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.
|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|
The 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.
|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|
I 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.