March 2013

March 5 – Happy Birthday Doug Bird

The biggest contribution Doug Bird made to the Yankees was surrendering the eighth inning two-run home run to Thurman Munson that enabled New York to win the pivotal third game of the 1978 ALCS against the Royals. Munson’s homer was the only earned run Bird allowed the Yanks in a total of six postseason games he appeared against them between 1976 and ’78. After that series, the Royals traded Bird to Philadelphia where he had an unspectacular 1979 season. When the Phillies released him, the Yankees signed the tall right-handed native of Corona, California and he went 3-0 with a save for the 1980 AL East division winners. He was doing even better in 1981 when New York swung a deal that sent Bird to the Cubs for Rick Reuschel, who had been the ace of Chicago’s rotation for most of the previous decade. Even though Bird was 5-1 at the time of the trade, you had to be impressed with the Yankees’ front office ability to turn a Bird into a Reuschel. As it turned out, Reuschel went 4-4 for New York the rest of that season and then developed arm trouble and missed all of 1982. The snake-bitten Yankees released him in June of 1983. Reuschel would end up rehabbing his arm and become the ace of the Giants staff in the late eighties. In the meantime, Bird was converted back into a starter with the Cubs and after a 9-14 season in 1983 he was traded to Boston and was out of the big leagues one year later. Doug was born in Corona, CA and turns sixty-three-years-old today.

Bird shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee outfielder and this WWII era third baseman.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1980 NYY 3 0 1.000 2.66 22 1 7 0 0 1 50.2 47 16 15 3 14 17 1.204
1981 NYY 5 1 .833 2.70 17 4 3 0 0 0 53.1 58 19 16 5 16 28 1.388
11 Yrs 73 60 .549 3.99 432 100 199 8 3 60 1213.2 1273 590 538 122 296 680 1.293
KCR (6 yrs) 49 36 .576 3.56 292 43 171 3 1 58 714.2 702 315 283 62 188 464 1.245
CHC (2 yrs) 13 19 .406 4.70 47 45 1 4 2 0 266.1 302 153 139 31 46 105 1.307
NYY (2 yrs) 8 1 .889 2.68 39 5 10 0 0 1 104.0 105 35 31 8 30 45 1.298
PHI (1 yr) 2 0 1.000 5.16 32 1 10 1 0 0 61.0 73 35 35 7 16 33 1.459
BOS (1 yr) 1 4 .200 6.65 22 6 7 0 0 1 67.2 91 52 50 14 16 33 1.581
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/31/2014.

March 4 – Happy Birthday Dazzy Vance

Dazzy Vance is in the Hall of Fame even though he did not win his first Major League game until he was 31 years old. What took him so long? He spent almost a decade, from 1912 until 1921 in the minor leagues trying to figure out how to throw his lightening quick fastball over the plate for strikes. Before he came up for good with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1922, Vance spent about four seasons in the Yankee organization. New York brought him up to the big leagues for two look-see’s. The first time was 1915. Vance was a 17-game winner that year pitching single A ball in St. Joseph, MO. He got into eight games for New York, losing all three of his decisions. He didn’t get his next taste of the Big Apple until four years later, in 1918 and it did not taste good. Dazzy got shelled in both his Yankee relief appearances that season and since he was 27 at the time, it seemed as if his chances of making the big leagues were over. But the persistent Vance went back to the minors and toiled for four more years.

In 1922, Brooklyn purchased his contract and dumped him immediately into their starting rotation. Dazzy won 18 games in his full-fledged rookie season and led the NL in strikeouts. For the next ten seasons he was one of the very best pitchers in baseball. He ended up winning seven-straight strikeout titles. In 1924 he had one of the greatest seasons any big league pitcher has ever had, leading the NL in victories (28), ERA (2.16) and K’s (262.) By the time his career was over, in 1935, the 44-year-old right-hander had put together a lifetime record of 197-140. That’s on top of the 139 victories he had accumulated in the minor leagues. In 1955, Vance was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

His real name was Charles. He was born in Orient,IA on March 4, 1891. He passed away in 1961.

Ironically, Dazzy shares his March 4th birthday with this other Major League baseball star with a well-known nickname, who also got big league call-ups as a Yankee early in his career, who also didn’t make it to the major leagues for good until he was 31 years old and when he did, he also became a star for Brooklyn.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1915 NYY 0 3 .000 3.54 8 3 4 1 0 0 28.0 23 14 11 1 16 18 1.393
1918 NYY 0 0 15.43 2 0 1 0 0 0 2.1 9 5 4 0 2 0 4.714
16 Yrs 197 140 .585 3.24 442 349 53 216 29 11 2966.2 2809 1246 1068 132 840 2045 1.230
BRO (12 yrs) 190 131 .592 3.17 378 328 36 212 29 7 2757.2 2579 1135 972 123 764 1918 1.212
NYY (2 yrs) 0 3 .000 4.45 10 3 5 1 0 0 30.1 32 19 15 1 18 18 1.648
STL (2 yrs) 7 3 .700 3.59 47 15 11 3 0 4 158.0 167 68 63 7 42 100 1.323
CIN (1 yr) 0 2 .000 7.50 6 2 1 0 0 0 18.0 28 21 15 1 11 9 2.167
PIT (1 yr) 0 1 .000 10.13 1 1 0 0 0 0 2.2 3 3 3 0 5 0 3.000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/21/2014.

March 3 – Happy Birthday Chuck Cary

caryBy 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.

This Hall-of-Fame Yankee outfielderthis WWII hero and this one-time Yankee reliever were each also were born on March 3rd.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1989 NYY 4 4 .500 3.26 22 11 4 2 0 0 99.1 78 42 36 13 29 79 1.077
1990 NYY 6 12 .333 4.19 28 27 1 2 0 0 156.2 155 77 73 21 55 134 1.340
1991 NYY 1 6 .143 5.91 10 9 0 0 0 0 53.1 61 35 35 6 32 34 1.744
8 Yrs 14 26 .350 4.17 134 47 28 4 0 3 410.1 390 206 190 50 158 322 1.335
NYY (3 yrs) 11 22 .333 4.19 60 47 5 4 0 0 309.1 294 154 144 40 116 247 1.325
ATL (2 yrs) 1 1 .500 4.68 20 0 7 0 0 1 25.0 25 13 13 4 8 22 1.320
DET (2 yrs) 1 3 .250 3.42 38 0 12 0 0 2 55.1 49 27 21 5 23 43 1.301
CHW (1 yr) 1 0 1.000 5.23 16 0 4 0 0 0 20.2 22 12 12 1 11 10 1.597
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/21/2014.

March 2 – Happy Birthday Danny Hoffman

hoffmanJason Giambi was the last Yankee to do it in 2003. Before him, you have to go all the way back to 1960, when Mickey Mantle did it. Mantle did it four more times during the fifties and still holds the Yankee record for doing it most. Charley Keller did it in 1946. Joe Gordon did it during his MVP season with the Yankees in 1942. Frankie Crosetti did it a couple of times during the thirties. The great Babe Ruth did it four times during the 1920’s and Bob Meusel and Aaron Ward joined him by doing it one time each. Before they did it, Wally Pipp had accomplished the feat in 1917 and a Highlander shortstop named Neal Ball had also done it in 1908. But the very first player in New York Yankee franchise history to lead the American League in most strikeouts by a hitter in the regular season was their starting center fielder in 1907 and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Daniel John “Danny” Hoffman.

Hoffman was a gifted athlete who had great speed, a strong arm and a better than average bat. A native of Connecticut, he had made his big league debut as a 23-year-old outfielder with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s in 1903. Two years later, he led the AL in stolen bases with 46. One month into the 1906 regular season, Mack traded Hoffman to New York for a guy named Dave Fultz. Danny then  joined Wee Willie Keeler and Wid Conroy in the Highlanders’ starting outfield. 1907 turned out to be his only full season with the team and it was a good one despite all those strikeouts. Hoffman established career highs in base hits (131), runs (81), HRs (5) and RBI’s (46). But that didn’t prevent him from getting traded to the St. Louis Browns as part of a six-player deal that took place in early November of 1907.

In addition to striking out a lot, Hoffman also had another unfortunate propensity. He got hit by lots of pitches, especially in the head. He had been knocked unconscious by one when he was with the A’s in 1904 and he got plunked 13 times during his only full season with New York in ’07. He continued playing in the big leagues until 1911 and then returned to the minors for four more years after that. His career was ended by a severe head beaning during a 1915 game with the Wilkes Barre Barons. Hoffman died just seven years later at the young age of 42.

In addition to being the first Yankee to lead the league in strikeouts, Hoffman is the only Yankee in history to have killed a horse during a baseball game. It happened in 1902, when Hoffman was playing minor league ball for a team in Springfield and hit a drive to the outfield that struck and killed the animal. Now I haven’t been able to confirm this with my research yet, but the nickname of that Springfield team was the Ponies so I’m thinking the horse Danny’s drive killed that day just might have been his team’s own mascot. Talk about a bad omen huh?

In any event, Hoffman shares his birthday with this 1950 NL MVP.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1906 NYY 100 359 320 34 82 10 6 0 23 32 27 73 .256 .318 .325 .643
1907 NYY 136 583 517 81 131 10 3 5 46 30 42 103 .253 .325 .313 .639
9 Yrs 829 3325 2981 361 762 71 52 14 235 185 226 582 .256 .316 .328 .645
PHA (4 yrs) 254 1017 933 130 247 22 22 6 81 63 47 177 .265 .304 .355 .659
SLB (4 yrs) 339 1366 1211 116 302 29 21 3 85 60 110 229 .249 .321 .315 .637
NYY (2 yrs) 236 942 837 115 213 20 9 5 69 62 69 176 .254 .322 .318 .640
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/3/2014.