He’s back and I wish I could honestly end this sentence with the phrase “he’s better than ever,” but that would be a stretch. That’s because in 2006 and 2007 when this elegant Taiwanese right-hander was throwing his hard sinking slider every fifth day in the Yankee rotation, he was one of the very best pitchers in baseball.
If it had been any other player in that fateful day’s Yankee lineup besides Jorge Posada on first base when Chien-Ming Wang laid down that bunt against the Houston Astros, Wang might still be a Yankee today.
At the time, Wang was on his way to earning his eighth victory of the 2008 season against just two defeats. Because it was an inter-league game being played at the NL team’s home park, there was no DH and Wang had to take at bats. Leading 3-0 in the sixth, Wang came to the plate with men on first and second with one out. He attempted a sacrifice but Astro pitcher Roy Oswalt was able to field the bunt and make the throw to third in time to nail the very slow Posada. The play forced Wang to become the baserunner at first. That’s when the floodgates opened for the Yankee offense as they proceeded to score six runs. Unfortunately for Wang and the Yankees, as he was running the bases to score the second of those six runs, he tore a tendon in his right foot and his season was over. As it turned out, so was the Yankees’ thirteen year streak of playoff appearances and effectively, so was Wang’s Yankee career.
My point is this. If its Jeter or A-Rod or Abreu on second at the time, Oswalt probably forgets about the play at third and goes to first for the second out of the inning.
I was a big fan of Wang despite the fact that he never seemed to pitch well in the playoffs. He had a 55-26 career record with New York. Five years ago at his time I was hoping he’d settle in as the number three starter behind CC and AJ and have a great year. That didn’t happen. When he did come back from his foot injury, probably a bit too early, he wasn’t able to replicate his old delivery and hurt his throwing shoulder. He underwent shoulder surgery and signed with the Nationals, finally making it back to a big league mound in late July of 2011. He got 11 starts for Washington during the second half of that season. He finished with a 4-3 record and the Nats re-signed him to a $4 million deal to pitch for them in 2012. He then regressed and Washington let him walk at the end of the 2011 season. I thought his career was over. But then came the 2013 World Baseball Championships during which Wang pitched 12 effective innings for his native Taiwan.
The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal after that tournament but released him so he could pitch for the Blue Jays. He put together two great starts for Toronto in 2013 but then faltered and got released. The Reds signed him to a minor league contract and he began the 2014 season pitching in their farm system.
|NYY (5 yrs)||55||26||.679||4.16||109||104||3||4||1||1||670.2||701||324||310||41||197||310||1.339|
|WSN (2 yrs)||6||6||.500||4.94||21||16||0||0||0||0||94.2||117||59||52||13||28||40||1.532|
|TOR (1 yr)||1||2||.333||7.67||6||6||0||0||0||0||27.0||40||24||23||5||9||14||1.815|
The only former Yankee celebrating a birthday today is a big right hander named Dick Woodson, who appeared in just eight games for New York during the 1974 season and then left the big leagues. Woodson did all of his other pitching for the Twins. I can actually remember when he broke into their rotation. Back then, Minnesota had a young Bert Blyleven, veteran Jim Perry and one of my all-time favorite Yankee announcers, Jim “Kitty” Kaat, as starters. Those three guys had a total of 785 regular season victories between them. Woodson won 14 games as a Twin starter in 1972 and 10 more the following season. Then in May of 1974, Minnesota swapped Woodson for a lefthanded pitching prospect named Mike Pazik, who had been the Yankees first round pick in the 1971 draft. Neither pitcher performed well for their new teams. Woodson had actually torn his rotator cuff before the trade and back in those days, that injury ended a pitcher’s career.
Woodson did, however, play a significant role in baseball history when, in 1974 he was handpicked by the legendary Marvin Miller to become the first Major League Player to go through the newly established arbitration process. Miller had studied every eligible player’s contract and discovered Woodson was the most underpaid player in baseball. At the time, the Twins stingy owner, Calvin Griffith was paying the pitcher $15,000 and had offered him a $2,000 raise after a 14-victory season. Miller’s minions had discovered that pitchers with similar stats were making two and even three times more than Woodson was being offered. Woodson’s arbitration starting point was $30,000 and he won his case easily.
|MIN (5 yrs)||33||30||.524||3.35||129||73||16||15||5||2||561.0||488||244||209||49||241||303||1.299|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||2||.333||5.79||8||3||2||0||0||0||28.0||34||19||18||6||12||12||1.643|
Cy Young was born on today’s date, way back in 1867. The legendary right-hander won 511 games during his 22-season career, more than any other man in baseball history. Young ended up in Cooperstown. He set such a standard for pitching excellence that the award given annually to the best pitcher in each league is named after him. One of the pitchers to win that award was also born on this date, 77 years after Young. His name was Denny McLain and he actually won the AL Cy Young Award two times in a row. McLain was baseball’s last thirty-game winner and he’s also quite a character who battled both drinking and gambling addictions and ended up in jail.
A Yankee pitcher also born on this date never came close to winning thirty games in a season or a Cy Young Award. His name is Bill Castro. He was a very good relief pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers for much of the 1970’s, winning 25 games and saving 44 more during his seven seasons with that team. The Yankees signed this right-handed native of the Dominican Republic as a free agent in February of 1981. Castro ended up pitching in just eleven games for New York during the strike-shortened season that followed, winning one and losing one decision. The Yankees then traded him to the Royals for third baseman Butch Hobson. When he stopped playing he got into coaching and worked for the Brewers organization until 2009. We know Castro won’t be following Cy Young to Cooperstown and let’s hope he never follows Denny McLain to jail, either.
|MIL (7 yrs)||25||23||.521||2.96||253||5||179||0||0||44||411.0||415||164||135||22||108||145||1.273|
|KCR (2 yrs)||5||2||.714||4.56||39||4||13||0||0||1||116.1||123||68||59||12||32||54||1.332|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||1||.500||3.79||11||0||6||0||0||0||19.0||26||13||8||2||5||4||1.632|
I will always have a special affinity for Victor John Angelo Raschi, even though I never saw him throw a pitch in a single big league game. That’s because he started his professional and Yankee career in my home town of Amsterdam, NY, pitching for the Amsterdam Rugmakers in 1941. At the time, the Rugmakers were New York’s minor league affiliate in the old Canadian American League.
Notice that year, 1941 again. Raschi was born on March 28, 1919 in West Springfield, MA. That was not a particularly good time to be born if you turned out to be an aspiring big league baseball player. Why? Because just as you reached the age at which most professional baseball careers began, your country got involved in WWII and you were called to serve. So after going 10-6 for the Rugmakers that first season and becoming a legend in my home town, Raschi got to spend just one more season in the Yankee farm system before joining the air force for the next three years.
By the time he returned, in 1946, the Springfield, Massachusetts native was already 27-years-old and by the time he became a starter for New York he was 29. For a half-dozen seasons from 1948 to 1954, this fire-baller was as good as any pitcher in baseball. Raschi was a three-time twenty-game winner for the Yankees, compiling a .706 winning percentage and a 120-50 record during his nine years in pinstripes. He combined with Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat to give New York one of the top trio of starters to ever pitch in the same Yankee rotation and that rotation led them to five straight World Series victories from 1949 to 1953.
Unfortunately, Raschi’s Yankee career ended on a sour note when he complained vociferously about a pay cut the Yankees forced upon him after he went 13-6 in 1953. Yankee GM George Weiss sold the then 34-year-old veteran to the Cardinals. It turned out to be the right move by the heartless Weiss as Raschi never again had a winning season in the big leagues. If military service had not stalled the start of his career, I feel Raschi would be in Cooperstown today. He died in 1988 at the age of 69. It was Yankee announcer, Mel Allen who gave this great Yankee right-hander the nickname, “The Springfield Rifle.”
|NYY (8 yrs)||120||50||.706||3.47||218||207||5||99||24||3||1537.0||1347||659||593||104||620||832||1.280|
|STL (2 yrs)||8||10||.444||4.88||31||30||0||6||2||0||180.2||187||103||98||24||72||74||1.434|
|KCA (1 yr)||4||6||.400||5.42||20||18||0||1||0||0||101.1||132||66||61||10||35||38||1.648|
After thirteen seasons as a National League second baseman, “”Hug”” became a manager. He took over as skipper of the Yankees in 1918, winning over one thousand games, six AL pennants and three World Series during his one dozen seasons in the Yankee dugout. Though he was small in stature, only 5’6″ tall and weighing just 140 pounds, Huggins was able to gain the respect and love of his players. Lou Gehrig called him “the squarest shooter I ever met in baseball.” He became seriously ill during the 1929 season when an eye infection turned into a case of blood poisoning. He died that September. He was just 50 years old.
Since we’re on the topic of Yankee managers and Joe Girardi is about to begin his seventh year at the helm of the Bronx Bombers, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the records of the top five winning managers in pinstripe history. Here’s the list:
|Manager – World Championships||Wins||Losses||Pct.|
|Joe McCarthy – 7||1460||867||.627|
|Joe Torre – 4||1173||767||.605|
|Casey Stengel – 7||1149||696||.623|
|Miller Huggins – 3||1067||719||.597|
|Ralph Houk – 2||944||806||.539|
|6||1918||40||New York Yankees||AL||60||63||.488||126||4|
|7||1919||41||New York Yankees||AL||80||59||.576||141||3|
|8||1920||42||New York Yankees||AL||95||59||.617||154||3|
|9||1921||43||New York Yankees||AL||98||55||.641||153||1||AL Pennant|
|10||1922||44||New York Yankees||AL||94||60||.610||154||1||AL Pennant|
|11||1923||45||New York Yankees||AL||98||54||.645||152||1||WS Champs|
|12||1924||46||New York Yankees||AL||89||63||.586||153||2|
|13||1925||47||New York Yankees||AL||69||85||.448||156||7|
|14||1926||48||New York Yankees||AL||91||63||.591||155||1||AL Pennant|
|15||1927||49||New York Yankees||AL||110||44||.714||155||1||WS Champs|
|16||1928||50||New York Yankees||AL||101||53||.656||154||1||WS Champs|
|17||1929||51||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 2||82||61||.573||143||2|
|St. Louis Cardinals||5 years||346||415||.455||774||5.4|
|New York Yankees||12 years||1067||719||.597||1796||2.3||6 Pennants and 3 World Series Titles|
|17 years||1413||1134||.555||2570||3.2||6 Pennants and 3 World Series Titles|
Last September, the Yankee front office was about to announce that Derek Jeter’s frustrating 2013 season was over. Before they did, they acquired another big league shortstop by the name of Brendan Ryan. At the time of the announcement, I had never heard of Ryan, which was odd because he had been the starting shortstop for both the Cardinals and Mariners for two seasons each.
Unlike Jeter, who was one of baseball’s all-time best-hitting shortstops, Ryan was not a good hitter, averaging just .237 during his almost 700 games in the big leagues. Also unlike Jeter, Ryan was considered one of the very best defensive shortstops in the game. The Yankees then signed their new acquisition to a two-year contract for $4 million.
I was a bit puzzled by the contract until the Yankees went on their free agent signing spree during the offseason and reloaded their offense with Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. So even if Jeter could not make it back in 2014, the rejuvenated Yankee lineup could score runs without his offense and by using Ryan at short, they could prevent more runs on defense. It seemed a sound strategy.
Ironically, as we approach the end of the first month of the 2014 season, it is Ryan who is on the DL and unable to play, while Jeter looks like he will do just fine in this final year of his brilliant playing career.
Ryan was born in Los Angeles on this date in 1982 and was selected by the Cardinals in the 7th round of the 2003 draft. He bats and throws right-handed and can play second and third in addition to short. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee infielder and this pacifist WWII era pitcher.
|STL (4 yrs)||415||1332||1206||165||312||56||10||9||95||39||88||166||.259||.314||.344||.658|
|SEA (3 yrs)||351||1251||1103||116||237||48||6||9||91||28||99||245||.215||.286||.294||.580|
|NYY (1 yr)||17||62||59||7||13||2||0||1||1||0||2||13||.220||.258||.305||.563|
One of the Yankees most impacted by the infamous Copa Cabana Nightclub incident wasn’t even there celebrating that night. I’m referring to Woodie Held, a rather free spirited middle infield prospect for New York in the fifties who along with alleged troublemaker Billy Martin, pitcher Ralph Terry and an outfielder named Bob Martyn were traded to Kansas City for reliever Ryne Duren and outfielders Jim Pisoni and Harry “Suitcase” Simpson. Both Martin and Terry would get a chance to return to New York and capture glory in pinstripes. Bob Martyn would never enjoy much success in the big leagues. But Held would go on to play fourteen years in the big leagues and belt 179 home runs.
Back when I was a kid, I collected baseball cards, which in addition to the annual Street & Smith’s Baseball Preview issue were my primary information conduit for the performances and stats of non-Yankee players. I remember checking the backs of cards of every player to find out what teams they played for. It was most likely on the back of the 1961 Woodie Held card pictured with this post that I found out he used to be a Yankee. Once you were a Yankee, I continued to root for your success except when your team happened to be playing the Yankees. That is how and why I became a fan of Woodie Held. I loved his name and I loved the fact that he played in the middle of the infield but could still hit for power. I remember the year I got this card, Maris and Mantle were chasing Ruth but Skowren, Berra, Howard and Blanchard all had more than 20 home runs that season while Clete Boyer (11), Bobby Richardson (3) and Tony Kubek (8) didn’t reach that milestone. I remember looking at Held’s card and seeing he had hit 21 home runs as a shortstop for the Indians in 1960 and 27 the season before. He would hit 23 during the ’61 season. I remember hoping some day he’d return to New York and hit all those home runs as a Yankee shortstop. Of course back then, I didn’t realize that would have been pretty difficult for Held to do since he was a right-handed pull hitter and probably, just like Clete Boyer ended up doing, many of Woodie’s blasts would have been turned into outs by Yankee Stadium’s cavernous left field.
In any event, Held never did come back to the Yankees. He hung on in the big leagues until 1969, quitting when he was 37 years old. He then enjoyed one of the most erratic retirements of any big league player in history. He opened a pizza parlor, ran a lumber yard, he raced snowmobiles, became an iron worker, he worked as a bartender and an electrician. Woodson George Held died in June of 2009 in his adopted home of DuBois Wyoming at the age of 77. He shares his March 25th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and coach.
|CLE (7 yrs)||855||3227||2800||372||698||105||16||130||401||10||351||629||.249||.339||.438||.777|
|KCA (2 yrs)||139||518||457||61||106||16||3||24||66||4||47||109||.232||.308||.438||.746|
|CAL (2 yrs)||91||219||186||19||36||4||0||4||17||0||23||56||.194||.296||.280||.575|
|NYY (2 yrs)||5||6||4||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||1||.000||.333||.000||.333|
|BAL (2 yrs)||82||145||123||10||23||6||1||2||13||0||18||42||.187||.301||.301||.602|
|CHW (2 yrs)||96||141||117||14||18||3||0||3||8||0||18||33||.154||.275||.256||.532|
|WSA (1 yr)||122||391||332||46||82||16||2||16||54||0||49||74||.247||.345||.452||.797|
Talk about a lousy birthday present, New York announced they were releasing this right-hander on his 27th birthday. He had been competing in Spring Training for the fifth starter’s spot in Manager Joe Girardi’s 2010 rotation but was beaten out by Phil Hughes. If the Yankees kept him on the roster and put him in the bullpen, they would have had to pay his full $2.7 million salary so they released him instead. Gaudin landed a job on the A’s staff a few days later but when Oakland released him in May of 2010, he again joined the Yankee bullpen. He originally had impressed me during his first 11 appearances in pinstripes in 2009 but he did little for New York upon his return in 2010. He pitched a bit for the Washington Nationals in 2011 and then caught on with the Marlins in 2012, followed up by a strong season out of the Giants’ bullpen in 2013. The Phillies brought him to their 2014 spring training camp but he was cut from their roster early on.
|OAK (4 yrs)||20||20||.500||4.25||127||40||28||1||0||2||343.1||346||179||162||35||164||254||1.485|
|TBD (2 yrs)||3||2||.600||4.25||41||7||10||0||0||0||82.2||96||45||39||8||32||53||1.548|
|NYY (2 yrs)||3||2||.600||4.00||41||6||21||0||0||0||90.0||87||43||40||18||40||67||1.411|
|SDP (1 yr)||4||10||.286||5.13||20||19||0||0||0||0||105.1||105||69||60||7||56||105||1.528|
|WSN (1 yr)||1||1||.500||6.48||10||0||1||0||0||0||8.1||12||10||6||1||8||10||2.400|
|CHC (1 yr)||4||2||.667||6.26||24||0||5||0||0||0||27.1||29||21||19||5||10||27||1.427|
|SFG (1 yr)||5||2||.714||3.06||30||12||4||0||0||0||97.0||81||34||33||6||40||88||1.247|
|MIA (1 yr)||4||2||.667||4.54||46||0||11||0||0||0||69.1||72||39||35||6||26||57||1.413|
|TOR (1 yr)||1||3||.250||13.15||5||3||0||0||0||0||13.0||31||19||19||6||6||12||2.846|
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is the only one of the “Three Killer B’s” who originally received lots of media attention during the Yankees’ 2011 spring training season, to actually begin paying dividends for the parent club. His name is Dellin Betances, and he was born on March 23, 1988, in the Washington Heights section of New York City. He grew up a Yankee fan and the Bronx Bombers selected him in the eighth round of the 2006 draft and then gave him a million dollar contract to dissuade him from accepting a college scholarship to pitch for Vanderbilt University.
An imposing figure on the mound, Betances is 6’8″ tall and throws a fastball that clocks just a shade under 100 mph. His path to the big leagues was obstructed by elbow surgery in 2009. He did appear in his first two big league games for New York during the 2011 season but after he failed to make Joe Girardi’s Yankee staff in either 2012 or 2013, I for one thought his promise was more hype than anything else. It now looks as if I may have been dead wrong and I certainly hope I was. Betances had a terrific 2014 spring training season and has continued his close-to-dominating relief performances through the first two weeks of the regular season. He is the third member of the All-Time Yankee roster to be born on March 23rd, joining this former first baseman and this one-time catcher.
Lidle’s Yankee career began with promise, quickly grew muddled in controversy and ended in shocking tragedy. He came to New York in the Bobby Abreu trade from Philly during the 2006 season. He won his first Yankee start against Toronto and then beat Boston for his second win and I remember at that point liking what I was seeing from this right-hander. He ended up going 4-3 in his nine Yankee starts that year but then got shelled by Detroit in the ALDS-clinching Game 4 loss to Detroit. He was then quoted as saying the Tigers were more ready to play that postseason series than the Yankees, which did not sit well with Yankee fans or his Yankee teammates. It also brought back memories of the derogatory comments Lidle had made about his Philadelphia teammates after getting traded to New York and caused me to conclude that this guy maybe had a screw loose. But then he flew that plane into a New York City apartment building and suddenly those controversial comments meant nothing at all. Lidle was 34 years old when that crash took place and he left behind a wife and young son.
This former Yankee relief pitcher and bullpen coach, this one-time Yankee home-run machine and this one-time Yankee catcher were also born on March 22.
|PHI (3 yrs)||26||20||.565||4.50||62||62||0||3||2||0||372.1||396||207||186||40||96||252||1.321|
|TBD (2 yrs)||5||6||.455||5.13||36||12||6||0||0||0||101.2||122||65||58||13||31||66||1.505|
|OAK (2 yrs)||21||16||.568||3.74||60||59||0||3||2||0||380.0||361||174||158||40||86||229||1.176|
|NYM (1 yr)||7||2||.778||3.53||54||2||20||0||0||2||81.2||86||38||32||7||20||54||1.298|
|CIN (1 yr)||7||10||.412||5.32||24||24||0||3||1||0||149.0||170||95||88||24||44||93||1.436|
|NYY (1 yr)||4||3||.571||5.16||10||9||0||0||0||0||45.1||49||26||26||11||19||32||1.500|
|TOR (1 yr)||12||15||.444||5.75||31||31||0||2||0||0||192.2||216||133||123||24||60||112||1.433|