March 3 – Happy Birthday Chuck Cary
By 1991 both the Yankees’ front-office decision making and the team’s starting pitching had gotten so bad that we fans were being told today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the best southpaw starter in the American League. I remember wanting to believe it but having a hard time doing so because I had been watching Cary struggle on the Yankee Stadium mound for two seasons by then. If he was indeed one of the best pitchers in the junior circuit he had been doing a masterful job disguising it.
The six foot four inch native of California had made his big league debut pitching out of the Detroit Tiger bullpen in 1985. He than spent the next four seasons bouncing back and forth between the minors and majors, Detroit had traded him to Atlanta in 1987 and when his inconsistency on the mound continued, the Braves gave him his outright release after the 1988 regular season.
That’s when the Yankees signed him as a free agent. He didn’t make New York’s roster out of spring training in 1989 but he was called up in May to pitch relief for Manager Dallas Green’s club. By late July, it was clear that season’s starting staff of Andy Hawkins, Clay Parker, Dave LaPoint, Greg Cadaret and Walt Terrell were not going to get New York into fall ball so Cary, who was pitching impressively out of the bullpen, was given an opportunity to join the rotation. He put together five consecutive quality starts, including two straight complete game victories. Though he tired in August and was hurt in September, his 4-4 record and his 3.26 ERA were at least something to build on.
Unfortunately, Cary’s building skills were not very good. In 1990 he became part of one of the worst performing starting rotations in Yankee franchise history. All five starters (the other four were Hawkins, LaPoint, Time Leary and Mike Witt) finished with losing records and not one of them won as many as ten games or had an ERA below 4.11. Cary went 6-12 with a 4.19 ERA. That Yankee team finished dead last in the AL Eastern Division.
That’s why the following spring, when Yankee pitching coach Jimmy Connor was telling every Yankee beat reporter who would listen to him that Cary could very well become a 20-game-winner that year, it made you wonder if there was another Chuck Cary on New York’s spring training roster. According to both Connor and Yankee manager Stump Merrill, Cary’s problem during his first two seasons in New York was that he had gotten away from throwing his screwball to right-handed hitters and was trying to overpower everyone with his fastball. The weakness with that rationale was that even when he was throwing the screwball, he had never won more than eight games in a season in the minors or the majors. Why would things be any different now? They weren’t.
Cary had a horrendous 1-6 start for New York in 1991 and an ERA that was just a shade under six runs per game. By June of that year he was back in Columbus and that October, the Yankee released him. He did get one more shot in the big leagues two years later with the White Sox and that was it. His final eight-season big league record was 14-26 (11-22 as a Yankee) with 3 saves and a 4.17 ERA. He may not have been able to start or close a big league game but he certainly was an all star when it came to starting and closing real estate deals. In his post baseball career, Cary has successfully sold billions of dollars worth of properties.