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.

May 28 – Happy Birthday Bob Kuzava

The 1951 New York Yankees had both Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle in their lineup. They had MVP winner Yogi Berra and Rookie of the Year Gil McDougald in it too. Their pitching staff included Vic Raschi, Ed Lopat and Allie Reynolds who together won 59 games that season. But it was a 28 year old WWII veteran named Bob Kuzava who provided the spark that led the Bombers to the AL Pennant that season and the World Championship.

Kuzava was acquired by New York from the Senators, just before midseason that year. He started eight games for the Yankees and relieved in 15 others. He won eight times but more importantly, got five saves during the second half of that season. He then relieved Johnny Sain in the ninth inning of the sixth and final game of that year’s World Series after the Giants had rallied to pull within one run. Kuzava retired the next three batters to earn the save.

One year later, in the seventh game of the 1952 series, after Vic Raschi had loaded the bases with Brooklyn Dodgers, Casey Stengel gave Kuzava the ball again with a 4-2 lead with one out in the seventh inning. The southpaw reliever got the first batter he faced, Duke Snider to hit a harmless popup to the infield for the second out and he then thought he had gotten Jackie Robinson to do the same thing. But the October wind was swirling at Brooklyn’s Ebbets’ field that afternoon and it grabbed Robinson’s ball and started making it dance and flutter. The entire Yankee infield seemed frozen in their tracks when at the last moment, Billy Martin came streaking in from his second base position to snare the ball, inches from the ground, right beside Kuzava and the pitching mound. That catch is considered a great moment in Yankee franchise history. What gets lost in that same history some times is the fact that “Sarge” Kuzava had just gotten two future Hall of Famers to pop up to the infield with the bases loaded and then went on to pitch two more innings of hitless and scoreless relief to preserve another Yankee World Championship.  All in a day’s work I guess.

Kuzava was born in Wyandotte, WI, on May 28, 1923. He pitched in pinstripes until June of 1954 when he was released. His Yankee regular season record was 23-20 with 14 saves and also 4 complete games shutouts. But it was those two October saves that defined his Yankee career.

Update: The above post was originally written in May of 2011. Though most of his Yankee teammates knew him by the nickname “Sarge,” Kuzava also had another alias, given to him by the late great Red Sox second baseman, Johnny Pesky. When both were still playing in the big leagues, Kuzava had once induced Pesky to hit a slow roller back to the pitcher and as Kuzava fielded the ball he heard Pesky scream at him “You white rat!” The new nickname sort of stuck with the pitcher. Years later, Pesky had been hired as a player-coach by the Yankees for their Denver Bears team in the American Association. One of the players’ on the Bears’ roster that year was Herzog. When Pesky saw him, he told the future Hall-of-Fame manager that he was the spitting image of Bob Kuzava. I’m sure Kuzava, who’s still living in his native Michigan and turns 90-years-old today, has no regrets about losing his “White Rat” nickname too Herzog.

Kuzava shares his May 28th birthday with another modern day Yankee reliever.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1951 NYY 8 4 .667 2.40 23 8 13 4 1 5 82.1 76 27 22 5 27 50 1.251
1952 NYY 8 8 .500 3.45 28 12 9 6 1 3 133.0 115 53 51 7 63 67 1.338
1953 NYY 6 5 .545 3.31 33 6 12 2 2 4 92.1 92 35 34 9 34 48 1.365
1954 NYY 1 3 .250 5.45 20 3 6 0 0 1 39.2 46 30 24 3 18 22 1.613
10 Yrs 49 44 .527 4.05 213 99 58 34 7 13 862.0 849 427 388 54 415 446 1.466
NYY (4 yrs) 23 20 .535 3.39 104 29 40 12 4 13 347.1 329 145 131 24 142 187 1.356
WSH (2 yrs) 11 10 .524 4.34 30 30 0 11 1 0 207.1 213 114 100 13 103 106 1.524
CLE (2 yrs) 2 1 .667 3.74 6 6 0 1 1 0 33.2 31 17 14 1 20 13 1.515
BAL (2 yrs) 1 4 .200 4.00 10 5 3 0 0 0 36.0 40 18 16 0 15 20 1.528
CHW (2 yrs) 11 9 .550 4.39 39 25 5 10 1 0 201.0 182 104 98 11 118 104 1.493
PIT (1 yr) 0 0 9.00 4 0 1 0 0 0 2.0 3 2 2 0 3 1 3.000
PHI (1 yr) 1 0 1.000 7.24 17 4 7 0 0 0 32.1 47 26 26 5 12 13 1.825
STL (1 yr) 0 0 3.86 3 0 2 0 0 0 2.1 4 1 1 0 2 2 2.571
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/28/2013.

May 27 – A Memorial Day Yankee Tribute

No Yankee past or present celebrates a birthday on May 27th and since its Memorial Day, I thought it would be fitting to recognize two well-known Yankees who made significant contributions to the US War effort during WWII.

hank_bauer1The first is the great outfielder from the great Yankee teams of the late forties and fifties, Hank Bauer. While still a minor leaguer in the White Sox organization, Hank enlisted in the Marines in 1942 and he spent the next three years of his life battling malaria, storming the beaches of islands in the Pacific and leading a battalion of men in fierce jungle fighting with a merciless enemy. During the deadly Battle of Okinawa, Lieutenant Bauer lost 58 of the 64 marines in his platoon during the Japanese counterattack. He was awarded two bronze stars and a pair of purple hearts. He also lost a brother, Herman, who was killed in action in France in November of 1944. When Bauer returned home, he figured his chance at playing baseball had passed him by and he became a pipe-fitter. A scout for the Yankees remembered Bauer and signed him to contract. It took Bauer three years to make it to the Bronx and by the time he did, in 1948, he was already 26 years old. But when he finally did put on those pinstripes, he played the game like he lived his life, hard at it all the time.

houk

After signing with New York as a minor league catcher in 1939, former Yankee manager, Ralph Houk joined the Army a few weeks after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. He attended officers’ candidate school and didn’t get sent overseas until July of 1944. That October, Houk and his reconnaissance unit got their first taste of combat during the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded in the leg but refused to leave the battle front. His commanding officer sent Houk out alone in a jeep to go behind the enemy’s lines and scout German troop positions. He returned three days later with bullet holes in both sides of his helmet. One of the first American soldiers to step foot in Germany, Houk led several dangerous missions against key enemy positions in the 9th Armored Division’s march through the Rhineland. He won both a silver and bronze star plus a purple heart. He left the Army a Major and that rank then became his well-known and respected baseball nickname until he passed away in July of 2010.

May 26 – Happy Birthday Travis Lee

Jason Giambi’s nightmare Yankee season of 2004 represented an opportunity for Travis Lee. The Yankee brass loved Lee’s glove at first base and all they wanted from him was good defense and decent at bats. So they signed him to a one year, two-million-dollar deal even though they had already signed veteran first baseman Tony Clark a few weeks earlier. But Lee hurt his shoulder in spring training and began the season on the DL. He ended up appearing in just seven games for New York that year. Instead, it was the switch-hitting Clark who became Giambi’s “designated glove” and started the most games at first base for the Yankees that season. Lee ended up back with Tampa Bay the following year and out of baseball all together following the 2006 season.

Update:  The above post was originally written in 2011. Lee left baseball because he said he had no passion left for the game. The Nationals had invited him to their 2007 spring training camp to try and win the starting first baseman’s job that was vacant as a result of one of former Yankee, Nick Johnson’s numerous injuries. Lee evidently walked into the Washington GM’s office one day and asked for his unconditional release, got it and went home.

I can remember when Lee broke into the big leagues with Arizona in 1998 because that was the Diamondbacks’ very first year in the league and former Yankee skipper Buck Showalter was in charge of baseball’s newest team on the field. The 23-year-old Lee was one of that historic squad’s bright spots, belting 151 hits, tying for the team lead in home runs with 22 and finishing third in that year’s NL Rookie of the Year Award behind Todd Helton and that year’s winner, former Yankee Kerry Wood.

Lee shares his May 26th birthday with the only Yankee ever to bat 1.000 during a pinstripe career that consisted of more than a single at bat.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2004 NYY 7 20 19 1 2 1 0 0 2 0 1 3 .105 .150 .158 .308
9 Yrs 1099 4233 3740 476 958 191 16 115 488 59 457 704 .256 .337 .408 .745
ARI (3 yrs) 338 1316 1161 162 292 49 4 39 162 30 150 219 .252 .336 .401 .737
TBD (3 yrs) 388 1442 1289 164 336 70 7 42 150 18 141 236 .261 .333 .424 .757
PHI (3 yrs) 366 1455 1271 149 328 71 5 34 174 11 165 246 .258 .343 .402 .745
NYY (1 yr) 7 20 19 1 2 1 0 0 2 0 1 3 .105 .150 .158 .308
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/26/2013.

May 25 – Happy Birthday John Montefusco

John Montefusco was good at fast starts. In his September 3, 1974 Major League debut for San Francisco, he was called in from the bullpen in the visitor’s half of the first inning with the Giants trailing their arch rivals, the Dodgers, 4-2. Not only did he go on to pitch nine innings of one-run relief to get the win, he also homered in his first-ever big league at bat against the LA knuckleballer, Charlie Hough. Then in 1975, his official rookie season, Montefusco went 15-9 with a 2.88 ERA to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. The young right-hander became the talk of baseball and was even turned into baseball royalty when sportscaster Al Michaels gave the Long Branch, NJ native the nickname “The Count.”

Montefusco continued his outstanding pitching during his sophomore season with 16 wins, a 2.84 ERA, getting selected to his first and only All Star team and leading the league with six shutouts. But in those first two seasons he had also pitched 500 innings of baseball and although he would have some decent years during the rest of his professional career, he would never again be the pitcher he was in 1975 and ’76 in San Francisco.

The injuries began in 1977 and by 1981, the Giants had traded him to the Braves, where he won just two games that season and pitched just 77 innings. Still, when he became a free agent at the end of that year, the Padres signed him. Montefusco won 10 games during his first season in a Padres uniform and was 9-4 in August of the following year when the Yankees acquired him in a trade for a player to be named later and couple of hundred thousand of George Steinbrenner’s dollars. (The player to be named later turned out to be Dennis Rasmussen.)

That 1983 Yankee team was trying to catch Baltimore in the AL East Pennant race and they were hoping Montefusco would strengthen their starting rotation. He certainly did that. The Count put together one of his patented fast starts for New York and I remember it very well. He got six starts down the stretch and won all five of his decisions. The Yankees couldn’t catch Baltimore but it wasn’t Montefusco’s fault and Bronx Bomber fans were hoping he’d continue his winning ways the following year. The Yankee front office was more than hoping, they were betting on it. They gave the pitcher a 4-year, $3 million contract that October. But by then, he was 34 years-old and his right arm had just about quit on him. He went 5-3 in 84 and then spent the rest of his Yankee contract on the DL.

When he retired, he got involved in harness horse racing as a driver and owner. He also became a minor league pitching instructor for the Yankees. Then in 1997, his name was back in the New York tabloid headlines when he was convicted of assaulting his wife.

Update:  The above post was originally written in 2011. After finally being acquitted of the most serious assault charges made by his ex-wife, it was reported that Montefusco told the judge he would never be a defendant in a court room again for any kind of offense. The Count actually spent two years in jail after being arrested on those charges because he reportedly couldn’t afford bail. He then became a pitching coach for an independent minor league club based in Somerset, New Jersey, that was managed by former Yankee, Sparky Lyle. He quit that job in 2005. Montefusco’s Yankee seasonal stats and big league career totals are listed at the end of this post.

I’ve also put together a lineup of some of the most notable players who have played for both the Yankees and Giants during their big league careers:

SS – Hal Lanier
Mgr – John McGraw

Other notable Yankee/Giants include: Jack Clark, Dave Kingman, Felipe Alou, Matty Alou, and JT Snow.

The Count shares his March 25th birthday with this former switch-hitting Yankee outfielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1983 NYY 5 0 1.000 3.32 6 6 0 0 0 0 38.0 39 14 14 3 10 15 1.289
1984 NYY 5 3 .625 3.58 11 11 0 0 0 0 55.1 55 26 22 5 13 23 1.229
1985 NYY 0 0 10.29 3 1 1 0 0 0 7.0 12 8 8 3 2 2 2.000
1986 NYY 0 0 2.19 4 0 1 0 0 0 12.1 9 3 3 2 5 3 1.135
13 Yrs 90 83 .520 3.54 298 244 17 32 11 5 1652.1 1604 728 650 135 513 1081 1.281
SFG (7 yrs) 59 62 .488 3.47 185 175 2 30 11 0 1182.2 1143 514 456 90 383 869 1.290
NYY (4 yrs) 10 3 .769 3.75 24 18 2 0 0 0 112.2 115 51 47 13 30 43 1.287
SDP (2 yrs) 19 15 .559 3.77 63 42 9 2 0 4 279.2 271 131 117 23 73 135 1.230
ATL (1 yr) 2 3 .400 3.49 26 9 4 0 0 1 77.1 75 32 30 9 27 34 1.319
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/24/2013.

May 24 – Happy Birthday Bartolo Colon

I remember the first and only time I saw Bartolo Colon pitch live. It was a late season night game in 2000 at Yankee Stadium. The only Yankee hit he allowed that evening was an eighth inning single by Luis Polonia who was then immediately erased on a double play ground ball. I know he had at least a dozen strikeouts that night as he bested Roger Clemens and threw a complete game shutout. When I walked into Yankee Stadium that evening, I was looking forward to watching one of the best pitchers in baseball perform. As I left that evening, I realized I had just witnessed two.

Colon came up with the Indians in 1997 and spent his first five-plus seasons pitching for Cleveland. Just before the trading deadline of the 2002 season, the Indians decided to trade the Dominican right-hander to Montreal for four prospects including Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore. His record was 10-4 before the trade and he went 10-4 after it, giving Colon his first 20-victory season in the big leagues. Knowing that Colon would be a free agent following the 2003 season and realizing they could never sign him, Montreal traded him to the White Sox. He pitched one year in the Windy City became a free agent and signed a four-year, $50 million deal to pitch for the Angels. He looked like a bargain after the first two seasons of that contract during which he won 39 games including his second 20-victory season and the AL Cy Young Award in 2005. But he tore his rotator cuff pitching against the Yankees in the 2005 playoffs and he spent the next five years recovering from that injury and trying to regain his form.

In January of 2011, the Yankees signed him and told him he could compete for the fourth and fifth spots in the Yankee rotation. He won neither but pitched well enough in spring training to start the year as New York’s long reliever. When Phil Hughes fell apart last April, Colon took his spot in the rotation and pitched very well. By July 2 of last year his record was 6-3 and his ERA just 2.88. He would fade down the stretch and not get re-signed by the Yankees after the 2011 postseason, but I for one will always be grateful for Bartolo Colon’s contribution to that year’s Yankee team.

Update: The above post was originally written in 2011. Since that time, Colon has signed two consecutive one-year contracts to pitch for the Oakland A’s. Last year, he was helping Manager Bob Melvin’s team become the AL West’s surprising division-winner, when in late-August of 2012, he was suspended by Major League Baseball for the use of the MLB-banned substance, testosterone. His record was 10-9 at the time of that suspension. Colon admitted he used the stuff, apologized and then signed with Oakland to pitch for them again in 2013.

It seems that as far as the use of performance enhancing drugs by active MLB players is concerned, the best response for continuing your career unabated after a positive test occurs is to admit your guilt, apologize and serve your suspension. If you attempt to deny it, even for a week or so, as the Giants’ Melky Cabrera did last year when he was having an MVP-type season for the Giants, you’ll be shunned by your team and its fans and forced to find employment elsewhere (Unless of course you hire Ryan Braun’s legal team to get the test results thrown out.)

Colon’s record thus far in 2013 is 4-2. He turns 40-years-old today.

He shares his May 24th birthday with this former Yankee catcher named “Ellie.” No not that “Ellie.”

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2011 NYY 8 10 .444 4.00 29 26 0 1 1 0 164.1 172 85 73 21 40 135 1.290
16 Yrs 175 124 .585 4.05 390 384 0 33 10 0 2447.2 2457 1204 1102 301 777 1863 1.321
CLE (6 yrs) 75 45 .625 3.92 162 160 0 15 6 0 1029.2 984 483 448 109 419 873 1.363
LAA (4 yrs) 46 33 .582 4.66 96 95 0 3 1 0 586.2 633 328 304 90 154 422 1.341
OAK (2 yrs) 14 11 .560 3.66 33 33 0 1 1 0 206.2 217 88 84 24 27 121 1.181
CHW (2 yrs) 18 19 .486 3.93 46 46 0 9 0 0 304.1 292 149 133 43 88 211 1.249
BOS (1 yr) 4 2 .667 3.92 7 7 0 0 0 0 39.0 44 23 17 5 10 27 1.385
MON (1 yr) 10 4 .714 3.31 17 17 0 4 1 0 117.0 115 48 43 9 39 74 1.316
NYY (1 yr) 8 10 .444 4.00 29 26 0 1 1 0 164.1 172 85 73 21 40 135 1.290
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/24/2013.

May 23 – Happy Birthday Buck Showalter

Many Yankee fans, including me, were livid at George Steinbrenner after the 1995 season. We had just gone through two strike-shortened baseball seasons at the very same time our Yankees were on the verge of once again becoming baseball’s best team. Don Mattingly had just had a wonderful playoff series against Seattle and although the Yankees lost that series three games to two, we were convinced that in Buck Showalter, the Yankees had the right manager to lead them back to post season prosperity.

Then the Boss lowered the boom. The Yankees did not try to convince Donnie Baseball to continue playing and instead acquired Tino Martinez to play first base. Just as upsetting was the firing of Showalter who was replaced by the nice guy but perennial loser as a manager, Joe Torre.

It is amazing how a little thing like winning four World Championships in a five year period can help you let bygones be bygones. And come to think of it, Buck Showalter never seemed to be having any fun. And why the heck did he always wear that completely zipped-up Yankee jacket in the dugout, even when the temperature was in the nineties?

Seriously, Buck Showalter restored a sorely needed level of low-key professionalism to the Yankee dugout after the Billy Martin-to-Stump Merrill era of merry-go-round managers. His record as Yankee skipper was 313-268. He went on to manage both the Diamondbacks and Rangers and was a two-time AL Manager of the Year winner. He is now skippering the Baltimore Orioles back to respectability.

Update: The above post was last updated in May of 2011. Since that time, Showalter’s Orioles have made it back to the postseason and once again become one of the Yankees’ most competitive rivalries. Baltimore finished in second place just two games behind New York in the AL East in 2012 and then gave the Bronx Bombers everything the could handle in the 2012 ALDS before finally losing in five games.

Another Yankee manager was also born on May 23rd as was this former Yankee catcher who was once pegged as Bill Dickey’s eventual successor.

Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
1 1992 36 New York Yankees AL 162 76 86 .469 4
2 1993 37 New York Yankees AL 162 88 74 .543 2
3 1994 38 New York Yankees AL 113 70 43 .619 1
4 1995 39 New York Yankees AL 145 79 65 .549 2
New York Yankees 4 years 582 313 268 .539 2.3
Arizona Diamondbacks 3 years 486 250 236 .514 3.0
Texas Rangers 4 years 648 319 329 .492 3.3
Baltimore Orioles 4 years 426 220 206 .516 3.8
15 years 2142 1102 1039 .515 3.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/23/2013.

May 22 – Happy Birthday Tommy John

Tommy john YSLMy wife dragged me to a performance of Les Miserables at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady, NY several years ago. I was not a fan of the place because the seats were built for munchkins and there was absolutely no way for a person my size to get comfortable. Plus if you’re familiar with the epic play about the French Revolution, you know I was not in for a night of excitement and laughs.

Sure enough, as soon as the curtain opened I started fidgeting and with my knees crammed against the seat in front of me, both of my legs quickly went to sleep. I was just about to close my eyes and force myself into a numbing nap when I heard my wife whisper, “That’s that Yankee pitcher’s son singing.” I opened up my program and sure enough, one of the lead characters was Tommy John’s boy. I think it was Travis and he had an absolutely amazing voice.

In spite of this connection to my all-time favorite baseball team, my legs were getting prickly, the lady next to me was pushing my arm off the armrest and I spent the rest of the evening in a painful agony. I remember how good it felt when the final curtain came down and we were able to get up and start walking toward the theater’s exit. As we crawled along with the large crowd approaching the door leading outside, I noticed a man leaning against the wall in the corner nearest me. As I passed him I smiled and told him that his son had a wonderful voice. Tommy John smiled and mouthed back the words “Thank you.”

I liked Tommy John when he pitched for the Yankees but I liked him even more when I saw him that night at Proctor’s Theater. After all, John is 6’3″ tall just like me so I know his legs were sore too. I knew then and there that in addition to being a great pitcher, Tommy was also a good father.

John may be most famous for the surgery (ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction) named after him but he was a pretty good Yankee pitcher too. He had two twenty-victory seasons with New York during his first stay in the Bronx and then went 13-6 for them as a 44-year old in 1987. One of the things that most surprised me when I was doing research for this post was finding out that Tommy won more games as a Yankee (91) than he did for the Dodgers (87) or White Sox (82.) As of right now, those 91 wins place him in the 20th spot on the Yankees’ all-time career wins list. He has more wins as a Yankee than Roger Clemens (83), Bob Turley, David Wells (68) or Catfish Hunter (64) were ever able to achieve in pinstripes.

John was born in Terre Haute, Indiana on May 22, 1943, the only member of the Yankee all-time roster to be born on today’s date. I was also surprised to find out that there were not too many former Yankee all-star-level players born in Indiana. The best of the Hoosier-born Yankees were Don Mattingly, Don Larsen and John.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1979 NYY 21 9 .700 2.96 37 36 1 17 3 0 276.1 268 109 91 9 65 111 1.205
1980 NYY 22 9 .710 3.43 36 36 0 16 6 0 265.1 270 115 101 13 56 78 1.229
1981 NYY 9 8 .529 2.63 20 20 0 7 0 0 140.1 135 50 41 10 39 50 1.240
1982 NYY 10 10 .500 3.66 30 26 2 9 2 0 186.2 190 84 76 11 34 54 1.200
1986 NYY 5 3 .625 2.93 13 10 2 1 0 0 70.2 73 27 23 8 15 28 1.245
1987 NYY 13 6 .684 4.03 33 33 0 3 1 0 187.2 212 95 84 12 47 63 1.380
1988 NYY 9 8 .529 4.49 35 32 2 0 0 0 176.1 221 96 88 11 46 81 1.514
1989 NYY 2 7 .222 5.80 10 10 0 0 0 0 63.2 87 45 41 6 22 18 1.712
26 Yrs 288 231 .555 3.34 760 700 22 162 46 4 4710.1 4783 2017 1749 302 1259 2245 1.283
NYY (8 yrs) 91 60 .603 3.59 214 203 7 53 12 0 1367.0 1456 621 545 80 324 483 1.302
CHW (7 yrs) 82 80 .506 2.95 237 219 5 56 21 3 1493.1 1362 573 490 99 460 888 1.220
LAD (6 yrs) 87 42 .674 2.97 182 174 6 37 11 1 1198.0 1169 460 396 64 296 649 1.223
CAL (4 yrs) 24 32 .429 4.40 85 76 3 14 1 0 489.1 610 263 239 42 125 143 1.502
CLE (2 yrs) 2 11 .154 3.61 31 17 1 2 1 0 114.2 120 63 46 11 41 74 1.404
OAK (1 yr) 2 6 .250 6.19 11 11 0 0 0 0 48.0 66 37 33 6 13 8 1.646
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/22/2013.