March 2013

March 16 – Happy Birthday Curtis Granderson

granderson.jpg

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 was always a bit perplexed by the significant level of negative press this guy got during his days in the Bronx. Yes he disappeared in the 2012 postseason but the same can be said of just about every hitter in the Yankee lineup.

Since 2013 was the final year of his Yankee contract and he was becoming eligible for free agency during the same season as Robinson Cano, conventional wisdom said that Granderson needed to have a career year in 2013 to get re-signed by New York. Thanks to just two pitches, he never got the chance. An exhibition-game fastball from the Jays’ J.A. Happ broke his left wrist in spring training and delayed his 2013 regular season debut until mid May. Just nine days later, an inside pitch from the Rays’ Cesar Ramos broke his wrist and put him back on the DL until August and when he failed to get hot down the stretch, his career in the Bronx was effectively over. He was signed as a free agent by the Mets in December of 2013.

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 also provided the Yankees with strong defense in the middle of the outfield and his enthusiasm for the game was an important ingredient both on the field and in the Yankee 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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2010 NYY 136 528 466 76 115 17 7 24 67 12 53 116 .247 .324 .468 .792
2011 NYY 156 691 583 136 153 26 10 41 119 25 85 169 .262 .364 .552 .916
2012 NYY 160 684 596 102 138 18 4 43 106 10 75 195 .232 .319 .492 .811
2013 NYY 61 245 214 31 49 13 2 7 15 8 27 69 .229 .317 .407 .723
11 Yrs 1194 5073 4464 782 1161 202 80 218 609 123 517 1175 .260 .339 .488 .827
DET (6 yrs) 674 2896 2579 435 702 125 57 102 299 67 274 618 .272 .344 .484 .828
NYY (4 yrs) 513 2148 1859 345 455 74 23 115 307 55 240 549 .245 .335 .495 .829
NYM (1 yr) 7 29 26 2 4 3 0 1 3 1 3 8 .154 .241 .385 .626
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/9/2014.

March 15 – Happy Birthday Kevin Youklis

youklisIf 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 more recently, it was 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 then in December of 2013, he signed as a free agent with the Yankees, forcing me to root for him too.

The problem with the signing was that it had 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 last 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 had swung the previous few years. Joe Girardi just needed him to provide decent defense at third, use that great eye of his to earn frequent “walks” to first base and most importantly, stay healthy.

After his first regular season month in Pinstripes, Youklis was on the DL. By the middle of June both his season and his Yankee career were over, forcing Yankee fans to once again look forward to getting A-Rod back on the field sooner rather than later. In 2014, Youklis is playing in Japan.

He shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder, this long-ago first baseman and this one-time Yankee third baseman.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2013 NYY 28 118 105 12 23 7 0 2 8 0 8 31 .219 .305 .343 .648
10 Yrs 1061 4436 3749 653 1053 254 18 150 618 26 539 828 .281 .382 .478 .861
BOS (9 yrs) 953 3974 3352 594 961 239 17 133 564 26 494 728 .287 .388 .487 .875
NYY (1 yr) 28 118 105 12 23 7 0 2 8 0 8 31 .219 .305 .343 .648
CHW (1 yr) 80 344 292 47 69 8 1 15 46 0 37 69 .236 .346 .425 .771
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/8/2014.

March 14 – Happy Birthday Butch Wynegar

wynegar.jpgIf 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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1982 NYY 63 242 191 27 56 8 1 3 20 0 40 21 .293 .413 .393 .805
1983 NYY 94 357 301 40 89 18 2 6 42 1 52 29 .296 .399 .429 .827
1984 NYY 129 512 442 48 118 13 1 6 45 1 65 35 .267 .360 .342 .702
1985 NYY 102 375 309 27 69 15 0 5 32 0 64 43 .223 .356 .320 .676
1986 NYY 61 226 194 19 40 4 1 7 29 0 30 21 .206 .310 .345 .655
13 Yrs 1301 5067 4330 498 1102 176 15 65 506 10 626 428 .255 .348 .347 .695
MIN (7 yrs) 794 3188 2746 325 697 112 9 37 325 8 358 259 .254 .340 .342 .682
NYY (5 yrs) 449 1712 1437 161 372 58 5 27 168 2 251 149 .259 .368 .363 .730
CAL (2 yrs) 58 167 147 12 33 6 1 1 13 0 17 20 .224 .301 .299 .601
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/7/2014.

March 13 – Happy Birthday Frank Baker

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.

Baker shares a birthday with this hero of the Yankees 1996 season and also with the last Yankee to ever wear uniform number “3.”

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1916 NYY 100 402 360 46 97 23 2 10 52 15 36 30 .269 .344 .428 .772
1917 NYY 146 613 553 57 156 24 2 6 71 18 48 27 .282 .345 .365 .710
1918 NYY 126 558 504 65 154 24 5 6 62 8 38 13 .306 .357 .409 .765
1919 NYY 141 623 567 70 166 22 1 10 83 13 44 18 .293 .346 .388 .734
1921 NYY 94 369 330 46 97 16 2 9 71 8 26 12 .294 .353 .436 .789
1922 NYY 69 258 234 30 65 12 3 7 36 1 15 14 .278 .327 .444 .771
13 Yrs 1575 6666 5984 887 1838 315 103 96 987 235 473 346 .307 .363 .442 .805
PHA (7 yrs) 899 3843 3436 573 1103 194 88 48 612 172 266 232 .321 .375 .471 .845
NYY (6 yrs) 676 2823 2548 314 735 121 15 48 375 63 207 114 .288 .347 .404 .751
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/7/2014.

March 12 – Happy Birthday Johnny Callison

callisonWhen 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, this former Yankee back-up first baseman and this one-time Yankee center-fielder were all also born on march 12th.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1972 NYY 92 300 275 28 71 10 0 9 34 3 18 34 .258 .299 .393 .691
1973 NYY 45 142 136 10 24 4 0 1 10 1 4 24 .176 .197 .228 .425
16 Yrs 1886 7437 6652 926 1757 321 89 226 840 74 650 1064 .264 .331 .441 .773
PHI (10 yrs) 1432 5930 5306 774 1438 265 84 185 666 60 513 854 .271 .338 .457 .795
CHC (2 yrs) 250 876 767 92 187 35 3 27 106 9 96 118 .244 .329 .403 .732
NYY (2 yrs) 137 442 411 38 95 14 0 10 44 4 22 58 .231 .266 .338 .604
CHW (2 yrs) 67 189 168 22 37 7 2 4 24 1 19 34 .220 .302 .357 .659
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/7/2014.