One of the key reasons the Yankees were not successful reaching the postseason for a dozen seasons after 1981 was their lack of a strong all-around catcher during that time span. From Dickey-to-Berra-to Howard-to-Munson, those Yankee teams that regularly reached fall ball had catchers who could hit well, field well, and lead their pitching staffs. When the Yankees signed Mike Stanley as a free agent before the 1992 season, I thought we had the makings of the next great Yankee receiver. He did well enough offensively in pinstripes but the Yankee front-office ended up replacing him with a better defensive catcher.
Stanley started his Yankee career as a backup for Matt Nokes. He took over as starter in 1993 and had a great offensive season, hitting 26 home runs, driving in 84 and averaging .305. He continued to hit well in 1994 as the Yankees became the best team in the League under Buck Showalter. When the disastrous strike ended that season, it also marked the peaking of the Yankee careers of both Showalter and Stanley. Even though New York made the postseason in 1995, Stanley’s batting average took a 30-point dip and after the Yankees got knocked out of the playoffs by the Mariners in the first round, Yankee fans could feel the Steinbrenner-induced winds of change blowing. Showalter was fired and replaced by Joe Torre. They let Mattingly retire and Stanley was not re-signed. The Yankees traded for Tino Martinez and Joe Girardi instead.
Update: The above post was originally written in 2009. Stanley did rejoin the Yankees during the latter half of the 1997 season. At the time, Yankee GM Bob Watson had been looking for a right-handed bat to replace the one lost when Cecil Fielder broke his thumb just before the All Star break that year. He traded coveted Yankee pitching prospect Tony Armas Jr to the Red Sox to bring Stanley’s opposite field power back for a second go-round in the Bronx. At the time the deal was made, Watson told the press he intended to re-sign the returning player to a longer term deal, but even though Stanley hit .287 in the 28 games he played down the stretch of that ’97 regular season and a .388 on-base-percentage, the Yankees let him walk when the year ended.
During the 1995 season, Stanley became the 13th Yankee in history to homer three times in the same regular season game. Here’s a list of the 20 Bronx Bombers who have accomplished this feat during their pinstriped careers: Tony Lazzeri (1927, ’36) Lou Gehrig (1927, ’29, ’30, ’32*) Babe Ruth (1930) Ben Chapman (1932) Joe DiMaggio (1937) Bill Dickey (1939) Charley Keller (1940) Johnny Mize (1950) Mickey Mantle (1955) Tom Tresh (1965) Bobby Murcer (1970, ’73) Cliff Johnson (1977) Mike Stanley (1995) Paul O’Neill (1995) Darryl Strawberry (1996) Tino Martinez (1997) Tony Clark (2004) Alex Rodriguez (2005) Mark Teixeira (2010) Curtis Granderson (2012)
*Gehrig went on to hit a fourth home run in the 1932 game.
Stanley shares his June 25th birthday with this former Yankee long reliever.
Here are Stanley’s Yankee and career playing stats:
|TEX (6 yrs)||452||1164||987||114||248||43||4||16||120||6||147||215||.251||.348||.352||.699|
|BOS (5 yrs)||459||1703||1425||224||391||76||1||73||254||3||234||293||.274||.381||.483||.864|
|NYY (5 yrs)||426||1604||1372||227||391||81||2||72||263||2||201||314||.285||.377||.504||.882|
|OAK (1 yr)||32||113||97||11||26||7||0||4||18||0||14||21||.268||.363||.464||.827|
|TOR (1 yr)||98||405||341||49||82||13||0||22||47||2||56||86||.240||.353||.472||.825|
Every time I watch a Yankee Old Timers Day, it conjures up memories of the event from my 50 plus years as a Yankee fan. Back in 1970, the Yankees honored Casey Stengel by inviting him back to the Stadium for the 1970 Old Timers Day celebration, during which they surprised him by retiring his uniform number 37 during a pre-game ceremony. That was the Ol Perfessor’s first official visit to the House that Ruth built since New York had forced him to retire as Yankee skipper after the 1960 World Series. At the time, Casey was 80 years old and when asked to make some comments during the shin-dig about having his jersey retired he responded “I’m very impressed. I hope they bury me in it.”
The legendary field boss was not the oldest ex-Yankee in attendance on that hot August day in the Bronx. That honor belonged to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Doc Cook had just turned 84 earlier that same summer and though he was too old to play in that afternoon’s Old Timers game, photographers covering the event staged a photo-op of Cook standing in front of the Yankee dugout with bat in hand attempting to bunt. A much younger and more celebrated Yankee old-timer named Mickey Mantle was also included in the photo, wearing a catcher’s glove, on his knees behind Cook.
It was an appropriate pose for Cook, who was the speedy starting right fielder for the Yankees during both the 1914 and ’15 seasons. He led the Yankees in hits with 133 during the 1914 season and his .283 batting average was also tops on the club for players with enough at bats to be eligible for that year’s batting title. One problem Doc seemed to have was stealing second base. He tried the feat 58 times during the ’14 season and was thrown out 32 of those times, which was tops in the AL. Though he had another solid season at the plate for NY the following year, he lost his starting job in 1916 and the Yankees sold him to Oakland in the Pacific Coast League in May of 1916. He would never play another inning of big league ball.
Cook was born in Witt, Texas on June 24, 1886. His real name was Luther Almus. There were three Yankees nicknamed “Doc” (Adkins, Newton & Powers) before Cook came along and just four more (Farrell, Edwards, Medich & DOCk Ellis) since he was sold to Oakland almost a century ago. Cook died in 1973. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher who is not yet an old timer and this former Yankee All Star catcher who is.
The 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 1980s, this one-time Yankee starting catcher and this legendary Yankee GM.
|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|