April 2013

April 29 – Happy Birthday Marv Breuer

breuerMarv Breuer thought he had blown his chance to get signed by the Yankees. He was pitching for an unaffiliated D-level team in Rogers, Arkansas in 1934 and Yankee scout Johnny Nee was in the stands for one of the right-hander’s starts. Breuer not only lost the game 7-0, his team was no-hit by the opposing team’s pitcher. At dinner that night, a disappointed Breuer figured it would be the pitcher he faced that day who would be getting a visit from Nee. But when he looked up from his plate, Nee was standing there ready to offer him a Yankee contract. A disbelieving Breuer thought the scout had made a mistake and reminded his unexpected visitor it was the other guy who had thrown the no-hitter. Nee told him “You’ll be pitching in the American League when everyone has forgotten about that no-hitter.”

So Breuer signed on with the Yanks and spent the next six years trying to climb up the crowded ladder of baseball’s best farm system and there were plenty of missteps along the way. His first breakout year came with Binghamton in 1936, when he went 18-9 in the A-level NY-Penn League. But when he was promoted to double A, the following season, his record plummeted to 5-19 and the Rolla, Missouri native gave serious thought to quitting the game.

It was the midst of the Great Depression and Breuer had earned a degree in civil engineering after graduating from high school. Every off-season, he was hired to do engineering work. But he stuck with pitching and when he went 17-9 for the Yank’s, Kansas City Blues farm team in 1939, Joe McCarthy brought him to spring training and announced he would open the 1940 season as a member of the Yankees’ starting rotation.

Now remember, that Yankee team Breuer was joining had won four consecutive World Championships and the pitching staff on their 1939 club boasted seven guys with at least 10 winning decisions. But Lefty Gomez was faltering badly, Red Ruffing was getting old and Spud Chandler was hurting. McCarthy found himself forced to revamp one of the deepest mound staff’s in the history of the game.

It looked as if Breuer was certainly one of the answers as the 1940 regular season got under way. The 26-year-old rookie pitched well and the Yankees won 9 of his first 13 starts. But the tide turned in late July and Breuer started getting hammered. By the end of his first full season in New York, his record was a disappointing 8-9 and his ERA in the mid-four’s and the Yankees finished in second place.

He pitched better in 1941, putting together what would be his only winning season for New York, finishing 9-7 and lowering his ERA by half a run. He then turned in his most memorable moment in pinstripes during Game 4 of that year’s World Series against Brooklyn. McCarthy called on him to relieve starter Atley Donald in the fifth inning with the Yankees trailing Brooklyn, 4-3. He pitched three scoreless innings and New York came back to win the game.

He would spend two more years with the team but when it became clear he would never become the 20-game winner the Yankees thought he would, the pitcher nicknamed “Baby Face” quit the game for good and became a civil engineer for the US Geological Survey for the next 31 years. He passed away in 1991 at the age of 76.

Breuer shares his birthday with this long-ago utility infielder, another former Yankee pitcher and this one too.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1939 NYY 0 0 9.00 1 0 0 0 0 0 1.0 2 1 1 0 1 0 3.000
1940 NYY 8 9 .471 4.55 27 22 2 10 0 0 164.0 175 89 83 20 61 71 1.439
1941 NYY 9 7 .563 4.09 26 18 4 7 1 2 141.0 131 73 64 10 49 77 1.277
1942 NYY 8 9 .471 3.07 27 19 6 6 0 1 164.1 157 67 56 11 37 72 1.181
1943 NYY 0 1 .000 8.36 5 1 4 0 0 0 14.0 22 16 13 0 6 6 2.000
5 Yrs 25 26 .490 4.03 86 60 16 23 1 3 484.1 487 246 217 41 154 226 1.323
162 Game Avg. 12 12 .490 4.03 40 28 7 11 0 1 226 227 115 101 19 72 105 1.323

April 28 – Happy Birthday Tom Sturdivant

tom.sturdivant.jpgIf you were a bullpen pitcher for the New York Yankees after Game 2 of the 1956 World Series win over the Brooklyn Dodgers, you might have qualified for unemployment checks. Why? Because beginning with Game 3, New York starting pitchers; Whitey Ford, Tom Sturdivant, Don Larsen, Bob Turley and Johnny Kucks became the first and only pitchers in history to toss five consecutive complete games in a Fall Classic.

Sturdivant’s turn came in the fourth game, which he won 6-2. That would be the only postseason decision in the decade-long big league career of this right-hander, who was born in Kansas, on April 28, 1930 and then raised in Oklahoma. The Yankees originally signed him out of high school as an infielder but he didn’t hit well in the minors. When he came back to the organization after serving a year in the military, Sturdivant was switched to pitching. He could throw hard and he developed a signature slithering curve ball that eventually earned him the nickname “Snake.” The Yankees called him up for the first time in 1955 and pitched him pretty much exclusively out of the bullpen. In ’56, Casey Stengel began starting him and he did well enough to become a regular part of that year’s Yankee rotation, winning 16 games. He duplicated that win total in 1957, and his .727 winning percentage that season led the AL. Sturdivant was also one of the league’s best hitting pitchers in the days before the DH took hold. In 1956, this guy hit .313. Stengel absolutely loved him but according to my research could either never remember or pronounce his last name so the Ol Perfessor just took to calling Sturdivant, “Number 47.”

The winning didn’t last long. In 1957 he tore his rotator cuff and although he claimed his arm recovered completely, Sturdivant spent the final six seasons of his career struggling on the mound for six different big league teams. He never came close to being the pitcher he was during those two great years he had for the Yankees.

This former Yankee reliever also celebrates a birthday today.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1955 NYY 1 3 .250 3.16 33 1 12 0 0 0 68.1 48 24 24 6 42 48 1.317
1956 NYY 16 8 .667 3.30 32 17 11 6 2 5 158.1 134 63 58 15 52 110 1.175
1957 NYY 16 6 .727 2.54 28 28 0 7 2 0 201.2 170 65 57 14 80 118 1.240
1958 NYY 3 6 .333 4.20 15 10 2 0 0 0 70.2 77 37 33 6 38 41 1.627
1959 NYY 0 2 .000 4.97 7 3 1 0 0 0 25.1 20 16 14 4 9 16 1.145
10 Yrs 59 51 .536 3.74 335 101 99 22 7 17 1137.0 1029 521 473 107 449 704 1.300
NYY (5 yrs) 36 25 .590 3.19 115 59 26 13 4 5 524.1 449 205 186 45 221 333 1.278
PIT (3 yrs) 14 7 .667 3.49 65 23 16 8 2 3 219.1 209 97 85 19 60 127 1.226
KCA (3 yrs) 3 8 .273 4.42 56 6 20 0 0 5 128.1 121 73 63 12 52 84 1.348
NYM (1 yr) 0 0 5.97 16 0 5 0 0 1 28.2 34 20 19 2 7 18 1.430
BOS (1 yr) 3 3 .500 4.97 40 3 14 0 0 1 101.1 106 58 56 16 45 67 1.490
WSA (1 yr) 2 6 .250 4.61 15 10 3 1 1 0 80.0 67 42 41 6 40 39 1.338
DET (1 yr) 1 2 .333 3.76 28 0 15 0 0 2 55.0 43 26 23 7 24 36 1.218
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/27/2013.

April 26 – Happy Birthday Shawn Kelley

shawn-kelleyComing out of their 2013 spring training camp, I thought the Yankees made a mistake going north without former Mariner closer David Aardsma and choosing to take along today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant instead. Granted, the new season is less than a month old, but thus far, right-hander Shawn Kelley has not pitched especially well in his seven appearances in pinstripes.  Meanwhile though, Aardsma is not getting a chance to show if he’s again ready for prime time because he  started this season pitching in the Marlins’ farm system.

Like Aardsma, Kelley pitched out of the Mariner bulllpen before he came to New York, but not as a closer. When announcing they were cutting Aardsma and going with Kelley, Yankee manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman explained they wanted a reliever who could pitch more than one inning. If it was up to me, I’d rather have the pitcher who can get the biggest outs in my bullpen instead of the one who can throw the most pitches. No disrespect to Kelley, its just that Aardsma saved over 30 games twice with Seattle before injuring his arm and if that arm is fully healed, the Yanks had enough other pitchers in their pen to not have to extend his appearances beyond an inning.

Kelley turns 29-years-old today.He was born in Louisville, KY and was Seattle’s 13th round draft pick in 2007. He spent his first four big league seasons in Seattle and was traded to New York in February of 2013 for Abraham Almonte, a 23-year-old outfield prospect.  Though he got off to a slow start this season, he did pick up his first win as a Yankee against Toronto last week and two nights ago he pitched two scoreless inning against the Rays. I’d love to see him get hot and make me completely wrong about the management decision that got him on this Yankee team.

He shares his April 26th birthday with this long-ago hard-partying Yankee starting pitcher,  this former pitch from the 1950′s who gained most of his fame pitching for another team and this one too.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2013 NYY 4 2 .667 4.39 57 0 13 0 0 0 53.1 47 28 26 8 23 71 1.313
2014 NYY 0 1 .000 2.38 12 0 8 0 0 4 11.1 10 3 3 0 3 12 1.147
6 Yrs 14 12 .538 3.69 189 0 52 0 0 4 192.2 178 85 79 27 65 205 1.261
SEA (4 yrs) 10 9 .526 3.52 120 0 31 0 0 0 128.0 121 54 50 19 39 122 1.250
NYY (2 yrs) 4 3 .571 4.04 69 0 21 0 0 4 64.2 57 31 29 8 26 83 1.284
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/27/2014.

April 25 – Happy Birthday Darren Holmes

I remember thinking the Yankees made a good move when they signed this righty reliever to a free agent contract in 1998. Holmes had pitched out of the Colorado bullpen for five seasons before that and had put up decent numbers, especially considering half his mound appearances were in Denver, where pitchers are typically punished by the thin air. But I was wrong. Holmes showed promise during the first two months of his only season in Pinstripes and Joe Torre’s confidence in the Asheville, NC reached a highpoint after Holmes turned in seven consecutive scoreless stints between late April and mid-May. But then he gave up three home runs in a single inning against Baltimore and after that, he struggled to regain consistency. He did bounce back to pitch well that September but when he didn’t make an appearance in the Yankees’ 1998 postseason you knew his days in pinstripes were numbered. The following March, Holmes was traded to the Diamondbacks. His final Yankee record included two saves and an 0-3 won-lost record. Holmes kept pitching until 2003, when he retired with a record of 35-33 and 59 saves, appearing in a total of 557 games during his 13-season career.

Holmes shares his April 25 birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and this Cuban defector.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1998 NYY 0 3 .000 3.33 34 0 13 0 0 2 51.1 53 19 19 4 14 31 1.305
13 Yrs 35 33 .515 4.25 557 6 212 0 0 59 680.0 709 348 321 63 256 581 1.419
COL (5 yrs) 23 13 .639 4.42 263 6 129 0 0 46 328.0 341 181 161 34 136 297 1.454
ARI (2 yrs) 4 3 .571 4.25 52 0 12 0 0 1 55.0 62 27 26 4 26 40 1.600
ATL (2 yrs) 3 4 .429 2.89 103 0 22 0 0 1 96.2 88 34 31 8 23 93 1.148
MIL (2 yrs) 5 8 .385 3.94 81 0 34 0 0 9 118.2 125 55 52 7 38 90 1.374
STL (1 yr) 0 1 .000 9.72 5 0 1 0 0 0 8.1 12 9 9 2 3 5 1.800
LAD (1 yr) 0 1 .000 5.19 14 0 1 0 0 0 17.1 15 10 10 1 11 19 1.500
NYY (1 yr) 0 3 .000 3.33 34 0 13 0 0 2 51.1 53 19 19 4 14 31 1.305
BAL (1 yr) 0 0 25.07 5 0 0 0 0 0 4.2 13 13 13 3 5 6 3.857
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/25/2014.

April 24 – Happy Birthday Harry Harper

Harry_HarperHe was known as “Hackensack Harry,” a tribute to the New Jersey based New York City suburb in which he was born. This guy did something voluntarily you’d never see a ballplayer do today. He walked away from his job as a Yankee starting pitcher to manage his own company.

Harry Harper was a tall, skinny southpaw pitcher who was signed right out of high school by the Washington Senators and rushed directly to the big leagues at the age of 18. He remained a Senator for the first seven seasons of his career, joining the team’s starting rotation in 1916. That was probably his best year as a player, as he compiled a 14-10 record with a 2.45 ERA. Unfortunately for Harper, he pitched for Washington during a period the franchise fell into decline and during his final season with the team, his horrible record of 6-21 and his respectable ERA of 3.72 reflected just how far the Senators had fallen.

He was then traded to Boston, a year after the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees and he went 5-14 but again managed a respectable 3.05 ERA. That’s when he got his big break. Ten days before Christmas in 1920, the Yankees and Red Sox concluded an eight-player deal that sent Harper, Waite Hoyt, Wally Schang and Mike McNally to New York and Del Pratt, Muddy Ruel, Sammy Vick and Hank Thormahlen to Beantown.

One of the interesting things about Harper’s baseball career was that he was religious enough to negotiate a clause in his contract that prevented him from pitching on Sundays. When he came to New York, he became the Yankees only left-handed pitcher with the exception of Babe Ruth, who had been converted by then into pretty much a full-time outfielder. Yankee skipper, Miller Huggins did not give Harper his first Yankee start until May 13th of that ’21 season against the Tigers and the pitcher was sharp enough to get the win, but it was a costly one. In the sixth inning of that game he tried to barehand a line drive and he broke the thumb on his pitching hand. He didn’t get back into the rotation until September and he split his last six decisions, as the Yankees captured the franchises first-ever AL Pennant.

Then in the World Series that followed, with the Yankees holding a 3-games to 2 edge over the cross town Giants, Huggins decided to start Harper in Game 6. He didn’t make it out of the second inning, surrendering three earned runs and the Yankees lost the game and then went on to lose the Series.

As disappointing as his only Series appearance was to both Harper and Huggins, it had no bearing on the pitcher’s absence from the Yankee roster the following spring. It seems that Hackensack Harry was quite the entrepreneur when he wasn’t playing baseball. He and his brother had started a trucking business in their home town and they had won a bid to provide  trucking services for the construction of the Holland Tunnel. In February of 1922 he requested a leave of absence from his baseball responsibilities so he could pay full attention to the Tunnel project. He later started a self service supermarket and successful fuel and beverage companies in his native Garden State. Harper also got involved in politics. In 1927, he was elected Sheriff of Bergen County. He then accepted appointments as New Jersey’s Civil Service and Labor Commissioner. In 1948, he lost a bid to become the republican nominee in an election for one of New Jersey’s two seats in the US Senate.

Harper shares his April 24th birthday with this Yankee outfielder, this former Yankee reliever and this one-time Yankee third baseman.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP WHIP
1921 NYY 4 3 .571 3.76 8 7 1 4 0 0 52.2 52 23 22 3 25 22 2 1.462
10 Yrs 57 76 .429 2.87 219 171 27 66 12 5 1256.0 1100 531 400 26 582 623 40 1.339
WSH (7 yrs) 48 58 .453 2.75 183 141 26 51 11 5 1037.0 877 429 317 12 488 526 36 1.316
BRO (1 yr) 0 1 .000 14.73 1 1 0 0 0 0 3.2 8 6 6 2 3 4 0 3.000
NYY (1 yr) 4 3 .571 3.76 8 7 1 4 0 0 52.2 52 23 22 3 25 22 2 1.462
BOS (1 yr) 5 14 .263 3.04 27 22 0 11 1 0 162.2 163 73 55 9 66 71 2 1.408
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/24/2013.

April 23 – Happy Birthday Andruw Jones


If you’ve been a Yankee fan for at least eighteen years, used to be that whenever you heard the name “Andruw Jones”, a bad memory crept into your head. Your mind shifted back to that opening game of the 1996 World Series in old Yankee Stadium on a Sunday afternoon in October. Your Yankees had finally made it back to the Promised Land after a decade and a half of roaming through the regular season desert, but every Yankee hater you knew was telling you that New York had no chance to beat the powerful Atlanta Braves. You would laugh off their taunts but secretly you were worried. The experts always said that the best starting pitching won in the playoffs and nobody had better starters than the Braves’ big three of Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine. Plus, Bobby Cox had some studs in that ’96 lineup. Chipper Jones and Ryan Klesko both had thirty-homer seasons and Fred McGriff, Marquis Grissom and catcher Javy Lopez had each hit over twenty of their own. So when the Game One Yankee starter, a young left-hander named Andy Pettitte was able to retire the first three Atlanta hitters in the top of the first inning you breathed a sigh of relief. But that sense of relief would not last long.

In the visitors half of the second inning, with two outs and Lopez on first, you saw the name “Andruw Jones” flash up on your TV screen and your first thought is “That’s supposed to be an E, not a U.” Whoever was broadcasting the game kept making a big deal of the fact that this sleek-looking athlete with a bat in his hand was just nineteen years old, as he quickly worked Pettitte into a full count. Then suddenly, Bam! This kid with the misspelled first name hits Andy’s sixth pitch into the Stadium’s left-field stands and the Braves took a quick 2-0 lead. Your stomach got a bit queazy but heck, you’d seen that ’96 Yankee team bounce back from deficits all season long. Pettitte retired the next hitter and as he headed back to the dugout, you hoped that pitch to Jones would be his only mistake of the game. Unfortunately, in the very next inning, this Jones kid would reemerge from the Braves dugout and take Pettitte even deeper and that three-run home run would drive a very long nail into the Yankees’ hopes of winning Game 1.

Sixteen years later, Andruw was a Yankee. He was no longer a nineteen year old rookie about to begin a career that would result in over 400 big league home runs. Instead, he’d played 15 big league seasons and was on the back end of a very good big league career. He had become a baseball nomad, the Yankees were his fourth different team in four years. But as he proved in his very first at bat in pinstripes against the Twins Brian Duensing, he could still take southpaws deep and he could still display moments in the outfield filled with that unique style and grace that was so fun to watch. I was hoping that before his Yankee career ended, Andruw would have a Johnny Damon-like “pinstripe redemption moment.” Until Damon made that famous double-steal against the Phillies during the 2009 Series, all I could think of when I saw him wearing a Yankee uniform was that grand slam he hit off of Jeff Weaver to complete Boston’s amazing comeback against New York in the ’04 ALCS. But Jones never really had that a-ha moment for New York that served to instantly eradicate the image of him hitting those two bombs off of Pettitte from my head. But he did have enough good moments wearing those pinstripes to dull that image and make me wish the Yankees could have picked him up earlier in his career.

He actually had his best stretch for New York during the first couple of months of the 2012 season, when he and Raul Ibanez were forming the two halves of the Yankees’ most effective run producer but he stopped hitting completely in the second half of that year. The Yankees ended up signing Travis Hafner as their right-handed DH for the 2013 season and it looks as if Andruw Jones very good big league career is over. Happy 37th birthday Andruw.

This not-very-well-known other former Yankee who celebrates a birthday today is one I happen to remember real well.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2011 NYY 77 222 190 27 47 8 0 13 33 0 0 29 62 .247 .356 .495 .851 126
2012 NYY 94 269 233 27 46 7 0 14 34 0 0 28 71 .197 .294 .408 .701 89
17 Yrs 2196 8664 7599 1204 1933 383 36 434 1289 152 59 891 1748 .254 .337 .486 .823 111
ATL (12 yrs) 1761 7276 6408 1045 1683 330 34 368 1117 138 55 717 1394 .263 .342 .497 .839 113
NYY (2 yrs) 171 491 423 54 93 15 0 27 67 0 0 57 133 .220 .322 .447 .769 106
TEX (1 yr) 82 331 281 43 60 18 0 17 43 5 1 45 72 .214 .323 .459 .782 100
LAD (1 yr) 75 238 209 21 33 8 1 3 14 0 1 27 76 .158 .256 .249 .505 35
CHW (1 yr) 107 328 278 41 64 12 1 19 48 9 2 45 73 .230 .341 .486 .827 120
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/22/2013.

April 22 – Happy Birthday Neal Ball

There must have been a slight but confusing communication problem in the New York Highlander clubhouse during the 1908 season. The manager of that team at the start of the season was Hall of Famer, Clark Griffith, who would go on to become the patriarch of baseball in our nation’s capital. Griffith’s ’08 Highlanders were not a very good team. In fact they were so bad, Griffith voluntarily resigned as skipper in early June, telling the press that he had tried everything possible to fix what was wrong with the squad and was simply giving up, indicating that perhaps he himself was a jinx.

I’m sure one of the “everything possible remedies” the bewildered skipper used was regular pep talks to his team. If these were like most managerial pep talks through the ages, Griffith would end his oratories with the battle cry “Now let’s play ball!” Therein may have lied the problem. The Highlander players would probably just sit there looking at each other and thinking to themselves; “We are playing Ball already at shortstop and we’re still losing!”

They would be referring to one Cornelius “Neal” Ball, their 5 foot 7 inch teammate from Grand Haven, MI. Ball started 132 games at shortstop for the Highlanders in that ’08 season, hitting .247 and leading the league in strikeouts with 91. It was the 27-year-old Ball’s first full big league season and it would be his last one with the Yankees. In May of 1909, New York sold Ball to the Cleveland Nats. Two months later, he became the first Major League player in history to execute an unassisted triple play.

Ball and this very good former starting pitcher are the only two members of the Yankee roster I could find who celebrate a birthday on April 22.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1907 NYY 15 47 44 5 9 1 1 0 4 1 1 11 .205 .222 .273 .495
1908 NYY 132 484 446 35 110 16 2 0 38 32 21 91 .247 .284 .291 .575
1909 NYY 8 34 29 5 6 1 1 0 3 2 3 10 .207 .281 .310 .592
7 Yrs 502 1776 1613 163 404 56 17 4 151 92 99 323 .250 .295 .314 .609
CLE (4 yrs) 306 1092 991 99 260 34 13 4 96 49 62 194 .262 .306 .335 .641
NYY (3 yrs) 155 565 519 45 125 18 4 0 45 35 25 112 .241 .278 .291 .569
BOS (2 yrs) 41 119 103 19 19 4 0 0 10 8 12 17 .184 .276 .223 .499
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/22/2013.

April 21 – Happy Birthday Joe McCarthy

joe_mccarthy.jpg

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is the winning-est manager in Yankee history. Joe McCarthy’s baseball career began as a Minor League infielder who’s bad knee and inability to hit a curve ball prevented him from ever playing in a Major League game. He was playing for Wilkes-Barre in 1912 when the team’s Manager quit. McCarthy was given the job. Just 20-years-old at the time,  he was the youngest manager in professional baseball. His team played very well for him and McCarthy realized his future in the sport was as a Manager.

He got his first big league job with the Cubs in 1926.  He remained in the Windy City, working for the Wrigley’s for five seasons and won the NL Pennant in 1929. Ironically it was that success, according to a NY Times article about McCarthy written by Joseph Durso, that led to the Manager’s firing as Cub Manager.  The Cubs lost the Series to the A’s that year in five games. In Game Four of that Fall Classic, the Cubs had blown an eight-run lead. Chicago owner William Wrigley, who had the money to buy anything he wanted, coveted a World Series trophy. After McCarthy’s team failed to win it in ’29, the chewing gum magnate came to the fateful conclusion that McCarthy was not the field boss who could win him one. A season later, McCarthy was fired by Chicago. During the next thirteen years, Wrigley’s appraisal of his former Manager had been disproved emphatically, not once but seven different times.

Yankee Manager, Miller Huggins had died during the 1929 season. Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert replaced him with one of his team’s former pitching stars, four-time 20-game winner, Bob Shawkey. When Shawkey’s team finished third in 1930 and McCarthy was fired by the Cubs, the Yankee owner outbid the Red Sox for his services. New York teams won 1,460 games during his sixteen total years at the helm, which included six 100-victory seasons, eight American League Pennants and seven World Championships. “Marse Joe” won a total of 2,125 games during his 24-year Major League managerial career, which ended with the Red Sox in 1950. Babe Ruth hated McCarthy because he wanted the Manager’s job himself but both Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio revered him. He was famous for defending his players and accepting blame for any of the team’s defeats or failures on his own shoulders. The most remarkable thing about his record was that during his two-dozen seasons as a big-league skipper, not one of his three teams ever lost more games than they won. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1957 and died in 1978, at the age of ninety.

McCarthy shares his April 21st birthday with this one time Yankee lefty relief specialist.

Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
6 1931 44 New York Yankees AL 155 94 59 .614 2
7 1932 45 New York Yankees AL 156 107 47 .695 1 WS Champs
8 1933 46 New York Yankees AL 152 91 59 .607 2
9 1934 47 New York Yankees AL 154 94 60 .610 2
10 1935 48 New York Yankees AL 149 89 60 .597 2
11 1936 49 New York Yankees AL 155 102 51 .667 1 WS Champs
12 1937 50 New York Yankees AL 157 102 52 .662 1 WS Champs
13 1938 51 New York Yankees AL 157 99 53 .651 1 WS Champs
14 1939 52 New York Yankees AL 152 106 45 .702 1 WS Champs
15 1940 53 New York Yankees AL 155 88 66 .571 3
16 1941 54 New York Yankees AL 156 101 53 .656 1 WS Champs
17 1942 55 New York Yankees AL 154 103 51 .669 1 AL Pennant
18 1943 56 New York Yankees AL 155 98 56 .636 1 WS Champs
19 1944 57 New York Yankees AL 154 83 71 .539 3
20 1945 58 New York Yankees AL 152 81 71 .533 4
21 1946 59 New York Yankees AL 1st of 3 35 22 13 .629 3
Chicago Cubs 5 years 770 442 321 .579 2.8 1 Pennant
New York Yankees 16 years 2348 1460 867 .627 1.8 8 Pennants and 7 World Series Titles
Boston Red Sox 3 years 369 223 145 .606 2.3
24 years 3487 2125 1333 .615 2.1 9 Pennants and 7 World Series Titles
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/21/2013.


April 20 – Happy Birthday Charlie Hemphill

hemphillWhat was the worst Yankee team in history? During my time as a Yankee fan the candidates for this dubious honor would be the 1966 team that finished dead last in the AL with a 70-89 record or Stump Merrill’s 1990 squad, which finished at the bottom of the AL East Division with a horrid 67-95 mark. Both those teams filled a summer of my life with sports agony. But when you’re trying to identify the very worst Yankee team in the history of the franchise, you have to place the New York Highlander squad of 1908 at the very top of the heap, or more accurately, the very bottom of the pile.

They finished the season with a 51-103 record, which represents a .331 winning percentage, a low-water mark that has stood as the franchise record for team futility for over a century. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the starting right-fielder on that 1908 Yankee/Highlander debacle.

New York had acquired Hemphill the previous November in a trade with the Browns. At the time of that deal, this Greenville, Michigan native was 31-years-old and a veteran of eight big league seasons and five different big league franchises. There were good reasons why he kept his suitcase packed all those years. The guy had hands of stone and he had a real problem with alcohol. On the positive side, in an era when the game was played with the deadest baseball of all-time, Hemphill was considered a good stick. It was his ability with a bat that kept him from getting benched for his poor fielding and persistent drinking and it was the same reason why, whenever a team got tired enough of those faults to get rid of him, he seemed to have no trouble finding a new team willing to take him on.

That 1908 Yankee team did not start out bad. Their Manager, Hall-of-Famer Clark Griffith actually got them out of the gate quickly that year by winning 16 of their first 24 games. But when they lost 24 of their next 32 contests, the bitterly disappointed Griffith resigned and the penny-pinching Highlander ownership made New York’s mercurial shortstop, Kid Elberfeld the team’s player-manager. At the time there wasn’t an umpire in the league who didn’t hate Elberfeld. I’m not certain if that collective hatred had anything to do with the Highlanders going 27-71 under their new manager but I can guarantee you that none of the “men in blue” felt a tinge of sorrow for the Kid’s historic failure in his new role.

Just about the only thing that wasn’t horrible on that 1908 Highlander team was the performance of Charley Hemphill. He put together the best season of his big league career. He led the team in runs, hits, RBIs and average. He also stole a career-high 42 bases. The only things that didn’t improve were his defense (he made 20 errors in ’08) and his drinking but Hemphill had built up enough good will with his offensive performance during his inaugural year in New York that he remained a member of the club’s roster for four seasons.

The team finally released him after the 1911 season and he was able to land a coveted player managing position with a minor league team in Atlanta. But before his first season in that post was over, he was fired because of his drinking and ended up moving to Detroit and working in the auto industry.

Hemphill shares his April 20th birthday with one of my all-time favorite Yankees.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1908 NYY 142 581 505 62 150 12 9 0 44 42 59 43 .297 .374 .356 .730
1909 NYY 73 216 181 23 44 5 1 0 10 10 32 23 .243 .357 .282 .639
1910 NYY 102 419 351 45 84 9 4 0 21 19 55 27 .239 .350 .288 .638
1911 NYY 69 244 201 32 57 4 2 1 15 9 37 18 .284 .397 .338 .736
11 Yrs 1242 5093 4541 580 1230 117 68 22 421 207 435 429 .271 .337 .341 .678
SLB (5 yrs) 629 2682 2425 306 663 72 37 15 232 109 196 267 .273 .329 .352 .681
NYY (4 yrs) 386 1460 1238 162 335 30 16 1 90 80 183 111 .271 .369 .323 .692
STL (1 yr) 11 45 37 4 9 0 0 1 3 0 6 0 .243 .364 .324 .688
BOS (1 yr) 136 595 545 71 142 10 10 3 62 11 39 26 .261 .312 .332 .644
CLV (1 yr) 55 209 202 23 56 3 5 2 23 3 6 14 .277 .301 .371 .673
CLE (1 yr) 25 102 94 14 25 2 0 0 11 4 5 11 .266 .303 .287 .590
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/20/2013.

April 19 – Happy Birthday Spike Owen

owenI remember very clearly not being too excited when I heard the news that the Yanks had signed free-agent shortstop Spike Owen just before Christmas in 1992. They gave the Cleburne, Texas native a surprisingly generous 3-year deal worth $7 million. He was 31 years old at the time and he had been in the big leagues for 11 seasons. A switch-hitter, Owen had made his big league debut with Seattle in 1983 and got his big break in August of ’86, when the Mariners sent him and outfielder Dave Henderson to the Red Sox for Boston’s young starting shortstop, Rey Quinones. Boston skipper, John McNamara immediately inserted Owen as his starting shortstop and he remained there through the end of the regular season, even though he hit just .183 following the trade. But he played excellent defense and got the opportunity to make some offensive amends during the postseason by averaging .429 in the 1986 ALCS versus the Angels and an even .300 against the Mets during the Red Sox epic collapse in the ’86 World Series.

He lost his starting job in Beantown to Jody Reed in 1988 and was dealt to the Expos the following December. He had some of his best big league seasons defensively while with Montreal and even put together a record 61-game streak of errorless shortstop play there, that has since been broken. Though he never hit for a high average, Owen had good strike zone discipline that permitted him to finish his career with an on base percentage that was almost 80 points higher than his .246 lifetime batting average.

When his contract expired in 1992, Montreal decided to go with Will Cordero at short and let Owen walk. That’s when the Yankees knocked him over with their generosity. The franchise was just emerging from the Stump Merrill regime at the time, during which the flashy but mostly ineffective Alvaro Espinosa had started at short. New York’s new skipper, Buck Showalter had two other shortstop candidates on that year’s Yankee roster in Randy Velarde and Mike Gallego, but he went with Owen to start the season. Spike surprised everyone when he got off to a hot start with his bat, averaging over .400 during the first two weeks of the ’93 season. The problem was his defense. It seemed like every other ground ball hit his way ended up just out of his reach and the New York sports press made frequent negative notice of Owens propensity to make plays from his knees. When his average dipped to .240 by the end of July, Showalter began rotating Gallego and Velarde in with Owen at short.

By the end of that 1993 season, I think Buck might have told the Yankee front office he could get along fine with those two as his middle infielders and Yankee GM Gene Michael took the opportunity to try and shed some of the huge Yankee payroll by dealing Owen. He found a willing partner in the Angels but only after the Yankees agreed to pay most of the amount due on the two remaining years of Owen’s contract. Spike then had the best season of his career starting at short for California during the strike shortened 1994 season. He ended up losing his Angels’ starting job the following year and when his contract expired there were no big league teams interested in signing him.

Spike shares his April 19th birthday with this former Yankee starter and this former Yankee reliever.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1993 NYY 103 367 334 41 78 16 2 2 20 3 2 29 30 .234 .294 .311 .605
13 Yrs 1544 5616 4930 587 1211 215 59 46 439 82 62 569 519 .246 .324 .341 .665
MON (4 yrs) 552 1976 1700 198 420 79 20 21 142 22 18 238 195 .247 .338 .354 .692
SEA (4 yrs) 462 1770 1590 190 380 61 23 11 136 38 22 138 176 .239 .301 .327 .628
BOS (3 yrs) 263 945 820 111 200 33 9 8 76 14 10 97 79 .244 .325 .335 .660
CAL (2 yrs) 164 558 486 47 133 26 5 4 65 5 10 67 39 .274 .363 .372 .735
NYY (1 yr) 103 367 334 41 78 16 2 2 20 3 2 29 30 .234 .294 .311 .605
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/18/2013.