June 2013

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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
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 20 – Happy Birthday Bill Werber

bill_werberhWhen he died in January of 2009, today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was 100 years old. He had become the oldest living MLB player and his book, Memories of a Ballplayer, co-written with baseball historian, Paul Rogers in 2001, represented his eye witness account of what playing in the big leagues was like back in the 1930s.

Werber’s Major League career actually began back in 1927, when he was a freshman at Duke University, where he was a brilliant athlete (the first Duke basketball player to be named All American) and a brilliant student (he graduated Phi Beta Kappa.) The legendary scout, Paul Krichell signed the first year collegian  to a Yankee contract and had him spend a couple of weeks during that ’27 season sitting on the bench of the famed Murderers Row team to pick up some knowledge of the game. According to Werber, he hated those two weeks because everybody simply ignored him.

He didn’t make it back to Yankee Stadium until 1930 when he got called up in June and appeared in three games at short and one at third for Manager Bob Shawkey’s team. He went 2-3 in his first big league start and also became Babe Ruth’s bridge partner on the train rides during Yankee road trips. Werber and Ruth would play partners against Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey and Werber remembered in his book, how Babe used to drink a bottle of Seagrams during those contests, gradually getting drunker and nastier as the game progressed.

Werber spent the 1932 season back in the minors and then was promoted back to the parent club when the ’33 season started, but not for long. The Yankees had a ton of left-side infielders in their organization back then, so they sold the native of Berwyn, Maryland to the Red Sox. That was the break Werber’s career needed. By 1934, he had become Boston’s starting third baseman and that year he reached the 200 hit mark for the first and only time of his career and led the AL with 40 stolen bases while batting .321. He ended up winning a total of three AL stolen base titles. Werber played until 1942 and finished his 11-year career with a .271 batting average and 1,363 career hits. He won a World Series ring in 1940 with the Reds. He was instrumental in Cincinnati’s victory in that seven game Fall Classic, as he smacked ten hits and batted .370.

Update: The above post was last updated in June of 2011. Since that time I have learned that when Werber left baseball in 1942, he sold life insurance for his father’s company. He evidently was pretty good at it because during his first year in that new career he earned over $100,000. When he retired from his second career he was a millionaire. I also learned from an interview with Werber published in a 2008 edition of the New York Times, that he was not Ruth’s bridge partner on those long-ago Yankee train rides but instead it would be him and Dickey versus the Bambino and Gehrig.  According to Werber, Babe and the Iron Horse weren’t too bright so he and Dickey would always win the $3.50 pot from card games. When Werber walked in his first ever Yankee at bat, Ruth came up behind him and hit a home run. Werber decided to take the opportunity to show his teammates just how fleet afoot he was and ran around the bases as fast as he could in front of Babe. When Ruth caught up to him in the dugout, he patted the rookie on top of the head and told him, “Son, you don’t have to run like that when the Babe hits one.

Here are Werber’s Yankee and career player stats:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1930 NYY 4 17 14 5 4 0 0 0 2 0 3 1 .286 .412 .286 .697
1933 NYY 3 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
11 Yrs 1295 5842 5024 875 1363 271 50 78 539 215 701 363 .271 .364 .392 .756
BOS (4 yrs) 529 2372 2045 366 575 130 25 38 234 107 268 154 .281 .367 .425 .792
CIN (3 yrs) 399 1847 1601 276 435 79 12 21 151 45 212 110 .272 .362 .375 .738
PHA (2 yrs) 262 1175 992 177 273 53 11 18 139 54 167 76 .275 .381 .405 .786
NYY (2 yrs) 7 19 16 5 4 0 0 0 2 0 3 1 .250 .368 .250 .618
NYG (1 yr) 98 429 370 51 76 9 2 1 13 9 51 22 .205 .308 .249 .557
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/20/2013.

June 19 – Happy Birthday Lou Gehrig

gehrigIf Yankee Stadium was a church June 19th would be a holy day of obligation for Yankee fans. The “Iron Horse” was Major League Baseball’s all-time greatest first baseman and perhaps the greatest athlete ever to be born in the Big Apple. In 17 years with New York he batted .340 lifetime and in seven World Series, he averaged .361. Lou had thirteen straight seasons in which he drove in and scored at least 100 runs. Along with his achievements on the ball field, his untimely illness, the grace with which he handled his misfortune, and his early death made Gehrig a true American hero.

Ruth, DiMaggio, and Mantle were each truly great Yankees on the field who lived unhappy, personal lives. I always found it ironic that Gehrig, the Yankee legend with an extremely strong marriage and idyllic private life, never got the opportunity to enjoy his retirement years.

Update: I originally wrote the above post in June of 2008. Since that time I learned something I never knew about Gehrig. I had always thought that after he was diagnosed with ALS at the Mayo Clinic, he simply returned to his home in the Bronx and waited to die. But Gehrig, who would live until June 2, 1941, over two years after his fatal diagnosis, actually accepted Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s appointment to the New York City Parole Commission in October of 1939. The appointment was for a ten-year-term and the position paid a salary of $5,700 per year. Besides sympathy for one of his city’s sports heroes, LaGuardia’s rationalization for selecting the Iron Horse for this job was sound. The Mayor was quoted in the New York Times after making the announcement, “I believe that he will not only be an able and intelligent commissioner but that he will be an inspiration and a hope to many of the younger boys who had gotten into trouble. Surely the misfortune of some of the young men will compare as something trivial with what Mr. Gehrig has so cheerfully and courageously faced.” LaGuardia went on to say that Gehrig had told him he wanted to dedicate his remaining days to public service and the Yankee legend meant what he said. Gehrig showed up for work regularly and did not stop doing so until just a month before he died, when he became to weak to leave his home.

Gehrig shares his birthday with another former Yankee first baseman.

Here are Gehrig’s incredible regular season statistics as a Yankee player:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1923 NYY 13 29 26 6 11 4 1 1 9 0 2 5 .423 .464 .769 1.234
1924 NYY 10 13 12 2 6 1 0 0 5 0 1 3 .500 .538 .583 1.122
1925 NYY 126 497 437 73 129 23 10 20 68 6 46 49 .295 .365 .531 .896
1926 NYY 155 696 572 135 179 47 20 16 109 6 105 73 .313 .420 .549 .969
1927 NYY 155 717 584 149 218 52 18 47 175 10 109 84 .373 .474 .765 1.240
1928 NYY 154 677 562 139 210 47 13 27 142 4 95 69 .374 .467 .648 1.115
1929 NYY 154 694 553 127 166 32 10 35 126 4 122 68 .300 .431 .584 1.015
1930 NYY 154 703 581 143 220 42 17 41 174 12 101 63 .379 .473 .721 1.194
1931 NYY 155 738 619 163 211 31 15 46 184 17 117 56 .341 .446 .662 1.108
1932 NYY 156 708 596 138 208 42 9 34 151 4 108 38 .349 .451 .621 1.072
1933 NYY 152 687 593 138 198 41 12 32 139 9 92 42 .334 .424 .605 1.030
1934 NYY 154 690 579 128 210 40 6 49 165 9 109 31 .363 .465 .706 1.172
1935 NYY 149 673 535 125 176 26 10 30 119 8 132 38 .329 .466 .583 1.049
1936 NYY 155 719 579 167 205 37 7 49 152 3 130 46 .354 .478 .696 1.174
1937 NYY 157 700 569 138 200 37 9 37 159 4 127 49 .351 .473 .643 1.116
1938 NYY 157 689 576 115 170 32 6 29 114 6 107 75 .295 .410 .523 .932
1939 NYY 8 33 28 2 4 0 0 0 1 0 5 1 .143 .273 .143 .416
17 Yrs 2164 9663 8001 1888 2721 534 163 493 1992 102 1508 790 .340 .447 .632 1.080
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/19/2013.

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.

June 16 – Happy Birthday Ken Johnson

k.johnsonWhen I first started following the Yankees back in 1960, Major League Baseball was still in the two-league, sixteen-team format that it had been in since 1901. To finish last in an American or National League Pennant race had always meant your team had ended up in eighth place. By 1962 however, both the AL and then the NL had expanded to ten teams and suddenly finishing eighth no longer sounded as forlornly horrible as it had for big league franchises since the turn of the twentieth century. In fact, your team could actually finish ninth and still not be considered the worst team in the league.

The Yankees of course had developed a reputation for finishing in first place but in 1962, their new crosstown rivals, the Mets would begin battling their NL expansion brothers, the Houston Colt 45′s for ninth place bragging rights in the senior circuit. Neither team finished ninth in their 1962 inaugural seasons because Houston was able to surpass a woeful Chicago Cubs team that year and finish in eighth. But for the next four seasons, it was baseball’s first-ever-team based in Texas that won the NL race for ninth place over the Amazin’s and the reason was Houston had much better starting pitching than the Mets.

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was in the original starting rotation of that Houston expansion team. He joined Turk Farrell and Bob Bruce to give the Colt 45′s a solid trio of starters that made it tough to sweep a series against the early versions of this ball club. That 1962 Houston pitching staff had a 3.83 cumulative ERA (the Mets first year ERA was 5.04.)

Ken Johnson was the ace of that first Houston pitching staff. The native of West Palm Beach, FL had made his big league debut with the Kansas City A’s in 1958 and spent his first three years struggling to establish himself with that very bad A’s team. He ended up in Toronto in 1961, picking for an unaffiliated minor league team in the American Association, when he caught the eye of the Reds, who were at the time in the thick of the NL Pennant race. He joined the Cincinnati starting rotation and finished 6-2 for that NL Championship club. He actually got to pitch two-thirds of an inning of scoreless relief against the Yankees in the ’61 Series. Johnson thought he had found a home but the Cincinnati front office left him unprotected in the NL expansion draft and he became Houston’s 29th pick.

His four-year record with the Colt 45′s was 32-51 but his ERA while there was a very respectable 3.41. The Milwaukee Braves, in search of starting pitching during the 1965 season, acquired Johnson for Lee Maye. With a solid offense finally supporting him, the six foot four inch right hander went 40-25 during his first three seasons with the Braves. He slumped to 5-8 during his fourth year with the team and by 1969 he was 35-years-old.

The Yankees happened to be looking for a right-hander they could add to Ralph Houk’s bullpen and Johnson’s name came up. The Braves sold him to New York on June 10, 1969. He made his pinstriped debut one day after his 36th birthday, pitching two scoreless innings against the Tigers in relief of Mike Kekich. Four days later, Houk inserted him in the tenth inning of a game against the Red Sox and he got shelled and took the loss. It took him a couple of weeks to get used to his new surroundings but by July he had settled down and allowed just one earned run in his six appearances that month. Just as he was getting comfortable working in the Bronx however, Johnson was sold to the Cubs on August 11th.

Johnson’s most famous moment as a big leaguer took place on April 24, 1963, when he became the first MLB pitcher in history to toss and lose a nine-inning no-hitter. In the ninth inning of that Houston-Cincinnati Reds game, Pete Rose tried to break up the hitless performance by bunting for a hit. Johnson fielded the ball cleanly and quickly but his throw to first was wild and Rose advanced to second on the pitcher’s error. After Rose was sacrificed to third, he scored when Houston second baseman, Nellie Fox booted a ground ball and when his team couldn’t score in the bottom of the ninth, Johnson lost the game 1-0.

Johnson shares his June 16th birthday with this other former Yankee reliever and this former Yankee outfielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1969 NYY 1 2 .333 3.46 12 0 8 0 0 0 26.0 19 11 10 1 11 21 1.154
13 Yrs 91 106 .462 3.46 334 231 50 50 7 9 1737.1 1670 778 668 157 413 1042 1.199
ATL (5 yrs) 45 34 .570 3.22 130 104 13 26 3 3 769.2 746 317 275 72 155 390 1.171
KCA (4 yrs) 6 15 .286 5.03 52 9 19 2 0 3 143.0 148 92 80 21 60 96 1.455
HOU (4 yrs) 32 51 .386 3.41 113 106 4 19 3 1 690.2 660 311 262 49 151 471 1.174
MON (1 yr) 0 0 7.50 3 0 2 0 0 0 6.0 9 6 5 1 1 4 1.667
CHC (1 yr) 1 2 .333 2.84 9 1 3 0 0 1 19.0 17 8 6 2 13 18 1.579
CIN (1 yr) 6 2 .750 3.25 15 11 1 3 1 1 83.0 71 33 30 11 22 42 1.120
NYY (1 yr) 1 2 .333 3.46 12 0 8 0 0 0 26.0 19 11 10 1 11 21 1.154
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/16/2013.

June 15 – Happy Birthday Babe Dahlgren

dahlgrenTo understand the size of the target that was on the back of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant when he got his chance to play for the New York Yankees, I need you to picture a fictional modern-day scenario. Imagine if Derek Jeter comes back from his broken ankle this summer and after struggling at the plate for a few games, tragically breaks his ankle again. While they are carrying the Yankee Captain off the field the Stadium’s PA announcer introduces the new Yankee shortstop, a young prospect Brian Cashman has just traded for who’s name happens to be Billy Mattingly. Not only does this poor kid have to replace one Yankee legend, he’s got a last name that will remind every Yankee fan of another one every time it is seen or heard. Then to make that target on this young guy’s back even bigger, after he plays decently for the rest of the season, the Yankees trade him to the Braves, even though they have nobody any better than him to take over at short. When another big league GM asks Cashman why he got rid of Mattingly, Cashman tells him its because the just-traded player has a drinking problem.

Now let’s turn the above fictional scenario into a non-fictional historical account of what actually happened to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s baseball career. Substitute Lou Gehrig for Derek Jeter, instead of the new replacement player having the same last name as Donnie Baseball give him the same nickname as Babe Ruth. Now replace Brian Cashman’s name with the Yankee Hall-of-Fame managing legend, Joe McCarthy and instead of using alcohol as the substance being abused, make it marijuana. Do all that and you now will understand what happened to the once promising career of former Yankee first baseman, Babe Dahlgren.

This native of San Francisco had broken into the big leagues with the Red Sox in 1935, when he was just 23-years-old and put together a strong rookie season in Beantown. Then that winter, Boston acquired Philadelphia A’s slugging first baseman, Jimmie Foxx and Dahlgren spent almost all of his sophomore season on the Boston bench. Dahlgren probably realized his days as a Red Sox were numbered with Foxx playing his position, so imagine how he felt when he found out that his contract had been purchased by the Yankees just before the 1937 spring training camps opened. At least in Boston, Foxx liked to take a day off every once in a while. The first baseman Dahlgren would now be backing up over in the Bronx hadn’t missed a game a dozen years. Gherig’s streak would continue for the next two years and that meant more time on the pine (and in the minors) for Dahlgren who played in just 1 Yankee game in 1937 and then 27 more in 1938.

It was only after ALS disease struck the Iron Horse in April of 1939 that he got his chance to start in New York and as he had done in his rookie season with the Red Sox, Dahlgren performed well. Though he averaged just .235, he did bang 15 home runs and drive in 89 to help New York win its fourth straight pennant. He then appeared in his only World Series that year and hit a home run as the Yankees captured their fourth straight ring with their victory over Cincinnati in that Fall Classic.

The second Yankee “Babe” then began a streak of his own in 1940, appearing in all 155 of New York’s games that season and he got his average up to .264. But by that time, according to a book self-published by Dahlgren’s grandson in 2007 and based on an unfinished manuscript written by the player himself, an incident had already occurred that led Joe McCarthy to believe he couldn’t trust Dahlgren. The Yankee skipper and Dahlgren had both attended Joe DiMaggio’s wedding to Hollywood starlet Dorothy Arnold a month after the 1939 World Series. Also in attendance was former big leaguer Lefty O’Doul, who was then in the process of building a reputation as baseball’s best hitting instructor. Dahlgren later explained that his manager had seen him and O’Doul discussing the first baseman’s swing at the affair and McCarthy was worried that Lefty was trying to undermine him and possibly take his job. Far-fetched on the part of Dahlgren? Perhaps, but so was the explanation McCarthy gave the press when the Yankees sold the first baseman to the Boston Braves during the 1941 spring training season. Marse Joe told reporters that Dahlgren’s arms were too short to play his position even though Babe was by all accounts an excellent defensive first baseman. Since baseball insiders knew this couldn’t have been the real reason McCarthy traded his staring first baseman, Dahlgren says his skipper made one up and the lie he concocted ruined the player’s career. According to Babe, McCarthy told “baseball-insiders” that the reason Dahlgren had committed a costly error in a late-season 1940 Yankee game was because the player was a “marijuana smoker.”

Now-a-days, I wouldn’t be surprised if half of the players (and coaches & managers) in the big leagues toked an occasional joint but back in the 1940′s, using marijuana was a societal taboo that left a deep and dark stain on a person’s reputation, especially if that person was a professional athlete. According to Dahlgren, McCarthy’s false accusation would become the reason why he would play for seven different teams during the final seven seasons of his big league career and his grandson’s book does a very good job of validating this claim.

Babe Dahlgren’s big league playing career ended after the 1946 season. I wonder what went through his head just a few years later, when another Joe McCarthy became specifically infamous for making false accusations that ruined peoples’ careers? Dahlgren lived until 1996, passing away at the age of 84. By the way, his real name was Ellsworth Tenney Dahlgren.

He shares his birthday with this great Yankee pitcher, this Hall-of-Fame third baseman and the guy who just might actually replace  Jeter should he re-injure his ankle in a late-season game this year (though trust me, that’s not going to happen!)

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1937 NYY 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
1938 NYY 27 44 43 8 8 1 0 0 1 0 1 7 .186 .205 .209 .414
1939 NYY 144 603 531 71 125 18 6 15 89 2 57 54 .235 .312 .377 .689
1940 NYY 155 622 568 51 150 24 4 12 73 1 46 54 .264 .325 .384 .709
12 Yrs 1137 4508 4045 470 1056 174 37 82 569 18 390 401 .261 .329 .383 .713
NYY (4 yrs) 327 1270 1143 130 283 43 10 27 163 3 104 115 .248 .314 .374 .688
CHC (2 yrs) 116 463 415 54 113 21 1 16 65 2 47 41 .272 .348 .443 .791
PIT (2 yrs) 302 1252 1130 124 306 52 15 17 176 3 98 107 .271 .333 .388 .722
SLB (2 yrs) 30 91 82 2 14 1 0 0 9 0 8 13 .171 .244 .183 .427
BOS (2 yrs) 165 661 582 83 154 30 8 10 70 8 63 68 .265 .340 .395 .735
BRO (1 yr) 17 23 19 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 5 .053 .217 .053 .270
PHI (1 yr) 136 565 508 55 146 19 2 5 56 2 50 39 .287 .354 .362 .716
BSN (1 yr) 44 183 166 20 39 8 1 7 30 0 16 13 .235 .306 .422 .728
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/15/2013.

June 14 – Happy Birthday Fenton Mole

The whole reason I started this blog was because I thought Yankee fans would enjoy learning which Yankee player(s) they shared a birthday with. I can’t say I was overly excited when my research uncovered the fact that the only Yankee born on my birthday was this weirdly named first baseman nicknamed “Muscles.”

Mole played just ten games for New York during the 1949 season and never again appeared in a big league game. He got his nickname from his days as a pretty good home run hitter in the Pacific Coast League. Mole’s playing time in New York wasn’t helped by the fact that he played first base. That 1949 Yankee team had six different first basemen on its roster including “Ol Reliable,” Tommy Henrich, Johnny Mize, Joe Collins, Dick Kryhoski, Jack Phillips and of course our birthday boy Fenton. Add in the fact that Casey Stengel, the platooning master was Yankee skipper that season and its a wonder Mr. Mole ever emerged from the dugout to see the light of a game day!

On the last day of the Yankee’s 1950 spring training camp, Stengel told the press that Mr. Mole would not be traveling north with the team. Instead, he would remain in Florida where he would continue to work out with the Kansas City farmhands. The best MLB player to be born on my birthday remains former Brooklyn Dodger ace Don Newcombe. The only current MLB player who celebrates his birthday on Flag Day is San Diego outfielder, Jesus Guzman. But I’m keeping my eye on a young Yankee reliever named Chase Whitley, who is currently pitching for the Yankees Scranton/WilkesBarre farm team. He’s a big right-hander who turns 23 today and he currently has a 5-2 record in Triple A ball.

As for Fenton Mole, he joins Andy Fox, Doug Bird, Goose Gossage, Yogi Berra, Jim Kitty Kaat and Bill Moose Skowren as former Yankees with animal or animal- sounding names or nicknames. I guess all the above would be a little nervous around Catfish Hunter and Enos Slaughter. See what I’m forced to resort to when no famous Yankees are born on your birthday? Happy Flag Day everyone!

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1949 NYY 10 30 27 2 5 2 1 0 2 0 3 5 .185 .267 .333 .600
1 Yr 10 30 27 2 5 2 1 0 2 0 3 5 .185 .267 .333 .600
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2013.

June 13 – Happy Birthday Red Grange

220px-RedGrangeGoudeycardThe only New York Yankee to be born on June 13th is a not-to-well-known but well-travelled pitcher named Darrell May. (You can read May’s Pinstripe Birthday Post from last year, here) Well that’s not exactly true. Red Grange was also born on June 13th and he also played for the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium. Yes that Red Grange, the one and only “Galloping Ghost” who many sports historians considered to be the greatest football player who ever lived.

It happened in 1926. Grange had been involved in a bitter contract dispute with George Halas and the Chicago Bears. That’s when his  flamboyant personal manager, C.C. (Cash & Carry) Pyle decided to pursue his own NFL franchise featuring Grange as the team’s star. Pyle approached the league and demanded permission to start a new team based in New York. Since Grange was the Babe Ruth of the NFL and the single biggest drawing card in the history of the league, every owner agreed to give Pyle his Big Apple team with the exception of one. Tim Mara, who owned the fledgling then one-year-old Giants’ franchise that played its home games in the Polo Grounds, vetoed the expansion attempt in his own backyard.

Pyle then formed his own league, the first American Football League, and the New York Yankees played their first season in 1926 in the House that Ruth had just built. The next year, the AFL was disbanded but the Yankees and Grange were absorbed into the NFL. The Ghost would return to the Bears the following year. Grange was born on June 13, 1903 and passed away in 1991.

June 12 – Happy Birthday George Kontos

kontosThe name of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant won’t sound familiar to any but the most astute Yankee fans. That’s because George Kontos pitched just six innings in relief for the Yankees after being drafted out of Northwestern University in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB Draft. He would spend most of the next six seasons pitching out of the bullpens of New York’s chain of minor league affiliates trying to get his ticket to the Bronx. That ticket finally came in September of 2012, when this Evanston, IL native was called up for a cup-of-coffee preview and appeared in seven games for a Yankee team that was in the process of winning that season’s AL East race by a comfortable six-game margin.

The six foot three inch right-hander performed well in those seven games, surrendering just 4 hits and two earned runs. That effort put him on the “players-to-watch-list” the following spring and one of the teams watching Kontos was the San Francisco Giants. Every member of the Yankee press corps was expecting Joe Girardi to start the 2012 season with Russell Martin as his starting catcher and Francisco Cervelli as Martin’s backup. That’s why the trade that took place just before Opening Day was treated as more than just a bit of a surprise. The Yankees sent Kontos to the Giants in exchange for catcher Chris Stewart. The deal might have gone largely unnoticed except for the fact that Stewart was out of minor league options so New York had to keep him on their big league roster or risk losing him. That meant Francisco Cervelli, who still had minor league options left was being sent down to the minors. At the time the deal was made, Brian Cashman was blaming Austin Romine’s back injury as the reason. The Yankee GM told the press that since Romine’s back wasn’t getting better he was forced to make the deal to add depth to the organization’s catching corps.

As it turned out, acquiring Stewart proved to be a wise move, especially after Cashman let free agent Russell Martin go to Pittsburgh this winter and Cervelli broke his finger during the opening month of the 2013 season. Kontos also proved to be a good-get for San Francisco. He got into 44 games for the Giants in 2012 and became one of their top middle relievers, finishing the year with a 2.47 ERA and 5 holds. He was at his best during that season’s NLDS against the Reds, appearing in four of that series’ five games and holding Cincinnati scoreless in the 3.2 innings he pitched. He then got hit pretty good in both the 2012 NLCS and the World Series but when all was said and done, Kontos had his first World Series ring and a secure spot in the Giants bullpen.

He got off to a slow start in 2013 but has pitched much better recently and is on pace to appear in 60 games for the defending World Champions this season.

Kontos shares his June 12th birthday with this former World Series MVP.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP
2011 NYY 0 0 3.00 7 0 4 0 0 0 6.0 4 2 2 1 3 0 6 1.167
3 Yrs 4 2 .667 3.46 81 0 21 0 0 0 78.0 66 33 30 7 24 1 75 1.154
SFG (2 yrs) 4 2 .667 3.50 74 0 17 0 0 0 72.0 62 31 28 6 21 1 69 1.153
NYY (1 yr) 0 0 3.00 7 0 4 0 0 0 6.0 4 2 2 1 3 0 6 1.167
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/11/2013.