Raise your hand if you can remember when Lee Smith was the Yankee closer. You remember Smith, I’m sure. He was baseball’s all-time saves leader until Trevor Hoffman notched his 479th save during the 2006 season. A native of Jamestown, Louisiana, Smith had an 18-year big league career that saw him wear the uniform of eight different teams.
The Yankees got him from St.Louis on August 31, 1993, after New York’s regular closer, Steve Farr went on the disabled list. Unfortunately for both Smith and the Yankees, he didn’t get much of a chance to do what he did better than anybody in baseball during his short tenure in Pinstripes. During the month he was a Yankee, the team was only in four save situations and Smith saved three of them, including career number 400.
When asked about his inactivity, the huge right-hander told the Big Apple sports press he didn’t know why the Yanks got him in the first place because what they really needed was a starting pitcher. Sure enough, when Smith’s contract expired at the end of the 1993 regular season, New York let him sign with Baltimore, where he would lead the AL in saves the following year.
Many of the players who played both with and against Smith feel he deserves to be in Cooperstown but he’s never received more than 48% of the sportswriters’ Hall of Fame votes. His one achilles heel was the postseason. He only played fall ball twice during his long career, once with the Cubs in 1984 and again with the Red Sox in ’88. Both teams were eliminated in the LCS round and though Smith did have one save, he also lost two decisions and had a combined ERA of 8.44.
|CHC (8 yrs)||40||51||.440||2.92||458||6||342||0||0||180||681.1||591||240||221||38||264||644||1.255|
|STL (4 yrs)||15||20||.429||2.90||245||0||209||0||0||160||266.2||239||92||86||23||68||246||1.151|
|BOS (3 yrs)||12||7||.632||3.04||139||0||115||0||0||58||168.2||138||68||57||13||79||209||1.287|
|CAL (2 yrs)||0||5||.000||3.28||63||0||59||0||0||37||60.1||50||23||22||3||28||49||1.293|
|MON (1 yr)||0||1||.000||5.82||25||0||14||0||0||5||21.2||28||16||14||2||8||15||1.662|
|CIN (1 yr)||3||4||.429||4.06||43||0||16||0||0||2||44.1||49||20||20||4||23||35||1.624|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||0||0.00||8||0||8||0||0||3||8.0||4||0||0||0||5||11||1.125|
|BAL (1 yr)||1||4||.200||3.29||41||0||39||0||0||33||38.1||34||16||14||6||11||42||1.174|
Growing up in Sausalito, California, Charles “Butch” Wensloff did not have an easy life. He was just six years old and the eldest of three children, when his dad left his mom to marry another woman. In an effort to help his family put food on the table during the Great Depression, Charley quit school at a young age to work at a variety of odd jobs.
In his spare time he pitched for semi-pro teams. Strong as a bull, the young right-hander had an impressive fastball and to keep opposing hitters off balance, he developed a very good knuckler. His mastery of those two pitches got him his first minor league contract in 1937 with the El Paso Texans, a D-level club in the old Aztec League. His 17-10 record that season caught the attention of the Yankees and they purchased his contract and moved him up to their Joplin affiliate in the C-level Western Association. When Wensloff won 21 games during his second year in Joplin, he was sent up to the Yankees double A affiliate in Kansas City, where during the next three seasons he won 49 ball games.
The Yankees finally brought him up in 1943, when he was 27 years old. Manager Joe McCarthy loved the fact that in addition to a fastball and curve, his new rookie hurler had better than average command of his knuckleball. The Yankee skipper wasted little time throwing Wensloff into the starting rotation and by the end of his first year in the big leagues, he had compiled a 13-11 record and a 2.58 ERA.
He didn’t get to throw a single pitch in the Yankees five-game victory over the Cardinals in the ’43 Series because McCarthy had decided to use him as his long reliever out of the bullpen if the need arose. It never did.
Wensloff was one of those guys who never felt as if he was being paid enough and for all I know, he probably had good reasons for feeling that way. When he received his proposed Yankee contract for the 1944 season in the mail, he was unhappy with it and refused to sign it. When the stalemate continued, he was put on the voluntarily retired list and missed the entire 1944 season. He then got drafted into the Army in 1945 and wasn’t discharged until August of 1946, long after all of the Yankees other pitchers had returned from service. The long period of inactivity and his late discharge probably contributed to the sore arm he developed during the Yankees’ 1947 spring training camp.
Though he did finally return to pitch for New York again in June of that year, his arm was never the same. After going 3-1 for Bucky Harris’s 1947 AL Pennant winners he finally got to pitch in a World Series that fall. But when he again was unhappy with the Yankees contract offer for the following season, he asked to be traded. His wish was granted when he was dealt to the Indians but after just one painful appearance with Cleveland, his big league career was over. He passed away in 2001, at the age of 85.
|NYY (2 yrs)||16||12||.571||2.55||40||32||4||19||1||1||275.0||220||97||78||10||92||123||1.135|
|CLE (1 yr)||0||1||.000||10.80||1||0||1||0||0||0||1.2||2||2||2||1||3||2||3.000|
It took the New York Yankees about two decades to learn how to get to the World Series and a couple more to figure out how to win one, but once they created the formula, they applied it more efficiently than any other franchise in the history of professional sports. It required owners who had lots of money at their disposal who were willing to spend it freely; plus a front-office executive who could convert that money into great scouting, shrewd signings and clever trades; plus a manager who had the ability to put those players on the field and in the positions they needed to be to perform most effectively. But most of all, the Yankee formula for success required getting 25 of the best players possible under contract and then somehow motivating them to deliver when called upon.
No one could blame Miller Huggins if he thought his 1924 Yankee team was a cinch to win a fourth straight AL Pennant or even a second straight World Championship. Instead the team finished second to the Washington Senators and then collapsed to seventh place the following year. How could the fortunes of a team with Babe Ruth in his prime in its lineup reverse so rapidly? Huggins blamed complacency and too much partying off the field. He was determined to shake up his roster by getting rid of some of some veterans and bringing in some young talent that was capable of challenging the Yankee starters for playing time. Those new faces included young Yankee infield prospects like Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Mark Koenig and it would be those three Baby Bronx Bombers who helped lead the Yankees back to the World Series in 1926.
Determined not to repeat his mistake, Huggins had Barrow make a deal with the White Sox in January of 1927 that brought catcher Johnny Grabowski and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant to New York for veteran second baseman, Aaron Ward. Originally, the Yankee skipper expected Ray Morehart to be his utility infielder during the 1927 season. The native of Abner, Texas had been known for his defensive ability more than his bat, but he raised some eyebrows when he hit .318 during his final season in Chicago. When he bested all of the great Yankees in that legendary Murderers’ Row lineup with a .378 batting average during his first spring training season with the team, Huggins started thinking he could start Morehart at second. That would permit him to move Lazzeri to short and shift Koenig over to third where he would replace Joe Dugan, who was the only starting infielder on the team who had reached the age of 30. That meant every infielder but Gehrig would have somebody behind him pressing for playing time which suited old “Hug” just fine.
Both Dugan and backup third baseman Mike Gazella started the season hitting the ball well as did both Lazzeri and Koenig. This greatly restricted Morehart’s innings and at bats, which helped turn his hot spring training bat ice cold. Eventually, Huggins did begin playing Lazzeri at both third and short and inserted Morehart at second, where the first-year Yankee impressed everyone with his outstanding defense. The more at bats he got, the better he hit too. He raised his average almost two hundred points over the two months he played regularly and became a valuable little piece of that legendary 1927 Yankee team.
Still, there was too much talent on that roster to keep Morehart a part of it and he was let go following his only year on the team. He would never again appear in a big league ball game. He continued playing minor league ball until 1933.
Morehart shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher from the 1930s.
|CHW (2 yrs)||104||328||292||37||81||14||5||0||27||6||28||22||.277||.343||.360||.702|
|NYY (1 yr)||73||230||195||45||50||7||2||1||20||4||29||18||.256||.353||.328||.681|
December 1 in general is not a very noteworthy date for baseball birthdays of any kind. The only member of Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame born on this date, played in just 1 big league game, but he managed in 3,658 of them and won four World Series rings. That would be Walter Alston, who managed the Dodgers for 23 years and beat the Yankees in two of those Fall Classics (1955 and 1963.) The greatest all-around big league player born on this date would probably be former Expo and Rockies outfielder, Larry Walker, who retired in 2005 with a .313 lifetime average and 383 home runs.
The only member of the Yankee all-time roster who celebrates his birthday on December 1 is a former pitcher named Cecil Perkins. You’ve never heard of him because his entire big league and Yankee career consisted of two appearances during the 1967 season. The first was as a starter against the Twins on July 5th of that year. Perkins lasted just three innings, giving up five runs and five hits and getting the loss in a 10-4 Minnesota victory. Former Yankee announcer, Jim Kaat, got the complete game win for the Twins that day. Perkins gave up his first big league hit, a triple to Rod Carew in the first inning. Later in the game, Minnesota third baseman Rich Reese hit what would become the only big league home run ever given up by the right hander. That loss extended a Yankee losing streak to five games. Three days later, Yankee Manager Ralph Houk inserted Perkins in the sixth inning of a game against the Orioles, in Baltimore. The Yankees were trailing 8-3 at the time and Perkins pitched two inning of one-hit, shutout ball, including a strikeout of the great Oriole reliever, Moe Drabowsky, which turned out to be Perkins only big league career K. He was then sent back down to Syracuse for the balance of the 1967 season and was gone from baseball for good after the following season.
Perkins was born in Baltimore in 1940. Other former Yankees born in Baltimore include; Phil Linz, Jeff Nelson, Tommy Byrne, Ron Swoboda and the Big Bam, Babe Ruth.