Back in the mid eighties, one of the top Yankee prospects was a big power hitting first baseman named Orestes Destrade. He was a tall Cuban who was hitting about 25 home runs per season for New York’s upper level farm teams and Yankee fans got our first look at him in September of 1987 when big league rosters expanded to 40. He didn’t hit any home runs but he did get on base a lot (.417 OBP) so I thought we’d probably see more of him the following year. I was wrong.
New York traded Destrade that off season. Back then, New York traded top prospects faster than Donald Trump fired apprentices so I wasn’t surprised to see Destrade dealt. I was surprised at who the Yankees got in return. Hipolito Pena was a tall thin left-handed pitcher who had appeared in 26 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates during the previous two seasons. He had lost all six of his Pirate decisions and accumulated a 5.56 ERA. In 1988, Pena became part of the Yankee bullpen, getting into 16 games and earning his first and only big league victory. He then spent the next six seasons in the minors before retiring for good in 1996. In the mean time, Destrade never made it with Pittsburgh but he resurfaced with the Marlins in 1993, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 87 in what was considered his rookie year. But he also struck out 130 times. Orestes had a terrible 1994 season and it ended up being his last one in the big leagues.
Pena shares a birthday with this former Yankee coach.
|PIT (2 yrs)||0||6||.000||5.56||26||2||5||0||0||2||34.0||23||24||21||5||29||22||1.529|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||1||.500||3.14||16||0||8||0||0||0||14.1||10||8||5||1||9||10||1.326|
By the time John Habyan got to the Yankees he had learned the hard way that it was best to keep his emotions in check. The Bay Shore, New York native was drafted by the Orioles in the third round of the 1982 draft right out of St. John the Baptist High School. He then impressed everyone during his quick climb up the O’s farm system and by 1985, this right-hander was getting shots with the parent club. He later admitted that he was overwhelmed by the experience and and had difficulty staying calm and composed on the mound. He got his best shot with Baltimore in 1987, appearing in 27 games, including 13 starts for a very bad Orioles’ ball club. He went just 6-7 with an ERA near five and then he separated his shoulder in a winter sledding mishap.
So by the time Baltimore gave up on Habyan and he was traded to the Yankee organization in 1989, he had learned his lesson. No more being in awe of big league hitters and no more letting his emotions effect his pitching. He convinced himself he hated every hitter he faced and he learned how not to get too excited when a manager handed him a baseball. He also worked hard to improve his slider.
These were great adjustments on his part. He got his ticket to the Bronx in 1991 after pitching well in Columbus the season before. His first year in New York was Stump Merrill’s last and his 4-2 record and 2.30 ERA in 66 appearances was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal Yankee season. He and closer Steve Farr combined to give New York a great chance to win whenever the team’s substandard offense was able to give them a lead to protect in the late innings.
Habyan then started out the 1992 season just as hot and new Yankee manager Buck Showalter told every reporter who would listen that this guy was the best setup man in the game. But it didn’t last. Habyan started getting hammered after the 1992 All Star break as hitters no longer had trouble squaring up on his slider.
New York gave him a chance to recover the magic in 1993 but when it didn’t happen, he was traded in a three-team deal that put reliever Paul Assenmacher in pinstripes. After pitching for four different teams in the next three seasons, Habyan’s big league career ended in 1996. He eventually became the head baseball coach at his old high school on Long Island.
|NYY (4 yrs)||11||9||.550||3.16||164||0||58||0||0||10||213.2||212||82||75||13||59||147||1.268|
|BAL (4 yrs)||9||10||.474||4.61||42||18||7||0||0||1||160.0||159||95||82||25||62||84||1.381|
|STL (2 yrs)||4||2||.667||3.07||83||0||19||0||0||1||88.0||82||35||30||2||35||81||1.330|
|KCR (1 yr)||0||0||4.50||12||0||2||0||0||0||14.0||14||7||7||1||4||10||1.286|
|COL (1 yr)||1||1||.500||7.13||19||0||5||0||0||0||24.0||34||19||19||4||14||25||2.000|
|CAL (1 yr)||1||2||.333||4.13||28||0||7||0||0||0||32.2||36||16||15||2||12||25||1.469|
Along with thousands of Yankee fans, I became a member of the “Lyle Overbay Fan Club” in 2013. When Brian Cashman first signed this native of Centralia, Washington to a minor league contract after the Red Sox cut him during the final week of the 2013 spring training season, I admit I hardly noticed. I knew he had a good glove, but I thought his offensive skills had abandoned him. Though he had a nice stretch of decent years at the plate with both Milwaukee and Toronto earlier in his career, I felt there was no way he’d be able to effectively replace the run production of the now-injured Mark Teixeira and when the 2013 season began, both Cashman and Yankee skipper Joe Girardi fully agreed with me.
The plan was to give Overbay a shot at becoming the short-term answer at first base during the six weeks doctors figured Teixeira would need to recover from his wrist injury. When that six weeks turned into season-ending surgery for the Yankee slugger, Overbay had played well enough in the field and hit just good enough at the plate to permit New York’s front office to continue to delay a bigger more expensive solution to Teixeira’s absence.
The days turned into weeks, the weeks into months and before we knew it, September came around and Overbay was still starting at first for New York. Along the way, he delivered in enough clutch at bats to lead the Yankees in game-winning hits. He was never really spectacular just pretty much always steady and he stayed healthy. If a couple of Cashman’s other “affordable” preseason personnel moves like Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells or Kevin Youklis had followed suit, the Yankees would have made postseason play.
Just this past week, Overbay signed a minor league deal to play for the Brewers in 2014. The Yankees and Yankee fans probably won’t miss him much but I certainly won’t forget his noteworthy contribution to my favorite team during the 2013 regular season. He shares his January 28th birthday with this one-time Yankee announcer and this long ago Yankee second baseman.
|ARI (5 yrs)||161||464||404||37||112||33||0||7||49||2||53||110||.277||.363||.411||.774|
|TOR (5 yrs)||723||2854||2507||337||672||180||8||83||336||9||317||516||.268||.350||.446||.796|
|MIL (2 yrs)||317||1290||1116||163||322||87||2||35||159||3||159||226||.289||.376||.464||.840|
|PIT (1 yr)||103||391||352||40||80||17||1||8||37||1||36||77||.227||.300||.349||.649|
|ATL (1 yr)||20||21||20||1||2||1||0||0||0||0||1||8||.100||.143||.150||.293|
|NYY (1 yr)||142||486||445||43||107||24||1||14||59||2||36||111||.240||.295||.393||.688|
It really was amazing that despite a rash of injuries and bad personnel moves by the team’s front office, the Yankees still had a shot at postseason play going into the second week of September. But when they dropped the first two games of their final series with the Red Sox, I knew there’d be no fall ball for my favorite team in 2013.
On the evening of Sunday, September 15th, I decided to turn on the final game of that three-game set for one reason and one reason only. Ivan Nova was scheduled to pitch and I wanted to see if he was back in his groove. Even though he had won his previous four decisions, he had pitched poorly in his last two outings, getting roughed up by the Rays and the Red Sox. With Pettitte retiring and Hughes imploding, I figured Nova was an essential member of New York’s 2014 rotation so I wanted to see if he could hold the soon-to-be World Champion Red Sox in check that night. He didn’t. When Boston knocked him out in the fifth inning the Yankees were behind 5-1.
By the time the seventh inning rolled around I was probably already snoring away and dreaming that the Yankees would not only sign Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran the following offseason, but also snare Masahiro Tanaka. Whatever the reason, I ended up missing the Yankee debut of today’s Pinstripe Biirthday Celebrant. It turned out to also be his farewell performance as a Bronx Bomber. When he took the mound in Fenway that evening, he became the 23rd different pitcher to do so for New York during the disappointing 2013 regular season.
Like Joba Chamberlain, the guy he relieved in that night’s game, Zagurski is a native of Nebraska. A 12th round draft choice of the Phillies in 2005, he had made his big league debut two years later, appearing in 25 games out of the bullpen for Philadelphia in 2007 and struggling mightily with his control. The portly southpaw then spent most of the next four seasons in the minors, eventually getting traded to the Diamondbacks. He made Arizona’s big league staff in 2012, appeared in 45 games that season and again struggled with his control.
He was released that November and picked up by Pittsburgh that December. The Yankees originally signed him in June of 2013, when the Pirates let him go. New York then released him two months later. He was with Oakland for two short weeks, got dropped and re-signed with the Yankees. Cashman picked him up again only because Boone Logan’s sore pitching elbow wasn’t responding to treatment and Joe Girardi needed a left-arm in the pen to replace it. Unfortunately, Zagurski failed the only chance the Yankee skipper gave him to fill that void.
The first hitter he faced against Boston that night was Stephen Drew, who drilled a long fly ball out to deep right. Red Sox phee-nom Xander Bogaerts then singled sharply. Another Red Sox phee-nom, Jackie Bradley became the last hitter the Big Zag would ever face while wearing a Yankee uniform. He ended up hitting the young outfielder with a pitch. Cashman released him right after the season ended and Zagurski’s odyssey continued when he was signed the following month by the Indians.
Zagurski became the ninth member of the all-time Yankee roster with a last name that began with the letter “Z.” He shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee who won the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year Award, this long-ago Yankee pitcher and this one too.
|PHI (3 yrs)||1||0||1.000||6.82||37||0||8||0||0||0||31.2||37||24||24||5||19||36||1.768|
|ARI (1 yr)||0||0||5.54||45||0||13||0||0||0||37.1||37||24||23||5||19||34||1.500|
|PIT (1 yr)||0||0||15.00||6||0||2||0||0||0||6.0||10||10||10||1||8||5||3.000|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||0||54.00||1||0||0||0||0||0||0.1||1||2||2||0||0||0||3.000|
Brian Doyle’s big break took place on September 29, 1978 during the bottom half of the eighth inning of an afternoon game between the Yankees and Cleveland Indians, at Yankee Stadium. It was a critical game for New York. Bob Lemon’s team had come from eight and-a-half games behind Boston in late August to catch and pass the Red Sox in the AL East standings. But Boston was hanging tough. When they took the field against the Indians that day, the Yankees were on a four-game winning streak but still only had a one-game lead over the resilient Red Sox.
The game against Cleveland had turned into a pitchers’ duel between the Yankees Jim Beattie and the one-time Ranger phee–nom, David Clyde. The Yankees were behind 1-0 when Lemon sent up Cliff Johnson to bat for Bucky Dent to lead off the inning, and Johnson worked a walk off Clyde. The Yankee skipper then sent Fred Stanley into run for Johnson and he had Mickey Rivers sacrifice “Chicken” to second. That brought up Willie Randolph and it brought Cleveland manager Jeff Torborg out of the dugout to make a pitching change. He brought in the tall right-hander, Jim Kern to face the Yankee second baseman.
Randolph hit a slow roller down the third base line toward Buddy Bell, who, at the time, was well on his way to becoming the premier defensive third baseman in the American League. Knowing Bell had a strong arm and hoping Stanley could get to third on Bell’s throw to first, Randolph most certainly attempted to turn a higher gear on his sprint to first. He did beat Bell’s throw but in the process he pulled the hamstring in his left leg. As Randolph limped his way toward the Yankee dugout for treatment, he passed Brian Doyle, who Lemon had sent in to run for him. But Doyle’s walk that day did not stop at first base. Instead, it took him to a special place in Yankee lore.
Doyle would end up playing just 93 regular season games during his three-year Yankee career, but this Glasgow, KY native’s 1978 World Series performance was one of the best and most unexpected in pinstripe history. Filling in for the injured Randolph, Doyle batted .438 in the six game victory over the Dodgers. This guy never averaged higher than .192 during a regular season with New York. If you’re not old enough to remember Doyle, think about a player with abilities similar to Ramiro Pena. Him hitting .438 in the biggest baseball show on earth would be like if Pena had taken over for the injured Derek Jeter in the 2012 ALCS and led the Yankees to the World Series with his hitting. In other words, Doyle’s performance was shocking, especially since it took place in the national spotlight of the World Series.
Brian is the brother of former big league infielder, Denny Doyle. Together, they and a third brother, Brian’s twin named Blake, run the very successful Doyle Baseball Camp program. Graduates of the program include, Gary Sheffield, J.D. Drew, Brian Roberts and Tim Wakefield.
Doyle shares his January 26th birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
|NYY (3 yrs)||93||171||159||16||27||3||0||1||10||1||9||11||.170||.214||.208||.422|
|OAK (1 yr)||17||43||40||2||5||0||0||0||3||0||1||2||.125||.146||.125||.271|
When Wilcy Moore’s sore right arm wasn’t feeling better by the end of the team’s 1929 spring training camp, Miller Huggins was asked who he would use in place of his ace relief pitcher. Moore had just helped the Yankees win two consecutive World Championships and was considered to be the best finisher in the game back then.The Yankee manager didn’t hesitate with his response. He told the reporters he’d use Yankee rookie Roy Sherid and then explained why; “Sherid is fast and he knows how to keep his fastball low, right down where they can’t get at it. I like the way he uses his head in working on batters, particularly his judgement of when to mix his slow ball with his speed. He looks like the right man to send into those late innings when things are tight and important.”
Those were certainly words of high praise, especially since they were coming from the mouth of the Yankee’s legendary manager. At the time, Sherid was just 22 years old and had pitched two seasons of minor league ball for the Yankees Newark farm club. He was a tall, well-built right hander who hailed from Norristown, PA.
As it turned out, Moore’s sore arm, Sherid’s development as his replacement, and all other matters of Yankee baseball would turn out to be the least of Huggins problems during that 1929 season. The diminutive skipper was felled by an eye infection and bad case of the flu that September and during a Yankee road trip, he was admitted to a St Louis hospital for treatment. Shockingly, he died a few days later at the age of 50. The A’s ended up steam-rolling the Yankees in the AL Pennant race that season, Sherid ended up going 6-6 that first year and Moore ended up getting sent back to the minors.
In 1930, new Yankee skipper Bob Shawkey used Sherid plenty as both a starter and reliever. He finished that year with a 12-13 record and an unimpressive ERA. The following season, Joe McCarthy began his Hall of Fame run as Yankee manager and the change in field bosses at first seemed to be just what Sherid needed. He won five of his first six decisions pitching for “Marse Joe” plus earned two saves. Unfortunately the magic didn’t last. During the next month and a half, Sherid got shelled and dropped four straight decisions. He spent the second half of the season pitching for Montreal in the International League and never again threw another pitch in the big leagues. He passed away in 1982 at the age of 75.
Though they were also referred to as the Americans, their Highlanders’ nickname fit them well because they played their home games in a place called Hilltop Park, which was located on one of the highest points on Manhattan island. The team landed there in 1903 when Ban Johnson’s upstart American League relocated its Baltimore Oriole franchise to the Big Apple. It was a forced move that caused tons of bad blood and hostility. As a result, just about the entire Orioles roster either refused to make the move or were not offered the opportunity to do so. This forced the Highlanders to throw a team together in a helter skelter fashion, that included boozers, brawlers, gamblers and a few talented ball players thrown in for good measure. Co-owned by one of New York City’s biggest gambling barons and a retired corrupt cop, the club played as erratically as the hit-or-miss evolution of the team’s roster suggested it would. They finished 4th, 2nd, 6th, 2nd, 5th, last, 5th, 2nd, 6th and last during their first decade in their new home. They battled helplessly for the attention of city’s baseball fans and baseball press in those early years with John McGraw’s mighty Giants. Things really didn’t get better for the team and its fans until the franchise was purchased by a couple of very wealthy colonels named Rupert and Huston in 1915.
Earle Gardner joined the team in 1908. He was a five foot eleven inch, 160 pound second baseman from Sparta, IL, who during three previous seasons in the minors had developed a reputation with his fancy glove work. He was also a decent hitter, averaging right around .300 in three different classes of farm league ball. It took him two-and-a-half seasons to claim the starting second-baseman’s job and he was only able to hold onto it for just a year-and-a-half. He hit .263 in 1911, his only full season as a starter and then he gave way to Hack Simmons in 1912.
Just 28 years-old at the time he lost his starting position, Gardner returned to minor league ball and never again played in a big league game. He ended up with a .263 lifetime average during his five seasons in New York. He continued playing in the minors until 1918. He died in 1943 at the age of 59.
If you weren’t a Braves’ fan back in the early-to-mid 1990′s, you are probably quick to give much of Atlanta’s phenomenal success during that era to the stellar starting pitching trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. If you were instead a devoted tomahawking follower of the team back then, you know how huge a role today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant played in the success of that franchise.
Only one word is needed to describe Mark Wohlers’ performance during Atlanta’s championship season of 1995, “invincible.” After spending his first four big league seasons evolving into one of the best late-inning relievers in baseball, the Braves made the decision to turn this native of Holyoke, Massachusetts with his 100 mile per hour fastball and a nasty split finger, into their closer. All he did was go 7-3 with 25 saves in the regular season and put together five more saves during the Braves victorious 1995 postseason run to the title.
He then saved 39 more games during the 1996 regular season and five more in that year’s NLDS and NLCS. As he and his teammates prepared to defend their world championship against the Yankees, I remember thinking it was going to be very difficult for my favorite team to emerge victorious against Atlanta, largely because Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were so good at giving the Brave’s bullpen the lead and Wohlers’ was the best in the business at keeping it. Then Mr. Wohlers met Mr. Leyritz. The encounter took place in the eighth inning of Game 4, with the Braves leading 6-3. At the time, Atlanta had a two-games to one edge over New York and if they had been able to hold that Game 4 lead, I have no doubt they would have repeated as champions.
Instead, Leyritz hit his famous game-tying homer and it proved to be a turning point in three significant ways. The Yankees not only won that Series, they have gone on to appear in six more since ’96 and win four more of them. The Braves on the other hand have not made it back to the Series since and worst of all, Wohlers was really never again the same dominating pitcher he had been right up until the moment Leyritz drove that ball over the the left field wall of Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium.
The big right-hander was able to save 33 games for the Braves in 1997 but he suddenly had trouble throwing that blazing fastball over the plate. Since he couldn’t get ahead with his heater anymore, opposing hitters were able to simply lay off Wohlers’ split-finger. As his walks climbed so did his ERA. He lost the closer spot the following season and began throwing so much in an effort to figure out what was wrong, he blew out his elbow, requiring surgery. By 1999 he was pitching for Cincinnati.
In July of 2001, the Reds traded him to the Yankees for some pitcher who never made it to the big leagues. Wohlers was excited about coming to New York and told the Yankee press he had fully recovered from his surgery and was ready to get hitters out again. Joe Torre pitched him 31 times during the second half of that ’01 season and though his arm held up OK, he was still struggling with his control. The Yanks let him sign a 2-year deal with the Indians after the season ended.
|ATL (9 yrs)||31||22||.585||3.73||388||0||233||0||0||112||386.1||331||178||160||20||204||437||1.385|
|CIN (2 yrs)||4||3||.571||4.20||50||0||18||0||0||0||60.0||55||34||28||8||24||41||1.317|
|CLE (1 yr)||3||4||.429||4.79||64||0||28||0||0||7||71.1||71||41||38||6||26||46||1.360|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||4.54||31||0||14||0||0||0||35.2||33||20||18||3||18||33||1.430|
Ira Thomas was born on this date in 1881 about 20 miles north of my hometown, in Ballston Spa, NY. He grew into a sturdy 6’2″, 200 pound frame, which was considered “huge” back at the turn of the 20th century. That gave him the brawn he needed to handle the physical challenges of the catcher’s position. After a few years of minor league ball, he joined the New York Highlanders in 1906 and became Red Kleinow’s primary backup behind the plate.
Thomas had developed strong defensive skills for the position and he had a great arm for nailing opposing base runners. What he couldn’t do very well during his early big league days with New York was hit. In 44 games during his rookie season, he averaged just .200. Still, he was impressive enough defensively to remain with the team in 1907 and pretty much share the catching responsibilities evenly with Kleinow. Once again however, Thomas’s bat failed him. The increased at bats he got in 1907 did not improve his hitting stroke and he ended his second big league season with just a .192 average.
His weakness at the plate is what most likely got him sold to the Tigers in December of 1907. It was with Detroit that Thomas made MLB history and he did it ironically, with his bat. The Tigers faced the Cubs in the 1908 World Series and in the ninth inning of Game 1, Thomas got the first pinch hit, a single, in Series history.
Still just a backup with Detroit, Thomas was spending lots of time watching big league games and big league players perform from the bench. In doing so, he developed lots of knowledge that he would put to good and profitable use for the rest of his life. The first opportunity to do so came in 1909 when he was sold to Connie Mack’s A’s. Not only did his hitting improve in Philly, he also got his first chance to become a big league team’s starting catcher. Those Mack-led A’s teams would go onto win four AL Pennants in the next five years and Thomas was an integral part of each of them, first as the starting backstop and later as one of Mack’s most respected and knowledgeable bench coaches. The Yankees wanted to hire Thomas after the 1914 season ended to manage New York the following year but he wasn’t quite ready to retire as a player.
After he did quit playing in 1915, he accepted an offer to coach the baseball team at Williams College. Five years later, he revived his relationship with Mack and the A’s, as a coach, manager and later, a very talented scout for the organization. He also did some scouting for the Yankees late in his career. Thomas died in 1958 at the age of 77.
He shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfield prospect.
|PHA (7 yrs)||320||1027||928||86||233||39||11||2||108||13||59||93||.251||.308||.323||.631|
|NYY (2 yrs)||124||350||323||32||63||6||6||1||39||7||18||35||.195||.246||.260||.506|
|DET (1 yr)||40||108||101||6||31||1||0||0||8||0||5||10||.307||.346||.317||.663|
If it wasn’t for a horrible September, this big right-hander from Dallas would have been my choice for the Yankees’ 2013 Rookie of the Year. In his pinstriped debut against Oakland on May 5, 2013, he relieved Andy Pettitte in the sixth inning and retired all six A’s he faced. He remained in a groove, not surrendering a run in his first seven appearances and by the end of July, his ERA was still a splendid 2.06.
He quickly became one of Joe Girardi’s favorite go-to guys in the middle innings and when both Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan proved ineffective, it was Claiborne and Shawn Kelley who picked up the Yankee bullpen time and again until September reared its ugly head. That’s when this former Tulane Green Waver was hammered in three straight appearances against the Red Sox, giving up a total of eight runs in the one and two-thirds innings he pitched against Boston. That sent his ERA over four and put a damper on what had been a splendid first year.
Claiborne remains prominent in Girardi’s bullpen plans for the 2014 season, especially with both Logan and Chamberlain gone and David Robertson assuming the closer role left vacant by Mariano Rivera’s retirement.