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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
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.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
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.