May 2013

May 31 – Happy Birthday Kenny Lofton

George Steinbrenner probably stopped being a big Bernie Williams’ fan during the 1998 off-season. That was when his All Star center fielder successfully leveraged a free agent offer from the hated Red Sox to get the Boss to reluctantly OK an eight year contract for Bern-Baby-Bern, costing about 100 million Yankee dollars. When the team won the next two World Series after that signing, Steinbrenner must have felt a bit better and in fact, Bernie continued his All Star caliber play for the first four years of his new deal. But in 2003, Williams got hurt and his numbers dropped precipitously. After Florida beat New York in that year’s World Series, it was George Steinbrenner who ordered the Yankee front-office to go out and sign free agent, Kenny Lofton because the Boss felt he was the guy who could replace Williams as the Yankee center fielder. Joe Torre, however, had other ideas.

Lofton was indeed a great player. During most of first decade as a big leaguer, he had been the starting center fielder in Cleveland, where he had won four Gold Gloves, five consecutive AL stolen base titles, and averaged over .300. He also had a much stronger arm than Bernie and though he lacked Williams power, he was a run-scoring machine.

At the time New York signed him, however,  Lofton was 36 years old. He was also  two years older than Williams. He had failed to hit .300 his previous four seasons and had played on five different teams during the three previous years. Kenny’s best days were clearly behind him by the time he put on the pinstripes.

Torre therefore felt justified in sticking with Williams as his starting center fielder in 2004, but when Bernie did not have the bounce back year he was hoping for, the “play Lofton” lobby in the Yankee front office and media grew louder. Lofton himself tried not to stir the controversy, insisting he would do anything he was told, even park cars at Yankee Stadium, just to be a part of the team. He kept telling reporters he joined the Yankees to win a ring. But before too long, subtle complaints about his lack of playing time were finding their way to the media.

In the end, Lofton played just 83 games during his one season as a Yankee. After the Yankees suffered their historic collapse against the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS, they traded Lofton to Philadelphia for a relief pitcher and probably would have traded Bernie too if they could find a team willing to pay a lions share of the $12 million they still owed him.

Kenny Lofton stuck around for three more seasons, retiring after the 2007 season. He ended his long and distinguished career with a .299 batting average, over 2,400 hits, 622 lifetime stolen bases but no rings.He was born on May 31, 1967, in East Chicago, Indiana.

Update: The above post was originally written in 2011. In 1992, Lofton finished second to a Milwaukee Brewer shortstop named Pat Listach in that season’s AL Rookie of the Year voting. Beginning in 1993, Kenny made six consecutive AL All Star teams and was never again selected to play in another mid-season classic. When he became eligible for Cooperstown consideration in 2013, he received just 3.2% of the vote which caused his name to be dropped from subsequent ballots. When asked about his low vote total, Lofton told a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter that he blamed steroids for keeping him out of the Hall of Fame, explaining that because so many of his contemporaries used PEDs to pad their lifetime statistics, his own numbers looked less significant. Here’s a lineup of former Cleveland Indians’ players who also played for the Yankees during their big league career:

1b – Chris Chambliss
2b – Joe Gordon
3b – Graig Nettles
ss – Woodie Held
c – Ron Hassey
of – Rocky Colavito
of – Kenny Lofton
of – Charley Spikes
dh – Travis Hafner
p – CC Sabathia
p – Sam McDowell
p – Luis Tiant
p – Bartolo Colon
cl – Bob Wickman
rp – Dick Tidrow
mgr – Bob Lemon

Lofton shares today as a birthday with this former Yankee relief pitcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2004 NYY 83 313 276 51 76 10 7 3 18 7 31 27 .275 .346 .395 .741
17 Yrs 2103 9235 8120 1528 2428 383 116 130 781 622 945 1016 .299 .372 .423 .794
CLE (10 yrs) 1276 5767 5045 975 1512 244 66 87 518 452 611 652 .300 .375 .426 .800
PIT (1 yr) 84 374 339 58 94 19 4 9 26 18 28 29 .277 .333 .437 .770
SFG (1 yr) 46 205 180 30 48 10 3 3 9 7 23 22 .267 .353 .406 .758
PHI (1 yr) 110 406 367 67 123 15 5 2 36 22 32 41 .335 .392 .420 .811
ATL (1 yr) 122 564 493 90 164 20 6 5 48 27 64 83 .333 .409 .428 .837
TEX (1 yr) 84 363 317 62 96 16 3 7 23 21 39 28 .303 .380 .438 .818
LAD (1 yr) 129 522 469 79 141 15 12 3 41 32 45 42 .301 .360 .403 .763
CHC (1 yr) 56 236 208 39 68 13 4 3 20 12 18 22 .327 .381 .471 .852
NYY (1 yr) 83 313 276 51 76 10 7 3 18 7 31 27 .275 .346 .395 .741
HOU (1 yr) 20 79 74 9 15 1 0 0 0 2 5 19 .203 .253 .216 .469
CHW (1 yr) 93 406 352 68 91 20 6 8 42 22 49 51 .259 .348 .418 .766
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/31/2013.

May 30 – Happy Birthday Lou McEvoy

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was a fastball pitcher who saw a lot of action out of the Yankee bullpen way back in 1930. McEvoy was a big right-hander who was born In Williamsburg, KS on May 30, 1902. After he won 22 games for the 1929 Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast league, the Yankees purchased his contract. Miller Huggins had died during the 1929 season and former Yankee pitcher, Bob Shawkey was named manager the following year. Shawkey liked McEvoy’s heater and called on the 28-year-old rookie to pitch in 28 games that season. He got his one and only big league win against the Browns that year, when Yankee shortstop Lyn Lary belted four hits and drove in five runs to help New York and his former Oakland Oak teammate get the come-from-behind victory. Lary was also responsible for McEvoy’s marriage as well. Lary had been spiked so badly during a PCL game that he required a hospital stay. McEvoy and two additional Oakland players all came to visit Lary and incredibly during that visit, all three met nurses who they later married.

That 1930 Yankee team finished a disappointing third and Shawkey was fired and replaced by Joe McCarthy. Lou McEvoy only appeared in six games for New York during the 1931 season. McCarthy sent him back to the PCL that July and he never appeared in another big league game. A few years later he hung up his glove for good and became a rancher. He died of cancer in 1953.

Update: The above post was originally written in 2010. I’ve since learned that because McEvoy had a good fastball and played for the Yankees, he was selected to help cadets at the US Military Academy at nearby West Point conduct an experiment designed to determine the speed at which a big leaguer could throw a baseball. The experiment took place during the 1930 regular season. His New York teammate, shortstop Mark Koenig was also asked to participate.  A device of some sort was used to determine that when a baseball left McEvoy’s hand, it was traveling at 150 feet per second (which equates to over 102 miles per hour). This was much faster than previously thought. Balls thrown by Koenig were determined to be traveling at a slower rate of speed.

The only other Yankee born on this date is this two-time 20-game winner.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1930 NYY 1 3 .250 6.71 28 1 15 0 0 3 52.1 64 51 39 4 29 14 1.777
1931 NYY 0 0 12.41 6 0 3 0 0 1 12.1 19 17 17 1 12 3 2.514
2 Yrs 1 3 .250 7.79 34 1 18 0 0 4 64.2 83 68 56 5 41 17 1.918
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/30/2013.

May 29 – Happy Birthday David Fultz

FultzThe name David Fultz means absolutely nothing to Yankee fans today, but just about a century ago, this native of Staunton, Virginia was Bo Jackson, Tim Tebow and Marvin Miller rolled into one extremely gifted and motivated human being. He played football and baseball at Brown, was named captain of both teams and achieved All-American status in both sports. In fact, his record for career points and touchdowns on the gridiron at the Ivy League school stood for 100 years. In addition to being a superb athlete, Fultz was also the epitome of a perfect gentleman, refusing to drink alcohol, smoke tobacco or curse. He was also a devout enough Christian that he had clauses written into both his pro baseball and pro football contracts that stated he could not be forced to play in games that took place on Sundays.

Fultz began his big league career with the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies in 1898 and eventually moved over to Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s teams in the newly formed American League. In 1903, the New York Highlanders purchased his contract from Mack.

Fultz was considered to be one of the very best outfielders in baseball in his prime. He also wielded a better than average bat. His best year was as an A in 1902, when he averaged .302, led the league in scoring with 109 runs and finished second in stolen bases with 44 thefts. By the time he came to New York, the many leg injuries he had sustained during his football career were taking their toll. He played in just 176 games during his first two seasons as a Highlander and attended Columbia Law School during the offseason. The 1904 Highlander team surprised everyone by winning 92 games and finishing just a game and a half behind the first place Red Sox. Fultz made key contributions to that team’s success as the fourth outfielder, averaging .274 in 94 games of action.  He then became a starter on the 1905 Highlander squad that finished a disappointing sixth in the AL standings as just about the entire lineup including Fultz, slumped badly from the previous year.

That winter, Fultz got his law degree and quit baseball for good. He opened a practice in New York City and in 1912, was the driving force behind the formation of Major League Baseball’s first players union. Called the Players Fraternity, the group threatened to strike in 1917 but the work stoppage was avoided when the team owners granted some concessions demanded by Fultz. The union was disbanded during WWI.

In addition to playing big league baseball, professional football and practicing law, Fultz coached collegiate football at the University of Missouri and NYU and also coached baseball at the US Naval Academy and Columbia. He was a first lieutenant in the US Army Air Service during WWI and later became active in both New York City and New York State politics. Talk about a boring life. He lived until 1959, passing away at the age of 84.

Fultz shares his birthday with this former Yankee first basemanthis former Yankee utility player and this one-time Yankee third baseman.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1903 NYY 79 335 295 39 66 12 1 0 25 29 25 21 .224 .295 .271 .567
1904 NYY 97 382 339 39 93 17 4 2 32 17 24 29 .274 .324 .366 .690
1905 NYY 129 482 422 49 98 13 3 0 42 44 39 47 .232 .308 .277 .585
7 Yrs 644 2713 2393 369 648 84 26 3 223 189 201 185 .271 .332 .331 .664
NYY (3 yrs) 305 1199 1056 127 257 42 8 2 99 90 88 97 .243 .309 .304 .613
PHI (2 yrs) 21 66 60 7 12 2 2 0 5 2 6 7 .200 .273 .300 .573
PHA (2 yrs) 261 1217 1067 204 317 37 14 1 101 80 94 65 .297 .357 .361 .718
BLN (1 yr) 57 231 210 31 62 3 2 0 18 17 13 16 .295 .342 .329 .671
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/29/2013.