July 2013

July 31 – Happy Birthday Curt Gowdy

gowdyIn my humble opinion, Curt Gowdy had the greatest voice in sports broadcasting history. I realize he became famous during the fifteen seasons he spent as the voice of the Red Sox, but he got his start in the business as a Yankee radio announcer in 1949. where he worked for two years learning the craft from the master of them all, Mel Allen.

Before that, Gowdy had aspired to be a a fighter pilot during WWII but a herniated disc in his back aborted that plan. He went back to his native Cheyenne where he got a job as a sportswriter for the local newspaper and also started announcing high school football games. He was then hired by a radio station in Oklahoma City where he got to announce Oklahoma State basketball and University of Oklahoma football games. But it was Gowdy’s offseason job as a minor league baseball announcer that earned him a spot in a nationwide audition for a chance to work with Allen and the Yankees. He later told Curt Smith, author of a book called “Voices of the Game” that Mel Allen was the guy who helped him really learn how to announce a baseball game. He credits the Yankee broadcasting legend with teaching him “timing, organization and even how to do a commercial.” Gowdy said he thought he was a young hot shot in a baseball booth until he worked with Allen who made him appreciate how much hard work and effort was required to excel in that profession.

One thing Gowdy had that Allen didn’t need to teach him him was ambition. He could have remained Allen’s apprentice for a long time but he wanted to be a big league team’s featured voice so he jumped at the chance the Red Sox offered him in 1950 and remained in that job for the next decade and a half. Those of you old enough to remember Gowdy in his prime as the Peabody Award winning voice of many of the most memorable US sporting events that took place during the late sixties and seventies, know the rest of the story. He died in 2006 at the age of 86.

You can listen to Gowdy talk about his days in the Yankee radio booth in this treasure of an interview he did for the Archive of American Television in May of 2000.

Gowdy shares his birthday with this late great Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee backup catcher.

July 30 – Happy Birthday Gus Triandos

triandosGus Triandos passed through my hometown on his way to a very noteworthy big league career. He spent the 1950 season playing for the Amsterdam Rugmakers, the Yankees’ Class C affiliate in the old CanAm League. He hit an amazing .363 that season and impressed every baseball-lovng fan in Amsterdam with his shotgun arm and powerful swing. In fact, Triandos impressed fans in each of the seven Yankee minor league home towns he played in during his half-dozen season climb up the Yankee farm system, which was interrupted by two years of military service during the Korean War.

The only weakness Triandos had on a baseball field was his slowness afoot. Simply put, the guy was considered one of the slowest runners in Major League history. Despite that handicap, his strong hitting and outstanding defensive ability were clear indications that this native of San Francisco and son of Greek immigrants would some day be a starting catcher on a big league team. Blocking his path to that destiny with the Yankees was a guy named Yogi Berra.

The Yankees brought Triandos up a first time in mid-August of the 1953 season. Casey Stengel got the then 22-year-old prospect into 18 games down the stretch and he hit his first and only home run as a Yankee. But he averaged just .157 and when the season was over so was his Yankee career, pretty much. He spent almost the entire ’54 season with the Yanks’ Double A club in Birmingham and that November, was included in a historic 17-player transaction with the Orioles that brought Bob Turley and Don Larsen to the Yankees.

It was the big break Triandos’s career needed. He was actually the starting first baseman on the 1955 Baltimore team and Hal Smith started behind the plate. He took over the starting catcher’s job during the 1956 season and remained in that role for the next seven years. He quickly established his reputation as one of the league’s best all-around receivers. He made three straight AL All Star teams and his 30-home runs in 1958 tied Berra’s record for most HRs by a catcher in a season. Though he was still obscured by the Yankee great’s shadow, he became a huge fan favorite in Baltimore, where they named a street after him.

Triandos gained lots of notoriety and sympathy for having to catch Hoyt Wilhelm’s fluttering knuckleball during the Hall-of-Famer’s four-plus seasons as an Oriole. Baltimore manager, Paul Richards designed and had made an over-sized catcher’s mitt to assist Triandos with the task. Though Wilhelm had some of his best big league seasons pitching to Triandos, including his only no-hitter, big Gus often said that catching the hurler’s signature pitch was the worst part of his career.

In 1962, Triandos was traded to the Detroit Tigers and a year later, Detroit sent him and pitcher Jim Bunning to the Phillies. It was there that he caught his second career no-hitter, when Bunning accomplished the feat in June of 1964 against the Mets. But Triandos had stopped hitting during his final few seasons in Baltimore and never again regained his stroke. He retired after the 1965 season and returned to his native California, where he started a mail delivery business. He died in his sleep, from heart failure in March of 2013 at the age of 82. One of my favorite all-time TV shows was the HBO series “Wire,” which dramatized crime and corruption in the City of Baltimore. This story of how Triandos was immortalized in an episode of the show is must reading for fans of this great former Oriole.

Triandos shares his birthday with his former Yankee manager, this former Yankee first baseman and this one-time New York pitcher.

1953 NYY 18 55 51 5 8 2 0 1 6 0 3 9 .157 .204 .255 .459
1954 NYY 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
13 Yrs 1206 4424 3907 389 954 147 6 167 608 1 440 636 .244 .322 .413 .735
BAL (8 yrs) 953 3610 3186 331 794 119 6 142 517 1 365 487 .249 .326 .424 .751
PHI (2 yrs) 103 311 270 20 61 11 0 8 37 0 35 58 .226 .314 .356 .669
NYY (2 yrs) 20 56 52 5 8 2 0 1 6 0 3 10 .154 .200 .250 .450
HOU (1 yr) 24 78 72 5 13 2 0 2 7 0 5 14 .181 .244 .292 .535
DET (1 yr) 106 369 327 28 78 13 0 14 41 0 32 67 .239 .315 .407 .722
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/29/2013.

July 29 – Happy Birthday Cedric Tallis

tallisCedric Tallis became George Steinbrenner’s GM, right after the Yankees won their first World Series for the shipbuilder’s son in 1977. That was right after Gabe Paul, who Tallis succeeded as GM, was getting most of the credit in the media for building that championship team and right after the Boss got sick and tired of seeing Paul get all that credit. By 1977, Steinbrenner was pretty much convinced he was a baseball genius and that he only needed a GM to carry out his orders. Paul had too big of an ego to hold the title in name only, so the Yankee owner replaced him.

Tallis was actually a highly experienced and capable baseball executive who had spent twenty years running minor league franchises. He became business manager of the American League’s newly formed Los Angeles Angels in 1961 and seven years later was hired as the first GM of the new Kansas City Royal franchise. It was Tallis who started the famous Kansas City Royal Baseball Academy with its mission of converting great athletes with no baseball experience into Major League baseball players. His astute draft management and clever trades helped the Royals finish with 85 wins in just their third season and earned Tallis the Sporting News Executive of the Year Award in 1971.

Three years later he was hired by the Yankees to oversee the reconstruction of the original Yankee Stadium. When that project was completed he became Paul’s assistant. He was Steinbrenner’s GM during the 1978 and ’79 seasons. He’s the guy “the Boss” sent to fire Bob Lemon in 1978, after Lemon’s pal and former Cleveland Indian teammate, Yankee president Al Rosen refused to do so. He’s also the Yankee GM who signed free agents Goose Gossage and Tommy John.

Tallis’s tenure in the job did not survive the tumultuous and tragic 1979 season. Gossage’s thumb injury followed by Thurman Munson’s tragic death doomed the Yankees’ chances for a three-peat. Steinbrenner decided he wanted Gene Michael to be his team’s new GM so he kicked Tallis upstairs, where he remained employed by New York for three more years.

His next job was as executive director of an organization known as the Tampa Baseball Group, which was formed to lure a baseball team to the central Florida city. He died of a heart attack in 1991. He was 76-years-old.

Tallis shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee pitcher.

July 28 – Happy Birthday Elmer Miller

The date was October 1, 1921. The Yankees were playing a doubleheader at home in the Polo Grounds against the Philadelphia A’s. New York held a two and a half game lead over the Cleveland Indians and were in first place in the American League standings. The magic number for the franchise’s very first AL Pennant stood at one. When the home team took the field, it was Elmer Miller who positioned himself in center field, between Bob Meusel in left and Babe Ruth in right. Yankee Manager, Miller Huggins had used four different center fielders between his two stars during that ’21 season and Miller was one of those four.

Elmer was born in Sandusky, OH on July 28, 1890. He began his big league career with a twelve-game trial with the Cardinals, in 1912. He then spent the next two years in the minors. He joined the Yankees in 1915, as a utility outfielder and got a chance to start for New York in 1917. He wasn’t much of a hitter but he was good defensively. He was exempted from the draft in WWI because he had a child so he was allowed to continue his baseball career. The problem was the Yankees no longer wanted him on their big league roster. Instead, Miller played the 1919, ’20 and half of the 1921 season with the St Paul Saints in the old American Association. He became a star in that league, averaging well over .300 and developing a decent home run stroke as well. At the end of July in 1921, Miller was hitting .313 for the Saints with 18 home runs. The Yankees were looking for better offense from their center field position and decided to bring Miller back. He had been starting for Huggins in that spot ever since.

The Yankees had a two-run lead in the first game that day as the A’s third baseman, Clarence Galloway came to the plate with two outs and a man on first in the top of the ninth. Galloway had already had three hits that afternoon and it looked as if he was going to get his fourth. According to the New York Times account of that game, Galloway “crashed” a ball to the gap in left center. Elmer Miller ran “full speed” after the ball and at the last second, extended his glove and “snared” the ball. His great catch clinched the first AL pennant ever won by the New York Yankee franchise. Miller also had a great day at the plate. he went 3 for 4 in the opener and then 3 for 5 in the second game. He finished his 1921 half-season in New York with a .298 average and despite his poor World Series showing against the Giants, it seemed Miller had a solid hold on the Yankees’ starting center fielder’s job the following season.

Unfortunately for Elmer, that solid hold did not last long. In July of the following year, Miller was traded to the Red Sox for Jumping Joe Dugan and Elmer Smith. He played terribly in Boston, hitting just .190 and was out of the big leagues for good by October of 1922. What a difference a year can make.

One almost-Yankee was also born on this date.

1915 NYY 26 90 83 4 12 1 0 0 3 0 4 14 .145 .193 .157 .350
1916 NYY 43 170 152 12 34 3 2 1 18 8 11 18 .224 .280 .289 .570
1917 NYY 114 450 379 43 95 11 3 3 35 11 40 44 .251 .336 .319 .656
1918 NYY 67 239 202 18 49 9 2 1 22 4 19 17 .243 .317 .322 .639
1921 NYY 56 270 242 41 72 9 8 4 36 2 19 16 .298 .356 .450 .806
1922 NYY 51 185 172 31 46 7 2 3 18 2 11 12 .267 .311 .384 .695
7 Yrs 413 1601 1414 170 343 43 20 16 151 31 113 140 .243 .307 .335 .642
NYY (6 yrs) 357 1404 1230 149 308 40 17 12 132 27 104 121 .250 .318 .340 .657
STL (1 yr) 12 41 37 5 7 1 0 0 3 1 4 9 .189 .268 .216 .485
BOS (1 yr) 44 156 147 16 28 2 3 4 16 3 5 10 .190 .222 .327 .549
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/28/2013.

July 27 – Happy Birthday Johnny Kucks

kucksThe Yanks had won five straight Pennants with a starting rotation led by the Holy Trinity of Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat. Raschi was the first of the three to go before the 1954 season and then both Reynolds and Lopat followed him out of the Bronx the following year. That left Whitey Ford as the only bonafide ace in New York’s rotation and thus began the era of what I like to call the in and outers. These were Yankee pitchers who were brought up from the minors or acquired from other teams who had one or maybe two great years in pinstripes pitching behind Ford. They’d help Stengel win another pennant or Fall Classic and then fade away. The four top in and outers during the second half of the 1950’s were Tommy Byrne, Tom Sturdivant, Bob Turley and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.

Johnny Kucks’ big Yankee season was 1956. The tall, skinny right-hander from Hoboken put together a sensational 18-9 regular season and then shut the Brooklyn Dodgers out in the 7th Game of the 1956 World Series to help New York avenge its only Fall Classic loss to D’em Bums from a year earlier. If Don Larsen hadn’t thrown his perfect game in that same Series, Kucks’ final game effort would have been much more celebrated in the annals of Yankee history.

New York had signed Kucks right out of high school right before the 1952 regular season began. They assigned the then 18-year-older to their Class B affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia and he wowed the entire organization when he finished 19-6 that year. He then spent the next two years in the military and then went 8-7 with the parent club during his 1955 rookie season. Kucks fit right into that mid-fifties Yankee clubhouse. He loved to party and with that crew, he had plenty of opportunities to do so. He was in attendance during the famous Copa incident in June of 1957.

Kucks never again approached the level of brilliance he displayed on the mound in that 1956 season. After two mediocre seasons for New York in 1957 and ’58, he was traded to Kansas City at the beginning of the ’59 season in the deal that brought Hector Lopez and a new Yankee in and outer for the early 1960’s by the name of Ralph Terry.

Kucks shares his July 27th birthday with this current Yankee slugger,  this former lippy shortstop and this former Yankee utility infielder.

1955 NYY 8 7 .533 3.41 29 13 5 3 1 0 126.2 122 54 48 8 44 49 1.311
1956 NYY 18 9 .667 3.85 34 31 1 12 3 0 224.1 223 113 96 19 72 67 1.315
1957 NYY 8 10 .444 3.56 37 23 10 4 1 2 179.1 169 82 71 13 59 78 1.271
1958 NYY 8 8 .500 3.93 34 15 8 4 1 4 126.0 132 67 55 14 39 46 1.357
1959 NYY 0 1 .000 8.64 9 1 4 0 0 0 16.2 21 16 16 5 9 9 1.800
6 Yrs 54 56 .491 4.10 207 123 39 30 7 7 938.1 970 493 427 91 308 338 1.362
NYY (5 yrs) 42 35 .545 3.82 143 83 28 23 6 6 673.0 667 332 286 59 223 249 1.322
KCA (2 yrs) 12 21 .364 4.78 64 40 11 7 1 1 265.1 303 161 141 32 85 89 1.462
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

July 26 – Happy Birthday Vidal Nuno

MLB: New York Yankees-Photo DayI was one of many Yankee fans impressed with today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s first big league start. It took place on May 12, 2013 in Cleveland’s Jacobs Field. Vidal Nuno threw five scoreless innings against the Tribe that day in the second half of a double-header to earn both his first Yankee victory and the pretty effusive praise of New York skipper Joe Girardi. But the manager’s kind words didn’t prevent Nuno from getting sent back down to Scranton the next day. He was brought right back up the same week, when Andy Pettitte strained his back. Girardi gave him two more starts in late May against the Rays and the Mets and he didn’t do poorly in either. He lasted six innings in both contests and surrendered just two runs in each, but he got no decision against Tampa and took the loss against the Yankees cross-town rivals. Nuno hasn’t pitched an inning for New York since. It was deja vu all over again for the southpaw when one day after his last start he was again sent down to Scranton. This time the move was forced by the return-from-injury of both Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youklis.

Nuno turns 26 years-old today. He was born in National City, California and played his collegiate baseball at Baker University in Kansas. He was a 49th round selection of the Cleveland Indians in the 2009 MLB amateur draft. After a great first season in the lowest level of the Indians’ farm system, he had a tough time the following year at the A level and Cleveland let him go. The Yankees signed him in 2011 and he’s pitched well everywhere he’s been since, including New York’s 2013 spring training camp, where he was named the winner of the Dawson Award for best performance by a rookie. He’s now passed just about every other New York pitching prospect that had been ahead of him on the organizational depth chart at the time he was signed.

Nuno shares his birthday with this long-ago Yankee pitcher, this one-time Yankee outfielder and this runner-up for the 1963 AL Rookie of the Year Award.

2013 NYY 1 2 .333 2.25 5 3 2 0 0 0 20.0 16 5 5 2 6 9 1.100
1 Yr 1 2 .333 2.25 5 3 2 0 0 0 20.0 16 5 5 2 6 9 1.100
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/25/2013.

July 25 – Happy Birthday Doug Drabek

The Yankee pitching staff was decimated in the late eighties by the aging and retirement of Ron Guidry and perhaps the worst trade and free agent signing decisions made during the Steinbrenner era. Among the very poorest of these decisions was trading Doug Drabek to the Pirates for Pat Clements, Cecilio Guante and Rick Rhoden. Of the three Pirate pitchers, Rhoden was the most effective in pinstripes, going 16-10 in 1987 and 12-12 the following year. But Rhoden was also 34 years old when New York got him from Pittsburgh while Drabek was just 24 at the time of that trade. Even though he went 7-8 during his 1986 rookie season in the Bronx, I remember he had impressive enough stuff to be excited about his future.

Sure enough, the right-hander quickly became one of the best pitchers in the NL winning the Cy Young Award in 1990 with a 22-6 record. He pitched six seasons for the Pirates before signing a lucrative free agent deal with Houston in 1993. He pitched OK for the Astros but was never the big winner there that they expected him to be. He retired after the 1998 season with a 155-134 record and 21 career shutouts. If he had remained in New York his entire career and the Yankees had also kept young arms like Bob Tewksbury and Al Leiter in their system, who knows? They may have got back to the playoffs a few seasons faster than they did in 1995.

Update: The above post was written in 2010. Here’s an update: The first time I started paying attention to Doug Drabek’s career was back in 1984, when he was pitching for the Glens Falls White Sox in upstate New York, a Chicago affiliate in the AA Eastern League. His team used to play the Yankees’ Albany-Colonie affiliate in the same league and since both ball parks were within an hour’s drive of my home, the local papers covered both teams pretty extensively. Drabek was the ace of the Glens Falls staff, so I was pretty excited when I read the news that the Yank’s had acquired him as the player to be named later in their 1984 mid season deal that sent shortstop Roy Smalley to the White Sox. I then got a chance to see Drabek pitch live a couple of times because the Yanks assigned him to Albany in 1985 and he put together a 13-7 record there with a 2.99 ERA.

After his best years with Pittsburgh, the Yankees tried to bring him back as a free agent when his contract with the Pirates expired after the 1992 season. The New York GM at the time, Gene Michael made offers to Drabek, David Cone and Jose Guzman in an effort to bolster the Yank’s anemic starting rotation, but when none of the three responded fast enough, Michael withdrew the offers and went after Jimmy Key and Jim Abbott instead.

In an interview with a Houston Astros’ fan newsletter after he retired, Drabek said he left the game after the 1998 season because he had completely lost his stuff. It got to the point where the veteran right hander was afraid to pitch and had to literally force himself to take the mound. By then, he had made over $30 million in his career, so he decided to go home and spend time with his very talented children. One of those kids, Drabek’s son Kyle evolved into the highly coveted number 1 overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft. Unfortunately, the younger Drabek has struggled in his three attempts at the majors and was back in the minors in 2013, still recovering from his second Tommy John surgery.

Drabek shares his July 25th birth date with this former much maligned Yankee starter, and this Yankee first base coach.

1986 NYY 7 8 .467 4.10 27 21 2 0 0 0 131.2 126 64 60 13 50 76 1.337
13 Yrs 155 134 .536 3.73 398 387 4 53 21 0 2535.0 2448 1141 1052 246 704 1594 1.243
PIT (6 yrs) 92 62 .597 3.02 199 196 1 36 16 0 1362.2 1227 506 457 112 337 820 1.148
HOU (4 yrs) 38 42 .475 4.00 118 118 0 16 5 0 762.2 787 372 339 71 219 558 1.319
NYY (1 yr) 7 8 .467 4.10 27 21 2 0 0 0 131.2 126 64 60 13 50 76 1.337
BAL (1 yr) 6 11 .353 7.29 23 21 1 1 0 0 108.2 138 90 88 20 29 55 1.537
CHW (1 yr) 12 11 .522 5.74 31 31 0 0 0 0 169.1 170 109 108 30 69 85 1.411
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/25/2013.

July 24 – Happy Birthday Dee Pillette

pilletteToday’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was not very well known as a Yankee pitcher, but he certainly was involved in lot’s of great Major League Baseball history. First of all, he was the son of a big league pitcher. Dee Pillette’s Dad, Herman won 19 games with the 1922 Tigers in his first complete big league season. He then led the league with 19 losses the following year, hurt his arm and became so sour on Major League baseball that he discouraged his only son from playing the game.

Duane Pillette, better known as Dee, ended up not listening to his father. Born in Detroit, when his Dad was pitching for the Tigers, he was raised in San Diego and became a very good pitcher for the San Diego High School team. A Yankee scout named Joe Devine was ready to sign the teenager right out of high school but Dee’s Dad insisted his son had to attend college. Devine got the youngster a scholarship at a Catholic college in San Francisco in 1940. WWII service in the Navy interrupted his education and when Dee returned from the South Pacific after the war, he finally signed a Yankee contract.

After three years in the minors, Pillette was invited to Casey Stengel’s first Yankee spring training camp in 1949 and impressed the Ol Perfessor. Though he failed to make the parent club’s Opening Day roster, he was called up to the Bronx that July and made 12 appearances during the second half of that season, including his first three big league starts. He ended the year with a 2-4 record, a 4.34 ERA and though he failed to make Stengel’s World Series roster, Pillette also got his one and only championship ring.

The tall right-hander started out the 1950 season back in the minors and after getting called back up that June, was traded with Snuffy Stirnweiss and two other Yankees to the Browns for St. Louis pitchers Tom Ferrick and Joe Ostrowski. One year later, Pillette had pitched his way into the Brown’s starting rotation and when his 14 losses that season led the American League, the Pillette’s became the first and only father and son pair to have led the league in in that category.

Dee’s best year in the Majors was 1952, when he went 10-13 for St. Louis with a 3.59 ERA. The following year he was the starting pitcher in the last game ever played by a St. Louis Browns baseball team. Five months later, after the team had relocated to Baltimore, Pillette became the winning pitcher in the first regular season victory recorded by the modern-day Orioles. He went 10-14 during that ’54 season and produced a career-low 3.12 ERA, but he also developed bone spurs in his pitching elbow. He hung around in the big leagues for two more years before going home to California, where he eventually became a distributor of mobile homes. He lived to be 88 years old, passing away in 2011.

The only other member of the Yankee all-time roster born on July 24th is this former catcher.

1949 NYY 2 4 .333 4.34 12 3 2 2 0 0 37.1 43 20 18 6 19 9 1.661
1950 NYY 0 0 1.29 4 0 2 0 0 0 7.0 9 3 1 0 3 4 1.714
8 Yrs 38 66 .365 4.40 188 119 25 34 4 2 904.0 985 498 442 67 391 305 1.522
BAL (6 yrs) 36 62 .367 4.37 152 116 15 32 4 2 836.1 901 454 406 59 357 282 1.504
NYY (2 yrs) 2 4 .333 3.86 16 3 4 2 0 0 44.1 52 23 19 6 22 13 1.669
PHI (1 yr) 0 0 6.56 20 0 6 0 0 0 23.1 32 21 17 2 12 10 1.886
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/23/2013.

July 23 – Happy Birthday Sport McAllister

McAllisterSportThe Yankee (more accurately the pre 1903 Baltimore Oriole) career of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was very brief and very insignificant but the story of how Sport McAllister’s name got on the all-time Yankee franchise roster in the first place is pretty interesting. He was born Lewis McAllister in Austin, Mississippi in 1874. He made his big league debut with the old Cleveland Spiders franchise in 1896. He therefore had the misfortune of being a starting outfielder on the 1899 Spiders’ team that is pretty universally considered to be the worst big league team in the history of the game. That season, the Spiders finished with a 20 – 134 record that left them 84 games behind first place Brooklyn. They drew fewer than 7,000 fans to their home games that year and literally played their way out of existence. When the NL decided to contract from 12 teams to 10 the following season, the Spiders were everyone’s first choice to get the heave ho.

As for McAllister, he did not distinguish himself at the plate during his four years with Cleveland, averaging only .232. He did, however, build a reputation for being able to adequately play just about any position on the field, except pitcher. It was most likely that flexibility that got him a tryout and a contract with the Detroit Tiger team in the brand new American League in 1901 and old Sport had the season of his life. Not only did he play five different positions for his new team that year, he also averaged .301 in ninety games of action and it looked like the then 26-year-old switch-hitter was on his way to stardom. That never happened.

When the 1902 season began, there was trouble brewing in Baltimore. John McGraw had been enticed back to that city to manage its AL franchise by offering him ownership stock in the ball club. The problem was that Ban Johnson, the guy who put the American League together in the first place, owned a controlling share of stock in the team and McGraw absolutely despised Johnson. So McGraw decided to jump to the NL’s New York Giants in June of the 1902 season, but not before he put the screws to Johnson. Lil Napoleon owned a saloon in Baltimore with Wilbert Robinson, one of his Oriole players and also an Orioles’ stockholder. McGraw sold his half of the saloon to Robinson in return for his stock in the ball club. He then sold all his shares to his buddy, the Orioles’ club president who then became a majority stock holder in the club, effectively eliminating Johnson from having any say in the franchise’s operations. The Baltimore team president then turned around and sold his controlling interest in the Orioles to two men. One was Andrew Freeman, who was McGraw’s new boss as the owner of the Giants and John Brush, who was the owner of the NL’s Cincinnati Reds. The two men then proceeded to rape the Orioles roster by reassigning most of the Baltimore players to their respective NL clubs, leaving the team with just seven guys. In an effort to salvage the season and the new league, Johnson convinced all the other AL owners to provide the Orioles with replacement players from their own rosters.

Sport McAllister had started the 1903 season terribly. He got into a collision with a teammate and hurt his knee and the nagging injury had had an impact on his entire game. He was averaging just .209 when Johnson’s request for replacement players reached the Tiger front office. Somebody in that office decided to give the Orioles McAllister. So that’s how and why Sport McAllister became a member of the Yankee franchise’s all-time roster for just three games during the 1902 season. His time with the team only lasted that long because somebody else in the Detroit front office evidently realized that it was a mistake to give up one of the team’s better players, injured or not and had demanded the Orioles return him, which they did. McAllister played just one more season for Detroit before accepting head coach’s position with the University of Michigan’s baseball team. He lived until 1962. I found most of the information for this post in this article about McAllister, published by the Society for American Baseball Research.

Sport shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and this one too.

1902 BLA 3 12 11 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 .091 .167 .091 .258
7 Yrs 418 1738 1450 157 358 38 18 5 164 32 67 76 .247 .287 .308 .595
CLV (4 yrs) 181 697 639 62 148 16 10 1 52 9 36 41 .232 .277 .293 .570
DET (3 yrs) 234 1029 800 95 209 22 8 4 111 23 30 35 .261 .297 .324 .621
BLA (1 yr) 3 12 11 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 .091 .167 .091 .258
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/23/2013.

July 22 – Happy Birthday Sparky Lyle

Sparky Lyle was born in DuBois, PA on this date in 1944. I was a huge Sparky fan. When the Yankees grabbed him from the Red Sox in exchange for Danny Cater just before the 1972 season started, I knew it was a good move by the Yankees but I had no idea it would turn out to be one of the greatest trades in Pinstripe history. To understand the impact Lyle had on the Yankees, you need to consider what the Yankee bullpen was like before “The Count” arrived. In 1971, Lindy McDaniel and Jack Aker had shared the Yankee closer role and tied for the team lead in saves with four each. That’s right, it’s not a typo, four saves led the team. In Lyle’s first season as a Yankee, he saved 35 games and won nine more. The Yankees won 79 games that year and Lyle was involved in a total of 44 of those victories. His 1972 ERA was an amazing 1.95. Within a single season, Lyle had turned the Yankee bullpen into one of the best in the league. Gabe Paul continued to work his magic with clever trades over the next few seasons and by 1977 the Yankees were World Series winners and Sparky Lyle won the AL Cy Young Award with a 13-5 record, 26 saves and a 2.17 ERA. He went on to win three games during the 1977 postseason and cemented his reputation as one of the elite closers in all of baseball. So what does George Steinbrenner do? He goes out and signs another elite closer named Goose Gossage.

Update: The above post was written in 2010. Here’s an update. Just as Lyle retired from baseball after the 1982 season, America’s baseball memorabilia craze was gathering steam and Sparky was in a great position to take full advantage of it. Since he called southern New Jersey home by that time, he jumped at an offer to become a greeter at an Atlantic City Casino with former Yankee legend, Mickey Mantle. A New York Times article in 2010 quoted Lyle as saying the five years he spent at that hotel keeping Mickey out of trouble were “the best five years of my life.”

Then in 1998, he went to a New Jersey dealership to buy a new pickup truck and the owner of the place asked Lyle if he was interested in managing a new baseball team he was putting together for the Atlantic League, a brand new minor league that would be unaffiliated with any Major League franchises. Mantle had passed away by then and the memorabilia craze had also died, so Sparky said yes and became the first manager in the history of the Somerset Patriots in 1998, at the age of 53. He remained in that position for 15 years, retiring after the 2012 season. During that span his teams won five league pennants and compiled a won-loss record of 1024 – 913.

Reflecting on Sparky Lyle’s Yankee career today, I tried to compare him with the great Yankee closers I’ve seen pitch in my 54 years as a Yankee fan. He was definitely the first “great” Yankee closer of my lifetime. He lost his job to the second one, Goose Gossage, because he was older and couldn’t throw as hard. In fact, when an eighteen-year-old Lyle had his first-ever big league tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the scout running it watched the young southpaw throw a bunch of pitches and yelled out to him to show him his hard stuff. Lyle responded that he had been throwing his hard stuff, which explains why he was not signed by the Pirates. Still, I think the real reason that Yanks got Gossage in the first place was because Lyle was a bit too vocal about his lack of respect for Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. Dave Righetti lacked Lyle’s fun-loving and outgoing personality. For example, Rags would never sit naked on a birthday cake in the middle of a clubhouse, which was a Lyle tradition. Like Mariano, Lyle became great when he perfected one pitch. In Sparky’s case it was a slider, which he learned to throw because the great Ted Williams told him it was the one pitch the Splendid Splinter couldn’t handle. Bottom line is that Rivera will certainly be the last Yankee ever referred to as the greatest pure closer in baseball history but Lyle was the first.

Sparky’s wasn’t the only Yankee career Goose helped end. Ironically, another one belonged to this former teammate of Lyle’s who shares his July 22nd birthday. This former Yankee starting pitcher also share the Count’s birthday.

Here’s Lyle’s seasonal pitching stats as a Yankee and his MLB career totals:

1972 NYY 9 5 .643 1.92 59 0 56 0 0 35 107.2 84 25 23 3 29 75 1.050
1973 NYY 5 9 .357 2.51 51 0 45 0 0 27 82.1 66 30 23 4 18 63 1.020
1974 NYY 9 3 .750 1.66 66 0 59 0 0 15 114.0 93 30 21 6 43 89 1.193
1975 NYY 5 7 .417 3.12 49 0 37 0 0 6 89.1 94 34 31 1 36 65 1.455
1976 NYY 7 8 .467 2.26 64 0 58 0 0 23 103.2 82 33 26 5 42 61 1.196
1977 NYY 13 5 .722 2.17 72 0 60 0 0 26 137.0 131 41 33 7 33 68 1.197
1978 NYY 9 3 .750 3.47 59 0 33 0 0 9 111.2 116 46 43 6 33 33 1.334
16 Yrs 99 76 .566 2.88 899 0 634 0 0 238 1390.1 1292 519 445 84 481 873 1.275
NYY (7 yrs) 57 40 .588 2.41 420 0 348 0 0 141 745.2 666 239 200 32 234 454 1.207
BOS (5 yrs) 22 17 .564 2.85 260 0 160 0 0 69 331.1 294 124 105 27 133 275 1.289
PHI (3 yrs) 12 9 .571 4.37 92 0 35 0 0 6 125.2 146 68 61 7 51 47 1.568
TEX (2 yrs) 8 10 .444 3.84 116 0 85 0 0 21 175.2 175 84 75 18 56 91 1.315
CHW (1 yr) 0 0 3.00 11 0 6 0 0 1 12.0 11 4 4 0 7 6 1.500
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/22/2013.