August 2013

August 11 – Happy Birthday Bill Monbouquette

monboWhen I first started watching Yankee baseball back in 1960, the Red Sox had a horrible team. Ted Williams was about to retire leaving behind a crippled Boston offense and the team’s solid pitching staff from the 1950s had faded away. They basically had three guys back then who were warriors. One was the Bronx born third baseman, Frank Malzone. For some reason, I loved the guy and was secretly wishing the Yankees would trade for him. In their bullpen was a fearsome save machine named Dick Radatz. Known as the “Monster”, the intimidating six foot six inch right-hander won forty games and saved 78 more during his first three years in the league, his ERA never went higher than 2.29 and he absolutely owned Mickey Mantle.

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the third stud on those mediocre Boston teams of the early sixties. Bill Monbouquette was a tough kid from Medford, Massachusetts who never gave into big league hitters. He credited Ted Williams with teaching him the most important lesson of his career, stay ahead of the hitters. The right-hander didn’t throw especially hard but he threw strikes and he wasn’t afraid to come inside on anyone. During his prime years  in Beantown, from 1960 until 1965, he won 104 games for the Red Sox, including a twenty-win season in 1963 and a no-hitter in 1962.

Boston traded “Monbo” to the Tigers after the 1965 season. He had a rough first year in MoTown and instead of keeping him on as a bullpen pitcher, Detroit’s front office decided to give him his outright release in May of 1967 and the Yankees grabbed him immediately. I loved the move back then because the great Yankee pitching staffs of the early sixties had vanished. At first, New York skipper Ralph Houk used his new acquisition almost exclusively out of the bullpen. By mid-August, however, Monboquette had worked his way into the starting rotation and ended up winning four of his last six decisions, including an impressive complete-game shutout versus the White Sox. His final numbers during his first year in pinstripes included a 6-5 record, a save and an impressive 2.33 ERA.

Monbo couldn’t continue at that pace the following year and got traded to the Giants for reliever Lindy McDaniel in July of 1968. That would turn out to be his final big league season as a pitcher. He then got into coaching and eventually became Billy Martin’s Yankee pitching coach during the 1985 season.

One of the things I didn’t know about this guy until I researched his career for today’s post was how physically tough he was. On the day he signed with Boston in 1955, the Red Sox invited him and his family to stick around and watch that day’s Red Sox game at Fenway Park. During the contest, somebody spilled beer on Monbouquette’s mother and after a heated exchange, both the pitcher and his dad got into it with the rowdies and ended up in a police holding cell. Nine years later, Monbouquette was trying to parlay his twenty win season into a raise on his then $14,000 annual Red Sox salary. During his super-heated negotiations with Pinky Higgins, who was Boston’s GM at the time, Monbouquette actually decked the guy twice. In 2008, Monbouquette got into the biggest fight of his life when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He underwent a stem cell transplant and beat that too.

Monbo shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and this one too.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1967 NYY 6 5 .545 2.36 33 10 4 2 1 1 133.1 122 39 35 6 17 53 1.043
1968 NYY 5 7 .417 4.43 17 11 2 2 0 0 89.1 92 47 44 7 13 32 1.175
11 Yrs 114 112 .504 3.68 343 263 27 78 18 3 1961.1 1995 910 803 211 462 1122 1.253
BOS (8 yrs) 96 91 .513 3.69 254 228 8 72 16 1 1622.0 1649 755 665 180 408 969 1.268
NYY (2 yrs) 11 12 .478 3.19 50 21 6 4 1 1 222.2 214 86 79 13 30 85 1.096
DET (2 yrs) 7 8 .467 4.64 32 14 9 2 1 0 104.2 121 60 54 14 22 63 1.366
SFG (1 yr) 0 1 .000 3.75 7 0 4 0 0 1 12.0 11 9 5 4 2 5 1.083
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/13/2013.

August 10 – Happy Birthday Bob Porterfield

porterfieldThe Yanks let a very talented starting pitcher get away when they included today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant in a package of three pitchers they traded to the Senators midway through the 1951 season to acquire reliever Bob Kuzava. New York had signed Bob Porterfield to a minor league contract in 1946. He made his big league debut two years later when he went 5-3 for the 1948 Yankees after winning 15 games for the Yanks’ Newark Bears farm team that same season. Everyone thought this right-handed native of Newport, Virginia was headed for a great career in pinstripes but the truth was that back then, the Yankees didn’t need more starting pitchers. They already had the Holy Trinity of Raschi, Reynolds and Lopat at the top of their rotation and with blue-chippers like Tommy Byrne and Whitey Ford being groomed in their farm system, good young Yankee arms like Porterfield became very expendable. So after spending the next two seasons bouncing back and forth between the Bronx and Triple A, Porterfield was dealt to Washington.

During the next four years he won 67 games for a mediocre Senator ball club, including a breakout 22-win season in 1953 when he led the American League with 22 wins and 9 shutouts. In November of 1955, Poterfield was part of a huge nine-player swap between Washington and the Red Sox.The change of scenery proved disastrous to his career. He went 3-12 for Boston in 1956 and would spend the next three years with three different ball clubs, struggling to regain his form. He never did. He made his last big league appearance in 1959 with the Pirates and then spent two more years in the minors before hanging up his glove for good.

Porterfield eventually got a job as a welder with Westinghouse in West Virginia. He died in 1980 when cancer invaded his lymph nodes. He was just 56 years old at the time.

Porterfield shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder, this one too and this former Yankee infielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1948 NYY 5 3 .625 4.50 16 12 2 2 1 0 78.0 85 42 39 5 34 30 1.526
1949 NYY 2 5 .286 4.06 12 8 1 3 0 0 57.2 53 26 26 3 29 25 1.422
1950 NYY 1 1 .500 8.69 10 2 2 0 0 1 19.2 28 19 19 2 8 9 1.831
1951 NYY 0 0 15.00 2 0 0 0 0 0 3.0 5 6 5 0 3 2 2.667
12 Yrs 87 97 .473 3.79 318 193 45 92 23 8 1567.2 1571 732 660 113 552 572 1.354
WSH (5 yrs) 67 64 .511 3.38 146 138 7 78 19 0 1041.2 1020 437 391 62 343 366 1.308
NYY (4 yrs) 8 9 .471 5.06 40 22 5 5 1 1 158.1 171 93 89 10 74 66 1.547
PIT (2 yrs) 5 8 .385 3.63 73 6 24 2 1 6 129.0 129 55 52 10 38 58 1.295
BOS (3 yrs) 7 16 .304 4.65 55 27 9 7 2 1 232.1 237 138 120 30 94 82 1.425
CHC (1 yr) 0 0 11.37 4 0 0 0 0 0 6.1 14 9 8 1 3 0 2.684
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/9/2013.

August 9 – Happy Birthday Fred Sanford

fred-sanfordIn my lifetime, there have been numerous Yankee starting pitching acquisitions that were considered “big busts” after joining my favorite team. There were many instances when I disagreed with how big of a bust the guy was in pinstripes but when a long-time Yankee fan like me hears names like, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, Eddie Whitson, and just about every starting pitcher the Bronx Bombers traded for during the decade of the 1980’s, the phrase “disappointing as a Yankee” comes to mind. The very first “disappointing as a Yankee” pitcher I can remember was the big Dodger right-hander, Stan Williams, who New York got for Moose Skowron in a 1963 trade. Yankee fans were told he was going to become a consistent 20-game winner in New York. Williams ended up winning a total of just ten games over the next two seasons before he was traded to Cleveland.

What is often overlooked when a pitcher performs poorly in Pinstripes by both merciless Yankee fans and the even more merciless Yankee media, is the toll it takes on these guys. Professional athletes are dependent on confidence and when that confidence is shaken by persistent boos and bad press, it can be mentally devastating. That’s why today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant called the two full seasons he pitched for the Yankees “the worst two years of my life!”

The Yankees wanted Fred Sanford badly. The young right hander had made the St Louis Browns starting rotation two years after returning from service in the Pacific during WWII and though he led the league with 21 losses in 1948, lots of scouts loved his stuff and thought he’d be a big winner on a better club than the lowly Browns. The Yankees agreed and gave up $100,000 and a package of three decent prospects to bring Sanford to New York, just before Christmas in 1948.

Sanford’s 1949 inaugural season in New York was also Casey Stengel’s debut year as Yankee manager. The Old Perfessor had the luxury of inheriting three of the best starting pitchers ever to appear in the same rotation, in Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat. That left Stengel with one decision to make. Who would be the team’s fourth starter? Casey went with a left-hander, Tommy Byrne and put Sanford in the bullpen, using him for spot starts and long relief.

The Utah native actually did pretty well in that role. He went 7-3 in 29 appearances with a 3.87 ERA. That ’49 Yankee team did even better. They won the AL Pennant and the World Series. But Sanford didn’t get to throw a single pitch in that 1949 Series and after he went 5-4 as a spot starter again the following season, he didn’t get to pitch in the 1950 Fall Classic against the Phillies either. And though he was on the mound at the end of Yankee games 23 times during his first two years in New York, not one of those appearances was in a save situation. It was clear Stengel lacked confidence in the pitcher and the fans and press piled on. When New York Daily News’ columnist, Joe Trimble described Sanford as the Yankees’ “$100,000 Lemon” the label stuck and the pitcher’s days in the Bronx were numbered.

Those days ended on June 15, 1951, after Sanford had started his third Yankee season with an 0-3 record and experienced his first blown save under Stengel. The Yanks traded their deflated hurler to the Senators in a deal that brought reliever Bob Kuzava to the Bronx.

Sanford shares his August 9th birthday with this former Yankee manager/catcher and this Yankee pitcher with a cool name.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1949 NYY 7 3 .700 3.87 29 11 6 3 0 0 95.1 100 53 41 9 57 51 1.647
1950 NYY 5 4 .556 4.55 26 12 4 2 0 0 112.2 103 60 57 9 79 54 1.615
1951 NYY 0 3 .000 3.71 11 2 3 0 0 0 26.2 15 11 11 2 25 10 1.500
7 Yrs 37 55 .402 4.45 164 98 27 26 3 6 744.0 768 405 368 67 391 285 1.558
SLB (5 yrs) 23 42 .354 4.42 91 66 14 21 3 6 472.1 499 254 232 42 203 158 1.486
NYY (3 yrs) 12 10 .545 4.18 66 25 13 5 0 0 234.2 218 124 109 20 161 115 1.615
WSH (1 yr) 2 3 .400 6.57 7 7 0 0 0 0 37.0 51 27 27 5 27 12 2.108
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/9/2013.

August 8 – Happy Birthday Dewayne Staats

staatsdewayneBefore Dewayne Staats became the first official television voice of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998, he had served a four year spot as MSG-TV’s lead Yankee play-by-play announcer, teaming with the great Tony Kubek in the booth. The Missouri native got that job in 1990, in the middle of the Stump Merrill era and left after the strike-shortened 1994 season, right before the Yankees went on their impressive run of postseason play. He and Kubek were replaced by MSG with Dave Cohen and Jim Kaat.

Staats big league play-by-play career had started in 1977, when he got his first gig with the Houston Astros, his favorite boyhood team. After four years there, he did play-by-play for the Cubs for four more years before landing his Bronx Bomber assignment with MSG. The fact that Staats was behind the microphone during a time when the Yankees were struggling to win, limited his personal Yankee highlights reel. His most famous moment in the role was when he called Jim Abbott’s 1993 no-hit game, though in 2011, he did get to call Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit because it came against Tampa.

Compare a tape of a Kubek/Staats Yankee broadcast with one from today’s crew and you’ll feel like you’re comparing a silent movie with a talk-radio show. The former Yankee shortstop won his Ford C. Frick award for expert analysis and unlike Tim McCarver, Kubek’s goal was to provide it with as few words as possible. Ditto for Staats. In fact. a 1992 New York Times’ article comparing the Yankee and Met booth crews labeled Kubek and Staats the “Dragnet” team because they “gave just the facts” during a game, with a bare minimum of chattiness or cheerleading. Of course as bad as the early Yankee teams they covered were, there was not a whole lot to cheer about.

When Staats left the Yankees he joined ESPN for a couple years before getting hired by the Rays. Dave Cohen replaced Staats in the Yankee booth and Jim Kaat took over for Kubek, who retired at the same time. Staats shares his birthday with this Yankee pitcher, this Yankee pitcher and this Yankee coach.

August 7 – Happy Birthday Bill McKechnie

Bill McKechnieDeacon Bill McKechnie wasn’t an especially good baseball player. He played a total of 846 games over eleven seasons as a utility infielder for five different ball clubs, averaging just .251 lifetime. Forty-five of those games were played in a Yankee uniform during the 1913 season. The switch-hitting Wilkinsburg, PA native hit just .134 for that Frank Chance managed New York team that finished in seventh place that season with a horrible 57-94 record. Those mediocre numbers may explain why the Yankees or nobody else seemed to care when McKechnie jumped to the upstart Federal League the following season to play for the Indianapolis Hoosiers. He averaged .304 as the Hoosier’s starting third baseman in 1914 and when the franchise was relocated to Newark, NJ the following year, McKechnie was made the team’s player-manager.

McKechne may have not been a very good big league player but he became an excellent big league manager. After the Federal League went belly up in 1916, he returned to the National League and played five more seasons before landing the Pittsburgh Pirates’ skipper’s job in June of 1922. His 1925 Pirate team won the World Series. His 1928 St. Louis Cardinal team won the NL Pennant. He then won two more Pennants with the 1939 and ’40 Cincinnati Reds and captured his second World Championship with that 1940 Reds team. He was the only big league manager to win pennants with three different teams until Dick Williams accomplished that same feat in 1984. In all he managed for 24 seasons in the National League. In addition to the Pirates, Cards and Reds, he also managed the Boston Braves for eight seasons. In all, he won 1,842 games which placed him in second place on the all-time list, when he retired in 1946, behind only John McGraw. He was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1962. He died three years later at the age of 79.

McKechnie shares his birthday with this World Series legend, this former Yankee DH/outfielder and this one-time Yankee reliever.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1913 NYY 45 124 112 7 15 0 0 0 8 2 8 17 .134 .198 .134 .332
11 Yrs 846 3179 2843 319 713 86 33 8 240 127 190 204 .251 .301 .313 .614
PIT (6 yrs) 368 1313 1182 118 278 25 20 5 109 34 71 80 .235 .281 .303 .584
NEW (2 yrs) 276 1179 1021 156 286 46 11 3 81 75 94 67 .280 .345 .356 .700
CIN (2 yrs) 85 285 264 15 70 6 1 0 25 9 10 19 .265 .295 .295 .590
NYG (1 yr) 71 273 260 22 64 9 1 0 17 7 7 20 .246 .269 .288 .557
BSN (1 yr) 1 5 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .200 .000 .200
NYY (1 yr) 45 124 112 7 15 0 0 0 8 2 8 17 .134 .198 .134 .332
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/6/2013.

August 6 – Happy Birthday Luis Vizcaino

luis-vizcainoAfter the Yanks were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round for the second consecutive year in 2006, New York’s front office decided it was time to end the Randy Johnson era in the Bronx. They had brought the “Big Unit” to the Big Apple after the 2003 ALCS debacle with the Red Sox, thinking he would be the stopper they needed to go deep in future postseasons. But his bad back and prickly personality made his two-year stay in pinstripes uncomfortable and unsuccessful, especially in the postseason.

Still, I was upset that the best New York could get in return for their ace was an Arizona Diamondback package of three minor league prospects and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. After all, despite all his problems, Johnson did put together two seventeen-win seasons as a Yankee. In Luis Vizcaino, the Yanks were getting a 31-year-old journeyman right-handed reliever who had yet to distinguish himself during tenures with four different big league teams.

As it turned out, the Dominican native had a surprisingly productive season for the Yankees in 2007. He became a workhorse out of the bullpen for manager Joe Torre, appearing in 77 games and winning eight of his ten decisions in the process. Unfortunately the postseason was a different story. The Yanks were protecting a one-run lead in Game 2 against the Indians in Cleveland after losing Game 1 of that year’s ALDS. Torre went to his rookie phee-nom Joba Chamberlain with one out and two runners on in the home half of the seventh. Chamberlain got the last two outs of that inning but in the bottom of the eighth, a swarm of midges were blown into Jacobs Field with a wind off of Lake Erie and an obviously distracted Joba surrendered the tying run. Three innings later, Torre turned to Vizcaino to start the 11th. He walked the first hitter he faced, gave up a single to the next batter and after an intentional walk and a pop out, gave up a game-winning single to Travis Hafner and the Yanks went down 2-0 in that series. They ended up losing in four games to Cleveland for their third straight first-round exit from postseason play.

The Yanks were interested in re-signing Vizcaino for 2008 but the pitcher was looking to convert his 8-2 record into a three-year deal. New York was only interested in doing one so they let the pitcher sign as a free agent with the Rockies. Unfortunately, the Yankees used the draft pick on a pitcher named Jeremy Bleich, a southpaw out of Stanford who is still trying to make it up to the Bronx. Vizcaino ended up getting a nice seven million dollar two year deal but got rocked during his one and only season in Colorado. He was traded to the Cubs in January of 2009 and was released by both Chicago and the Indians during the ’09 regular season. The Yankees then signed him to a minor league deal but he was suspended in 2011 for using PEDs.

Vizcaino shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitching coach, this DH and first baseman made famous in a Seinfeld episode and this fireballing former Yankee reliever.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2007 NYY 8 2 .800 4.30 77 0 13 0 0 0 75.1 66 37 36 6 43 62 1.447
11 Yrs 35 30 .538 4.33 543 0 156 0 0 8 546.2 495 273 263 79 237 492 1.339
OAK (3 yrs) 2 2 .500 5.61 49 0 17 0 0 1 59.1 66 38 37 11 26 51 1.551
MIL (3 yrs) 13 10 .565 4.22 224 0 72 0 0 6 215.1 180 107 101 34 79 203 1.203
ARI (1 yr) 4 6 .400 3.58 70 0 15 0 0 0 65.1 51 26 26 8 29 72 1.224
COL (1 yr) 1 2 .333 5.28 43 0 13 0 0 0 46.0 48 28 27 10 19 49 1.457
CHC (1 yr) 0 0 0.00 4 0 2 0 0 0 3.2 2 0 0 0 0 3 0.545
CLE (1 yr) 1 3 .250 5.40 11 0 4 0 0 1 11.2 8 7 7 2 12 9 1.714
NYY (1 yr) 8 2 .800 4.30 77 0 13 0 0 0 75.1 66 37 36 6 43 62 1.447
CHW (1 yr) 6 5 .545 3.73 65 0 20 0 0 0 70.0 74 30 29 8 29 43 1.471
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/5/2013.

August 5 – Happy Birthday Jacob Ruppert

Over a half-century before George Steinbrenner came on the scene, another son of a wealthy German-American businessman purchased New York City’s American League baseball franchise and wheeled and dealed his way to World Championships and a brand new Big Apple stadium for his team. But instead of building ships like George’s dad, this guy’s father made beer.

His name was Jacob Ruppert and he took over the family business when his Dad died in 1915 and immediately began looking for ways to get his brewery’s name in the newspapers more often. He accomplished that by purchasing a baseball team. Originally, Ruppert was co-owner of the Yankees along with partner Cap Huston. He bought out Huston in 1923 to become sole owner of the ball club.

In a series of astute business and hiring maneuvers, he turned the Yankees into the most valuable brand in all of sports. He brought Babe Ruth to New York.  He hired Ed Barrow to build baseball’s best farm system and he put managerial legends, Miller Huggins and then Joe McCarthy in the Yankee dugout. During his 23 years owning the franchise, the Yankees won the first ten of their World Series championships. Though I’ve never been a big fan of the guy, I agree with those who felt George Steinbrenner belongs in Baseball’s Hall of Fame but only if they put Jake Ruppert in their first. Rupert received that honor in 2013, when he was the choice of the Hall’s Veterans’ Committee.

Rupert shares his August 5th birthday with this 2002 AL Rookie of the Year and this one-time Yankee first baseman.

August 4 – Happy Birthday Jeff Johnson

jeffjohnsonAfter ten years of futility attempting to do so, George Steinbrenner made the decision to stop trying to purchase free agent starting pitchers and to instead go with some of the organization’s top minor league prospects. The problem with that strategy was timing. If “the Boss” had made that decision earlier in the 1980’s, it might have meant that Doug Drabek would have won his Cy Young Award as a Yankee instead of a Pirate and Jose Rijo might have been World Series MVP for the Bronx Bombers instead of the Cincinnati Reds. But by waiting until the end of the decade, the Yanks were counting on the young unproven arms of prospects like Wade Taylor, Dave Eiland and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. I don’t know if Steinbrenner played poker but I guarantee you that if he did, he would end up gladly trading that “three of a kind” for just a single ace.

Johnson was the Yankees sixth round pick in the 1988 draft. He had pitched well during his first three years in the lower levels of New York’s farm system but it was his perfect 4-0 start-of-the-season at triple A Columbus that convinced the Yanks to add him to the parent club’s rotation in June of 1991. A six foot three inch well-built southpaw, he was 24 years-old at the time of his Yankee debut and he looked like a Major League pitcher. That look proved to be deceiving.

Johnson’s problem turned out to be an inability to get ahead in the count on big league hitters. Once he fell behind them, his must strike pitches were much to hittable. He finished a disappointing 6-11 during his rookie season, which was not that bad considering that ’91 Yankee team finished in fifth place in the AL East, twenty games below five hundred. What was more troubling however, was Johnson’s first-year 5.95 ERA. He was showing a consistent inability to get outs at the big league level. Taylor finished that year with a 7-12 record and a 6.27 ERA and Eiland’s numbers were 2-5, 5.33. So much for the Yankees’ patience with starting pitching prospects.

Johnson was the only one of the three who would be part of the team’s starting rotation the next Opening Day, but that status didn’t last long. By the end of April he was 1-2 with a 6.57 ERA and first-year Yankee manager, Buck Showalter demoted him to bullpen duty. He got one more shot in the rotation that June but again failed to impress and was sent back to Columbus. That’s where he started the 1993 season as well. His one last big league chance came in June of that season. Showalter brought him in out of the bullpen twice that month and he gave up a total 12 hits and 9 earned runs in those 2.2 innings of pitching. Johnson’s Yankee and big league career were over. He is now a minor league pitching coach.

Johnson shares his birthday with this multiple Cy Young Award winner, this former Yankee skipper and this former Yankee reliever.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1991 NYY 6 11 .353 5.95 23 23 0 0 0 0 127.0 156 89 84 15 33 62 1.488
1992 NYY 2 3 .400 6.66 13 8 3 0 0 0 52.2 71 44 39 4 23 14 1.785
1993 NYY 0 2 .000 30.38 2 2 0 0 0 0 2.2 12 10 9 1 2 0 5.250
3 Yrs 8 16 .333 6.52 38 33 3 0 0 0 182.1 239 143 132 20 58 76 1.629
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/4/2013.

August 3 – Happy Birthday Kevin Elster

Todays Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is best known for his days with the New York Mets. He started at shortstop for the Amazin’s from 1988 through 1991 and set the since broken Major League record for consecutive error-less games at short with 88 straight during the 1988 and ’89 seasons. Kevin’s problem was his offense or lack there-of. He struggled to hit .230 during his days at Shea. When he hurt his shoulder during the 1991 season and underwent surgery, his Met career was all but over. He was then signed and released by respectively, the Dodgers, Marlins and Padres without appearing in a big league game for any of those teams. The Yankees then signed him in May of 1994 and he played in 13 games in pinstripes during the remainder of the 1994 and beginning of the ’95 seasons before he was again released. He signed with Texas in 1996 and suddenly erupted with his bat, hitting 24 home runs and driving in 99 from the bottom spot in the Rangers’ lineup. That one-time spurt got him a $1.6 million dollar one-year contract with the Pirates in ’97 and another $1.5 million in ’98 but he never again approached those lofty numbers.

Elster was considered a “hunk” by the ladies who used to swoon over him wherever he played. Married and divorced twice, the native of San Pedro, CA once hoped to use those good looks to establish a film career. He did get cast in a small part in the film “Little Big League” in 1994. In 1995,  just before he started his second season with the Yankees, he told a New York Times interviewer that he kept making excuses for his below-average play, especially his poor hitting during the first part of his career. He actually retired after the 1998 season and was working on opening a bar in Las Vegas. An amateur drummer himself, Elster’s plan was to invite musicians to jam there whenever they wanted. Before the idea got off the ground, he accepted an offer to play for the Dodgers in 2000. His one last thrill as a big league player occurred on April 11th of that season, when the Dodgers travelled to San Francisco to face their arch-rival Giants in the first game ever to be played in Petco Park. Elster hit three home runs in that game to lead LA to a win.

Other Yankees born on August 3rd include this one-time phee-nom and  this long-time New York bullpen coach.  I’d also like to wish my oldest son Matthew John, who also happens to be a great Yankee fan, a very happy 35th birthday.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1994 NYY 7 22 20 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 6 .000 .048 .000 .048
1995 NYY 10 18 17 1 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 5 .118 .167 .176 .343
13 Yrs 940 3225 2844 332 648 136 12 88 376 14 295 562 .228 .300 .377 .677
NYM (7 yrs) 537 1765 1584 166 355 75 6 34 174 10 142 242 .224 .288 .343 .631
TEX (2 yrs) 241 932 812 112 199 42 3 32 136 4 85 204 .245 .315 .422 .738
NYY (2 yrs) 17 40 37 1 2 1 0 0 0 0 2 11 .054 .103 .081 .184
LAD (1 yr) 80 259 220 29 50 8 0 14 32 0 38 52 .227 .341 .455 .796
PIT (1 yr) 39 164 138 14 31 6 2 7 25 0 21 39 .225 .327 .449 .776
PHI (1 yr) 26 65 53 10 11 4 1 1 9 0 7 14 .208 .302 .377 .679
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/3/2013.

August 2 – Happy Birthday Charlie Caldwell

ccaldwellYankee history is filled with athletes who made a bigger mark on the gridiron than they did the baseball diamond. George Halas blew his shot at becoming a starter in the Yankee outfield before he went back to Chicago and began his Hall of Fame playing and coaching career with the Bears. Fifteen years after Papa Bear took off the pinstripes, a USC football star named Jess Hill put them on and became New York’s starting center fielder for a while until Joe DiMaggio showed up. Hill would then become a successful football coach, eventually returning to his alma mater where he coached the Frank Gifford-led Trojan teams from the early fifties. Yankee fans my age remember when the former Ole Miss quarterback, Jake Gibbs replaced Elston Howard as New York’s starting catcher in 1967. George Steinbrenner had a special affinity for those who played with the pigskin. He drafted and signed John Elway, Deion Sanders and Drew Henson to Yankee baseball contracts. With the exception of Gibbs, great football talents did not translate into very productive Yankees and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant represents both extremes.

Charlie Caldwell was born on August 2, 1901 in Bristol, Virginia but he grew up in Yonkers, NY, where he became a legendary high school athlete. He expanded upon that legend at Princeton, lettering a total of seven times in the three major sports. He earned All-American status as a Crimson Tide pitcher and in 1925, he signed a contract to pitch for the New York Yankees. Manager Miller Huggins gave the right-hander three chances to make an impression during that ’25 season and unfortunately for Caldwell, the results were not good. In those three appearances, Caldwell pitched a total of two and two-thirds innings, gave up seven hits, five earned runs, and three walks. His ERA was just a shade less than seventeen. But before Huggins sent him home, Caldwell did throw one pitch that would dramatically impact the course of Yankee franchise history. It was a pitch Caldwell threw in batting practice. The hitter was the Yankees’ star first baseman, Wally Pipp. The ball sailed and hit Pipp squarely on the temple, forcing the player to the bench for that afternoon’s game. Pipp’s replacement at first base was Lou Gehrig. Gehrig of course would remain in that position without missing a game for the next thirteen seasons.

As for Caldwell, that errant pitch certainly helped seal his fate as a Yankee failure. He returned to Princeton and became an assistant football coach. In 1928, he was hired as the head football coach at Williams College in Massachusetts, where he would remain for the next 17 seasons. He then accepted the position of head football coach at his alma mater and became one of the school’s most successful coaches of all time. His Princeton gridiron teams went undefeated in 1950 and ’51, when Ivy League teams still played top tier football programs from around the country. Caldwell was famous for playing a traditional single wing offense at Princeton when every other school in the country was switching to the T-formation. He was also a champion of treating college football players as college students first and was one of the earliest advocates of reducing the influence of money and commercialism on the college game. Caldwell died from cancer in 1957, while still head coach at Princeton. He was just 56-years-old.

Caldwell shares his birthday with the first Latino to ever play for the Yankees.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1925 NYY 0 0 16.88 3 0 1 0 0 0 2.2 7 6 5 0 3 1 3.750
1 Yr 0 0 16.88 3 0 1 0 0 0 2.2 7 6 5 0 3 1 3.750
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/1/2013.