Remember when Ken Griffey Jr. was in his prime and told everyone that he would never play for the Yankees? That’s because “The Kid’s” father, Ken Griffey Sr. felt the same way. Of course, by the time the elder Griffey had figured that out, he had already been wearing Yankee pinstripes for a year and then had spent the next three and a half seasons with the team begging to be traded.
He would finally get his wish on the last day of June, during the 1986 season when the Yanks sent the unhappy outfielder to the Braves in exchange for Claudell Washington and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Press reports describing the trade at the time indicated the Yankees expected to start Claudell Washington in left field and Paul Zuvella at short.
I was one of those faithful Yankee fans who really hoped Griffey would be a star in New York and since that hadn’t happened, I wasn’t sorry to see him go. I knew Washington would be an adequate starting outfielder for that Yankee team but I also knew Paul Zuvella had no shot at becoming the team’s starting shortstop.
The shortstop position had been an anomaly for New York since Bucky Dent had been traded in 1983. Lou Piniella was the manager of that ’86 team and he wasn’t exactly known for being patient with his players, especially with an even more impatient owner like George Steinbrenner watching over his shoulder and breathing down his neck.
Zuvella had played his college ball for Stanford and had a good run with the 1978 version of Team USA. That got him drafted by Atlanta and he made his big league debut with the Braves in 1982. It took him four seasons to earn just the utility infielder’s job there and then he lost even that at midseason and spent the second half of 1985 back in the minors.
He started his first season in New York with an 0 – for – 25 slump and and at the end of his first month with the team the guy was hitting .083. Piniella, Steinbrenner and Yankee fans had seen enough and Zuvella was banished to Columbus for the rest of the season. He reappeared at the Yankees 1987 spring training camp and found himself in a battle with Bobby Meacham for the Yankee’s utility infielder slot. Though Meacham outplayed him in every facet of the game that spring, it was Zuvella who headed north with the team for Opening Day. Why? Because George Steinbrenner did not like Bobby Meacham, so the Yankee owner ordered Piniella to demote him and keep Zuvella.
The native of San Mateo, California was able to double his average during his second abbreviated season in the Bronx but that still meant he hit just .176. Zuvella’s Yankee career was over. He was released that October and spent the next couple of seasons with Cleveland. He eventually became a minor league manager in the Rockies’ organization. His claim to pinstriped fame? His name appears at the very end of an alphabetized version of the Yankees’ all-time roster.
|ATL (4 yrs)||97||246||221||18||53||9||1||0||5||2||20||18||.240||.306||.290||.595|
|CLE (2 yrs)||75||206||188||19||46||7||1||2||13||0||9||24||.245||.283||.324||.607|
|NYY (2 yrs)||35||93||82||4||10||1||0||0||2||0||5||8||.122||.172||.134||.307|
|KCR (1 yr)||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
I’m sure you never heard of former Yankee pitcher Marty McHale. Heck, he only pitched for New York for just three seasons, compiled a pretty horrible 11-27 record doing so and his pinstriped career began 100 years ago, so why would you? But the right-handed McHale was anything but just an ex Yankee pitcher nobody ever heard of.
For starters, he was actually very talented on the mound. He was known for his spitball but he also threw a real good curve and a pretty good fastball. At the University of Maine, he was a three-sport star and when he threw three consecutive no-hitters for the Black Bears’ baseball team, several major league clubs came calling. A native of Stoneham, Massachusetts, which is a suburb of Boston, McHale accepted a $2,000 bonus to sign with the Red Sox. He then spent the next three seasons bouncing back and forth between the minors and Beantown, trying to stick to the team’s big league roster.
He never did win a game for the Red Sox but he did establish a singing career. The guy was an incredible Irish tenor. Babe Ruth, who was famous for never remembering the face or the name of a teammate had no problem remembering McHale, telling reporters the pitcher had the best singing voice he ever heard. During his days with Boston, the pitcher became part of a singing group called the Red Sox quartet that became a very popular act around town. After joining the Yankees, McHale teamed up with the New York Giants Mike Donlin to form a very popular vaudeville act. The venerable Variety Magazine, thought enough of McHale’s vocal ability to dub him “Baseball’s Caruso.”
In any event, the Yankees purchased McHale’s contract in August of the 1913 regular season and Frank Chance, the New York skipper at the time, fell in love with the guy. He got seven starts in the next two months and though he was just 2-4 in those starts, his ERA was a very respectable 2.96.
The singing pitcher was good enough to earn the Opening Day pitching assignments for New York in both the 1914 and ’15 seasons and he won both games. But the Yankee ball clubs he pitched for were some of the worst in franchise history and McHale had a tough time earning winning decisions. He went 6-16 during his second year with the team and just 3-7 in 1915.
The Yankees then released him and he ended up pitching one more year in the big leagues before hanging up his glove for good after the 1916 season. He was 29 years-old with a wife and two boys at home. He probably realized careers in both baseball and show business were not conducive to a stable family life so he started a third career as a New York stockbroker. He retired from M. J. McHale Securities 52 years later. Baseball’s Caruso had conquered Wall Street too.
|BOS (3 yrs)||0||3||.000||5.90||8||4||3||1||0||0||29.0||41||27||19||1||13||18||1.862|
|NYY (3 yrs)||11||27||.289||3.28||51||40||8||22||1||1||318.0||330||148||116||5||62||111||1.233|
|CLE (1 yr)||0||0||5.56||5||0||2||0||0||0||11.1||10||7||7||1||6||2||1.412|
When I saw that today was Karim Garcia’s birthday it brought back memories of the Yankee’s classic 2003 ALCS series against Boston. I watched and enjoyed every single inning of all seven games in that series and I will never forget the Game Three confrontations that all began when the great but sometimes too emotional Pedro Martinez hit Garcia in the back with one of his fastballs. That started a chain reaction of reactions that included the threatening hand signal communication between Martinez and Posada, Garcia’s hard slide into second, Manny Ramirez ducking away from a Roger Clemens pitch that was nowhere near him followed by a bench clearing scuffle during which Pedro pulled his famous matador move on the bull-rushing “Popye” Zimmer, who had forgotten for a moment that he was 72-years old. Then later on, Garcia and Jeff Nelson got into a surreal fight with a Red Sox groundskeeper in the Yankee bullpen. What tends to be forgotten about that series was how competitive it was. Four of the last five games were decided by a single run and the seventh contest was one of the most dramatic extra inning affairs in big league history, ending with Aaron Boone’s majestic blast off of Tim Wakefield.
Garcia made that postseason roster by hitting .305 for Joe Torre in 52 games of action during the regular season. Torre had made Garcia his starting right-fielder for the remainder of that season, replacing Raul Mondesi, who was traded to Arizona just before the 2003 trading deadline. During the Yankees 2004 spring training, Garcia again paired up with a Yankee teammate in a tussle with a non-baseball player. This time his tag-team partner was Shane Spencer and their opponent was a pizza delivery guy. Shortly after that incident, Garcia was released by the Yankees and he signed with the Mets. He finished his decade-long big league career in 2004 with 66 lifetime home runs and a .241 batting average.
|LAD (3 yrs)||29||67||60||6||9||0||0||1||8||0||6||19||.150||.224||.200||.424|
|CLE (3 yrs)||95||356||335||45||91||12||0||26||75||0||14||73||.272||.301||.540||.841|
|NYY (2 yrs)||54||166||156||18||47||5||0||6||21||0||9||33||.301||.337||.449||.786|
|BAL (2 yrs)||31||89||82||9||14||0||0||3||11||0||4||21||.171||.202||.280||.483|
|DET (2 yrs)||104||327||305||39||72||10||3||14||32||2||20||71||.236||.282||.426||.708|
|ARI (1 yr)||113||354||333||39||74||10||8||9||43||5||18||78||.222||.260||.381||.641|
|NYM (1 yr)||62||202||192||24||45||7||2||7||22||3||10||35||.234||.272||.401||.673|
The late George Steinbrenner probably felt he had much more in common with Jake Ruppert than any other team owner in Yankee franchise history. After all, both were sons of wealthy German-American businessmen who purchased the Yankee team when it wasn’t winning and were able to restore the franchise to glory with bunches of additional World Championships and get a magnificent new Stadium built for their team. And since Rupert got elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012, you know the Boss would have loved following his lead by also getting inducted into Cooperstown.
But Georgie-boy was actually a much more meddling owner than old Jake Ruppert ever thought to be. Simply put, Ruppert kept hiring the best GMs and field managers he could find and let them make their own decisions and though Steinbrenner’s reign started the same way, he quickly morphed into a micro-managing, you-do-what-I-say type of owner. That’s why instead of Ruppert, he reminds me much more of another former Yankee team owner who is also in the Hall of Fame. His name was Larry MacPhail Sr. and he’s the guy who made today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant the manager and ex-manager of the New York Yankees.
Remember when Steinbrenner promised Yankee catching legend Yogi Berra that he would be New York’s skipper during the entire 1985 season and then replaced him with Billy Martin just 16 games into that season? In 1946, MacPhail was brought in as an ownership partner by Dan Topping and Del Webb when they purchased the Bronx Bombers from Ruppert’s estate. The fiery but highly innovative ex-Red and Dodgers exec was made the team’s de-facto GM. Long-time Yankee skipper, Joe McCarthy couldn’t stomach working for MacPhail and quit just 35 games into the season. MacPhail then made Bill Dickey the team’s manager but instead of giving him some job security with a longer-term contract, the new owner also hired former Senators’ “Boy Wonder” manager, Bucky Harris as a special consultant. With Harris looking over his shoulder at every move he made on the field, its easy to understand why Dickey began feeling insecure in his new role and started asking the Yankee front-office for a longer-term deal. When it became apparent that MacPhail had no intention of granting Dickey an extension during the 1946 season, the future Hall-of-Fame catcher quit with 14 games remaining on the schedule and went home to Arkansas.
The Yanks then turned to one of Dickey’s coaches, Johnny Neun to finish the season as New York’s field boss. Neun had been a big league first baseman for both the Tigers and the Braves back in the 1920’s and early thirties. A switch-hitter with little power, he was never more than a back-up during his six years in the Majors but he did become famous for becoming the seventh big leaguer in history to pull off an unassisted triple play. It happened during the 1927 season and his feat was made even more memorable by the fact that one day earlier, Chicago Cubs infielder, Jimmy Cooney had also done it.
After Neun retired as a player in 1934, he got a job managing in the Yankees’ farm system and soon became one of the organization’s top minor league skippers. He led both Newark and Kansas City, New York’s top minor league affiliates to league titles and was rewarded with a job on Joe McCarthy’s coaching staff, joining Dickey, Art Fletcher and Johnny Schulte.
MacPhail made it clear that Neun’s hiring was on an interim basis and no one expected him to be considered a candidate for the job the next season. Neun led the Yankees to an 8-6 finish and the Baltimore native then accepted the manager’s job with the Cincinnati Reds. He spent a season and two-thirds skippering the Reds. His record when he was fired 117-137. He later became a long-time scout for the Milwaukee Braves.
As expected, MacPhail ended up hiring Harris to manage the Yanks in 1947 and he did a good job, leading New York to the 1947 World Championship. But during the World Series victory celebration, an intoxicated MacPhail became so belligerent, Topping and Webb decided they needed to force him out of their partnership. With his mentor gone, Harris managed in the Bronx for one more season before being replaced by Casey Stengel.
Neun shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever.
Slim pickings when it comes to October 27th Yankee birthdays. Tom Nieto was a big league backup catcher for seven seasons during the 1980s, who succeeded my high school classmate, Gary Tuck as Yankee catching coach in 2000. A native of California, Nieto caught for the Cards, Expos, Twins and Phillies during his playing days, but his lifetime .205 batting average kept him out of the starting lineups on all those ball clubs.
He got his start with the Yankees in 1995, when he was hired as the organization’s minor league catching instructor. Two years later, he was given the managers’ job with the Yankees old South Atlantic League affiliate in Greensboro, NC. After two winning seasons there, he was promoted to the skipper’s job for the Tampa Yankees. After two seasons there, he replaced Tuck as the Yankees catching mentor.
The Yanks let him go after the 2001 season and he went back to managing in the minors for the Cardinals’ organization. Then in 2004, when Willie Randolph got the Mets’ manager’s job, he made Nieto his bench coach. He’s now back with the Yankee organization, managing their Gulf Coast League affiliate, down in Florida.
The only other Yankee born on this date was this long-ago outfielder.