January 6 – Happy Birthday Joe Lake
This Brooklyn born right hander took 27 years to make his big league debut with the New York Highlanders and unfortunately, it happened during the worst season in the franchise’s history. Joe Lake had caught everyone’s attention when in his first-ever season of minor league ball in 1907, he won 25 games for the Eastern League’s Jersey City Skeeters. That same year’s Highlander team had finished with a mediocre 70-78 record. New York’s manager, Clark Griffith knew he had to find some younger arms because his top two starters, 33-year-old Jack Chesbro and 34-year-old Al Orth were both getting a bit long in the tooth. He had received a scouting report praising a hard-throwing young right-hander named Walter Johnson, but the kid had only pitched on sandlots and for company-sponsored semi-pro teams. This lack of experience caused Griffith to hesitate reaching out to Johnson and by the time he did, the Senators had already signed the future Hall of Famer.
So the Highlanders went and got today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant instead and Griffith put him in his 1908 starting rotation. It looked like a genius move when both Lake and the team got off to a quick start that season. New York was actually on top of the AL standings with a 20-15 record on June 1st. They then lost 12 of their next 16 games and after arguing with the front-office over the team’s reversal of fortune, a frustrated Griffith was let go and replaced by Yankee starting shortstop, Kid Elberfield. The “Tabasco Kid” proved to be a much better player than he was a manager. He skippered the team to a dismal 27-71 record and a last-place finish. Every Highlander starter ended the year with a losing record including Lake, who at 9-22 led the league in losses.
Still, when the team’s 1909 spring training camp opened, new manager George Stallings told the New York press that Lake figured prominently in his pitching plans for the upcoming season. It was a wise move on the part of Stallings. Lake already had a decent fastball and Chesbro had helped him improve his knuckleball. The second-year hurler used both pitches efficiently enough to fashion a noteworthy 14-11 record in ’09 with an outstanding ERA of just 1.88. But instead of keeping Lake, the Highlanders traded him to the Browns in December of that year for a 37-year-old veteran catcher named Lou Criger, who would end up hitting just .188 for New York in 1910.
Lake went on to do some very good pitching for some very bad St. Louis ballclubs the next two seasons before ending his big league career as a Tiger in 1913. He shares his January 6th birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this one-time Yankee shortstop, this former 20-game-winning pitcher and this former Yankee reliever.
|SLB (3 yrs)||22||39||.361||2.88||76||60||15||42||3||2||533.2||558||272||171||5||133||238||1.295|
|NYY (2 yrs)||23||33||.411||2.60||69||53||16||36||5||1||484.2||432||238||140||8||136||235||1.172|
|DET (2 yrs)||17||18||.486||3.18||54||26||22||17||0||2||299.2||339||161||106||6||63||121||1.341|