As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I was far from thrilled with the November 1979 trade that sent Chris Chambliss to Toronto and brought Rick Cerone to New York to replace Thurman Munson as Yankee starting catcher. Besides being a huge Chambliss fan I was hoping Steinbrenner’s front office would go after Ted Simmons, the Cardinals switch-hitting receiver, to succeed Munson.
Cerone’s performance in 1980 helped me get over that disappointment pretty quickly. Even though his lifetime average at the time of the trade was just .229, Cerone hit .277 during his first year in pinstripes, caught 147 games, drove in 85 runs and led the league by throwing out 52% of the runners attempting to steal against him. He was a huge reason why that 1980 Yankee team won 103 regular season games and the AL East Division title. He was also one of the few Yankees who played well in the three game loss to the Royals in that season’s playoffs.
Like many players on many teams, Cerone’s Yankee fortunes began to turn sour during the strike shortened 1981 season. He hit just .244 and his run production per game was less than half of what it had been a season earlier. He gave up more steals as well and for the balance of his eighteen-year big league career, he would never again put up anything even close to the numbers he posted during that 1980 season. Cerone’s most widely publicized moment in pinstripes happened during the weirdly configured 1981 post-strike postseason, after the Yankees lost Game Four to fall into a two-two tie with the Brewers. George Steinbrenner came into the Yankee clubhouse after the game and started berating his players. Cerone screamed right back at the Boss, telling the owner his rants were of no value whatsoever to the team’s performance.Cerone was also not a fan of Yankee skipper Billy Martin and the feeling was definitely mutual.
The Yankees let him go a first time in a 1984 postseason trade with the Braves, for pitcher Brian Fisher. They signed him back as a free agent during the 1987 spring straining season. He was the starting catcher for manager Lou Piniella’s team that year and then caught a lot of games for the Red Sox in 1988 and ’89. New York picked him up a third time, in 1990 and Cerone had the first and only .300 batting average of his career that year, even though his season was comprised of just 149 plate appearances.
After he retired as a player, Cerone formed and owned the Newark Bears Minor League team in his New Jersey hometown. He sold the Bears in 2003.
|NYY (7 yrs)||587||2029||1842||188||459||81||7||31||203||2||122||210||.249||.297||.351||.648||80|
|TOR (3 yrs)||255||931||851||79||195||39||6||11||91||1||66||84||.229||.285||.328||.613||68|
|BOS (2 yrs)||186||630||560||59||143||29||2||7||75||0||54||72||.255||.323||.352||.675||86|
|CLE (2 yrs)||14||30||28||2||5||1||0||0||1||0||1||2||.179||.207||.214||.421||23|
|NYM (1 yr)||90||258||227||18||62||13||0||2||16||1||30||24||.273||.360||.357||.717||104|
|ATL (1 yr)||96||316||282||15||61||9||0||3||25||0||29||25||.216||.288||.280||.568||57|
|MON (1 yr)||33||68||63||10||17||4||0||1||7||1||3||5||.270||.313||.381||.694||96|
|MIL (1 yr)||68||242||216||22||56||14||0||4||18||1||15||28||.259||.304||.380||.683||83|
Arndt Jorgens probably holds the record for most retired Yankee uniform numbers worn by a Yankee. During his 11-year career with the Bronx Bombers, the native Norwegian at one time or another wore the numbers 15, 32, 10 and 9. None of those uniforms got too dirty however, because as the back-up catcher to Hall-of-Fame iron-man Bill Dickey, Jorgens played in just 307 games during his Yankee career. In fact, though Jorgen’s Yankee teams played in five World Series and he was kept on the postseason roster for each of them, he did not make a single appearance in any of the 23 games New York played in those Fall Classics.
Better known as “Arnie” to his teammates, the most games Jorgens ever played in a single season was in 1934, when an angry Dickey broke the jaw of an opposing baserunner who had collided with him in a play at the plate. Dickey was suspended and back then, the suspensions of players who intentionally injured opposing players generally lasted for as long as it took the injured player to recover and return to action. Dickey’s fist gave Jorgens the opportunity to appear in 58 games that year and he set career highs with 183 at bats, 14 runs scored, 38 hits and 20 RBIs. Like many Yankee backups before and after him, if he played elsewhere he would have played more but those regular World Series checks he cashed made him more than happy to spend most of his time in pinstripes either riding the pine in the Yankee dugout or catching relievers who needed to warm up in the Yankee bullpen.
Jorgens broke into the big leagues as a Yankee in 1929 and he retired as one in 1939. He was born in Modum, Norway in 1905 and moved to Chicago as a child. He had a brother named Orville, who made it to the big leagues as a pitcher with the Phillies. Jorgens passed away in 1980. Jorgens’ misfortune of not getting to play in so many World Series should have earned him the nickname “Misses October.” He happens to share his May 18th birthday with the former Yankee known as “Mr October.”
Yankee fans, the Yankee press and even some of his own Yankee teammates had not been too thrilled with this right-hander’s performance since he came to the Bronx in a November 1951 trade that sent a good-looking New York prospect by the name of Clint Courtney to the Browns. Born in Oregon and raised in Modesto, California, McDonald spent his first season in pinstripes pitching mostly out of Casey Stengel’s bullpen with an occasional starting assignment thrown in the mix.
After a couple of rough early outings, he had started throwing very well and when July rolled around his ERA was under two. That’s when he had an eight game stretch in which he lost three decisions, blew a save and doubled his ERA. Meanwhile, Courtney was having a solid rookie season for the Browns and every time the Yankees played St. Louis, he seemed to have big days at the plate. It was looking like the Yanks had made a very bad deal.
Fortunately for McDonald, Yankee pitching coach Jim Turner had faith in him. When the ’53 season rolled around, New York’s Holy Trinity starting three of Reynolds, Raschi and Lopat had all reached their mid-thirties and required more rest. In June of that year, Turner started using McDonald as his team’s fifth starter and he did OK, finishing the season with a 9-7 record and an ERA of 3.82.
That earned him a surprise start in the fifth game of that year’s World Series against the Dodgers. He wasn’t exactly brilliant that day, but he did manage to pitch into the eighth inning and get the win, making him at the time the 26th Yankee pitcher in history to earn a World Series victory (as of Opening Day 2014 that number of pitchers has increased to 59.)
McDonald then pitched sparingly but well for New York in 1954, winning four of his five decisions and lowering his ERA to 3.17. Then that November, in one of the biggest and most complicated trades in baseball history, he was traded to the Orioles in a transaction involving sixteen players. He pitched in the big leagues until 1958.
|NYY (3 yrs)||16||12||.571||3.57||69||33||17||10||3||0||270.0||253||123||107||8||124||83||1.396|
|CHW (3 yrs)||0||3||.000||5.82||21||3||4||0||0||0||43.1||53||34||28||5||21||22||1.708|
|BAL (2 yrs)||7||12||.368||5.24||37||19||8||5||0||1||135.2||160||96||79||10||76||48||1.740|
|BOS (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||3.79||9||0||1||0||0||0||19.0||23||9||8||1||10||5||1.737|
I had always thought that May 15th was one of the few calendar dates on which no member of the all-time Yankee family was born. Then on May 14, 2012, I was poking around the fantastic Baseball-Reference Web site, I came across a guy by the name of Charles Brittingham Burns. In 1902, the legendary skipper John McGraw, who had not yet become legendary, was managing the Baltimore Orioles, who had not yet been relocated to New York City, where the team was renamed first the Highlanders and then the Yankees. For some reason, in some game, McGraw looked down his Orioles’ bench and pointed at Mr. Burns and told him to grab a bat because he was going to hit. The 23-year-old native of Bayview, MD, who was supposedly known as “C.B.” to his teammates went to the plate for the first time in his big league career and hit a single.
That would turn out to be the one and only time McGraw or evidently any other manager asked C.B. to take an at bat in a baseball game, which means he ended his big league career with a perfect 1.000 batting average. Since then, he has been joined by four other players who batted a perfect 1.000 during their Yankee careers. They are; Heinie Odom (1925) Mickey Witek (1949) Larry Gowell (1972) and the most recent, Chris Latham (2003). Gowell is the only pitcher to do it and Latham is the only one of the five to do it with more than one official at bat. He went 2-2 during his very brief Yankee career. Burns is one of 302 Maryland natives to play in the big leagues. My all-time top five Maryland-born Yankees would be: Babe Ruth – Baltimore; Frank “Home Run” Baker – Trappe; Mark Teixeira – Annapolis; Charlie Keller – Middletown; and Tommy Byrne – Baltimore.
This since departed Yankee infielder celebrated his 26th birthday by joining Burns as a May 15th-born member of the Yankees’ all-time roster on May 15, 2013.
The J.R. stands for John Ryan. Born on this date in 1991, this native of Bradenton, Florida was a Yankee second round selection in the 2009 amateur draft. During his six years in New York’s farm system, he’s averaged .264, hit right around ten homers per season and driven in between forty and fifty. His defensive skills behind the plate have been OK but nothing exceptional. Most Yankee pundits thought he was behind another young receiver named Gary Sanchez on the organization’s depth chart of young catching prespects, but it was Murphy who got the call-up to the Bronx in September of 2013.
Then the following winter, the Yanks went out and signed free agent catcher Brian McCann to a long term deal, meaning neither Murphy or Sanchez were destined to become New York’s starting catcher. When McCann’s backup, Francisco Cervelli suffered a bad hamstring injury during the second week of the 2014 season, the Yanks again turned to Murphy and not Sanchez to replace him.
This far in 2014, Murphy has performed well in that role. Through today’s date he was hitting a robust .407 in 11 games of action with a home run and five RBIs. He’s also handled himself well behind the play. If I had to guess how the Yankees were going to handle their catching personnel in the next few years, I think they will end up letting the injury-prone Cervelli go, keep Murphy as McCann’s backup and try to leverage Sanchez’s more attractive power numbers into a deal for a starting pitcher or shortstop at some point in the future.
I was busy last evening and missed most of the Yankee game so when I sat down to write this blog at around 10:00 pm the first thing I did was check for the score of the game on ESPN NY. That’s when I learned about Mariano Rivera twisting his knee while shagging outfield flies in batting practice. After I cursed like a sailor, kicked the dog and screamed at my wife (I’m kidding, I don’t own a dog) I started thinking about just how durable Rivera has been during the seventeen seasons the Yankees have trusted no one else with ninth inning leads.
I’ll never forget thinking the Yankee front office was crazy for letting John Wetteland walk away as a free agent after he had saved 43 games during the 1996 regular season and all four of the Yankees’ victories in that year’s World Series. But it turned out he was just the first of many. What do Bob Wickman, David Weathers, Mark Wohlers, Tom Gordon, Octavio Dotel, Kerry Ward, Armando Benitez, and Rafael Soriano all have in common? Not only did they pitch in the same Yankee bullpen as the great Sandman, each of them has had 30-save seasons in the big leagues either before or after they became Mo’s teammate. Mo has been so good for so long that no other 30-save big league closer has ever had even the slightest chance of taking away his job. And that includes today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
Like Mariano, Joe Borowski also began his big league career in 1995. The Orioles brought him up in July and he appeared in six games as a reliever that season. He spent the next year with the Braves but did not make their postseason roster so he missed the opportunity to compete against Mo and the Yankees in the ’96 Series. The following September Atlanta waived him and the Yankees picked him up. In 1998, he spent most of the season in Columbus but was called up to the Bronx in August. With the exception of one pounding he took against Texas, this right-handed native of Bayonne, NJ pitched real well, surrendering just a single run in his seven other appearances for New York. The Yankees let him go in September of 1999 and he didn’t get back to the big leagues until late in the 2001 season as a member of the Cubs. In 2002, he finally got a chance to pitch regularly at the big league level, when he appeared in 73 games for Chicago, won four of eight decisions, had an ERA of 2.73 and garnered his first two big league saves. That effort gave Cub Manager Dusty Baker the confidence he needed to give Borowski a shot at closing in 2003 and big Joe did not disappoint. He saved 33 games that year, lowered his ERA to 2.63 and was a big reason why the Cubbies made it to the postseason.
Chicago rewarded him with a two-year, four million dollar contract that off season and Borowski went out and tore his rotator cuff. The next year he broke his hand. He did not fully recover from those injuries until 2006 and by then he was pitching for the Marlins and getting paid the league minimum. But after he saved 33 games for Florida, the Indians signed him as a free agent with a two-year deal worth eight million dollars. Borowski helped Cleveland win the AL Central Division in 2007 by leading the League with 45 saves. The odd thing about his performance that season was that he was able to save so many games despite compiling an ERA north of five. When the 2008 season opened, Borowski got off to a horrible start, forcing Cleveland to first take his closer job away and then in July of that year, giving him his outright release. By then Borowski was 37 years old. He shares his May 4th birthday with this former Yankee infielder.
|CHC (5 yrs)||8||11||.421||3.73||175||1||106||0||0||44||198.0||182||87||82||24||67||192||1.258|
|ATL (2 yrs)||4||6||.400||4.32||42||0||16||0||0||0||50.0||60||26||24||6||29||21||1.780|
|CLE (2 yrs)||5||8||.385||5.57||87||0||72||0||0||51||82.1||101||53||51||13||25||67||1.530|
|NYY (2 yrs)||1||1||.500||6.94||9||0||7||0||0||0||11.2||13||9||9||0||8||9||1.800|
|TBD (1 yr)||1||5||.167||3.82||32||0||4||0||0||0||35.1||26||15||15||3||11||16||1.047|
|FLA (1 yr)||3||3||.500||3.75||72||0||60||0||0||36||69.2||63||31||29||7||33||64||1.378|
|BAL (1 yr)||0||0||1.23||6||0||3||0||0||0||7.1||5||1||1||0||4||3||1.227|
They called this Chicago native “the Hawk” and he was signed as a catcher by his hometown White Sox in 1936, after attending Purdue University for two years. He got to the big leagues by 1939 and played two seasons as a backup catcher to Chicago’s Mike Tresh, who was the father of future Yankee shortstop, Tom Tresh. The White Sox then traded the switch-hitting Silvestri to the Yankees, where he became the third string receiver behind Hall of Famer Bill Dickey and Buddy Rosar during the 1941 season and won his first World Series ring. When World War II came, Silvestri spent the next four seasons in the U.S. Army. When he returned to the Yankees in 1946, Aaron Robinson was New York’s starting catcher, an aging Dickey was his backup and Sylvestri, Gus Niarhos, Bill Drescher and a youngster named Yogi Berra all battled for the third string job. The following year Dickey retired, Berra became Robinson’s backup and Silvestri found himself back in the minor leagues. He spent the entire 1948 season playing for the Yankee’s Newark farm team. Though he was a switch-hitter, Silvestri’s problem was that he couldn’t hit very well from either side of the plate. Unable to win even a third string job with the loaded Yankees, Silvestri was probably happy when the Phillies grabbed him in the 1948 Rule 5 draft. But Philadelphia already had Andy Seminick and Stan Lopata doing the catching. The Hawk would appear in a total of just 19 games during his three seasons in the City of Brotherly Love and get just 42 plate appearances. He also got his first-ever World Series at bat as a member of the 1950 Whiz Kids team that lost to the Yankees. The fact of the matter was that Mr. Silvestri spent almost his entire eight season big league career in his teams’ bullpens, warming up relievers. His career totals included 102 games played, 203 lifetime at bats, 44 hits and a lifetime batting average of .217. He would rejoin the Yankee organization in 1954 and spend the rest of his playing days on Yankee farm teams. He then became a Manager in the Yankee farm system and eventually a long-time big league coach in the Braves organization. He passed away in 1992 at the age of 75. Silvestri shares his May 3rd birthday with the winningest right-hander in Yankee history and also this much less successful former Yankee hurler.
|PHI (3 yrs)||19||44||33||5||7||0||1||0||5||0||9||6||.212||.395||.273||.668|
|NYY (3 yrs)||33||83||71||10||18||6||0||1||5||0||12||15||.254||.361||.380||.742|
|CHW (2 yrs)||50||111||99||11||19||5||0||4||15||0||10||20||.192||.273||.364||.636|
I love writing this blog because I learn such interesting things about players who wore the pinstripes. Take today’s birthday celebrant as an example. I very clearly remember when Larry Gowell made his debut with the Yankees way back in 1972. He was considered a very good prospect at the time but he had one serious handicap. He was a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and as such, it was against his religious beliefs to work from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. This meant he could not and did not pitch in any baseball games on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon. Still, his slider was good enough to get him promoted to the Yankees for a cup-of-coffee look see in September of 1972. He would appear in just two games as a Yankee and as a big leaguer, yet he still became part of baseball history.
His first big league appearance was a hitless two-inning relief stint against the Milwaukee Brewers. Two weeks later, Yankee manager Ralph Houk gave the Lewiston, Maine-born right hander his first and only big league start against that same Brewer team. Although Gowell took the loss, he made MLB history when he hit a third inning ground ball double off of Milwaukee’s Jim Lonborg. That hit turned out to be the very last hit by an American League pitcher before the League’s new designated hitter rule went into affect.
Gowell would spend the next two seasons in Syracuse pitching for the Yankees’ triple A franchise. He left baseball after the 1974 season. During my research for this post, I found a reference to Gowell in a book about offshore insurance schemes of all things. Robert Tillman, author of the book alleges that in 1996, Gowell sold a worthless $100,000 promissory note on behalf of a company called Legends Sports, that was supposedly constructing a string of golf courses and entertainment centers in the southeastern United States. The note was supposed to pay the purchaser a twelve percent annual interest but instead, proved to be worthless when it was discovered that the owners of Legends Sports were operating a Ponzi scheme. I wonder if Gowell made the sale of that bond on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon. I hope not because according to his religion, that would have been a sin.
Gowell shares his May 2nd birthday with a Yankee pitcher who got in trouble when he barnstormed with Babe Ruth.
By the time the Yankees purchased Ernie Johnson off waivers just before June of the 1923 regular season, this Chicago native was already 35 years of age and had eight seasons of big league baseball under his belt. The Yankees were looking for a better offensive player to take over for Mike McNally as their infield utility guy and though Johnson was not a great hitter, he had averaged .295 as the White Sox starting second baseman just two seasons earlier.
He had then ticked off that team’s owner Charley Comiskey, when he demanded a salary increase, Subsequently, when his batting average fell forty points in 1924, he lost his starting job to a guy named Hervey McClellan and Comiskey gladly put Johnson on the waiver wire.
It actually turned out to be a great move for both the infielder and the Yankees. Over the two-and-a-half seasons he played for New York skipper Miller Huggins, Johnson appeared in 159 games and averaged a very robust .327. He also won his one and only World Series ring in 1923 against the Giants and scored the go-ahead run as a pinch runner in the final Game of that Fall Classic.
Its too bad Johnson didn’t get to put on the pinstripes much earlier in his career because by 1925, he had already turned 37-years-old. The Yankees decided to go with some much younger blood. The veteran infielder was one of three players New York traded to the St. Paul Saints in exchange for a 20-year-old shortstop named Mark Koenig. Johnson played four more seasons of minor league ball before hanging up his glove for good. He later became a scout for the Red Sox until he passed away in 1952 at the age of 64. His son Don followed the old man to the big leagues and was a starting second baseman for the Cubs during and after WWII.
|CHW (4 yrs)||319||1439||1311||190||355||47||11||1||113||45||73||66||.271||.312||.326||.638|
|NYY (3 yrs)||159||356||327||60||107||10||10||9||37||7||20||18||.327||.368||.502||.869|
|SLB (3 yrs)||183||539||469||64||112||16||5||2||39||30||42||41||.239||.309||.307||.617|
|SLM (1 yr)||152||581||512||58||123||18||10||7||67||32||46||35||.240||.305||.355||.661|
Ray Caldwell was one of the most interesting Yankees to ever play the game. Born on this date in 1888, in a northwestern Pennsylvania town that now lies under water, Caldwell was working as a telegrapher, when he received an offer to pitch for a C-level minor league ball club in McKeesport, PA. He won 18 games for that team in his professional debut and the next year he was pitching for the New York Yankees.
According to baseball historians, this guy was one of the biggest playboys in the history of the game and one of its heaviest drinkers too. He was also a brilliant pitcher, so good that Washington Senator manager Cal Griffith once offered the Yankees the great Walter Johnson for Caldwell even up.
A tall, slender right-hander, his best seasons for New York were 1914, when he went 18-9 with a 1.94 ERA and the following year, when he won a career high 19 games. He also happened to be one of baseball’s best hitting pitchers and frequently played the outfield on days he wasn’t on the mound.
But whenever it looked as if Caldwell was about to achieve greatness, he went on one of his hard-partying binges, often leaving the ball club for days on end and then suddenly reappearing to accept whatever punishment was thrown at him. His erratic behavior drove all his Yankee managers crazy, especially Frank Chance, who levied close to a thousand dollars worth of fines against his care-free pitcher during the 1914 season. When Caldwell was openly considering jumping to the upstart Federal League, however, Yankee owner Frank Farrell forgave the fines, causing Chance to quit.
When Miller Huggins took over the Yankees, he tried hiring detectives to keep tabs on Caldwell but the pitcher learned how to lose them. Tired of the nonsense, Huggins traded him to the Red Sox after the 1918 season. After half a year with Boston he was dealt to Cleveland, where he had a temporary but glorious rebirth. During the next season and a half he went 25-11 for the Indians and helped get them to the 1920 World Series, which the Tribe won in seven games. After slumping to 6-6 the following year, Caldwell’s big league days were over, but not his pitching career. Somehow, this guy pitched in the minors for 11 more seasons, finally hanging his glove up for good, in 1933, at the age of 45.
As you might expect, Caldwell’s private life was also pretty chaotic. He got married four times and held all kinds of jobs. He lived to be 79 years old, passing away in 1967.
|NYY (9 yrs)||96||99||.492||3.00||248||196||42||150||17||4||1718.1||1519||684||572||41||576||803||1.219|
|CLE (3 yrs)||31||17||.646||3.95||77||51||18||28||3||4||437.1||478||239||192||17||131||180||1.393|
|BOS (1 yr)||7||4||.636||3.96||18||12||5||6||1||0||86.1||92||49||38||1||31||23||1.425|