If first impressions meant everything, Ernie Shore would have never pitched a second big league game and he almost didn’t. Shore was a North Carolina farm boy who hated working his Daddy’s fields so he took the opportunity to attend college and become a mechanical engineer. The school, Guilford College, had a baseball team and Shore became that team’s ace pitcher, winning a total of 38 games during his collegiate career. He was a tall six foot four inch right-hander, who was thin as a rail but he could evidently generate lots of arm speed from that frame because he was known for his fastball.
His success in college got him noticed by the great John McGraw, who sent Shore a ticket to come to New York and pitch for the Giants. McGraw inserted his skinny rookie into a game against the Boston Braves in which the Giants had a 19-run lead. When the kid was finished pitching, that lead had shrunk to nine and he never pitched another inning for a McGraw managed team.
A year later, Shore was pitching for the International League’s Baltimore Orioles, where he was part of the same rotation as a young and promising southpaw named George Ruth. That July, the Boston Red Sox purchased the dynamic duo. It was Shore, who at that time was 23-years-old and 4-years-older than Ruth, who would make the bigger immediate impact on the Boston pitching staff. He went 10-5 during the second half of the 1914 season, while the nineteen-year-old Babe was just 2-1. The following season, Ruth won 19 and Shore won 18 leading the Red Sox to the AL Pennant. But it was again the older more mature Shore that Boston turned to in the 1915 World Series against the Phillies. Ernie got two starts in that Fall Classic and Ruth none, as Boston captured the Fall Classic in five games.
The following year, Ruth won 23 and Shore 16, helping the Red Sox defend their AL title. Shore then won two games in Boston’s five game victory over Brooklyn in the 1916 World Series, while Babe got one of the other two wins.
The Red Sox did not get back to the Series the following year. Ruth won 23 games in 1917 and Shore went 13-10. But in July of that 1917 season, another episode involving the two pitchers once again exemplified the quiet confident nature of Shore versus the much more undisciplined personality of the younger cruder Ruth. Babe had started a game against the Senators and after walking the first hitter on four straight pitches, became so irate at the umpire he actually punched the guy. Shore was inserted to the game and on his first pitch, the runner on first was thrown out trying to steal. Ernie then retired the next 26 hitters he faced, recording one of the most famous two-man no-hitters in baseball history.
That 1917 season was Shore’s last year in Boston. The following season, with the US fully engaged in WWI, he enlisted in the US Navy. When he returned to the game in 1919, it was as a member of the New York Yankees. He had been sold to the Yanks by the Red Sox with teammates Dutch Leonard and Duffy Lewis, the previous December. Unfortunately for both Shore and the Yankees, he caught a very bad case of the mumps at the team’s 1919 spring training camp and blamed the disease for disrupting his training regimen and spoiling his entire season. He would go only 5-8 during his first year in New York.
In January of 1920, the Yankees reunited Ruth and Shore when they purchased Babe’s contract from Boston. The Bambino definitely generated more excitement in the New York sports press that winter but there was still plenty of buzz about how a now-healthy Shore would once again be blazing his fastball by AL hitters.
Turns out, that case of the Mumps was simply hiding the real reason Shore didn’t pitch well in 1919. His right arm was dead. No one was sure how or when it happened but in 1920, it became very clear that Ernie had lost his trademark fastball. He appeared in just 14 games for manager Miller Huggins’ team that year, making just 5 starts and finishing with a 2-2 victory and an ERA of 4.87 runs.
After attempting to pitch his way back to the big leagues via the Pacific Coast League in 1921, Shore retired back to his native North Carolina, where he eventually became a well-known sheriff for Forsyth County.
Most of the information for this post was derived from this excellent article about Shore published by SABR. He shares his March 24th birthday with this former Yankee first baseman, this former starting pitcher and this former reliever.
You have to be a pretty passionate and long-time Yankee fan to remember today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Scott Bradley had been New York’s third round draft pick in the 1981 MLB amateur draft. After a decent cup-of-coffee trial with the parent club the previous fall, he showed up at the Yankees 1985 spring training camp with a duffel bag that included five different gloves. He had been a catcher during his days in the New York farm system but he was determined to prove to then Yankee manager Yogi Berra that he could also play first, third and the outfield. He knew that Yankee team already had two catchers, Butch Wynegar and Ron Hassey on its roster. As the Essex Falls, New Jersey native explained to a New York Times reporter who interviewed him during that exhibition season, “The best way for me to make this team is to play three or four different positions.”
Bradley’s strategy worked. Berra loved the kid’s attitude and he ended up winning the James P.Dawson Award as the outstanding rookie in that 1985 spring training camp. When Don Mattingly’s back problems forced him to start the ’85 season on the DL, it was an easy decision for Yogi to carry Bradley on the Yanks’ Opening Day roster.
The problem was that though Bradley could play several different positions, he was the Yankees third string choice at each of them. As a result, he saw action in only three games that April, before he was sent back down to the minors. Bradley reappeared in the Bronx that June, after Billy Martin had replaced Berra as Yankee manager and he made several appearances as a DH. But when his average dropped below .200 in early July, he was sent back down. He got one more opportunity in late July, when Wynegar went on the DL, but he again failed to generate any offense whatsoever.
Despite his .163 average, it appeared as if the Yanks were committing to using Bradley as their second string catcher in 1986, when they traded Hassey to the White Sox in December of ’85. But the New York front office had a change of heart and reacquired Hassey just three months later, sending Bradley to Chicago as part of the deal. He appeared in just 8 games as a White Sox before getting traded to the Mariners in July of 1986. It would be in Seattle where Bradley would become a big league starting catcher for the better part of six seasons.
He stopped playing in 1992 and became a minor league coach. In 1997, he accepted the head baseball coaching job at Princeton University, a position he continues to serve in today. Bradley shares his March 22nd birthday with this former Yankee outfielder, this former Yankee pitcher turned pitching instructor and this Yankee hurler who met a tragic death.
If Marvin Miller or Scott “the snake oil salesman” Boras had been around in the 1920′s, I might have a lot more to tell you about today’s Pinstripe Baseball Birthday Celebrant. Unfortunately, however, for guys like William Harmong Lamar, ballplayers did all of their own labor-lawyer-ing and contract negotiations for many many years and Lamar simply wasn’t very good at it.
As the only member of the all-time Yankee roster to be born on this date, Lamar did not get the opportunity to play much baseball in the Big Apple. Born in Maryland, near Washington DC, he became a high school baseball star who in 1916, signed a contract to play for the Baltimore Orioles in the International League. By the following year, the US had entered WWI and the military draft began in May of that year. The Yankees were probably looking for bodies to replace players lost to the army when they purchased the contracts of Lamar and two of his Oriole teammates toward the end of the 1917 season. Lamar’s first appearance in a big league and Yankee game was on September 19th of that season. He played a total of 11 games that year and just 28 the next before he himself was drafted.
From the research I did on his career, it appears as if Lamar was a very fast runner but not much of a hitter or defensive outfielder during his days with the Yankees. Neither of his two Yankee Managers, Wild Bill Donovan or Miller Huggins played him much during the 1917 and ’18 seasons and the kid averaged less than .230 in the Yankee action he did experience. That explains why Huggins did not invite Lamar to the Yankees’ 1919 spring training camp but he showed up anyway. Not wanting to disrespect a returning soldier, Huggins let him stay and brought him north with the team, but only for a short while. On June 10, 1919, Huggins ended Lamar’s Yankee career by putting him on waivers. The Red Sox picked him up immediately and he managed to hit .291 for Boston during the second half of the 1919 season. He was then traded for an International League outfielder and it would take Lamar another five years before he actually got a regular job as a big leaguer. That was in 1924, when he joined Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s as a 27-year-old left-fielder.
Lamar hit .330 in 1924 and then an even more robust .356 in 1925 with 202 hits. It looked as if his train had finally arrived at the station. But Lamar had also developed a propensity to party. In fact, his nickname was “Good Time Bill.” His batting average and his playing time dropped in ’26 and even though he was hitting .299 at the time, Lamar was put on waivers by the A’s in early August of the 1927 season. accompanied by rumors that he had a difficult time complying with Connie Mack’s team rules. The Senators immediately picked up his contract but that’s when Lamar started getting a bit too cute. The Washington newspapers had played up the fact that the newest Senator would be starting in the outfield in an upcoming series against the Yankees. He decided to try and leverage the anticipation of Washington fans for his arrival into a bonus for reporting from the famously tight-fisted Senators’ owner Clark Griffith. How’d that little ploy turn out for “Good Time Bill?” He lost the balance of his salary for 1927 and he never again played in a big league came.
Much of the information used for this post came from an article about Lamar, written by Bill Nowlin, as part of the SABR Baseball Biography Project. You can find that article online, here.
Long before one-time Yankee Cesar Tovar became baseball’s multi-position man, the honor belonged to Clyde Engle. Engle was only an outfielder when the Dayton, Ohio native broke into the big leagues with the New York Highlanders in 1909. That was also long before the Knick’s Hall of Fame guard made the name “Clyde” cool again, which explains why Engle was also well-known by his nickname, Hack.
The 25-year-old rookie had an excellent first season for New York, earning a starting berth in manager George Stallings’ outfield and leading the team in hits (137) doubles (20) and RBI’s (71). But those early Highlander rosters were like the diapers of a baby with diarrhea, they were being changed constantly. By the first month of Engle’s second big league season, the team had changed its entire starting outfield and the no-longer-needed Engle was sold to the Red Sox in early May of 1910.
It would be in Beantown where Hack would establish his reputation as one of baseball’s most versatile position players. The Red Sox played him in every position of the field except pitcher and catcher. It was his ability to field them all well that kept him on those very talented pre World War I era Red Sox teams for five and a half seasons, until he jumped to the rival Federal League in 1914.
His most famous moment came when he pinch hit for Boston during the tenth inning of the sixth and final game of the 1912 World Series. It was Engle’s fly ball, hit off of Giants’ legend Christy Matthewson that was dropped by New York outfielder Fred Snodgrass. Engle would eventually score the winning run and Snodgrass’s fielding lapse would be referred to with lament by the New York sports media for years after.
After a season and a half of play in the Federal League, Engle made one final and brief appearance in the big leagues with Cleveland before retiring as a player. He got into college coaching first as the head varsity guy for the University of Vermont and then as the freshman baseball coach at Yale. It was while serving in the latter position that he suffered a heart attack and died on the day after Christmas in 1939, at the age of 55.
He shares his birthday with another Yankee who died at an even younger age.
If you love the Yankees, you hate, or at the very least dislike the Red Sox. But if you love the Yankees, you also find it easy to root for guys who at one time used to be Red Sox but now have landed in the Bronx and wear the pinstripes. If somebody told me in the late 1980s that I’d one day be praying Wade Boggs would drive in a runner from third or that Roger Clemens would strike out the sides, I’d have thought they were looney. Same goes for Johnny Damon fifteen years later. And now its Kevin Youklis.
When he was with Boston, I hated seeing “The Greek God of Walks” stride up to the plate in a close Red Sox/Yankee game. I knew at the very least he’d get into that completely weird batting stance of his and put together a very good at bat, forcing whatever Yankee pitcher happened to to be on the mound at the time to throw at least a dozen pitches. It seemed as if more often than not, those Youklis at bats would end up with him driving in a huge run or he would at least get on base and put himself in position to score that run. I did not like this guy at all and now, thanks to his off-season signing as a Yankee free agent, I’ve got to root for him too.
Problem is, its been about four years since big Kevin had a good season. During his last two plus years in Boston, injuries and Bobby Valentine disrupted his game and he hit just .236 after getting traded to the White Sox in June of 2012. The only reason the Yankees came calling this winter and agreed to pay him $12 million was because A-Rod’s hip went bad. At the time of his signing, New York was hoping they’d only need him to start at the hot corner till Rodriguez recovered and returned at mid-year. With sluggers like Teixeira and Granderson still in the powerful Yankee lineup, they could even afford to absorb the mediocre bat Youklis has swung the last few years. Joe Girardi just needed him to provide decent defense at third and use that great eye of his to earn frequent “walks” to first base.
But in recent weeks, both Granderson and Teixeira have gone down with injuries and are not expected back until at least May. That means a lot more pressure on Youklis to produce offensively coming out of the gate in 2012 and if he is unable to, expect the fans in the Bronx and the Big Apple sports media to voice their displeasure.
I got my fingers crossed that he can perform a Boggs-like come-back in pinstripes. If he can stay healthy, he’s already proven he can perform under pressure during his days in Beantown. His biggest challenge will be Yankee Stadium. It is not the haven for right-handed hitters that Fenway is, so it will be interesting to see how Youklis approaches his at bats when playing on his new home field.
Youklis enters the 2013 season with a lifetime average of .283, a career on base percentage of .384, with 1,030 hits and 148 home runs. He won a Gold Glove with Boston in 2007, as a first baseman. The Cincinnati native turns 34-years-old today.
When Oklahoma-born Johnny Callison made his big league debut with the White Sox in 1958, he was being favorably compared to another native Oklahoman who at the time had already won two MVP awards playing center field for the Yankees. Callison could run, hit for average and power plus field and throw. The White Sox back then were loaded with pitching but desperate for some power hitters so after just two years in the minors and that cup-of-coffee preview the season before, Chicago made the twenty year-old Callison their 1959 Opening Day left-fielder. He fell flat on his face. When he was sent back to Indianapolis that June, his batting average was just .163 and his confidence was shattered.
Chicago went on to win the ’59 AL Pennant and then continued their quest for more power by trading for Roy Sievers and sending Callison to the Phillies for third baseman Gene Freese, who had just hit a career high 23 home runs. The Phillies had something that would be very good for Callison’s evolution into a great big league player and also something that would hinder it. The something good was manager Gene Mauch, who would become the young player’s mentor and biggest fan. He handled his new outfielder’s fragile ego pretty close to perfectly and by the third year of their relationship, Callison was an NL All Star. He hit .300 in 1962 and put together two straight 30-HR, 100-RBI seasons in 1964 and ’65.
He would hit 195 home runs during his ten seasons as a Phillie but he would have hit a heck of a lot more if it wasn’t for the that one thing in Philadelphia that proved detrimental to Callison’s power legacy, a 34 foot high wall in right field of Connie Mack Stadium. That wall converted many of Callison’s hardest hit balls from home runs in any other park to just triples and doubles in the City of brotherly love.
In 1966, Callison’s offensive stats began declining. Still one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, he would never again hit 20 home runs in a regular season or drive in even 70 runs. No one could explain why his hitting skills deserted him but by 1969, with Gene Mauch no longer the team’s skipper, the Phillies traded him to the Cubs for Oscar Gamble and pitcher Dick Selma. Though he played decently in Chicago for two seasons, Callison didn’t get along with Cubs’ skipper Leo Durocher and was not at all upset to be traded to the Yankees in January of 1972.
Now 33-years old, the three-time all star loved playing for Ralph Houk, who’s managing style reminded him of Gene Mauch’s. Callison started in right field for much of his first season in pinstripes, averaging .258 in 92 games of action, with 9 home runs but just 34 RBIs. He was hitting just .176 during his second season with New York, when he was given his outright release in August of 1973.
He sold cars and tended bar in his post baseball career and experienced a lot of health problems. He died from cancer in 2006 at the age of 67. This former NL Rookie of the Year, this other former NL Rookie of the Year and this one-time Yankee center-fielder were all also born on march 12th.
The Yankee franchise’s first season in New York was 1903. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the starting right fielder on that historic ball club. In fact, Herm McFarland was one of the very few members of the 1902 Baltimore Orioles’ team that accompanied the franchise in its move from B’town to the Big Apple. McFarland had been used as the fourth Oriole outfielder that year and in 61 games of action, he hit a very impressive .322 with a .488 slugging average.
His real name was Hermas Walter McFarland and he was born in Des Moines, Iowa on March 11, 1870. Just five feet six inches tall, he gained some fame in 1897 when he walloped 13 home runs while playing for the Indianapolis Indians. He had a couple of brief tenures with two of the original National League teams in the 1890′s but his real big league rookie year took place in 1901, with the American League’s original Chicago White Sox franchise. He hit .275 as a starting outfielder for Chicago during that team’s inaugural season and he hit the first ever grand slam home run in that franchise’s history. He also stole 33 bases and was a key cog on a White Sox team that won the very first AL Pennant.
His manager with Chicago was Clark Griffith. During the team’s 1902 spring training camp, Griffith took the players on a ten mile run. The trail they followed for that jaunt included a railroad trestle that spanned a deep ravine. McFarland and a few other White Sox were trapped in the middle of it by an approaching train and forced to grab hold of railroad ties and hang over the side of the trestle until it passed overhead. They then held on until their teammates could get to them and pull them back up to safety.
One week into the 1902 season, McFarland was hitting just .185 when his contract was sold to the Orioles. One year later he joined the starting Highlander outfield that also included Lefty Davis and Hall-of-Famer Wee Willie Keeler. McFarland hit .243 in 103 games for New York during the 1903 season. He also led that year’s squad in home runs with 5. By the way, guess who managed that 1903 Highlander team? Clark Griffith. Perhaps the reason McFarland got the Highlander starting outfield spot had something to do with Griffith feeling guilty he had almost killed the guy by forcing him to run over that railroad bridge two years earlier.
In 1904, McFarland returned to Baltimore to play for the Orioles, who were by then playing in the Eastern League. He never played another big league game.
Clay Rapada signed with the Yankees as a free agent just as New York’s 2012 spring training camp was opening. His career up to that point had been mediocre. He had gone un-drafted out of college (Virginia State University) and then signed with the Cubs in 2002. He didn’t make his big league debut until five seasons later, in July of 2007. Six weeks after that debut he was traded to the Tigers. His real rookie season was 2008, when he appeared in 25 games for Detroit and went 3-0. He spent most of the following year back in the minors and in December of 2009 he was traded to Texas. He appeared in ten games for the Rangers in 2010 and actually made their postseason roster. It was during the 2010 ALCS, when Texas defeated the Yankees that I first remember seeing the six foot five inch southpaw pitch with his extreme side-arm motion. Texas released him the following January and he was signed by Baltimore, where he appeared in 32 games for Buck Showalter and spent lots of time also pitching for the O’s Norfolk farm team.
So the Clay Rapada the Yankees signed in February of 2012 was by then 30-years-old and had spent at least part of each of the previous ten seasons in the minors, with four different organizations. He had started his professional career as a pitcher with a traditional overhand delivery, who would occasionally drop down to sidearm if an opposing hitter kept fouling off his pitches. A coach in the Cubs’ system convinced him that converting full-time to the submariner style would improve his chances of getting regular work in a big league team’s bullpen. Rapada made the change, modeling his new motion at first off of Dennis Eckersley.
One month after the Yankees signed Rapada, they acquired his mirror image, Cody Eppley off of waivers from Texas. Eppley was a right-handed sidearmer who had pitched with Rapada when both were in the Texas farm system. Together, this submarining duo would form the heart of Joe Girardi’s middle-inning relief corps. Rapada appeared in 70 games for New York during his first season in Pinstripes and Eppley appeared in 59. Rapada’s ERA was 2.82 and Eppley’s 3.33. Neither had ever pitched better and they credited their mutual success in part on being able to turn to each other for advice. The challenge most sidearmers have is that their teams’ pitching coaches are always retired hurlers who threw with traditional overhand motions. A traditional coach like the Yankees’ Larry Rothschild, can therefore not be of much help to Eppley or Rapada with their mechanics if their pitches stop doing what they are supposed to do. So having each other to serve in that role just might have been the secret to their success during their initial season together in the Bronx.
As I write this post, Rapada is currently trying to recover from a case of bursitis in his pitching shoulder. One interesting sidenote on this native of Portsmouth, Virginia. He will begin the 2013 regular season having never lost a decision in the big leagues. Through 2012, he has a perfect 8-0 record.
When Dallas Green took over as Yankee manager after the 1988 season he told New York’s front office that the Yankee pitching staff had grown ancient and he wanted some good young arms added to the roster. Bob Quinn, the Yankee GM complied by sending slugger Jack Clark to San Diego for a promising young starting pitcher named Jimmy Jones and a hard-throwing right-handed reliever named Lance McCullers. Mission accomplished, right?
Nope. Ten months later, New York was about to disappear from the AL East Division race, Jones was pitching in Columbus, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had an ERA over five and Green, who knew he was about to be fired, was probably wishing he still had Clark who was well on his way to a 26 HR, 94 RBI first-year performance with the Padres.
McCullers was a native of Tampa, Florida who had been a second-round draft pick of the Phillies in 1982. The Padres got him in a multi-player deal in 1984 and brought him right up to the big leagues in ’85. He had pitched impressively during his four years in San Diego for some pretty mediocre Padre teams and since he was only 25-years-old when the Yankees got him, it really did look like he’d be a valuable asset in New York’s bullpen for a long time to come.
But according to Green, McCullers still hadn’t learned how to pitch. The Yankee skipper told the media his new reliever depended to heavily on his fastball and unless he started throwing his slider and change up more, Green insisted his reliever would never be a successful big league pitcher. McCullers did at least outlast Green as a Yankee.
He went 4-3 during his one and only full season in pinstripes. He also earned 3 saves and had an ERA of 4.57. Things were definitely looking better for McCullers as he approached his second year in the Big Apple. Green had been replaced by Bucky Dent as Yankee skipper and during the 1989 offseason, the Yankees signed Lance to a new contract and gave him a $170,000 raise. But almost as soon as the 1990 regular season began, McCullers name was being bandied about in all kinds of trade rumors. Those rumors became true in early June, when the reliever was traded to the Tigers for catcher Matt Nokes. He would end that year pitching in the minors and after one more five-game stint with the Texas Rangers in 1992, McCullers big league career was over at the age of 28. His son Lance was the Houston Astros first round pick in the 2012 MLB amateur draft.
It certainly was not one of the better trades in Yankee franchise history. Goose Gossage had just bolted the Bronx Zoo via free agency and George Steinbrenner’s front-office minions were desperately seeking candidates to replace him. As is usually the case when teams are desperate, New York made a deal they would later regret. Mike Armstrong was a tall, right-hander from Long Island who had pitched well enough for the University of Miami to become the Cincinnati Reds’ first round pick (24th overall) in the 1974 MLB amateur draft. Five years later, while still in the minors, he was traded to the Padres for an outfielder named Paul O’Neill. After a couple of unimpressive big league trials with the Padres, Armstrong was sold to the Royals, where he quickly evolved into an effective member of the supporting staff of Kansas City’s All Star closer, Dan Quisenberry. He had his best season in 1983, when he went 10-7 in 53 appearances, with 3 saves and an ERA of 3.86.
Those numbers caught the attention of the Yankees and they wanted Armstrong badly enough that they agreed to give the Royals their young slugging prospect, Steve Balboni, in exchange. The trade was completed in December of 1983 and a few short weeks later, Armstrong reported to his first Yankee spring training camp with a sore pitching arm. As it turned out, the Royals had actually told the New York front office that Armstrong had a tender elbow before finalizing the deal, but the now Goose-less Yankees shrugged off the news. They would quickly regret their lack of follow-up.
Turned out that in addition to a glove, his spikes and a ball, Armstrong needed a steady diet of cortisone injections and anti-inflammatory pills in order to take the mound. His right elbow was so bad that the Yankees actually asked the MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to look into the possibility that the Royals had knowingly dealt them damaged goods. Kuhn never issued a ruling on the case and Armstrong didn’t make his Yankee debut until the middle of June of the 1984 season. He didn’t pitch badly. He went 3-2 during the second half, appearing in 36 games, with 1 save and a 3.48 ERA. But during the next two years he would only pitch in a total of 16 big league games before being released by New York. Fortunately for the Yankees they did not need to depend on Armstrong to replace Gossage because Dave Righetti proved to be more than up for that challenge. Unfortunately for New York, the guy they gave up for Armstrong would hit 117 home runs during his first four seasons with the Royals. Armstrong for Balboni turned out to be a terrible trade for the Yankees.
Armstrong shares his March 7th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder.