On December 19th (the birthday of Rafael Soriano, Ian Kennedy, super-scout Paul Krichell and Walt “No-Neck” Williams,) my daughter Michela and her husband Aaron blessed my wife and I with our fifth grandchild, a beautiful baby girl they named Genevieve.
I do this with all my newborn grandchildren. You get the best results when they are still under a week old. You grab them while they are sleeping and using your best Sinatra imitation, you start singing “New York New York” until they wake up. As soon as their eyes begin to open you position their heads so that the first thing they see is a Yankee logo. If done right, you’re guaranteed to create another Yankee fan. It worked so well with my son Matt’s daughter Mianna, her first words were actually “Derek Jeter.”
Are you ready Genevieve? Its your turn now….”Start spreading the news…”
Back in 2005, starting pitchers were dropping like flies for manager Joe Torre’s Yankees. Carl Pavano, Jared Wright and Chien Ming Wang were already on the disabled list when in late July, the mercurial Kevin Brown joined them. The Yankee front office responded by going on a starter acquisition blitz. They went out and got Al Leiter, Hideki Nomo and Shawn Chacon.
Of the three, Yankee fans expected the least from Chacon. His big league career up until that point had been weird to say the least. During his first three seasons in the Majors he had been a starter for Colorado. After going 11-21 his first two years, he had 11 victories by the 2003 All Star break but then did not win another game that season. Then he became the Rockie closer, finishing 2004 with 35 saves but a horrible 1-7 won-lost record.
Chacon ended up being one of the best pitchers on the Yankee staff during the second half of 2005. He won seven of ten decisions with a sparkling 2.85 ERA. He and another journeyman starter, Aaron Small, actually saved that Yankee season, with both guys pitching better than the millionaire’s club of starters the Yankees started that year with.
He got off to a good start for New York in 2006 as well but he got hurt early in the season and then got traded to the Pirates. He ended up with the Astros, in 2008 where he made headlines and got suspended when he scuffled with Houston GM Ed Wade. The right-hander has not pitched a game in the big leagues since. Chacon was born on December 23, 1977 in Anchorage, Alaska and given up for adoption, four years later.
|COL (5 yrs)||24||45||.348||5.20||150||83||60||0||0||35||552.1||543||338||319||82||293||385||1.514|
|PIT (2 yrs)||7||7||.500||4.44||73||13||11||0||0||1||142.0||142||74||70||21||75||106||1.528|
|NYY (2 yrs)||12||6||.667||4.69||31||23||0||0||0||0||142.0||143||80||74||18||66||75||1.472|
|HOU (1 yr)||2||3||.400||5.04||15||15||0||0||0||0||85.2||88||52||48||16||41||53||1.506|
If you’re a long time Yankee fan, it was one of those multi-player trades you just don’t forget, the likes of which will probably never be seen again. Back in the 1950s, trades involving two big league teams and six to ten players were not unusual but they normally took place between a team in a pennant race and a team outside of one. In June of the 1976 season, the Yankees were battling Baltimore for supremacy in the AL East, when the two clubs announced a pretty stunning deal.
New York sent their backup catcher, Rick Dempsey, veteran starter, Rudy May, a young left-handed reliever named Tippy Martinez, pitching prospect Scott McGregor and starter/reliever Dave Pagan all to the Birds. In exchange, the Yankees received starting pitchers Ken Holtzman and Doyle Alexander, reliever Grant Jackson and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Elrod Hendricks. Baltimore definitely got the best of this deal long term, as Dempsey became their starting catcher for the next decade, McGregor turned into one of the league’s premier starters and Martinez evolved into one of the best relievers in all of baseball. Even Rudy May paid dividends, going 29-21 during his two seasons with the Orioles. But the most immediate benefit went to the Yankees. During the second half of that season, Holtzman, Alexander and Jackson won an incredible 25 decisions between them, helping New York beat out the Birds for the AL East and capture the team’s first AL Pennant in over a decade.
Elrod Hendricks became the forgotten man in that transaction. He only got into 18-regular season games as a backup to the very durable Thurman Munson during his first half season in the Bronx. In 1977, the ten year big league veteran actually agreed to go down to the Yankee’s triple A team in Syracuse for most of the season, ceding his backup receiving role with the parent club to Fran Healy. But baby boomer aged fans like me remember when Hendricks caught those great Baltimore pitching staffs of the late sixties and early seventies. He was a solid receiver with a great arm. Hendricks is a native of the Virgin Islands who was born on this date in 1940. He passed away on the day before his 65th birthday in 2005.
|BAL (11 yrs)||658||2031||1781||191||395||63||7||56||214||1||213||299||.222||.306||.359||.666|
|NYY (2 yrs)||36||68||64||7||15||2||0||4||10||0||3||12||.234||.265||.453||.718|
|CHC (1 yr)||17||56||43||7||5||1||0||2||6||0||13||8||.116||.321||.279||.600|
First impressions mean a lot in any field of work and probably even more so for baseball players. LaTroy Hawkins’ brief Yankee career got off to a bad start, even before he threw his first regular season pitch in pinstripes. It was the third game of the season and New York was trailing the Blue Jays, 3-0 when Joe Girardi waved in Hawkins to replace Mike Mussina with two outs and runners on first and second in the top of the sixth inning. As Hawkins emerged from the Yankee bullpen the boos began in the Stadium’s bleacher section. It wasn’t anything the huge right-hander had done that was causing the catcalls. It was what he was wearing.
Hawkins had worn uniform number 32 since he had made his big league debut as a 22-year-old starting pitcher with the Minnesota Twins, way back in 1993. That number wasn’t available when he came to the Yankees because it had been retired in honor of Elston Howard. Pirate Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente had always been the Hawkins’ baseball hero so the Gary,Indiana native chose uniform number 21 instead. The problem with that choice was that it had been the uniform number of Yankee fan favorite Paul O’Neill and even though the team had not retired it, Yankee fans, led by the highly emotional bleacher bums, let Hawkins know they didn’t appreciate any one else wearing 21. He then switched jerseys, to number 22.
The truth is, however,that Hawkins could have been wearing number 80 on his back and he still would have been hearing boos in Yankee Stadium. That’s because after his first ten appearances that year, his ERA was over ten, as the Yanks struggled to play .500 baseball during the first month of Girardi’s first season at the helm.
The shaky start resulted in Girardi losing some trust in Hawkins and calling on him less.The lighter workload seemed to help him pitch more effectively.For the next three months, with the exception of a couple of bad appearances, he gave the Yanks some solid innings and lowered his ERA by five runs in the process. But that didn’t prevent him getting traded to the Astros before the ’08 trading deadline.
He then had perhaps the best half season of his career with the Astros. In 24 appearances with Houston that year, he gave up just one earned run resulting in a microscopic ERA of just 0.42. And this guy is still pitching! In 2013, at the age of 40, he was one of the Mets’ best relief pitchers, appearing in 72 games and posting an ERA of 2.93. That effort got him a one-year $2.25 million deal to pitch for the Rockies in 2014. It will be Hawkins’ 20th big league season.
|MIN (9 yrs)||44||57||.436||5.05||366||98||117||2||0||44||818.0||956||497||459||105||290||532||1.523|
|CHC (2 yrs)||6||8||.429||2.76||98||0||62||0||0||29||101.0||90||36||31||14||21||82||1.099|
|HOU (2 yrs)||3||4||.429||1.71||89||0||38||0||0||12||84.1||71||19||16||7||21||70||1.091|
|MIL (2 yrs)||3||4||.429||3.92||70||0||15||0||0||0||64.1||71||30||28||3||16||46||1.352|
|NYM (1 yr)||3||2||.600||2.93||72||0||28||0||0||13||70.2||71||27||23||6||10||55||1.146|
|COL (1 yr)||2||5||.286||3.42||62||0||10||0||0||0||55.1||52||21||21||6||16||29||1.229|
|SFG (1 yr)||1||4||.200||4.10||45||0||9||0||0||2||37.1||40||18||17||3||17||30||1.527|
|LAA (1 yr)||2||3||.400||3.64||48||0||7||0||0||1||42.0||45||20||17||5||13||23||1.381|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||1||.500||5.71||33||0||11||0||0||0||41.0||42||26||26||3||17||23||1.439|
|BAL (1 yr)||3||2||.600||4.48||60||0||12||0||0||0||60.1||73||30||30||4||15||27||1.459|
Last week, Bronx Bomber fans were forced to say good-bye to the most recent “great” second baseman in Yankee franchise history, when Robbie Cano took his magical bat and gifted glove to Seattle for 240 million Mariner bucks. Today, we can say Happy Birthday to the first great second baseman in Yankee franchise history.
Jimmy Williams had made a smashing big league debut in his 1899 rookie season with Pittsburgh, when he led the National League with 27 triples,smashed 9 home runs and averaged a whopping .354. Its no wonder the legendary John McGraw literally kidnapped Williams on his way to the Pirates 1901 spring training camp and enticed him to sign with his newly formed Baltimore Orioles in the newly formed American League.
A third baseman with the Pirates, McGraw switched Williams to second and for the next seven seasons,he established himself as one of the best in the game at that position. Offensively, he continued to be a “triples machine,” leading the league in three-baggers in each of the two seasons the team remained in Baltimore.
When Ban Johnson’s dictatorial antics forced the shift of the Orioles’ franchise to New York before the 1903 season, Williams was one of just four Orioles’ players who made the move north with the club. He and outfielder Harry Howell were the only two starters in the New York Highanders’ first Opening Day lineup who were also in the first ever Baltimore Orioles Opening Day lineup, two seasons earlier. Williams, who was born in St. Louis but spent most of his childhood in Denver, is also credited with driving in the first run in New York Highlander/Yankee history.
Though he never again topped the .300 mark in batting average once the team relocated, he was one of the Highlanders’ best offensive weapons. He consistently finished near the top of the team’s leader board in most of the major hitting categories. He was also well respected by his teammates serving New York’s first-ever team-captains.
Following the 1907 regular season, New York manager Cal Griffith decided Williams was getting a bit long in the tooth and traded his then 30-year-old infielder to the Browns as part of a six player deal that brought 27-year-old St.Louis second baseman, Harry Niles to New York. Williams ended up outplaying Niles during each player’s first season with their new teams but Williams would falter badly for the Browns the following year, (1909) averaging just .195.
Instead of quitting, he went back to the minors and spent the final six years of his playing career manning second base for the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association. A favorite of Minneapolis fans, Williams ended up settling in that city after he finally retired in 1915. He died there in 1965, at the age of 89.
|NYY (7 yrs)||940||3934||3535||486||978||176||87||31||537||94||298||348||.277||.337||.402||.739|
|PIT (2 yrs)||259||1148||1037||199||330||43||38||14||184||44||92||78||.318||.379||.473||.853|
|SLB (2 yrs)||258||1034||913||95||200||23||13||4||75||13||84||105||.219||.288||.286||.574|
For the second day in a row, this blog celebrates the birthday of a Yankee super scout. Like yesterday’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant Bill Essick, Paul Krichell started his career as a ballplayer. Born in Paris, France in 1882, Krichell’s parents immigrated to New York City when he was just an infant and he grew up to become a minor league catcher. He finally got his shot at the big leagues with the St. Louis Browns in 1911 at the age of 28, but his weak hitting kept him from sticking. After two seasons as the Browns’ second string catcher, Krichell returned to the minors, where he quickly got into managing.
The first indication that he had a sharp eye for baseball talent occurred when he became player-manager of a minor league club in Bridgeport, CT. With America’s entry into World War I, able-bodied baseball players not already under contract to some other team or serving in the military became extremely hard-to-find. Krichell solved that problem by signing players from China and Japan and even perhaps a ringer or two not under contract and his Bridgeport squad won 23 of its first 25 games. A dispute with that league’s president so infuriated Krichell that he quit as skipper of the Bridgeport team in midseason and vowed never to return to work for a minor league club again. He then spent a season coaching college baseball for New York University before getting a call from an old friend.
During his minor league playing days, one of Krichell’s managers had been Ed Barrow. In 1919, Barrow was managing the Boston Red Sox, and that team’s owner, Harry Frazee was in the midst of a selling binge that was completely devastating the ball club’s once mighty roster. Barrow hired Krichell to try and find the Red Sox some new stars and when Jake Ruppert then hired Barrow to run the New York Yankees a year later, he brought Krichell along with him.
During the next thirty years, Krichell’s keen eye and power of persuasion was a key component of the rise and extended rule of the Yankee dynasty. He is credited with signing Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford and a bunch of other talented Yankee role players. He kept working for the team right up until he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1955. He lost a two year battle with the disease in June of 1957.
A piano-playing pitcher, who got two shots to make it to the big leagues but couldn’t stick, Vinegar Bill Essick loved the game of baseball enough to purchase a share in a minor league team and serve as both its general manager and field skipper. He did well enough there to receive and accept an offer to manage the Vernon Tigers, in the prestigious Pacific Coast League.
During his tenure with the team, Tiger players like Babe Borton, Hugh High, Ham Hyatt, and Truck Hannah ended up playing for the Yankees. The constant dealing between both clubs enabled Essick to develop a relationship with Ed Barrow and Miller Huggins, which was cemented when Essick recommended the Yankees sign Vernon’s star third baseman, Bob Meusel. He had also recommended that Barrow go after a second baseman who was playing for Salt Lake City back then by the name of Tony Lazzeri. So when the owner of the Vernon team fired Essick in 1925, the Yankees quickly hired him to become their chief scout on the west coast.
From that position, Essick became a key component of the brain trust that added a new layer to the Yankee Dynasty that was born on Babe Ruth’s back in the 1920’s. Essick is credited with the signings of Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez and Joe Gordon as well as Frank Crosetti. Without that core four, Joe McCarthy would not have won those four straight World Series crowns at the end of the 1930’s.
He continued scouting for the Yankees until 1950 and died just a year later at the age of 70. He joins Paul Krichell and Tom Greenwade to form the holy trinity of Yankee super scouts.
It was a deal that changed Yankee franchise history. Two weeks before Christmas in 1959 the Yankees sent Hank Bauer, Don Larsen, Norm Siebern and Marvelous Marv Throneberry to Kansas City for Roger Maris, Joe DeMaestri and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. All three of the players New York received in that deal had started for Kansas City during the 1959 season, but only Maris would start once they got to the Bronx. In fact, the Rajah’s unbelievable success during his first two years in the Big Apple, which included two straight AL MVP Awards and baseball’s single season home run record completely obscured Kent Hadleys short time in pinstripes.
After a great collegiate career at USC, the native of Pocatello, Idaho had been signed by the Tigers and spent the next two years playing in Detroit’s farm system. In November of 1957, he was one of thirteen players involved in a swap between Detroit and the A’s. Two years later, he looked like he was becoming a solid big league hitter, popping ten home runs for KC and growing more confident with each at bat. That all ended with the move to New York. With an All Star named Moose Skowren playing first base in front of him, Hadley got just 70 at bats in 1960 and was left off the Yankees’ postseason roster. Still, he hit four home runs that year and during an afternoon in late June, gave Bronx Bomber fans a hint of what might have been if there was room for his left handed bat in that incredible Yankee lineup. New York was playing Detroit in MoTown and Casey Stengel gave Hadley a rare start at first. Batting sixth behind Yogi Berra, the kid hit two bombs off Tiger right-hander Paul Foytack. leading New York to a 7-3 victory.
Released by the Yanks after the 1960 season, he played a year in the White Sox farm system before becoming one of the early US-born baseball playing pioneers to go to Japan. During the next six years he hit 131 home runs for the Nankai Hawks and became a fan favorite.
When his playing days were over, Hadley returned to Pocatello, where he started a successful insurance business. He passed away there in 2005 at the age of 70. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder, this former Yankee starting pitcher and this other one too.
|KCA (2 yrs)||116||329||299||41||75||11||1||10||39||1||24||78||.251||.306||.395||.700|
|NYY (1 yr)||55||70||64||8||13||2||0||4||11||0||6||19||.203||.271||.422||.693|
How times change. In 2006, the Yankee right-hander Jaret Wright went 11-7 with a 4.49 ERA. It was the right-hander’s option year and the Yanks could have kept him in their rotation the next season by paying him $7 million or buy him out for $4 million. If it was this 2013 offseason instead of ’06, its a pretty safe bet Wright would have been pitching in the Bronx next year. But back then, Brian Cashman was convinced he could find someone better than Wright so in a creative deal, the Yankee GM exercised the team’s option and then traded the starting pitcher to the Orioles with $4 million and got today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant back in return.
Chris Britton was a huge 280 pound Florida-born relief pitcher who had been drafted by Baltimore in 2001 and made his big league debut pitching out of the O’s bullpen in 2006. He pitched decently as a reliever for Joe Torre during his first season in pinstripes, which included two stints back in Triple A. In 11 appearances for New York, he managed a 3.55 ERA. He started the ’08 season back in Scranton but pitched well for new Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, in three separate call-ups during the first half of that season. He then got a final call-up in mid August and was used heavily by Girardi the rest of the way. Unfortunately for Britton, he got hit hard during that stretch and was released by New York that December. He kept pitching in the minors until 2011, before hanging up his glove for good, at the age of 28.
Here’s my all-time lineup of Yankees who, like Britton, were born in the Sunshine State.
The only other Yankee born on December 16 is this little-known former Yankee outfielder.
|NYY (2 yrs)||0||1||.000||4.54||26||0||18||0||0||0||35.2||37||18||18||6||15||17||1.458|
|BAL (1 yr)||0||2||.000||3.35||52||0||12||0||0||1||53.2||46||22||20||4||17||41||1.174|
We didn’t know it at the time, but the 1965 Yankee spring training camp would be the last one hosting a defending AL Champion ball club for quite a while, over a decade to be exact. It was Johnny Keane’s first exhibition season as the manager of the Bronx Bombers after he replaced the fired Yogi Berra. Keane’s Cardinals had defeated Berra’s Yankees in the 1964 World Series the previous fall. New York GM, Ralph Houk had already made the decision to fire Berra before losing that Series, convinced his veteran club needed more discipline. Houk felt Keane was the guy who could instill it.
The new skipper’s innovative idea was to move New York’s big hitters like Mantle, Maris and Ellie Howard to the very top of the Yankee lineup so they could get more at bats. The plan was working like a charm during spring training. Mantle actually batted first in some of that year’s preseason games with Maris second and Howard in the three-hole and they all were hitting over .400 at one point.
The other exciting thing about that ’65 camp was the emergence of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant as a bonafide Yankee pitching prospect. Gil Blanco was a big six feet five inch right-hander from Phoenix who had been signed by New York right out of high school the year before. Just nineteen years old, he impressed everyone with his poise and stuff that spring and earned a spot on the Yankee roster.
Though the team started out the 1965 regular season slow under Keane, Blanco did not, holding the opposition scoreless during his first seven big league appearances out of the bullpen. That streak earned him his first start at the end of May versus Detroit and the kid got hammered. He gave up three hits, two walks and four runs and didn’t make it out of the first inning.
That turned out to be the only start he’d make while wearing the pinstripes. He failed to make the Yanks 1966 Opening Day roster and that June, Houk traded Blanco, Bill Stafford and Roger Repoz to the A’s for Fred Talbot and Bill Bryan. He got the opportunity to start for Kansas City during the second half of that season, but after finishing 2-4, he would never again throw a pitch in the big leagues.