July 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.