August 2013

August 21 – Happy Birthday Tom Greenwade

greenwade2He 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.

August 20 – Happy Birthday Pete Schneider

schneiderThere 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.

Schneider shares his August 20th birthday with this great former Yankee third baseman and this one time Yankee pitching prospect.

1919 NYY 0 1 .000 3.41 7 4 1 0 0 0 29.0 19 14 11 1 22 11 1.414
6 Yrs 59 86 .407 2.66 207 157 36 84 10 4 1274.0 1199 541 377 16 498 487 1.332
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
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/19/2013.

August 19 – Happy Birthday Atley Donald

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.

1938 NYY 0 1 .000 5.25 2 2 0 0 0 0 12.0 7 8 7 0 14 6 1.750
1939 NYY 13 3 .813 3.71 24 20 2 11 2 1 153.0 144 74 63 12 60 55 1.333
1940 NYY 8 3 .727 3.03 24 11 10 6 1 0 118.2 113 49 40 11 59 60 1.449
1941 NYY 9 5 .643 3.57 22 20 2 10 0 0 159.0 141 69 63 11 69 71 1.321
1942 NYY 11 3 .786 3.11 20 19 0 10 1 0 147.2 133 58 51 6 45 53 1.205
1943 NYY 6 4 .600 4.60 22 15 5 2 0 0 119.1 134 69 61 10 38 57 1.441
1944 NYY 13 10 .565 3.34 30 19 9 9 0 0 159.0 173 77 59 13 59 48 1.459
1945 NYY 5 4 .556 2.97 9 9 0 6 2 0 63.2 62 29 21 3 25 19 1.366
8 Yrs 65 33 .663 3.52 153 115 28 54 6 1 932.1 907 433 365 66 369 369 1.369
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/19/2013.

August 18 – Happy Birthday Marcus Lawton

marcus.lawtonThe 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.

This former Yankee infielder and coach and this Hall of Fame pitcher both share Lawton’s birthday.

1989 NYY 10 14 14 1 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 3 .214 .214 .214 .429
1 Yr 10 14 14 1 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 3 .214 .214 .214 .429
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/18/2013.

August 17 – Happy Birthday Butch Hobson

hobsonGeorge 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.

Hobson shares his birthday with this great Yankee catcher and this one-time reliever.

1982 NYY 30 60 58 2 10 2 0 0 3 0 1 14 .172 .183 .207 .390
8 Yrs 738 2799 2556 314 634 107 23 98 397 11 183 569 .248 .297 .423 .719
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
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/17/2013.