The 1974 Yankees opened up their season with a double play combination of Gene Michael at second and Jim Mason at shortstop. Decent defensively, new Yankee skipper, Bill Virdon batted the two switch-hitters eighth and ninth respectively because both men were pretty putrid hitters from both sides of the plate. In an effort to get some more offense from their infield, the Yankees acquired a guy named Fernando Gonzalez from the Royals to play second. He responded by hitting .215 that year. Then just before that season’s trading deadline, the Yankee front-office went out and purchased Sandy Alomar Sr, who was the starting second baseman for the Angels at the time. Virdon handed him the second baseman’s job and Sandy responded well by hitting .269 during the second half of 1974.
As a Yankee fan back then, I can personally attest to the fact that after watching Mason, Michael and Gonzalez consistently fail to produce at the plate, having Alomar in the lineup was a huge offensive upgrade for that 1974 Yankee team. Sandy Sr. continued to start at second for New York for the entire 1975 season but his hitting fell off that year, when he averaged just .239. His offensive regression helped convince the Yankees to make the deal with Pittsburgh in December of 1975 that brought Willie Randolph to the Bronx. Alomar lost his starting job to the more talented youngster in 1976 and was traded to Texas in 1977. His 15-season big-league playing career ended the following year and Alomar then began a long coaching career . Today, Sandy, who was born on October 19, 1943 in Salinas Puerto Rico, is best remembered for being the Dad of former big league All Stars Sandy Jr. and Roberto.
Even the most diehard Yankee fans will have a difficult time remembering this starting pitcher from the 1991 Yankee team who happens to share the senior Alomar’s October 19th birthday.
|CAL (6 yrs)||795||3314||3054||341||758||79||12||8||162||139||209||280||.248||.296||.290||.585|
|ATL (3 yrs)||117||214||205||23||43||3||1||0||16||13||5||33||.210||.229||.234||.463|
|NYY (3 yrs)||294||1005||931||116||231||30||4||4||76||46||53||95||.248||.287||.302||.589|
|CHW (3 yrs)||167||477||436||53||108||10||2||0||16||25||26||48||.248||.290||.280||.570|
|TEX (2 yrs)||93||128||112||24||28||4||0||1||12||4||9||20||.250||.309||.313||.621|
|NYM (1 yr)||15||22||22||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||6||.000||.000||.000||.000|
Before Derek Jeter came along and reserved a spot on the wall of Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park for his pinstriped jersey, the most famous number “2″ in Yankee history had been a red-headed graduate of Dartmouth named Robert Abial Rolfe. Though hair-color earned him the workingman’s nickname he made famous, Rolfe was an Ivy League gentleman. An article in “Baseball Digest” once referred to him as “the best-educated, best dressed, politest Bronx Bomber of the thirties.”
Those Joe McCarthy-led Yankee teams put up some incredible offensive numbers during their pre-WWII era of success and it was their great third baseman Rolfe, batting second, who would help light the fuse for the team’s explosive lineup. Here’s some examples: In the three-season period from 1937-to-1939, Rolfe scored a total of 414 runs. In 1937, Rolfe scored the incredible total of 143 runs and didn’t even lead the team in scoring that year because Joe DiMaggio scored 151. In 1938, five different Yankees scored at least 109 runs. The 1939 Yankee team lost Lou Gehrig to ALS disease yet seven members of their starting lineup scored at least 87 runs that year and the team won 106 regular season games and then swept the Reds four straight in the World Series. During Rolfe’s decade-long Yankee career, he averaged 130 runs scored for every 162 games he played.
Rolfe was one of Manager Joe McCarthy’s all-time favorite players because he worked so hard and so smart at getting better and gaining every possible advantage over an opponent on the field. It was Rolfe who was one of the first players in baseball to keep a “book” on opposing hitters that he would use to change his fielding position at the hot corner, based on who was in the batters box. His book on opposing pitchers was just as detailed. He knew and could tell his Yankee teammates what pitch to expect in a pressure situation from every pitcher in the league. He did not ignore opposing fielders either. He would make notes how an outfielder fielded line drives and if they had a tendency to drop to their knee or back up on the ball, you could be sure the next time Rolfe hit one of his patented line drives at them he’d end up sliding safely into second. It may have been because Rolfe did so much thinking as a player he never found time to just relax and enjoy the game he played so well. He developed painful ulcers which were the primary reason he retired at the young age of 33 after New York lost the 1942 World Series to the Cardinals.
Rolfe got back into the big leagues as a Manager with the Tigers in 1949 and led Detroit to a 95-win season the following year, just three games behind the AL Pennant-winning 1950 Yankees. At the time, he attributed his success to cracking the whip on a bunch of Detroit players who he claimed had grown complacent. By 1952, many of those same players turned on Rolfe, claiming he was impossible to satisfy and the Tigers fired him. Born on October 17, 1908 in Penacook, NH, Rolfe returned to Dartmouth as athletic director. He died in 1969. Dartmouth’s baseball stadium is named after him.
October 16th is a not a great day for notable Yankee birthdays. Neither was 1979 a great year for Yankee baseball. The two-time defending World Champions lost their team captain, the great Thurman Munson in August of that season and missed the postseason for the first time in four years. Munson’s death was not the only reason that Yankee team faltered. In June of that same season, Yankee DH Cliff Johnson got into a brawl with ace closer, Goose Gossage in the Yankee locker room showers. Gossage broke his thumb in the altercation and was out for the rest of the season. Without him, a dominating Yankee bullpen became very ordinary.
The Yankee front-office punished Johnson by quickly trading him to the Indians for today’s birthday celebrant. Don Hood, born on October 16, 1949 in Florence, SC, went 3-1 out of the Yankee bullpen during the remainder of that season. By 1980, he was pitching for the Cardinals.
Another October 16th birthday celebrant with Yankee connections is this former big league catcher who did color and play-by-play for Yankee games for a couple of seasons at the turn of this new century.
|CLE (5 yrs)||17||22||.436||4.17||152||49||25||4||0||2||494.2||491||255||229||38||238||225||1.474|
|KCR (2 yrs)||6||3||.667||2.99||57||3||32||0||0||1||114.1||119||51||38||12||36||48||1.356|
|BAL (2 yrs)||4||3||.571||3.61||28||6||14||1||1||2||89.2||78||43||36||2||26||44||1.160|
|STL (1 yr)||4||6||.400||3.39||33||8||4||1||0||0||82.1||90||39||31||2||34||35||1.506|
|NYY (1 yr)||3||1||.750||3.07||27||6||9||0||0||1||67.1||62||24||23||3||30||22||1.366|
Can you imagine a rookie coming out of the Yankee farm system today and starting 31 regular-season games in right field, 22 in center, 41 at short and 38 more at third base? Then imagine this same 22-year-old kid is able to hit .297 despite all the switching from position to position, wins the Rookie of the Year Award and even hits .286 with two home runs in his very first World Series. I’ve just described Tony Kubek’s very impressive rookie season for the 1957 Yankees. It is no wonder that this native of Milwaukee, who was born on this date in 1935, became one of Casey Stengel’s favorite players. Stengel, after all, was Baseball’s master platooner. In Kubek, he had a very smart, extremely tough kid who had a shotgun for an arm and a very good bat. The only thing he couldn’t do was hit a lot of home runs. Since Stengel wanted outfielders who could hit with power, he gave up playing Tony in the outfield and decided to make him the Yankees’ next shortstop.
That’s where Kubek and Bobby Richardson became the best Yankee double-play combination in my lifetime until Robinson Cano was introduced to Derek Jeter. Kubek was a three-time All Star and played a total of nine seasons and seven World Series in a Yankee uniform before a bad back hastened his entry into the broadcast booth, where he became one of baseball’s all-time great television analysts. Kubek was the Ford C Frick Award recipient in 2009, putting him the Baseball Hall of Fame for his broadcasting ability.
I loved watching El Duque work on the mound. His ability to throw so many different pitches from that winding and unwinding motion always left me with the impression that he was conducting an orchestra instead of just pitching a baseball game. At least 33 years old when he escaped from Cuba and signed with the Yankees in 1998, his first two seasons in pinstripes were his best, winning 29 games during that span and compiling the first four of what would become eight consecutive postseason wins for New York. I clearly remember always feeling confident the Yankees would do well in any big game with Hernandez as their starting pitcher. Even after his mediocre 2000 regular season, when he finished 12-13, El Duque managed to win three straight starts that postseason.
And after New York traded him in January of 2003, Yankee fans will never forget how Hernandez rejoined the team during the 2004 season and led New York back to the playoffs by winning eight of ten decisions. Then, after spending time with both the White Sox and the Diamondbacks, El Duque joined the Mets during the 2006 season and went 18-12 during his two seasons at Shea. Perhaps if he had escaped from Castro’s Cuba a decade earlier, he would be headed for Cooperstown.
El Duque shares his October 11th birthday with this former Yankee reliever.
|NYY (6 yrs)||61||40||.604||3.96||139||136||1||8||2||1||876.1||780||410||386||114||304||703||1.237|
|NYM (2 yrs)||18||12||.600||3.88||47||44||0||1||0||0||264.1||212||122||114||37||105||240||1.199|
|ARI (1 yr)||2||4||.333||6.11||9||9||0||0||0||0||45.2||52||32||31||8||20||52||1.577|
|CHW (1 yr)||9||9||.500||5.12||24||22||1||0||0||1||128.1||137||77||73||18||50||91||1.457|
He was the only person in Yankee franchise history to spend 31 seasons playing in Yankee Stadium without getting an official at bat. Born in Philadelphia on October 10, 1925, Eddie Layton began playing the organ when he was just twelve years old. Five decades later he was spinning tunes for Yankee, Knick and Ranger fans as the official organist at both Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden. When CBS purchased the Yankees in the mid sixties, then Yankee President, Mike Burke found Eddie playing organ for CBS daytime soap operas and hired him to play Yankee Stadium’s 50,000 watt Hammond Organ. Layton was not a baseball fan and knew nothing about the game when he accepted the job, but like PA announcer Bob Sheppard and Star Spangled Banner singer Robert Merrill, he became an important part of the Yankee Stadium experience for millions of Bomber fans. Layton died in 2004.The only non-musician Yankee player to celebrate his birthday on this day was this almost unknown reliever.
Joseph Anthony Pepitone was born on October 9, 1940 in Brooklyn. He came up to the Yankees in 1962 and took over the starting first baseman’s job from one of my favorite players in Pinstripes, Bill Moose Skowron. We long-time Yankee FAN-atics will always consider the November 1962 trade that sent Skowron to the Dodgers for pitcher Stan Williams as the first crack in the crumbling of the original Yankee dynasty.
Pepitone may have had better baseball skills than the Moose but he lacked the unselfishness and professional discipline of his Yankee predecessor. Unlike Skowron, who was extremely self-critical, “Pepi” tended to blame his failures on the field on everyone else but himself. He thought he could work hard during the game and play hard at all other times. As the Yankees continued to lose their veteran players to age and injuries, Pepitone’s lack of maturity and good judgment prevented him from filling that growing vacuum in Yankee team leadership.
Still, in 1966 when my beloved Bombers finished in last place in the American League and Mickey Mantle was officially converted from an “injured superstar” into an “aging has-been,” Joe Pepitone’s 31 home run season gave us Yankee fans hope. His graciousness in switching starting positions with the Mick one season later to help prolong Mantle’s career added luster to Pepitone’s Yankee-fan friendly image. By 1969, however, Pepitone’s diminishing batting average and power numbers along with his continuing off-the-field antics had all worn thin on the fans and few complained when Joe was traded to the Astros for a guy named Curt Blefary. In 1975, Pepitone wrote his autobiography with Barry Stainback. It was called “Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud.” I recommend it to any student of Yankee history and any fan of Pepitone.
|NYY (8 yrs)||1051||4115||3841||435||967||113||24||166||541||31||223||413||.252||.294||.423||.718|
|CHC (4 yrs)||268||1049||966||127||274||36||6||39||144||5||60||84||.284||.328||.454||.782|
|ATL (1 yr)||3||12||11||0||4||0||0||0||1||0||1||1||.364||.417||.364||.780|
|HOU (1 yr)||75||299||279||44||70||9||5||14||35||5||18||28||.251||.298||.470||.767|
The Yankees had their own California Gold Rush in the 1920′s and ’30′s. New York’s favorite mine for the precious metal was the Pacific Coast League, which back then was the equivalent of Major League Baseball for the western United States. The team’s prospecting began with San Francisco native Tony Lazzeri who the Yanks acquired from his Salt Lake City PCL team in August of 1925. Four years later, they struck gold again when they purchased the contract of pitcher Lefty Gomez from the San Francisco Seals. Their most famous western find of course was the great Joe DiMaggio, also born in the City by the Bay and also acquired from the Seals in 1934. In between the Gomez and DiMaggio additions came Frankie “The Crow” Crosetti, who was born on today’s date in 1910 in San Francisco. He spent more seasons in a Yankee uniform than any other human being. These included ten seasons as a starting shortstop, seven more as back-up shortstop and then a twenty-season tenure as New York’s third base coach. Not a force with the bat, Frankie was a good base-runner, an excellent fielder and one of the game’s all-time great sign stealers. He was also a skilled bunter and turned the act of getting hit by a pitch into an art form. He became one of Joe McCarthy’s favorite players.
The Yankees of the 1920s were a rowdy bunch, led by the greatest partier and biggest kid in big league history, Babe Ruth. The Yankees of the thirties eventually became the team of Lou Gehrig and McCarthy. They were all business on the field and much more quiet and reserved off of it. Crosetti joined the Yankees as the club was in the process of transitioning from being Ruth’s team to being Gehrig’s. Picking a side was an easy choice for the Crow.
Crosetti was a quiet guy off the field. In his New York Daily News obituary, the writer describes an evening after a Yankee game on the road, at the team’s hotel. Crosetti, Lazzeri and DiMaggio all came down to the lobby at the same time and sat next to each other for an hour and twenty minutes and not one of the three players said a word to each other.
He finished his playing career with a .245 lifetime average. His on base percentage during that time was almost 100 points higher. He collected 1,546 hits and scored 1,006 runs. He was not a great World Series performer although in the 1936 Fall Classic he drove in six runs in New York’s four-game sweep of the Cubs and also hit his one and only postseason home run off of the great but past-his-prime, Dizzy Dean.
He was also a no-nonsense Yankee coach. Crosetti often threw Yankee batting practices and he demanded that every player work on a specific hitting skill when it was their turn in the cage. If someone started swinging for the fences, Yogi Berra remembered Crosetti would actually just walk off the mound and refuse to throw the guy any more pitches. In his book “Ball Four,” Jim Bouton claimed that Crosetti was useless as a coach and hardly ever spoke to or attempted to instruct Yankee players. Ellie Howard later refuted that charge in his own book, claiming Bouton loved everybody on the team when he was pitching good and then hated and blamed everybody when his career went bad. Crosetti retired as a Yankee coach in 1968 but returned to the coaching box for a short time with both the Pilots and Twins.
He died in 2002, at the age of 91. He owned 17 World Series rings. Actually, Crosetti had accumulated so many rings, the Yankees finally started giving him engraved shotguns instead. In all, Crosetti received 23 World Series paychecks as a Yankee player (9) and coach (14). They totaled $142,989.30.
The Crow shares his October 4th birthday with this long ago Yankee spitballer.
Ron Blomberg appeared in his first Yankee game on August 23, 1968. Incredibly, he was just the second Jew ever to wear a Yankee uniform. The first was today’s birthday celebrant, Jimmy Reese. Reese doesn’t sound like a Jewish name does it? That’s because the second baseman had changed it from Soloman when he was a teenager, knowing he would have better luck making it as a baseball player if he hid his heritage.
In 1929, Reese hit .337 for the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast league. The Yankees paid Oakland $125,000 for the contracts of Reese and his Oakland teammate and double play partner, Lyn Lary. While Lary became the Yankees’ starting shortstop in 1930, Reese sat on the bench behind future Hall of Fame second baseman, Tony Lazzeri. Yankee skipper, Bob Shawkey did manage to get Jimmy into 77 games that year and Reese responded by hitting .346. He also became Babe Ruth’s roommate on the road and one of the Bambino’s best friends and biggest admirers. Ruth’s first question walking into the Yankee clubhouse would often be “Where’s the Jew.” He’d take Reese home for dinner, play cards with him on the long train rides during Yankee road trips, and pull all sorts of pranks on his adoring roommate. When Reese’s average fell to .241 in 1931, the Yankees sold him to the American Association franchise in St. Paul, MN. After a 90-game trial with the Cardinals in 1932, Reese’s big league playing career was over and he headed back to the Pacific Coast League.
After coaching in the Minors for decades, Reese asked the California Angels for a job and was made the team’s conditioning coach in 1972, when he was 71 years old. He spent the next 22 years in that role, becoming one of the most popular personalities ever to wear the Halos’ uniform. He was best known for his incredible skills with a fungo bat. He could hit a ball wherever he wanted to with that bat and would even sometimes pitch Angels’ batting practice with it, hitting one line drive after another right over the plate. The Angels retired his uniform number when he died in 1994. I wonder if that number would have been retired if this New York City native had not made the decision to change his name from Soloman to Reese all those many years ago?
Also celebrating his birthday today is the player the Yankees traded for outfielder Paul O’Neill and this one-time closer who retired with 365 saves.
|NYY (2 yrs)||142||468||433||85||124||24||4||6||44||3||28||18||.286||.331||.402||.733|
|STL (1 yr)||90||333||309||38||82||15||0||2||26||4||20||19||.265||.314||.333||.648|
Born in Lenoir, NC in 1904, this hot-tempered right-hander had a knack for long winning streaks until he injured his arm in 1938 and never fully recovered. As a young man, Allen worked as a bellhop. When a guest in his hotel complained he couldn’t get any heat in is room, Allen was sent to check out the complaint. The occupant of the room turned out to be the great Yankee scout Paul Krichell. Allen told the cold talent evaluator he was a pitcher and after he got the heating problem solved, a grateful Krichell arranged a Yankee tryout for him.
He pitched some excellent baseball for New York in the early thirties. As a 27 year old rookie, he went 17-4 for the 1932 Yankees. After winning 50 games during his four seasons in Pinstripes and fighting with the Yankee front-office about money, Allen was traded to Cleveland, where he promptly won 20 games in 1936 and went 15-1 the year after. At one point over three seasons, Johnny won 27 of 29 decisions with the Indians. It was a good thing too, because he was a sore loser, known to go after both umpires and teammates when he came up on the short end of a close or disputed decision.
After Allen hurt his arm, he was traded to the Browns and then spent some time with Brooklyn, winning 8 of 9 decisions as a Dodger. He ended his career with the Giants in 1944. This made him one of a very few pitchers who pitched for the Big Apple’s three original Major League franchises. He compiled a 142-75 record, lifetime. He was just 54 years of age when he suffered a heart attack and died.
Allen shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee outfielder.
|CLE (5 yrs)||67||34||.663||3.65||150||121||25||60||9||6||929.2||905||427||377||36||342||505||1.341|
|NYY (4 yrs)||50||19||.725||3.79||94||78||9||39||6||5||615.1||544||288||259||33||253||395||1.295|
|BRO (3 yrs)||18||7||.720||3.21||55||20||15||6||1||4||213.1||186||92||76||20||76||86||1.228|
|NYG (2 yrs)||5||10||.333||3.74||33||13||13||2||1||2||125.0||125||64||52||10||38||57||1.304|
|SLB (1 yr)||2||5||.286||6.58||20||9||6||2||0||1||67.0||89||53||49||4||29||27||1.761|