Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant had the opportunity to replace the great Thurman Munson as the Yankees’ starting catcher. This opportunity arose for the Tampa, FL native not in 1979, when Munson was tragically killed in his plane crash, but the year before, when the great Yankee catcher was still an All Star.
For Yankee fans, 1978 will always be an historic year. It was the season of the great comeback, when New York came from 14 games behind their hated rival, the Red Sox, on July 18th to capture the AL East crown. As that year’s All Star break approached, George Steinbrenner was panicking. He was certain he could make better lineup decisions than Billy Martin, so he decided to go ahead and make them. At the time, Martin was near a nervous breakdown. He was fighting with Steinbrenner, feuding with Reggie Jackson and drinking way too much. He loved being Manager of the Yankees so much that he let “The Boss” make his moves.
Steinbrenner benched veteran Roy White and inserted Gary Thomasson in left field. He also ordered Martin to play Munson in right field to rest the aging catcher’s knees and revive his batting stroke. He wanted to platoon Lou Piniella and Reggie Jackson at DH and start the 23-year-old rookie catcher, Mike Heath, who had just been called up from the Yankees’ double A team in West Haven, CT.
Steinbrenner’s revised lineup made their debut on July 13, a Thursday afternoon game against the White Sox, at Yankee Stadium. They lost four of the next five and in that fifth game; Billy Martin gave Reggie Jackson the infamous bunt sign and then tried to remove it. When Jackson defied Martin, Billy benched the slugger, with Steinbrenner’s approval. The Yankees proceeded to win five straight and Heath was actually doing fine both behind and at the plate, keeping his average right around .300. That’s when Martin made his famous “One’s a born liar and the others a convicted one” comment that got him fired.
The rest is Yankee history. Bob Lemon replaced Martin and Bucky Dent’s blast a few weeks’ later capped off the best Cinderella comeback story in New York’s franchise history. What happened to Heath?
Lemon continued to start the rookie at catcher for about a week, but when Heath’s offense cooled off a bit, the Manager put Munson back behind the plate so he could get both Piniella’s and Jackson’s bats back in the lineup. Lemon also began using Cliff Johnson as Munson’s primary backup receiver and Heath saw his playing time pretty much disappear during New York’s historic stretch run.
He did make the postseason roster but right after the Yankees won their second straight World Series against the Dodgers, Heath was included in the Sparky Lyle trade to Texas that brought Dave Righetti to New York. He ended up on Oakland in 1979 and became a very good big league catcher, primarily for the A’s and then the Tigers for the next fourteen seasons.
Would Heath have been able to replace Munson the following season, after the tragic plane crash? I don’t think so. His offense was probably not strong enough to keep him in that Yankee lineup.
|OAK (7 yrs)||725||2653||2438||280||612||99||18||47||281||32||158||312||.251||.296||.364||.660|
|DET (5 yrs)||453||1468||1353||153||360||60||6||34||143||20||86||233||.266||.314||.395||.708|
|ATL (1 yr)||49||150||139||4||29||3||1||1||12||0||7||26||.209||.250||.266||.516|
|STL (1 yr)||65||216||190||19||39||8||1||4||25||2||23||36||.205||.293||.321||.614|
|NYY (1 yr)||33||99||92||6||21||3||1||0||8||0||4||9||.228||.265||.283||.548|
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had over 4,300 plate appearances during his fifteen-year big league career but only one of them was in a Yankee uniform. That was too bad for that era’s Yankee fans because William Herman Schaefer, or “Germany,” as he liked to be called, was one of the funniest, most entertaining Major League baseball players in the history of the game. He came up with the Cubs in 1901 and spent most of the rest of his career with Detroit and Washington. He played all of the infield positions at one time or another but mostly second base. He got his only Yankee at bat during the 1916 season and made an out. He also served as a coach on that New York team.
I don’t know who first came up with the saying, “You can’t steal first base,” but before 1920, Major League Baseball players actually could and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant invented the maneuver. During a game against the White Sox in 1911, Germany was the runner on first and with a teammate on third the signal was on for a double steal. Schaefer did his part, making it safely to second. But when he looked over at third, the runner was still standing there. On the next pitch, old Germany became the first player in history to steal first base. He figured he had to do it so that the double steal could be attempted again and because it had never been done before, the umpires allowed it. Eventually the league passed a rule outlawing the maneuver.
In 1907, he hit his only home run of the season off Philadelphia A’s, Rube Waddell. Schaefer carried the bat with him around the bases and when he got to home plate, aimed it like a rifle at Hall of Fame hurler’s noggin and pulled the trigger. Every pitch Germany saw from Waddell for the rest of that season was aimed directly at his head. He once hit a home run and slid into every base on his way to home plate. If his team was ahead late in a game and it started raining, Schaefer would come to the plate wearing a raincoat or carrying an umbrella. Schaefer was so good at making the fans laugh he started a baseball-related vaudeville act after his playing days were over. That act served as the inspiration for the Hollywood film, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Schaefer also quickly changed his nickname from “Germany” to “Liberty” when America entered WWI .
He died of a heart attack, while on a train bound for Saranac Lake in northern New York state in 1919. Germany shares his birthday with this long-ago starting Highlander outfielder.
|WSH (6 yrs)||380||1267||1092||157||321||34||17||1||91||62||129||135||.294||.372||.359||.731|
|DET (5 yrs)||626||2519||2236||278||558||75||25||8||195||123||158||305||.250||.300||.316||.616|
|CHC (2 yrs)||83||330||296||32||60||3||3||0||14||12||21||48||.203||.260||.233||.493|
|NEW (1 yr)||59||183||154||26||33||5||3||0||8||3||25||11||.214||.328||.286||.613|
|CLE (1 yr)||1||5||5||2||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000||.000||.000||.000|
Celerino was born in El Guayabel, Mexico in 1944 and I believe he was the first native born Mexican to play for the Yankees. He didn’t get to do so for very long. He took over from Rich McKinney as New York’s starting third baseman during the 1972 season but the Yankees traded for Graig Nettles that November. Sanchez appeared in 34 games for New York in 1973 and was released. He returned to Mexico where he was killed in an automobile accident in 1992. He finished his Yankee and big league career with 76 hits, one home run and a .242 batting average.
Back in the mid eighties, one of the top Yankee prospects was a big power hitting first baseman named Orestes Destrade. He was a tall Cuban who was hitting about 25 home runs per season for New York’s upper level farm teams and Yankee fans got our first look at him in September of 1987 when big league rosters expanded to 40. He didn’t hit any home runs but he did get on base a lot (.417 OBP) so I thought we’d probably see more of him the following year. I was wrong.
New York traded Destrade that off season. Back then, New York traded top prospects faster than Donald Trump fired apprentices so I wasn’t surprised to see Destrade dealt. I was surprised at who the Yankees got in return. Hipolito Pena was a tall thin left-handed pitcher who had appeared in 26 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates during the previous two seasons. He had lost all six of his Pirate decisions and accumulated a 5.56 ERA. In 1988, Pena became part of the Yankee bullpen, getting into 16 games and earning his first and only big league victory. He then spent the next six seasons in the minors before retiring for good in 1996. In the mean time, Destrade never made it with Pittsburgh but he resurfaced with the Marlins in 1993, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 87 in what was considered his rookie year. But he also struck out 130 times. Orestes had a terrible 1994 season and it ended up being his last one in the big leagues.
Pena shares a birthday with this former Yankee coach.
|PIT (2 yrs)||0||6||.000||5.56||26||2||5||0||0||2||34.0||23||24||21||5||29||22||1.529|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||1||.500||3.14||16||0||8||0||0||0||14.1||10||8||5||1||9||10||1.326|
Brian Doyle’s big break took place on September 29, 1978 during the bottom half of the eighth inning of an afternoon game between the Yankees and Cleveland Indians, at Yankee Stadium. It was a critical game for New York. Bob Lemon’s team had come from eight and-a-half games behind Boston in late August to catch and pass the Red Sox in the AL East standings. But Boston was hanging tough. When they took the field against the Indians that day, the Yankees were on a four-game winning streak but still only had a one-game lead over the resilient Red Sox.
The game against Cleveland had turned into a pitchers’ duel between the Yankees Jim Beattie and the one-time Ranger phee–nom, David Clyde. The Yankees were behind 1-0 when Lemon sent up Cliff Johnson to bat for Bucky Dent to lead off the inning, and Johnson worked a walk off Clyde. The Yankee skipper then sent Fred Stanley into run for Johnson and he had Mickey Rivers sacrifice “Chicken” to second. That brought up Willie Randolph and it brought Cleveland manager Jeff Torborg out of the dugout to make a pitching change. He brought in the tall right-hander, Jim Kern to face the Yankee second baseman.
Randolph hit a slow roller down the third base line toward Buddy Bell, who, at the time, was well on his way to becoming the premier defensive third baseman in the American League. Knowing Bell had a strong arm and hoping Stanley could get to third on Bell’s throw to first, Randolph most certainly attempted to turn a higher gear on his sprint to first. He did beat Bell’s throw but in the process he pulled the hamstring in his left leg. As Randolph limped his way toward the Yankee dugout for treatment, he passed Brian Doyle, who Lemon had sent in to run for him. But Doyle’s walk that day did not stop at first base. Instead, it took him to a special place in Yankee lore.
Doyle would end up playing just 93 regular season games during his three-year Yankee career, but this Glasgow, KY native’s 1978 World Series performance was one of the best and most unexpected in pinstripe history. Filling in for the injured Randolph, Doyle batted .438 in the six game victory over the Dodgers. This guy never averaged higher than .192 during a regular season with New York. If you’re not old enough to remember Doyle, think about a player with abilities similar to Ramiro Pena. Him hitting .438 in the biggest baseball show on earth would be like if Pena had taken over for the injured Derek Jeter in the 2012 ALCS and led the Yankees to the World Series with his hitting. In other words, Doyle’s performance was shocking, especially since it took place in the national spotlight of the World Series.
Brian is the brother of former big league infielder, Denny Doyle. Together, they and a third brother, Brian’s twin named Blake, run the very successful Doyle Baseball Camp program. Graduates of the program include, Gary Sheffield, J.D. Drew, Brian Roberts and Tim Wakefield.
Doyle shares his January 26th birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
|NYY (3 yrs)||93||171||159||16||27||3||0||1||10||1||9||11||.170||.214||.208||.422|
|OAK (1 yr)||17||43||40||2||5||0||0||0||3||0||1||2||.125||.146||.125||.271|
His real name is Charles Theodore Davis. In addition to being in fifth place on the Major League’s all-time home run list for switch hitters with 350 (behind Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, Chipper Jones and Lance Berkman) Chili was also the first native Jamaican to play Major League baseball. The Yankees signed him in 1997, right after he hit 30 home runs in a season for the first and only time in his 19-year big league career, for the Royals. His first season in pinstripes got off to a nightmare start when an ankle injury required an operation and an almost season-long stay on the DL. But Davis got himself in shape to play in the 1998 postseason, during which he was a key contributor. His best year in New York was his second, when he was the everyday DH and hit 19 home runs, while providing veteran leadership in the Yankee clubhouse. He did not have a good postseason in 1999 and I believe that helped convince him to not try and play again the following season. Davis retired with three championship rings, 2,380 career hits and three All Star game appearances.
|SFG (7 yrs)||874||3564||3148||432||840||144||20||101||418||95||62||361||578||.267||.340||.422||.762|
|CAL (7 yrs)||950||4031||3491||520||973||167||6||156||618||28||20||493||713||.279||.365||.464||.829|
|MIN (2 yrs)||291||1163||978||147||276||61||3||41||159||9||11||168||193||.282||.385||.476||.862|
|NYY (2 yrs)||181||672||579||70||158||32||1||22||87||4||2||87||118||.273||.368||.446||.813|
|KCR (1 yr)||140||567||477||71||133||20||0||30||90||6||3||85||96||.279||.386||.509||.896|
When I was a youngster, my Mom used to work second shift at a diner. Every night, after eating dinner, my Dad would take me and my two brothers to visit our Grandmother. At about nine o’clock each evening, my grandmother would make me a cup of coffee and put about three spoons of sugar in it. I’d drink it and then head home with my Dad and brothers. Since there was no way I could fall asleep with all that caffeine and sugar in my system, I’d beg my father to let me watch a little TV and then fall asleep on the couch. He’d usually relent. Dad would then sit on his chair and fall asleep in about five minutes and I would stay up and watch the late show, making sure to close my eyes and fake being asleep as soon as I heard my mother’s car door slam when she got home from the diner, after midnight.
It was on one of these nights long ago, when I was wired on caffeine that I saw the movie “The Babe Ruth Story” for the first time. For me, it was an experience that can best be described by comparing it to a kid today visiting Disney World for the first time. Up until that night, the only things I knew about the Bambino were the stories I read about him in books and magazines. Then suddenly, there in front of me on my parents’ black and white Sylvania, was the Sultan of Swat himself. It took about three weeks for my brothers and parents to finally convince me that the Babe Ruth in that movie was actually the late great Hollywood Actor, William Bendix. And since I can’t find a real member of the Yankee’s All-Time roster who was born on January 14, we’re going to wish Hollywood’s first Babe Ruth, aka Mr Bendix, a happy birthday instead. He was born on January 14, 1906 in New York City and passed away much too young, in 1964. Note: Other actors who have portrayed Ruth in films include John Goodman “The Babe” (2003) Brian Dennehy “Everyone’s Hero” – animated (2006) Babe Ruth also portrayed himself in “Pride of the Yankees” (1942).
His December, 2004 free agent signing turned out to be one of the worst moves in Yankee front-office history. After paying him $40 million to pitch the next four seasons, the right hander left New York at the conclusion of that contract, having appeared in just 26 games in pinstripes with a 9-8 won-loss record. That equates to more than $1.5 million per start or a bit more than $4 million per victory. Rubbing just a bit more salt in the Yankee’s wounds, Pavano then won 31 times in his first two post Yankee seasons, including a 17-11 record with the Twins in 2010 that had Brian Cashman even considering bringing the guy back to the Bronx in 2011.
That didn’t happen. Pavano ended up signing a new $17 million two-year deal to remain with Minnesota. Turns out Cashman and New York avoided another bad deal. He was a combined 11-18 for the Twins during the two years covered by that contract and his 2012 season was limited to just 11 starts by a shoulder injury that required surgical repair. Then in January of 2013, Pavano slipped and fell while shoveling the driveway of his home in Vermont and ruptured his spleen. He was contemplating a comeback at the time of that mishap but it looks as if his pitching career is now over.
|MON (5 yrs)||24||35||.407||4.83||81||78||0||1||1||0||452.2||493||264||243||55||159||304||1.440|
|MIN (4 yrs)||33||33||.500||4.32||88||88||0||10||3||0||579.2||654||303||278||63||101||311||1.302|
|NYY (3 yrs)||9||8||.529||5.00||26||26||0||1||1||0||145.2||182||96||81||23||30||75||1.455|
|FLA (3 yrs)||33||23||.589||3.64||86||71||3||4||2||0||485.0||492||212||196||40||112||313||1.245|
|CLE (1 yr)||9||8||.529||5.37||21||21||0||1||1||0||125.2||150||80||75||19||23||88||1.377|
Up until the 2009 World Series, one of my most frequent Yankee related “What if…” questions was “What if the Yankees never traded Alfonso Soriano for A-Rod.” Then A-Rod finally put together an outstanding postseason that year and led my favorite team to its 27th World Championship. At the same time, Soriano had just struggled through his third straight regular season as a Cub and had been horrible in the two postseasons he played in for Chicago. So I stopped playing the “What if…” game.
Since that 2009 World Series however, A-Rod has emphatically confirmed all of his maddening insecurities that negatively impact his play and make it so hard to root for him. Soriano, on the other hand, has taken advantage of an unexpected return trip to the Bronx to remind us all of just how amazing a ballplayer he can be when he goes on one of his patented “hot streaks.” So I again find myself asking the question, “what if that trade in February of 2004 had never been made?”
If the deal never went down, worst case scenario would be that the Yanks would have failed to win that 2009 title. Rodriguez also put some monster years together during his time in pinstripes especially in ’05 and ’07 so you have to wonder if without him, New York might have missed postseason play all-together in a couple of those seasons. But Soriano’s body of work during that same period of time was not too shabby either and don’t forget the Yanks would have probably used the many extra millions they paid A-Rod to sign at least one other impact free agent. The biggest benefit of getting rid of Soriano was that it opened up the opportunity for Robbie Cano to become New York’s starting second baseman. If you remember, when Soriano was traded to the Nationals from Texas, he fought Washington’s desire to move him from second base to the outfield. Knowing how the Yanks operate, the chances are pretty good they would have dealt a young Cano to another organization because they would have kept Soriano at second.
Oh well, we will never really know the true consequences but it’s fun to surmise. Meanwhile, Soriano turns 38-years-old today and is once again being counted on to help New York win a World Series. The Yankee brain-trust had to force GM Brian Cashman to make the deal with the Cubs that brought this native Dominican back to New York in late July of the 2013 season and thank God they did. At the time the Yankee offense was sinking like the Titanic in the AL East pennant race. Soriano desperately wanted to wear the pinstripes again and willingly waived the no-trade clause in his Cubs contract to make it happen. Then he went out and put the Yankee lineup on his back and just about single-handedly kept the team in contention for fall ball up until the final few weeks of the regular season.
With the free agent signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, Soriano’s role in the Yankees’ 2014 plans remains unclear. They have a glut of outfielders and DH’s on their current roster. But I’m hoping he gets a chance to start somewhere in the Yankee lineup because I don’t want to ask myself any more “What if the Yankees had kept Alfonso Soriano” questions.
|1998||Did not play in major leagues (Did Not Play)|
|CHC (7 yrs)||889||3696||3403||469||898||218||13||181||526||70||245||829||.264||.317||.495||.812|
|NYY (6 yrs)||559||2393||2229||363||627||132||10||115||320||129||112||497||.281||.323||.504||.827|
|TEX (2 yrs)||301||1340||1245||179||341||75||6||64||195||48||66||246||.274||.316||.498||.814|
|WSN (1 yr)||159||728||647||119||179||41||2||46||95||41||67||160||.277||.351||.560||.911|
I remember being somewhat excited by the news that the Yankees had acquired Kittle in a trade with the White Sox, after the 1986 All Star break. He had been named AL Rookie of the Year just three seasons earlier, when he belted 35 home runs and drove in 100 for Chicago. Even though he was a right-handed hitter who would not be able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, the guy had impressive power and I thought he’d make a decent contribution if then Yankee Manager, Lou Piniella could find a place to play him. That turned out to be the problem. Piniella had too many DHs and outfielders on his roster already and he couldn’t give Kittle the volume of at bats streaky hitters like him needed to get hot. What the Yankees really needed back then was starting pitchers. I still can’t believe a Yankee lineup that featured Dave Winfield, Ricky Henderson and Donnie Baseball, all in their primes, never made it to the postseason. Ron did play the entire 1987 season with New York, getting in 59 games and hitting 12 home runs but the Yankees ended up releasing him after that season. Kittle was born in Gary, Indiana on January 5, 1958.
|CHW (8 yrs)||657||2433||2183||292||517||83||3||140||374||14||201||606||.237||.307||.470||.777|
|NYY (2 yrs)||89||262||239||29||63||7||0||16||40||2||17||59||.264||.309||.494||.803|
|CLE (1 yr)||75||254||225||31||58||8||0||18||43||0||16||65||.258||.323||.533||.856|
|BAL (1 yr)||22||64||61||4||10||2||0||2||3||0||2||14||.164||.203||.295||.498|