I’m a fan of Brett Gardner. It took me a quite a while to figure that out and I’m still not one hundred percent convinced of it, but as of right now this instant, I’m a fan. He plays the game hard all the time and I absolutely love that. He’s an excellent outfielder who covers massive amounts of ground and that’s huge, especially during this up and down 2013 Yankee season when the Yankee starting rotation has been giving up one hard hit fly ball after another. I also love Gardner’s enthusiasm. He’s New York’s biggest cheerleader and his teammates’ biggest defender. You can tell he loves to play the game and cherishes the privilege.
Now permit me to explain why it has taken me so long to become a full fledged member of the Brett Gardner fan club. Sometimes, not as often as he used to but still sometimes, this guy drives me absolutely crazy. Like when he’s on first base with second base open and he doesn’t attempt to steal early in the count. For a while there, he was striking out way too much for a small-ball specialist. I’ve seen him swing at some horrible full count pitches and he doesn’t seem as willing to accept base-on-balls as he used to be. But he has proven to be a much better hitter than I thought he was and Gardner’s great speed can change the dynamic of a game at any point and forces Yankee opponents to throw lots of hit-able fast balls when he is on the base paths. He has also proven to be a good leadoff hitter though when he used to hit ninth, I thought he was one of the best bottom of the lineup guys in all of baseball.
Hard to believe he turns 30-years-old today and even harder to believe he’s playing in his sixth Yankee season already. He’s eligible for arbitration at the end of this year and free agency the next. There was a time when I thought the Yankees might trade Gardner and try to replace him with a power-hitting corner outfielder. I don’t think that any more. The current Yankee management team has a real tough time thinking big these days so I believe Gardner eventually signs at least a three-year deal to remain in pinstripes. And that’s not a bad thing, or is it?
|162 Game Avg.||162||580||504||87||134||21||8||6||45||43||10||60||102||.266||.349||.376||.725|
If you watched last evening’s (8/14/2013) Yankee game, in which New York destroyed the Angels for the second consecutive night, you heard Paul O’Neill tell his TV booth partners that the 1998 Yankee team he played on was as close to a perfect team as he had ever been associated with. I couldn’t agree more.
The 1961 Yankees were my favorite team of all time and the 1978 Yankees were the most dramatic. The 1996 Yankees gave me the biggest thrill I ever had as a baseball fan but it was the 1998 Yankees who were the best team I’ve ever seen play a season, beginning to end. And if you had to point to one roster change that made the biggest difference between the team that lost the Divisional playoffs to Cleveland the year before and the one that won 114 regular season games and swept the Padres in the 1998 World Series, it would be the addition of Scott Brosius as New York’s starting third baseman. Born on today’s date in 1966, in Hillsboro, OR, the Yankees signed Brosius as a free agent after he spent his first seven big league seasons in Oakland.
Joe Torre inserted his right-handed bat at the bottom of the Yankee lineup. Brosius responded by hitting .300, smacking 19 home runs, scoring 86 runs and driving in 98 more. He turned the bottom of that lineup into an opposing pitcher’s nightmare and he played superb defense as well. But he saved his best for that year’s post season, batting close to .400 in thirteen October games and winning the 1998 World Series MVP award. He was an AL All Star that first year in pinstripes, a Gold Glove winner in 1999, and his thrilling game-winning home run during Game 5 of the 2001 Series against Arizona was a fitting culmination of his brief but great Yankee career.
Brosius shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
|OAK (7 yrs)||606||2227||1988||280||494||95||5||76||249||34||178||372||.248||.315||.416||.731|
|NYY (4 yrs)||540||2129||1901||264||507||105||3||65||282||23||170||327||.267||.331||.428||.759|
The great Mariano Rivera was not used as a closer during his final minor league seasons with the Yankees’ Columbus Clippers Triple A farm team. Instead, that task was handed to today’s much lesser known Pinstripe Birthday celebrant. Dave Pavlas was born in West Germany on August 12, 1962. This tall and lanky right-hander led the Clippers in saves for three straight seasons, from 1995 through 1997. Unfortunately, he was already 33 years-old by the time he joined Columbus.
Pavlas had made his big league debut back in 1990, as a reliever with the Cubs. He got into thirteen games in his first season, won his only two decisions and compiled an impressive 2.11 ERA. But he started the next season back in the minors and when the Cubs gave him another chance at the Big Show it wasn’t much of one. In late July of the ’91 season, Pavlas was given the ball in the top of the ninth, with his team behind 4-0 against the Braves. He was hit hard, gave up a couple of runs and didn’t get another chance to pitch from a Major League mound for the next four years.
The Yankees signed him to a minor league contract in early 1995. He got called up to the Bronx in both 1995 and ’96 and did some effective relief pitching for the World Championship team of 1996. He earned his one and only big league save on August 24th of that season when he came on in the ninth inning with two men on, two outs and New York leading Oakland 5-4. The first batter he faced was future Yankee Scott Brosius, who got an infield single to load the bases. He then struck out another future Yankee, Jason Giambi, to preserve the victory.
He was just one of 14 big league players and the only member of the Yankee’s all-time roster to have been born in West Germany and he will forever hold that distinction since that country no longer technically exists. Pavlas shares his birthday with this Cuban defector who played in pinstripes.
|CHC (2 yrs)||2||0||1.000||2.82||14||0||4||0||0||0||22.1||26||9||7||3||6||12||1.433|
|NYY (2 yrs)||0||0||2.51||20||0||9||0||0||1||28.2||31||9||8||0||7||21||1.326|
Over a half-century before George Steinbrenner came on the scene, another son of a wealthy German-American businessman purchased New York City’s American League baseball franchise and wheeled and dealed his way to World Championships and a brand new Big Apple stadium for his team. But instead of building ships like George’s dad, this guy’s father made beer.
His name was Jacob Ruppert and he took over the family business when his Dad died in 1915 and immediately began looking for ways to get his brewery’s name in the newspapers more often. He accomplished that by purchasing a baseball team. Originally, Ruppert was co-owner of the Yankees along with partner Cap Huston. He bought out Huston in 1923 to become sole owner of the ball club.
In a series of astute business and hiring maneuvers, he turned the Yankees into the most valuable brand in all of sports. He brought Babe Ruth to New York. He hired Ed Barrow to build baseball’s best farm system and he put managerial legends, Miller Huggins and then Joe McCarthy in the Yankee dugout. During his 23 years owning the franchise, the Yankees won the first ten of their World Series championships. Though I’ve never been a big fan of the guy, I agree with those who felt George Steinbrenner belongs in Baseball’s Hall of Fame but only if they put Jake Ruppert in their first. Rupert received that honor in 2013, when he was the choice of the Hall’s Veterans’ Committee.
Todays Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is best known for his days with the New York Mets. He started at shortstop for the Amazin’s from 1988 through 1991 and set the since broken Major League record for consecutive error-less games at short with 88 straight during the 1988 and ’89 seasons. Kevin’s problem was his offense or lack there-of. He struggled to hit .230 during his days at Shea. When he hurt his shoulder during the 1991 season and underwent surgery, his Met career was all but over. He was then signed and released by respectively, the Dodgers, Marlins and Padres without appearing in a big league game for any of those teams. The Yankees then signed him in May of 1994 and he played in 13 games in pinstripes during the remainder of the 1994 and beginning of the ’95 seasons before he was again released. He signed with Texas in 1996 and suddenly erupted with his bat, hitting 24 home runs and driving in 99 from the bottom spot in the Rangers’ lineup. That one-time spurt got him a $1.6 million dollar one-year contract with the Pirates in ’97 and another $1.5 million in ’98 but he never again approached those lofty numbers.
Elster was considered a “hunk” by the ladies who used to swoon over him wherever he played. Married and divorced twice, the native of San Pedro, CA once hoped to use those good looks to establish a film career. He did get cast in a small part in the film “Little Big League” in 1994. In 1995, just before he started his second season with the Yankees, he told a New York Times interviewer that he kept making excuses for his below-average play, especially his poor hitting during the first part of his career. He actually retired after the 1998 season and was working on opening a bar in Las Vegas. An amateur drummer himself, Elster’s plan was to invite musicians to jam there whenever they wanted. Before the idea got off the ground, he accepted an offer to play for the Dodgers in 2000. His one last thrill as a big league player occurred on April 11th of that season, when the Dodgers travelled to San Francisco to face their arch-rival Giants in the first game ever to be played in Petco Park. Elster hit three home runs in that game to lead LA to a win.
Other Yankees born on August 3rd include this one-time phee-nom and this long-time New York bullpen coach. I’d also like to wish my oldest son Matthew John, who also happens to be a great Yankee fan, a very happy 35th birthday.
|NYM (7 yrs)||537||1765||1584||166||355||75||6||34||174||10||142||242||.224||.288||.343||.631|
|TEX (2 yrs)||241||932||812||112||199||42||3||32||136||4||85||204||.245||.315||.422||.738|
|NYY (2 yrs)||17||40||37||1||2||1||0||0||0||0||2||11||.054||.103||.081||.184|
|LAD (1 yr)||80||259||220||29||50||8||0||14||32||0||38||52||.227||.341||.455||.796|
|PIT (1 yr)||39||164||138||14||31||6||2||7||25||0||21||39||.225||.327||.449||.776|
|PHI (1 yr)||26||65||53||10||11||4||1||1||9||0||7||14||.208||.302||.377||.679|
His real name was Edward Haughton Love but folks called him “Slim” because he was 6’7″ tall but weighed just 195 pounds. When he joined the Washington Senators in 1913, he became the tallest player in the big leagues. He was born in 1890 in a place called Love, Mississippi, making him the only Yankee to be born in a home town that shared his last name. A story that appeared in a 1913 Washington Post edition reported that Love had actually bragged his way into his first minor league tryout while tossing a few back, on a bar stool in Memphis.
Most likely under the influence of one too many cocktails, he started telling his fellow imbibers that he had come to the Tennessee city to pitch the town’s Memphis Turtles ball club to a Southern Association League championship. It just so happened that the owner of the bar was a friend of the Turtles’ manager and he was able to arrange a tryout for Love. That tryout reportedly took place during an exhibition game between the Turtles and the Cleveland Indians, when Love was called in to face the legendary Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie with the bases loaded. Slim evidently and amazingly struck out the future Hall-of-Famer. I use the word amazingly, because it was soon thereafter apparent to the Turtles that the bold-tongued youngster could throw the ball hard but he had no idea where his pitches would end up. In other words, Love really didn’t know a thing about pitching. But the impressive speed of his fastball and that strikeout of Lajoie finally got him a minor league contract and he spent the next three years trying to figure out how to get the ball to go where he wanted it to go, an objective he would never quite master.
He did however get good enough to win 21 games for New York between 1916 and 1918. Thirteen of those wins came in 1918, Miller Huggins first year as manager of the Yankees. New York’s starting pitching rotation at the time was very thin so Huggins kept starting Love that year even though he had a real tough time getting the ball over the plate. The Yankee skipper wanted his lanky left-hander to learn how to throw a curveball but Love struggled to do so and continued to depend almost completely on his often-wild fastball. When the 1918 season was over, Slim led the league in walks and Huggins began a complete overhaul of his pitching staff. As part of that overhaul, Love and three of his teammates were traded to the Red Sox for two of Boston’s pitchers and an outfielder.
Slim never played a game in Beantown. Instead, the Red Sox quickly traded him to Detroit where he went 6-4 in 1919. But the bases on balls continued at an alarming pace for Love and he was out of the big leagues for good by 1921 and back in the minors, where he kept pitching for almost another decade.
His legend would tragically but almost poetically end where it began. On November 30, 1942, while taking a stroll in Memphis, TN, Love was hit by a car and died. It seems Slim never learned the lesson that also ended his big league career. Walks can kill you!
The above article was originally written in 2009. It was updated for today’s post using this excellent article about Slim Love as my primary reference.
|NYY (3 yrs)||21||17||.553||3.05||91||39||34||15||1||2||406.2||368||171||138||5||196||198||11||1.387|
|DET (2 yrs)||6||4||.600||3.26||23||8||11||4||0||1||94.0||98||44||34||3||44||48||6||1.511|
|WSH (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||1.62||5||1||4||0||0||1||16.2||14||5||3||0||6||5||0||1.200|
The Yankee pitching staff was decimated in the late eighties by the aging and retirement of Ron Guidry and perhaps the worst trade and free agent signing decisions made during the Steinbrenner era. Among the very poorest of these decisions was trading Doug Drabek to the Pirates for Pat Clements, Cecilio Guante and Rick Rhoden. Of the three Pirate pitchers, Rhoden was the most effective in pinstripes, going 16-10 in 1987 and 12-12 the following year. But Rhoden was also 34 years old when New York got him from Pittsburgh while Drabek was just 24 at the time of that trade. Even though he went 7-8 during his 1986 rookie season in the Bronx, I remember he had impressive enough stuff to be excited about his future.
Sure enough, the right-hander quickly became one of the best pitchers in the NL winning the Cy Young Award in 1990 with a 22-6 record. He pitched six seasons for the Pirates before signing a lucrative free agent deal with Houston in 1993. He pitched OK for the Astros but was never the big winner there that they expected him to be. He retired after the 1998 season with a 155-134 record and 21 career shutouts. If he had remained in New York his entire career and the Yankees had also kept young arms like Bob Tewksbury and Al Leiter in their system, who knows? They may have got back to the playoffs a few seasons faster than they did in 1995.
Update: The above post was written in 2010. Here’s an update: The first time I started paying attention to Doug Drabek’s career was back in 1984, when he was pitching for the Glens Falls White Sox in upstate New York, a Chicago affiliate in the AA Eastern League. His team used to play the Yankees’ Albany-Colonie affiliate in the same league and since both ball parks were within an hour’s drive of my home, the local papers covered both teams pretty extensively. Drabek was the ace of the Glens Falls staff, so I was pretty excited when I read the news that the Yank’s had acquired him as the player to be named later in their 1984 mid season deal that sent shortstop Roy Smalley to the White Sox. I then got a chance to see Drabek pitch live a couple of times because the Yanks assigned him to Albany in 1985 and he put together a 13-7 record there with a 2.99 ERA.
After his best years with Pittsburgh, the Yankees tried to bring him back as a free agent when his contract with the Pirates expired after the 1992 season. The New York GM at the time, Gene Michael made offers to Drabek, David Cone and Jose Guzman in an effort to bolster the Yank’s anemic starting rotation, but when none of the three responded fast enough, Michael withdrew the offers and went after Jimmy Key and Jim Abbott instead.
In an interview with a Houston Astros’ fan newsletter after he retired, Drabek said he left the game after the 1998 season because he had completely lost his stuff. It got to the point where the veteran right hander was afraid to pitch and had to literally force himself to take the mound. By then, he had made over $30 million in his career, so he decided to go home and spend time with his very talented children. One of those kids, Drabek’s son Kyle evolved into the highly coveted number 1 overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft. Unfortunately, the younger Drabek has struggled in his three attempts at the majors and was back in the minors in 2013, still recovering from his second Tommy John surgery.
|PIT (6 yrs)||92||62||.597||3.02||199||196||1||36||16||0||1362.2||1227||506||457||112||337||820||1.148|
|HOU (4 yrs)||38||42||.475||4.00||118||118||0||16||5||0||762.2||787||372||339||71||219||558||1.319|
|NYY (1 yr)||7||8||.467||4.10||27||21||2||0||0||0||131.2||126||64||60||13||50||76||1.337|
|BAL (1 yr)||6||11||.353||7.29||23||21||1||1||0||0||108.2||138||90||88||20||29||55||1.537|
|CHW (1 yr)||12||11||.522||5.74||31||31||0||0||0||0||169.1||170||109||108||30||69||85||1.411|
Sparky Lyle was born in DuBois, PA on this date in 1944. I was a huge Sparky fan. When the Yankees grabbed him from the Red Sox in exchange for Danny Cater just before the 1972 season started, I knew it was a good move by the Yankees but I had no idea it would turn out to be one of the greatest trades in Pinstripe history. To understand the impact Lyle had on the Yankees, you need to consider what the Yankee bullpen was like before “The Count” arrived. In 1971, Lindy McDaniel and Jack Aker had shared the Yankee closer role and tied for the team lead in saves with four each. That’s right, it’s not a typo, four saves led the team. In Lyle’s first season as a Yankee, he saved 35 games and won nine more. The Yankees won 79 games that year and Lyle was involved in a total of 44 of those victories. His 1972 ERA was an amazing 1.95. Within a single season, Lyle had turned the Yankee bullpen into one of the best in the league. Gabe Paul continued to work his magic with clever trades over the next few seasons and by 1977 the Yankees were World Series winners and Sparky Lyle won the AL Cy Young Award with a 13-5 record, 26 saves and a 2.17 ERA. He went on to win three games during the 1977 postseason and cemented his reputation as one of the elite closers in all of baseball. So what does George Steinbrenner do? He goes out and signs another elite closer named Goose Gossage.
Update: The above post was written in 2010. Here’s an update. Just as Lyle retired from baseball after the 1982 season, America’s baseball memorabilia craze was gathering steam and Sparky was in a great position to take full advantage of it. Since he called southern New Jersey home by that time, he jumped at an offer to become a greeter at an Atlantic City Casino with former Yankee legend, Mickey Mantle. A New York Times article in 2010 quoted Lyle as saying the five years he spent at that hotel keeping Mickey out of trouble were “the best five years of my life.”
Then in 1998, he went to a New Jersey dealership to buy a new pickup truck and the owner of the place asked Lyle if he was interested in managing a new baseball team he was putting together for the Atlantic League, a brand new minor league that would be unaffiliated with any Major League franchises. Mantle had passed away by then and the memorabilia craze had also died, so Sparky said yes and became the first manager in the history of the Somerset Patriots in 1998, at the age of 53. He remained in that position for 15 years, retiring after the 2012 season. During that span his teams won five league pennants and compiled a won-loss record of 1024 – 913.
Reflecting on Sparky Lyle’s Yankee career today, I tried to compare him with the great Yankee closers I’ve seen pitch in my 54 years as a Yankee fan. He was definitely the first “great” Yankee closer of my lifetime. He lost his job to the second one, Goose Gossage, because he was older and couldn’t throw as hard. In fact, when an eighteen-year-old Lyle had his first-ever big league tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the scout running it watched the young southpaw throw a bunch of pitches and yelled out to him to show him his hard stuff. Lyle responded that he had been throwing his hard stuff, which explains why he was not signed by the Pirates. Still, I think the real reason that Yanks got Gossage in the first place was because Lyle was a bit too vocal about his lack of respect for Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. Dave Righetti lacked Lyle’s fun-loving and outgoing personality. For example, Rags would never sit naked on a birthday cake in the middle of a clubhouse, which was a Lyle tradition. Like Mariano, Lyle became great when he perfected one pitch. In Sparky’s case it was a slider, which he learned to throw because the great Ted Williams told him it was the one pitch the Splendid Splinter couldn’t handle. Bottom line is that Rivera will certainly be the last Yankee ever referred to as the greatest pure closer in baseball history but Lyle was the first.
Sparky’s wasn’t the only Yankee career Goose helped end. Ironically, another one belonged to this former teammate of Lyle’s who shares his July 22nd birthday. This former Yankee starting pitcher also share the Count’s birthday.
Here’s Lyle’s seasonal pitching stats as a Yankee and his MLB career totals:
|NYY (7 yrs)||57||40||.588||2.41||420||0||348||0||0||141||745.2||666||239||200||32||234||454||1.207|
|BOS (5 yrs)||22||17||.564||2.85||260||0||160||0||0||69||331.1||294||124||105||27||133||275||1.289|
|PHI (3 yrs)||12||9||.571||4.37||92||0||35||0||0||6||125.2||146||68||61||7||51||47||1.568|
|TEX (2 yrs)||8||10||.444||3.84||116||0||85||0||0||21||175.2||175||84||75||18||56||91||1.315|
|CHW (1 yr)||0||0||3.00||11||0||6||0||0||1||12.0||11||4||4||0||7||6||1.500|
After nine and one half seasons with the Angels, Witt came to New York in 1990 in the horrible Yankee trade that took Dave Winfield out of pinstripes. George Steinbrenner’s disgraceful efforts to use a brain-damaged con-man named Howie Spira to dig up dirt on his star outfielder had poisoned Winfield’s relationship with the Yankee front office. In trading for Witt, the Yankees were hoping to put the whole sad situation behind them while at the same time acquiring a veteran right-hander with one of the league’s best curve balls for their very weak starting rotation. Witt had won 109 games for the Angels but had gone 9-15 in ’89 and was 0-3 at the time of the trade. I realized Winfield was no spring chicken back then, but I clearly remember thinking at the time that the Yankees were getting the short end of that deal and I was right.
Witt won just eight more games during the next three plus seasons for New York. He spent most of that time including all of 1992 on the injured reserve list. Winfield went on to give the Angels two decent seasons of production and still had enough in the tank to drive in 108 runs for the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays and help them win a World Championship. Witt retired in 1993 after collecting $7.5 million Yankee dollars to appear in just 27 games. In 1997, he became the pitching coach of a California High School’s baseball program.
Witt shares his birthday with the first catcher in franchise history to start in that position for five straight seasons.
|CAL (10 yrs)||109||107||.505||3.76||314||272||22||70||10||6||1965.1||1932||926||820||167||656||1283||1.317|
|NYY (3 yrs)||8||9||.471||4.91||27||27||0||2||1||0||143.0||134||86||78||16||57||90||1.336|
No Yankees past or present were born on this date but it is the fifth anniversary of the passing of one of my favorites, Bobby Murcer. Yesterday was the third anniversary of the death of Yankee public address legend Bob Sheppard, who passed away at the ripe age of 99, on July 11th, 2010. Tomorrow, it will also be three years since George Steinbrenner died of a heart attack. So perhaps forever more, these three consecutive dates will most be remembered as anniversaries of Yankee passings and not Yankee births.