Tommy Byrne didn’t really have a nickname but if he did, it probably would have been “Wild Man.” This southpaw had a blazing fastball and a great biting curve but he had a real tough time throwing either of them over the plate with any consistency. Over his thirteen season big league career, the Baltimore native averaged just under seven walks for every nine innings he pitched, led the American League in that department three straight seasons and in one of them, 1951, he walked 150 batters in just 143 innings. And when Byrne didn’t walk a batter, chances were good that he’d hit him instead because the guy led the AL in hit batsmen five different times. So how did a pitcher who was so wild stay in the big leagues? There were two reasons really.
The first was that despite his aversion to the strike zone, Byrne would win games. He started pitching full time for the Yankees in 1948 and over the next three seasons his record was 38-21. He was a very effective fourth starter for New York, behind their legendary Raschi, Reynolds, Lopat triumvirate. The second reason the Yankees kept him was his ability to hit. Byrne was one of the best hitting pitchers in all of baseball. He averaged .326 in 1948 and .272 two seasons later. He was such a good stick that he was frequently used as a pinch hitter and actually had 80 pinch hits during his career.
So Manager Casey Stengel, Byrne’s Yankee teammates and even most Yankee fans would tolerate the left-handers mind-numbing spurts of wildness because he kept winning games and the team kept winning pennants in spite of them. Unfortunately for Byrne, the one guy who couldn’t tolerate it any longer turned out to be Yankee co-owner Dan Topping. On June 15th, 1951, Topping engineered a trade that sent Byrne to the Browns for another southpaw pitcher named Stubby Overmire. I read that Stengel was livid with Topping when he learned of the trade after it had already been consummated.
The Yankees didn’t miss Tommy at first because they still had the big three in their starting rotation along with a new young southpaw named Whitey Ford. Byrne, on the other hand did not find pitching for the lowly Browns anywhere near as enjoyable as pitching for the mighty Yankees. He went 11-24 during his two seasons in St. Louis and then was traded to the White Sox.
In addition to being wild, Byrne turned out to be pretty lucky too. By 1954, Raschi was gone and Reynolds and Lopat were nearing the end of their careers. Byrne in the mean time, had been sold by the White Sox to the Senators and then released. He spent most of the 1954 season pitching for Seattle in the PCL League, where he went 20-10 on the mound and hit .296 at the plate. That performance caught the attention of the Yankees and the then-34-year-old pitcher suddenly found himself back in pinstripes at the close of the 1954 season. The following year, Byrne rejoined the Yankees’ starting rotation and went 16-5 to lead the AL in winning percentage. He also pitched very well in the 1955 World Series against the Dodgers. Bryne got a complete-game 4-2 victory in Game 2 and also drove in the winning runs with his two-run single. He then held the Dodgers to just one run for five-plus innings of Game 7 before being lifted by Stengel in a game the Yankees would go on to lose.
Byrne pitched two more seasons for New York and then went back to college at Wake Forest. He ended his career with an 85-69 overall record and 72-40 as an eleven-year Yankee. He ended up getting into politics and served as Mayor of the college town for fifteen years. He passed away in 2007, at the age of 87. One of the things I learned about Byrne doing research for this post was that he was considered to be a flake. He was known for talking to opposing hitters during the game and according to Yogi Berra, Byrne’s chit chatting would drive all stars like Ted Williams and Al Rosen absolutely crazy. Often times, he would tell the hitter what pitch he was about to throw. The talking combined with his sharp biting curve ball and lack of control made Byrne Yogi’s choice as the toughest pitcher he ever had to catch.
Byrne shares his last-day-of-the-year birthday with this other former Yankee starting pitcher.
|NYY (11 yrs)||72||40||.643||3.93||221||118||65||42||10||12||993.2||799||480||434||74||763||592||1.572|
|SLB (2 yrs)||11||24||.314||4.35||48||41||7||21||2||0||318.2||286||173||154||21||226||148||1.607|
|WSH (1 yr)||0||5||.000||4.28||6||5||0||2||0||0||33.2||35||17||16||3||22||22||1.693|
|CHW (1 yr)||2||0||1.000||10.13||6||6||0||0||0||0||16.0||18||18||18||0||26||4||2.750|
Though the Yankees won nothing during the 2013 season, the top five highlights include achievements by players who’ve done plenty of winning during their amazing Yankee careers:
Number 1 - The incredible “Comeback of the Year” performance by the incomparable Mariano Rivera and his emotional farewell appearance in Yankee Stadium. The Sandman returned from a torn ACL suffered in May of 2012 to save 44 games for New York in 2013 and bring his final career regular-season record saves total to an amazing 652. Ironically, Mo’s final appearance of his career was in a non-save situation, which took place against the Rays on September 26th during the Yankees final home game of the 2013 season. With New York trailing by four runs in the eighth inning, Joe Girardi brought in the greatest Closer ever, in the eighth inning and then sent fellow Core Four members Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte out to the mound an inning later, to remove Mo from his last-ever game. It was a poignant moment, as Rivera sobbed uncontrollably in Pettitte’s arms.
Number 2 – The final start of Andy Pettitte’s 18-year career. It took place in Houston on September 28th and the veteran southpaw gave up just one run and five hits in a complete game victory over the Astros. it was Pettitte’s 256th career victory and his 219th Yankee win which puts him in third place on the franchise’s all-time wins list behind Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing.
Number 3 – Robbie Cano’s last year in pinstripes. As soon as the reports that the new agents of baseball’s very best second baseman were asking the Yankees for $300 million to re-sign their client, I realized Cano’s chances of remaining in New York for the remainder of his career were diminishing with each passing game. In a year when good hitting was mostly absent from the Yankee lineup, Cano belted 27 home runs, drove in107 and averaged .314. I doubt the Yankees will ever have another second baseman with as good an all-around game as Cano’s and I will miss seeing him play for my favorite team.
Number 4 – Jeter’s “welcome back” home run. On July 28th, I’m sure I was holding my breath as Derek Jeter made his way to the Yankee Stadium batters box to face Tampa Bay southpaw, Matt Moore. The Yankee Captain’s season debut had taken place seventeen days earlier and then abruptly ended right after that game against the Royals, when a sore calf landed him back on the DL. At the time of his second return, his team was struggling to remain competitive in the AL East race and desperately needed Jeter in the lineup to do so. When he hammered Moore’s first pitch into right-center field stands, for just that brief moment, Yankee Universe’s postseason hopes went sky-high.
Number 5 – Alfonso Soriano’s return to the Yankees. In 58 games, he smashed 17 home runs and drove in 50. The guy the Yanks traded to get A-Rod a decade earlier was now back in the Bronx doing for the Yankees what the Yankees were paying A-Rod to do. It was a magnificent stretch for Soriano and I hope it continues into 2014.
Remember Charley Lau? Many considered him the greatest hitting coach in MLB history. During his 11-season big league career as a catcher and pinch-hitter however, he was never more than a part-time player with a .255 lifetime batting average. So how does a guy who was never a great hitter himself in the big leagues teach others to become one? Honestly? I don’t know.
But at least Lau was a good enough hitter to make it to the big leagues. Kevin Long, the Yankees’ highly praised current hitting coach and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, never got out of the minors. After a good college career at the University of Arizona, the Phoenix native was signed by the Royals and spent eight years trying to get an official regular season at bat in Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium. When he failed to do so, he asked for and received a minor league coaching assignment with the Royals’ organization.
The Yankees hired him in 2004 as the hitting instructor for their Triple A affiliate Columbus Clippers. In 2007, he got the same job with the parent club, succeeding Don Mattingly, who had been promoted to Joe Torre’s bench coach.
During the next six seasons, Long had the benefit of working with a Yankee offense that was consistently near the top of the league’s run producers. His most notable achievements during that time were helping Curtis Granderson become a much better hitter against left-handed pitching and getting Robinson Cano to exercise more strike zone discipline.
Long’s biggest challenge by far was the roster of hitters he was given to work with during the 2013 season. A series of injuries and bad deals had decimated the Yankees’ highly potent offense and Long found himself working with the likes of Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay and Chris Stewart. There would be no miracles performed by the Yankee hitting coach with that crew. No one could possibly have been happier than Long, when the Yankees retooled their offense during the 2013 offseason by signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. If Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira can return to anything near their pre-injury hitting forms, the Yankee offense should once again score runs in bushels in 2014. That means Kevin Long will once again be recognized as one the game’s best hitting coaches.
This L.A.-born shortstop was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1931 and two year’s later he was the Tribe’s starting shortstop. An adept contact hitter, Knickerbocker might have become one of Cleveland’s all-time great shortstops if he didn’t have to actually play the field. This guy made 125 errors at that position during his three-and-a-half seasons as an Indian. So even though his lifetime average was a lofty .293 at the time and he was only 24-years-old, when his error total reached 40 during the 1936 season, Knickerbocker was traded to the Browns in January of the following year.
After his only season in St. Louis, he was dealt to the Yankees. New York had just released veteran second baseman, Tony Lazzeri following the 1937 World Series. Joe McCarthy intended to replace him with rookie Joe Gordon, but he wanted a safety valve just in case the kid wasn’t ready for prime time.
Fortunately for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Yankee shortstop Frank Crosetti suffered a leg injury during spring training and Knickerbocker got plenty of opportunities to show the Yankee skipper his lively bat more than made up for his less than average glove work.
Sure enough, Gordon got off to a horrible start at the plate in ’38 and by May 1st, he was back in the minors and Knickerbocker was starting at second for New York. The move to the new position actually improved his defense and he set a career high in fielding percentage during his first season in pinstripes.
In the mean time, Gordon got his stroke back down on the farm and when he returned to the parent club in June, his torrid bat helped propel New York to the team’s third straight World Championship. The only one who suffered from Gordon’s emergence as an all star was, of course Knickerbocker, who saw action in just seven games during the final three months of the ’38 season and completely sat out that year’s World Series sweep of the Cubs.
In 1939, Knickerbocker had pretty-much a no-show job as Gordon started all but three regular season games at second for New York and Crosetti missed just two starts at short. In 1940, Knickerbocker saw prolonged stretches of playing time at both short and third due to injuries to Crosetti and Red Rolfe. His defense was again better than average though his offense was disappearing, no doubt due to the lack of playing time.
That December, New York traded Knickerbocker to the White Sox for catcher Ken Silvestri. Following the 1942 regular season, Chicago put him on waivers and he spent the ’43 season playing in the Pacific Coast League. He then entered the US Army and served his Country during WWII for the next two years. Though the Yankees invited him to their 1946 spring training camp, he failed to make the team and never again played big league or minor league ball. Knickerbocker was struck down by a heart attack in 1961, passing away at the age of just fifty-one.
|CLE (4 yrs)||513||2199||2030||260||594||117||16||14||227||14||119||131||.293||.333||.387||.719|
|NYY (3 yrs)||97||301||265||34||64||17||4||2||32||1||25||18||.242||.314||.358||.672|
|PHA (1 yr)||87||328||289||25||73||12||0||1||19||1||29||30||.253||.323||.304||.627|
|SLB (1 yr)||121||530||491||53||128||29||5||4||61||3||30||32||.261||.303||.365||.668|
|CHW (1 yr)||89||397||343||51||84||23||2||7||29||6||41||27||.245||.329||.385||.714|
The first A-Rod to play third base for the New York Yankees was born in Cananea, Mexico, in 1947. His 79 games in pinstripes during the 1980 and ’81 seasons, however, were just a blip in this defensive wizard’s seventeen-year big league career. Most of those years were spent playing the hot corner in the uniform of the Detroit Tigers. Lifetime, he was just a .236 hitter but he earned his paycheck with his remarkable glove and accurate arm. He won just one Gold Glove in 1976 but should have won a few more. Back then, American League managers and coaches were enamored with the much more celebrated Brooks Robinson at Gold Glove voting time. A-Rod hit .389 during the Yankee’s 1981 postseason run and was traded to the Blue Jays two months later.
He left the big leagues after the 1983 season and returned to play several more productive years in his native Mexico. He was treated as a National hero in his home country and after he was tragically struck and killed by an out-of-control driver while walking on a sidewalk during a visit to Detroit in September of 2000, thousands of Mexicans attended his funeral.
Rodriguez shares his birthday with this infielder, who signed a free agent contract with the Yankees but didn’t make their big league roster.
|DET (9 yrs)||1241||4649||4352||417||1040||193||31||85||423||13||207||589||.239||.274||.356||.631|
|CAL (4 yrs)||281||1051||977||81||232||32||6||9||80||6||54||151||.237||.278||.310||.588|
|NYY (2 yrs)||79||237||216||18||54||8||1||5||22||0||9||45||.250||.280||.366||.646|
|CHW (2 yrs)||140||298||277||25||66||16||1||4||32||0||11||38||.238||.270||.347||.616|
|WSA (1 yr)||142||596||547||64||135||31||5||19||76||15||37||81||.247||.300||.426||.726|
|SDP (1 yr)||89||183||175||7||35||7||2||2||13||1||6||26||.200||.227||.297||.524|
|BAL (1 yr)||45||71||67||0||8||0||0||0||2||0||0||13||.119||.130||.119||.250|
Normally, a player with as few appearances as Herb Karpel had with the New York Yankees would not be featured on the Pinstripe Birthday Blog. You’re reading about him now only because he happened to have one of the greatest seasons of any pitcher in the history of the Amsterdam, Rugmakers. The Rugmakers were the Yankees’ old Class C affiliate in the Canadian-American League and I happen to have been born in Amsterdam, NY, which of course was the hometown of the Rugmaker team, from 1938 until the CanAm League was shut down after the 1951 season.
Karpel, a southpaw who was born in Brooklyn, NY and signed by the Yankees in 1937, spent the 1939 season with Amsterdam. He went 19-9 that year leading Amsterdam to the regular season pennant. During the next three seasons he climbed the rungs of New York’s farm system ladder, achieving double-digit victory totals at every stop. That’s when the US Army came calling. Karpel spent the next three years serving his country and when he was discharged in 1946, he was invited to New York’s spring training camp and pitched well enough to make the Opening Day roster.
He made his Yankee debut at the Stadium on April 19, 1946, in the eighth inning of the team’s home opener versus the Senators. He retired the only hitter he faced. New York skipper, Joe McCarthy threw him right back into the fire the next day, again against Washington, but this time with the Yankees trailing the Senators by a run. Karpel got hammered, surrendering four hits and two runs in his one-and-a-third innings of work. That turned out to be the last inning and a third he would ever pitch as a Yankee and as a big leaguer. McCarthy sent him to New York’s Triple A affiliate in Newark and Karpel went 14-6 for the Bears during the rest of that ’46 season.
He would keep pitching in the minors until 1951 before finally retiring. His footnote in Yankee history is that he was the last Yankee player to wear uniform number 37 before Casey Stengel put it on his back and made it famous.
While the Yankees had a marvelous season in 2009, winning their 27th World Championship, it was a lost year for Dustin Moseley. The right-handed pitcher from Texarkana, Texas strained his right forearm at the beginning of that year and just as he recovered from that injury he found out he needed surgery on his hip, which ended his season. His contract with the Angels was up that same season, so you know he had to be thrilled when the Yankees offered him a contract that winter.
Moseley had his agent include a clause that made him a free agent again if he wasn’t on New York’s 25-man roster by July 1. Getting him there by that date proved to be an easy decision because the defending champions’ bullpen was a complete mess that season. Both Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson were pitching poorly, Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin were worse and Alfredo Aceves was on the DL.
So when Moseley made his pinstriped debut as a reliever against Toronto on July 3rd of that season and held the Jays hitless in his two-inning stint, Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, his Yankee teammates and plenty of Yankee fans were all simultaneously hoping it was a sign of good things to come. It actually wasn’t. After three more relief stints his ERA was over four. By then however, the Yankee starting pitching situation had fallen upon rough times and Girardi actually inserted Moseley into the rotation.
The 29-year-old stepped up, winning four of his first six decisions as a starter. Even though he lost his last two starts that year, his strong two inning relief stint in Game 1 of the 2010 ALCS against Texas earned him the win and probably was the reason the Yanks tried to re-sign him again following that postseason.Moseley instead decided to take his game to San Diego’s more pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
He pitched well for the Padres in 2011.posting a 3.30 ERA, but poor run support saddled him with a 3-10 record. He also injured his non-throwing shoulder and when he failed to get off to a good start the following year, he was put on waivers.He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since.
|LAA (4 yrs)||8||7||.533||5.41||64||23||15||0||0||0||168.0||209||102||101||19||52||98||1.554|
|SDP (2 yrs)||3||10||.231||3.53||21||21||0||0||0||0||125.0||122||64||49||11||38||68||1.280|
|NYY (1 yr)||4||4||.500||4.96||16||9||2||0||0||0||65.1||66||36||36||13||27||33||1.423|
This St.Louis native evidently had a tough time leaving home. He went to college at St. Louis University and then after a couple of seasons in the minors, signed with his hometown Browns. It soon looked as if Robertson was on his way to big league stardom when he won the starting third base position for St. Louis in 1924 and averaged .319. The following season, the 5’7″, 152 pound left-handed hitter surprised all of baseball by belting 14 round-trippers and driving in a career high 76 runs.
Then in 1926 he stopped hitting and the Browns let him go. He spent the 1927 season regaining his stroke with the St.Paul Saints. Yankee skipper, Miller Huggins, had become a silent one-third owner of the Saints’ franchise in 1924 and over the next few seasons, the contracts of several St.Paul players were purchased by the Yankees, including Robertson’s in August of 1927.
He made his Yankee debut the following year, sharing third base pretty much evenly with “Jumpin” Joe Dugan and averaging .291 during his first season in pinstripes. That fall, he saw the only World Series action of his career, appearing in three games against the Cardinals, driving in two runs and winning his first and only ring.
When the Yankees struggled early during the 1929 season, Huggins, who had been feeling physically lousy since spring training, inserted Robertson as his every-day third baseman. He again hit for a decent average but once it became clear his team had no chance of catching the Philadelphia A’s in that year’s pennant race, the Yankee skipper decided he needed to begin rebuilding the Yankee lineup for the 1930 season. He made 23-year-old Lyn Lary his new starting third baseman and in his last player personnel move before checking into the hospital, the Huggins sold Robertson to the Boston Braves. One week later Huggins was dead.
Robertson got off to a horrible start for the Braves in 1930 and was hitting just .186 when he was sent to the Pacific Coast League. He passed away in 1981 at the age of 81. He joins this speedy outfielder and this one too as former Yankees who were born on Christmas day.
|SLB (6 yrs)||454||1767||1553||229||431||75||17||19||166||23||157||64||.278||.347||.384||.732|
|BSN (2 yrs)||29||98||87||8||19||1||0||0||13||1||6||3||.218||.269||.230||.499|
|NYY (2 yrs)||173||624||560||74||165||24||6||1||71||5||42||12||.295||.345||.364||.709|
You would think that with a last name like Otis, this guy would at least have had an “up and down” career with the Yankees parent club and their farm system. Unfortunately for Bill, his entire big league experience consisted of just four games for the 1912 New York Highlanders (the team’s name before they became the Yankees.) He got just one hit in seventeen at bats that year but that one hit came off the immortal Hall-of-Famer, Walter Johnson. He is the only current or former Yankee to be born on Christmas Eve. He’s also the only native of Scituate, MA to play Major League baseball. When he died in 1990 at the age of 100, he was the oldest living former MLB player on the planet.
The only other member of the Yankee family to be born on Christmas Eve is this former NL All Star pitcher who was signed by New York in 2011 but only pitched for their Triple A team in Scranton.