April 2013

April 18 – Happy Birthday Duffy Lewis

T205 Lewis frontAt the time of the trade, it was considered one of the biggest in Yankee franchise history. Pitcher Ernie Shore and outfielder Duffy Lewis had been perennial stars on the great pre WWI Boston Red Sox teams. Both, however, had joined the Navy in 1918 and missed an entire season. Before they returned from service in 1919, the duo had been traded to New York along with another very good veteran Boston pitcher named Dutch Leonard in exchange for four players and $15,000. After the deal was made, Yankee skipper Miller Huggins was thrilled and told members of the press that the trade filled the two biggest weaknesses the Yankees had on their roster and he expected the team would be in the thick of the 1919 AL Pennant race as a result of this deal.

Duffy Lewis was a native of San Francisco who cut his baseball teeth in the Pacific Coast League. His real name was George and he had made his big league debut with Boston in 1910, when he joined Tris Speaker and Harry Hopper to form one of the great outfields in Red Sox franchise history. The trio helped Boston win World Series in 1912, ’15 and ’16 and Lewis added lots of luster to his reputation as a clutch hitter when he averaged .444 against the Phillies in the 1915 Fall Classic and .353 the following fall against Brooklyn.

In actuality, Lewis was pretty much a singles hitter who was blessed to be part of one of baseball’s all-time best lineups. As it turned out Huggins’ high hopes for both Lewis and Shore (Leonard was sold to the Tigers before he pitched a game as a Yankee) proved to be unfounded. Shore caught the mumps during his first New York spring training camp and would never amount to much of anything in pinstripes. Duffy started in left field for New York in 1919 and averaged just .272, which was 17 points below his career average with Boston. He did drive in 89 run but he was overly aggressive at the plate for a guy with little power and not a good base-runner.

A little over a year after the big trade Huggins pulled a perfect “if at first you don’t succeed try again” maneuver by  convincing the Yankee owner Jake Ruppert to go back to Boston owner Harry Frazee and pay him whatever it takes to purchase Babe Ruth’s contract. The “Big Bang” then joined Lewis and Ping Bodie to form the starting outfield for a 1920 Yankee team that won 95 games, which was only good enough for a third place finish in the 1920 AL Pennant race. Lewis, however, had seen his playing time decrease during his second season in New York thanks to the emergence of a Yankee rookie outfielder by the name of Bob Meusel.

The Yanks would finally make it to their first World Series in 1921 and they got there without Lewis, who had been traded to Washington the previous December. He was out of the big leagues for good the following year but he did not hang up his spikes. Instead he returned to the Pacific Coast League, where he continued playing another six years, finally retiring as a player at the age of 39. Duffy would eventually become the long-time traveling secretary of the Boston Braves.

He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this former reliever and also this “house,” which was built by his former teammate.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1919 NYY 141 597 559 67 152 23 4 7 89 8 17 42 .272 .293 .365 .658
1920 NYY 107 408 365 34 99 8 1 4 61 2 8 24 32 .271 .320 .332 .651
11 Yrs 1459 6003 5351 612 1518 289 68 38 793 113 66 352 549 .284 .333 .384 .717
BOS (8 yrs) 1184 4884 4325 500 1248 254 62 27 629 102 57 303 465 .289 .340 .395 .735
NYY (2 yrs) 248 1005 924 101 251 31 5 11 150 10 8 41 74 .272 .304 .352 .656
WSH (1 yr) 27 114 102 11 19 4 1 0 14 1 1 8 10 .186 .252 .245 .497
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/18/2013.

April 16 – Happy Birthday Bernie Allen

ballenWhen Bernie Allen graduated from high school in his hometown of East Liverpool, OH, he was a good enough school-boy quarterback to get a scholarship offer from Purdue University. Problem was Bernie didn’t like playing football but he knew if he wanted to go to college, accepting that scholarship was the only way he’d be able to, so that’s what he did. During his time on the gridiron as a Boilermaker, he became one of the better QB’s in the Big Ten but he also got the opportunity to play collegiate baseball and become an All American in that sport. In early 1961, the Minnesota Twins made Allen one of the first amateurs signed by that team after it had relocated to the Twin Cities from our Nation’s capitol.

After just one year in the minors, he made the Twins big league roster during the team’s 1962 spring training season. Minnesota’s first year manager, Sam Mele liked his rookie infielder so much, he benched the veteran Billy Martin and started Allen at second base. Mele also installed a second rookie, third baseman Rich Rollins in his starting infield and the two first-year players helped the surprising Twins finish in second place with 91 wins, a 20-game improvement over the previous season. Bernie had 154 hits that year including 12 home runs, with 64 RBIs and finished third in the AL Rookie-of-theYear balloting. Though I was just 8-years-old at the time, I clearly remember that 1962 Minnesota team because in addition to battling my Yankees for the Pennant, every player in their starting lineup reached double figures in home runs that season.

Allen got off to a horrendously slow start at the plate in his sophomore season and his batting average was still under.200 by late August. He then hit .320 during the last six weeks of the ’63 season, saving his starting job in the process. But his potential to develop into a perennial big league All Star was wiped out with one play during the 1964 season. Attempting to turn a double play, Allen was bowled over by Don Zimmer who rolled over the second baseman’s leg. Allen had torn his ACL, but the injury was mis-diagnosed by Minnesota’a team doctors. When the leg didn’t get better, Allen got his own doctors to examine the knee and they made a correct diagnosis and operated five months after the injury occurred. By then however, the ligament had shriveled and the surgeon didn’t think Allen would ever again play baseball. He proved that doctor wrong but it does explain why all of Allen’s highest single-season offensive numbers took place during that 1962 rookie season. He was simply never the same player after Zimmer rolled his knee.

The Yankees got Bernie in 1972. The Twins had traded him to the Senators after the 1966 season and he played pretty regularly for Washington for five years, right up until that franchise moved to Texas. He then became Ralph Houk’s primary utility infielder during the 1972 season, appearing in 84 games, mostly as a third baseman, but hitting a paltry .227 in the process. It was that weak bat that got him sold to the Expos in August of 1973. When he hit just .180, the then 34-year-old Allen hung up his glove for good.

He shares his April 16th birthday with this former Yankee back-up catcher and this Hall-of-Fame outfielder.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1972 NYY 84 248 220 26 50 9 0 9 22 0 23 42 .227 .296 .391 .686
1973 NYY 17 62 57 5 13 3 0 0 4 0 5 5 .228 .290 .281 .571
12 Yrs 1139 3824 3404 357 815 140 21 73 352 13 370 424 .239 .314 .357 .671
MIN (5 yrs) 492 1789 1595 195 392 75 10 32 163 3 165 212 .246 .316 .366 .682
WSA (5 yrs) 530 1669 1482 126 351 52 11 30 154 10 172 161 .237 .317 .348 .665
NYY (2 yrs) 101 310 277 31 63 12 0 9 26 0 28 47 .227 .294 .368 .663
MON (1 yr) 16 56 50 5 9 1 0 2 9 0 5 4 .180 .255 .320 .575
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/23/2014.

April 15 – Happy Birthday Old King Cole

King_Cole.jpgThis merry old right-hander went 10-9 for the 1914 Highlanders. Too bad he wasn’t still around and pitching for Washington because then we could have called him “The Nat, King Cole.”

Joking aside, Cole’s real first name was Leonard. He had become “King” in 1910 when, as a rookie with the Chicago Cubs he went 20-4 with a league-leading ERA of just 1.80. How special was that performance? Only 17 other Major League first-year pitchers have been able to win 20 games (Bob Grim, who went 20-6 in 1954, was the only Yankee rookie to do it) and only nine have compiled an ERA of less than two runs per game. He pitched the Cubs into the 1910 World Series and even though his team lost, Cole had gained national attention. This “Royal” rookie then went on to trash baseball’s sophomore jinx superstition by going 18-7 in his second season with the Cubbies.

Everything began to change for Cole during the 1912 season. He won just one of his first eight starts that season and he was getting shelled by every opposing lineup. The Cubs traded the former phee-nom to the Pirates but the change of scenery did not help and Cole found himself pitching in the minor leagues the following year. That seemed to be an elixir for the young right-hander’s career as he won 23 games for a team in Columbus and that effort attracted attention from a bunch of big league clubs, including the Yankees. New York ended up outbidding all other teams for Cole and he was headed to the Big Apple.

Cole appeared in 33 games for New York in 1914, including 15 starts and won ten of his nineteen decisions, including two shutouts. But Cole’s performance plummeted again in 1915 and the reason turned out to be a medical one. The pitcher was suffering from tuberculosis and then a cancerous tumor was found in his groin. The end came quick for the native of Toledo, IA. He died in January of 1916 at the age of 29.

This former Yankee reliever was also born on IRS tax deadline day.

Year Tm Lg W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP
1914 NYY AL 10 9 .526 3.30 33 15 12 8 2 0 141.2 151 63 52 3 51 43 1.426
1915 NYY AL 2 3 .400 3.18 10 6 4 2 0 1 51.0 41 27 18 2 22 19 1.235
6 Yrs 54 27 .667 3.12 129 86 32 47 9 2 730.2 657 309 253 13 331 298 1.352
CHC (4 yrs) 40 13 .755 2.72 74 60 10 35 7 1 489.0 404 177 148 7 240 225 1.317
NYY (2 yrs) 12 12 .500 3.27 43 21 16 10 2 1 192.2 192 90 70 5 73 62 1.375
PIT (1 yr) 2 2 .500 6.43 12 5 6 2 0 0 49.0 61 42 35 1 18 11 1.612
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/15/2013.

April 14 – Happy Birthday Kyle Farnsworth

When I see the name Kyle Farnsworth, I associate it with a pitcher who had nasty closer-like stuff but lacked a closer’s mentality. Brian Cashman paid Farnsworth a lot of money after the 2005 season ($17 million over three years) to replace Flash Gordon as the new Yankee bridge to Mariano Rivera. The right hander had pitched his first six big league seasons as a member of the Chicago Cub bullpen. In 2005 he was traded to the Tigers. He made just 16 appearances in Detroit and was then traded to the Braves just before the 2005 inter-league trading deadline expired. He became Bobby Cox’s closer in Atlanta and during the last two months of the ’05 season, Farnsworth pitched the best baseball of his life. He saved 10 games, struck out 32 guys in 27 innings and gave up less than two earned runs per nine innings pitched, helping the Braves hold off the Marlins and win the NL East division race. But in Game 4 of that year’s NLDS, Farnsworth was called in to protect a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning against the Astros and gave up a grand slam to Lance Berkman and a solo shot an inning later and the Braves lost the game and the series in the 18th inning.

I remember watching that game. I’m sure it was a performance Farnsworth would love to forget and Brian Cashman must have forgot it when he paid all that money to bring this guy to the Bronx. He then became an enigma for Joe Torre. Torre was a great Manager but he did have his struggles developing working relationships with certain players and Farnsworth was one of them. In his first year in pinstripes, the pitcher struggled to establish a rhythm. He’d pitch lights out baseball for a stretch and then he’d get hit hard for a week or two. It was clear Torre did not trust his stuff and it became clear that Farnsworth resented that when the pitcher started talking about his Manager’s lack of faith in him to the New York sports press.

Ironically, it was Joba Chamberlain who effectively ended Farnsworth’s career in New York. When Joba was brought up in 2007 and pitched brilliantly as Mo’s set-up man, Farnsworth found himself buried even deeper in that Yankee bullpen. I call it ironic because Joba’s meltdown in the 2007 postseason’s “Bug” game at Jacobs Field seemed to knock his career off stride in the same way Farnsworth’s was thrown off kilter by his disastrous performance against the Astro’s two seasons earlier.

When both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina went down with injuries in the first half of the 2008 season, the Yankees traded Farnsworth to the Tigers for Ivan Rodriguez. Kyle was born in Wichita in 1976. Another Yankee who shares Farnsworth’s April 14th birthday is this hero from New York’s 2000 season.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2006 NYY 3 6 .333 4.36 72 0 24 0 0 6 66.0 62 34 32 8 28 75 1.364
2007 NYY 2 1 .667 4.80 64 0 11 0 0 0 60.0 60 35 32 9 27 48 1.450
2008 NYY 1 2 .333 3.65 45 0 6 0 0 1 44.1 43 18 18 11 17 43 1.353
16 Yrs 43 63 .406 4.22 868 26 280 1 1 55 969.1 920 496 455 130 399 951 1.361
CHC (6 yrs) 22 37 .373 4.78 343 26 88 1 1 4 478.2 468 281 254 75 224 467 1.446
TBR (3 yrs) 8 7 .533 3.54 136 0 69 0 0 25 114.1 104 47 45 10 33 95 1.198
NYY (3 yrs) 6 9 .400 4.33 181 0 41 0 0 7 170.1 165 87 82 28 72 166 1.391
KCR (2 yrs) 4 5 .444 3.40 78 0 27 0 0 0 82.0 83 35 31 5 26 78 1.329
ATL (2 yrs) 0 2 .000 3.42 49 0 24 0 0 10 47.1 30 18 18 6 14 57 0.930
DET (2 yrs) 2 2 .500 3.53 62 0 21 0 0 6 58.2 56 26 23 5 25 73 1.381
NYM (1 yr) 0 0 0.96 10 0 3 0 0 1 9.1 8 1 1 0 2 6 1.071
PIT (1 yr) 1 1 .500 1.04 9 0 7 0 0 2 8.2 6 1 1 1 3 9 1.038
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/23/2014.

April 13 – Happy Birthday Oscar Grimes

grimesThe great Joe McCarthy really was a players’ manager but that didn’t mean he was a pushover, far from it. During the 1942 season, Bill Dickey got hurt. His backup that season and heir apparent as Yankee catcher was a 27-year-old native of Buffalo, NY named Buddy Rosar. Rosar was married and had a kid and with the world at war, he was worried about his future. He felt he needed a career to fall back on in case he didn’t make it as a big league catcher so he made a fateful decision to leave the Yankees for a couple of days to take a policeman’s exam back in his native Buffalo. During his absence, the Yankees played a double header on a very hot afternoon and McCarthy had no choice but to start 35-year-old Rollie Hemsley behind the plate for both games. When the day was done, Hemsley was near collapse from physical exhaustion and McCarthy was determined to get rid of Rosar.

The trade took place ten days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Rosar and Yankee outfielder Roy Cullenbine were sent to Cleveland for outfielder Roy Weatherly and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Oscar Grimes had been around baseball all his life. His father Ray had been a first baseman for the Cubs during the 1920′s and his uncle Roy Grimes, had once played second base for the New York Giants. Oscar was an infielder too and one of the reasons Marse Joe wanted him was his ability to play any of the four infield positions.

That flexibility didn’t earn the native of Minerva, OH much playing time during his first season in New York. He got into just eight games for the Yankees in 1943 but he did get his first and only World Series ring that year, even though he didn’t get to play a single out of that Fall Classic. Things changed for Grimes in 1944. The Yankees’ young and talented starting third baseman, Billy Johnson was called into military service and McCarthy began playing Grimes regularly at the hot corner. In one of his early starts there, he found out firsthand why the legendary Yankee skipper was so beloved by his players. Grimes had made three errors in the contest, pretty much single handedly costing New York the loss. While he was undressing in the clubhouse after the game, he saw McCarthy approaching him. He prepared himself for a tongue-lashing but instead, the manager put his hand on Grimes shoulder and told him about a horrible fielding day he himself had had in the minors.

Grimes played 116 games and had a career high .279 during that ’44 season. In 1945, he played 142 games for New York and had a stellar on base percentage of .395. But Grimes achilles heel were his iron hands. He was simply not a very good defensive infielder and when Johnson and all the other Yankee third base prospects returned from service, Grimes days in pinstripes were numbered. That number came up on July 11th of the 1946 season when New York sold him to the Philadelphia A’s. He became the A’s starting second baseman and didn’t do to badly with his bat, hitting .262 during his half season in Philadelphia. But his defense just wasn’t good enough to keep him in the post war big leagues and he spent the next five seasons playing minor league ball, finally retiring for good in 1950, at the age of 35.

Grimes shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and this long-ago Highlander shortstop.

Year Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1943 NYY AL 9 24 20 4 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 3 7 .150 .261 .150 .411
1944 NYY AL 116 456 387 44 108 17 8 5 46 6 0 59 57 .279 .377 .403 .780
1945 NYY AL 142 595 480 64 127 19 7 4 45 7 6 97 73 .265 .395 .358 .753
1946 TOT AL 73 271 230 29 58 6 0 1 24 2 1 28 36 .252 .336 .291 .627
1946 NYY AL 14 41 39 1 8 1 0 0 4 0 1 1 7 .205 .225 .231 .456
9 Yrs 602 2193 1832 235 469 73 24 18 200 30 12 297 303 .256 .363 .352 .715
CLE (5 yrs) 262 847 715 94 173 31 9 8 84 15 5 110 130 .242 .345 .344 .689
NYY (4 yrs) 281 1116 926 113 246 37 15 9 96 13 7 160 144 .266 .378 .367 .746
PHA (1 yr) 59 230 191 28 50 5 0 1 20 2 0 27 29 .262 .356 .304 .660
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/12/2013.

April 12 – Happy Birthday Brennan Boesch

boeschYou’re Brennan Boesch and you’ve been a starting outfielder for the Detroit Tigers since you made your big league debut in 2010. During that first year you led all American League rookies in home runs and RBIs. You were having an even better sophomore year when in early August of 2011, you tore a ligament in your wrist, causing you to miss the final two months of the regular season plus that year’s ALDS and ALCS.

You worked hard to get your wrist rehabbed but it hurt like hell to swing a bat and you pretty much struggled with it during the entire 2012 season. Even though you had some big hits down the stretch, Jim Leyland left you off the Tigers’ postseason roster and you missed a chance to play in the 2012 World Series. Five months later, you were in for an even bigger disappointment. You were determined to play your way back into Detroit’s starting lineup in 2013 but that didn’t happen. Early on in spring training you suffered an oblique injury, which set you back and then on March 15th, Leyland called you into his office and told you the team was releasing you. That had to be one of the toughest things you’ve ever had to hear. But then your agent told you the Yanks had called and were interested in bringing you to New York to start in their outfield while Curtis Granderson’s broken arm healed. Just like that, it looked like you were about to turn lemon into lemonade. The deal gets made, you pack your bags and head for Tampa, but no sooner do you get there and the Yankees announce they’ve just acquired Vernon Wells from the Angels. Within a span of just a few days you go from fighting for a starting job to getting cut to being given a starting job for the Yankees and then losing it. Talk about the highs and lows of professional athletes, huh?

I remember when Brennan Boesch got his first at bat against the Yankees and I saw his name flash on the television screen. I thought some YES Network technician had left the “d” out of his first name and mistakenly hit the “n” key twice. I also remember he pretty much wore out Yankee pitching. He averaged .363 against them in 22 games and like most left-handed hitters with some pop in his bat, he absolutely loved hitting in Yankee Stadium. When the news broke that the Yankees signed him, I confess that the first thing that came into my head was that this guy had enough of an all-around game to have a chance of evolving into a Paul O’Neill type player for New York. He really didn’t get the chance I thought he would with the Yankees. Instead he was reassigned to the minors and then released.

Boesch is a big guy, six feet four inches tall and he weighs over 230 pounds. He was born in Santa Monica, California in 1985. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever and this long-ago Yankee outfielder.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2013 NYY 23 53 51 6 14 2 1 3 8 0 2 9 .275 .302 .529 .831
5 Yrs 408 1552 1425 182 370 76 7 45 183 19 103 296 .260 .314 .418 .732
DET (3 yrs) 380 1487 1362 176 353 73 6 42 175 18 101 286 .259 .315 .414 .729
LAA (1 yr) 5 12 12 0 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 .250 .250 .333 .583
NYY (1 yr) 23 53 51 6 14 2 1 3 8 0 2 9 .275 .302 .529 .831
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/23/2014.

April 10 – Happy Birthday Bob Watson

watson.jpgI was not a big fan of Bob Watson when he became the Yankee’s starting first baseman in 1980. The biggest reason for this was that I had been a big fan of the starting first baseman Watson replaced that season for New York, Chris Chambliss. In my humble opinion, the historic home run Chambliss had hit to get the Yankees into the 1976 World Series earned him the right to remain in pinstripes for the rest of his playing career. Instead, the Yankees had dealt him to the Blue Jays to get Toronto catcher, Rick Cerone. New York then signed Watson as a free agent to take over at first.

Watson was actually a very similar player to Chambliss. He averaged about 16 home-runs per season, drove in close to 90 and hit close to .300. He wasn’t as good defensively as Chambliss was, but few were. He had a good first year in pinstripes, hitting .307 and helping New York make the playoffs. He slumped badly in 1981, hitting just .212 during that strike shortened season. He then surprised me and every other Yankee fan by putting together an outstanding 1981 postseason. He hit .438 against the Brewers in that year’s ALDS and then had 2 home runs and 7 RBIs in the Yankees’ 6-game loss to the Dodgers in the ’81 World Series. That didn’t prevent the Yankees from trading the LA native to the Braves in April of the following season. Watson then spent the final three years of his 19-season big league career, backing up the same first baseman he had replaced as a Yankee starter in 1980.

After retiring in 1984, Watson became a coach with Oakland, then an assistant GM at Houston and in 1993, he was promoted to GM by the Astros, becoming the first black man in Major League history to hold that position. George Steinbrenner then hired Watson as GM of the Yankees in October of 1995 where he remained until Brian Cashman replaced him in February of 1998. Watson found out very quickly that working as GM for the Boss could be hazardous to one’s health. Steinbrenner would not let Watson make any decisions by himself, which still did not prevent the Yankee owner from berating his new GM’s every action. George even refused to congratulate Watson after the Yankees’ 1996 World Series win. The stress of working for Steinbrenner was so bad that the guy who’s nickname had been “the Bull” during his playing days, ended up in the hospital in April of 1997 with high blood pressure and orders from his doctors to reduce his Yankee GM workload by 25%.

Also born on this date was this father of one of baseball’s all-time great home run hitters.

Year Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1980 NYY AL 130 525 469 62 144 25 3 13 68 2 1 48 56 .307 .368 .456 .825
1981 NYY AL 59 180 156 15 33 3 3 6 12 0 0 24 17 .212 .317 .385 .701
1982 NYY AL 7 20 17 3 4 3 0 0 3 0 0 3 0 .235 .350 .412 .762
19 Yrs 1832 6962 6185 802 1826 307 41 184 989 27 28 653 796 .295 .364 .447 .811
HOU (14 yrs) 1381 5496 4883 640 1448 241 30 139 782 21 22 508 635 .297 .364 .444 .808
ATL (3 yrs) 171 394 348 34 92 16 1 13 71 1 3 41 55 .264 .338 .428 .766
NYY (3 yrs) 196 725 642 80 181 31 6 19 83 2 1 75 73 .282 .355 .438 .793
BOS (1 yr) 84 347 312 48 105 19 4 13 53 3 2 29 33 .337 .401 .548 .949
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/12/2013.

April 9 – Happy Birthday Hippo Vaughn

hippoHis real name was James Leslie Vaughn. He was born in Texas, the son of a stone mason and after playing ball for his high school team, he began a career as a minor league pitcher in 1906. The New York Highlanders took notice of him after he went 9-1 for a club in the Arkansas State League and signed Vaughn to a contract. He made his big league debut in June of 1908 as a reliever but after just two appearances he was sent back down to the minors for more seasoning.

He reappeared at the Highlander spring training camp in 1910 and pitched so well there that not only did he go north with the team, he was also given the Opening Day starting assignment. At just 22 years of age, he was and still is the youngest Opening Day starter in Yankee franchise history. In that game, he faced off against the Red Sox Eddie Cicotte in New York’s Hilltop Park and battled the Beantown knuckleballer to a 4-4 tie after 14 innings, when the contest was called because of darkness. Vaughn would go on to pitch brilliantly for Manager George Stallings ball club, finishing his rookie season with a 13-9 record and a sterling ERA of just 1.83. It looked as if the big young southpaw  was on his way to an outstanding career and he in fact was. The unfortunate thing was that the best part of that career would not take place in New York.

Vaughn’s Hilltopper team was in complete disarray. Its star player, first baseman Hal Chase had been accused of throwing games by George Stallings, the team’s manager. The team’s owner sided with his accused first baseman, fired Stallings and made Chase the new skipper. Under Stallings, the team had finished in second place in 1910 with an 88-63 record. They fell to sixth place the following year under Chase and Vaughn finished the 1911 season with a disappointing 8-10 record. Chase was fired but that move did nothing to prevent Vaughn from getting off to a horrible start in his third full season in New York. His record was just 2-8 and he had been relegated to the bullpen, when New York put him on waivers in June of the 1912 season. He was claimed by Washington.

He pitched OK for the Senators but still got sold to the minor league Kansas City Blues and the demotion seemed to help Vaughn recover his mound mojo. The Chicago Cubs purchased his contract from the Blues in June of the 1913 season and for five of the next six years, Vaughn was a 20-game winner for the Cubbies and became the top left-handed pitcher in the National League. If the Yanks had kept Vaughn long enough, his pitching may have helped them win their first AL Pennant a few years before they actually did and Vaughn would have certainly had a happier ending to his big league career.

Vaughn ran into two big problems while pitching in the Windy City. The first was his weight. Always heavy, which is how the nickname Hippo originated, by some accounts the six foot four inch Vaughn ballooned up to 300 pounds during the latter part of his career. His second problem arose when Chicago made their volatile infielder, Johnny Evers the team’s player manager at the beginning of the 1921 season. Imagine Joe Girardi telling the press that CC Sabathia was too fat and too lazy to keep winning in the big leagues? That’s what Evers was saying about Hippo, when Vaughn got off to a horrid start during the 1921 season, going just 3-11. After a disastrous appearance against the Giants that July, Evers pulled Hippo in the third inning and the dejected pitcher didn’t just leave the field, he got dressed and jumped the team. The Cubs then suspended him and Vaughn would never again pitch in a big league game. He finished his thirteen year Major League career with a 178-137 record, a lifetime ERA of just 2.49 and 41 shutouts.

He shares his April 10th birthday with this current Yankee reliever and this former one too.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1908 NYY 0 0 3.86 2 0 1 0 0 0 2.1 1 1 1 0 4 2 2.143
1910 NYY 13 11 .542 1.83 30 25 3 18 5 1 221.2 190 76 45 1 58 107 1.119
1911 NYY 8 10 .444 4.39 26 19 3 10 0 0 145.2 158 92 71 2 54 74 1.455
1912 NYY 2 8 .200 5.14 15 10 3 5 1 0 63.0 66 48 36 1 37 46 1.635
13 Yrs 178 137 .565 2.49 390 332 45 214 41 5 2730.0 2461 1039 754 39 817 1416 1.201
CHC (9 yrs) 151 105 .590 2.33 305 270 31 177 35 4 2216.1 1971 789 575 35 621 1138 1.169
NYY (4 yrs) 23 29 .442 3.18 73 54 10 33 6 1 432.2 415 217 153 4 153 229 1.313
WSH (1 yr) 4 3 .571 2.89 12 8 4 4 0 0 81.0 75 33 26 0 43 49 1.457
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/23/2014.

April 7 – Happy Birthday John McGraw

mcgrawSo much of the Yankees’ history is tied to the city of Baltimore. Not only was the franchise born in Maryland’s largest city, so was Babe Ruth, its biggest all-time star. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s legendary career sort of followed the same geographical route and like Ruth, McGraw’s childhood was not a happy one. His mom died when he was just 11-years old and his alcoholic father was ill-equipped to raise four children on his own. When McGraw was 12, his old man beat him so badly that the boy ran to an Inn, located across the street from his Truxton, NY home, for protection. Fortunately, he found it. The owner of the Inn ended up raising him as her own.

The young McGraw, again like Ruth, discovered an escape from his childhood miseries in baseball and became a very good player and pitcher for a local semi-pro ball club. He was good enough to earn roster spots with minor league teams, and in 1892, the 22-year-old McGraw, who was by then an infielder, made his debut with the Baltimore Orioles of the American Association, which was back then considered the major league of baseball. Over the next decade, he became a star for the Orioles, topping the .320 mark in batting average for nine straight seasons. Just five feet seven inches tall, he developed a playing style that was completely devoted to one primary goal, getting on base as often as humanly possible. He became so good at it that McGraw’s lifetime on base percentage of .466 places him third on the all-time list behind latter-day sluggers, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth.

McGraw and his Oriole teammates became one of baseball’s first dynasties, when they won three-straight league pennants during the mid 1890′s. A celebrated sports hero, he had found a home in B-town, even marrying a local girl. But when the Orioles’ ticket sales took a dip in the late 1890′s, the team’s owner tried to transfer all of his star players to a new franchise he was starting in Brooklyn in 1899. McGraw refused to make the move and remained in Baltimore as the roster-raped club’s skipper. He impressed everyone by leading a team that had lost its entire starting lineup and its best pitchers to an 82-65 record. But during September of that ’99 season, McGraw’s wife died from a ruptured appendix. When the financially troubled Orioles collapsed the following year, McGraw’s reasons for wanting to stay in Baltimore were gone and he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Just one year later, the new American League was formed and McGraw accepted an offer to become the first manager and part owner of the AL’s Baltimore Orioles franchise. He then led the first team in Yankee franchise history to a 68-65 record during the 1901 season, but in the process constantly battled with Ban Johnson, who had founded and ran the new league. When McGraw was suspended by Johnson during the following season, the second-year skipper accepted a new position to manage the National League’s New York Giants team. That single move changed the course of history for two of baseball’s most fabled franchises.

This is the guy responsible for the brand new Yankee Stadium getting constructed. Why?  Because without McGraw the original Yankee Stadium might never have been built in the first place. The Yankees moved into the Polo Grounds as a co-tenant with McGraw’s Giants in 1914. The Giants were the better team back then, consistently winning or challenging for the NL pennant. They also outdrew the Yankees in attendance every year. That all changed in 1920, however, when Babe Ruth put on the Pinstripes for the first time. Suddenly, a Yankee game became the hottest ticket in town and McGraw didn’t like the change. Little Napoleon evicted the Yankees and they moved across the East River to their new home, the original Yankee Stadium, in 1923.

McGraw was considered the best baseball mind of his generation. His teams won ten NL pennants and four World Series. He was an outstanding judge of talent and a fiery, no-nonsense leader. He still holds the record for most wins by a National League manager with 2,669. He died in 1934 at the age of 60.

McGraw shares his April 7th birthday with this former New York first baseman, this former Yankee pitcher and this one too.

McGraw’s stats as a player:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1901 BLA 73 308 232 71 81 14 9 0 28 24 61 6 .349 .508 .487 .995
1902 BLA 20 84 63 14 18 3 2 1 3 5 17 6 .286 .451 .444 .896
16 Yrs 1099 4940 3924 1024 1309 121 70 13 462 436 836 155 .334 .466 .410 .876
BLN (9 yrs) 848 3929 3163 840 1063 94 55 10 392 369 642 123 .336 .461 .410 .871
NYG (5 yrs) 59 172 132 15 32 0 0 0 6 9 31 11 .242 .412 .242 .654
BLA (2 yrs) 93 392 295 85 99 17 11 1 31 29 78 12 .336 .496 .478 .974
STL (1 yr) 99 447 334 84 115 10 4 2 33 29 85 9 .344 .505 .416 .921

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/23/2014.

McGraw’s stats as a manager:

Rk Year Age Tm Lg W L W-L% G Finish
2 1901 28 Baltimore Orioles AL 68 65 .511 135 5
3 1902 29 Baltimore Orioles AL 1st of 2 26 31 .456 58 8
Baltimore Orioles 1 year 86 62 .581 152 4.0
Baltimore Orioles 2 years 94 96 .495 193 6.5
New York Giants 31 years 2583 1790 .591 4424 2.5
33 years 2763 1948 .586 4769 2.8
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/23/2014.

April 6 – Happy Birthday Ken Clay

clayKenny Clay’s most famous moment in pinstripes was not a positive one. He had started a home game against the Royals in September of 1979 and was quickly staked to a 5-0 lead. By the time Billy Martin pulled him in the third inning, the lead had shrunk to one run and the Yankees ended up losing that contest 9-8. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was livid after the loss and when reporters asked him what he thought about Clay’s performance, the Boss told them that his once-prized pitching prospect had “spit the bit.”

Just four years earlier, Kenny Clay had been considered a can’t miss future member of the team’s starting rotation. The hard-throwing right-hander had put together a 28-18 record at the Triple A level of the minors but he could never duplicate that success in the big leagues. In three separate trials in the Bronx he was 6-14. After blowing that game in Kansas City and finishing the ’79 season with a horrible 1-7 record, Steinbrenner had seen enough and he traded Clay to Texas for Gaylord Perry during the 1980 season. Old Gaylord went 4-4 for New York the rest of that year while Clay was going 2-3 for the Rangers. Clay’s failure at the big league level gave the Boss even more impetus to turn to free agency and trades instead of his own farm system when the Yankees needed pitching talent.

Turns out that Clay had a bad habit of disappointing his employers. In 1986, he was convicted for stealing $30,000 from Jostens Inc. The company makes class rings for high schools and colleges and had hired Clay as a salesman. He escaped jail by making restitution and doing community service. In 1992 he stole a car from the car dealership he worked for and served hard time for that crime. In 1999 he went back to jail for forgery. Six years later, he forged the sale of a copier in an attempt to obtain a $7,500 commission check and ended up back in the slammer.

Clay is not the only one-time Yankee prospect to be born on April 6th. This first baseman and this Hawaiian-born outfielder both were considered top Yankee prospects in the first decade of the 21st century, but like Clay, neither made much of an impact as a Yankee or as a big leaguer.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1977 NYY 2 3 .400 4.37 21 3 11 0 0 1 55.2 53 32 27 6 24 20 1.383
1978 NYY 3 4 .429 4.28 28 6 13 0 0 0 75.2 89 41 36 3 21 32 1.454
1979 NYY 1 7 .125 5.40 32 5 17 0 0 2 78.1 88 49 47 12 25 28 1.443
5 Yrs 10 24 .294 4.68 111 36 43 0 0 3 353.2 389 208 184 35 141 129 1.499
NYY (3 yrs) 6 14 .300 4.72 81 14 41 0 0 3 209.2 230 122 110 21 70 80 1.431
TEX (1 yr) 2 3 .400 4.60 8 8 0 0 0 0 43.0 43 24 22 4 29 17 1.674
SEA (1 yr) 2 7 .222 4.63 22 14 2 0 0 0 101.0 116 62 52 10 42 32 1.564
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/23/2014.