May 2013

May 20 – Happy Birthday Tom Morgan

MorganOne of the things the Yankees did not seem to need after winning the 1950 World Series was starting pitching. Their rotation was loaded with the glorious triumvirate of Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat,15-game winner Tommy Byrne and a cocky rookie southpaw named Whitey Ford. But Ford would miss the entire 1951 season to military service and Byrne, who always had control problems suddenly couldn’t find the plate. That made room in the rotation for a rookie Yankee left-hander named Tom Morgan. Casey Stengel let the 20-year-old native of El Monte, California start 16 times during that ’51 season and he went 6-3 in those games, including two shutouts. He also relieved in 11 other games that year and earned two saves.

Morgan credited two guys for helping him become a successful big league pitcher. The first was his younger brother Dick, who became a minor league catcher himself. Tom would spend hours throwing a baseball to his sibling in the yard of their California home and he credited those sessions  for helping him master control of his very good fastball. He also used to say that his Yankee pitching coach, Jim Turner was instrumental in helping him master both a sidearm curve and change up, giving him the confidence he needed to throw those pitches whenever he needed to at the big league level.

Morgan’s most distinctive physical trait was the way he walked. He’d bend his body at the waist, hunch his shoulders and take his steps slowly, looking as if he was always pulling something behind him. As a result, the Grand Annointer of pinstriped nicknames, Yankee announcer Mel Allen gave Morgan the nickname of “the Plowboy.”

Morgan started 12 more times in 1952 and then missed the entire ’53 season to military service. When he returned to action in 1954, Stengel began using him more out of the bullpen and he had his best season in pinstripes with an 11-5 record and a 3.34 ERA. He was then converted to a full-time reliever and over the next two seasons he saved 21 games for New York. But his ERA climbed dramatically in 1956 and the following February he was included in a humungous deal with the A’s that eventually caused 13 players to exchange uniforms.

After one year in Kansas City, Morgan spent two-and-a-half years with the Tigers and a half season as a Senator. The expansion Angels purchased him in 1961 and he surprised everyone by putting together two very strong years out of the Angels bullpen. He couldn’t keep the string going, however, and he was done as a player after the ’63 season. He then became a minor league pitching instructor with the Angels and scouted for the Yankees. He eventually became the Angels’ big league pitching coach and later held that same position with the Padres. Cy Young Award winners Nolan Ryan and Randy Jones credited Morgan with helping them become all star pitchers. He was still coaching at the minor league level when he suffered a stroke and died of a heart attack in 1987 at the age of 56.

Morgan shares his May 20th birthday with one of my favorite all-time Yankees, this very good Yankee pitcher, and this other Yankee pitcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP WHIP
1951 NYY 9 3 .750 3.68 27 16 7 4 2 2 124.2 119 56 51 11 36 57 3 1.243
1952 NYY 5 4 .556 3.07 16 12 3 2 1 2 93.2 86 34 32 8 33 35 4 1.270
1953 Did not play in major leagues (Military Service)
1954 NYY 11 5 .688 3.34 32 17 4 7 4 1 143.0 149 58 53 8 40 34 5 1.322
1955 NYY 7 3 .700 3.25 40 1 24 0 0 10 72.0 72 29 26 3 24 17 5 1.333
1956 NYY 6 7 .462 4.16 41 0 23 0 0 11 71.1 74 41 33 2 27 20 3 1.416
12 Yrs 67 47 .588 3.61 443 61 204 18 7 64 1023.1 1040 467 410 95 300 364 40 1.309
NYY (5 yrs) 38 22 .633 3.48 156 46 61 13 7 26 504.2 500 218 195 32 160 163 20 1.308
LAA (3 yrs) 13 4 .765 2.86 120 0 64 0 0 20 166.2 147 65 53 14 42 75 9 1.134
DET (3 yrs) 6 11 .353 3.81 107 2 49 0 0 11 184.1 197 93 78 24 32 83 7 1.242
WSH (1 yr) 1 3 .250 3.75 14 0 6 0 0 0 24.0 36 15 10 6 5 11 1 1.708
KCA (1 yr) 9 7 .563 4.64 46 13 24 5 0 7 143.2 160 76 74 19 61 32 3 1.538
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/20/2013.

May 19 – Happy Birthday Gil McDougald

bd6e9fb2-765d-41c5-a3fb-3ff54c36ef4aThe Yankee teams of the 1950s were among the best in the elite franchise’s illustrious history. Managed by Casey Stengel, they won eight of the decade’s ten possible Pennants and six World Championships. One of the key members of those great teams was a Scottish-American infielder, born in San Francisco by the name of Gil McDougald. Signed by the Yankees out of the University of San Francisco in 1948, McDougald tore up Minor League pitching, averaging .340 during his three-year climb through the Yankee farm system. He was brought up to the Bronx in 1951 along with a much more heralded Yankee rookie named Mantle. It was McDougald who won that season’s Rookie of the Year award with a .306 average. In that year’s World Series against the cross-town Giants, McDougald became the first rookie to hit a grand slam home run in Fall Classic history.

Stengel loved McDougald’s defensive versatility and took full advantage of it. During his career in the Bronx, the infielder played 599 games at second, 508 at the hot corner and another 284 at shortstop and was selected as an All Star at all three positions. He had a lifetime batting average of .276 and hit 112 regular season and seven World Series home runs.

Two line drives had tremendous impact upon McDougald’s career. The first came off the bat of Yankee teammate, Bob Cerv during batting practice before a game in August of 1955. McDougald was standing near second base and the ball struck him in the left ear. Even though no one realized it at the time, the resulting damage caused a gradual hearing loss that resulted in McDougald being almost completely deaf early on in his retirement years. In 1957, another line drive, this one off McDougald’s bat, hit Cleveland Indian pitching sensation, Herb Score square in the face. Score was never again the same pitcher and McDougald later admitted that the incident impacted his play as well.

After the Yankees suffered their heartbreaking loss to the Pirates in the 1960 World Series, the front office informed Gil that he would not be protected in the upcoming AL expansion draft. McDougald decided to call it quits at that time. He died in November of 2010, at the age of 82.

Gil shares his May 19th birthday with this one-time Yankee catcher and this former Yankee starting pitcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1951 NYY 131 473 402 72 123 23 4 14 63 14 56 54 .306 .396 .488 .884
1952 NYY 152 633 555 65 146 16 5 11 78 6 57 73 .263 .336 .369 .705
1953 NYY 141 614 541 82 154 27 7 10 83 3 60 65 .285 .361 .416 .777
1954 NYY 126 474 394 66 102 22 2 12 48 3 62 64 .259 .364 .416 .780
1955 NYY 141 615 533 79 152 10 8 13 53 6 65 77 .285 .361 .407 .768
1956 NYY 120 518 438 79 136 13 3 13 56 3 68 59 .311 .405 .443 .848
1957 NYY 141 625 539 87 156 25 9 13 62 2 59 71 .289 .362 .442 .804
1958 NYY 138 578 503 69 126 19 1 14 65 6 59 75 .250 .329 .376 .705
1959 NYY 127 481 434 44 109 16 8 4 34 0 35 40 .251 .309 .353 .661
1960 NYY 119 387 337 54 87 16 4 8 34 2 38 45 .258 .337 .401 .737
10 Yrs 1336 5398 4676 697 1291 187 51 112 576 45 559 623 .276 .356 .410 .766
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/19/2013.

May 18 – Happy Birthday Reggie Jackson

I remember it was the middle of the work week because I called in sick the next day. The Yankees were playing the Dodgers in the sixth game of the 1977 World Series at Yankee Stadium. It had been a crazy season because of Billy Martin’s intense dislike for Reggie Jackson. Reggie wasn’t an easy guy to warm up to if you didn’t have a microphone in your hand but every manager in baseball would have loved to had him sitting in the middle of their lineup back then. Every manager except Martin that is. The mercurial skipper and outspoken slugger despised each other.

In any event, on that night over thirty years ago, I witnessed one of the greatest World Series performances in the history of the Fall Classic. After walking on four straight pitches in his first at bat Jackson hit the next three pitches he saw that night from three different Dodger hurlers, for home runs. Bam. Bang. Boom. His last shot was the most prodigious, soaring high into the Bronx nighttime sky to straightaway center field onto the famous black tarp that provided the hitter’s background at the old Stadium.

I will never forget Jackson’s glee as he circled the bases after that third blast. How he patted the back of the helmet of on deck hitter Chris Chambliss as he crossed home plate and bounded down into the steps of the Yankee Stadium dugout being congratulated by teammates who both loved and despised him, including Manager Martin.

It was one of the great moments in baseball history, made even more intense by the Martin – Jackson feud and the fact that the always over-dramatic Howard Cosell was in the TV booth. After that game was over I could not go to sleep. It had been sixteen years since the Yankees won their last World Series and for a time there in the late sixties I didn’t think I’d ever see them win another one. But loud brash number 44 took care of all that with three swings of the bat. Reggie, who was born in Wyncote, PA, turns 67 years old today. Nicknamed Mr. October for his ability to dominate games in the postseason (Jackson played in five World Series during his career,) Reggie ironically shares his birthday with a catcher who literally seemed to disappear when his Yankee teams played in World Series.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1977 NYY 146 606 525 93 150 39 2 32 110 17 74 129 .286 .375 .550 .925
1978 NYY 139 581 511 82 140 13 5 27 97 14 58 133 .274 .356 .477 .834
1979 NYY 131 537 465 78 138 24 2 29 89 9 65 107 .297 .382 .544 .926
1980 NYY 143 601 514 94 154 22 4 41 111 1 83 122 .300 .398 .597 .995
1981 NYY 94 382 334 33 79 17 1 15 54 0 46 82 .237 .330 .428 .758
21 Yrs 2820 11418 9864 1551 2584 463 49 563 1702 228 1375 2597 .262 .356 .490 .846
OAK (10 yrs) 1346 5432 4686 756 1228 234 27 269 776 145 633 1226 .262 .355 .496 .851
CAL (5 yrs) 687 2721 2331 331 557 87 6 123 374 14 362 690 .239 .343 .440 .782
NYY (5 yrs) 653 2707 2349 380 661 115 14 144 461 41 326 573 .281 .371 .526 .897
BAL (1 yr) 134 558 498 84 138 27 2 27 91 28 54 108 .277 .351 .502 .853
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/18/2014.

May 17 – Happy Birthday Del Webb

DELWEBBMost of the Yankees’ most successful (World Series-winning) owners were born with silver spoons in their mouths. That’s certainly the case with the Steinbrenner brothers, Hank and Hal who inherited the team from their father and with “the Boss” himself, who’s dad left him the American Shipbuilding Company.   Jacob Ruppert’s dad gave his son a thriving beer brewery. The spoon in Dan Topping’s mouth when he was born was actually made of tin because his grandfather on his mom’s side was one of the largest owner of tin mines in the entire world.

The only Yankee owner to win a World Series who wasn’t born with money was Topping’s partner, Del Webb. Webb entered this world on May 17, 1899 in Fresno, California and actually started out wanting to be a ballplayer. He quit high school to become a carpenter’s apprentice and play semipro baseball. In his late twenties he came down with typhoid fever and moved to Phoenix, AZ because doctors told him the drier climate would help him recover from the dreaded disease. He brought his tool-box with him to his new desert home and started his own one-man construction company. He might not have made it as a baseball player but he grew that little construction company into one of the largest and most diversified construction, real estate development and property management firms in the country. When WWII broke out, he got the contract to build the infamous Poston War Relocation Center, the Arizona-based internment camp that was home to 17,000 Japanese Americans. His company, Del Web Corporation, built and managed huge retirement communities, resort hotels, major league ballparks and Las Vegas casinos.

On January 26, 1945, Webb and Topping along with Larry MacPhail Sr. purchased the Yankees from the estate of Ruppert for $2.8 million. The plan was for Webb and Topping to treat the purchase as an investment and rich man’s hobby and let MacPhail run the thing. But when legendary Yankee skipper, Joe McCarthy quit because he couldn’t stand his new boss and his successor, Bill Dickey did likewise, Topping and Webb bought out MacPhail and took full control of the franchise.

Webb often said his most significant contribution to the team was convincing Casey Stengel to leave his job as a manager of the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League to become Yankee skipper in 1949. Stengel’s successor as New York manager, Ralph Houk absolutely adored Webb and the feeling was mutual.

Topping and Webb maintained ownership of the franchise for two decades during which the Yankees captured fifteen pennants and ten world championships, still the most successful twenty year period in the club’s history. They sold it to CBS in August of 1964 for $11million. Del Webb had become an extremely wealthy man by knowing when to buy and when to sell a property and he certainly made the right calls when he decided to purchase and then dump his Yankee shares. He died from lung cancer on July 4, 1974. Married twice he had no children. In 2001, the Del Webb Corporation was purchased by a company called Pulte Homes.

Webb shares his birthday with this former Yankee DHthis former Yankee pitcher and this one too.

May 16 – Happy Birthday Jim Mecir

mecirJim Mecir did not compile extraordinary numbers during his eleven-season career as a big league reliever, but it was a remarkable career nonetheless. This Bayside, New York native was born with two club feet. He underwent a series of surgeries as a child that helped correct much of the defect, but the procedures left him with an atrophied right calf, a fused right ankle and a right leg that was about an inch shorter than his left. Despite all that, he somehow managed to become a successful pitcher in Major League Baseball and I consider that achievement absolutely amazing!

Mecir was drafted in the third round of the 1991 MLB Amateur Draft by Seattle. He spent his first three seasons in the Mariner system being groomed as a starter but was switched to the bullpen after the 1993 season. He made his big league debut in 1995 with two relief appearances for Seattle. That December, he and Jeff Nelson accompanied Tino Martinez to the Bronx in a mini-blockbuster that sent Yankees Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis to Seattle.

During the next two seasons Joe Torre inserted Mecir into 51 Yankee games. He went a combined  1-5 with an ERA in the mid five’s which explains why New York left him off both their 1996 and ’97 postseason rosters. In September of 1997, the Yankees sent  Mecir to Boston to complete an earlier deal. Two months later he got a break when the Red Sox left him unprotected in the 1997 AL Expansion Draft and he was selected by Tampa Bay.

He found his groove with the Devil Rays and he went a combined 14-4 for them in 1998 and most of ’99 until he was traded to Oakland. Mecir pitched for the A’s until 2004 and then spent a year with the Marlins before hanging up his glove for good.

Due to his physical deformity, Mecir employed an unorthodox pitching motion and it was often said that the strange delivery actually helped increase the movement on his signature screwball. Today he serves as a motivational speaker.

Mecir shares his birthday with this former Yankee manager, this former Yankee starting pitcher and this other former Yankee starting pitcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R HR BB SO WHIP
1996 NYY 1 1 .500 5.13 26 0 10 0 0 0 40.1 42 24 6 23 38 1.612
1997 NYY 0 4 .000 5.88 25 0 11 0 0 0 33.2 36 23 5 10 25 1.366
11 Yrs 29 35 .453 3.77 474 0 126 0 0 12 527.0 482 240 41 225 450 1.342
OAK (5 yrs) 13 21 .382 3.91 246 0 55 0 0 11 250.2 242 121 20 104 225 1.380
TBD (3 yrs) 14 5 .737 3.03 123 0 36 0 0 1 154.1 118 54 8 69 125 1.212
NYY (2 yrs) 1 5 .167 5.47 51 0 21 0 0 0 74.0 78 47 11 33 63 1.500
SEA (1 yr) 0 0 0.00 2 0 1 0 0 0 4.2 5 1 0 2 3 1.500
FLA (1 yr) 1 4 .200 3.12 52 0 13 0 0 0 43.1 39 17 2 17 34 1.292
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/15/2013.