The 1989 season was a bad one for Yankee fans. That year’s team became the first New York club in fifteen seasons to lose more regular season games than it won, (74-87.) It was a season of transition for my favorite baseball team but unfortunately, that transition was moving in the wrong direction. That year would be the last time Don Mattingly would average .300 in a full regular season in pinstripes. It was the first time in almost a decade that Dave Winfield wasn’t a Yankee outfielder and the last season Ricky Henderson was. It was the first year of Ron Guidry’s retirement and the final year George Steinbrenner would officially have dictatorial control over all organizational and personnel moves before being suspended for his role in the Howie Spira scandal. The Yankee managers that season were Dallas Green and then Bucky Dent, both of whom were fired, clearing the way for the Stump Merrill era to begin one season later or as I like to refer to it as “the era of being completely Stumped.”
It appeared as if the only good thing happening in Yankee Stadium in 1989 was the introduction of a flashy Venezuelan-born starting shortstop. But alas, even that turned out to be an illusion. When I think of Alvaro Espinosa during his Yankee playing days I’m reminded of a line that comedian Billy Crystal used on Saturday Night Live whenever he impersonated the actor, Fernando Lamas, with one slight modification. “It is better to look good than to play good.”
At first appearance to Yankee fans, Alvaro Espinosa looked like a classic Major League shortstop. He hit .282 his first full year as a Yankee and played shortstop with a flair that often thrilled us. As time and Yankee seasons wore on however and the team’s losses mounted, it became clear that Espinosa’s defensive skills, though not horrible were far from great and his propensity to swing at terrible pitches on 3-0 counts and his lack of run production made him a liability in the Yankee lineup. When Buck Showalter replaced Stump Merrill in 1992, Espinosa’s three-year reign as New York’s starting shortstop was officially over. There was of course Espinosa’s great gold necklace. I could be wrong but I do believe it was Alvaro who first introduced bling to big league baseball in the Bronx. In any event, happy 52nd birthday to Mr Espinosa and may he enjoy many more. He shares his birthday with this Yankee catcher.
|CLE (4 yrs)||344||802||749||88||189||36||2||11||74||4||22||103||.252||.276||.350||.626|
|NYY (4 yrs)||447||1528||1424||133||363||58||5||7||94||8||46||171||.255||.281||.317||.598|
|MIN (3 yrs)||70||107||99||9||24||3||0||0||10||0||2||19||.242||.265||.273||.537|
|NYM (1 yr)||48||144||134||19||41||7||2||4||16||0||4||19||.306||.324||.478||.801|
|SEA (1 yr)||33||78||72||3||13||1||0||0||7||1||2||12||.181||.213||.194||.408|
“Ross Moschitto” is the name most often mentioned by lukewarm Yankee fans who are my age, when they are trying to convince someone else how big a Yankee fan they are. I’m not sure why but that’s just the way it is. They don’t mention Frank Tepedino or Steve Whitaker or Roger Repoz. Its always Moschitto. He has to be the most famous non-famous Yankee in pinstripe history.
In 1965, Major League baseball started its free agent draft along with the rule that any player in the Majors or Minor leagues could be drafted if that player’s name was not on a Major League club’s 40-man expanded roster at the time the draft was conducted. For years, the Yankees had dominated their league by signing up all the best amateur prospects and developing their talent in New York’s well financed and well managed minor league farm system. No other team could steal a prospect from another franchise and since the Yankees had the most money they consistently had the most prospects.The draft and the 40-man roster rule changed that forever and Ross Moschitto paid the price for those changes.
He had signed with New York in 1964 and was assigned to their lowest level minor league team, in Johnson City, TN. When Ross hit 20 home runs in just 71 games that year, he popped onto the radar of every big league franchise. Instead of practicing their usual prospect patience, the Yankees put Moschitto on their big league roster the following April, when he was far from ready. So instead of getting a chance to play every day, Ross spent the the 1965 season sitting on a big league bench, pinch running for Mickey Mantle if the aging slugger got on base in his last at bat or taking his spot in the outfield if the Mick made an out. He got just 27 big league at bats that year and when he was sent back to the Minors the following season, he had lost his stroke for good. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Blog celebrant was born in Fresno, CA in 1945.
Moschitto was an Italian American but not good enough to make my All-Time Yankee team of Italian Americans. Here’s my all-time Pinstriped Paisans:
1B – Jason Giambi
2B – Tony Lazzeri
3B – Mike Pagliarulo (or Frank Crosetti who started one season at third for NY)
SS – Phil Rizzuto
C – Yogi Berra
OF – Joe DiMaggio
OF - Joe Pepitone
OF -Francesco Pezzolo (better known as Ping Bodie, the first Italian American player in the Majors)
SP – Mike Mussina
RP – Dave Righetti
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|