The year was 2003. The Yankees would win 101 games that season and capture the AL East Divison, the ALDS against the Twins, the ALCS against the Red Sox but then lose the Series to the Marlins. Coming out of that year’s spring training season, most of the reporters covering the Yankees were predicting Juan Rivera would be Joe Torre’s selection as the team’s fourth outfielder. Instead, Torre chose Chris Latham.
New York had signed the Idaho native the previous September after he had spent the entire 2000 season in the Mets farm system. But Latham did have prior big league experience. He had made his debut in the Majors for the Twins in 1997 and saw action in Minnesota’s outfield for three straight seasons. He had also played for Toronto during the 2000 season, where he hit a career high .274 in 43 games as a utility outfielder.
Reports at the time indicated Torre had selected Latham over Rivera because his speed made him a better pinch-running option, he was a switch-hitter and had experience playing center field. He made his debut in pinstripes as a pinch runner for Raul Mondesi on April 6, 2003, during the sixth inning of game against Tampa Bay. He scored a run and remained in the game to play right field. He got his first Yankee at bat three innings later and singled off Jorge Sosa.
Even though Latham had made the Yankee roster, his agent continued to look for opportunities that would permit his client to play more and make a higher salary. He found such an opportunity with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. Latham asked the Yankees if they would agree to negotiating a deal with the Giants that would permit him to play there and the team graciously agreed. Before he departed for Yomiuri, he got one more at bat as a Yankee against his old team the Twins and singled. That hit would make him the only Yankee in history to leave New York with more than one official at bat and a 1.000 career batting average.
The only other Yankee born on May 26th was this former first baseman.
|MIN (3 yrs)||63||154||138||19||21||2||0||1||9||4||13||57||.152||.222||.188||.411|
|NYY (1 yr)||4||2||2||3||2||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||1.000||1.000||1.000||2.000|
|TOR (1 yr)||43||84||73||12||20||3||1||2||10||4||10||28||.274||.369||.425||.794|
You’re fourteen years old, you love the Yankees and for the previous three years you’ve watched them degrade from perennial World Series participants to AL cellar dwellers. All your favorite pinstriper’s have grown old instantly together and you’re desperate for some good news. Is Bobby Murcer the next Mickey Mantle? Will Jerry Kenney make us forget about Clete Boyer.? Is Horace Clarke better than Bobby Richardson? You keep watching and listening to game after game and scouring the box scores to get the answer to these questions and even though it quickly became obvious that this next generation of Yankees were simply pale imitations of the previous ones, you didn’t give up hope.
It was this never-give-up-hope attitude that helps me clearly remember when today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant made his debut in the Bronx. It was a Sunday afternoon game at the Stadium in late May of 1968 and I can almost hear Scooter make the first-ever big league introduction of this native Puerto Rican. It probably went something like this; “and batting eighth and doing the catching is, holy cow Messer, this kid’s name is Ellie Rodriguez and he’s doing the catching. If he’s anything like the last Ellie (Elston Howard) who caught for the Yankees, we may have something special here.”
But alas, Ellie Rodriguez was no Ellie Howard. He went 0-3 in his Yankee debut that afternoon and was hitting just .167 by mid-June, when the Yankees sent him back to their Syracuse Chiefs farm team. He’d get called back up a couple of times that year but he did not do much better, finishing his nine-game debut season with a .209 batting average. New York had this other young catcher named Munson playing for Binghamton that same season, who was impressing everyone in the organization, so they left Ellie II unprotected in the AL expansion draft. The Kansas City Royals made him their 13th pick.
It turned out to be a big break for Rodriguez because he became the Royals’ starting catcher in 1969 and made the AL All Star team. Three seasons later he repeated that feat as the Brewers starting catcher. The Brewers traded him to the Angels following the ’73 season and he caught 137 games for California in 1974, a career high. He would end up spending nine years in all as a big league catcher, and then he played four more seasons in Mexico. Lifetime he hit .245 and threw out 41% of the runners attempting to steal against him. He may not have been the next Ellie Howard but he did just fine.
Rodriguez shares his May 24th birthday with this veteran pitcher who played an important role in the Yankees’ 2011 starting rotation.
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|KCR (2 yrs)||175||575||498||52||115||18||2||3||35||5||58||61||.231||.323||.293||.617|
|CAL (2 yrs)||230||778||621||68||153||26||0||10||63||6||118||93||.246||.376||.337||.712|
|LAD (1 yr)||36||90||66||10||14||0||0||0||9||0||19||12||.212||.400||.212||.612|
|NYY (1 yr)||9||27||24||1||5||0||0||0||1||0||3||3||.208||.296||.208||.505|
Arch McDonald was the original voice of the New York Yankees. The three original New York City MLB franchises were the last three to permit radio broadcasts of their games. They all caved together in 1939. Brooklyn hired Red Barber for their booth and the thrifty Yankees and Giants decided to share an announcer. Since the two teams never had home games scheduled on the same day and had both agreed to blackout broadcasts of road games, it was possible that one person could do play-by-play for both teams. That person turned out to be McDonald.
Born in Arkansas but raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he was a country music DJ in that town when the local minor league team reached a deal to have their games broadcast by the station that employed him. McDonald became the play-by play announcer and the listening audience loved him. In 1932, Sporting News conducted a contest, inviting readers to vote for the best baseball announcer in the country and surprisingly, McDonald beat out several big league microphone jockeys to win the honor. Two years later, when Clark Griffith was looking for a radio announcer to do Senator games, he did the same thing he did when he needed a player. He reached down into the broadcast booth of Washington’s Chattanooga affiliate and brought up McDonald. During the next five seasons, he built a loyal following of listeners in our Nation’s Capital with his relaxed southern speaking voice and homespun charm. McDonald was credited with coining the phrase “ducks on the pond” to describe “men on base.” When a Senator hit a home run, McDonald would call it by saying “There goes Mrs. Murphy.”
When the Yankees finally went on radio, the sponsor of their broadcasts, Wheaties Cereal lured McDonald to New York with a big salary. The first ever radio broadcast of a Yankee game took place on April 17, 1939, with McDonald doing the play-by-play. During that first season, a young CBS announcer by the name of Mel Allen was also hired as McDonald’s assistant. In addition to being the first radio voice of the franchise, McDonalds’ next most significant contribution to Yankee history was coming up with the nickname of “Yankee Clipper” for slugger, Joe DiMaggio.
It would end up being Barber and Allen who did the best job at capturing and keeping the attention of Big Apple baseball fans.Those two injected their calls with a lot more enthusiasm and a lot more words than McDonald, who preferred to describe a play and then stop talking until there was another play to describe. The silence in between proved deafening for radio listeners and McDonald was let go after just one season in New York, leaving Allen to take over the Yankee booth as number one announcer.
McDonald ended up going back to Washington, where he became a sports broadcasting institution, doing both Senator and Redskins games. In 1946, President Harry Truman, a regular listener, convinced the announcer to run for congress. He ended up losing the election.
He kept doing both Senator and Redskin games right up until he died in 1960, of a heart attack, during a train ride back to D.C. after a Giants Redskins football game. He was 59 years-old.
My wife dragged me to a performance of Les Miserables at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady, NY several years ago. I was not a fan of the place because the seats were built for munchkins and there was absolutely no way for a person my size to get comfortable. Plus if you’re familiar with the epic play about the French Revolution, you know I was not in for a night of excitement and laughs.
Sure enough, as soon as the curtain opened I started fidgeting and with my knees crammed against the seat in front of me, both of my legs quickly went to sleep. I was just about to close my eyes and force myself into a numbing nap when I heard my wife whisper, “That’s that Yankee pitcher’s son singing.” I opened up my program and sure enough, one of the lead characters was Tommy John’s boy. I think it was Travis and he had an absolutely amazing voice.
In spite of this connection to my all-time favorite baseball team, my legs were getting prickly, the lady next to me was pushing my arm off the armrest and I spent the rest of the evening in a painful agony. I remember how good it felt when the final curtain came down and we were able to get up and start walking toward the theater’s exit. As we crawled along with the large crowd approaching the door leading outside, I noticed a man leaning against the wall in the corner nearest me. As I passed him I smiled and told him that his son had a wonderful voice. Tommy John smiled and mouthed back the words “Thank you.”
I liked Tommy John when he pitched for the Yankees but I liked him even more when I saw him that night at Proctor’s Theater. After all, John is 6’3″ tall just like me so I know his legs were sore too. I knew then and there that in addition to being a great pitcher, Tommy was also a good father.
John may be most famous for the surgery (ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction) named after him but he was a pretty good Yankee pitcher too. He had two twenty-victory seasons with New York during his first stay in the Bronx and then went 13-6 for them as a 44-year old in 1987. One of the things that most surprised me when I was doing research for this post was finding out that Tommy won more games as a Yankee (91) than he did for the Dodgers (87) or White Sox (82.) As of right now, those 91 wins place him in the 20th spot on the Yankees’ all-time career wins list. He has more wins as a Yankee than Roger Clemens (83), Bob Turley, David Wells (68) or Catfish Hunter (64) were ever able to achieve in pinstripes.
John was born in Terre Haute, Indiana on May 22, 1943, the only member of the Yankee all-time roster to be born on today’s date. I was also surprised to find out that there were not too many former Yankee all-star-level players born in Indiana. The best of the Hoosier-born Yankees were Don Mattingly, Don Larsen and John.
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|CHW (7 yrs)||82||80||.506||2.95||237||219||5||56||21||3||1493.1||1362||573||490||99||460||888||1.220|
|LAD (6 yrs)||87||42||.674||2.97||182||174||6||37||11||1||1198.0||1169||460||396||64||296||649||1.223|
|CAL (4 yrs)||24||32||.429||4.40||85||76||3||14||1||0||489.1||610||263||239||42||125||143||1.502|
|CLE (2 yrs)||2||11||.154||3.61||31||17||1||2||1||0||114.2||120||63||46||11||41||74||1.404|
|OAK (1 yr)||2||6||.250||6.19||11||11||0||0||0||0||48.0||66||37||33||6||13||8||1.646|
1968 was a terrible year in the history of our country and was shaping up to be a terrible year in Yankee history as well. New York had finished ninth the previous season. Joe Pepitone, the team’s best hitter was getting nuttier every year and the great Mickey Mantle was literally on his last leg.
I had two passions as a young teenager, sports and politics. When Bobby Kennedy was killed all I had left to look forward to were Yankee games so I was hoping they’d be decent that year. Almost miraculously, they were. Thanks to a starting staff featuring Mel Stottlemyre, Stan Bahnsen and Fritz Peterson and a bullpen led by Steve Hamilton and Lindy McDaniel, the Yankees could hang around most games and were pretty good at holding a lead if they were lucky enough to have one in the later innings.
The offense was another story. Pepitone imploded and Mantle continued to decline. As a team they hit just just .214 but guys like Roy White, Andy Kosco, and a 27 year-old rookie third baseman named Bobby Cox seemed to get on base and cross home plate just enough times to win more games than they lost. The bomberless Bombers finished 83-79 which to me felt like winning a pennant.
Cox of course went on to become one of the game’s all-time great managers with Atlanta. My In-laws are huge Brave fans and my Mother-in-law loves Cox. Several years ago we were with them at Disney World after the Braves had moved their spring-training operation to the resort. Early one morning, we went to the stadium to watch the Braves practice and Bobby Cox was alongside the dugout talking to someone sitting in the stands. As soon as she saw him my mother started shouting “Yoo-hoo Bobby Cox. I love you. Can I have your autograph? Can I take my picture with you?” Cox looked up feigning annoyance and held up his hand signaling he’d come over to us after he was done talking to the other person. Sure enough he did and he spent the next five minutes talking to my Mother-in-Law like he had known her all his life. I went from being a big Bobby Cox fan to being a huge Bobby Cox fan that day. Cox was voted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2014, along with former Yankee skipper, Joe Torre. It certainly is a well-deserved honor.