December 2013

December 19 – Happy Birthday Paul Krichell

Paul_Krichell_1957For 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.

Krichell shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher, this former Yankee closer and this one-time Yankee outfielder.

December 18 – Happy Birthday Bill Essick

Bill_EssickA 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.

Essick shares his birthday with this great Yankee first baseman and this former Yankee pitcher.

December 17 – Happy Birthday Kent Hadley

hadleyIIIt 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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1960 NYY 55 70 64 8 13 2 0 4 11 0 6 19 .203 .271 .422 .693
3 Yrs 171 399 363 49 88 13 1 14 50 1 30 97 .242 .300 .399 .699
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/16/2013.

December 16 – Happy Birthday Chris Britton

brittonHow 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.

1b Tino Martinez
2b David Adams
ss Dick Howser
3b Gary Sheffield
c  Mike Stanley
of Lou Piniella
of Mickey Rivers
of Tim Raines
dh Shane Spencer
p  Doc Gooden
cl Tom Gordon

The only other Yankee born on December 16 is this little-known former Yankee outfielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2007 NYY 0 1 .000 3.55 11 0 4 0 0 0 12.2 9 5 5 2 4 5 1.026
2008 NYY 0 0 5.09 15 0 14 0 0 0 23.0 28 13 13 4 11 12 1.696
3 Yrs 0 3 .000 3.83 78 0 30 0 0 1 89.1 83 40 38 10 32 58 1.287
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/16/2013.

December 15 – Happy Birthday Gil Blanco

blancoWe 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.

He shares his birthday with this AL Rookie of the Year winner in 1968 and this former Yankee first baseman.