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.