April 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.