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.
|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|
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.
The 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.
|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|
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.
|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|
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.
The 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.
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.