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|