September 2013

September 26 – Happy Birthday Bobby Shantz

One of three pitchers to have played for the Yankees and won the MVP award, southpaw Bobby Shantz was a 24-game winner for the 1952 Philadelphia A’s who thought his career was over the following season when he blew out his left elbow. He suffered through four more pain-filled seasons with the A’s, pitching when he could and gradually regaining arm strength. By the time he was sent to the Yankees as part of a ten-player 1957 pre-season swap, Shantz was ready to resume his career as a starter.

It just so happened that Yankee ace, Whitey Ford, developed his own sore arm in 1957 so when Shantz started that season going 9-1 for New York, he became the toast of the Big Apple. He finished that year with an 11-5 record and led the league with a 2.45 ERA. The diminuitive 5 foot 6 inch Shantz stayed in Pinstripes for the next four seasons, gradually becoming Casey Stengel’s best reliever.

Yankee Universe’s memory of this little southpaw would be a lot brighter if the infield at old Forbes Field had been groomed more professionally. The Yankees had quickly fallen behind in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, when Bob Turley and Bill Stafford gave up four early runs to the Pirates.  Stengel then put Shantz in the game in the third inning. He pitched shutout ball until Bill Virdon’s eighth inning grounder to short caromed off a stone that shouldn’t have been there, causing it to take a crazy hop into Tony Kubek’s Adam’s apple and turn a sure double play into a rally starting infield single. If Kubek makes that play Shantz’s pitching performance would reside right up there in the pantheon of outstanding moments in Yankee history. Instead, we got a real-life reenactment of David using a stone to kill Goliath and Mazeroski’s bronze statue stands outside of Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.

Its also too bad Virdon didn’t hit that ball to Shantz, instead. Bobby was a seven-time Gold Glove winner during his career. Bobby was born on September 26, 1925, in Pottsown, PA. Happy 86th birthday Bobby.

Stengel and his pitching coach, Jim Turner perfected the role of spot starter during their Yankee tenures. They used Johnny Sain, Shantz, Duke Maas, Bob Turley and Jim Coates to near perfection in that dual role and each of them helped New York make it to at least one World Series. By the way, Spud Chandler and Roger Clemens were the other two pitchers who won MVP Awards and also played for the Yankees. Chandler was the only one of the three to win the award as a Yankee.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1957 NYY 11 5 .688 2.45 30 21 6 9 1 5 173.0 157 58 47 15 40 72 1.139
1958 NYY 7 6 .538 3.36 33 13 7 3 0 0 126.0 127 52 47 8 35 80 1.286
1959 NYY 7 3 .700 2.38 33 4 14 2 2 3 94.2 64 33 25 4 33 66 1.025
1960 NYY 5 4 .556 2.79 42 0 21 0 0 11 67.2 57 24 21 5 24 54 1.197
16 Yrs 119 99 .546 3.38 537 171 192 78 15 48 1935.2 1795 817 726 151 643 1072 1.260
KCA (8 yrs) 69 65 .515 3.80 220 124 55 61 11 11 1166.2 1132 535 492 95 424 566 1.334
NYY (4 yrs) 30 18 .625 2.73 138 38 48 14 3 19 461.1 405 167 140 32 132 272 1.164
STL (3 yrs) 12 10 .545 2.51 99 0 61 0 0 15 154.1 114 56 43 15 44 129 1.024
PIT (1 yr) 6 3 .667 3.32 43 6 16 2 1 2 89.1 91 38 33 5 26 61 1.310
PHI (1 yr) 1 1 .500 2.25 14 0 3 0 0 0 32.0 23 10 8 1 6 18 0.906
CHC (1 yr) 0 1 .000 5.56 20 0 9 0 0 1 11.1 15 7 7 2 6 12 1.853
HOU (1 yr) 1 1 .500 1.31 3 3 0 1 0 0 20.2 15 4 3 1 5 14 0.968
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/26/2013.

September 25 – Happy Birthday David Weathers

weathersDavid Weathers made his big league debut in 1991 as a 20-year-old Toronto Blue Jay right-hander. The native of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee started out as a reliever, switched to starting when he was traded to the Marlins in 1993 and then went back to the bullpen permanently after he pitched poorly in his first four starts with the Yankees three seasons later.

In fact, he pitched pretty horribly for New York during both of the regular seasons he wore the pinstripes but he stepped up big time during the 1996 postseason. He got wins in both the ALDS and ALCS that year and pitched a total of eight innings of scoreless ball between the two. Joe Torre then used Weathers in Games 1, 4 and 6 of that year’s World Series against the Braves and he gave up only a single run. Given the fact that Yankee owner George Steinbrenner had publicly criticized the reliever after his poor start in the regular season that year, there’s no doubt Weathers’ fall ball heroics were the only reason he remained in the Yankees’ bullpen plans for 1997. Unfortunately, he got off to an even worse start that year and this time Steinbrenner got his wish. Weathers was traded to the Indians in early June of 1997 for outfielder Chad Curtis.

After leaving the Bronx, Weathers just kept pitching and pitching and pitching, going from Cleveland to Cincinnati, to Milwaukee, to the Cubs, back to New York with the Mets, and then return trips to the Reds and Marlins. In all he pitched in over 900 games before his career ended in 2009 and in 2007, his stick-to-it-ness paid off when he was made the Reds closer and saved 33 games.

Weathers was born on the very same day as this Hall-of-Fame Yankee shortstop, this former Yankee reliever/pitching coach and also with Robinson Cano’s predecessor as Yankee starting second baseman.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1996 NYY 0 2 .000 9.35 11 4 1 0 0 0 17.1 23 19 18 1 14 13 2.135
1997 NYY 0 1 .000 10.00 10 0 3 0 0 0 9.0 15 10 10 1 7 4 2.444
19 Yrs 73 88 .453 4.25 964 69 304 0 0 75 1376.1 1432 711 650 133 604 976 1.479
CIN (6 yrs) 22 27 .449 3.97 341 9 157 0 0 61 398.2 388 188 176 39 164 283 1.385
FLA (5 yrs) 17 22 .436 5.16 105 55 11 0 0 0 359.0 425 227 206 33 159 216 1.627
MIL (5 yrs) 18 17 .514 3.53 237 0 71 0 0 7 298.2 282 129 117 30 120 223 1.346
NYM (3 yrs) 12 12 .500 3.22 180 0 42 0 0 7 198.2 197 82 71 17 91 161 1.450
NYY (2 yrs) 0 3 .000 9.57 21 4 4 0 0 0 26.1 38 29 28 2 21 17 2.241
TOR (2 yrs) 1 0 1.000 5.50 17 0 4 0 0 0 18.0 20 12 11 2 19 16 2.167
CLE (1 yr) 1 2 .333 7.56 9 1 2 0 0 0 16.2 23 14 14 2 8 14 1.860
CHC (1 yr) 1 1 .500 3.18 28 0 4 0 0 0 28.1 28 10 10 3 9 20 1.306
HOU (1 yr) 1 4 .200 4.78 26 0 9 0 0 0 32.0 31 20 17 5 13 26 1.375
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/25/2013.

September 24 – Happy Birthday Dixie Walker

What I love about writing this Blog are the things I learn about Yankee history that I didn’t know. Today’s post offers an excellent example of that. If not for a collision at home plate and some bad knees, Joe DiMaggio might never have been a Yankee and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Dixie “The People’s Cherce” Walker would probably have been the guy who replaced him.

The collision at home plate took place between Dixie and a Chicago White Sox catcher named Charley Berry during Walker’s 1933 rookie season with the Yankees. Earlier that year, Walker had been knocked down twice in the same game by a Chicago pitcher. After he got up from the ground after the second brushback, Walker told Berry he’d be coming in hard at home the next chance he got. Sure enough, later that same year Dixie found himself rounding third and bearing down on Berry. There were three problems for Dixie with this scenario. Berry outweighed Dixie by ten pounds, he was wearing protective catcher’s gear, and he knew Walker was coming to get him. With the element of surprise gone, Berry braced himself for what was a violent collision at the plate. Not only did Berry hold onto the ball but it was Dixie who ended up getting injured on the play, suffering a separated shoulder that would keep getting dislocated for the rest of the outfielder’s years in the Yankee organization.

Fred Walker was born in Villa Rica, Georgia on September 24, 1910. His Dad had been a pitcher with the Senators who went 25-31 during his four years in the big leagues. His Father, who’s real first name had been Ewart, had thankfully been given the nickname Dixie and the son inherited it. The Walker family had baseball in its blood. Dixie Sr.’s brother Ernie had been an outfielder with the Browns and Dixie’s own kid brother, Harry, would one day win an NL Batting title and later become one of the great hitting instructors in the history of the game.

The Yankees had purchased Dixie Walker’s contract from a minor league team in 1930. For the next three years, he tore up minor league pitching at every level and the Yankees front office took notice. With Babe Ruth growing older and ornery, New York needed to groom his replacement and by 1933, the prime candidate for that role had become Walker. He was given his first real chance to show what he could do at the big league level in 1933. Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy played his rookie in center field and often batted him lead-off. Walker was just 22-years-old at the time and responded with a strong season. In 98 games of action, he hit .274 and proved his left-handed swing was well-suited for Yankee Stadium by drilling 15 home runs and driving in 51. But he also tore up that shoulder and McCarthy had little respect or use for players who would not play hurt. Knowing that, Walker tried to play through his injury, which only exasperated his condition. He could no longer throw the ball and if you played center field for a big league club you had to be able to throw the ball.

As Walker tried to play through his shoulder problems in the Minors, the Yankee front office began taking notice of this DiMaggio kid playing out in San Francisco. He had put together a 61-game hitting streak in the Pacific Coast League but most big league teams were leery of him because he had suffered some knee injuries and the rumor was, he could not stay healthy. The Yankee’s minor league development guy was the tight-fisted genius, George Weiss. With few other suitors to compete against, Weiss was able to purchase the future Yankee Clipper’s contract for just $25,000 and as soon as he did, Walker was no longer the chosen one to replace Ruth as the next Yankee franchise outfielder.

The Yankees then traded Dixie to the White Sox where he once again dislocated that bum shoulder. That’s when it was determined that surgery was Walker’s only option and in what was a pretty experimental procedure back then, a bone graft was done to rebuild a chip in his shoulder and from that point on in his career, it never dislocated again. He hit .302 for the White Sox in 1937. He got traded to Detroit the following season and hit .308 in MoTown. But he hurt his knee while playing for the Tigers and when Detroit’s front office told him he needed another operation, Walker refused and was sold to the Dodgers.

Dixie would spend the next nine seasons becoming the star outfielder for “Dem Bums.” He would average .311 during that time and win the 1944 NL Batting title in the process. Dodger fans adored him until he threatened to not play if Jackie Robinson was made his Brooklyn teammate. His prejudice got him banished to Pittsburgh, where he played out his career and retired after the 1949 season.

Walker shares his September 24th birthday with former Yankee pitcher Jeff Karstens and former Yankee DH, Erik Soderholm.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1931 NYY 2 10 10 1 3 2 0 0 1 0 0 4 .300 .300 .500 .800
1933 NYY 98 359 328 68 90 15 7 15 51 2 26 28 .274 .330 .500 .830
1934 NYY 17 19 17 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 .118 .167 .118 .284
1935 NYY 8 13 13 1 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 1 .154 .154 .231 .385
1936 NYY 6 21 20 3 7 0 2 1 5 1 1 3 .350 .381 .700 1.081
18 Yrs 1905 7670 6740 1037 2064 376 96 105 1023 59 817 325 .306 .383 .437 .820
BRO (9 yrs) 1207 5094 4492 666 1395 274 56 67 725 44 539 185 .311 .386 .441 .827
NYY (5 yrs) 131 422 388 75 104 18 9 16 58 3 28 39 .268 .319 .485 .803
PIT (2 yrs) 217 677 589 65 180 23 4 3 72 1 78 29 .306 .387 .374 .760
DET (2 yrs) 170 704 608 114 187 31 11 10 62 9 80 40 .308 .389 .444 .833
CHW (2 yrs) 180 773 663 117 198 30 16 9 106 2 92 32 .299 .385 .433 .818
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/24/2013.

September 23 -Happy Birthday Woody Woodward

woodwardHis full name is William Frederick Woodward and he was born in Miami, Florida on this date in 1942. After playing two years of college ball at Florida State he was drafted by the then Milwaukee Braves in 1963 and made his Major League debut that same September. He would spend the next eight seasons as mostly a utility middle infielder, first with the Braves and then, after a June 1968 trade, with Cincinnati. He was pretty much one of those good-fielding, weak-hitting guys who used to regularly play the positions between first and third for most Major League clubs back then. His lifetime batting average was .236 and he hit just a single home run during his playing days, a two-run shot off his ex-Atlanta teammate, Ron Reed, while he was playing for the Reds in 1970. As it turned out, that home run would not be the biggest shock of his career. That happened in 1971, during a game in LA against the Dodgers, when a 10 pound bag of flour dropped out of the sky and landed just a few feet away from where Woodward was standing at shortstop.

After hanging up his spikes, Woodward eventually became head coach of Florida State, where he oversaw four very successful seasons of Seminole baseball. He then accepted the assistant GM position with the Reds in 1981 and in 1985, George Steinbrenner hired him to serve as an assistant to then Yankee GM, Clyde King. Those were the days Steinbrenner was firing his GMs more frequently than the Kardashian girls use a mirror. In 1987, it became Woodward’s turn to take the job. He lasted in it for about a year. During his tenure, Lou Piniella was the Yankee field manager and he’d often meet with Woodward to discuss the team’s personnel needs. One day, Sweet Lou asked Woody if George Steinbrenner was as rough on Yankee GMs as he was on his managers. In response, Woodward opened his desk drawer to show Piniella it was filled with prescription drugs and antacids.  There were probably times during his days working for “the Boss” that old Woody wished that bag of flour that fell from the heavens sixteen years earlier had hit him square in the head.

During his single year in the job, his trades brought Rick Rhoden, Pat Clements, Cecilio Guante, Ron Romanick, Alan Mills, Randy Velarde, Mark Slas and Bill Gullickson to the Bronx and his most notable draft choice was the outfielder, Gerald Williams. Steinbrenner then replaced him with Lou Piniella and a few years later, Woodward became GM of the Mariners, where he traded for Randy Johnson, drafted Alex Rodriguez, Brett Boone, and Raul Ibanez, hired his buddy Lou Piniella as manager and made Seattle one of the better teams in baseball. He  still works for the Mariner organization as a part time scout.

Woody shares his birthday with this Yankee pitcher.

September 22 – Happy Birthday Urban Shocker

This Cleveland, Ohio native started his big league pitching career as a Yankee in 1916 and pitched well enough to go 12-8 with a 2.62 ERA over the course of his first two seasons. At Manager Miller Huggins’ urging, New York than included the right-hander in a package of players they sent to the Browns in January of 1918 for second baseman Del Pratt and Hall of Fame hurler, Eddie Plank. At the time the deal was made Plank was at the end of his career and he never pitched a game for the Yankees. Pratt gave New York three decent seasons but it was Shocker who proved to be the gem in that transaction. He became a four-time twenty game winner for the Browns that included a league-leading 27 victories in 1921. He also became a thorn in Huggins side as a Yankee killer who was particularly effective against the great Babe Ruth. Seven years after he left New York, again at Huggins urging, the Yankees got him back and Urban finished his big league career in pinstripes. What no one knew at the time of his return except Shocker and a few of his close friends was that the pitcher was slowly dying of heart disease. So when he won 49 games during his three-plus season return tour of duty in the Big Apple, it was in fact a super-human effort, that included a 19-11 record in 1926 and an 18-6 record for the Murderer’s Row team of 1927.

He was too weak to make it to the Yankees 1928 spring training and when he did rejoin the club, he collapsed while pitching batting practice in Chicago. By September of that same year, Shocker was dead at the age of just 38 years old. His lifetime record was 187 and 117 and his record in pinstripes, 61-37. But that 18-6 effort when his heart was literally turning to stone during the 1927 season will forever remain one of the most remarkable achievements by a pitcher in baseball history.

Shocker wasn’t the only Yankee born on this date to enjoy consecutive twenty-win seasons as a big league pitcher. In fact, this Hall of Famer had two separate three-season streaks of twenty or more wins and enjoyed a total of seven during his 13-year career. You can find out who he is by clicking here. This former Yankee catcher was also born on September 22nd.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1916 NYY 4 3 .571 2.62 12 9 3 4 1 0 82.1 67 25 24 2 32 43 1.202
1917 NYY 8 5 .615 2.61 26 13 6 7 0 1 145.0 124 59 42 5 46 68 1.172
1925 NYY 12 12 .500 3.65 41 30 7 15 2 2 244.1 278 108 99 17 58 74 1.375
1926 NYY 19 11 .633 3.38 41 32 7 18 0 2 258.1 272 113 97 16 71 59 1.328
1927 NYY 18 6 .750 2.84 31 27 1 13 2 0 200.0 207 86 63 8 41 35 1.240
1928 NYY 0 0 0.00 1 0 1 0 0 0 2.0 3 0 0 0 0 0 1.500
13 Yrs 187 117 .615 3.17 412 317 72 200 28 25 2681.2 2709 1131 945 130 657 983 1.255
SLB (7 yrs) 126 80 .612 3.19 260 206 47 143 23 20 1749.2 1758 740 620 82 409 704 1.239
NYY (6 yrs) 61 37 .622 3.14 152 111 25 57 5 5 932.0 951 391 325 48 248 279 1.286
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/22/2013.