July 2013

July 16 – Happy Birthday Floyd “Three-Finger” Newkirk

Floyd_NewkirkIIYou 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.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1934 NYY 0 0 0.00 1 0 1 0 0 0 1.0 1 0 0 0 1 0 2.000
1 Yr 0 0 0.00 1 0 1 0 0 0 1.0 1 0 0 0 1 0 2.000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/15/2013.

July 15 – Happy Birthday Dan McGann

mcgannWhen 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.

Thirty eight years later, this Yankee outfielder who shares McGann’s birth date, also shot and killed himself. This former Yankee catcher was also born on July 15th.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1902 BLA 68 285 250 40 79 10 8 0 42 17 19 13 .316 .378 .420 .798
12 Yrs 1437 6051 5226 842 1482 181 100 42 727 282 429 334 .284 .364 .381 .744
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/15/2013.

July 14 – Happy Birthday Jesse Tannehill

TannehillAfter 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.

Tannehill shares his birthday with this former Yankee relief specialist and this former Yankee third baseman.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1903 NYY 15 15 .500 3.27 32 31 1 22 2 0 239.2 258 123 87 3 34 106 1.218
15 Yrs 197 117 .627 2.80 359 321 37 264 34 7 2759.1 2794 1199 858 40 478 944 1.186
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/14/2013.

July 13 – Happy Birthday Stan Coveleski

coveleskiThis 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.

Coveleski shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this former Yankee reliever and this one-time Yankee outfielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1928 NYY 5 1 .833 5.74 12 8 2 2 0 0 58.0 72 41 37 5 20 5 1.586
14 Yrs 215 142 .602 2.89 450 385 52 224 38 21 3082.0 3055 1227 990 66 802 981 1.251
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2013.

July 12 – No Yankee Birthdays – Instead some sad departures

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.