May 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, and also this first voice of the Yankees,

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.