September 2013

September 21 – Happy Birthday Cecil Fielder

If you’re a Yankee fan who is at least twenty years old, you probably remember Cecil Fielder well. He was born on today’s date in 1963, in Los Angeles. The Yankees acquired the slugging first baseman from Detroit during the 1996 season in a move designed to get some right-handed power on their bench. Fielder filled that role perfectly, blasting 13 home runs and driving in 68 in just 98 games.

When starting first baseman, Tino Martinez slumped in the AL playoffs and New York fell behind 2-0 in the ’96 World Series against the Braves, Joe Torre started Fielder at first in the DH-less games in Atlanta and benched Martinez. Cecil responded with an overall .391 average in that Series and because Tino ended up hitting just .091 against Atlanta, many Big Apple sports pundits predicted Fielder would see a lot more action at first base for New York, in ’97. That rumor gained even more traction during the off-season, when the Yankee front-office let it be known that they were considering offering the big guy a three-year contract extension.

That’s when Fielder and his agent over-played their hand and started making some hefty demands involving dollars. The Yankees backed off and New York fans responded to Fielder’s whining by turning on the huge slugger when the 97 season got underway. Fielder’s Yankee fate was sealed when he broke his thumb that July while Martinez was simultaneously in the process of putting together the season of his life, hitting 44 homers and driving in 141 runs. The Yankees’ released Cecil following their playoff loss that year to the Indians.

Since that time, published reports alleging Fielder had severe gambling problems certainly help explain why Fielder seemed to behave so greedily during that 1996 off-season negotiation. We also have since learned that Cecil’s look-alike son Prince, now a big league slugger in his own right, had pretty much disowned the elder Fielder years ago, disgusted with his Father’s gambling habits and resulting money problems. I read one article that claimed Cecil took half of Prince’s bonus money when his son signed with the Brewers.

Too bad for the Fielders and too bad for Major League Baseball. After all, these two guys are the only father and son combination to both hit fifty home runs in a big league season. They should be doing commercials together. Cecil earned close to $50 million playing the game and Prince will probably quadruple that amount by the end of his own career. Ordinary fans struggling to pay their property taxes, health insurance premiums and grocery bills have a real difficult time comprehending how money ever gets to be a divisive issue with athletes who have so God darn much of it, especially when those athletes are father and son.

In any event, the Yankees might not have won that 1996 World Championship without Cecil Fielder.  I hope he gets his priorities and his problems straightened out and finds some peace in the years ahead.

Fielder shares his September 21st birthday with another former big league star who got traded to the Yankees late in his career and who also had to do battle with a debilitating personal demon. This long-ago Yankee outfielder was also born on this date.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1996 NYY 53 228 200 30 52 8 0 13 37 0 24 48 .260 .342 .495 .837
1997 NYY 98 425 361 40 94 15 0 13 61 0 51 87 .260 .358 .410 .768
13 Yrs 1470 5939 5157 744 1313 200 7 319 1008 2 693 1316 .255 .345 .482 .827
DET (7 yrs) 982 4252 3674 558 947 141 4 245 758 2 519 926 .258 .351 .498 .849
TOR (4 yrs) 220 558 506 67 123 19 2 31 84 0 46 144 .243 .308 .472 .781
NYY (2 yrs) 151 653 561 70 146 23 0 26 98 0 75 135 .260 .352 .440 .793
CLE (1 yr) 14 37 35 1 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 13 .143 .189 .171 .361
ANA (1 yr) 103 439 381 48 92 16 1 17 68 0 52 98 .241 .335 .423 .757
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/21/2013.

September 20 – Happy Birthday Tom Tresh

I was seven years old when I heard the news that Tony Kubek was not going to be able to play for the Yankees during the 1962 baseball season because he had to report for National Guard duty. Having just started following the Yankees in 1960, this represented the first time ever that I was about to experience one of my favorite team’s regular players leave the lineup. Up until Kubek’s military call-up, I probably thought only death could separate Skowren from Richardson, from Kubek, from Boyer, from Howard, from Mantle from Maris from Berra, etc.

So who was going to play shortstop for New York? The Yankees answered that question by bringing up Tom Tresh from their Richmond minor league team. Born on September 20, 1937 in Detroit, Tresh was a switch hitter, just like my boyhood hero, Mickey Mantle and his dad Mike had been a catcher for the White Sox in the late thirties and early forties. The Yankees batted Tresh second in the lineup, just like Kubek, and he was having a great year. He had more power than Kubek, hitting 20 home runs in 1962 and he also drove in 93. He wasn’t as good a shortstop as Kubek but not many were. When I learned Kubek would be back in a Yankee uniform in August of that season, I was torn. I liked Tony but this new guy had grown on me. When I heard the Yankees were going to instead use Tresh as their regular left-fielder when Kubek returned, I was an ecstatic young man.

The Yankees ended up winning the 1962 pennant and another World Series and Tresh made the All Star team and was voted the AL Rookie of the Year. I was sure Mantle, Maris and Tresh would be the best outfield in baseball for a long time. Unfortunately, as it turned out, injuries to both Mantle and Maris prevented that from happening. Tresh made the defensive transition to his new position seamlessly, even winning a Gold Glove in 1965. But he never again put together as good an offensive year as he had during his rookie season. Though New York won Pennants in 1963 and ’64, their core group of starting position players got old fast and by 1965, most of their skills had deserted them.  Even the much younger Tresh stopped hitting. His highest single season batting average after 1965 was just .233.

I was shocked back in October of 2008 when a headline at NYTimes.com reported Tom Tresh had died. I was probably more shocked to find out that he was seventy years old at the time. Where have all those Yankee baseball summers gone?

Tresh shares his birthday with another one-time Yankee shortstop prospect.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1961 NYY 9 8 8 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .250 .250 .250 .500
1962 NYY 157 712 622 94 178 26 5 20 93 4 67 74 .286 .359 .441 .800
1963 NYY 145 614 520 91 140 28 5 25 71 3 83 79 .269 .371 .487 .857
1964 NYY 153 621 533 75 131 25 5 16 73 13 73 110 .246 .342 .402 .743
1965 NYY 156 668 602 94 168 29 6 26 74 5 59 92 .279 .348 .477 .825
1966 NYY 151 637 537 76 125 12 4 27 68 5 86 89 .233 .341 .421 .762
1967 NYY 130 509 448 45 98 23 3 14 53 1 50 86 .219 .301 .377 .678
1968 NYY 152 590 507 60 99 18 3 11 52 10 76 97 .195 .304 .308 .612
1969 NYY 45 161 143 13 26 5 2 1 9 2 17 23 .182 .269 .266 .534
9 Yrs 1192 4897 4251 595 1041 179 34 153 530 45 550 698 .245 .335 .411 .746
NYY (9 yrs) 1098 4520 3920 549 967 166 33 140 493 43 511 651 .247 .337 .413 .750
DET (1 yr) 94 377 331 46 74 13 1 13 37 2 39 47 .224 .305 .387 .692
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/21/2013.

September 19 – Happy Birthday Hersh Martin

MartinHershHersh Martin serves as a good example of the type of players the Yankees employed during the WWII years, when so many of the guys who constituted Major League Baseball’s regular line-ups were called to service in the military. Martin was New York’s starting left fielder in 1944 and ’45.

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, he had originally been signed by the Cardinal organization in 1932, at the age of 22. He played the next the next five years in the St Louis farm system and then made his big league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1937. The Philly team he joined was not very good and the switch-hitting Martin became their regular center-fielder. He led that team in runs scored with 102 and hit a solid .283 in his rookie season. He then averaged .298 in 1938 and made the NL All Star team.

In June of 1940, the Phillies sold Martin to the New York Giants and he was sent back to the minors, where he spent the next four years. The Yankees then purchased his contract in June of 1944 and manager Joe McCarthy immediately inserted him into the line-up as New York’s starting left fielder. He was 34-years-old by then. He hit .302 during the second half of that season and then followed that up by hitting .268 in 1945.

Though he was a big guy, at six feet two inches tall and weighing close to two hundred pounds, Martin did not have much power. He also was not noted for his speed. The truth of the matter is that he probably would not have got the opportunity to start or maybe even sub for the New York Yankees under normal circumstances. But WWII was not a normal circumstance, and career minor leaguers like Martin, who had some Major League experience on their resumes, did an admirable job keeping our national pastime functioning at a time when our armed forces and those serving the war effort at home, desperately needed something to cheer about.

Martin returned to minor league ball after the 1945 season and continued playing regularly at that level until 1953. When he finally hung up his spikes he had 2,299 career base hits as a minor leaguer. He then got into scouting and later worked seventeen years in that capacity for the Mets. He passed away in 1980 at the age of 71.

He shares his birthday with this former Cy Young Award winner, this author of a Yankee no-hitter, this oft-injured former Yankee and this teammate of Martin’s on the WWII era Bronx Bombers.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1944 NYY 85 368 328 49 99 12 4 9 47 5 34 26 .302 .371 .445 .816
1945 NYY 117 479 408 53 109 18 6 7 53 4 65 31 .267 .368 .392 .760
6 Yrs 607 2547 2257 331 643 135 29 28 215 33 253 207 .285 .359 .408 .766
PHI (4 yrs) 405 1700 1521 229 435 105 19 12 115 24 154 150 .286 .354 .404 .757
NYY (2 yrs) 202 847 736 102 208 30 10 16 100 9 99 57 .283 .369 .416 .785
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/21/2013.

September 18 – Happy Birthday Brent Lillibridge

lillibridgeA few years from now, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant will certainly be one of the more difficult-to-remember answers to the trivia question; “Can you name someone who played third base for the Yankees during the 2013 regular season?” Brent Lillibridge’s first day in pinstripes was a sad one in Yankee Universe. He was called up from Scranton/Wilkes Barre to take the place of Derek Jeter in July, after the Yankee Captain’s first attempt to play in 2013 ended with a strained quad and a return trip to the DL.

Unfortunately for Lillibridge, he hit just .171 during his 11-game sojourn at the Yankees’ hot-corner position and quickly lost the job. Ironically, Lillibridge was one of the White Sox players traded to Boston in 2012 for Kevin Youklis, who was supposed to be the Yankees’ starting third baseman in 2013 until A-Rod returned from his offseason hip surgery.

Don’t feel too sorry for this native of Everett, Washington who turns 30 years old today. Despite the fact that the Yankees were the sixth team he’s played for during his six seasons in the big leagues and despite the fact that as of today his lifetime average in the Majors is just .205, the guy has earned over $2 million in salary during that time. That’s about double what the Yankees paid Hall-of-Famer, Mickey Mantle for his eighteen years of service in pinstripes.

He shares his birthday with this long-ago Yankee pitcher and this more current one too.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2013 NYY 11 37 35 2 6 1 0 0 3 1 1 8 .171 .194 .200 .394
6 Yrs 358 784 708 102 145 25 4 19 71 37 49 235 .205 .267 .332 .599
CHW (4 yrs) 256 499 442 76 96 13 3 15 50 28 38 150 .217 .291 .362 .653
ATL (1 yr) 29 85 80 9 16 6 1 1 8 2 3 23 .200 .238 .338 .576
BOS (1 yr) 10 16 16 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .125 .125 .125 .250
CHC (1 yr) 9 24 24 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 9 .042 .042 .042 .083
CLE (1 yr) 43 123 111 15 24 5 0 3 8 6 7 40 .216 .276 .342 .619
NYY (1 yr) 11 37 35 2 6 1 0 0 3 1 1 8 .171 .194 .200 .394
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/20/2013.

September 17 – Happy Birthday Al Gettel

gettelIt took Al Gettel ten years to climb the rungs of the Yankees’ farm system ladder and make it to the Bronx. A big, good-looking farm boy from Kempsville, Virginia, he had been signed by New York in 1936, out of high school. That was right about the time Joe McCarthy had put together an outstanding Yankee pitching staff that would end up leading the Bronx Bombers to four straight World Championships. That great pitching at the big league level created a bottleneck for the organization’s good pitchers in the minors and Gettel found himself right in the middle of it.

He finally got called up in 1945 and McCarthy used him regularly as both a starter and reliever. He went 9-8 in his rookie season with 3 saves and a 3.90 ERA. He actually pitched better in his sophomore season for New York, lowering his ERA below three and hurling his first two big league shutouts. That was the same year the Yankees were sold to the triumvirate of Dan Topping, Del Webb and the unpredictable Lee MacPhail. McCarthy hated MacPhail and quit as Yankee skipper. Anxious to put his personal stamp on his new team, MacPhail was eager to make trades and Gettel’s lackluster 6-7 record in the just completed 1946 season had put a target on the pitcher’s back. A few weeks before Christmas that year, MacPhail completed a five player transaction that sent Gettel to Cleveland.

The six-foot-three-inch, two-hundred-pound right-hander then had the best season of his Major League career, going 11-10 for the Tribe in ’47 with a 3.20 ERA and two more shutouts. After a horrible start the following season, he was traded to the White Sox but did little to distinguish himself during the balance of his days in the big leagues.

He did, however become a star in the Pacific Coast League, where he continied to pitch until 1956. He also became a movie actor, scoring several minor roles in Hollywood westerns, thanks to his good looks and ability to ride a horse. It was during his movie days as a cowboy that he picked up the nickname of “Two Gun.” Gettel also made headlines in 2001 when he told a Wall Street Journal reporter that the 1951 New York Giants had concocted an elaborate scheme to steal the pitching signs of opposing teams. He had pitched out of the bullpen for that Giant team until he had been sold to the Oakland Oaks in the PCL in July of that ’51 season.  Gettel lived until 2005, passing away at the age of 87.

He shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee outfielder and this one-time Yankee first base prospect.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1945 NYY 9 8 .529 3.90 27 17 7 9 0 3 154.2 141 70 67 11 53 67 1.254
1946 NYY 6 7 .462 2.97 26 11 8 5 2 0 103.0 89 40 34 6 40 54 1.252
7 Yrs 38 45 .458 4.28 184 79 52 31 5 6 734.1 711 382 349 72 310 310 1.390
CLE (2 yrs) 11 11 .500 3.91 36 23 6 9 2 0 156.2 137 69 68 14 72 68 1.334
NYY (2 yrs) 15 15 .500 3.53 53 28 15 14 2 3 257.2 230 110 101 17 93 121 1.254
CHW (2 yrs) 10 15 .400 4.73 41 26 8 8 1 2 211.0 223 124 111 19 86 71 1.464
WSH (1 yr) 0 2 .000 5.45 16 1 8 0 0 1 34.2 43 24 21 4 24 7 1.933
NYG (1 yr) 1 2 .333 4.87 30 1 11 0 0 0 57.1 52 37 31 12 25 36 1.343
STL (1 yr) 1 0 1.000 9.00 8 0 4 0 0 0 17.0 26 18 17 6 10 7 2.118
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/20/2013.