July 29th, 2013
Gus 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.
|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|
Cedric 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.