Yankee teams don’t win World Championships without good solid starting catchers. I’ve been a Bronx Bomber fan for over 50 years and during that time its been names like Berra, Howard, Munson, Girardi and Posada, who have been behind the plate when my favorite team won a ring. Most of these guys could hit, most of them were strong defensively as well and each and everyone of them were tough, strong leaders who weren’t afraid to take control of their pitching staffs.
Russell Martin was that type of player for the Yankees. Certainly not a superstar but most definitely a leader behind the plate and a guy who craved at bats with the game on the line. He had no fear and the Yankees could have got to a World Series with him as their starting catcher, which is why it distressed me, when they let him walk away to Pittsburgh last offseason and decided they’d try instead to go cheap by staffing such a critical position with Cervelli, Stewart, and eventually Austin Romine. It was that single front office decision that convinced me that this current Yankee brain trust actually believed they could be clever money-ball practitioners when I knew they were not. More importantly, I knew that trying to win with less money took away the franchise’s biggest advantage over its competition, which is HAVING MORE MONEY to spend!
We all saw the results. The offensive performance of the Yankee catching staff was as bad as I knew it would be last season and the co-catcher model hurt the stability of the pitching staff. There were also more empty seats in Yankee Stadium and fewer viewers watching those commercials on the YES Network.
Brian McCann had to be signed by New York, this offseason. He’s exactly the kind of catcher the Yankees must have to get back to Fall Ball. He’s also the signal I needed to see that this Yankee brain trust fully realizes the error of their penny-pinching ways last winter. I’m now officially excited about Opening Day!
Born in Richmond, CA, Dale Sveum was the Milwaukee Brewers’ first round draft choice in 1982 and considered to be the heir apparent to the great Robin Yount. By 1987, in just his second year in the big leagues, the 23-year-old switch hitter blasted 25 home runs and drove in 95 as Milwaukee’s starting shortstop. He would continue playing through 1999 and never again come close to matching either of those numbers.
The Brewers gave up on him after the 1991 season and traded him to the Phillies. During the next five years he played for five different teams. The Yankees signed him as a free agent in November of 1997 and the following April, he was on the Opening Day roster of a Yankee team that was about to win more regular season games than any team in franchise history. Sveum spelled Tino Martinez at first base plus saw some occasional time at the hot corner. What he didn’t do was hit. At the All Star break his average was just .155 and the Yanks gave him his walking papers.
After an unsuccessful comeback try with the Pirates the following year, his big league career was over. He got into coaching and in 2008, he became the interim manager of the Brewers for the last 12 games of the season. In 2012, Theo Epstein hired Sveum to manage the Chicago Cubs. Epstein himself had just been hired as the team’s president and given free reign to rebuild the organization from the bottom up. He had chosen Sveum as the new skipper because his plan was to bring Chicago’s best prospects up and play them. That required a manager who could communicate with and develop young talent and Epstein felt those were Sveum’s greatest strengths. Unfortunately, after two years of putting this plan in action, the performances of the Cub prospects had regressed. When Epstein fired Sveum the day after the 2013 regular season ended, he absolved his departing skipper for the failure of those prospects to develop, inferring that the organization may have simply overestimated their abilities.
|MIL (5 yrs)||511||1878||1702||210||413||80||10||46||236||9||137||426||.243||.299||.382||.681|
|PIT (3 yrs)||187||459||411||46||107||30||2||16||65||0||40||115||.260||.324||.460||.784|
|PHI (1 yr)||54||153||135||13||24||4||0||2||16||0||16||39||.178||.261||.252||.513|
|OAK (1 yr)||30||96||79||12||14||2||1||2||6||0||16||21||.177||.316||.304||.620|
|NYY (1 yr)||30||64||58||6||9||0||0||0||3||0||4||16||.155||.203||.155||.358|
|SEA (1 yr)||10||29||27||3||5||0||0||1||2||0||2||10||.185||.241||.296||.538|
|CHW (1 yr)||40||131||114||15||25||9||0||2||12||1||12||29||.219||.287||.351||.638|
Though the transaction took place over four decades ago, I know I screamed in anguish when I heard about the trade. Three weeks before Christmas in 1971, the Yankees sent their 1968 Rookie-of-the-Year-winning right-hander, Stan Bahnsen to the Chicago White Sox. They took a guy who had won the impressive total of 55 games for some mediocre New York teams during the previous four seasons and sent him to the Windy City in exchange for a 25-year-old utility infielder named Rich McKinney.
I knew what Yankee skipper Ralph Houk and the team’s GM, Lee MacPhail were thinking when they pulled the trigger on that one. New York desperately needed a good starting third baseman. They hadn’t had one since they traded Clete Boyer to the Braves in 1966.
McKinney, a native of Piqua, OH, had been in the big leagues for just two seasons and was coming off a decent year in which he had averaged .271 in 114 games as Chicago’s primary utility infielder. There was nothing in his resume that indicated he was going to be anything special, but after trying to win with guys like Charley Smith and Jerry Kenney at the hot corner, Houk and MacPhail figured this kid was worth a shot. But he wasn’t worth Stan Bahnsen!
The veteran right-hander took his “Bahnsen Burner” to Comiskey Park and won 21 games in 1972. Meanwhile, McKinney was a complete bust in the Bronx. He started out slow and never got better. By June he was playing down in Syracuse and the Yanks were using the infamous Celerino Sanchez as their starter at third. That November, McKinney’s Yankee career ended, when he was traded to Oakland in the deal that brought Matty Alou to New York.
|OAK (4 yrs)||147||306||277||22||53||10||0||7||30||0||24||49||.191||.252||.303||.556|
|CHW (2 yrs)||157||546||488||47||120||16||2||12||63||3||46||62||.246||.312||.361||.672|
|NYY (1 yr)||37||128||121||10||26||2||0||1||7||1||7||13||.215||.258||.256||.514|
Only seven Major League Baseball players have been born in Italy and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant is the only former Yankee on that list. Of course, Rinaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia did not get much of a chance to wear his pinstriped uniform. The right-handed pitcher’s entire Bronx Bomber and big league career consisted of just a single two-inning appearance against the Browns, on April 30, 1947.
The Yanks were getting pasted at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis that afternoon and were already behind 13-4, when Manager Bucky Harris inserted this native of Oleggio, Italy into the game to start the seventh inning. He surrendered four hits and two runs in his two innings of work. Though New York would rebound to win the 1947 AL Pennant and World Series, the team struggled early in the season and after going 2-4 on that late April road trip, Harris reacted by shaking up the Yankee batting order and releasing two pitchers, one of whom was Ardizoia.
He had originally been signed by New York in 1941 and after two seasons in their farm system, he did three years of military service during WWII. He kept pitching in the Pacific Coast League after being released, until1950. Born on November 20, 1919, he turns 94 today, making him the oldest living ex-Yankee.
Joe Glenn took the Yankees second string catcher’s job away from longtime Bill Dickey understudy, Arndt Jorgens in 1937, by being much more aggressive than his Norwegian-born predecessor both behind and at the plate. Though the Dickson City, PA native had little power, he was a tough bird who was known for not backing down from any pitcher or opposing base runner.
His Yankee career started with two brief call-ups from the minors in 1932 and 33. He was then called up to stay in 1935 and gave Manager Joe McCarthy three solid seasons as Dickey’s backup. He was also Lou Gehrig’s frequent roommate on Yankee road trips and he holds the unusual distinction of catching the last games pitched by both Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
After their 1938 World Series victory, New York traded Glenn and outfielder Myril Hoag to the Browns for pitcher Oral Hildebrand and outfielder Buster Mills. Nicknamed Gabby, Glenn spent a year with the Browns and one final big league season with the Red Sox in 1940, before becoming a minor league manager in the Cubs organization.
He shares his birthday with this long-ago Yankee shortstop.
|NYY (6 yrs)||138||435||385||45||97||20||4||1||56||2||45||44||.252||.333||.332||.666|
|BOS (1 yr)||22||53||47||3||6||1||0||0||4||0||5||7||.128||.212||.149||.360|
|SLB (1 yr)||88||320||286||29||78||13||1||4||29||4||31||40||.273||.344||.367||.711|
Clay Bellinger was an all-around utility man for the Yankees from the time he was first called up to the Bronx in April of 1999 until he was released by New York right after the 2001 postseason. During those three years, he played every position on the field for manager Joe Torre, except catcher and pitcher, but he hit just .194 in the 311 at bats he got while doing so.
Born in Oneonta, NY on November 18, 1968, this six feet three inch right-handed hitter played his collegiate baseball for Rollins College in Winter Park, Fl. He was good enough to get selected in the second round of the 1989 MLB amateur draft by San Francisco. He spent the next decade playing his way upwards in the farm systems of three different big league organizations. He was a decent fielder at every position but third base and his career highlight play as a Yankee was appropriately one he made with his glove and not his bat.
Inserted as a late-inning defensive replacement for David Justice in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series, Bellinger leapt in front of Yankee Stadium’s left field wall to rob the Mets’ Todd Zeile of a go-ahead two-run home run in the ninth inning of a 6-5 Yankee victory. He then took his two Yankee World Series rings and signed with the Angels in 2002 but couldn’t stay on their big league roster. He later became a pitching teacher at a Queens, NY baseball school and coached his son Cody in the 2007 Little League World Series.
|NYY (3 yrs)||181||343||310||57||60||11||3||12||35||7||22||81||.194||.258||.365||.623|
|ANA (1 yr)||2||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||.000||.000||.000||.000|
Originally the very first genuine “Amazin” Met, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant almost single-handedly turned Shea Stadium’s tenants from a running joke into a bonafide professional baseball team. Then, beginning in 1975, Met President M. Donald Grant committed three of the dumbest mistakes in Major League front office history.
First he enraged Tom Seaver by penny pinching him during the Mets last pre-free-agent era negotiation with their Ace in 1975. Then when baseball’s age of free agency began the following year, Grant refused to go after any of the newly available superstars who could have rejuvenated a Mets’ roster that had grown very mediocre.
Grants final error, the biggest of them all, was trading Seaver to the Reds in the first half of the 1977 regular season for four pretty ordinary big league players. Seaver would go on to win 20 games that year and the NL Cy Young Award. He would continue to pitch for another decade and on August 4, 1985, while pitching for the White Sox against the Yankees on Phil Rizzuto Day at Yankee Stadium, Tom Terrific won his 300th big league game.
The Yankee crowd that day adored Seaver and Yankee boss George Steinbrenner noticed. He would spend the next year trying to put the future Hall of Famer in pinstripes but could never quite reach an agreement with Chicago. At first, the Boss refused to give up any of his young stud pitchers for the aging right-hander and then it was Chicago GM Ken Harrelson’s turn to balk when Steinbrenner offered him disgruntled Yankee DH Don Baylor for Seaver.
So Seaver went to the Red Sox instead and finished his playing career in Beantown with a 5-7 record during the 1986 season. Two years later, Steinbrenner finally brought the Fresno, California native to Yankee Stadium as Phil Rizzuto’s broadcasting partner. He and the former Yankee shortstop remained a pair for the next five seasons and Yankee fans who were around to witness how extremely well these two Big Apple baseball legends got along in the booth, loved them.
In 1990, just as Steinbrenner was about to begin serving his “Howie Spira induced” lifetime ban from the game, the Boss was considering removing Seaver from the booth and making him the Yankees’ GM. That never happened. Seaver now spends his days overseeing his California vineyards. He turns 69 years old today and shares a birthday with this former Yankee reliever and this long-ago Yankee skipper.
Evidently, “Handsome” Harry Howell could have taught A-Rod a thing or two about flirting with female fans in the stands at Yankee games. According to this excellent article written by Eric Sallee, it was this Jersey native’s roving eye that caused his divorce from the first Mrs. Howell.
After three seasons of playing in the National League, Howell migrated to the newly formed American League as a member of manager John McGraw’s 1901 Baltimore Oriole starting rotation which was also the first starting rotation in official Yankee franchise history. In that inaugural season, he and Joe McGinnity became the first Yankee pitchers to lose 20 games in a season. In 1902, the Baltimore team disintegrated after McGraw quit at midseason and with Howell going just 9-15, the team went on to finish the year with a 50-88 record. That’s when League founder and president, Ban Johnson exerted his near-dictatorial control and relocated the team to New York City.
It proved to be a fortunate move for Howell because when he got to New York he became teammates with Jack Chesbro. The former Pirate ace had one of the game’s most effective spitballs and he was more than happy to show Howell how to throw one of his own. Handsome Harry proved to be a quick study. He spent most of the ’03 season experimenting with the spitter, while still relying more heavily on his fastball and curve. He went 9-6 during the Yankees’ first season in the Big Apple and on April 23rd of that year, he became the first pitcher in New York Yankee history (excluding the franchise’s two years in Baltimore) to win a game, when he beat the Senators 7-2.
The following spring, Yankee skipper Clark Griffith traded Howell to the St. Louis Browns for pitcher Jack Powell. It was in St. Louis that Howell perfected the pitch taught to him by Chesbro. During the next six seasons, he threw one of the nastiest, most-loaded-up spitters in the game with great results. His ERA during his Browns’ career, which consisted of almost 1,600 innings pitched was a pretty incredible 2.06.
|SLB (7 yrs)||78||91||.462||2.06||201||173||23||150||16||5||1580.2||1325||549||362||8||390||712||1.085|
|NYY (3 yrs)||32||42||.432||3.77||88||72||16||64||2||0||649.1||716||403||272||14||171||188||1.366|
|BRO (2 yrs)||8||5||.615||3.93||23||12||11||9||2||0||128.1||146||80||56||4||47||28||1.504|
|BLN (1 yr)||13||8||.619||3.91||28||25||3||21||0||1||209.1||248||126||91||1||69||58||1.514|
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant did not accomplish much as a Yankee. After getting signed by New York as a 16-year-old pitching phee-nom out of Portland Oregon in 1944, this six foot three inch right-hander’s minor league career was interrupted by two years of military service just as WWII ended. When he returned from service he was still just 20 years-old and he was able to pitch his way onto New York’s 1947 Opening Day roster with a strong spring training performance.
Bucky Harris, the Yankee skipper back then, used Johnson in fifteen games that year including 8 starts. He finished his debut season with a 4-3 record and a 3.64 ERA. He also won a World Series ring that year though he did not appear in the Yankees seven-game victory over the Dodgers. After he got off to a slow start the next year, Johnson was included in a seven-player deal New York GM George Weiss made with the St. Louis Browns. Over the next eight seasons, Johnson became a journeyman, pitching for five different big league teams as well as spending quite a bit of time with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. He hung up his glove for good in 1960 and returned to his hometown, where among other things, he drove a Taxi for 25 years.
While researching Brown’s background for this post, I came across a one-hour video below, which shows an 86-year-old Johnson being interviewed in June of 2013, at his old grade school in Portland. It runs for about an hour and in it, Johnson either mis-remembers or exaggerates some of his accomplishments on the ball field. For example,he claims he once faced Bob Feller when he was on a 4-game winning streak and lost a 1-0 complete-game decision, but a review of his career performances turned up no such streak or decision. He also claimed he won 27 games for Toronto during the 1957 season but Baseball-Reference.com has him winning just 17 games that year. Despite these apparent exaggerations, I found the interview delightful to listen to and hopefully you will as well.
Here are Johnson’s Yankee and career pitching statistics.
|BAL (3 yrs)||7||11||.389||6.54||62||20||19||4||1||2||179.0||242||144||130||22||108||66||1.955|
|WSH (2 yrs)||7||16||.304||4.11||50||26||12||8||1||2||212.2||218||108||97||13||91||89||1.453|
|NYY (2 yrs)||5||3||.625||5.23||23||8||8||2||0||0||72.1||92||47||42||4||35||25||1.756|
|SFG (1 yr)||0||1||.000||6.26||17||0||6||0||0||1||23.0||31||19||16||2||8||14||1.696|
|CHW (1 yr)||8||7||.533||3.13||46||16||17||3||3||7||144.0||129||53||50||14||43||68||1.194|
It would not take too long for just about any Yankee fan to corresctly guess who hit the first World Series home run in franchise history. That would be the one and only Babe Ruth. The Bambino hit the historic blast in Game 4 of the 1921 World Series versus the Yankees’ Polo Grounds landlord at the time, the mighty New York Giants. But even the most astute fan of Bronx Bomber baseball could keep guessing for the next ten years and not come up with the name of the second Yankee to perform that same feat.
The correct answer of course, is today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Wilson Lloyd “Chick” Fewster. His two-run blast in the top of the second inning of that same Fall Classic’s very next game, gave the Yankees a temporary 5-3 lead they would eventually lose. Its no wonder the name “Chick Fewster” means nothing to Yankee fans. After all, his entire Yankee career consisted of just 228 games spread over six lackluster seasons beginning in 1917. Back then, Yankee manager Miller Huggins was predicting great things for his young outfielder, telling the New York sports press that he had never seen a better prospect than this new kid from Baltimore. But Fewster would never fulfill that promise and he almost didn’t live long enough to hit that World Series home run either.
In a 1920 spring training game against the Brooklyn Robins, Fewster was hit in the head by a pitch and nearly died. They put a plate in his head and doctors told him he’d never play baseball again. Miraculously, he was back in action by early July of that same season.
|NYY (6 yrs)||228||783||642||113||174||33||4||3||45||15||90||109||.271||.372||.349||.721|
|BOS (2 yrs)||113||424||367||40||91||14||2||0||24||15||45||45||.248||.337||.297||.634|
|BRO (2 yrs)||109||397||338||54||82||16||3||2||24||9||45||49||.243||.340||.325||.666|
|CLE (2 yrs)||194||704||616||75||159||28||3||1||74||18||60||61||.258||.327||.318||.645|