The 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.
|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|
At 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.
|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|
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.”
|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|