September 2013

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.

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.