May 2013

May 21 – Happy Birthday Hank Johnson

hankjohnsonThis right-hander was just 19 years old when he made his big league debut for Miller Huggins’ Yankees in April of 1925. The legendary New York skipper was impressed enough with the youngster’s stuff that he got him into 24 ballgames that season, mostly as a reliever. But the native of Bradenton, Florida wasn’t quite ready for prime time and he spent the next two years back in the minors.

Huggins brought Johnson back up to begin the 1928 season and inserted him into a Yankee starting rotation that included two Hall of Famers in Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock, plus 20-game winner George Pipgras. The kid was able to hold his own with that impressive group, finishing the year with a very good 14-9 record. That mark was no doubt boosted by the powerful 1928 Yankee lineup because Johnson’s 4.30 ERA and his league-leading 104 walks that season indicated he did not dominate opposing lineups. He then sat in the Yankee dugout watching his teammates sweep the Cardinals in the ’28 World Series. In fact, New York used just three pitchers during that entire Fall Classic as Hoyt won two complete game starts and Pipgras and Tom Zachary each got one.

He went just 3-3 in 1929 and then bounced back with a 14-11 record in 1930 and a 13-8 mark in ’31. But his control problems continued as he walked over 100 hitters in each of those seasons. Meanwhile, Huggins had tragically died from an eye infection in 1929 and after his successor, Bob Shawkey led New York to a third place finish in 1930, Joe McCarthy had taken over the team. He had stuck with Johnson in his rotation through the 1931 season but he was impressed by a 27-year-old rookie named Johnny Allen during the Yanks’ 1932 spring training camp.  When Johnson got off to just a so-so start that year Marse Joe had seen enough. He was traded to the Red Sox on June 5, 1932 and Johnny Allen went on to win 17 games for New York in his rookie season. When Hank Johnson left the Bronx, his career ERA for New York of 4.79 was the highest of any Yankee pitcher with more than 500 innings pitched. It still is today.

Johnson spent the next three years starting and relieving for the Red Sox and continuing to walk too many hitters and allow too many runs. After a horrible three game tenure with the A’s he went back down to the minors to try and find the strike zone. He never did.

When Johnson was a kid, he used to pick oranges out of the groves near his home and try to throw them across Florida’s Braden River. He always credited that activity with giving him the arm strength necessary to pitch in the big leagues.

Johnson shares his May 21st birthday with this former Yankee third baseman and this one-time Yankee back-up catcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1925 NYY 1 3 .250 6.85 24 4 16 2 1 0 67.0 88 58 51 3 37 25 1.866
1926 NYY 0 0 18.00 1 0 1 0 0 1 1.0 2 2 2 0 2 0 4.000
1928 NYY 14 9 .609 4.30 31 22 2 10 1 0 199.0 188 107 95 16 104 110 1.467
1929 NYY 3 3 .500 5.06 12 8 1 2 0 0 42.2 37 28 24 5 39 24 1.781
1930 NYY 14 11 .560 4.67 44 15 19 7 1 2 175.1 177 112 91 12 104 115 1.603
1931 NYY 13 8 .619 4.72 40 23 11 8 0 4 196.1 176 114 103 13 102 106 1.416
1932 NYY 2 2 .500 4.88 5 4 1 2 0 0 31.1 34 18 17 7 15 27 1.564
12 Yrs 63 56 .529 4.75 249 116 81 45 4 11 1066.1 1107 665 563 89 567 568 1.570
NYY (7 yrs) 47 36 .566 4.84 157 76 51 31 3 7 712.2 702 439 383 56 403 407 1.551
BOS (3 yrs) 16 15 .516 4.72 69 37 15 14 1 3 310.2 359 200 163 28 141 145 1.609
PHA (1 yr) 0 2 .000 7.71 3 3 0 0 0 0 11.2 16 16 10 4 10 6 2.229
CIN (1 yr) 0 3 .000 2.01 20 0 15 0 0 1 31.1 30 10 7 1 13 10 1.372
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/20/2013.

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.