February 2013

February 17 – Happy Birthday Wally Pipp

wpippLong before Gladys Knight recorded Midnight Train to Georgia, Wally was the most famous Pipp in America.  He succeeded the notorious Hal Chase as the regular Yankee first baseman and played brilliantly at that position for eleven consecutive seasons.

Pipp established several firsts as a Yankee first baseman.  He was the first Yankee to lead the American League in home runs.  He was the first Yankee starting first baseman to wear the Yankee pinstripes.  He was the first one to play in the World Series.  He was the first Yankee starting first baseman to play in the now-closed original Yankee Stadium and the first one to play on a world championship team, in 1923.

None of those honors mattered, however, when Pipp innocently sat out a game against the Senators on the first day of June during the 1925 season.  Legend has it that he had a headache and asked Yankee skipper, Miller Huggins, for that afternoon off.  Whatever the reason, Lou Gehrig, took his place and every Yankee fan knows the rest of that story.

Pipp broke into the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers in 1913 and was picked up on waivers by the Yankees on January 15, 1915.  He led the American League in home runs in both 1916 and 1917. In fact, the Yankees earned the nickname Murderers Row because of pre-Ruth sluggers like Pipp and Frank “Home Run” Baker. In addition to being a power hitter in the dead-ball era, he was also a good and graceful fielder and smart base runner, stealing 114 bases during his eleven years with the Yanks.

Pipp’s best year in New York was 1922, when he hit .329 with 190 hits, 96 runs scored, and drove in 90 more.  His best World Series performance was the 1922 Fall Classic when he batted .286 in a losing effort against arch rival Giants.

In 1926, the Yankees sold Pipp, outright, to the Cincinnati Reds where he played three more seasons before retiring.  He passed away in Rapid City, MI on January 11, 1965, at the age of 71.

This former Yankee reliever this one-time replacement for A-Rod as Yankee third baseman and this Hall-of-Fame Yankee announcer were each also born on February 17th.

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1915 22 NYY AL 136 560 479 59 118 20 13 4 60 18 66 81 .246 .339 .367 .706
1916 23 NYY AL 151 617 545 70 143 20 14 12 93 16 54 82 .262 .331 .417 .748
1917 24 NYY AL 155 669 587 82 143 29 12 9 70 11 60 66 .244 .320 .380 .700
1918 25 NYY AL 91 386 349 48 106 15 9 2 44 11 22 34 .304 .345 .415 .760
1919 26 NYY AL 138 597 523 74 144 23 10 7 50 9 39 42 .275 .330 .398 .728
1920 27 NYY AL 153 687 610 109 171 30 14 11 76 4 48 54 .280 .339 .430 .768
1921 28 NYY AL 153 669 588 96 174 35 9 8 97 17 45 28 .296 .347 .427 .774
1922 29 NYY AL 152 665 577 96 190 32 10 9 90 7 56 32 .329 .392 .466 .859
1923 30 NYY AL 144 643 569 79 173 19 8 6 108 6 36 28 .304 .352 .397 .749
1924 31 NYY AL 153 663 589 88 174 30 19 9 114 12 51 36 .295 .352 .457 .808
1925 32 NYY AL 62 200 178 19 41 6 3 3 24 3 13 12 .230 .286 .348 .635
15 Yrs 1872 7836 6914 974 1941 311 148 90 997 125 596 551 .281 .341 .408 .749
NYY (11 yrs) 1488 6356 5594 820 1577 259 121 80 826 114 490 495 .282 .343 .414 .757
CIN (3 yrs) 372 1446 1289 151 359 52 24 10 166 11 104 50 .279 .335 .379 .715
DET (1 yr) 12 34 31 3 5 0 3 0 5 0 2 6 .161 .235 .355 .590
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/26/2014.

February 16 – Happy Birthday Sergio Mitre

mitreSergio Mitre was another Yankee relief pitcher who had the full faith and confidence of Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, even though I was never sure what he had done to earn it. I remember hearing the Yankee manager tell members of the Yankee press corps that this big right-hander threw lots of ground ball outs. After watching him pitch in pinstripes for almost three seasons, it seemed to me as if I saw more bombs hit off Mitre than groundballs. During his five seasons in the big leagues before coming to New York. Sergio had a combined won-loss record of 10-23, an ERA of 5.36 runs per game and about six walks for every nine innings he pitched. On top of that he was suspended a year for steroid use and then underwent Tommy John surgery.

In 2009, his ERA as a Yankee was 6.79. The only time Sergio truly impressed me that season was during a start against the White Sox in late August, when he threw six innings of one-hit shutout ball in a 10-0 Yankee triumph. He certainly pitched better for New York in 2010 but not nearly good enough to earn him a shot at starting in 2011. But that was exactly the scenario Girardi set up for him. He let this native of Tijuana, Mexico compete for the fourth and fifth spot in the team’s 2011 rotation on equal footing with Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and Ivan Nova. I was not at all surprised when Mitre failed to win that competition. The Yankees then traded Mitre to the Brewers a week before Opening Day, for outfielder Chris Dickerson. Three months later, the Yankees purchased him back from Milwaukee and gave him one more chance to become a key member of their bullpen. He failed to do so and was not offered a contract for the 2012 season. His three year record as a Yankee was 3-6, with 1 save and a lofty ERA of 5.35.

Mitre turns 32 years old today and shares his  February 16th birthday with this former Yankee backup catcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP
2009 NYY 3 3 .500 6.79 12 9 2 0 0 0 51.2 71 45 39 10 13 0 32 1.626
2010 NYY 0 3 .000 3.33 27 3 13 0 0 1 54.0 43 23 20 7 16 0 29 1.093
2011 NYY 0 0 11.81 4 0 4 0 0 0 5.1 9 9 7 0 4 0 2 2.438
8 Yrs 13 30 .302 5.21 143 64 40 1 1 1 454.2 525 290 263 54 151 10 265 1.487
CHC (3 yrs) 4 10 .286 6.12 36 18 10 1 1 0 120.2 148 83 82 18 47 4 77 1.616
NYY (3 yrs) 3 6 .333 5.35 43 12 19 0 0 1 111.0 123 77 66 17 33 0 63 1.405
FLA (2 yrs) 6 13 .316 4.88 42 34 3 0 0 0 190.0 224 116 103 16 61 6 111 1.500
MIL (1 yr) 0 1 .000 3.27 22 0 8 0 0 0 33.0 30 14 12 3 10 0 14 1.212
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/26/2014.

February 15 – Happy Birthday Russell Martin

Unless they had another move to acquire a catcher in mind before Opening Day of the 2013 regular season, the Yankees made a mistake by not re-signing Russell Martin. Instead, they allowed their starting catcher for the 2011 and ’12 seasons to make a new two-year $15 million deal for himself with Pittsburgh. I realize this native Canadian had a very bad offensive season in 2012, but his game management skills and defense remained steady and he did pound 21 home runs. None of the trio of receivers who will battle to take over Martin’s job in 2013 will be as good as he was for New York.

My single biggest concern about the former Dodger catcher when the Yankees signed him before the 2011 season was his health. He had hurt his hip during the 2010 season and the injury required surgery. But Martin had worked like crazy to recuperate from that operation and was able to catch 253 games during his two years in the Big Apple. His pinstripe career got off to a great start during the first half of 2011 and he made the AL All Star team. But his offense then pretty much abandoned him until he finally started hitting again during the final month of the 2012 season. Fortunately, he never let those hitting woes impact his solid work behind the plate. I loved the fact that he had the confidence and catching ability necessary to have Yankee pitchers throw their nastiest curves and sliders when hitters were ahead in the count or with opposing runners on base. When Martin was on a roll, be could block short pitches and dig them out of the dirt as well as any catcher I’ve seen. I also liked the fact that Martin had some pop in his bat (39 home runs in his two seasons with New York) and some speed in his legs. He’s stolen 80 bases during his seven years in the big leagues. Plus the guy turns just 30-years-old today.

I think Pittsburgh got themselves one of the ten best catchers in baseball for their 2013 lineup. Meanwhile, neither Chris Stewart or Francisco Cervelli have really proven they’ve got the all-around skills to handle the role of a big league team’s starting catcher. A still developing Austin Romine hasn’t either. That means the Yanks go into a new season with a big question mark at one of baseball’s most important positions, when for $15 million over the next two seasons they could have had one of the better catchers in baseball in that slot. Brian Cashman has said the organization is just biding time, waiting for 19-year-old Gary Sanchez, the franchise’s number 1 catching prospect to be ready for the big show. But that’s at least two years and two postseasons away. Having Martin behind the plate until that happened was a wise and affordable option.

This former Yankee outfielder  and this one-time Yankee starting pitcher both also celebrate their birthday on February 15th.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2011 NYY 125 476 417 57 99 17 0 18 65 8 50 81 .237 .324 .408 .732
2012 NYY 133 485 422 50 89 18 0 21 53 6 53 95 .211 .311 .403 .713
8 Yrs 1052 4180 3621 505 925 171 7 108 473 89 480 654 .255 .349 .396 .745
LAD (5 yrs) 667 2713 2344 347 638 115 7 54 300 66 319 370 .272 .365 .396 .761
NYY (2 yrs) 258 961 839 107 188 35 0 39 118 14 103 176 .224 .317 .405 .723
PIT (1 yr) 127 506 438 51 99 21 0 15 55 9 58 108 .226 .327 .377 .703
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/26/2014.

February 14 – Happy Birthday Damaso Marte

marteJoe Girardi was a big fan of former Yankee reliever Damaso Marte and for the life of me I could not figure out why. The Yankees had acquired the Dominican southpaw from Pittsburgh in the same 2008 trade that brought outfielder Xavier Nady to the Bronx. Marte had been 4-0 with 5 saves for the Pirates at the time that trade was made but he finished the ’08 season 1-3 as a Yankee and his ERA ballooned to 5.40. When New York then declined his option, I was pretty sure his Yankee days were over. I was wrong. Brian Cashman instead signed him to a new three-year deal.

Marte got worse instead of better during the 2009 regular season, going 1-3 and his ERA skyrocketed to 9.45. I again predicted his days in pinstripes were numbered but Joe Girardi had other ideas. He put Marte on the New York’s postseason roster. There was something in the Yankee skipper’s head or that famous binder of his that made him think Marte was going to get some huge outs somewhere along the way.

Those outs didn’t happen against Minnesota in that year’s ALDS. In his only appearance against the Twins, he gave up two straight singles and was quickly removed. That’s when the Marte Magic began. In his next seven appearances in that postseason, which included an inning-and-a-third against the Angels in the ALCS and two-and-a-third more against Philadelphia in the World Series, Marte did not surrender a single hit or walk a single batter. He struck out the final two hitters he faced, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard on six consecutive pitches. That’s when the Marte Magic ended.

His 2010 season was disrupted by inflammation in his pitching arm and cut short when his left shoulder required surgery. That knocked him out for the entire 2011 season and finally ended his Yankee career. He did not pitch any where in 2012 and it looks as if his big league career is also over.

He shares his Valentine’s Day birthday with this Hall-of-Fame Yankee announcer and this one-time Yankee pitching prospect and this one-time Yankee utility infielder. My father-in-law, Lou Rossi of Boynton Beach, FL, turns 93-years-old today. Happy Birthday Lou!

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2008 NYY 1 3 .250 5.40 25 0 2 0 0 0 18.1 14 11 11 1 10 24 1.309
2009 NYY 1 3 .250 9.45 21 0 6 0 0 0 13.1 15 14 14 3 6 13 1.575
2010 NYY 0 0 4.08 30 0 3 0 0 0 17.2 10 8 8 2 11 12 1.189
11 Yrs 23 27 .460 3.48 570 0 137 0 0 36 503.2 405 209 195 48 229 533 1.259
PIT (4 yrs) 7 8 .467 3.52 210 0 38 0 0 5 186.2 155 83 73 16 77 200 1.243
CHW (4 yrs) 14 12 .538 2.78 279 0 86 0 0 31 259.0 195 84 80 23 119 281 1.212
NYY (3 yrs) 2 6 .250 6.02 76 0 11 0 0 0 49.1 39 33 33 6 27 49 1.338
SEA (1 yr) 0 1 .000 9.35 5 0 2 0 0 0 8.2 16 9 9 3 6 3 2.538
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/26/2014.

February 13 – Happy Birthday Guy Zinn

ZinnGuy Zinn was the starting right fielder for the 1912 New York Highlanders. He was born in West Virginia in 1887. He played his first game of minor league ball in 1909 and two seasons later, while playing for a B level team in Altoona, PA, he caught the attention of the Highlanders by belting 11 triples, 7 home runs and averaging .317. New York offered him a contract after his Altoona season ended and Zinn made his Major League debut that September, with a nine-game cup-of-coffee trial with the Highlanders.

That 1911 New York team that Zinn became part of was in complete disarray. The season before, the Highlanders had looked as if they were becoming one of the junior circuit’s better teams, finishing second to Connie Mack’s mighty A’s. But in a bizarre late-season episode, New York skipper George Stallings had accused first baseman Hal Chase, his team’s biggest star, of throwing games. Unbelievably, the Highlander ownership sided with Chase and fired Stallings. Even more unbelievably, they gave Chase the manager’s job. You can imagine the turmoil this craziness must have caused among the Highlander roster. The team went from 88 wins and a second place finish in 1910 to a 76-win, seventh-place finish in 1911, to a disastrous 50-win, last place, bottom-falling-out debacle in 1912.

Zinn actually played well for that 1912 Highlander team. He led New York with 6 home runs and finished second in RBIs with 55, while averaging .262. Just 25-years-old at the time, under more normal circumstances, these stats from a rookie outfielder would be good enough to warrant a return invitation. But these were far from normal times. Harry Wolverton had replaced Chase as Highlander manager after the 1911 season, but Chase retained his job as the Highlander starting first baseman. After the last-place finish in 1912, the no-nonsense, two-time World Series winning former Cub manager, Frank Chance was brought in to right the ship. Several player personnel moves were made and one of them was the sale of Zinn’s contract to the Boston Braves. A year later, Zinn jumped to the upstart Federal League. Frank Chance did finally convince New York to dump the corrupt Chase, who himself would join Zinn in the Federal League in 1914.

Ironically, Chase also happens to share Zinn’s February 13th birthday as does this former University of Michigan quarterback who also happened to be a Yankee third base prospect and this one-time Yankee shortstop.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1911 NYY 9 32 27 5 4 0 2 0 1 0 4 5 .148 .281 .296 .578
1912 NYY 106 462 401 56 105 15 10 6 55 17 50 57 .262 .345 .394 .739
5 Yrs 314 1247 1103 136 297 51 23 15 139 28 109 139 .269 .338 .398 .736
BAL (2 yrs) 163 606 537 60 147 28 9 8 68 8 51 54 .274 .340 .404 .744
NYY (2 yrs) 115 494 428 61 109 15 12 6 56 17 54 62 .255 .341 .388 .729
BSN (1 yr) 36 147 138 15 41 8 2 1 15 3 4 23 .297 .322 .406 .727
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/26/2014.