He was the guy who signed Elston Howard, Hank Bauer, Gil Hodges, Clete Boyer, Ralph Terry, and Bobby Murcer to their first professional contracts. Those signings alone represented a solid career for any MLB scout, but he’s also the guy who convinced the Dodgers to sign Jackie Robinson and made Mickey Mantle a Yankee and for good measure, convinced Yankee GM George Weiss to trade for an outfielder named Roger Maris. That’s why there are quite a few very astute baseball people who feel today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant should be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. They’d get no argument from me.
Tom Greenwade was born in Willard, Missouri on August 21, 1904 and lived there all his life. From that base, he would get into his late model Cadillac and search the baseball diamonds of midwestern America for young baseball players who could run fast, had good arms and hit baseballs hard. He had been a pretty good minor league pitcher himself until a serious bout of typhoid fever destroyed that dream. When he managed his local American Legion team to a Missouri State championship in 1937, he got noticed by the front office of the old St. Louis Browns and was offered a scouting job with that organization. He jumped at the opportunity and a couple of years later accepted an offer to scout for the Dodgers and work for” the Mahatma,” Branch Rickey. Though Clyde Sukeforth often mistakenly gets the credit for doing so, it was Greenwade who got the assignment to scout Jackie Robinson and urged Rickey to make him the chosen one.
When the Yankees came calling and offered him a job, the loyal scout discussed it with Rickey before accepting it. The Dodgers were paying Greenwade $3,000 per year at the time and the Yanks were offering $11,000. Rickey knew he didn’t have the bucks to compete with the behemoths in the Bronx and told Greenwade he’d be crazy not to make the move.
Though he was very good at what he did, Greenwade was far from perfect. When he first saw Mantle play as a teenager he failed to realize the kid was a switch-hitter. After realizing his mistake, he moved quickly to seal the deal with the Commerce Comet. Since the rules prevented teams from negotiating with players still in high school, Greenwade drove to Mantle’s house hours before the evening graduation ceremony was to take place and convinced his parents to let Mickey skip the event and play in his semi pro team’s scheduled game instead. Once that game was over, Greenwade got Mantle and his dad Mutt into his car and negotiated the contract that would keep the Yankee Dynasty going for another fifteen years.
Greenwade quit scouting in 1964 and returned to Willard where he lived the retirement life until he passed in 1986 at the age of 81. Greenwade shares his birthday with this former Yankee closer and this former first baseman.
There were no “Joba Rules” when today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant made his big league debut as an 18-year-old right-handed pitcher for the 1914 Cincinnati Reds. The team he joined at such a young age was horrible, finishing dead last in the National League, with a 60-94 record. Though Pete Schneider could only manage a 5-13 record that season, his 2.81 rookie year ERA was a better indicator of just how talented and advanced this Los Angeles native was on a pitching mound. During the next three seasons, he averaged close to 300 innings pitched per year and achieved an overall ERA of 2,40. Unfortunately, the Cincinnati offense provided him with pretty tepid run support and Schneider lost 19 games in each of those three seasons.
But he had also been able to win 20 games in 1917, after future Hall of Fame hurler Christy Matthewson had taken over as Reds’ skipper and Schneider’s future was looking much brighter. But those 300 innings pitched per year had taken a toll on the kid’s right arm and he went just 10-15 with a 3.83 ERA during the 1918 regular season. Yankee skipper, Miller Huggins was obviously hoping a change of scenery would revive Schneider when he had his Yankee front office purchase the pitcher’s contract from the Reds. Determined to pitch his sore arm back into shape, Schneider decided to pitch winter ball that offseason. It was a fateful decision. In his first winter ball start he blew out his arm. He would end up appearing in just seven games in pinstripes in 1919 and then would never again play in another big league game.
Instead he and his lame arm returned to his native California, where he decided to convert himself into a full-time outfielder. He actually did pretty darn good with that effort. During his first four years as a Pacific Coast League position player he hit in the mid .330’s and he averaged 16 home runs per season. On May 11, 1923 he gained national attention by putting on one of the greatest offensive performances in the history of professional baseball. In a game against the Salt Lake City Bees, Schneider belted five home runs and a double and drove in 14 runs. He continued playing minor league ball until 1928. Unfortunately, his life after baseball took a tragic turn. In 1935, he got into a bar fight, allegedly defending his wife’s honor and killed a guy. He was found guilty of manslaughter and served prison time in San Quentin, where he would become manager of the famed penal institution’s baseball team. He died in 1957 at the age of 61.
|CIN (5 yrs)||59||85||.410||2.65||200||153||35||84||10||4||1245.0||1180||527||366||15||476||476||1.330|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||1||.000||3.41||7||4||1||0||0||0||29.0||19||14||11||1||22||11||1.414|
The more I learned about former Yankee pitcher Atley Donald while doing research for today’s post, the more I liked the guy. A southern boy, who moved to Louisiana as a child, Donald was a great high school athlete who became a fire-balling college pitcher at LSU. When no big league scouts offered him a contract, Donald headed to St Petersburg, FL for the 1934 Major League spring training season, with $25 in his pocket. His goal was to convince his favorite big league team, the Yankees, to give him a tryout before his money ran out. When he got to that tryout, New York manager Joe McCarthy was impressed enough with the right-hander’s fastball that he kept the young pitcher in camp and when it was over, got him a deal to pitch for the Yankee’s Class C affiliate in Wheeling, West Virginia. From there to Norfolk, to Binghamton and finally to Newark, Atley pitched outstandingly all the way up New York’s chain of farm teams.
The Yankees gave him his first shot at the big leagues in 1938 but he wasn’t quite ready. He proved to be more than ready the following year when he burst into the Bronx and won his first 12 starts of the season. But the Yankees had so much starting pitching that year, McCarthy hardly used his hard-throwing rookie the final two months of the season. Donald finished 1939 with a 13-3 record and a 3.71 ERA. That was probably his most successful season in pinstripes. Over the next half dozen seasons, Donald would experience plenty of physical problems including a bad back and a loss of vision in his left eye. Still, when healthy, he was able to pitch effectively compiling a 65-33 career record during his eight seasons as a Yankee. During his final big league appearance in July of 1946, he tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. When the Yankees offered him a scouting position, Donald accepted it and spent the next few decades finding new Yankee talent in and around Louisiana. His signings included catcher Jake Gibbs and the great Ron Guidry.
Donald shares his August 19th birthday with this great former Yankee second baseman who was also born in the south.
The most national publicity Gulfport, Mississippi ever got was when Hurricane Katrina practically destroyed the Gulf Coast city of 69,000 people in 2005. Before that, Gulfport’s biggest claim to fame was being the birthplace of Brett Favre, the now retired Super Bowl winning NFL quarterback. Before the “Gunslinger” became an NFL legend, the most notable native athletes of this second biggest city in the state, played baseball.
In1931, Gulfport siblings Gee and Hub Walker both played in the same outfield for the Detroit Tigers. Gee was the older of the two but it would be Hub who would become the more successful big leaguer. Then in the late 1960’s, “Beltin” Bill Melton went north to Chicago and spent almost a decade as a decent home run hitter for the White Sox.
Then there were the Lawton brothers. Marcus and Matt. Like the Walker’s before them , it would be the younger of the two, Matt, who would become the big league All Star, but it was older brother Marcus, who had all of baseball buzzing back in 1985.
He had been drafted out of high school in the 6th round by the New York Mets in 1983. Two years later, he had played his way up to Class A ball and was starting in the outfield of the South Atlantic League’s Columbia Mets. In just 128 games, he stole 111 bases, getting caught only 8 times! He only had 126 base hits that season but he walked 83 times and scored 113 runs. He would put two more consecutive solid minor league seasons together, but they were happening during a time when the Met’s parent club was fielding some of the best teams in that franchise’s history. There was no room or no need for a base-stealing, singles-hitting outfielder who also struck out a bit too much and Marcus Lawton never got his chance to play at Shea Stadium.
In July of 1989, the Yanks traded pitching prospect Scott Nielsen to the Mets for Lawton. He finally made his big league debut in August of the 1989 season, striking out in his first two at bats as a Yankee in a game against the Twins. He stole his one and only big league base three days later. His first Major League hit didn’t happen until September 21st of that season, when he singled in the ninth inning off of the Brewers’ Paul Mirabella in a 14-1 Milwaukee rout of the Yankees. He ended up hitting just .214 in that 10-game trial and the Yankees waived him after the season. He would never again play in a big league game, eventually returning to Gulfport where he dealt cards on a riverboat casino and together with his dad, helped his younger brother Matt get better prepared than he had been for big league success.
George Steinbrenner loved the game of football and the toughness of football players. He also loved taking shots at reclamation projects. When the Yanks acquired former Red Sox starting third baseman, Butch Hobson from the Angels just before the ’82 season opened, “the Boss” probably was the happiest guy in the team’s front office.
Born in Tuscaloosa, AL on August 17, 1951, I surmise that one of the reasons Hobson was forced to become as tough a guy as he did was because his parents named him Clell Lavern. It wasn’t too long I’m sure, before the nickname “Butch” took hold as Hobson became a legendary high school athlete in his home state. He ended up going to the University of Alabama and played football under the legendary Bear Bryant plus started for the Crimson Tide baseball team. On the gridiron, he was a starting safety and a backup quarterback but after three years of playing both sports, he gave up the pigskin his senior year to focus on baseball.
The Red Sox selected him in the 8th round of the 1973 draft and after three and a half seasons of minor league ball and one cup-of-coffee look-see during the 1975 season, Hobson went to Boston for good in June of 1976.
He eventually replaced Rico Petrocelli as the Red Sox’ starting third baseman, becoming a favorite of then new Boston skipper Don Zimmer. His breakout season came in 1977, when he smashed 30 home runs and 112 RBIs, while playing on joints that had been banged and bruised from an entire lifetime of football. He slumped a bit in 1978, the year of Bucky Dent’s blast and the Red Sox’ infamous late-season collapse to the Yankees. He had one more good season in Boston in 1979 before injuries cut more deeply into his playing time in 1980. That was the same season Zimmer was let go by the Red Sox and in 1980, Hobson and shortstop Rick Burleson were traded to the Angels for outfielder Rick Miller, third baseman Carney Lansford and pitcher Mark Clear.
His ’81 season in California was a nightmare. He hit just .235, was constantly playing hurt plus the players strike that year disrupted play. The following March, he became a Yankee. At the time, Graig Nettles, New York’s All Star third baseman was getting up there in age (37) and getting more and more on Steinbrenner’s nerves with his biting criticisms of the owner’s management style. Yankee fans back then just knew nothing would please old George more than being able to replace Nettles with Hobson as New York’s starter at the hot corner.
That didn’t happen. Nettles cooperated by hitting just .237 that year with only 55 RBIs but Hobson hit a putrid .172 and his throwing shoulder was so damaged he didn’t see an inning of play at third base. His Major League playing career was over, but Hobson wasn’t ready to quit. He played three more full seasons for the Yankee Triple A Columbus Clipper farm club, he became a minor league manager in the Mets’ system and then the Red Sox. In October of 1991, Boston hired him to replace Joe Morgan as the parent club’s skipper.
He would last three losing seasons as Red Sox field boss. According to Don Zimmer, his old skipper and his Red Sox bench coach during the 1992 season, Hobson’s drinking during his time as Boston manager had gotten out of hand. As everyone would later find out, alcohol wasn’t Butch’s only demon. The Red Sox fired him after the 1994 season, replacing him with Kevin Kennedy. It was during the 1996 season, while managing for the Phillies Scranton-Wilkes Barre team that he was arrested for possession of cocaine. Hobson later admitted he had been a user of that drug.
Hobson is still managing in the independent Atlantic League for the Lancaster Barnstormers. He turns 62 years old today.
|BOS (6 yrs)||623||2429||2230||285||561||98||19||94||358||10||147||495||.252||.296||.439||.735|
|CAL (1 yr)||85||310||268||27||63||7||4||4||36||1||35||60||.235||.321||.336||.657|
|NYY (1 yr)||30||60||58||2||10||2||0||0||3||0||1||14||.172||.183||.207||.390|
If I had been around back then, I would have been a fan of Tiny Bonham. “Back then” was the WWII era and Bohnam was this big six-feet-two-inch lug of a Yankee right-hander who was born in northern California in 1913. He was the grandson of a 49er, not the football 49ers mind you but the prospectors who invaded the state when gold was discovered in the hills near Sacramento way back in 1849. Grandpa didn’t strike it rich but he did settle the Bonham’s in northern California. Tiny grew up there, developing his bulk and muscle early on in his teen years by working on his dad’s farm, a lumber camp and the shipping docks of Oakland. He had huge powerful hands with long fingers, two essential characteristics for developing a good fork ball and Bonham had one of the best ever.
The Yankees signed him to a contract in 1935 and he spent the next five years putting up good numbers at each level of New York’s farm system. His call-up to the Bronx came in August of the 1940 season. Joe McCarthy’s Yankee team was the four-time defending World Champions that year but they were floundering badly. Bonham proved to be just the medicine the ailing team needed. McCarthy started him 12 times and he went 9-3 while posting a sparkling 1.90 ERA and throwing three shutouts. The Yanks had been one-game over .500 when Tiny joined the team and finished the season twenty-two games over the break-even mark. Though only good enough for third place, Marse Joe told sportswriters if he had had Bonham at the beginning of the year, the Yanks would have won the pennant. The Hall-of-Fame skipper then proved his point by using Bonham to help him do exactly that during the next three seasons.
In 1941, a back injury Bonham had sustained as a youngster working in the lumber camp flared up and limited his action that season. McCarthy used him wisely out of the bullpen and as a spot starter. He won nine of his fifteen decisions that year, picked up two saves and that fall, won the fifth and deciding game against Brooklyn in a one-run, four-hit, complete game effort to win his first World Series ring. In 1942 his back felt better and he became one of the premier pitchers in all of baseball. He put together a 21-win season that included a league-leading six shutouts and an ERA of just 2.27. Always blessed with outstanding control, Tiny walked just 24 batters that year in 226 innings of pitching and surrendered the fewest walks-plus-hits per inning pitched (WHIP) of any hurler in the majors. He lost his only start against the Cardinals in the 1942 World Series, which the Yanks lost in five games
The condition of his back was bad enough to keep him out of military service during the war but not bad enough to prevent him from continuing to pitch for the Yankees. He won fifteen games in 1943 and though he again lost to St Louis in that year’s Fall Classic he did earn his second ring when the Yankees avenged their loss to the Cards from the previous year. Bonham’s back problems became more severe during the 1944 and ’45 seasons causing him to suffer through his only two losing seasons in pinstripes. In 1946, he got swept-up in the “clean-house” campaign of new Yankee co-owner Lee MacPhail Sr. and was traded to the Pirates for somebody named Cookie Cuccurullo.
Though his back ached, Boham still had enough talent and grit to go 11-8 for a very bad Pittsburgh team that finished 30 games below five hundred. Even more impressive were the three shutouts Tiny threw that year. He would not be able to keep up that pace during his final two seasons with the Pirates and he was planning to retire and return home to California, when he decided to check into a Pittsburgh hospital during the final month of the 1949 season to find the cause of the severe stomach pains he was experiencing. His doctors decided to perform an appendectomy on the 36-year-old pitcher. During the operation intestinal cancer was discovered and a week later Ernie “Tiny” Bonham was dead.
By all accounts, everyone loved Tiny. He had a great sense of humor, was easy-going and considered a great teammate. Upon his untimely death, his widow and child were supposed to become the first beneficiaries of a pension plan league owners had agreed to establish for the players and their families. Mrs. Bonham was due to receive $90 per month. The problem was that the owners had not funded the plan. Learning this enraged the players and in order to avert a full scale labor rebellion, then MLB Commissioner Happy Chandler went out and sold radio and television broadcast rights to the Gillette Razor Blade Company for the next six years for one million dollars per year and used the proceeds to get funds into the plan quickly. In his haste, it seems Chandler left some money on the table. Gillette broadcasting rights were later sold to NBC for four million dollars annually.
|NYY (7 yrs)||79||50||.612||2.73||158||141||11||91||17||6||1176.2||1108||399||357||71||206||348||1.117|
|PIT (3 yrs)||24||22||.522||4.11||73||52||16||19||4||3||374.1||393||181||171||46||81||130||1.266|
If you watched last evening’s (8/14/2013) Yankee game, in which New York destroyed the Angels for the second consecutive night, you heard Paul O’Neill tell his TV booth partners that the 1998 Yankee team he played on was as close to a perfect team as he had ever been associated with. I couldn’t agree more.
The 1961 Yankees were my favorite team of all time and the 1978 Yankees were the most dramatic. The 1996 Yankees gave me the biggest thrill I ever had as a baseball fan but it was the 1998 Yankees who were the best team I’ve ever seen play a season, beginning to end. And if you had to point to one roster change that made the biggest difference between the team that lost the Divisional playoffs to Cleveland the year before and the one that won 114 regular season games and swept the Padres in the 1998 World Series, it would be the addition of Scott Brosius as New York’s starting third baseman. Born on today’s date in 1966, in Hillsboro, OR, the Yankees signed Brosius as a free agent after he spent his first seven big league seasons in Oakland.
Joe Torre inserted his right-handed bat at the bottom of the Yankee lineup. Brosius responded by hitting .300, smacking 19 home runs, scoring 86 runs and driving in 98 more. He turned the bottom of that lineup into an opposing pitcher’s nightmare and he played superb defense as well. But he saved his best for that year’s post season, batting close to .400 in thirteen October games and winning the 1998 World Series MVP award. He was an AL All Star that first year in pinstripes, a Gold Glove winner in 1999, and his thrilling game-winning home run during Game 5 of the 2001 Series against Arizona was a fitting culmination of his brief but great Yankee career.
Brosius shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
|OAK (7 yrs)||606||2227||1988||280||494||95||5||76||249||34||178||372||.248||.315||.416||.731|
|NYY (4 yrs)||540||2129||1901||264||507||105||3||65||282||23||170||327||.267||.331||.428||.759|
Well what do you know? There is yet another Yankee nicknamed Babe on the team’s all-time roster. This one’s real name was William Borton, a native of Marion, IL who made his big league debut as a 23-year-old first baseman with the 1912 Chicago White Sox. He only appeared in 31 games that season but he caused quite a stir in the Windy City by averaging .371 in his rookie year. That earned him a spot on the team’s 1913 roster, but thanks to the unsavory behavior of one of the most notorious players in Yankee team history, he would not finish his second season as a White Sox.
Hal Chase had been the Yankee’s best player and a fan favorite during the franchise’s first decade in New York. Unfortunately, he was also a gambler and a con man. Chase would do anything for money including throwing baseball games and by 1913, he had worn out his welcome in New York. The Yankees traded him to Chicago for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant and a White Sox infielder named Rollie Zeider on June 1, 1913. While Chase hit .286 for the White Sox during the second half of that season, Babe Borton floundered badly in New York, averaging just .130. As a result, he was not invited back by the Yankees the following year.
Instead, Borton played minor league ball in 1914 and then signed on with the St Louis Terriers of the upstart Federal League in 1915. He became a star for the Terriers, averaging a robust .286 and leading the new league in both runs and walks. When the Federal League went belly up at the end of that 1915 season, Borton signed on with the St. Louis Browns. He again struggled against American League pitching, averaging just .224 for the Browns in 1916 and would never again play in a big league ball game. He spent the next four years putting up some very decent numbers in the Pacific Coast League. Ironically, the guy the Yanks got for Hal Chase ended up getting suspended from that league when he admitted to accepting money to throw games.
|CHW (2 yrs)||59||224||185||24||61||8||1||0||30||2||31||14||.330||.429||.384||.812|
|SLM (1 yr)||159||668||549||97||157||20||14||3||83||17||92||64||.286||.395||.390||.785|
|NYY (1 yr)||33||131||108||8||14||2||0||0||11||1||18||19||.130||.260||.148||.408|
|SLB (1 yr)||66||118||98||10||22||1||2||1||12||1||19||13||.224||.350||.306||.657|
The most correct answer to the now-famous question Frank Costanza shouted at George Steinbrenner during that classic episode of Seinfeld was “on-base-percentage.” That’s why the Boss traded today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant to the Mariners for Ken Phelps in July of the 1988 season. Phelps had put together OBP’s of .400 plus during his last four seasons in Seattle at about the same time Bill James was emerging as baseball’s new statistician guru and preaching that players who could get on base were more important to a team’s success than players who could drive in runs. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Jay Buhner became very good at doing both.
Buhner had originally been drafted by the Pirates in 1984. The Yankees acquired the Louisville, Kentucky native along with Dale Berra in a December 1984 trade with Pittsburgh in exchange for Steve Kemp and Tim Foli. He caught the attention of lots of Yankee fans when he hit 31 home runs in 1987 for New York’s Triple A team in Columbus. He would get two call-ups to the Bronx, including one in May of the 1988 season, when Billy Martin gave him his only real shot at making an impression in pinstripes. He wasn’t successful, averaging just .228 and striking out almost every other at-bat.
Unfortunately for Yankee fans, the team’s impatience with their young outfielder was not rewarded because Phelps turned out to be a failure as a Yankee while Buhner quickly evolved into an offensive force as a Mariner. He went on to become a legend in Seattle, reaching his peak by 1995 when he began a stretch of three-straight 40-homer, 100 RBI seasons. The man who came to be known as “Bone” played until 2001, retiring with 310 career home runs and a lifetime OBP of .359. Buhner made headlines in 2012 when he told an interviewer that he would “vomit” if Seattle re-signed his successor as Mariners’ starting right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki to another contract.
|SEA (14 yrs)||1440||5828||4922||790||1255||231||19||307||951||6||788||1375||.255||.360||.497||.857|
|NYY (2 yrs)||32||99||91||8||18||2||0||3||14||0||4||31||.198||.253||.319||.571|
The great Mariano Rivera was not used as a closer during his final minor league seasons with the Yankees’ Columbus Clippers Triple A farm team. Instead, that task was handed to today’s much lesser known Pinstripe Birthday celebrant. Dave Pavlas was born in West Germany on August 12, 1962. This tall and lanky right-hander led the Clippers in saves for three straight seasons, from 1995 through 1997. Unfortunately, he was already 33 years-old by the time he joined Columbus.
Pavlas had made his big league debut back in 1990, as a reliever with the Cubs. He got into thirteen games in his first season, won his only two decisions and compiled an impressive 2.11 ERA. But he started the next season back in the minors and when the Cubs gave him another chance at the Big Show it wasn’t much of one. In late July of the ’91 season, Pavlas was given the ball in the top of the ninth, with his team behind 4-0 against the Braves. He was hit hard, gave up a couple of runs and didn’t get another chance to pitch from a Major League mound for the next four years.
The Yankees signed him to a minor league contract in early 1995. He got called up to the Bronx in both 1995 and ’96 and did some effective relief pitching for the World Championship team of 1996. He earned his one and only big league save on August 24th of that season when he came on in the ninth inning with two men on, two outs and New York leading Oakland 5-4. The first batter he faced was future Yankee Scott Brosius, who got an infield single to load the bases. He then struck out another future Yankee, Jason Giambi, to preserve the victory.
He was just one of 14 big league players and the only member of the Yankee’s all-time roster to have been born in West Germany and he will forever hold that distinction since that country no longer technically exists. Pavlas shares his birthday with this Cuban defector who played in pinstripes.
|CHC (2 yrs)||2||0||1.000||2.82||14||0||4||0||0||0||22.1||26||9||7||3||6||12||1.433|
|NYY (2 yrs)||0||0||2.51||20||0||9||0||0||1||28.2||31||9||8||0||7||21||1.326|