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|