October 2013

October 28 – Happy Birthday Johnny Neun

neunThe 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.

Rk Year Age Tm Lg W L W-L% G Finish
1 1946 45 New York Yankees AL 3rd of 3 8 6 .571 14 3
New York Yankees 1 year 8 6 .571 14 3.0
Cincinnati Reds 2 years 117 137 .461 254 6.0
3 years 125 143 .466 268 5.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/28/2013.

October 27 – Happy Birthday Tom Nieto

nietoSlim 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.

October 26 – Happy Birthday Steve Adkins

adkinsBy the time the Yankees were ready to give today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant his first big league start, the team’s season was already over. It was early September of 1990, the Yanks were mired in last place in the AL East Divison standings with an atrocious 58-84 record and with Stump Merrill now calling the shots in New York’s dugout, the organization’s future looked anything but bright.

So all Yankee starting pitcher Steve Adkins does in his big league debut is take the mound against a pretty good Texas Ranger lineup and pitch hitless baseball. So how come you and I don’t remember Steve Adkins, since he remains the only pitcher in the last 28 years to give up no hits in his first big league start?

Well for one thing, the Yankees lost the game. Texas ended up beating them 5-4 that evening. Perhaps another reason we don’t remember Adkins’ no-hit debut was the fact that he issued eight walks that game. But the real reason this six foot six inch southpaw’s inaugural appearance as a Yankee pitcher is not seared into our memories is because it didn’t last very long, just one-and-a-third innings to be exact.

He was able to get out of the first inning without surrendering a run despite three walks with the help of a double play. But when he gave six straight batters free passes to first base in the second inning, Merrill had seen enough and he yanked the then twenty-five-year-old native of Chicago. He had thrown fifty pitches, surrendered three earned runs and became the first pitcher in half a century to give up no-hits and lose his big-league debut.

Adkins got four more chances to start that September and was actually progressing to the point where he was able to get his first win of the season with an eight-inning stint against the Brewers on September 28th. But then Merrill chose him to start the Yankees final game of the 1990 season against Detroit and four innings later he had given up seven hits, seven earned runs, and four more of those dreaded walks. He never pitched another game at the big league level.

Adkins shares his birthday with this former Yankee second baseman and this former Yankee shortstop.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1990 NYY 1 2 .333 6.38 5 5 0 0 0 0 24.0 19 18 17 4 29 14 2.000
1 Yr 1 2 .333 6.38 5 5 0 0 0 0 24.0 19 18 17 4 29 14 2.000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/26/2013.