The Yankee franchise’s first season in New York was 1903. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the starting right fielder on that historic ball club. In fact, Herm McFarland was one of the very few members of the 1902 Baltimore Orioles’ team that accompanied the franchise in its move from B’town to the Big Apple. McFarland had been used as the fourth Oriole outfielder that year and in 61 games of action, he hit a very impressive .322 with a .488 slugging average.
His real name was Hermas Walter McFarland and he was born in Des Moines, Iowa on March 11, 1870. Just five feet six inches tall, he gained some fame in 1897 when he walloped 13 home runs while playing for the Indianapolis Indians. He had a couple of brief tenures with two of the original National League teams in the 1890′s but his real big league rookie year took place in 1901, with the American League’s original Chicago White Sox franchise. He hit .275 as a starting outfielder for Chicago during that team’s inaugural season and he hit the first ever grand slam home run in that franchise’s history. He also stole 33 bases and was a key cog on a White Sox team that won the very first AL Pennant.
His manager with Chicago was Clark Griffith. During the team’s 1902 spring training camp, Griffith took the players on a ten mile run. The trail they followed for that jaunt included a railroad trestle that spanned a deep ravine. McFarland and a few other White Sox were trapped in the middle of it by an approaching train and forced to grab hold of railroad ties and hang over the side of the trestle until it passed overhead. They then held on until their teammates could get to them and pull them back up to safety.
One week into the 1902 season, McFarland was hitting just .185 when his contract was sold to the Orioles. One year later he joined the starting Highlander outfield that also included Lefty Davis and Hall-of-Famer Wee Willie Keeler. McFarland hit .243 in 103 games for New York during the 1903 season. He also led that year’s squad in home runs with 5. By the way, guess who managed that 1903 Highlander team? Clark Griffith. Perhaps the reason McFarland got the Highlander starting outfield spot had something to do with Griffith feeling guilty he had almost killed the guy by forcing him to run over that railroad bridge two years earlier.
In 1904, McFarland returned to Baltimore to play for the Orioles, who were by then playing in the Eastern League. He never played another big league game.
I was never a big Steve Howe fan, but I remember reading an article about one of Howe’s seven suspensions for substance abuse in which Yankee Captain, Don Mattingly was quoted and suddenly feeling sorry for the one-time NL Rookie of the Year reliever. According to Mattingly, Howe was one of the hardest working members of the Yankee roster and an outstanding teammate.
For whatever reason, George Steinbrenner loved giving former big league star players with drug problems second chances. Howe was one of the Yankee owner’s first reclamation projects and in the strike shortened season of 1994, he repaid the Boss by once again becoming one of the most effective relief pitchers in baseball. He saved 15 games in that abbreviated year and posted an ERA of under two, helping the Yankees build a huge lead in their division only to have the work stoppage destroy their season.
In 2006, Howe was on a highway in California, driving home to Arizona in his pickup truck following a business meeting. Witnesses say the truck just drifted onto the medium and rolled over. The former pitcher was not wearing his seat belt at the time and he was ejected from the vehicle and killed instantly. He was only 48 years old at the time of his death. Tests later revealed that Howe had methamphetamine in his system at the time of the crash.
Having smoked cigarettes for 17 years of my life, I will never wonder why people cannot overcome their addictions to chemical substances that temporarily relax them and provide a buzz. When we are young, we think we are immortal, able to do anything we want without fear of hurting ourselves. When wiser elders warned me I would find it very difficult to quit cigarettes, I laughed them off. But within a few years of taking my first puff, I was so hooked that I would find myself lying to my family so I could sneak away and grab a smoke. The drug of choice first takes over your body and then controls your life. Those that don’t quit fail to reach a point at which they know their lives will be better without the drug until it is too late, or never at all. I’m glad I was able to do so but again, I will never wonder why stars and celebrities like Steve Howe could not.
Clay Rapada signed with the Yankees as a free agent just as New York’s 2012 spring training camp was opening. His career up to that point had been mediocre. He had gone un-drafted out of college (Virginia State University) and then signed with the Cubs in 2002. He didn’t make his big league debut until five seasons later, in July of 2007. Six weeks after that debut he was traded to the Tigers. His real rookie season was 2008, when he appeared in 25 games for Detroit and went 3-0. He spent most of the following year back in the minors and in December of 2009 he was traded to Texas. He appeared in ten games for the Rangers in 2010 and actually made their postseason roster. It was during the 2010 ALCS, when Texas defeated the Yankees that I first remember seeing the six foot five inch southpaw pitch with his extreme side-arm motion. Texas released him the following January and he was signed by Baltimore, where he appeared in 32 games for Buck Showalter and spent lots of time also pitching for the O’s Norfolk farm team.
So the Clay Rapada the Yankees signed in February of 2012 was by then 30-years-old and had spent at least part of each of the previous ten seasons in the minors, with four different organizations. He had started his professional career as a pitcher with a traditional overhand delivery, who would occasionally drop down to sidearm if an opposing hitter kept fouling off his pitches. A coach in the Cubs’ system convinced him that converting full-time to the submariner style would improve his chances of getting regular work in a big league team’s bullpen. Rapada made the change, modeling his new motion at first off of Dennis Eckersley.
One month after the Yankees signed Rapada, they acquired his mirror image, Cody Eppley off of waivers from Texas. Eppley was a right-handed sidearmer who had pitched with Rapada when both were in the Texas farm system. Together, this submarining duo would form the heart of Joe Girardi’s middle-inning relief corps. Rapada appeared in 70 games for New York during his first season in Pinstripes and Eppley appeared in 59. Rapada’s ERA was 2.82 and Eppley’s 3.33. Neither had ever pitched better and they credited their mutual success in part on being able to turn to each other for advice. The challenge most sidearmers have is that their teams’ pitching coaches are always retired hurlers who threw with traditional overhand motions. A traditional coach like the Yankees’ Larry Rothschild, can therefore not be of much help to Eppley or Rapada with their mechanics if their pitches stop doing what they are supposed to do. So having each other to serve in that role just might have been the secret to their success during their initial season together in the Bronx.
As I write this post, Rapada is currently trying to recover from a case of bursitis in his pitching shoulder. One interesting sidenote on this native of Portsmouth, Virginia. He will begin the 2013 regular season having never lost a decision in the big leagues. Through 2012, he has a perfect 8-0 record.
When Dallas Green took over as Yankee manager after the 1988 season he told New York’s front office that the Yankee pitching staff had grown ancient and he wanted some good young arms added to the roster. Bob Quinn, the Yankee GM complied by sending slugger Jack Clark to San Diego for a promising young starting pitcher named Jimmy Jones and a hard-throwing right-handed reliever named Lance McCullers. Mission accomplished, right?
Nope. Ten months later, New York was about to disappear from the AL East Division race, Jones was pitching in Columbus, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had an ERA over five and Green, who knew he was about to be fired, was probably wishing he still had Clark who was well on his way to a 26 HR, 94 RBI first-year performance with the Padres.
McCullers was a native of Tampa, Florida who had been a second-round draft pick of the Phillies in 1982. The Padres got him in a multi-player deal in 1984 and brought him right up to the big leagues in ’85. He had pitched impressively during his four years in San Diego for some pretty mediocre Padre teams and since he was only 25-years-old when the Yankees got him, it really did look like he’d be a valuable asset in New York’s bullpen for a long time to come.
But according to Green, McCullers still hadn’t learned how to pitch. The Yankee skipper told the media his new reliever depended to heavily on his fastball and unless he started throwing his slider and change up more, Green insisted his reliever would never be a successful big league pitcher. McCullers did at least outlast Green as a Yankee.
He went 4-3 during his one and only full season in pinstripes. He also earned 3 saves and had an ERA of 4.57. Things were definitely looking better for McCullers as he approached his second year in the Big Apple. Green had been replaced by Bucky Dent as Yankee skipper and during the 1989 offseason, the Yankees signed Lance to a new contract and gave him a $170,000 raise. But almost as soon as the 1990 regular season began, McCullers name was being bandied about in all kinds of trade rumors. Those rumors became true in early June, when the reliever was traded to the Tigers for catcher Matt Nokes. He would end that year pitching in the minors and after one more five-game stint with the Texas Rangers in 1992, McCullers big league career was over at the age of 28. His son Lance was the Houston Astros first round pick in the 2012 MLB amateur draft.
It certainly was not one of the better trades in Yankee franchise history. Goose Gossage had just bolted the Bronx Zoo via free agency and George Steinbrenner’s front-office minions were desperately seeking candidates to replace him. As is usually the case when teams are desperate, New York made a deal they would later regret. Mike Armstrong was a tall, right-hander from Long Island who had pitched well enough for the University of Miami to become the Cincinnati Reds’ first round pick (24th overall) in the 1974 MLB amateur draft. Five years later, while still in the minors, he was traded to the Padres for an outfielder named Paul O’Neill. After a couple of unimpressive big league trials with the Padres, Armstrong was sold to the Royals, where he quickly evolved into an effective member of the supporting staff of Kansas City’s All Star closer, Dan Quisenberry. He had his best season in 1983, when he went 10-7 in 53 appearances, with 3 saves and an ERA of 3.86.
Those numbers caught the attention of the Yankees and they wanted Armstrong badly enough that they agreed to give the Royals their young slugging prospect, Steve Balboni, in exchange. The trade was completed in December of 1983 and a few short weeks later, Armstrong reported to his first Yankee spring training camp with a sore pitching arm. As it turned out, the Royals had actually told the New York front office that Armstrong had a tender elbow before finalizing the deal, but the now Goose-less Yankees shrugged off the news. They would quickly regret their lack of follow-up.
Turned out that in addition to a glove, his spikes and a ball, Armstrong needed a steady diet of cortisone injections and anti-inflammatory pills in order to take the mound. His right elbow was so bad that the Yankees actually asked the MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to look into the possibility that the Royals had knowingly dealt them damaged goods. Kuhn never issued a ruling on the case and Armstrong didn’t make his Yankee debut until the middle of June of the 1984 season. He didn’t pitch badly. He went 3-2 during the second half, appearing in 36 games, with 1 save and a 3.48 ERA. But during the next two years he would only pitch in a total of 16 big league games before being released by New York. Fortunately for the Yankees they did not need to depend on Armstrong to replace Gossage because Dave Righetti proved to be more than up for that challenge. Unfortunately for New York, the guy they gave up for Armstrong would hit 117 home runs during his first four seasons with the Royals. Armstrong for Balboni turned out to be a terrible trade for the Yankees.
Armstrong shares his March 7th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder.
I was a Marcus Thames fan after his first-ever at bat in pinstripes. That came in June of 2002, when the 25-year-old rookie came to the plate in the original Yankee Stadium in the third inning of an intra-league game against the Diamondbacks and smacked a two-run home run off of their then un-hittable ace, Randy Johnson. At that wonderful moment, I never thought it would be eight years before he’d hit another one for New York, but you can’t blame Marcus. After appearing in just 7 games that first season, the Yankees sent him back down to Columbus and then one year later, traded him to Texas for Ruben Sierra. The Rangers released him after the 2003 season and Thames finally found a more permanent big league home in MoTown. The Tigers signed him as a free agent and he became an important part of their team as a DH and fourth outfielder. He hit 99 home runs for Detroit during his five season there.
The Yankees entered the 2010 season with mostly young low-paid farm-system products and bargain-basement-type outfielders Randy Winn and Thames on the team’s bench. I’ve spent more money at Subway than it cost the Steinbrenner’s for that collection of subs. Thames turned out to be the best of the bunch and when DH Nick Johnson got hurt and was lost for the year, Thames became the team’s primary DH and one of New York’s best late-inning hitters. He carried the team in the dog-days of late August when he went on a tear at the plate that saw him hit six home runs and drive in 11 runs in one six game stretch. He then cooled down a bit in September. After playing well against the Twins in the 2010 ALDS, he along with most of the Yankees’ offense disappeared in the ALCS against Texas. It was probably Thames failure to hit in that Rangers series that convinced New York not to re-sign him and Marcus signed on with Don Mattingly’s Dodgers in 2011.
Marcus shares his birthday with this Yankee back-up catcher who has the best name in all of baseball.
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.
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.
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.
Jason 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.