If Marvin Miller or Scott “the snake oil salesman” Boras had been around in the 1920′s, I might have a lot more to tell you about today’s Pinstripe Baseball Birthday Celebrant. Unfortunately, however, for guys like William Harmong Lamar, ballplayers did all of their own labor-lawyer-ing and contract negotiations for many many years and Lamar simply wasn’t very good at it.
As the only member of the all-time Yankee roster to be born on this date, Lamar did not get the opportunity to play much baseball in the Big Apple. Born in Maryland, near Washington DC, he became a high school baseball star who in 1916, signed a contract to play for the Baltimore Orioles in the International League. By the following year, the US had entered WWI and the military draft began in May of that year. The Yankees were probably looking for bodies to replace players lost to the army when they purchased the contracts of Lamar and two of his Oriole teammates toward the end of the 1917 season. Lamar’s first appearance in a big league and Yankee game was on September 19th of that season. He played a total of 11 games that year and just 28 the next before he himself was drafted.
From the research I did on his career, it appears as if Lamar was a very fast runner but not much of a hitter or defensive outfielder during his days with the Yankees. Neither of his two Yankee Managers, Wild Bill Donovan or Miller Huggins played him much during the 1917 and ’18 seasons and the kid averaged less than .230 in the Yankee action he did experience. That explains why Huggins did not invite Lamar to the Yankees’ 1919 spring training camp but he showed up anyway. Not wanting to disrespect a returning soldier, Huggins let him stay and brought him north with the team, but only for a short while. On June 10, 1919, Huggins ended Lamar’s Yankee career by putting him on waivers. The Red Sox picked him up immediately and he managed to hit .291 for Boston during the second half of the 1919 season. He was then traded for an International League outfielder and it would take Lamar another five years before he actually got a regular job as a big leaguer. That was in 1924, when he joined Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s as a 27-year-old left-fielder.
Lamar hit .330 in 1924 and then an even more robust .356 in 1925 with 202 hits. It looked as if his train had finally arrived at the station. But Lamar had also developed a propensity to party. In fact, his nickname was “Good Time Bill.” His batting average and his playing time dropped in ’26 and even though he was hitting .299 at the time, Lamar was put on waivers by the A’s in early August of the 1927 season. accompanied by rumors that he had a difficult time complying with Connie Mack’s team rules. The Senators immediately picked up his contract but that’s when Lamar started getting a bit too cute. The Washington newspapers had played up the fact that the newest Senator would be starting in the outfield in an upcoming series against the Yankees. He decided to try and leverage the anticipation of Washington fans for his arrival into a bonus for reporting from the famously tight-fisted Senators’ owner Clark Griffith. How’d that little ploy turn out for “Good Time Bill?” He lost the balance of his salary for 1927 and he never again played in a big league came.
Much of the information used for this post came from an article about Lamar, written by Bill Nowlin, as part of the SABR Baseball Biography Project. You can find that article online, here.
He was the first pitcher in the history of the Yankee franchise to win 20 games in a season. He was also the first pitcher in the history of the Yankee franchise to lose 20 games in a season. His name was Joe McGinnity. He had worked in an iron foundry until he was 27-years-old and then started pitching in the minor leagues in 1898. Known as “The Iron Man” because of his pre-baseball career, McGinnity made his big league debut with the 1899 Baltimore Orioles, a team that was then a member of the National League and managed by John McGraw. Joe led the league with 28 wins in his rookie season, which also happened to be the last season the Orioles were part of the NL. In 1900, the ownership of that team merged their club with the Brooklyn franchise and McGinnity pitched the 1900 season for the Brooklyn Superbas. He again won 28 games and again led the NL in wins but his heart was evidently in Baltimore. In 1901, the new American League had formed and awarded a franchise to Baltimore. That team adopted the Orioles name and John McGraw was named their Manager. McGinnity jumped from Brooklyn to Baltimore and went 26-20 for the new AL franchise. The following year, the Orioles had a horrible season, finishing with a record of 50-88. McGinnity did OK himself, going 13-10, but the Orioles had the worst attendance of the eight teams in the league. That contributed to the League decision to move the team to New York in 1903 where they would play first as the Highlanders and eventually, the Yankees.
When Clark Griffith was named manager of the Highlanders, McGraw was out of a job. The Orioles released McGinnity and he signed with the New York Giants, finishing 8-8 in 1902. The following season, McGraw was hired as Manager of the Giants, where he was reunited with McGinnity and a young Giant pitcher named Christy Matthewson. Those three M’s would help turn the Giants into one of the most successful franchises in baseball. McGinnity and Matthewson both won 30 games in 1903 and McGraw’s team went from last place in the NL to second. In 1904, the pitching duo again each won 30 and the Giants captured the NL Pennant. McGinnity pitched in the Polo Grounds until 1908 and finished his big league career with a lifetime record of 246-142. He didn’t stop pitching though. He became a Minor Leaguer again and won 207 more games before he retired for good at the age of 54, in 1925. He was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1946.
Iron Man McGinnity shares his March 20th birthday with this one-time Yankee reliever.
Long before one-time Yankee Cesar Tovar became baseball’s multi-position man, the honor belonged to Clyde Engle. Engle was only an outfielder when the Dayton, Ohio native broke into the big leagues with the New York Highlanders in 1909. That was also long before the Knick’s Hall of Fame guard made the name “Clyde” cool again, which explains why Engle was also well-known by his nickname, Hack.
The 25-year-old rookie had an excellent first season for New York, earning a starting berth in manager George Stallings’ outfield and leading the team in hits (137) doubles (20) and RBI’s (71). But those early Highlander rosters were like the diapers of a baby with diarrhea, they were being changed constantly. By the first month of Engle’s second big league season, the team had changed its entire starting outfield and the no-longer-needed Engle was sold to the Red Sox in early May of 1910.
It would be in Beantown where Hack would establish his reputation as one of baseball’s most versatile position players. The Red Sox played him in every position of the field except pitcher and catcher. It was his ability to field them all well that kept him on those very talented pre World War I era Red Sox teams for five and a half seasons, until he jumped to the rival Federal League in 1914.
His most famous moment came when he pinch hit for Boston during the tenth inning of the sixth and final game of the 1912 World Series. It was Engle’s fly ball, hit off of Giants’ legend Christy Matthewson that was dropped by New York outfielder Fred Snodgrass. Engle would eventually score the winning run and Snodgrass’s fielding lapse would be referred to with lament by the New York sports media for years after.
After a season and a half of play in the Federal League, Engle made one final and brief appearance in the big leagues with Cleveland before retiring as a player. He got into college coaching first as the head varsity guy for the University of Vermont and then as the freshman baseball coach at Yale. It was while serving in the latter position that he suffered a heart attack and died on the day after Christmas in 1939, at the age of 55.
He shares his birthday with another Yankee who died at an even younger age.
I remember thinking when I first watched him pitch that Brian Fisher would be a good Yankee starter for a number of years. That was back in 1986 and the Yankees had missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons at that point, mostly because they lacked good starting pitching. Ron Guidry had just turned 35 years old and his best days were behind him. Dennis Rasmussen had come from nowhere to lead that ’86 Yankee staff with 18 wins but I thought the team’s future rested on the arms of young studs like Fisher, Doug Drabek and Bob Tewksbury. George Steinbrenner didn’t agree with me. After the 86 season, when Fisher went 9-6 out of the Yankee bullpen, this big right hander and Drabek were sent to the Pirates for veteran starter Rick Rhoden and Tewksbury was dealt to the Cubs for Steve Trout. Of the three, Fisher had the best year in 1987, going 11-9 for Pittsburgh but both Tewksbury and especially Drabek went on to even better big league careers. Fisher was out of baseball by 1992. He’s one of only two Yankee players to be born in Hawaii. Can you name the other? It was a utility infielder named Lenny Sakata.
1b Dale Long
2b Willie Randolph
3b Tim Foli
ss Gene Michael
c Russell Martin
of Matty Alou
of Omar Moreno
of Xavier Nady
dh Mike Easler
sp Jack Chesbro
sp Waite Hoyt
sp Doug Drabek
sp John Candelaria
p Rick Rhoden
p Doc Medich
p Dock Ellis
p AJ Burnett
cl Goose Gossage
cl Luis Arroyo
mgr Casey Stengel
This tall southpaw is one of the few members of the New York Yankees to be born on St Pattie’s Day. Lollar had already appeared in 13 games out of the bullpen when Manager Dick Howser gave the then 24-year-old rookie his first and only pinstripe start against the Tigers in the very last game of the 1980 season. Lollar responded by pitching six innings of one-run ball and getting the victory. Then on the last day of the 1981 spring training season, Lollar was included in a package of players sent to the Padres for outfielder Jerry Mumphrey. After a bad 2-8 initial season in San Diego, Lollar broke out with a 16-9 record in 1982 and a 3.13 ERA. That turned out to be his one and only great season. He finished his big league career as a Red Sox in 1986 with a career record of 47-52. Lollar shares his St. Patrick’s Day birthday with this very troubled former Yankee reliever.
Lollar is the only Yankee and only big league ballplayer to have been born in Poplar Bluff, MO. Plenty of Yankees however, have been born in the “Show Me” state. Here’s my top six Pinstriped Missourians of all time:
After an MVP-level season in 2011, in which he led the AL in runs scored and RBIs, the Grandy Man slumped a bit in 2012. He averaged a career low .232 and struck out a franchise record 195 times. But the native of Blue Island, IL did reach the 100 run, 40 HR, 100 RBI plateaus for the second straight season in 2012 and he is the only hitter in either league who can claim that achievement. That’s why I’m a bit perplexed by the significant level of negative press this guy gets. Yes he disappeared in the 2012 postseason but the same can be said of just about every hitter in the Yankee lineup. Since 2013 is the final year of his contract and he is becoming eligible for free agency during the same season as Robinson Cano, Granderson will most likely need to have a career year to continue on as a Yankee. That’s why the broken wrist he suffered in an early exhibition season at bat was not good news for this outfielder, who turns 32-years-old today. The injury will sideline him until May.
It was toward the end of the 2010 regular season that Granderson, who had been hitting horribly against left-handed pitching, spent some time working with Yankee hitting coach, Kevin Long to improve his swing against southpaws. Those practice sessions resulted in one of the most amazing hitting adjustments I’ve ever seen a big league hitter make and in 2011, Granderson, who has a lifetime average of just .229 against lefties, raised that mark to .279. Curtis has also provided the Yankees with strong defense in the middle of the outfield and his enthusiasm for the game is an important ingredient for this New York team both on the field and in the clubhouse.
The Yanks got Granderson in December, 2009 three-team trade in which they gave up Austin Jackson and Phil Coke to the Tigers and starting pitcher Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks. All three of those ex-Yankees have performed well for their new teams as has Granderson. I’d love to see him remain in pinstripes beyond 2013.
Granderson shares his May 16th birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher.
If you love the Yankees, you hate, or at the very least dislike the Red Sox. But if you love the Yankees, you also find it easy to root for guys who at one time used to be Red Sox but now have landed in the Bronx and wear the pinstripes. If somebody told me in the late 1980s that I’d one day be praying Wade Boggs would drive in a runner from third or that Roger Clemens would strike out the sides, I’d have thought they were looney. Same goes for Johnny Damon fifteen years later. And now its Kevin Youklis.
When he was with Boston, I hated seeing “The Greek God of Walks” stride up to the plate in a close Red Sox/Yankee game. I knew at the very least he’d get into that completely weird batting stance of his and put together a very good at bat, forcing whatever Yankee pitcher happened to to be on the mound at the time to throw at least a dozen pitches. It seemed as if more often than not, those Youklis at bats would end up with him driving in a huge run or he would at least get on base and put himself in position to score that run. I did not like this guy at all and now, thanks to his off-season signing as a Yankee free agent, I’ve got to root for him too.
Problem is, its been about four years since big Kevin had a good season. During his last two plus years in Boston, injuries and Bobby Valentine disrupted his game and he hit just .236 after getting traded to the White Sox in June of 2012. The only reason the Yankees came calling this winter and agreed to pay him $12 million was because A-Rod’s hip went bad. At the time of his signing, New York was hoping they’d only need him to start at the hot corner till Rodriguez recovered and returned at mid-year. With sluggers like Teixeira and Granderson still in the powerful Yankee lineup, they could even afford to absorb the mediocre bat Youklis has swung the last few years. Joe Girardi just needed him to provide decent defense at third and use that great eye of his to earn frequent “walks” to first base.
But in recent weeks, both Granderson and Teixeira have gone down with injuries and are not expected back until at least May. That means a lot more pressure on Youklis to produce offensively coming out of the gate in 2012 and if he is unable to, expect the fans in the Bronx and the Big Apple sports media to voice their displeasure.
I got my fingers crossed that he can perform a Boggs-like come-back in pinstripes. If he can stay healthy, he’s already proven he can perform under pressure during his days in Beantown. His biggest challenge will be Yankee Stadium. It is not the haven for right-handed hitters that Fenway is, so it will be interesting to see how Youklis approaches his at bats when playing on his new home field.
Youklis enters the 2013 season with a lifetime average of .283, a career on base percentage of .384, with 1,030 hits and 148 home runs. He won a Gold Glove with Boston in 2007, as a first baseman. The Cincinnati native turns 34-years-old today.
If former Yankee catching phee-nom, Jesus Montero had become the next great Yankee catcher, today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant would have had a lot to do with his success. That’s because Butch Wynegar served as Montero’s hitting and catching coach at Scranton/Wilkes Barre in 2010. Montero didn’t need much help at the plate but Wynegar’s task that season was to try and make the kid a better player behind it. At one time, Wynegar himself was being proclaimed as baseball’s next superstar catcher when he was drafted by the Twins in 1974. Two years later, when he was just 20-years-old, he was Minnesota’s starting catcher, made the AL All Star team and finished second behind Mark “The Bird” Fidrych in that season’s Rookie of the Year balloting. Wynegar was a switch hitter who like Montero, felt naturally comfortable hitting but uncomfortable catching. Ironically, Butch turned himself into one of baseball’s better defensive catchers but he never became the offensive force pundits had predicted he would be at the big league level.
Wynegar played for Minnesota from 1976 until May of 1982, when the Twins traded him to New York. The Yankees had given up hope that Rick Cerone was ever going to be the next Thurman Munson and their thinking was that Wynegar, who was only 26 at the time of the trade, still had his best years ahead of him. It looked like the Yankee brass had made the right decision after Butch hit .296 in 1983, his first full year in pinstripes and caught Dave Righetti’s unforgettable fourth-of-July no-hitter against Boston. But that turned out to be the best year he would have in New York. I remember he did do a great job handling a very unstable Yankee pitching staff during his tenure with the team but his bat never made much noise. By 1986, the Yankees decided they’s seen enough of Wynegar and shipped him to the Angels for next to nothing in return.
Wynegar shares his March 14th birthday with this former bad-tempered Yankee pitcher.
George Steinbrenner was not the first Yankee owner of German extraction who liked to wheel and deal his way to a pennant. That honor belonged to millionaire brewer, Jacob Rupert, who purchased the New York AL franchise in 1914. He considered every day his baseball team made the headlines as free advertisement for his beer and since the teams that made it to the World Series got the most headlines, old Jake was determined to turn the Yankees into winners as quickly as possible.
His first big move in that direction was the acquisition of Baseball’s first famous slugger. Frank Baker’s nickname was “”Home Run”". He had led the American League in home runs four straight times as a Philadelphia Athletic from 1911 through 1914, during which he hit 11, 10, 12 and 9 round trippers, respectively. He then got into a contract dispute with Connie Mack and sat out the 1915 season. The Hall of Famer spent the last six of his thirteen-year big league career with New York and hit half of his 96 career round trippers as a Yankee. When he retired for good in 1922, he had helped New York make it to the franchise’s first two World Series.
When Oklahoma-born Johnny Callison made his big league debut with the White Sox in 1958, he was being favorably compared to another native Oklahoman who at the time had already won two MVP awards playing center field for the Yankees. Callison could run, hit for average and power plus field and throw. The White Sox back then were loaded with pitching but desperate for some power hitters so after just two years in the minors and that cup-of-coffee preview the season before, Chicago made the twenty year-old Callison their 1959 Opening Day left-fielder. He fell flat on his face. When he was sent back to Indianapolis that June, his batting average was just .163 and his confidence was shattered.
Chicago went on to win the ’59 AL Pennant and then continued their quest for more power by trading for Roy Sievers and sending Callison to the Phillies for third baseman Gene Freese, who had just hit a career high 23 home runs. The Phillies had something that would be very good for Callison’s evolution into a great big league player and also something that would hinder it. The something good was manager Gene Mauch, who would become the young player’s mentor and biggest fan. He handled his new outfielder’s fragile ego pretty close to perfectly and by the third year of their relationship, Callison was an NL All Star. He hit .300 in 1962 and put together two straight 30-HR, 100-RBI seasons in 1964 and ’65.
He would hit 195 home runs during his ten seasons as a Phillie but he would have hit a heck of a lot more if it wasn’t for the that one thing in Philadelphia that proved detrimental to Callison’s power legacy, a 34 foot high wall in right field of Connie Mack Stadium. That wall converted many of Callison’s hardest hit balls from home runs in any other park to just triples and doubles in the City of brotherly love.
In 1966, Callison’s offensive stats began declining. Still one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, he would never again hit 20 home runs in a regular season or drive in even 70 runs. No one could explain why his hitting skills deserted him but by 1969, with Gene Mauch no longer the team’s skipper, the Phillies traded him to the Cubs for Oscar Gamble and pitcher Dick Selma. Though he played decently in Chicago for two seasons, Callison didn’t get along with Cubs’ skipper Leo Durocher and was not at all upset to be traded to the Yankees in January of 1972.
Now 33-years old, the three-time all star loved playing for Ralph Houk, who’s managing style reminded him of Gene Mauch’s. Callison started in right field for much of his first season in pinstripes, averaging .258 in 92 games of action, with 9 home runs but just 34 RBIs. He was hitting just .176 during his second season with New York, when he was given his outright release in August of 1973.
He sold cars and tended bar in his post baseball career and experienced a lot of health problems. He died from cancer in 2006 at the age of 67. This former NL Rookie of the Year, this other former NL Rookie of the Year and this one-time Yankee center-fielder were all also born on march 12th.