July 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.