March 2013

March 28 – Happy Birthday Mark Melancon

MelanconThe Yankee career of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant certainly got off to a rough and painful start. New York selected the six foot two inch right hander in the ninth round of the 2006 MLB Draft. The ex-Yankee infielder, Andy Stankiewicz was the scout who signed him. Melancon was penciled in as a reliever and assigned to the team’s Staten Island minor league club and two weeks later, after just seven appearances, he was shelved for the season when it was discovered he needed Tommy John surgery. After a one-year recovery period, the Wheat Ridge, Colorado native got rolling. He went 19-2 during his next three seasons in New York’s farm system and also earned 15 saves.

He made his Yankee debut with 13 appearances during the team’s 2009 World Championship season. Whenever a reliever on the parent club was injured, they’d bring up Melancon to fill in for him. Although he made four trips up to the Bronx that year, he did not make Joe Girardi’s postseason roster, but he did post a respectable 3.86 ERA. He didn’t make New York’s big league roster the following year either but was called up in May and made what turned out to be his final two appearances in pinstripes. That July, the Yankees swung a deal for Houston slugger, Lance Berkman and Melancon was one of the two prospects New York gave up to get the switch-hitter. (Infielder Jimmy Paredes was the other.)

Finally getting a chance to pitch regularly at the big league level, Melancon took advantage of it. He went 2-0 with a 3.12 ERA during his first half-year in Houston and then had a break-out year in 2011 with a 20-save, 8 win- 4 loss, 2.78 ERA season in 2011. That December, the Red Sox were desperate to find someone to replace their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, who had just signed as a free agent with the Phillies. Boston offered Houston their utility infielder Jed Lowrie along with pitching prospect Kyle Weiland in exchange for Melancon and the Astros bit. As it turned out, the Red Sox were not planning on putting their new acquisition in the closer’s role. Two weeks after their deal with Houston, Boston made a trade for the A’s closer, Andrew Bailey.

I remember the ESPN/Boston blog boards were pretty enthusiastic about the two closers coming to Fenway and I didn’t blame them. I thought they’d do really well there. But we were wrong. First Bailey got hurt in spring training and remained on the DL till August. That forced Melancon into the closer’s role. The team got off to a horrible start during the 2013 regular season under new manager, Bobby Valentine and their new closer was a key culprit. He lost the season opener and then blew a save in his second appearance two days later. After giving up six runs to the Rangers in an  April 17th game, his ERA was 49.50. He was a wreck and Boston was forced to send him down to Pawtuckett to try and restore his game and his confidence. He pitched very well there and eventually made his way back to Fenway and pitched decently during the second half. But by then it was too late. The Bobby Valentine hiring had been a disaster for the Red Sox and Melancon would forever be tied to it. He was traded to Pittsburgh on December 26th of 2012.

Melancon shares his birthday with this great Yankee starting pitcher from the past and this former Yankee reliever.

2009 NYY 0 1 .000 3.86 13 0 4 0 0 0 16.1 13 8 7 0 10 10 1.408
2010 NYY 0 0 9.00 2 0 2 0 0 0 4.0 7 5 4 1 0 3 1.750
6 Yrs 13 10 .565 3.22 226 0 97 0 0 37 235.0 208 97 84 16 65 213 1.162
PIT (2 yrs) 3 3 .500 1.50 79 0 25 0 0 16 78.0 66 17 13 1 9 74 0.962
NYY (2 yrs) 0 1 .000 4.87 15 0 6 0 0 0 20.1 20 13 11 1 10 13 1.475
HOU (2 yrs) 10 4 .714 2.85 91 0 49 0 0 20 91.2 77 36 29 6 34 85 1.211
BOS (1 yr) 0 2 .000 6.20 41 0 17 0 0 1 45.0 45 31 31 8 12 41 1.267
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/16/2014.

March 27 – Happy Birthday Bill Sudakis

sudakisAt Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings in December of 1973, the American League owners voted to make the designated hitter rule a permanent feature of Junior Circuit play. As soon as the votes were counted, the Yankees made a trade with the Kansas City Royals acquiring Lou Piniella, who many considered a near-perfect DH role-model. But Sweet Lou, had slumped to a .250 batting average the previous season, so just in case he did not return to his .300-hitting ways, New York hedged their bet by also acquiring on that same day, the switch-hitting Bill “Suds” Sudakis from the Rangers.

The then 28-year-old native of Joliet, IL had broken into the big leagues impressively as a third baseman with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1968. But some serious knee problems during his first few seasons in LA, turned him into a role player. LA had released him in 1971 and after a short-time with the Mets, he had landed in Texas in ’73, just in time for the AL’s one-year DH experimental season.

He hit 15 HRs for Texas but only DH’d nine times. He also played a lot of third and first for that Ranger team and even went behind the plate for nine games. That versatility and his two-way hitting caught the attention of Yankee GM Gabe Paul, who was able to negotiate the outright purchase of Sudakis’s contract from Texas.

Suds would play just one season (1974) in pinstripes. Under the direction of skipper Bill Virdon, the Yanks made a surprising run at for the AL East title that year, finishing just two-games behind the Orioles. Sudakis got into 89 games, mostly as a DH and first baseman. He averaged just .232, but he also hit 7 home runs and drove in 39. His biggest impact on that year’s pennant drive however, may have occurred in the lobby of a downtown Milwaukee hotel.

The Yanks were scheduled to fly to Brewer town after a road-series with the Indians to play the last two games of their regular season, but their flight out of Cleveland was delayed for three hours. During those three hours, many of the Yankees did what many big league ballplayers do when they have lots of idle time in an airport, they headed to the bar. Well evidently Sudakis and Dempsey started getting on each other before they left Cleveland and the verbal sparring continued between the two all during their now very late flight. By the time the team departed their bus and entered the lobby of their downtown hotel, Dempsey had reached the boiling point and went after Sudakis like a madman. Yankee players at the scene later verified the ensuing fight was a knockdown drag-out classic with furniture overturned and pictures knocked off the walls. It took quite a while for their Yankee teammates and hotel security to separate the two and when they finally did, it was star outfielder Bobby Murcer, who had gotten the worst of it. Somebody stepped on his hand and broke his finger and that injury kept him out of the next day’s lineup against the Brewers. The Yankees lost that game while the Orioles won their contest against the Indians, clinching the division for the Birds.

I’m not 100% certain his role in that fight is the reason the Yanks traded Sudakis to California for pitcher Skip Lockwood that December, but it sure didn’t help to prevent it. Sudakis played one more season of big league ball before returning to the minors in 1976.

While researching this post I came across some compelling evidence that Sudakis was a bit crazy. For example, he once offered to add some bounce to Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles bat. He sawed the top off, drilled into the barrel and inserted some super balls and then reattached the sawed-off bat top with Elmer’s Glue. Then Yankee shortstop Gene Michael asked Sudakis how he had reassembled the doctored bat and when he got to the Elmer’s Glue part, “the Stick” warned him the glue would not hold. Sudakis assured him it would and one week later, after homering with it in his previous at bat, Nettles hit one off the the end of the modified piece of lumber and sure enough, the bat-top pops off and the rubber balls come rolling out the end of it, getting Nettles ejected.

Suds shares his birthday with this Hall-of-Fame Yankee Manager and this long-ago Yankee starting pitcher.

1974 NYY 89 293 259 26 60 8 0 7 39 0 25 48 .232 .296 .344 .639
8 Yrs 530 1751 1548 177 362 56 7 59 214 9 172 313 .234 .311 .393 .704
LAD (4 yrs) 291 1016 901 108 219 35 7 34 116 8 102 176 .243 .321 .411 .732
NYM (1 yr) 18 56 49 3 7 0 0 1 7 0 6 14 .143 .236 .204 .440
TEX (1 yr) 82 263 235 32 60 11 0 15 43 0 23 53 .255 .320 .494 .814
CLE (1 yr) 20 50 46 4 9 0 0 1 3 0 4 7 .196 .260 .261 .521
CAL (1 yr) 30 73 58 4 7 2 0 1 6 1 12 15 .121 .274 .207 .481
NYY (1 yr) 89 293 259 26 60 8 0 7 39 0 25 48 .232 .296 .344 .639
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/14/2014.

March 26 – Happy Birthday Bill Zuber

Whatever happened to the bullpen cars and golf carts that Major League teams use to use to transport relief pitchers from the home team’s bullpen to the pitching mound? The Yankees had a pinstriped Datsun making this trip for quite a while. I remember thinking how unneighborly it was to force the opposing team’s relievers to walk from their pen to the mound while providing air conditioned transport to the homie’s. Did the occupants of the car listen to the radio during these rides? What did the conversation between driver and pitcher consist of? You’d think teams would have been smart enough to have their bullpen coaches drive these vehicles so they could spend those last precious few moments discussing the best pitching strategies for the passenger to use with the hitters he was about to face. How many times did we see anxious relief pitchers waiting for their ride to show up alongside the bullpen? Where was the vehicle, out getting gas?

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant causes me to ponder an even more important historical question about the New York franchise’s use of bullpen vehicles. Bill Zuber became a Yankee pitcher in 1943, just as the exodus of Major League players to wartime service was peaking. The deal that brought this native of Iowa to the Bronx was decidedly one-sided. New York gave the Senators a very good second baseman named Jerry Priddy and a promising young pitcher named Milo Candini in exchange for Zuber and both had very strong first years for Washington in 1943.

Perhaps New York’s motivation for the deal was their certainty that their new acquisition would be around to pitch despite the conflicts going on in Europe and the Pacific at the time. The Yankees knew they could depend on having Zuber on their roster through the War’s end because he was a member of a religious group known as The Amana Church Society. Members of this group were against all wars and were granted conscientious objector status by the US Government. This Society also believed that it was a sin to make use of modern machinery like automobiles. So what would have happened if back in 1943, ’44 or ’45, when Zuber was putting together an 18-23 record for Joe McCarthy’s wartime Yankees as a starter and reliever, the Skipper summoned this big peace-loving right hander from the bullpen to pitch in a game and the Yankees were making use of a bullpen vehicle? Would Zuber have put himself in the passenger seat or would he instead have pointed to the sky, like Bobby Abreu used to do every time he got a base hit and proceed to walk the walk?

In any event, as you can see from the graphic accompanying this post, Zuber went into the restaurant business after his baseball career ended. He found away to merge his new business, his Yankee past and his religiosity by adorning the back page of his restaurant’s menu with his former Yankee Manager’s “Ten Commandments of Baseball.”

Also born on March 26th is this former Yankee infielder and this current day Yankee shortstop.

1943 30 NYY AL 8 4 .667 3.89 20 13 2 7 0 1 118.0 100 54 51 3 74 57 1.475
1944 31 NYY AL 5 7 .417 4.21 22 13 5 2 1 0 107.0 101 54 50 5 54 59 1.449
1945 32 NYY AL 5 11 .313 3.19 21 14 5 7 0 1 127.0 121 50 45 2 56 50 1.394
1946 33 NYY AL 0 1 .000 12.71 3 0 1 0 0 0 5.2 10 9 8 2 3 3 2.294
11 Yrs 43 42 .506 4.28 224 65 90 23 3 6 786.0 767 418 374 35 468 383 1.571
CLE (4 yrs) 4 5 .444 5.69 50 3 25 1 0 1 98.0 113 70 62 5 68 47 1.847
NYY (4 yrs) 18 23 .439 3.88 66 40 13 16 1 2 357.2 332 167 154 12 187 169 1.451
WSH (2 yrs) 15 13 .536 4.52 73 14 38 4 1 3 223.0 225 129 112 10 143 115 1.650
BOS (2 yrs) 6 1 .857 3.86 35 8 14 2 1 0 107.1 97 52 46 8 70 52 1.556
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/14/2014.

March 25 – Happy Birthday Lee Mazzilli

Lee Mazzilli had the good fortune of joining the Mets during the late seventies. He had Hollywood looks, was born in Brooklyn and during the first six seasons of his big league career he became a darling of Met fans, but not because he was an All Star caliber player. No, “Maz” became a Shea Stadium favorite because he played hard every day on some of the worst teams in Met history and alongside many mediocre teammates. So in comparison, Lee looked like an All Star even though he was a pretty ordinary player.

After the 1981 strike-shortened season, the Mets sent Mazzilli to Texas for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell. The Yankees then swapped Bucky Dent for Lee during the 1982 season and Mazzilli hit .266 during his 37-game playing career in pinstripes. He retired as a player in 1989 with 93 home runs, 1068 hits and a .259 lifetime batting average during his 14-seasons in the bigs. After hanging up his glove, Mazzilli got into coaching and was reunited with his old Met manager, Joe Torre on the Yankee coaching staff in 2000. He was then hired to manage Baltimore in 2004 but that didn’t work out too well. Lee turns 58 years old today but he still looks like he’s in his thirties.

Another former Yankee who has a March 25th birthday is this former middle infielder who played most of his big league ball outside of the Bronx.

1982 NYY 37 144 128 20 34 2 0 6 17 2 15 15 .266 .347 .422 .769
14 Yrs 1475 4831 4124 571 1068 191 24 93 460 197 642 627 .259 .359 .385 .744
NYM (10 yrs) 979 3496 3013 404 796 148 22 68 353 152 438 443 .264 .357 .396 .753
PIT (4 yrs) 373 881 722 112 176 30 2 11 62 30 144 127 .244 .369 .337 .706
TEX (1 yr) 58 224 195 23 47 8 0 4 17 11 28 26 .241 .339 .344 .683
NYY (1 yr) 37 144 128 20 34 2 0 6 17 2 15 15 .266 .347 .422 .769
TOR (1 yr) 28 86 66 12 15 3 0 4 11 2 17 16 .227 .395 .455 .850
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/13/2014.

March 24 – Happy Birthday Ernie Shore

shoreIf first impressions meant everything, Ernie Shore would have never pitched a second big league game and he almost didn’t. Shore was a North Carolina farm boy who hated working his Daddy’s fields so he took the opportunity to attend college and become a mechanical engineer. The school, Guilford College, had a baseball team and Shore became that team’s ace pitcher, winning a total of 38 games during his collegiate career. He was a tall six foot four inch right-hander, who was thin as a rail but he could evidently generate lots of arm speed from that frame because he was known for his fastball.

His success in college got him noticed by the great John McGraw, who sent Shore a ticket to come to New York and pitch for the Giants. McGraw inserted his skinny rookie into a game against the Boston Braves in which the Giants had a 19-run lead. When the kid was finished pitching, that lead had shrunk to nine and he never pitched another inning for a McGraw managed team.

A year later, Shore was pitching for the International League’s Baltimore Orioles, where he was part of the same rotation as a young and promising southpaw named George Ruth. That July, the Boston Red Sox purchased the dynamic duo. It was Shore, who at that time was 23-years-old and 4-years-older than Ruth, who would make the bigger immediate impact on the Boston pitching staff. He went 10-5 during the second half of the 1914 season, while the nineteen-year-old Babe was just 2-1. The following season, Ruth won 19 and Shore won 18 leading the Red Sox to the AL Pennant. But it was again the older more mature Shore that Boston turned to in the 1915 World Series against the Phillies. Ernie got two starts in that Fall Classic and Ruth none, as Boston captured the Fall Classic in five games.

The following year, Ruth won 23 and Shore 16, helping the Red Sox defend their AL title. Shore then won two games in Boston’s five game victory over Brooklyn in the 1916 World Series, while Babe got one of the other two wins.

The Red Sox did not get back to the Series the following year. Ruth won 23 games in 1917 and Shore went 13-10. But in July of that 1917 season, another episode involving the two pitchers once again exemplified the quiet confident nature of Shore versus the much more undisciplined personality of the younger cruder Ruth. Babe had started a game against the Senators and after walking the first hitter on four straight pitches, became so irate at the umpire he actually punched the guy. Shore was inserted to the game and on his first pitch, the runner on first was thrown out trying to steal. Ernie then retired the next 26 hitters he faced, recording one of the most famous two-man no-hitters in baseball history.

That 1917 season was Shore’s last year in Boston. The following season, with the US fully engaged in WWI, he enlisted in the US Navy. When he returned to the game in 1919, it was as a member of the New York Yankees. He had been sold to the Yanks by the Red Sox with teammates Dutch Leonard and Duffy Lewis, the previous December. Unfortunately for both Shore and the Yankees, he caught a very bad case of the mumps at the team’s 1919 spring training camp and blamed the disease for disrupting his training regimen and spoiling his entire season. He would go only 5-8 during his first year in New York.

In January of 1920, the Yankees reunited Ruth and Shore when they purchased Babe’s contract from Boston. The Bambino definitely generated more excitement in the New York sports press that winter but there was still plenty of buzz about how a now-healthy Shore would once again be blazing his fastball by AL hitters.

Turns out, that case of the Mumps was simply hiding the real reason Shore didn’t pitch well in 1919. His right arm was dead. No one was sure how or when it happened but in 1920, it became very clear that Ernie had lost his trademark fastball. He appeared in just 14 games for manager Miller Huggins’ team that year, making just 5 starts and finishing with a 2-2 victory and an ERA of  4.87 runs.

After attempting to pitch his way back to the big leagues via the Pacific Coast League in 1921, Shore retired back to his native North Carolina, where he eventually became a well-known sheriff for Forsyth County.

Most of the information for this post was derived from this excellent article about Shore published by SABR. He shares his March 24th birthday with this former Yankee first baseman, this former starting pitcher and this former reliever.

1919 NYY 5 8 .385 4.17 20 13 3 3 0 0 95.0 105 50 44 4 44 24 1.568
1920 NYY 2 2 .500 4.87 14 5 4 2 0 1 44.1 61 31