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.