You’d have to be about my age or older to remember today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant and if you do, you might not remember him as a Yankee. That’s because in October of 1967, everyone including me thought Gary Waslewski was on the cusp of becoming a very good starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.
Waslewski was born in Connecticut to a Polish father and a mom who was half German and half Cherokee Indian. He was signed by the Pirates in 1960, after his freshman year of college. He spent the next four years pitching in the Pittsburgh farm system and then, when he was left unprotected in the minor league draft in 1964, the Red Sox grabbed him. Three years later he was called up by Boston when the team was in the midst of their 1967 miracle season. In Waslewski’s second ever big league start, the then 25-year-old right-hander shut out the White Sox for nine innings but was forced to leave the game in the tenth with a strained left shoulder. He recovered quickly and won his next two decisions. He had allowed just 3 earned runs in his first 26.1 big league innings. That’s when his right arm started aching.
He ended up with a 2-2 record that year and a 3.21 ERA. Everybody, including Waslewski was surprised when Boston Manager Dick Williams put him on the World Series roster as a replacement for the injured pitcher, Bucky Brandon. Everyone was pretty much shocked, when Williams named Waslewski as his Game 6 starting pitcher. After all, Boston was down 3 games to 2 to the Cardinals at the time and placing the fate of the team in a must win game on the shoulders of a rookie, much less a 2-game-winning rookie seemed crazy. Dick Williams was crazy, crazy like a fox.
The Boston manager had been impressed by Waslewski’s perfect two-inning relief stint against the heart of the St Louis’s lineup in Game 3. Besides, the manager’s other choices as starters for that game were Jose Santiago or Gary Bell, neither of whom was considered a better than average arm. Waslewski ended up pitching into the sixth inning and leaving that game with a 4-2 lead. Though he didn’t get the win because the Cards later tied the score, Boston pulled out the victory and everyone praised the rookies’ clutch performance and poise. After Boston lost the next game and the Series, Red Sox fans took solace in the fact that a new number 2 starter seemed ready to help Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg get Boston back to the postseason in 1968.
That didn’t happen. After winning his first two starts in 1968, Gary lost his next seven decisions and finished the year 4-7. His bubble had burst in Beantown and following that ’68 season, he was traded to the Cardinals for Dick Schofield. He was sent to Montreal the following June and did nothing for either National League team that indicated he was becoming a better big league pitcher. In fact, his 3-11 record since leaving the Red Sox, a rising ERA and a chronically sore right arm seemed to signal impending retirement. The New York Yankees felt differently.
New York got Waslewski in a May 1970 trade for a first baseman named Dave McDonald. Ralph Houk used him a lot (26 appearances) during the second half of that 1970 season, including 5 starts. Though his record with New York was just 2-2, he pitched well enough to get invited back in 1971. He appeared in 24 games during his only full year in the Bronx and all of them were in relief.
The Yankees cut him toward the end of their 1972 spring training camp. He signed with Oakland but after an 0-3 start he was reassigned to the minors. He hung up his glove for good after the 1974 season.
|MON (2 yrs)||3||9||.250||3.63||36||18||7||3||1||1||134.0||125||67||54||8||78||82||1.515|
|NYY (2 yrs)||2||3||.400||3.18||50||5||13||0||0||1||90.2||70||35||32||6||43||44||1.246|
|BOS (2 yrs)||6||9||.400||3.54||46||19||6||2||0||2||147.1||142||68||58||12||60||79||1.371|
|STL (1 yr)||0||2||.000||3.92||12||0||7||0||0||1||20.2||19||9||9||3||8||16||1.306|
|OAK (1 yr)||0||3||.000||2.04||8||0||3||0||0||0||17.2||12||5||4||3||8||8||1.132|
After nine and one half seasons with the Angels, Witt came to New York in 1990 in the horrible Yankee trade that took Dave Winfield out of pinstripes. George Steinbrenner’s disgraceful efforts to use a brain-damaged con-man named Howie Spira to dig up dirt on his star outfielder had poisoned Winfield’s relationship with the Yankee front office. In trading for Witt, the Yankees were hoping to put the whole sad situation behind them while at the same time acquiring a veteran right-hander with one of the league’s best curve balls for their very weak starting rotation. Witt had won 109 games for the Angels but had gone 9-15 in ’89 and was 0-3 at the time of the trade. I realized Winfield was no spring chicken back then, but I clearly remember thinking at the time that the Yankees were getting the short end of that deal and I was right.
Witt won just eight more games during the next three plus seasons for New York. He spent most of that time including all of 1992 on the injured reserve list. Winfield went on to give the Angels two decent seasons of production and still had enough in the tank to drive in 108 runs for the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays and help them win a World Championship. Witt retired in 1993 after collecting $7.5 million Yankee dollars to appear in just 27 games. In 1997, he became the pitching coach of a California High School’s baseball program.
Witt shares his birthday with the first catcher in franchise history to start in that position for five straight seasons.
|CAL (10 yrs)||109||107||.505||3.76||314||272||22||70||10||6||1965.1||1932||926||820||167||656||1283||1.317|
|NYY (3 yrs)||8||9||.471||4.91||27||27||0||2||1||0||143.0||134||86||78||16||57||90||1.336|
Yankee fans had little to cheer about at the end of their 2008 season, which took some of the luster off of Phil Coke’s sizzling end-of-the-year pinstriped debut that year. While the Yanks spent the last full month playing just poorly enough to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1993, you couldn’t blame Coke. Joe Girardi called him into 12 September games and he delivered big time. He gave up just a single run in 14.2 innings and walked just two hitters, winning his only decision and getting credited with 5 holds.
That performance rocketed the southpaw native of Sonora, California to the top of the Yankee bullpen’s depth chart when the team’s 2009 spring training camp opened. Coke, however, got off to a horrible start that year and struggled to regain his first year form right through May. He then put together a brilliant June, but was inconsistent in both July and August. Fortunately for New York, Coke was able to put together his second straight brilliant September and this time it helped the Yankee’s make a successful stretch run to the AL East Diivision title.
He then made a total of four scoreless appearances in the 2009 ALDS and ALCS before getting roughed up a bit by Philadelphia in that tear’s Fall Classic. All-in-all, Coke’s sophomore season was a success, as he led the staff in appearances with 72 and was again a force down the stretch. Though his ERA that year climbed to 4.50 runs, after the Yankees won that World Series I never once thought Phil Coke’s Yankee days were over.
That December, Brian Cashman orchestrated a complicated three-team-trade to bring outfielder Curtis Granderson to New York. As part of that deal, Phil Coke ended up in Detroit along with Yankee outfield prospect, Austin Jackson. Like his first year in New York, Coke had a solid first year with Detroit but has not been as effective since, with one significant exception. During the 2012 ALCS against the Yankees, Tiger skipper Jim Leyland lost all faith in Jose Valverde after the closer gave up two crushing home runs in the ninth inning of Game 1. For the rest of that series he used Coke as his closer and he pitched brilliantly in that role.
|DET (4 yrs)||12||22||.353||4.35||218||15||46||0||0||5||256.2||285||140||124||15||99||197||1.496|
|NYY (2 yrs)||5||3||.625||3.74||84||0||13||0||0||2||74.2||52||35||31||10||22||63||0.991|
After the Yanks spent close to $350 million during the 2008 offseason to sign Sabathia, Teixeira and Burnett, putting their Mexican League find, Ramiro Pena on the Opening Day roster as the team’s utility infielder was probably a money-saving move on the part of the team’s front office. It worked out pretty well. The 23-year-old native of the Mexican city of Monterrey was paid the MLB minimum salary of $400,000 and responded with decent fill-in defensive efforts at short and third plus produced an impressive .287 batting average. Pena did spend July and August of his first big league season back in the minors after the Yankees acquired Eric Hinske in late June of 2009, but he returned to New York in September and hit his first big league home run. Though he didn’t see action in that year’s postseason, Pena more than earned the World Series ring he received when the Yankees topped the Phillies in the ’09 World Series.
That effort earned him a return trip to the Bronx the following year and though his average dropped sixty points, his defense improved and so did his RBI production. What really killed Pena’s career as a Yankee was the emergency appendectomy he was forced to undergo in July of 2011, right after he had again been recalled to the Bronx to fill in for an injured Eric Chavez. Major League utility players who get hurt when the starters they are supposed to replace are also hurt are simply asking for trouble. Sure enough, Pena appeared in just three games for New York during the entire 2012 season and was released at the end of that year.
The Atlanta Braves signed him as a free agent in December and he was establishing himself as Atlanta’s super sub during the first half of the 2013 season until the injury jinx bit him again. Pena underwent shoulder surgery this month and will miss the remainder of the year.
|NYY (4 yrs)||180||338||313||40||73||7||2||2||32||11||13||58||.233||.266||.288||.553|
|ATL (1 yr)||50||107||97||14||27||5||1||3||12||0||8||18||.278||.330||.443||.773|
His full name was Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston but his friends called him “Cap.” The nickname was a tribute to the rank he attained in the military during the Spanish American War. He served as a captain of an engineering unit that built and repaired roads and bridges in Cuba during that conflict and when the war ended, he remained in Havana as a private contractor and made a fortune building the docks and piers that formed the infrastructure of that city’s harbor.
He used a part of that fortune to go in as equal partners with Jake Ruppert in 1915 and purchase the New York Yankee franchise from Frank Farrell and William Devery, for $450,000. On the day of the deal’s closing, Ruppert arrived with his lawyer and a certified check for his half while Huston showed up with 225 one thousand dollar bills.
The two men then invested another $500,000 of their fortunes to add the personnel necessary to create the beginning of the Yankee dynasty. They had plenty of squabbles along the way. For example, Huston was against the hiring of Miller Huggins as Yankee manager. Cap’s choice was the long-time Brooklyn skipper Wilbert Robinson. Huston hated then AL President Ban Johnson and it had been Johnson who urged Ruppert to hire Huggins. As it turned out, Huston was more than satisfied with Huggins performance but he never got over Johnson’s interference in the matter. So when Boston sold New York yet another star player in pitcher Carl Mays and Johnson threatened to veto the deal, Cap Huston was ready for the ensuing fight, which the Yankees won. He also led the effort to rid the game of corruption by installing an independent commissioner, which happened in 1922 with the hiring of Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
By far, Huston’s crowning moment as Yankee co-owner was overseeing construction of Yankee Stadium. He was on the building site every day, utilizing his engineering and construction expertise to ensure the finished product was built right. But he also loved being an owner. He enjoyed traveling with the team on road trips, going to spring training, partying with his players and making friends in every American League city. But as time went on, his relationship with Ruppert began to get strained.
The two men were just too different and too used to being the boss to co-own the same business. The situation came to a head when one of the Yanks’ 1922 World Series games was called on count of darkness with the score tied in the tenth inning. Afraid that the press would accuse the Yankee and Giant owners of suspending play just so they could sell a stadium full of tickets for the extra makeup game, Commissioner Landis ordered both teams to donate their share of that game’s gate receipts to charity. Huston wanted to give the money to injured war veterans while Ruppert had other causes in mind. The fight between the two men got hot and heavy and precipitated the termination of their partnership. Ruppert ended up giving Huston $1.25 million for his share of the team in 1923.
Huston continued to attend games and stay close to the game. When he died in his office of a heart attack in 1938 at the age of 71, he had just been involved in an unsuccessful effort to purchase the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Huston shares his birthday with this long-ago Yankee prized prospect.
You never heard of Floyd Newkirk and either had I until this morning. That’s when I found out he was one of just 35 big league players who celebrate or celebrated their birthday on today’s date. I had also thought Tom Metcalf was the only former Yankee among those 35 July 16th birthday celebrants until I discovered that Newkirk had pitched for New York as well, during the 1934 season after getting called up on August 1st from the Yanks’ outstanding Newark Bears farm club. At the time of that call-up, he had put together an 11-4 record for the Bears. When he made his one and only appearance for New York almost three weeks later versus the St.Louis Browns, he became the only three-fingered pitcher in history to pitch for the Yankees.
The right-handed Newkirk had lost two fingers on his pitching hand in a childhood accident. Throughout his youth, he never treated the condition as a handicap. Instead, he claimed his unique three-digit grip on a baseball added speed to his fastball and bite to his curve. He went on to pitch in college in his native Illinois and then signed with the Albany (New York) Senators in the old Eastern League.
In one article I uncovered during my research for today’s post, a fill-in sportswriter for a Milwaukee newspaper gave an account of a 1933 American Association game he was called upon to cover, between Newkirk’s St. Paul Saints and the hometown Milwaukee Brewers. In a very tongue and cheek writing style, this amusing scribe who had never before reported on a baseball game, bemoaned the fact that the St. Paul pitcher with three fingers had out-pitched the five-fingered hometown hurler that day.
In any event, that one scoreless ninth inning Newkirk pitched against St. Louis in 1934 would end up being the the only inning of his Yankee and his big league pitching career. That December, Newkirk was included in the historic trade with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League that brought Joe DiMaggio to New York. He went 8-5 with San Francisco in 1935 but an inability to throw strikes doomed his efforts to make it back to the Majors. He passed away in 1976 at the age of 67.
When Hideki Irabu was found dead in his California home in July 2011, he became the third ex-Yankee franchise player who’s death was ruled a suicide. The two other suicide victims were both born on July 15th.
Dan McGann was a very good switch-hitting big league first baseman who became best friends with the legendary John McGraw when the two were National League teammates and starting infielders on the 1898 Baltimore Orioles. A native of Shelbyville, Kentucky, McGann was considered one of the league’s better first basemen.
He and McGraw were split up in 1899 when McGraw was traded to St Louis and McGann went to Brooklyn. Two years later they were reunited in St Louis. Then in 1901, McGraw was wooed back to Baltimore to manage that city’s first American League franchise, also called the Orioles. One year later, Little Napoleon convinced McGann to join him there and become the team’s starting first baseman in 1902. He did well in that role, averaging .316 during the 68 games he played for the team that season. But when McGraw couldn’t get along with or trust AL President Ban Johnson, he decided to leave the O’s to accept the New York Giants’ field skipper’s position, McGann again packed his bags and accompanied his old friend. In New York, McGraw made McGann his starting first baseman in a move that just may have changed the course of Giants’ history. Before McGann arrived, Christy Matthewson had been playing first base for the team in between his starts on the mound. After McGann showed up, McGraw made the then 21-year-old Matthewson a full-time pitcher and he would go on to win 373 big league games.
Meanwhile, McGann’s bat, glove and speed on the base paths helped the Giants capture the 1904 and ’05 pennants and the first-ever World Series, with their victory over the A’s in ’05. But as McGann aged he lost a step and in the Dead Ball era, when a player’s speed was especially critical to his offensive value, his average plummeted by over 60 points in 1906, his last full season as a Giant starter. His failure to produce on the field also had a negative impact on his relationship with McGraw off of it. They went from best drinking buddies to barely speaking to each other and in 1908, McGraw traded McGann to the Braves.
Two years later, on December 10, 1910, McGann’s lifeless body was found in a Louisville hotel room, the victim of a gunshot to the chest. The death was ruled a suicide. Two of McGann’s sisters disputed that finding, citing a missing diamond ring as evidence their brother had been murdered during a robbery attempt. Others however pointed to the deterioration of his playing skills and tragic family history as reasons why they thought the coroner had ruled correctly. One of McGann’s brothers had killed himself the previous year, another brother had died from an accidental shooting and one of his sisters had also killed herself.
|NYG (6 yrs)||682||2835||2430||360||678||94||42||16||290||151||224||151||.279||.358||.372||.730|
|BSN (2 yrs)||178||740||646||77||169||14||12||4||85||11||50||40||.262||.338||.339||.677|
|STL (2 yrs)||224||976||867||152||247||25||18||10||114||43||48||72||.285||.356||.390||.745|
|WHS (1 yr)||77||321||284||65||96||9||8||5||58||11||14||12||.338||.405||.479||.884|
|BLN (1 yr)||145||635||535||99||161||18||8||5||106||33||53||30||.301||.404||.393||.796|
|BRO (1 yr)||63||259||214||49||52||11||4||2||32||16||21||16||.243||.362||.360||.722|
|BLA (1 yr)||68||285||250||40||79||10||8||0||42||17||19||13||.316||.378||.420||.798|
After pitching briefly for Cincinnati in 1894, this southpaw native of Dayton, Kentucky signed with the Pirates in 1897 and became a four-time twenty game winner by the time he was 27-years-old. He teamed with Happy Jack Chesbro and Deacon Phillipe to give the Bucs three of the top starting pitchers in all of baseball at the turn of the century and that trio led Pittsburgh to two straight NL Pennants in 1901 and ’02, just before there was a World Series. But during that 1902 season, Tannehill was involved in a bizarre incident that would end up having a dramatic impact on New York Yankee franchise history.
After a Pirate game in August of that season, Tannehill got into a fight with one of his own teammates and dislocated his throwing shoulder. Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss accompanied his injured pitcher to the hospital where Tannehill was administered ether so that a doctor could maneuver the injured shoulder back into its socket. While under the influences of the anesthetic, the patient started talking and one of the shocking things he told Dreyfuss was that he and several of his teammates, including Chesbro had been secretly talking with Ban Johnson, the president of the new American League. Johnson had offered the players $1,000 apiece to jump to the new league in1903. Dreyfuss responded by giving Tannehill, Chesbro and Pirate catcher Jack O’Connor their unconditional release and all three became members of the 1903 New York Highlanders, an AL team that had just been relocated to New York from Baltimore.
Chesbro won 21 games for the new club, but Tannehill struggled in his new surroundings and finished 15-15. He hated pitching in New York’s Hilltop Park complaining that a cold Hudson River wind that constantly blew across the ball field was harmful to his pitching arm. He also had a tough time getting along with his new manager, Clark Griffith and that relationship suffered an irreparable break when Griffith suspended Tannehill’s best buddy, O’Connor during the season.
The unhappy southpaw requested a trade back to Cincinnati, where the air was warmer and he could be near his family in Kentucky. Instead, in December of 1903, New York traded him to the Red Sox. Even though it was not his first choice, the change of scenery and getting away from Griffith did wonders for Tannehill’s pitching. He became a 20-game winner for a fifth and sixth time during his first two seasons in Beantown and in the process, got some revenge on his old Hilltopper skipper, when his 21-11 season in 1904 was instrumental in helping Boston edge out New York for the 1904 AL Pennant.
He continued pitching till 1911 and then became a minor league umpire and major league coach after his playing days were over. He passed away in 1956, at the age of 84.
|PIT (6 yrs)||116||58||.667||2.75||192||171||20||149||17||5||1508.0||1561||663||461||11||243||466||1.196|
|BOS (5 yrs)||62||38||.620||2.50||116||106||10||85||14||1||885.2||836||332||246||24||154||342||1.118|
|WSH (2 yrs)||3||5||.375||3.69||13||11||2||7||1||0||92.2||96||44||38||1||28||22||1.338|
|CIN (2 yrs)||1||1||.500||7.02||6||2||4||1||0||1||33.1||43||37||26||1||19||8||1.860|
|NYY (1 yr)||15||15||.500||3.27||32||31||1||22||2||0||239.2||258||123||87||3||34||106||1.218|
This right hander followed his older brother Harry out of the Pennsylvania coal mines to become a big league pitcher. Harry was a three-time twenty-game-winner for the Tigers. Stan would reach that magic number four times in a row with the Indians between 1918 and 1921 and then once again as a Senator, in 1925.
He was one of the best spitball pitchers in the history of the game and his greatest moment came during the 1920 World Series when he pitched and won three complete games, giving up just two earned runs and leading the Indians to their first ever championship. The Senators released him in June of the 1927 season. Coveleski sat out the rest of that season and thought about retiring but he couldn’t resist an offer to pitch for Miller Huggin’s World Champion Murderer’s Row team the following year. He won five of his six decisions as a Yankee but his ERA was almost six. New York released him in August of 1928. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, by the Veteran’s Committee along with his former Yankee pitching mate, Waite Hoyt. He passed away in 1984 at the age of 94.
|CLE (9 yrs)||172||123||.583||2.80||360||305||47||194||31||20||2502.1||2450||972||779||53||616||856||1.225|
|WSH (3 yrs)||36||17||.679||2.98||73||70||1||26||6||1||500.2||515||205||166||8||162||111||1.352|
|PHA (1 yr)||2||1||.667||3.43||5||2||2||2||1||0||21.0||18||9||8||0||4||9||1.048|
|NYY (1 yr)||5||1||.833||5.74||12||8||2||2||0||0||58.0||72||41||37||5||20||5||1.586|
No Yankees past or present were born on this date but it is the fifth anniversary of the passing of one of my favorites, Bobby Murcer. Yesterday was the third anniversary of the death of Yankee public address legend Bob Sheppard, who passed away at the ripe age of 99, on July 11th, 2010. Tomorrow, it will also be three years since George Steinbrenner died of a heart attack. So perhaps forever more, these three consecutive dates will most be remembered as anniversaries of Yankee passings and not Yankee births.