in the Bronx. In 192 Yankee games between 1969 and ’71, he averaged just .208 with 10 home runs and only 36 RBIs. Even his greatest play as a Yankee turned out to be a mirage. Woods had fallen head first into the stands chasing a long fly ball and knocked himself unconscious. His Yankee outfield teammate, the late Bobby Murcer had reached over the wall and held up the ball, as if he had grabbed it out of Woods glove and the umpire signaled the batter was out. Years later, when he was announcing Yankee games, Murcer admitted during a televised broadcast that he had found that ball lying next to and not inside Woods’ glove.
New York gave up on Woods in June of 1971, trading him to Montreal for the ex-Met, Ron Swoboda. Woods remained an Expo through the 1971 season, ending his 582-game big league career there with a .233 lifetime batting average.