The article appeared in the New York Times on December 17, 1925. It started out like this; “Good news for Yankee fans. Miller Huggins announced yesterday the purchase of one the best minor league pitchers in the country, a young man named Myles Thomas…” The article went on to say that the purchase had forced Jake Ruppert, the Yankee owner then, to “remove several layers from his bankroll to get this lad” because there were several big league teams interested in the right-hander from College Station, Pennsylvania. The reason for all the attention on Myles Thomas was the 28-8 record he had put together during the 1925 season, while pitching for the double A International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ironically, Huggins had been given a chance to sign this same guy in 1921, when he was fresh out of Pennsylvania State Teachers College. The Yankee skipper passed on that first opportunity and Thomas had then spent the next six seasons pitching in the minors. So he was already 28 years-old when he made his big-league debut with the 1926 Yankees, but he couldn’t have picked a better time to come to the Bronx. During his three full seasons on the team, the Yankees won three straight AL Pennants and both the 1927 and ’28 World Series.
Thomas’s best season in pinstripes was his second, when he went 7-4 for the Murderers’ Row team that went 110-44 and swept the Pirates in the ’27 World Series. But Huggins gradually lost faith in him as time went on. The pitcher’s starts and appearances out of the bullpen decreased in each of his successive seasons with New York until he was finally put on waivers and sold to the Senators in late June of 1929.
He pitched a couple of seasons in Washington before going back to the minors, where after hanging up his glove, he eventually became a coach with the Toledo Mud Hens. I can picture Thomas, perhaps wearing one of the World Series rings he won with the Yankees, out in the Mud Hens bullpen during a game, surrounded by a bunch of wide-eyed big-leaguer wannabe’s, regaling them with his memories of pitching for one of the greatest teams in big league history. I wonder if he told those kids that Babe Ruth himself had given Thomas the nickname of “Duck Eye.” Of course, the Bambino gave just about every teammate he ever played with a nickname because he was too self-absorbed to bother remembering their real names. In fact, in 1928, after Thomas had been Ruth’s teammate for more than two years. Yankee second baseman Tony Lazzeri introduced him to Ruth in a Boston hotel lobby as “the new pitcher from Yale the Yanks had just signed.” Ruth stuck out his hand and said “Hi ya keed.”
Thomas shares his birthday with baseball’s best all-around second baseman and a player who has a decent chance of becoming the first Japanese-born member of the Hall-of-Fame.
|NYY (4 yrs)||14||12||.538||4.70||71||24||22||4||0||0||275.2||311||177||144||13||126||76||1.585|
|WSH (2 yrs)||9||10||.474||4.53||34||16||11||7||0||2||159.0||188||107||80||6||63||45||1.579|
Flash turns 46 years old today. Before he joined the YES Network as an analyst for Yankee games and as a commentator on the Post Game shows, Flaherty was a big league catcher for fourteen seasons with five different teams. Born in the Big Apple, he ended that playing career in his hometown, with three seasons as Jorge Posada’s backup from 2003 until 2005. During lulls in the action, when he is in the booth for Yankee games, viewers often hear Michael Kay or Kenny Singleton tease Flaherty about the lucrative contract he signed with Tampa Bay, back in 1998. He pocketed about $12 million of Devil Ray money during his five season stay for catching about 90 games per year and averaging .252. He hit just .226 during his 134-game career in pinstripes but he’s doing a much better job for New York in his broadcasting role.
In 2011, Flaherty became an owner of a professional baseball team, when he founded the Rockland Boulders, a member of the unaffiliated Canadian-American League. The team is based in Rockland County, NY.
Like Flaherty, this Yankee was born in New York City and celebrates his birthday on this date. He did a bit better than John did while playing in New York and now has a plaque in Cooperstown. Also born on October 21st is this former Yankee pitcher who flirted with World Series history in 1947.
|TBD (5 yrs)||471||1802||1673||157||422||82||1||35||196||3||86||250||.252||.289||.365||.654|
|NYY (3 yrs)||134||389||359||37||81||22||0||12||41||0||15||70||.226||.261||.387||.648|
|DET (3 yrs)||193||594||546||59||130||35||1||15||67||1||27||83||.238||.277||.388||.665|
|BOS (2 yrs)||48||100||91||6||16||4||0||0||4||0||5||13||.176||.224||.220||.444|
|SDP (2 yrs)||201||755||703||60||200||33||1||18||87||6||42||98||.284||.324||.411||.736|
The Yankees 1981 World Series defeat to the Dodgers was an almost tragic turning point for George Steinbrenner. He had spent loads of Yankee dollars to put together an offense that was driven by home runs only to see that offense sputter and fail in both the second half of the strike-induced split season and the last four games with Los Angeles. He then seemed to have let his anger over the strike and the pain of that Dodger defeat drive a series of player decisions that would keep the Yankees out of postseason play for the next fifteen years. No move symbolized Steinbrenner’s inept over-reaction more than the signing of Dave Collins.
At the time, Collins was a singles-hitting, base-stealing outfielder who slap-swung his bat from both sides of the plate. He had hit .300 for the Reds in both 1979 and ’80 but what really captured the Boss’s attention was the 79 bases Collins stole during that 1980 season. Steinbrenner was convinced the guy would be a perfect lead-off man for the new small-ball offense he envisioned for his ball club so he blew him over with a three-year, two-and-a-half million dollar free agent offer that was probably twice as much and at least a year-more than any other team would have offered Collins.
A month before that signing the Boss had approved a trade for Collins’ Cincinnati teammate and fellow outfielder, Ken Griffey. Then just before spring training, Steinbrenner must have been feeling sentimental because he gave both Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, two more outfielders, three-year contract extensions. The Yankees also already had Dave Winfield, Jerry Mumphrey and Oscar Gamble under contract for the 1982 season. That added up to seven outfielders which didn’t add up to a very confused Bob Lemon, who as Yankee manager was given the responsibility of figuring out where and when to play all of them. When Collins reported to spring training, Lemon told him to work out at first base. As Bill Madden explained the situation in his excellent biography of Steinbrenner, “The Last Lion of Baseball,” Collins spent all that spring asking every reporter who covered the team “Why in the world did they sign me?”
He ended up playing first base in 52 games for New York and split 60 more pretty evenly as the Yankee left, right, and center fielder. He hit just .253 that year, stole only 13 bases and was probably one of the most uncomfortable Yankee players in the history of the franchise. Steinbrenner’s 1982 small ball Yankees finished the season next-to-last in their division with a 79-83 record. New York then mercifully traded Collins to the Blue Jays, where, feeling much more wanted, he averaged .290 and 50 stolen bases during the final two years of the contract he had originally signed with New York. But just to make Steinbrenner regret his signing of Collins even more, the Blue jays insisted that the Yankees include a youngster named Fred McGriff in the trade for Collins
|CIN (7 yrs)||697||1981||1774||272||504||70||16||9||126||147||168||231||.284||.349||.357||.706|
|CAL (2 yrs)||192||775||684||86||181||25||5||7||57||56||76||110||.265||.337||.346||.684|
|TOR (2 yrs)||246||943||843||114||245||36||19||3||78||91||76||108||.291||.355||.389||.744|
|STL (1 yr)||99||74||58||12||13||1||0||0||3||7||13||10||.224||.366||.241||.608|
|OAK (1 yr)||112||418||379||52||95||16||4||4||29||29||29||37||.251||.303||.346||.648|
|NYY (1 yr)||111||393||348||41||88||12||3||3||25||13||28||49||.253||.315||.330||.646|
|SEA (1 yr)||120||447||402||46||96||9||3||5||28||25||33||66||.239||.299||.313||.613|
|DET (1 yr)||124||476||419||44||113||18||2||1||27||27||44||49||.270||.340||.329||.670|
The 1974 Yankees opened up their season with a double play combination of Gene Michael at second and Jim Mason at shortstop. Decent defensively, new Yankee skipper, Bill Virdon batted the two switch-hitters eighth and ninth respectively because both men were pretty putrid hitters from both sides of the plate. In an effort to get some more offense from their infield, the Yankees acquired a guy named Fernando Gonzalez from the Royals to play second. He responded by hitting .215 that year. Then just before that season’s trading deadline, the Yankee front-office went out and purchased Sandy Alomar Sr, who was the starting second baseman for the Angels at the time. Virdon handed him the second baseman’s job and Sandy responded well by hitting .269 during the second half of 1974.
As a Yankee fan back then, I can personally attest to the fact that after watching Mason, Michael and Gonzalez consistently fail to produce at the plate, having Alomar in the lineup was a huge offensive upgrade for that 1974 Yankee team. Sandy Sr. continued to start at second for New York for the entire 1975 season but his hitting fell off that year, when he averaged just .239. His offensive regression helped convince the Yankees to make the deal with Pittsburgh in December of 1975 that brought Willie Randolph to the Bronx. Alomar lost his starting job to the more talented youngster in 1976 and was traded to Texas in 1977. His 15-season big-league playing career ended the following year and Alomar then began a long coaching career . Today, Sandy, who was born on October 19, 1943 in Salinas Puerto Rico, is best remembered for being the Dad of former big league All Stars Sandy Jr. and Roberto.
Even the most diehard Yankee fans will have a difficult time remembering this starting pitcher from the 1991 Yankee team who happens to share the senior Alomar’s October 19th birthday.
|CAL (6 yrs)||795||3314||3054||341||758||79||12||8||162||139||209||280||.248||.296||.290||.585|
|ATL (3 yrs)||117||214||205||23||43||3||1||0||16||13||5||33||.210||.229||.234||.463|
|NYY (3 yrs)||294||1005||931||116||231||30||4||4||76||46||53||95||.248||.287||.302||.589|
|CHW (3 yrs)||167||477||436||53||108||10||2||0||16||25||26||48||.248||.290||.280||.570|
|TEX (2 yrs)||93||128||112||24||28||4||0||1||12||4||9||20||.250||.309||.313||.621|
|NYM (1 yr)||15||22||22||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||6||.000||.000||.000||.000|
The next time I hear James Taylor sing “Walking Man,” I’m sure the name of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant will cross my mind. Roy Cullenbine refused to swing at any pitch that was not in the strike zone. If he played today, he’d probably be an Oakland A and praised profusely in the sports media for his ability to get on base. But Cullenbine played in the 1940′s, during an era when ballplayers were expected to swing their bats at any pitch they could reach and taking too many “walks” was even considered by many to be a sign of laziness. Few paid much attention to on base percentage until Bill James promoted the stat as the sport’s Holy Grail decades later. So when Cullenbine’s OBP reached .477 in 1946, nobody noticed and even though he got on base four out of every ten times he came to the plate the following season and finished second on the Tigers in runs scored, he was still released at the end of the season and forced into retirement.
Cullenbine was born in Tennessee in 1913 but raised in Detroit, where he became a switch-hitting star of the City’s sandlot leagues. The Tigers signed him but then lost him in 1939, when Kenesaw Mountain Landis ruled that Detroit had violated roster manipulation rules and the Commissioner penalized the organization by declaring several of their prized prospects free agents. Cullenbine then signed for a hefty bonus with the Dodgers, got traded to the Browns and in 1942, got traded again, this time to the Senators.
With WWII raging, every big league team was losing players to military service and when Tommy Henrich joined the Coast Guard in August of the 1942 season, Yankee GM Ed Barrow checked the waiver wire to see if he could pick up another outfielder. He found Cullenbine’s name on the list and claimed him on the last day of August.
Since that season’s Yankee team also had George Selkirk on its roster as the fourth outfielder, it wasn’t clear how much playing time Cullenbine would get from New York’s skipper Joe McCarthy. As it turned out, with the Yanks comfortably ahead of the Red Sox in the AL Pennant race at the time, Marse Joe started Cullenbine just about every game down the stretch so he could give his regulars plenty of rest for the postseason.
Cullenbine took advantage of the opportunity by hitting .364 in the 21 games he played in pinstripes that month, while producing a sky-high .484 OBP. That performance guaranteed him a spot on the Yankees World Series roster. He then played in all five games of the 1942 World Series, batting .263 in New York’s losing effort to the Cardinals.
Most Yankee fans and pundits probably expected to see Cullenbine return to the Bronx on Opening Day 1943. But one week before Christmas in 1942, the Yanks traded him and catcher Buddy Rosar to Cleveland for infielder Oscar Grimes and outfielder Roy Weatherly. The “Walking Man” played real well for the Indians the next two seasons and then got traded back to Detroit, where his big league career ended in the same town it began.
Cullenbine passed away in 1991 in Michigan at the age of 77. He still holds the 38th highest MLB career on base percentage. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee third baseman and this former Yankee reliever.
|DET (5 yrs)||501||1952||1561||268||421||76||11||63||259||10||373||164||.270||.412||.454||.865|
|CLE (3 yrs)||300||1288||1072||167||304||59||9||24||136||7||194||107||.284||.395||.423||.817|
|SLB (3 yrs)||273||1080||867||138||239||47||12||18||143||6||201||97||.276||.414||.420||.834|
|WSH (1 yr)||64||285||241||30||69||19||0||2||35||1||44||18||.286||.396||.390||.787|
|BRO (1 yr)||22||84||61||8||11||1||0||1||9||2||23||11||.180||.405||.246||.651|
|NYY (1 yr)||21||97||77||16||28||7||0||2||17||0||18||2||.364||.484||.532||1.017|
Before Derek Jeter came along and reserved a spot on the wall of Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park for his pinstriped jersey, the most famous number “2″ in Yankee history had been a red-headed graduate of Dartmouth named Robert Abial Rolfe. Though hair-color earned him the workingman’s nickname he made famous, Rolfe was an Ivy League gentleman. An article in “Baseball Digest” once referred to him as “the best-educated, best dressed, politest Bronx Bomber of the thirties.”
Those Joe McCarthy-led Yankee teams put up some incredible offensive numbers during their pre-WWII era of success and it was their great third baseman Rolfe, batting second, who would help light the fuse for the team’s explosive lineup. Here’s some examples: In the three-season period from 1937-to-1939, Rolfe scored a total of 414 runs. In 1937, Rolfe scored the incredible total of 143 runs and didn’t even lead the team in scoring that year because Joe DiMaggio scored 151. In 1938, five different Yankees scored at least 109 runs. The 1939 Yankee team lost Lou Gehrig to ALS disease yet seven members of their starting lineup scored at least 87 runs that year and the team won 106 regular season games and then swept the Reds four straight in the World Series. During Rolfe’s decade-long Yankee career, he averaged 130 runs scored for every 162 games he played.
Rolfe was one of Manager Joe McCarthy’s all-time favorite players because he worked so hard and so smart at getting better and gaining every possible advantage over an opponent on the field. It was Rolfe who was one of the first players in baseball to keep a “book” on opposing hitters that he would use to change his fielding position at the hot corner, based on who was in the batters box. His book on opposing pitchers was just as detailed. He knew and could tell his Yankee teammates what pitch to expect in a pressure situation from every pitcher in the league. He did not ignore opposing fielders either. He would make notes how an outfielder fielded line drives and if they had a tendency to drop to their knee or back up on the ball, you could be sure the next time Rolfe hit one of his patented line drives at them he’d end up sliding safely into second. It may have been because Rolfe did so much thinking as a player he never found time to just relax and enjoy the game he played so well. He developed painful ulcers which were the primary reason he retired at the young age of 33 after New York lost the 1942 World Series to the Cardinals.
Rolfe got back into the big leagues as a Manager with the Tigers in 1949 and led Detroit to a 95-win season the following year, just three games behind the AL Pennant-winning 1950 Yankees. At the time, he attributed his success to cracking the whip on a bunch of Detroit players who he claimed had grown complacent. By 1952, many of those same players turned on Rolfe, claiming he was impossible to satisfy and the Tigers fired him. Born on October 17, 1908 in Penacook, NH, Rolfe returned to Dartmouth as athletic director. He died in 1969. Dartmouth’s baseball stadium is named after him.
October 16th is a not a great day for notable Yankee birthdays. Neither was 1979 a great year for Yankee baseball. The two-time defending World Champions lost their team captain, the great Thurman Munson in August of that season and missed the postseason for the first time in four years. Munson’s death was not the only reason that Yankee team faltered. In June of that same season, Yankee DH Cliff Johnson got into a brawl with ace closer, Goose Gossage in the Yankee locker room showers. Gossage broke his thumb in the altercation and was out for the rest of the season. Without him, a dominating Yankee bullpen became very ordinary.
The Yankee front-office punished Johnson by quickly trading him to the Indians for today’s birthday celebrant. Don Hood, born on October 16, 1949 in Florence, SC, went 3-1 out of the Yankee bullpen during the remainder of that season. By 1980, he was pitching for the Cardinals.
Another October 16th birthday celebrant with Yankee connections is this former big league catcher who did color and play-by-play for Yankee games for a couple of seasons at the turn of this new century.
|CLE (5 yrs)||17||22||.436||4.17||152||49||25||4||0||2||494.2||491||255||229||38||238||225||1.474|
|KCR (2 yrs)||6||3||.667||2.99||57||3||32||0||0||1||114.1||119||51||38||12||36||48||1.356|
|BAL (2 yrs)||4||3||.571||3.61||28||6||14||1||1||2||89.2||78||43||36||2||26||44||1.160|
|STL (1 yr)||4||6||.400||3.39||33||8||4||1||0||0||82.1||90||39||31||2||34||35||1.506|
|NYY (1 yr)||3||1||.750||3.07||27||6||9||0||0||1||67.1||62||24||23||3||30||22||1.366|
Any newspaper or Web site that covers New York Yankee baseball has offered readers some type of editorial or polling content that focuses on what changes the Yankees need to make during the winter to get back into the postseason in 2014. Who should be signed, who should be released, who should be fired, who should retire, there have been dozens of articles published, offering opinions on the offseason fate of every current Yankee employee from Robbie Cano to Brian Cashman.
Permit me to throw today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant into that mix. Dana Cavalea has been the Yankees’ strength and conditioning coach since 2007. Though I don’t have specific facts to back this up, I’m willing to go out on the limb here and say that the average number of Yankee injuries and disabled list assignments per season have climbed to record levels under Cavalea’s watch, peaking in 2013 when New York was forced to make 28 different disabled list assignments.
You can’t blame Cavalea for broken bones but how many strained quads, rib cages, hamstrings, groins and tendons does it take before you begin to question the soundness of the team’s strength and conditioning program. I know I’m sounding a lot like George Steinbrenner here. For that matter, if the Boss were still running things in both Tampa and the Bronx, Mr. Cavalea would probably be looking for a new job right about now.
I certainly know nothing about strength and conditioning strategies and techniques for modern day athletes and I’m sure Cavalea is well credentialed and highly respected in the field. But when there are more starters on the Yankee DL list than in the team’s starting line-up, something’s got to change, doesn’t it?
Happy birthday Dana and please don’t take what I’ve written above personally or professionally for that matter since I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m just burning off some of the frustration I had left over from the just completed season of sickness.
The only Yankee player born on today’s date gave up playing baseball for golf.
Bill Renna was the prototypical California “golden boy” high school athlete. Born in Hanford, a city in the central part of the state near Fresno, Renna was a three-sport standout with Hollywood good looks. Baseball was his favorite sport, but being six feet three inches tall and over two hundred pounds, the guy was built for football. He earned a scholarship to the University of San Francisco in 1942 but was then drafted into the military.
After being discharged two years later, he was supposed to play on the gridiron for Stanford but a mix-up of his transcripts nixed that opportunity and he ended up in the lower-profile program at Santa Clara. Still, his ability with a football drew the interest of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams but by that time, Renna had decided he wanted to play professional baseball and the Yankees had decided they wanted to sign Renna.
He got off to a great start in the minors, hitting 21 home runs and batting .385 during his first 76-game season of C ball. That earned him a huge leap to triple A ball the following year and he struggled at that level. For the next couple of years that pattern continued. Renna would hit B level pitching well and then falter when he moved up and faced the minor’s upper tier pitching talent.
That changed in 1952. That year, Renna put together a 28 HR – 90 RBI – .295 season for the Yankees top farm team in Kansas City. A few months later, he found himself battling for an Opening Day roster spot in the parent club’s spring training camp. That 1953 Yankee team was a great one and its starting outfield was solid. Casey Stengel started Mickey Mantle in center and mixed and matched Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling and Irv Noren in the other two positions depending on the opposing pitcher. Renna also had to compete against fellow Yankee outfield prospects Bob Cerv and Ellie Howard for any remaining roster spot.
In the end, Stengel brought Renna north and it proved to be a good choice. He spent most of his big league rookie season platooning in left field with Gene Woodling. He got just two starts that April, but in his second one, he hit his first big league home run in Comiskey Park off of the White Sox southpaw, Gene Beardon. What made that blast even more memorable for the rookie was that it was also the rear-end of a back-to-backer with Mantle.
He would end up playing in 61 games that year and averaging a very impressive .314. Though he didn’t get a chance to pay in the Yankees fifth consecutive World Series championship that October, he did win his first and only World Series ring. He never got a chance to win a second one because that December, I think George Weiss was bored so he decided to engineer a huge but inconsequential 11-player trade between New York and the A’s. The most notable player the Yankees got in the deal was first baseman Eddie Robinson, who they really did not need. One of the players Weiss sent to Philly was Renna.
He would start in the A’s 1954 outfield and hit a career high 13 home runs. He then moved with the team to Kansas City, but became a part-time player and pinch hitter in the process. Weiss actually got him back in a deal he made with the A’s in June of the 1956 season that ironically sent Robinson back to the A’s, but Renna was sent to the minors and remained there until he was traded to Boston just before the 1957 season. After another year in the minors, he became a valuable Red Sox pinch hitter during the 1958 season, when his 15 pinch hits produced 18 RBIs.
What hurt Renna’s big league career was the late start he got with the Yankees. Military service and then college made him 24-years-old by the time he got signed and 28 when he made his debut in the Bronx. In an interview just five years ago, Renna told the reporter his one year as a Yankee was the best of his career and he loved every second of it. He said Mantle was the greatest player he ever saw. He ended up quitting baseball after the ’59 season to begin a long career in the concrete industry as a job estimator. He’s still alive and living in California and turns 89 years old today.
|KCA (3 yrs)||256||809||719||97||164||25||7||22||86||2||75||112||.228||.304||.374||.678|
|BOS (2 yrs)||53||89||78||7||17||5||0||4||20||0||11||23||.218||.315||.436||.751|
|NYY (1 yr)||61||137||121||19||38||6||3||2||13||0||13||31||.314||.385||.463||.848|
Walter Blair was a back-up catcher for the New York Highlanders during the first decade of the team’s existence. After playing college ball at Bucknell and spending a couple of seasons in the minors, New York signed him in 1907 to back up their starting receiver at the time, Red Kleinow. By then, the native of Landrus, Pennsylvania was 23-years-old and had developed solid defensive skills behind the plate and a sharp mind for the game. His problem was he couldn’t hit.
It was his offensive inabilities that doomed his one attempt at becoming New York’s starting catcher. In 1911, then manager, Hal Chase pretty much alternated Blair and 22-year-old Jeff Sweeney behind the plate the entire season. Sweeney hit just .231 and still outhit Blair by close to 40 points.
That performance ended Blair’s Highlander and big league career. He went back to the Minors for two seasons and then played in the upstart Federal League for a couple of more. He found he had a knack for helping young ballplayers develop their skills and got into managing and even purchased an interest in a minor league team back in his home state of Pennsylvania. Then in 1917, he took over as the coach of the University of Pittsburgh’s baseball team. Three years later, he moved into the same position for his alma mater, Bucknell. He passed away in 1948 at the age of 64.
|NYY (5 yrs)||216||652||587||35||115||16||6||1||53||8||36||80||.196||.251||.249||.500|