June 2013

June 23 – Happy Birthday Jim Deshaies

deshaiesThe Yankees stopped making postseason play after the 1981 season because they did not have starting pitching that was good enough to beat some very good Toronto, Boston, Detroit and Milwaukee ball clubs. With a lineup that featured Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and Ricky Henderson in their prime, they would not have needed a rotation filled with Sandy Koufax’s to make at least a couple more postseason runs during the 14 straight seasons they failed to make the playoffs. Just a few more quality starters from that era would have done the trick; guys like Doug Drabek, Jose Rijo, Al Leiter, Bob Tewksbury and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Oh wait a minute. I forgot. All these guys were Yankees before the George Steinbrenner dominated front-office traded them away for players who would contribute next-to-nothing during their years in pinstripes.

Jim Deshaies was a huge left-hander from Massena, NY. He had played collegiate baseball at LeMoyne, a Division II school outside of Syracuse, NY where he teamed with another future big-league southpaw named Tom Browning to lead the Dolphins to two consecutive college World Series appearances. The Yankees drafted him in the 21st round of the 1982 amateur draft and over the next four seasons he put together a 38-21 record with 11 shutouts and a sub-three ERA as he ascended New York’s minor league ladder. Everybody who saw this kid pitch back then thought he’d be perfect for Yankee Stadium.

He made his big league debut there in 1984 and though he got shelled by the White Sox and took the loss (giving up 8 hits and 4 earned runs in 4 innings pitched) Deshaies did make history  that afternoon. He became the 1,000th Yankee to appear in a big league ball game. Six days later, Yankee skipper Yogi Berra gave him his second start in Cleveland and Deshaies got shelled again. That would be his final appearance ever for New York. The following September he was traded to the Astros for knuckleballer Joe Niekro, who’s older brother Phil was also a Yankee at the time and was just about to win the 300th game of his career. Though the trade made it possible for Joe to be the first guy to congratulate his sibling for his landmark victory, the younger Niekro made little impact during his tenure as a Yankees, going just 14-15 before being traded to the Twins in June of 1987.

Meanwhile, Deshaies went 12-5 for the Astros in 1986 and would win a total of 49 games during his first four seasons in Houston. During his official rookie season he also set a record by striking out the first eight batters he faced in a game, the first time that had been done by a Major League pitcher in over 100 years. His best year was 1989, when he finished with a 15-10 record, a career low 2.91 ERA and 3 shutouts. By contrast, the 1989 Yankee starting rotation featured Andy Hawkins with his 15-15 record and four other journeymen who put together a cumulative won-loss mark of just 21-25.

That 1989 season turned out to be the last time DeShaies was able to produce a winning record. He pitched in the big leagues until 1995 and two years later he became a Houston Astro broadcaster, a job he still holds. He shares his birthday with another former Yankee prospect from the 1980sthis one-time Yankee starting catcher and this legendary Yankee GM.

1984 NYY 0 1 .000 11.57 2 2 0 0 0 0 7.0 14 9 9 1 7 5 3.000
12 Yrs 84 95 .469 4.14 257 253 1 15 6 0 1525.0 1434 743 702 179 575 951 1.317
HOU (7 yrs) 61 59 .508 3.67 181 178 0 14 6 0 1102.0 960 479 449 113 423 731 1.255
MIN (2 yrs) 17 25 .405 5.71 52 52 0 1 0 0 297.2 329 194 189 54 105 158 1.458
SFG (1 yr) 2 2 .500 4.24 5 4 1 0 0 0 17.0 24 9 8 2 6 5 1.765
PHI (1 yr) 0 1 .000 20.25 2 2 0 0 0 0 5.1 15 12 12 3 1 6 3.000
SDP (1 yr) 4 7 .364 3.28 15 15 0 0 0 0 96.0 92 40 35 6 33 46 1.302
NYY (1 yr) 0 1 .000 11.57 2 2 0 0 0 0 7.0 14 9 9 1 7 5 3.000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/22/2013.

Join the Pinstripe Birthday Daily Trivia Question List

Want a cool Yankee fan way to start your day? Sign up for the Pinstripe Birthday Daily Trivia Question. On just about every day of the year, a member of the all-time Yankee family celebrates a birthday. My daily trivia question will alert you to that birthday and ask you a trivia question that has an answer that is somehow related to that day’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant. It’s sort of like a combination daily Yankee trivia quiz and franchise history lesson wrapped into one and it doesn’t cost a penny to participate!

Use the form below to tell me you want your name and e-mail address added to the Pinstripe Daily Trivia Question e-Mailing List.

June 21 – Happy Birthday Spencer Adams

Spencer_AdamsIt was a few weeks before Christmas in 1925 and Yankee manager Miller Huggins had just arrived in New York City and spent the morning in a meeting with team owner, Jake Ruppert to discuss personnel needs for the upcoming season. The previous year had been a disaster for the Yankees and Huggins. The shipwreck of a season had gotten off on an ominous note after Babe Ruth began partying as soon as New York was eliminated from the 1924 AL Pennant race and didn’t stop until he collapsed in the Asheville, NC railroad station, when the Yankee team was heading north for Opening Day at the conclusion of their 1925 spring training camp. The “Big Bam” had boozed, eaten and screwed his body into a complete state of physical and mental exhaustion and it would take the entire first two months of the 1925 regular season to get him healthy enough to return to action. By then, the Yankees were already well below .500, on their way to finishing the year with a dismal 69-85 record and an embarrassing seventh-place finish in the AL standings.

Ruth’s near-death experience had done something Huggins had been trying to do since the Sultan of Swat had joined the team in 1920. It scared the hell out of him and convinced the game’s all-time greatest slugger to spend the 1925 offseason in a New York City gym, where he got his abused body into the best shape of his career. For the first time since Huggins had become Ruth’s manager, the skipper could enter a Yankee spring training camp without worrying about the impact of Ruth’s prodigious physical excesses on his team’s Pennant hopes. So as he exited his meeting with Ruppert that morning at the Yankee offices on Manhattan’s West 42nd street and was surrounded by reporters eager to find out what his thoughts were for the upcoming season, the player uppermost on the diminutive field general’s mind was today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.

Huggins told the reporters that the Yankees biggest need for the upcoming 1926 season was an infielder, and he had one specifically targeted that he had discussed with Ruppert earlier that morning. The only clue he shared was that the player he was thinking of could field like a “fiend” and hit much better than Huggins ever did during the manager’s own playing days as an NL second baseman.  As they pressed him for the player’s identity, they began suggesting names of big league infielders and Huggins would deny each until someone shouted, “What about Spencer Adams?” When Huggins ignored the question and said nothing, the reporters felt they had their answer. A month and a half later, the Yankees confirmed it.

A native of Utah, Adams was one of the first Mormons to play Major League Baseball. He had made his big league debut with the Pirates in 1923 and had spent the 1925 season as a utility infielder for the AL Champion Washington Senators. As Huggins had described, Adams was a very good defensive infielder and his .273 batting average with Washington indicated he could handle a bat just fine. But when he got to the Yankee spring training camp in St. Petersburg that winter, he got his first glimpse of his competition for the team’s starting second baseman’s job. It was this Italian kid from San Francisco by the name of Tony Lazzeri. At first, Huggins played Lazzeri at short and had Adams platooning with Aaron Ward at second. Another Yankee prospect from San Francisco by the name of Mark Koenig was proving to be a much better defensive shortstop than Lazzeri, so by the end of the first week of the 1926 regular season, Huggins had Lazzeri with his booming bat starting at second, the smooth fielding Koenig at short and Adams ended up riding the pine alongside Huggins in the Yankee dugout.

The infielder would appear in just 28 games that year and make just 28 plate appearances, which probably explains why he forgot how to hit. Adams averaged just .120 that season, but he did appear in his second straight World Series that October, again on the losing side as the Yanks lost the 1926 Fall Classic to the Cardinals. With two talented youngsters like Lazzeri and Koenig ensconced as starters in the middle of their infield, the Yankees sold Adams to the Browns after his first and only season in the Bronx was over. He played his last big league game with St. Louis in 1927.

He shares a birthday with this great Yankee starting pitcher and this one-time Yankee phee-nom.

1926 NYY 28 28 25 7 3 1 0 0 1 1 3 7 .120 .214 .160 .374
4 Yrs 180 451 395 61 101 16 5 0 38 5 38 50 .256 .324 .322 .646
WSH (1 yr) 39 65 55 11 15 4 1 0 4 1 5 4 .273 .333 .382 .715
PIT (1 yr) 25 62 56 11 14 0 1 0 4 2 6 6 .250 .323 .286 .608
NYY (1 yr) 28 28 25 7 3 1 0 0 1 1 3 7 .120 .214 .160 .374
SLB (1 yr) 88 296 259 32 69 11 3 0 29 1 24 33 .266 .333 .332 .665
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/21/2013.

June 18 – Happy Birthday Russ Hodges

Yes, the same Russ Hodges who made the famous call of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World,” was once the number 2 man in the Yankee broadcast booth behind Mel Allen. Back in the forties, the Yankees and the New York Giants did radio broadcasts of only their home games and since the two teams were never scheduled to play at home at the same time, the clubs shared announcers. In 1949, both teams started broadcasting road games as well and ended the practice of sharing play-by-play personalities. Allen stuck with the Yankees and Hodges the Giants, which is why on October 3, 1951, it was Hodges who was in the Polo Grounds radio booth screaming those famous words out over the air waves; “The Giants win the pennant” The Giants win the pennant!” Hodges remained the voice of the Giants for 21 years until his death in 1971. He was inducted into Cooperstown as the 1980 winner of the Ford Frick Award. Hodges was actually one of two eventual Frick Award winners to make the live call on Thomson’s historic blast. The other was the late, great Ernie Harwell who was doing the television play-by-play of that legendary game.

The only member of the Yankee all-time roster to be born on June 18th is this former reliever.

June 17 – Happy Birthday Bill Bergesch

Bill-Bergesch.jpgxAfter winning a Purple Heart in WWII during the invasion of Italy, Bill Bergesch returned home, used the GI Bill to to get his business degree and began a long career as a baseball executive by accepting a job in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league organization. Ten years later he made his indelible contribution to that franchise when he became the guy who signed the great pitcher, Bob Gibson.

He was promoted to Cardinal’s scouting coordinator in 1959 and then was hired by the Kansas City A’s as an assistant GM, where he worked for the franchise’s new, slightly off-kilter owner, Charley Finley. He was hired by the Mets the following year to help that brand new franchise create its minor league organization from scratch and in 1964, was hired by the Yankees to serve as the team’s traveling secretary and manager of Yankee Stadium. He then changed sports, accepting front office positions with two Big Apple soccer teams. It was as GM of the New York Cosmos that Bergesch signed Brazilian superstar Pele out of retirement.

He then changed professions and industries, leaving sports and going to work for the next decade as a venture capitalist. By then, George Steinbrenner had taken over the Yankees and hired Bergesch as the team’s scouting director in 1978 and then promoted him to vice president of baseball operations a couple of years later. This was right during the time that “the Boss” was in his most tyrannical state as owner of the Yankees. In fact, Steinbrenner decided that he could be his own general manager, so he pointedly refused to give Bergesch that title. As it turned out, perhaps “hatchet man” would have been an even better one.

Regardless if it was devastating young Yankee prospects like Dave Righetti by unexpectedly demoting them back to the minors, firing Bob Lemon or Yogi Berra as skippers even though they each had been promised full years in the job or reminding established veterans like Tommy John that they were being paid too much money to have a bad outing, it was Bergesch who would be sent to deliver the ill-timed news from George. In fact, I remember thinking that Bergesch had as tough and thankless a job as Richard Nixon’s chief-of-staff did after the Watergate break in was discovered.

Before too long, Bergesch had carried out so many unpleasant Steinbrenner-directed edicts that he became a very unpopular guy in the Yankee clubhouse. The problem was that even though he was doing what George told him to do, the Boss would blame the poor guy whenever any of the things he did back fired or caused negative press, which happened about three times a week back then. It was the ultimate no-win situation.

The irony was that Bergesch genuinely liked Steinbrenner and enjoyed their friendship. He cited this as the reason why he had decided to leave the Yankees in 1984. He told the press he needed to go in a different direction. Unfortunately for Bergesch, that direction turned out to be working for the one owner in baseball who was capable of acting even more irrationally than Steinbrenner did at the time. Bergesch became the GM of Marge Schott’s Cincinnati Reds.

Not only did Bergesch value his friendship with the Boss, the feeling was mutual and when Steinbrenner entered a much more rational period of his tenure as Yankee owner in the early nineties, he brought Bergesch back to serve as Gene Michael’s assistant in 1990. The grateful executive would remain part of the Yankee family and good friends with George for the rest of their days. Bergesch passed away in 2011 at the age of 89.

Bergesch shares his June 17th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder.