January 2014

January 30 – Happy Birthday Hipolito Pena

pena.jpgBack 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.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1988 NYY 1 1 .500 3.14 16 0 8 0 0 0 14.1 10 8 5 1 9 10 1.326
3 Yrs 1 7 .125 4.84 42 2 13 0 0 2 48.1 33 32 26 6 38 32 1.469
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/30/2014.

January 29 – Happy Birthday John Habyan

habyanBy 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.

He shares his birthday with this former Yankee second baseman and this former Yankee outfielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1990 NYY 0 0 2.08 6 0 1 0 0 0 8.2 10 2 2 0 2 4 1.385
1991 NYY 4 2 .667 2.30 66 0 16 0 0 2 90.0 73 28 23 2 20 70 1.033
1992 NYY 5 6 .455 3.84 56 0 20 0 0 7 72.2 84 32 31 6 21 44 1.445
1993 TOT 2 1 .667 4.15 48 0 23 0 0 1 56.1 59 27 26 6 20 39 1.402
1993 NYY 2 1 .667 4.04 36 0 21 0 0 1 42.1 45 20 19 5 16 29 1.441
11 Yrs 26 24 .520 3.85 348 18 98 0 0 12 532.1 537 254 228 47 186 372 1.358
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/29/2014.

January 28 – Happy Birthday Lyle Overbay

overbayttAlong 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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2013 NYY 142 486 445 43 107 24 1 14 59 2 36 111 .240 .295 .393 .688
13 Yrs 1466 5506 4844 621 1295 342 12 147 640 17 602 1048 .267 .348 .434 .782
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/28/2014.

January 27 – Happy Birthday Mike Zagurski

Mike_ZagurskiIt 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.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2013 NYY 0 0 54.00 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.1 1 2 2 0 0 0 3.000
5 Yrs 1 0 1.000 7.05 89 0 23 0 0 0 75.1 85 60 59 11 46 75 1.739
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/28/2014.

January 26 – Happy Birthday Brian Doyle

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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1978 NYY 39 54 52 6 10 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .192 .192 .192 .385
1979 NYY 20 36 32 2 4 2 0 0 5 0 3 1 .125 .200 .188 .388
1980 NYY 34 81 75 8 13 1 0 1 5 1 6 7 .173 .235 .227 .461
4 Yrs 110 214 199 18 32 3 0 1 13 1 10 13 .161 .201 .191 .392
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/26/2014.