Dazzy Vance is in the Hall of Fame even though he did not win his first Major League game until he was 31 years old. What took him so long? He spent almost a decade, from 1912 until 1921 in the minor leagues trying to figure out how to throw his lightening quick fastball over the plate for strikes. Before he came up for good with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1922, Vance spent about four seasons in the Yankee organization. New York brought him up to the big leagues for two look-see’s. The first time was 1915. Vance was a 17-game winner that year pitching single A ball in St. Joseph, MO. He got into eight games for New York, losing all three of his decisions. He didn’t get his next taste of the Big Apple until four years later, in 1918 and it did not taste good. Dazzy got shelled in both his Yankee relief appearances that season and since he was 27 at the time, it seemed as if his chances of making the big leagues were over. But the persistent Vance went back to the minors and toiled for four more years.
In 1922, Brooklyn purchased his contract and dumped him immediately into their starting rotation. Dazzy won 18 games in his full-fledged rookie season and led the NL in strikeouts. For the next ten seasons he was one of the very best pitchers in baseball. He ended up winning seven-straight strikeout titles. In 1924 he had one of the greatest seasons any big league pitcher has ever had, leading the NL in victories (28), ERA (2.16) and K’s (262.) By the time his career was over, in 1935, the 44-year-old right-hander had put together a lifetime record of 197-140. That’s on top of the 139 victories he had accumulated in the minor leagues. In 1955, Vance was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
His real name was Charles. He was born in Orient,IA on March 4, 1891. He passed away in 1961.
Ironically, Dazzy shares his March 4th birthday with this other Major League baseball star with a well-known nickname, who also got big league call-ups as a Yankee early in his career, who also didn’t make it to the major leagues for good until he was 31 years old and when he did, he also became a star for Brooklyn.
In 1970, I remember giving a trio of young Yankee pitchers the nickname “The Three K’s.” They were Steve Kline, Mike Kekich and Ron Klimkowski. Klimkowski was a Jersey City native who was born on March 1, 1944. He grew up a passionate Yankee fan but was signed by the Red Sox out of college. He realized his boyhood dream of becoming a Yankee when he was sent to New York as part of the 1967 trade that sent Ellie Howard to Beantown. After a brief call-up to the Bronx in 1969, the right hander became a permanent part of the Yankee staff the following season. Pitching mainly out of the bullpen with an occasional start, he won 6 of 13 decisions including a complete-game three hit shutout of Detroit and posted a 2.68 ERA in 98 innings of work.
Both Kline and Kekich were first-year starters on that same staff and both matched Klimkowski’s total of six wins. I considered Kline the most talented of the three. He won 28 games in pinstripes over the next two seasons with an ERA well under three runs per game, but pitched too many innings in the process. His arm and career faded quickly and he was out of the big leagues by 1975. Kekich also became a two-time double digit winner for New York, winning ten games in both 1971 and ’72. That’s when he swapped wives with teammate Fritz Peterson, pretty much ruining his career in the process.
After the 1970 season, New York sent Klimkowski to Oakland in their trade for Felipe Alou. The A’s released him after his 2-2, 2-save performance in 1971 and he rejoined the Yankees. When he could not recover from a 1973 spring-training knee injury, he was forced to retire. Klimkowski died in November of 2009 of heart failure at the young age of 55, after seeing his beloved Yankees win their 27th World Series.
Some Klimkowski uniform trivia: Klimkowski was assigned uniform number 51 during his 1969 rookie season. In 1970, he was given number 24. He then got traded to Oakland for Felipe Alou who also wore number 24 for the Yankees. When the A’s released Klimkowski and the Yankees re-signed him for a spell, he wore uniform number 22.
In the last three days, we’ve had two Pinstripe Birthday Celebrants who were born in Jersey City (Klimkowski & Willie Banks). Over the years, more Yankees have lived in New Jersey than any other state, especially during baseball season. Oddly, there have not been that many Bronx Bombers born in the Garden State. Here’s my top five list of Jersey-born Yankees:
1. Derek Jeter – Pequannock
2. Billy Johnson – Montclair
3. Jim Bouton – Newark
4. Rick Cerone – Newark
5. Elliott Maddox – East Orange
The Yankees traded their number 1 pick in the 1971 MLB Draft, a guy named Terry Whitfield, to the Giants in 1977 for the veteran infielder, Marty Perez. Perez had come up to the big leagues with the Angels in 1969. He then spent most of his career as a valuable middle infielder for the Atlanta Braves. He made his Yankee debut in an April 1977 game against Baltimore when Billy Martin gave Graig Nettles the day off and started Marty at third base. He went 2 for 4 in New York’s 6-2 victory. The next day, the Yankees included Perez and their unpredictable pitcher, Dock Ellis in a swap with Oakland that brought pitcher Mike Torrez to New York. Terry Whitfield ended up spending parts of ten seasons in the big leagues, mostly with San Francisco and hitting .281 lifetime. Torrez would win two games for New York in the 1977 World Series and then sign with Boston the following year and give up the Bucky Dent home run. Perez hit .231 for the A’s in 1977 and was out of the big leagues the following year. He is the only member of the Yankees’ all-time roster to celebrate a birthday on this date.
Perez was born in Visalia, California on February 28, 1946. If the Yankees had to field an all-time line up of native Californians, Perez would not be on it but the following guys probably would:
1b Hal Chase (Los Gatos)
2b Tony Lazzeri (San Francisco)
3b Graig Nettles (San Francisco)
SS Frank Crosetti (San Francisco)
c Matt Nokes (San Diego)
OF Bob Meusel (San Jose)
OF Joe DiMaggio (Martinez)
OF Roy White (Los Angeles)
DH Jason Giambi (West Covina)
SP Lefty Gomez (Rodeo)
RP Dave Righetti (San Jose)
Mgr Billy Martin (Berkeley)
Marty Perez wore uniform number 27 during the short time he played for the Bronx Bombers. The last six Yankees to wear this same number were: Raul Ibanez, Chris Dickerson, Kevin Russo, Colin Curtis, Greg Golson, and Joe Girardi. Number 27 was also worn on the backs of Kevin Brown, Graeme Lloyd, Mel Hall, Butch Wynegar, Elliott Maddox and Johnny Lindell.
How many third string catchers hit 21 home runs in a season? That’s exactly what this Minneapolis native did in 1961, while playing behind both Elston Howard and Yogi Berra. In the 1961 Fall Classic, Blanchard blasted two home runs against the Reds in just ten total at-bats.
He had been a three sport all-star in high school who could have attended the University of Minnesota on a basketball scholarship, but chose to play baseball instead. The Yankees gave him a $50,000 bonus to sign with them in 1951, which at the time was a huge amount of money. Having been an outfielder during his high school days, Blanchard entered a Yankee organization loaded with outfielders at every level. Since they gave him so much money to sign, New York decided to start him near the top, in triple A ball with their Kansas City affiliate. When he struggled there he was demoted to single A Binghamton, where he played even worse. It was right about this time that the Yankees got the idea to convert him to catcher, and that conversion began when Blanchard was again demoted during his first season in the minors, this time to the Class C Amsterdam Rugmakers, who used to play in my New York State hometown.
The following year, he started to catch full time for the Yankees’ class C team in Joplin Missouri and banged 30 home runs and averaged .301. Just when he thought he was on his way, Uncle Sam called and Blanchard spent the next two years of his life in the US Army. He made his Yankee debut during a brief 1955 cup-of-coffee preview and then was brought up for good in 1959. The problem was that when he finally reached the Bronx, both Yogi Berra and Elston Howard were doing his job just fine and Blanchard quickly became convinced that Yankee skipper Casey Stengel did not like him. He did however, appear in five games during New York’s 1960 World series defeat to Pittsburgh and averaged .455 in that Fall Classic. But it wasn’t until Ralph Houk took over the team in 1961 and made Berra his left fielder that Blanchard finally started seeing more game action.
Johnny played seven seasons in all for the Yankees and got to the World Series five times. Nobody loved wearing the pinstripes more than this guy. I read an interview with Mel Stottlemyre not too long ago in which the former Yankee pitcher recalled the day during the 1965 season when he walked into the Yankee clubhouse before a game and found Blanchard crying inconsolably. The Yankees had just traded the catcher and pitcher Roland Sheldon to the A’s for catcher Doc Edwards. Blanchard had a good bat but a weak arm. Elston Howard had just been injured and put on the disabled list and the Yankees feared opposing teams would run crazy on Blanchard so they made the trade. Like everything else New York did during that 1965 season, Edwards turned out to be a bust. This popular Yankee died in March of 2009.
Blanchard had been a big drinker during his Yankee days. In fact, one of his best friends on the Yankees had been Ryne Duren, who was hardly ever sober. Fortunately, after he retired, Blanchard realized his problem and kicked the habit. He became a successful salesman for printing companies.
Long before Gladys Knight recorded Midnight Train to Georgia, Wally was the most famous Pipp in America. He succeeded the notorious Hal Chase as the regular Yankee first baseman and played brilliantly at that position for eleven consecutive seasons.
Pipp established several firsts as a Yankee first baseman. He was the first Yankee to lead the American League in home runs. He was the first Yankee starting first baseman to wear the Yankee pinstripes. He was the first one to play in the World Series. He was the first Yankee starting first baseman to play in the now-closed original Yankee Stadium and the first one to play on a world championship team, in 1923.
None of those honors mattered, however, when Pipp innocently sat out a game against the Senators on the first day of June during the 1925 season. Legend has it that he had a headache and asked Yankee skipper, Miller Huggins, for that afternoon off. Whatever the reason, Lou Gehrig, took his place and every Yankee fan knows the rest of that story.
Pipp broke into the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers in 1913 and was picked up on waivers by the Yankees on January 15, 1915. He led the American League in home runs in both 1916 and 1917. In fact, the Yankees earned the nickname Murderers Row because of pre-Ruth sluggers like Pipp and Frank “Home Run” Baker. In addition to being a power hitter in the dead-ball era, he was also a good and graceful fielder and smart base runner, stealing 114 bases during his eleven years with the Yanks.
Pipp’s best year in New York was 1922, when he hit .329 with 190 hits, 96 runs scored, and drove in 90 more. His best World Series performance was the 1922 Fall Classic when he batted .286 in a losing effort against arch rival Giants.
In 1926, the Yankees sold Pipp, outright, to the Cincinnati Reds where he played three more seasons before retiring. He passed away in Rapid City, MI on January 11, 1965, at the age of 71.
Sergio Mitre was another Yankee relief pitcher who had the full faith and confidence of Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, even though I was never sure what he had done to earn it. I remember hearing the Yankee manager tell members of the Yankee press corps that this big right-hander threw lots of ground ball outs. After watching him pitch in pinstripes for almost three seasons, it seemed to me as if I saw more bombs hit off Mitre than groundballs. During his five seasons in the big leagues before coming to New York. Sergio had a combined won-loss record of 10-23, an ERA of 5.36 runs per game and about six walks for every nine innings he pitched. On top of that he was suspended a year for steroid use and then underwent Tommy John surgery.
In 2009, his ERA as a Yankee was 6.79. The only time Sergio truly impressed me that season was during a start against the White Sox in late August, when he threw six innings of one-hit shutout ball in a 10-0 Yankee triumph. He certainly pitched better for New York in 2010 but not nearly good enough to earn him a shot at starting in 2011. But that was exactly the scenario Girardi set up for him. He let this native of Tijuana, Mexico compete for the fourth and fifth spot in the team’s 2011 rotation on equal footing with Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and Ivan Nova. I was not at all surprised when Mitre failed to win that competition. The Yankees then traded Mitre to the Brewers a week before Opening Day, for outfielder Chris Dickerson. Three months later, the Yankees purchased him back from Milwaukee and gave him one more chance to become a key member of their bullpen. He failed to do so and was not offered a contract for the 2012 season. His three year record as a Yankee was 3-6, with 1 save and a lofty ERA of 5.35.
Mitre turns 32 years old today and shares his February 16th birthday with this former Yankee backup catcher.
Unless they had another move to acquire a catcher in mind before Opening Day of the 2013 regular season, the Yankees made a mistake by not re-signing Russell Martin. Instead, they allowed their starting catcher for the 2011 and ’12 seasons to make a new two-year $15 million deal for himself with Pittsburgh. I realize this native Canadian had a very bad offensive season in 2012, but his game management skills and defense remained steady and he did pound 21 home runs. None of the trio of receivers who will battle to take over Martin’s job in 2013 will be as good as he was for New York.
My single biggest concern about the former Dodger catcher when the Yankees signed him before the 2011 season was his health. He had hurt his hip during the 2010 season and the injury required surgery. But Martin had worked like crazy to recuperate from that operation and was able to catch 253 games during his two years in the Big Apple. His pinstripe career got off to a great start during the first half of 2011 and he made the AL All Star team. But his offense then pretty much abandoned him until he finally started hitting again during the final month of the 2012 season. Fortunately, he never let those hitting woes impact his solid work behind the plate. I loved the fact that he had the confidence and catching ability necessary to have Yankee pitchers throw their nastiest curves and sliders when hitters were ahead in the count or with opposing runners on base. When Martin was on a roll, be could block short pitches and dig them out of the dirt as well as any catcher I’ve seen. I also liked the fact that Martin had some pop in his bat (39 home runs in his two seasons with New York) and some speed in his legs. He’s stolen 80 bases during his seven years in the big leagues. Plus the guy turns just 30-years-old today.
I think Pittsburgh got themselves one of the ten best catchers in baseball for their 2013 lineup. Meanwhile, neither Chris Stewart or Francisco Cervelli have really proven they’ve got the all-around skills to handle the role of a big league team’s starting catcher. A still developing Austin Romine hasn’t either. That means the Yanks go into a new season with a big question mark at one of baseball’s most important positions, when for $15 million over the next two seasons they could have had one of the better catchers in baseball in that slot. Brian Cashman has said the organization is just biding time, waiting for 19-year-old Gary Sanchez, the franchise’s number 1 catching prospect to be ready for the big show. But that’s at least two years and two postseasons away. Having Martin behind the plate until that happened was a wise and affordable option.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant certainly is not a household name, but in addition to playing 54 games in the Yankee outfield during the 1997 season, Scott Pose also had a pretty decent part in Kevin Costner’s 1999 movie, For the Love of the Game. Costner played an aging Detroit Tiger pitcher who throws a perfect game in his final Major League start, which happens to take place in Yankee Stadium against my favorite team. Pose played Yankee outfielder, Matt Crane in that flick.
Pose’s other claim to fame is that he was the very first Florida Marlin in history to make a plate appearance, when he led off that franchise’s inaugural season opener against the Dodgers on April 5, 1993. Moments later, he became the first Marlin in history to get on base safely, thanks to an error by LA first baseman, Erik Karros.
Yankee Manager, Joe Torre took a liking to Pose during the 1997 season. He used the Davenport, Iowa native quite a bit as a utility outfielder that year. He got into 56 games, starting eighteen of them, but he hit just .218. Still, Torre thought enough of Pose to keep him on New York’s 1997 postseason roster. Most long-time Yankee fans remember the play resulting in Pose’s only appearance in that year’s ALDS, very well. That’s because it happened in the fifth and final game of the Cleveland series. The Yankees, who had taken a two-games to one lead in that series, lost the fourth game back in Cleveland and were behind in the fifth, 4-3. In the top of the ninth, both Tim Raines and Derek Jeter had grounded out and it was up to Paul O’Neill to keep the Yankees’ defense of their 1996 World Championship going. Paulie O had been on fire that entire series and his streak continued when he laced a line drive double to center off of Cleveland’s closer, Jose Mesa. That’s when Torre sent Pose into the game to replace O’Neill as the potential tying run at second base. It all became academic moments later, when Bernie Williams flew out to deep left for the final out of the Yankee season.
Pose then spent the next two years in the minors before resurfacing with the Royals in 1999. His last year in the big leagues was 2000.
There have not been too many Yankees born in the state of Iowa, although two who were, starting pitchers Stan Bahnsen and George Pipgras, both put together 20-victory seasons in pinstripes. Former Yankee utility infielder, Fred “The Chicken” Stanley, is also a native Hawkeye.
The only other guy to wear a Yankee uniform and have a February 11th birthday is this former New York pitching coach who also was a 20-game winner in the big leagues.
Garcia shares his February 7th birthday with this one-time Yankee prospect who was once hailed as “the next Lou Gehrig.”
Jack Reed was one of the first Yankee outfielders to become “Mickey Mantle’s spare legs.” These were guys who would replace the oft injured, always-in-pain superstar in the late innings of games after The Mick would get his last at-bat. Often times, when Mantle made that final plate appearance, thousands of Yankee Stadium fans would head for the exits so usually, when Reed was coming into a game he’d see huge crowds of people leaving the stands.
As a result of his very specialized role, Reed was one of the select group of position players in Major League history to accumulate more games played than plate appearances during their careers. This Silver City, Mississippi native got into 222 games during his three season career in pinstripes that began in 1961, but came to the plate with a bat in his hand just 144 times. He hit just one home run during that span and I remember it very well.
It happened during a Sunday afternoon game against Detroit at old Briggs Stadium in July of 1962. As usual, Reed was on the bench when the game started. At the end of nine innings, the score was tied 7-7. It stayed that way for the next 12 innings. Reed had entered the game in the top of the thirteenth, to pinch hit for Phil Linz and was then inserted in right field. He was hitless in his first three at bats when he came to the plate in the top of the 22nd inning with one out and Roger Maris, representing the go-ahead run on first base. Reed hit a Phil Regan pitch into the stands for a two-run home run to knock in the winning runs of what was then, the longest game in Major League history. I think I can remember watching that entire game at my Grandmother’s house. It lasted for eight hours. Reed was born on this date in 1933 and still lives in Mississippi.
In addition to being a pretty good baseball player at Ol’ Miss, Reed had also been a real good collegiate football player. This second Yankee utility outfielder, also born on this date, was also good at baseball and football during his college days. He eventually made it into the Hall of Fame. Not the one in Cooperstown, the one in Canton. He also shares his birthday with this former Yankee war-time catcher.