April 2014

April 30 – Happy Birthday Jumbo Brown

brownWhen CC Sabathia shed 25 pounds after the 2010 postseason, he also shed the mantra of being the heaviest full-time player in MLB history. That honor now reverts back to another Yankee pitcher named Walter Brown. Brown was 6’4″ tall, three inches shorter than Sabathia and tipped the scales at 295 pounds. As a result, he was better known as “Jumbo” Brown. Born in Green, Rhode Island, he broke into the big leagues with the Cubs in 1925 and then pitched for the Indians during the  1927 and ’28 seasons. Not yet ready for prime time, the big guy then returned to the minors.

He became a Yankee in 1932 and spent four of the next five seasons as a member of the Yankee bullpen and one of manager Joe McCarthy’s occasional starters. Unfortunately for Brown, those Yankee teams of the 1930′s were loaded with talented pitchers. One of Brown’s biggest problems, according to author Stephen Lombardi in his book “The Baseball Same Game,” was the fact that his fingers were too short and too stubby to throw a curveball so he was limited to throwing only a fastball. Though Brown’s heater was a good one, it was not good enough to break into that Yankee rotation because after one time through a lineup, opposing hitters had a much easier time squaring up to a one-pitch pitcher.

By 1934, Jumbo was forced to pitch in Newark where he again got a chance to start and won 20-games for the Yankees’ top Minor League franchise. He was 19-16 during his stay in pinstripes, earning two saves and pitching two shutouts. The Reds purchased his contract in 1937 but he quickly returned to the Big Apple when the Giants bought him from Cincinnati that same season. He spent his final five big league seasons pitching very effectively out of the bullpen at the Polo Grounds. His one pitch repertoire was much more suited to relief work, during which hitters faced the rotund right hander and his fastball just once. Brown actually led the NL in saves in both 1940 and ’41 before joining the US Navy. His baseball career ended for good when his military service began. Jumbo is the only member of the Yankee all-time roster to celebrate his birthday on the last day of April.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1932 NYY 5 2 .714 4.53 19 3 9 3 1 1 55.2 58 30 28 1 30 31 1.581
1933 NYY 7 5 .583 5.23 21 8 8 1 0 0 74.0 78 48 43 3 52 55 1.757
1935 NYY 6 5 .545 3.61 20 8 6 3 1 0 87.1 94 41 35 2 37 41 1.500
1936 NYY 1 4 .200 5.91 20 3 8 0 0 1 64.0 93 47 42 4 29 19 1.906
12 Yrs 33 31 .516 4.07 249 23 147 7 2 28 597.1 619 316 270 26 300 301 1.539
NYG (5 yrs) 13 12 .520 2.93 150 0 104 0 0 26 267.1 237 106 87 13 104 131 1.276
NYY (4 yrs) 19 16 .543 4.74 80 22 31 7 2 2 281.0 323 166 148 10 148 146 1.676
CLE (2 yrs) 0 3 .000 6.48 13 0 10 0 0 0 33.1 38 29 24 3 41 20 2.370
CIN (1 yr) 1 0 1.000 8.38 4 1 0 0 0 0 9.2 16 10 9 0 3 4 1.966
CHC (1 yr) 0 0 3.00 2 0 2 0 0 0 6.0 5 5 2 0 4 0 1.500
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/29/2014.

April 29 – Happy Birthday Ernie Johnson

23Johnson_Ernie_002By the time the Yankees purchased Ernie Johnson off waivers just before June of the 1923 regular season, this Chicago native was already 35 years of age and had eight seasons of big league baseball under his belt. The Yankees were looking for a better offensive player to take over for Mike McNally as their infield utility guy and though Johnson was not a great hitter, he had averaged .295 as the White Sox starting second baseman just two seasons earlier.

He had then ticked off that team’s owner Charley Comiskey, when he demanded a salary increase, Subsequently, when his batting average fell forty points in 1924, he lost his starting job to a guy named  Hervey McClellan and Comiskey gladly put Johnson on the waiver wire.

It actually turned out to be a great move for both the infielder and the Yankees. Over the two-and-a-half seasons he played for New York skipper Miller Huggins, Johnson appeared in 159 games and averaged a very robust .327. He also won his one and only World Series ring in 1923 against the Giants and scored the go-ahead run as a pinch runner in the final Game of that Fall Classic.

Its too bad Johnson didn’t get to put on the pinstripes much earlier in his career because by 1925, he had already turned 37-years-old. The Yankees decided to go with some much younger blood. The veteran infielder was one of three players New York traded to the St. Paul Saints in exchange for a 20-year-old shortstop named Mark Koenig. Johnson played four more seasons of minor league ball before hanging up his glove for good. He later became a scout for the Red Sox until he passed away in 1952 at the age of 64. His son Don followed the old man to the big leagues and was a starting second baseman for the Cubs during and after WWII.

Johnson shares his April 29th birthday with this Yankee pitcher from the ninetiesthis one from the fifties, and this other one from the forties.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1923 NYY 19 40 38 6 17 1 1 1 8 0 1 1 .447 .462 .605 1.067
1924 NYY 64 133 119 24 42 4 8 3 12 1 11 7 .353 .412 .597 1.009
1925 NYY 76 183 170 30 48 5 1 5 17 6 8 10 .282 .315 .412 .726
10 Yrs 813 2915 2619 372 697 91 36 19 256 114 181 160 .266 .317 .350 .667
CHW (4 yrs) 319 1439 1311 190 355 47 11 1 113 45 73 66 .271 .312 .326 .638
NYY (3 yrs) 159 356 327 60 107 10 10 9 37 7 20 18 .327 .368 .502 .869
SLB (3 yrs) 183 539 469 64 112 16 5 2 39 30 42 41 .239 .309 .307 .617
SLM (1 yr) 152 581 512 58 123 18 10 7 67 32 46 35 .240 .305 .355 .661
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/28/2014.

April 28 – Happy Birthday Pedro Ramos

Back in the nineteen fifties, slugger Mickey Mantle would begin drooling a week before his Yankees were scheduled to play a series against the Washington Senators. Why? There were three reasons, and their names were Chuck Stobbs, Camilio Pascual and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Pedro “Pistol Pete” Ramos. They formed three fifths of Washington’s starting rotation back then and it seemed as if Mantle hit three-fifths of his 536 lifetime home runs off the trio. Pascual and Ramos were both from Cuba and both were actually very talented big league pitchers. In fact, I saw Pascual pitch a couple of times live at Yankee Stadium and several times on television and to this day, I believe he belongs in Cooperstown. Ramos was a notch below his countryman in talent but it would end up being Ramos who would help pitch the Yankees into a World Series.

Pedro pitched his first seven big league seasons for the Senators (who moved to Minnesota and became the Twins in 1961) and achieved double figures in victories in six of them. Unfortunately, thanks in large part to the anemic offense and porous defense of those Washington teams, Ramos also lost 112 games during that same span. He was then traded to the Indians, where he pitched decently for almost three seasons until September 5, 1964 when Yankee GM Ralph Houk acquired him for two players to be named later, who would turn out to be pitchers Ralph Terry and Bud Daley.

Yogi Berra had replaced Houk as Yankee skipper that season and the team took a long time to respond to their new Manager and were in danger of not reaching the World Series for the first time in five straight seasons. Berra’s starting rotation and bullpen were running on fumes. The additions of Mel Stottlemyre and Ramos proved to be the perfect elixir to what ailed Yankee pitching. Ramos took over the closer role and pitched brilliantly, saving eight games down the stretch as New York pulled off a late-season surge to win the AL Pennant. Unfortunately, he had joined the Yankees to late in the season to qualify for the World Series roster so he was forced to watch helplessly as the Cardinals beat New York in that year’s seven-game Fall Classic.

Houk then replaced Berra as Yankee Manager with Johnny Keane right after that series and Ramos spent the next two years as the closer on a Yankee team that was not able to generate too many leads that needed closing. Still, Ramos did save a total 32 games for New York during the 1965 and ’66 seasons before getting dealt to Philadelphia for relief pitcher Joe Verbanic. He retired after the 1970 season with a lifetime record of 117-160, 55 saves and 13 shutouts.

It seems Ramos was pretty much a wild man in his private life. In fact, his nickname “Pistol Pete” was only partially attributable to the right-hander’s fastball. This guy actually carried a gun with him off the field, almost all the time. He once used that gun to shoot out the screen of his family’s television set when he objected to the channel choice of Mrs. Ramos (who quickly thereafter became the ex-Mrs. Ramos.) He also used his gun after his playing days were over when he got himself involved in Little Havana’s drug business, which landed him in jail in the early 1980′s.

Ramos shares his April 28th birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1964 NYY 1 0 1.000 1.25 13 0 11 0 0 8 21.2 13 3 3 1 0 21 0.600
1965 NYY 5 5 .500 2.92 65 0 42 0 0 19 92.1 80 34 30 7 27 68 1.159
1966 NYY 3 9 .250 3.61 52 1 38 0 0 13 89.2 98 43 36 10 18 58 1.294
15 Yrs 117 160 .422 4.08 582 268 182 73 13 55 2355.2 2364 1210 1068 316 724 1305 1.311
MIN (7 yrs) 78 112 .411 4.19 290 199 56 58 10 12 1544.1 1579 808 719 210 491 740 1.340
CLE (3 yrs) 26 30 .464 3.87 109 68 15 15 3 1 519.0 489 262 223 75 152 363 1.235
NYY (3 yrs) 9 14 .391 3.05 130 1 91 0 0 40 203.2 191 80 69 18 45 147 1.159
WSA (1 yr) 0 0 7.56 4 0 1 0 0 0 8.1 10 7 7 2 4 10 1.680
CIN (1 yr) 4 3 .571 5.16 38 0 12 0 0 2 66.1 73 41 38 8 24 40 1.462
PIT (1 yr) 0 1 .000 6.00 5 0 3 0 0 0 6.0 8 4 4 2 0 4 1.333
PHI (1 yr) 0 0 9.00 6 0 4 0 0 0 8.0 14 8 8 1 8 1 2.750
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/27/2014.