March 2013

March 11 – Happy Birthday Herm McFarland

mcfarlandThe 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.

This former Yankee right-fielder and this flaky starting pitcher were also born on March 11th.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1902 BLA 61 282 242 54 78 19 6 3 36 10 36 20 .322 .418 .488 .906
1903 NYY 103 423 362 41 88 16 9 5 45 13 46 52 .243 .333 .378 .712
5 Yrs 352 1496 1278 204 340 61 28 13 167 64 175 138 .266 .362 .388 .750
NYY (2 yrs) 164 705 604 95 166 35 15 8 81 23 82 72 .275 .368 .422 .790
CHW (2 yrs) 139 598 500 88 135 21 9 4 63 34 77 51 .270 .377 .372 .749
LOU (1 yr) 30 120 110 11 21 4 1 1 12 4 9 14 .191 .252 .273 .525
CIN (1 yr) 19 73 64 10 18 1 3 0 11 3 7 1 .281 .361 .391 .752
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/4/2014.

March 9 – Happy Birthday Clay Rapada

rapadaClay 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.

Rapada shares his March 9th birthday with this Yankee who hit one of the most famous home runs in franchise history,  this former AL MVP, this former Yankee outfielder and one of the great base-stealers in MLB history.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2012 NYY 3 0 1.000 2.82 70 0 7 0 0 0 38.1 29 14 12 2 17 38 1.200
7 Yrs 8 0 1.000 4.06 152 0 21 0 0 0 93.0 76 45 42 10 51 82 1.366
DET (3 yrs) 3 0 1.000 5.00 32 0 6 0 0 0 27.0 26 16 15 3 18 21 1.630
TEX (1 yr) 0 0 4.00 13 0 2 0 0 0 9.0 6 4 4 2 7 5 1.444
CLE (1 yr) 0 0 0.00 4 0 2 0 0 0 2.0 1 0 0 0 2 0 1.500
CHC (1 yr) 0 0 0.00 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000
NYY (1 yr) 3 0 1.000 2.82 70 0 7 0 0 0 38.1 29 14 12 2 17 38 1.200
BAL (1 yr) 2 0 1.000 6.06 32 0 4 0 0 0 16.1 14 11 11 3 7 18 1.286
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/4/2014.

March 8 – Happy Birthday Lance McCullers

mccullersWhen 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.

McCullers shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and this one too.

March 7 – Happy Birthday Mike Armstrong

armstrongIt 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.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1984 NYY 3 2 .600 3.48 36 0 15 0 0 1 54.1 47 21 21 6 26 43 1.344
1985 NYY 0 0 3.07 9 0 8 0 0 0 14.2 9 5 5 4 2 11 0.750
1986 NYY 0 1 .000 9.35 7 1 4 0 0 0 8.2 13 9 9 4 5 8 2.077
8 Yrs 19 17 .528 4.10 197 1 94 0 0 11 338.0 300 170 154 42 155 221 1.346
NYY (3 yrs) 3 3 .500 4.06 52 1 27 0 0 1 77.2 69 35 35 14 33 62 1.313
KCR (2 yrs) 15 12 .556 3.51 110 0 58 0 0 9 215.1 174 98 84 20 88 127 1.217
SDP (2 yrs) 0 2 .000 5.81 21 0 7 0 0 0 26.1 30 19 17 4 24 23 2.051
CLE (1 yr) 1 0 1.000 8.68 14 0 2 0 0 1 18.2 27 18 18 4 10 9 1.982
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/31/2014.

March 6 – Happy Birthday Marcus Thames

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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2002 NYY 7 13 13 2 3 1 0 1 2 0 0 4 .231 .231 .538 .769
2010 NYY 82 237 212 22 61 7 0 12 33 0 19 61 .288 .350 .491 .841
10 Yrs 640 2016 1827 256 450 83 4 115 301 3 159 510 .246 .309 .485 .794
DET (6 yrs) 485 1612 1463 216 358 72 3 99 255 3 128 411 .245 .307 .501 .808
NYY (2 yrs) 89 250 225 24 64 8 0 13 35 0 19 65 .284 .344 .493 .837
LAD (1 yr) 36 70 66 4 13 1 1 2 7 0 4 16 .197 .243 .333 .576
TEX (1 yr) 30 84 73 12 15 2 0 1 4 0 8 18 .205 .298 .274 .572
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/31/2014.