At the time of the trade, it was considered one of the biggest in Yankee franchise history. Pitcher Ernie Shore and outfielder Duffy Lewis had been perennial stars on the great pre WWI Boston Red Sox teams. Both, however, had joined the Navy in 1918 and missed an entire season. Before they returned from service in 1919, the duo had been traded to New York along with another very good veteran Boston pitcher named Dutch Leonard in exchange for four players and $15,000. After the deal was made, Yankee skipper Miller Huggins was thrilled and told members of the press that the trade filled the two biggest weaknesses the Yankees had on their roster and he expected the team would be in the thick of the 1919 AL Pennant race as a result of this deal.
Duffy Lewis was a native of San Francisco who cut his baseball teeth in the Pacific Coast League. His real name was George and he had made his big league debut with Boston in 1910, when he joined Tris Speaker and Harry Hopper to form one of the great outfields in Red Sox franchise history. The trio helped Boston win World Series in 1912, ’15 and ’16 and Lewis added lots of luster to his reputation as a clutch hitter when he averaged .444 against the Phillies in the 1915 Fall Classic and .353 the following fall against Brooklyn.
In actuality, Lewis was pretty much a singles hitter who was blessed to be part of one of baseball’s all-time best lineups. As it turned out Huggins’ high hopes for both Lewis and Shore (Leonard was sold to the Tigers before he pitched a game as a Yankee) proved to be unfounded. Shore caught the mumps during his first New York spring training camp and would never amount to much of anything in pinstripes. Duffy started in left field for New York in 1919 and averaged just .272, which was 17 points below his career average with Boston. He did drive in 89 run but he was overly aggressive at the plate for a guy with little power and not a good base-runner.
A little over a year after the big trade Huggins pulled a perfect “if at first you don’t succeed try again” maneuver by convincing the Yankee owner Jake Ruppert to go back to Boston owner Harry Frazee and pay him whatever it takes to purchase Babe Ruth’s contract. The “Big Bang” then joined Lewis and Ping Bodie to form the starting outfield for a 1920 Yankee team that won 95 games, which was only good enough for a third place finish in the 1920 AL Pennant race. Lewis, however, had seen his playing time decrease during his second season in New York thanks to the emergence of a Yankee rookie outfielder by the name of Bob Meusel.
The Yanks would finally make it to their first World Series in 1921 and they got there without Lewis, who had been traded to Washington the previous December. He was out of the big leagues for good the following year but he did not hang up his spikes. Instead he returned to the Pacific Coast League, where he continued playing another six years, finally retiring as a player at the age of 39. Duffy would eventually become the long-time traveling secretary of the Boston Braves.
He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and also this “house,” which was built by his former teammate.
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|NYY (2 yrs)||248||1005||924||101||251||31||5||11||150||10||8||41||74||.272||.304||.352||.656|
|WSH (1 yr)||27||114||102||11||19||4||1||0||14||1||1||8||10||.186||.252||.245||.497|
Being a fifty plus year fan of the New York Yankees and a traditionalist when it comes to our National Pastime, I was prepared to not like the Yankees’ new home. I hated to see the original “House that Ruth Built” closed and also hated how the YES cameras kept showing shots of Baseball’s Cathedral being demolished in eerie stages during the 2009 season.
At first, I paid most of my attention to all the things I didn’t like about the “House that George Built.” The astronomical ticket cost for the first eight rows of seats surrounding the infield reminded me of the Roman Coliseum’s seating policy. When it became evident that the large chunks of these “Legends Seats” that remained unsold could not be hidden from the camera’s view during televised Yankee games, they became an embarrassment to the team’s ownership, serving as a constant reminder of the highest ticket prices in all of baseball.
I was also not a fan of the underground parking garage that permitted Yankee players and visiting team busses to enter the Stadium completely hidden from fan view. Some of my favorite memories as both a child and a parent took place while I was leaning against those blue NYPD police barricades that used to form a walking path between the old Stadium’s player parking lot and the street entrance to the Yankee clubhouse. Now, no future Yankee fans or their Dad’s would get to create those same memories.
I admit it was nice to see Jorge Posada hit the first home run in the place, but it was obvious that the new Stadium’s designers had created a homer haven when balls kept leaving that yard at a record pace. Sports journalists around the country were calling baseball’s newest venue a joke.
Before too long, however, I stopped paying attention to the things I didn’t like and started focusing on the performance of that 2009 Yankee team. They kept winning ballgames, both in their new home and on the road and before you knew it, they made it to the World Series.
My wife and I chose the second game of that Series to make our inaugural visit to the new Yankee Stadium. I have to admit that everything about the place (except the prices) impressed me. The improved surrounding neighborhood, the Great Hall, the openness of the walk and concession areas, spacious bathrooms that didn’t smell of urine, the Yankee Museum, the positioning of the seats and the great sound system that started blaring Frank Sinatra’s “New York” the instant Matt Stairs struck out swinging at Mariano’s final pitch of the game, turning the tide of that Fall Classic in the Yankees’ favor.
As my wife and I walked back to the parking lot that night I had fallen in love with the place. I also admit that if the Yanks had lost that game that night to fall behind 2-0 in that Series against Philadelphia, my feelings about the place may not have changed.
When Bernie Allen graduated from high school in his hometown of East Liverpool, OH, he was a good enough school-boy quarterback to get a scholarship offer from Purdue University. Problem was Bernie didn’t like playing football but he knew if he wanted to go to college, accepting that scholarship was the only way he’d be able to, so that’s what he did. During his time on the gridiron as a Boilermaker, he became one of the better QB’s in the Big Ten but he also got the opportunity to play collegiate baseball and become an All American in that sport. In early 1961, the Minnesota Twins made Allen one of the first amateurs signed by that team after it had relocated to the Twin Cities from our Nation’s capitol.
After just one year in the minors, he made the Twins big league roster during the team’s 1962 spring training season. Minnesota’s first year manager, Sam Mele liked his rookie infielder so much, he benched the veteran Billy Martin and started Allen at second base. Mele also installed a second rookie, third baseman Rich Rollins in his starting infield and the two first-year players helped the surprising Twins finish in second place with 91 wins, a 20-game improvement over the previous season. Bernie had 154 hits that year including 12 home runs, with 64 RBIs and finished third in the AL Rookie-of-theYear balloting. Though I was just 8-years-old at the time, I clearly remember that 1962 Minnesota team because in addition to battling my Yankees for the Pennant, every player in their starting lineup reached double figures in home runs that season.
Allen got off to a horrendously slow start at the plate in his sophomore season and his batting average was still under.200 by late August. He then hit .320 during the last six weeks of the ’63 season, saving his starting job in the process. But his potential to develop into a perennial big league All Star was wiped out with one play during the 1964 season. Attempting to turn a double play, Allen was bowled over by Don Zimmer who rolled over the second baseman’s leg. Allen had torn his ACL, but the injury was mis-diagnosed by Minnesota’a team doctors. When the leg didn’t get better, Allen got his own doctors to examine the knee and they made a correct diagnosis and operated five months after the injury occurred. By then however, the ligament had shriveled and the surgeon didn’t think Allen would ever again play baseball. He proved that doctor wrong but it does explain why all of Allen’s highest single-season offensive numbers took place during that 1962 rookie season. He was simply never the same player after Zimmer rolled his knee.
The Yankees got Bernie in 1972. The Twins had traded him to the Senators after the 1966 season and he played pretty regularly for Washington for five years, right up until that franchise moved to Texas. He then became Ralph Houk’s primary utility infielder during the 1972 season, appearing in 84 games, mostly as a third baseman, but hitting a paltry .227 in the process. It was that weak bat that got him sold to the Expos in August of 1973. When he hit just .180, the then 34-year-old Allen hung up his glove for good.
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|WSA (5 yrs)||530||1669||1482||126||351||52||11||30||154||10||9||172||161||.237||.317||.348||.665|
|NYY (2 yrs)||101||310||277||31||63||12||0||9||25||0||1||28||47||.227||.294||.368||.663|
|MON (1 yr)||16||56||50||5||9||1||0||2||9||0||0||5||4||.180||.255||.320||.575|
The great Joe McCarthy really was a players’ manager but that didn’t mean he was a pushover, far from it. During the 1942 season, Bill Dickey got hurt. His backup that season and heir apparent as Yankee catcher was a 27-year-old native of Buffalo, NY named Buddy Rosar. Rosar was married and had a kid and with the world at war, he was worried about his future. He felt he needed a career to fall back on in case he didn’t make it as a big league catcher so he made a fateful decision to leave the Yankees for a couple of days to take a policeman’s exam back in his native Buffalo. During his absence, the Yankees played a double header on a very hot afternoon and McCarthy had no choice but to start 35-year-old Rollie Hemsley behind the plate for both games. When the day was done, Hemsley was near collapse from physical exhaustion and McCarthy was determined to get rid of Rosar.
The trade took place ten days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Rosar and Yankee outfielder Roy Cullenbine were sent to Cleveland for outfielder Roy Weatherly and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Oscar Grimes had been around baseball all his life. His father Ray had been a first baseman for the Cubs during the 1920′s and his uncle Roy Grimes, had once played second base for the New York Giants. Oscar was an infielder too and one of the reasons Marse Joe wanted him was his ability to play any of the four infield positions.
That flexibility didn’t earn the native of Minerva, OH much playing time during his first season in New York. He got into just eight games for the Yankees in 1943 but he did get his first and only World Series ring that year, even though he didn’t get to play a single out of that Fall Classic. Things changed for Grimes in 1944. The Yankees’ young and talented starting third baseman, Billy Johnson was called into military service and McCarthy began playing Grimes regularly at the hot corner. In one of his early starts there, he found out firsthand why the legendary Yankee skipper was so beloved by his players. Grimes had made three errors in the contest, pretty much single handedly costing New York the loss. While he was undressing in the clubhouse after the game, he saw McCarthy approaching him. He prepared himself for a tongue-lashing but instead, the manager put his hand on Grimes shoulder and told him about a horrible fielding day he himself had had in the minors.
Grimes played 116 games and had a career high .279 during that ’44 season. In 1945, he played 142 games for New York and had a stellar on base percentage of .395. But Grimes achilles heel were his iron hands. He was simply not a very good defensive infielder and when Johnson and all the other Yankee third base prospects returned from service, Grimes days in pinstripes were numbered. That number came up on July 11th of the 1946 season when New York sold him to the Philadelphia A’s. He became the A’s starting second baseman and didn’t do to badly with his bat, hitting .262 during his half season in Philadelphia. But his defense just wasn’t good enough to keep him in the post war big leagues and he spent the next five seasons playing minor league ball, finally retiring for good in 1950, at the age of 35.
|CLE (5 yrs)||262||847||715||94||173||31||9||8||84||15||5||110||130||.242||.345||.344||.689|
|NYY (4 yrs)||281||1116||926||113||246||37||15||9||96||13||7||160||144||.266||.378||.367||.746|
|PHA (1 yr)||59||230||191||28||50||5||0||1||20||2||0||27||29||.262||.356||.304||.660|
You’re Brennan Boesch and you’ve been a starting outfielder for the Detroit Tigers since you made your big league debut in 2010. During that first year you led all American League rookies in home runs and RBIs. You were having an even better sophomore year when in early August of 2011, you tore a ligament in your wrist, causing you to miss the final two months of the regular season plus that year’s ALDS and ALCS.
You worked hard to get your wrist rehabbed but it hurt like hell to swing a bat and you pretty much struggled with it during the entire 2012 season. Even though you had some big hits down the stretch, Jim Leyland left you off the Tigers’ postseason roster and you missed a chance to play in the 2012 World Series. Five months later, you were in for an even bigger disappointment. You were determined to play your way back into Detroit’s starting lineup in 2013 but that didn’t happen. Early on in spring training you suffered an oblique injury, which set you back and then on March 15th, Leyland called you into his office and told you the team was releasing you. That had to be one of the toughest things you’ve ever had to hear. But then your agent told you the Yanks had called and were interested in bringing you to New York to start in their outfield while Curtis Granderson’s broken arm healed. Just like that, it looked like you were about to turn lemon into lemonade. The deal gets made, you pack your bags and head for Tampa, but no sooner do you get there and the Yankees announce they’ve just acquired Vernon Wells from the Angels. Within a span of just a few days you go from fighting for a starting job to getting cut to being given a starting job for the Yankees and then losing it. Talk about the highs and lows of professional athletes, huh?
I remember when Brennan Boesch got his first at bat against the Yankees and I saw his name flash on the television screen. I thought some YES Network technician had left the “d” out of his first name and mistakenly hit the “n” key twice. I also remember he pretty much wore out Yankee pitching. He averaged .363 against them in 22 games and like most left-handed hitters with some pop in his bat, he absolutely loved hitting in Yankee Stadium. When the news broke that the Yankees signed him, I confess that the first thing that came into my head was that this guy had enough of an all-around game to have a chance of evolving into a Paul O’Neill type player for New York. Since then though, I’ve watched Wells and Yankee DH Travis Hafner both get off to hot starts in 2013 and I now wonder if Boesch will get enough playing time to make the kind of impression he will need to make to even remain on the Yankees’ parent club roster when Granderson returns in May.
Boesch is a big guy, six feet four inches tall and he weighs over 230 pounds. He was born in Santa Monica, California in 1985. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever and this long-ago Yankee outfielder.
|DET (3 yrs)||380||1487||1362||176||353||73||6||42||175||18||7||101||286||.259||.315||.414||.729||96||564||23||15||0||9||8|
|NYY (1 yr)||6||12||12||1||3||0||1||1||2||0||0||0||2||.250||.250||.667||.917||134||8||0||0||0||0||0|
His real name was James Leslie Vaughn. He was born in Texas, the son of a stone mason and after playing ball for his high school team, he began a career as a minor league pitcher in 1906. The New York Highlanders took notice of him after he went 9-1 for a club in the Arkansas State League and signed Vaughn to a contract. He made his big league debut in June of 1908 as a reliever but after just two appearances he was sent back down to the minors for more seasoning.
He reappeared at the Highlander spring training camp in 1910 and pitched so well there that not only did he go north with the team, he was also given the Opening Day starting assignment. At just 22 years of age, he was and still is the youngest Opening Day starter in Yankee franchise history. In that game, he faced off against the Red Sox Eddie Cicotte in New York’s Hilltop Park and battled the Beantown knuckleballer to a 4-4 tie after 14 innings, when the contest was called because of darkness. Vaughn would go on to pitch brilliantly for Manager George Stallings ball club, finishing his rookie season with a 13-9 record and a sterling ERA of just 1.83. It looked as if the big young southpaw was on his way to an outstanding career and he in fact was. The unfortunate thing was that the best part of that career would not take place in New York.
Vaughn’s Hilltopper team was in complete disarray. Its star player, first baseman Hal Chase had been accused of throwing games by George Stallings, the team’s manager. The team’s owner sided with his accused first baseman, fired Stallings and made Chase the new skipper. Under Stallings, the team had finished in second place in 1910 with an 88-63 record. They fell to sixth place the following year under Chase and Vaughn finished the 1911 season with a disappointing 8-10 record. Chase was fired but that move did nothing to prevent Vaughn from getting off to a horrible start in his third full season in New York. His record was just 2-8 and he had been relegated to the bullpen, when New York put him on waivers in June of the 1912 season. He was claimed by Washington.
He pitched OK for the Senators but still got sold to the minor league Kansas City Blues and the demotion seemed to help Vaughn recover his mound mojo. The Chicago Cubs purchased his contract from the Blues in June of the 1913 season and for five of the next six years, Vaughn was a 20-game winner for the Cubbies and became the top left-handed pitcher in the National League. If the Yanks had kept Vaughn long enough, his pitching may have helped them win their first AL Pennant a few years before they actually did and Vaughn would have certainly had a happier ending to his big league career.
Vaughn ran into two big problems while pitching in the Windy City. The first was his weight. Always heavy, which is how the nickname Hippo originated, by some accounts the six foot four inch Vaughn ballooned up to 300 pounds during the latter part of his career. His second problem arose when Chicago made their volatile infielder, Johnny Evers the team’s player manager at the beginning of the 1921 season. Imagine Joe Girardi telling the press that CC Sabathia was too fat and too lazy to keep winning in the big leagues? That’s what Evers was saying about Hippo, when Vaughn got off to a horrid start during the 1921 season, going just 3-11. After a disastrous appearance against the Giants that July, Evers pulled Hippo in the third inning and the dejected pitcher didn’t just leave the field, he got dressed and jumped the team. The Cubs then suspended him and Vaughn would never again pitch in a big league game. He finished his thirteen year Major League career with a 178-137 record, a lifetime ERA of just 2.49 and 41 shutouts.
So much of the Yankees’ history is tied to the city of Baltimore. Not only was the franchise born in Maryland’s largest city, so was Babe Ruth, its biggest all-time star. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s legendary career sort of followed the same geographical route and like Ruth, McGraw’s childhood was not a happy one. His mom died when he was just 11-years old and his alcoholic father was ill-equipped to raise four children on his own. When McGraw was 12, his old man beat him so badly that the boy ran to an Inn, located across the street from his Truxton, NY home, for protection. Fortunately, he found it. The owner of the Inn ended up raising him as her own.
The young McGraw, again like Ruth, discovered an escape from his childhood miseries in baseball and became a very good player and pitcher for a local semi-pro ball club. He was good enough to earn roster spots with minor league teams, and in 1892, the 22-year-old McGraw, who was by then an infielder, made his debut with the Baltimore Orioles of the American Association, which was back then considered the major league of baseball. Over the next decade, he became a star for the Orioles, topping the .320 mark in batting average for nine straight seasons. Just five feet seven inches tall, he developed a playing style that was completely devoted to one primary goal, getting on base as often as humanly possible. He became so good at it that McGraw’s lifetime on base percentage of .466 places him third on the all-time list behind latter-day sluggers, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth.
McGraw and his Oriole teammates became one of baseball’s first dynasties, when they won three-straight league pennants during the mid 1890′s. A celebrated sports hero, he had found a home in B-town, even marrying a local girl. But when the Orioles’ ticket sales took a dip in the late 1890′s, the team’s owner tried to transfer all of his star players to a new franchise he was starting in Brooklyn in 1899. McGraw refused to make the move and remained in Baltimore as the roster-raped club’s skipper. He impressed everyone by leading a team that had lost its entire starting lineup and its best pitchers to an 82-65 record. But during September of that ’99 season, McGraw’s wife died from a ruptured appendix. When the financially troubled Orioles collapsed the following year, McGraw’s reasons for wanting to stay in Baltimore were gone and he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Just one year later, the new American League was formed and McGraw accepted an offer to become the first manager and part owner of the AL’s Baltimore Orioles franchise. He then led the first team in Yankee franchise history to a 68-65 record during the 1901 season, but in the process constantly battled with Ban Johnson, who had founded and ran the new league. When McGraw was suspended by Johnson during the following season, the second-year skipper accepted a new position to manage the National League’s New York Giants team. That single move changed the course of history for two of baseball’s most fabled franchises.
This is the guy responsible for the brand new Yankee Stadium getting constructed. Why? Because without McGraw the original Yankee Stadium might never have been built in the first place. The Yankees moved into the Polo Grounds as a co-tenant with McGraw’s Giants in 1914. The Giants were the better team back then, consistently winning or challenging for the NL pennant. They also outdrew the Yankees in attendance every year. That all changed in 1920, however, when Babe Ruth put on the Pinstripes for the first time. Suddenly, a Yankee game became the hottest ticket in town and McGraw didn’t like the change. Little Napoleon evicted the Yankees and they moved across the East River to their new home, the original Yankee Stadium, in 1923.
McGraw was considered the best baseball mind of his generation. His teams won ten NL pennants and four World Series. He was an outstanding judge of talent and a fiery, no-nonsense leader. He still holds the record for most wins by a National League manager with 2,669. He died in 1934 at the age of 60.
On August 20th of 1951, the Yankees made one of the most successful minor league recall decisions in franchise history. Bobby Hogue was a chubby, Miami-born WWII Navy veteran, who had made his big league debut in 1948 as a 27-year-old rookie reliever with that season’s NL Champion Boston Braves. The short and stocky right-hander did not make a very good first impression on Billy Southworth, the Braves’ skipper at the time, who took one look at Hogue’s waistline and told him he needed to lose some weight. What Southworth didn’t know was that Hogue may have looked out of shape but he was anything but. Back in Miami, before he joined the Navy, Hogue had been a promising amateur boxer who had won 36 fights. After watching the pitcher work his butt off during the Braves’ ’48 spring training camp, Southworth realized the rookie’s portly appearance actually disguised a well-conditioned athlete’s body and he brought Hogue north with the team.
That proved to be an excellent decision as Hogue went 8-2 during his rookie season in Beantown, with 2 saves and a 3.23 ERA. He didn’t get to make a single appearance in the Braves’ six-game World Series defeat to the Indians that year but he certainly was one of the key reasons Boston was able to get to that Fall Classic. He was blessed with a natural slider and he had always been able to locate it with extreme precision. He only walked 19 hitters in the 88-innings he pitched during that ’48 season.
He had another good year for the Braves in 1949 but the following year, his ERA ballooned to over five and his control began to erode. When he started off the 1951 season slowly, the Braves put him on waivers and he was picked up by the Browns. At first, the change of team’s and league’s did not benefit Hogue. By the end of July, he had appeared in 18 games for St. Louis and both his ERA and walk ratio were as high as ever. That’s when the Yankees purchased his contract and sent him to pitch for their Kansas City farm team. The demotion gave Hogue the opportunity to work on his knuckleball. That pitch helped him win four straight decisions in KC, which was good enough to earn him a ticket up to the Bronx on August 21 of the 1951 season.
At the time of the call-up, the Yankees were in second place, a game behind a very solid Indians’ ball club. They proceeded to finish the year by going 24-12 and capturing the AL flag by five games over second place Cleveland. Hogue made seven appearances in that stretch without allowing a run. He then put together two more goose-egg appearances against the Giants in that year’s World Series and got his second ring. Unfortunately, Hogue’s effectiveness abandoned him the following year. He was 3-5 with a 5.32 ERA when the Yankees put him on waivers in early August of the 1952 season. He was re-claimed by the Browns and though he pitched better once back in St Louis, he never again pitched in the big leagues after that 1952 season.
So you may be wondering why I started this post with the claim that Hogue’s recall from the minors in August of 1951 was one of the most successful recalls in Yankee franchise history? Yes he did finish the season and that year’s World Series un-scored upon but he only pitched a total of nine innings during that span. How could I place such historical significance on that front-office move that took place over a half-century ago? Well, Hogue was one of two Kansas City players the Yankees recalled that day. The other one was an infielder the Yankees were trying to convert into an outfielder. His name was Mickey Mantle.
Hogue shares his April 5th birthday with this former AL Rookie of the Year and the first starting third-baseman in Yankee franchise history.
Selected by Texas in the tenth round of the 1976 MLB Draft, Billy Sample had a strong rookie season for the Rangers two years later when he won the starting job in left field and averaged .292. He was pushed out of that starting position the following year and it took him three seasons to win it back and when he did in 1983, he put together his best big league season, setting career highs in just about every offensive category including a career high 44 stolen bases. He then had an off-year in ’84 and when it looked as if Texas was going to again make him a utility player, Sample let the team’s front office know he wouldn’t mind being traded.
Coincidentally, at that very same time, Toby Harrah was letting the Yankee front office know that after just one disappointing season in pinstripes, he too would not mind wearing a different uniform. So the deal was made on February 28, 1985 and the plan was to let Sample compete with Vic Mata and Henry Cotto to become the right handed portion of a left field platoon with Ken Griffey. Sample won that three-way competition and ended up appearing in 59 games for New York during the 1985 season. He averaged a quiet .288 and since he sat the bench for over 100 games, it gave him a lot of time to observe the craziness of George Steinbrenner’s mid-eighties Yankee organization up close and personal. Sample was shocked when Steinbrenner fired Yogi Berra in April of that year after publicly promising the Yankee legend he’d have a full year in that job.
This guy had always been both outspoken and well-spoken, so when New York dumped him via a trade to the Braves that December, Sample wrote an article for the New York Times documenting his feelings about the mismanagement tendencies of Steinbrenner’s organization. After one year with Atlanta, his big league playing days were over and he got into broadcasting and did a lot more writing about baseball for a variety of top-shelf publications. During his nine-year career, Sample appeared in 826 games and averaged .272 lifetime.
The Yankee career of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant certainly got off to a rough and painful start. New York selected the six foot two inch right hander in the ninth round of the 2006 MLB Draft. The ex-Yankee infielder, Andy Stankiewicz was the scout who signed him. Melancon was penciled in as a reliever and assigned to the team’s Staten Island minor league club and two weeks later, after just seven appearances, he was shelved for the season when it was discovered he needed Tommy John surgery. After a one-year recovery period, the Wheat Ridge, Colorado native got rolling. He went 19-2 during his next three seasons in New York’s farm system and also earned 15 saves.
He made his Yankee debut with 13 appearances during the team’s 2009 World Championship season. Whenever a reliever on the parent club was injured, they’d bring up Melancon to fill in for him. Although he made four trips up to the Bronx that year, he did not make Joe Girardi’s postseason roster, but he did post a respectable 3.86 ERA. He didn’t make New York’s big league roster the following year either but was called up in May and made what turned out to be his final two appearances in pinstripes. That July, the Yankees swung a deal for Houston slugger, Lance Berkman and Melancon was one of the two prospects New York gave up to get the switch-hitter. (Infielder Jimmy Paredes was the other.)
Finally getting a chance to pitch regularly at the big league level, Melancon took advantage of it. He went 2-0 with a 3.12 ERA during his first half-year in Houston and then had a break-out year in 2011 with a 20-save, 8 win- 4 loss, 2.78 ERA season in 2011. That December, the Red Sox were desperate to find someone to replace their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, who had just signed as a free agent with the Phillies. Boston offered Houston their utility infielder Jed Lowrie along with pitching prospect Kyle Weiland in exchange for Melancon and the Astros bit. As it turned out, the Red Sox were not planning on putting their new acquisition in the closer’s role. Two weeks after their deal with Houston, Boston made a trade for the A’s closer, Andrew Bailey.
I remember the ESPN/Boston blog boards were pretty enthusiastic about the two closers coming to Fenway and I didn’t blame them. I thought they’d do really well there. But we were wrong. First Bailey got hurt in spring training and remained on the DL till August. That forced Melancon into the closer’s role. The team got off to a horrible start during the 2013 regular season under new manager, Bobby Valentine and their new closer was a key culprit. He lost the season opener and then blew a save in his second appearance two days later. After giving up six runs to the Rangers in an April 17th game, his ERA was 49.50. He was a wreck and Boston was forced to send him down to Pawtuckett to try and restore his game and his confidence. He pitched very well there and eventually made his way back to Fenway and pitched decently during the second half. But by then it was too late. The Bobby Valentine hiring had been a disaster for the Red Sox and Melancon would forever be tied to it. He was traded to Pittsburgh on December 26th of 2012.