When you charted out Mike Morgan’s big league career it looked like a Vasco de Gama expedition. It began and almost ended when Morgan was just eighteen years old and the property of the irascible owner of the Oakland A’s, Charley Finley. It was 1978 and Finley had mismanaged the A’s World Champion rosters from the early 70′s into distant memories. He was looking for a way to reignite interest in his team and he decided to try and turn his first round draft choice into a teenage phee-nom. The young Morgan, a native of Tulare, California was not up to the task. Though he started strong with a complete game performance in his big league debut against the Orioles, it quickly became apparent the kid was not ready. After going 0-3, he was sent down to the minors, where he should have remained for at least two or three more years. But patience was not one of Finley’s virtues. Morgan was brought back to Oakland the following year and took quite a hammering in the 13 games he appeared.
The Yankees acquired the tall right hander after the 1980 postseason, in exchange for infielder, Fred Stanley. New York pitched Morgan at the double A level for a year and then called him up to the Bronx and made him part of the parent club’s starting rotation, in 1982. He certainly was more ready to face big league hitters as a 22-year-old. His numbers that season weren’t great but there were moments of brilliance that gave the Yankee announcers opportunities to remind listeners of his phee-nom roots and potential. Evidently, the team’s front office wasn’t listening because that December, they sent Morgan, speedy outfielder Dave Collins and future all-star slugger Fred McGriff to the Toronto Blue Jays for a well-traveled reliever named Dale Murray and somebody named Tom Dodd. It would turn out to be a horrible trade by the Yankee front office.
Morgan would go on to pitch 19 more seasons in the Majors and wear the uniforms of ten more big league teams. He would become an All Star with the Dodgers in 1991, set his career-high in wins with 16 a year later while pitching for the Cubs and win a World Series ring with Arizona in2001. He would pitch until 2002, finally hanging up his glove for good at the age of 42.
|CHC (5 yrs)||30||35||.462||3.83||90||90||0||8||2||0||575.2||569||274||245||51||212||316||1.357|
|ARI (3 yrs)||7||6||.538||4.82||120||5||33||0||0||5||173.2||209||97||93||19||66||93||1.583|
|LAD (3 yrs)||33||36||.478||3.06||107||85||8||11||5||1||600.0||543||236||204||37||154||318||1.162|
|SEA (3 yrs)||24||35||.407||4.70||73||66||4||17||3||1||429.1||499||247||224||51||144||203||1.498|
|STL (2 yrs)||9||14||.391||4.55||35||35||0||1||0||0||209.2||232||111||106||24||65||101||1.417|
|OAK (2 yrs)||2||13||.133||6.12||16||16||0||3||0||0||89.2||121||69||61||8||58||17||1.996|
|CIN (2 yrs)||11||15||.423||4.42||36||35||0||1||0||0||189.1||193||100||93||15||56||122||1.315|
|MIN (1 yr)||4||2||.667||3.49||18||17||0||0||0||0||98.0||108||41||38||13||24||50||1.347|
|TEX (1 yr)||13||10||.565||6.24||34||25||1||1||0||0||140.0||184||108||97||25||48||61||1.657|
|NYY (1 yr)||7||11||.389||4.37||30||23||2||2||0||0||150.1||167||77||73||15||67||71||1.557|
|BAL (1 yr)||1||6||.143||5.43||22||10||6||2||0||1||71.1||70||45||43||6||23||29||1.304|
|TOR (1 yr)||0||3||.000||5.16||16||4||2||0||0||0||45.1||48||26||26||6||21||22||1.522|
The Yankees signed this Princeton, Missouri native when he was 21-years-old in 1937 and assigned him to their Class C team in Joplin. During his second year with that ball club he popped 24 home runs and got promoted to the Yanks’ Norfolk, Virginia affiliate in the Class B Piedmont League. That’s when and where Derry really raised some eyebrows by belting 40 home runs during the ’39 season.
Normally, when an organization’s young prospect hits 40 homers at any level it gets him on a pretty fast track to a Major League trial. Unfortunately for this young outfielder, the Yankee team he was trying to make was anything but normal, especially in the outfield. The only outfield problem NY manager Joe McCarthy had to solve each and every game was figuring out who was not going to play. If you got Joe DiMaggio, Charley Selkirk, Tommy Henrich and George Selkirk on your roster, as McCarthy did when Derry hit those 40 homers in the Piedmont league, you’re not going to be too concerned with what your team’s minor league outfielders are doing. So while that 1939 Yankee team led by its glut of All Star outfielders was winning its fourth straight World Series, all Derry’s 40 home run season got him was a ticket to Class A.
It would take seven years and a World War to get Derry his shot at the Yankee outfield. By then he was 27-years-old. By 1944, DiMaggio, Keller, Henrich and Selkirk were all doing hitches in the military and Derry became the parent club’s fourth outfielder that season. He saw his most big league action the following season when he got into 78 games for New York and hit a career high 13 home runs. But he averaged just .225 that year against the second tier of pitching talent that took over the big league mounds during WWII. When the war ended and all the Yankees returned from military service the following year, Derry was sold to the A’s. He hit just .207 for Philadelphia and after one more brief shot with the Cardinals, finished out his playing career in the minors.
|NYY (2 yrs)||116||421||367||51||86||9||2||17||59||2||51||68||.234||.329||.409||.738|
|STL (1 yr)||2||2||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|PHA (1 yr)||69||214||184||17||38||8||5||0||14||0||27||54||.207||.311||.304||.616|
I learned a lot about today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant by reading this excellent article authored by Bill Nowlin for the the Society for American Baseball Research. It describes a young man who believed in the power of education and as a high school student in Philadelphia, was genuinely torn between going to college to pursue a career in medicine or playing professional baseball. In the end, the immediate opportunity to start in Connie Mack’s infield for his hometown Philadelphia A’s was just too compelling for John Knight to pass up.
He would become as much of a national sports sensation as one could back in 1905, before radio, television or the Internet were around, when he was the Opening Day nineteen-year-old starting shortstop for Philadelphia and was leading the league with a .400-plus batting average two weeks into the new season. He wasn’t able to maintain that torrid hitting pace and it would be his inability to hit big league pitching that landed him in the minor leagues, playing for the Baltimore Orioles, by 1908. That August, Knight’s contract was purchased by the New York Highlanders.
Knight realized his future in baseball would depend on his ability to become a better hitter and as he joined his new team, he was determined to do so. His efforts certainly bore some fruit. The Highlanders’ first year manager George Stallings made Knight his team’s starting shortstop in ’09 and he hit a career-high .236. In 1910, his offensive epiphany exploded into a .312 batting average and he followed that up by posting a career-high 62 RBIs in 1911. In just six years, he had transformed himself from an offensive liability into one of the game’s better hitting shortstops and Clark Griffith, the former New York manager who now skippered the Senators, noticed. He made it known that he was interested in acquiring Knight and kept poking the Highlander front office with trade offers for the infielder all during the 2011 season. New York finally bit during the 1912 spring training season when they accepted Washington catcher’s Gabby Street for Knight.
His short stay in our nation’s capitol was a disaster. Griffith started Knight at second base and it seemed as if he forgot how to hit and field, both at the same time. He averaged just .161 during the first half of that year and was then sold to a minor league club in New Jersey. He would end up getting a second chance with the Highlanders after he hit .270 for his Jersey City team during the first half of the 1913 season. He did OK with New York, starting at first base and averaging .236 for a very bad Highlander team but it wasn’t good enough to prevent him from getting sold back to the minors at the end of the year. He would remain a minor league player for the rest of his career, finally retiring for good in 1928, at the age of 42.
Knight’s early career start in the big leagues earned him the most appropriate nickname of ”Schoolboy.” At just over six feet two inches tall, Knight was the tallest shortstop in the big leagues.
|NYY (4 yrs)||435||1714||1494||197||399||59||16||6||171||63||138||213||.267||.338||.340||.678|
|PHA (3 yrs)||202||776||717||63||144||26||4||6||61||11||38||157||.201||.244||.273||.517|
|WSH (1 yr)||32||116||93||10||15||2||1||0||9||4||16||25||.161||.284||.204||.489|
|BOS (1 yr)||98||382||360||31||78||9||3||2||29||8||19||53||.217||.256||.275||.531|
OK, this one is bugging me. How come I have absolutely no recollection of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant playing for the Yankees, nothing, zero nada! Heck, if I can vividly remember the brief Yankee careers of guys like Jack Reed, Marty Perez and Chris Widger, why do I draw such a blank on Aaron Guiel?
After all, it was just seven seasons ago, in 2006 that this short and stocky native Canadian played 33 games for my favorite team, split almost evenly as an outfielder and first baseman. The Yankees had picked him up off the waiver wire that July after his first and only other big league team, the Royals had put him there. That 2006 season was a particularly harsh one on Yankee outfielders. Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui both were shelved for most of the year with major injuries.
Guiel had spent his first four-and-a-half big league seasons as Kansas City’s fourth outfielder, averaging .246 during that span. He had decent power, as was evidenced by the career-high 15 homers he had hit for KC in 2003. At first, New York assigned him to their Triple A Columbus affiliate but when Johnny Damon strained a muscle in his back, the Yankees called Guiel (pronounced Guy-el) up.
He scored three runs in his pinstriped debut against Cleveland and in his first start at Yankee Stadium a week later, his first home run as a Bronx Bomber was the difference maker in a 6-5 win versus the White Sox. New York skipper, Joe Torre played him pretty regularly that first month, but when the Yanks completed their trade for Bobby Abreu from the Phillies at the end of July, Guiel was sent back to Columbus. He didn’t stay there long.
He was called back up two weeks later. Since the Yanks ran away with the AL East Division race that year, winning it by ten full games over second-place Toronto, Torre rested his regular outfielders as much as possible down the stretch and Guiel saw plenty of action as a result. That’s why it bothers me that I have no recollection of him playing for the Yankees. I guess because he did not make that year’s postseason roster and the Yanks ended up releasing him, the 44 games he played for New York just faded from my memory. Those ended up being the final 44 games of Guiel’s big league career.
In 2007, he signed to play for the Yakult Swallows, in Japan’s Central League and played there for the next five seasons. Guiel shares his birthday with this other former Yankee outfielder and this one-time Yankee utility infielder.
|KCR (5 yrs)||263||1007||888||135||218||55||0||31||117||6||76||198||.245||.320||.412||.733|
|NYY (1 yr)||44||92||82||16||21||3||0||4||11||2||7||20||.256||.337||.439||.776|
Armando Marsans’ father was a wealthy Cuban merchant who took his family to New York City to live at the turn of the 20th century to shield them from the violence of the Spanish American War. By the time the 13-year-old boy returned to his homeland after the conflict ended, he had learned how to play America’s favorite pastime well enough to eventually become a star outfielder in the Cuban Winter League.
With Major League teams visiting the island country every winter to participate in exhibition games against Cuban native all-stars, it did not take long for Marsans to get signed by a big league organization, the Cincinnati Reds. In 1911, he and his long-time friend and teammate, pitcher Rafael Almeida became the first native Cubans to play in the Majors when they made their debut with the Reds. Marsans was ready for the challenge. He averaged .317 in 1912, his first full big league season and stole 35 bases. It wasn’t long before he was being touted as one of the best young outfielders in baseball.
That’s when Marsans got into a huge and prolonged argument with his Reds’ manager Buck Herzog that culminated in the outfielder’s suspension. An angry and offended Marsans responded by jumping to the newly formed Federal League, signing a sizable three-year contract to play for the St. Louis Terriers. The owner of the Cincinnati team responded by going to court and obtaining an injunction that prevented the Cuban from playing for the Terriers while a judge decided if he had violated the terms of his Reds’ contract. After playing just nine games for his new team and league, Marsans was forced off the field and returned to Cuba to await the judge’s decision. It wasn’t until the end of the 1915 regular season that the court permitted Marsans to resume playing with his new Federal League team while his case was being considered.
By then, the Federal League was staggering under financial difficulties that would force it to disband a few weeks later. Marsans ended up in the American League, playing for the St Louis Browns. He had a decent season for the Brownies in 1916, starting in their outfield, driving in 60 runs and finishing second in the AL with 46 stolen bases. But the almost two-year-layoff forced upon him by the Reds had a negative impact on Marsans overall game and he was never again the same player he had been before he jumped to the Federal League.
After he got off to a slow start with the Browns in 1917, he was traded to the Yankees in July of that season, for outfielder, Lee Magee. In New York, he joined fellow Cuban outfielder Angel Aragon. Unfortunately for Marsans, he broke his leg during just his 25th game in pinstripes. He went back to Cuba to heal and when he failed to report to the Yankees 1918 spring training camp, it looked like he was retiring. Two months later, he changed his mind and rejoined the team. After his first three starts during his second season in New York, Marsans had seven hits in his first 13 at bats and was averaging .538. But it was pretty much all downhill after that and when he left the team that July, the temperamental 30-year-old was averaging just .236.
He would unsuccessfully try to revive his baseball career in America a few years later but remained a force in Cuban baseball as both a player and a manager for years to come.
|CIN (4 yrs)||322||1224||1113||141||334||31||15||1||109||96||66||59||.300||.345||.358||.702|
|SLM (2 yrs)||45||188||164||21||36||3||2||0||8||9||17||5||.220||.293||.262||.555|
|NYY (2 yrs)||62||232||211||23||49||9||1||0||24||9||13||6||.232||.277||.284||.561|
|SLB (2 yrs)||226||903||785||82||193||24||1||1||80||57||77||47||.246||.318||.283||.601|
Though the Yankees signed this tall, thin right-handed native of Kansas City in 1949, it took him a full decade to get through the organization’s minor league system and make his big league debut in September of 1959. In fact, the only thing that moved slower than John Gabler’s ascent to the Majors was evidently, his fastball.
He didn’t start winning in the minors until 1954, when he was still pitching in the C-level California League. It wasn’t until four years later, when he went 19-7 for manager Ralph Houk’s 1958 Triple-A Denver Bears team that his name made it to the upper portion of the Yanks pitching prospects list and even then, Yankee skipper Casey Stengel had to be convinced Gabler was worth a roster spot.
The pitcher helped his cause with three strong appearances during his end-of-the-year debut in the Bronx in 1959. Still, it probably was the hiring of Eddie Lopat as Stengel’s new pitching coach that enabled Gabler to make the Yankees’ Opening Day roster in 1960. Steady Eddie had been a big winner on the Stengel-led Yankee teams that won five straight world championships between 1949 and ’53, while mastering a low speed repertoire of junk pitches thrown with precise control. He was the perfect pitching coach for Gabler, who threw the same array of pitches as Lopat.
The combination seemed to be clicking when Gabler opened his season with a win, pitching seven scoreless innings in a 4-0 victory over the Red Sox. But after he got hit hard in his next start, the Yanks sent him to the bullpen and he had never really pitched well as a reliever during his long career in the minors.
Still, he hung on with the team until the end of July, when he was reassigned to Richmond. The Senators then selected him in the 1960 AL Expansion draft. Gabler pitched one season in Washington and his big league career was over. He passed away in 2009, at the age of 78.
|NYY (2 yrs)||4||4||.500||3.79||24||5||5||0||0||1||71.1||67||33||30||3||42||30||1.528|
|WSA (1 yr)||3||8||.273||4.86||29||9||11||0||0||4||92.2||104||61||50||5||37||33||1.522|
It was so nice having the Yankees double A farm team a half hour’s drive away from my back door twenty years ago. We’d put our four kids in the minivan and take them to Heritage Park, which was what they called the home field of the Eastern League’s Albany- Colonie Yankees back then and for less than twenty bucks, my family of six would spend an evening watching players we hoped would some day be on the roster of the big league Yankees. And many were, including the core four of Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte and Posada, the Williams boys, Bernie and Gerald, Roberto Kelly, Jim Leyritz, Andy Stankiewicz, Pat Kelly, Sterling Hitchcock and a host of others who eventually got to play in the Bronx.
One of the Albany-Colonie players who I thought might be a future Yankee star was today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Back in 1991, Dave Silvestri was the A-C Yankees starting shortstop and leading home run hitter. He belted 19 round-trippers that year and drove in 83 runs. I was hopeful that Silvestri would turn into a pinstriped version of Cal Ripken, a starting shortstop with lots of pop in his bat. He wasn’t perfect. His defense needed work and he struck out a lot but those were common maladies in younger players. He was certainly the organization’s top prospect at short and he continued to pound the ball at the triple A level. The parent club was terrible back then and had no good shortstops on the roster. Remember Alvaro Espinosa?
But instead of getting a decent shot to play at the top level, the Yanks treated Silvestri like a yo-yo, sending him up and down repeatedly between their big league and Columbus rosters. He played seven games for New York in 1992, seven more in ’93, a dozen in ’94 and his Yankee career high of seventeen in 1995. Meanwhile, Jeter passed him on the organization’s depth chart for shortstops and the Yankees used up all their options on the guy. For a while, it looked as if he would be groomed to play third base, but in the end, the Yankees traded the then 27-year-old native of St. Louis to the Expos for a minor leaguer named Tyrone Horne. Silvestri told a New York Times reporter he couldn’t wait to leave the Yankees so he could play for an organization that would finally give him a shot at a regular big league job.
The Expos gave Silvestri that shot in 1996, when he appeared in a career-high 86 games for Montreal. But he hit just .204 during that season and he was released at the end of that year. He continued playing, mostly in the minors for three more years.
|NYY (4 yrs)||43||89||73||14||14||1||3||3||11||0||13||24||.192||.315||.411||.726|
|MON (2 yrs)||125||283||234||28||52||10||0||3||24||4||43||68||.222||.341||.303||.644|
|TBD (1 yr)||8||14||14||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.071||.071||.071||.143|
|TEX (1 yr)||2||4||4||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|ANA (1 yr)||3||11||11||0||1||1||0||0||1||0||0||1||.091||.091||.182||.273|
Yankee fans heard a lot about Pete Filson in the early eighties. He was a left-handed starting pitcher who had been selected by New York in the ninth round of the 1979 amateur draft. The Yankees assigned him to their Class C Appalachian League team in Paintsville, Kentucky and in 13 starts during the 1979 season he went 9-0 with three shutouts and a 1.68 ERA. The native of Darby, Pennsylvania then proved that first year was no fluke when he followed it up with a 13-9 record in A ball in 1980 and a stellar 17-3 mark the following season.
The question wasn’t would Filson become a winner for New York at the big league level, it was just a matter of when he’d get the chance. But this was the early eighties and the ego-maniacal George Steinbrenner was pretty much dictating the personnel moves made by the Yankee organization. The Boss didn’t get along with Rick Cerone, New York’s staring catcher at the time so he directed the front office to replace him. The Twins’ first string receiver was available but he wouldn’t come cheap. The Yanks had to give Minnesota Filson in the deal.
Filson made his big league debut with the Twins during the 1982 season and spent the next three years pitching out of the Minnesota bullpen. In 1986, he was traded to the White Sox and a year later, he returned to the Bronx as part of the same deal that brought Randy Velarde to the Yankees.
Filson finally got to make his Yankee debut on August 29, 1987 in a relief appearance against the Mariners. He got rocked. He also got lit up in his second appearance against Boston a week later but then settled down and pitched well in his next three. That streak got him his first ever start in pinstripes and he made it a good one, pitching seven scoreless innings against Baltimore and earning his first and only Yankee victory. He pitched well in his next start as well but did not factor in the decision.
Filson turned 29-years-old that year and the Yanks decided to release him at the end of their 1988 spring training camp. He got one more shot at the big leagues in 1990. Filson ended up having a brilliant minor league career, putting together a 95-34 record during his decade pitching on farm teams with a 2.98 ERA. I think the Yanks screwed up his career when they traded him for Wynegar and he ended up stuck in the Twins’ bullpen during his prime. Southpaws did well in the old Yankee Stadium and God knows the Yanks could have used another good lefty starter during those seasons in the early 1980′s.
|MIN (5 yrs)||14||13||.519||3.98||130||24||38||1||0||4||323.0||316||148||143||39||123||164||1.359|
|KCR (1 yr)||0||4||.000||5.91||8||7||0||0||0||0||35.0||42||31||23||6||13||9||1.571|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||3.27||7||2||3||0||0||0||22.0||26||10||8||2||9||10||1.591|
|CHW (1 yr)||0||1||.000||6.17||3||1||2||0||0||0||11.2||14||9||8||4||5||4||1.629|
1B Overbay – B: An emergency signing after Teixeira’s WBC wrist injury, I did not expect much from Overbay offensively so the fact that he produced all those big hits was indeed a pleasant surprise. Still, I think Cashman could have done better than this guy.
2B Cano – A: Just the fact that he was one of the few regulars to stay healthy for the full season made him this year’s Yankee MVP. His offense went up a notch as soon Granderson and A-Rod got back and Soriano was acquired to give him some protection. Definitely the best player on a bad Yankee team and still the best second baseman in baseball, but if the reports are true that he wants $300 million for ten years to remain in NY I would not make the deal.
SS Nunez – C: His offense was horrible at the beginning of the year and then after getting hurt, his bat picked up but his defense went down the tubes. He may have finally convinced Yankee brass he’s not the best choice for Jeter’s successor.
3B Youklis-to-A-Rod – F: Horrible move by Cashman to let Chavez walk and then sign Youklis, bad back and all.
C Stewart & Romine – D -: Another horrible decision by Yankee front office to let Russell Martin go to Pittsburgh and try to save a few dollars at one of the most important positions in all of sports. Though I respect and like the guy a lot, Stewart would have trouble hitting .250 in a Little League. Only bright spot was Romine’s growing confidence at the plate as season went on.
OF Wells – C -: Another poor move by Cashman. When deal was announced and Yankee Media Dept stressed how much of Wells’ salary the Angels would be paying for the next two seasons, I knew what it was all about. Another example of Yanks trying to be clever with their bucks instead of doing what they needed to do to fill holes in their lineup. Wells started out strong but quickly fell back to form.
OF Gardner- B: Second most productive player in this year’s lineup but certainly not a guy who can carry the offense for long stretches and the fact that he’s ending this year on the DL once again is an indication he may be too injury prone to depend on long term.
OF Suzuki – C+ – I didn’t want Yanks to sign this guy for two years but it sounded like they had to, to get him back. Whatever, the reason, he is nothing but a good fourth outfielder at this stage of his career and Yanks already have too many of those.
DH Hafner – D – Again an example of Cashman trying to prove how clever he is instead of truly filling holes in his lineup. Yanks could have re-signed Ibanez or grabbed Soriano from the Cubs much earlier.
Soriano – A-, Granderson- C, A-Rod-C, Reynolds-C+, Nix-B
Starting Pitching – C+: Sabathia had worst year of his career; Kuroda, ended up being the no-better-than .500 winning percentage guy he’s been all along; Hughes was unbearable; Nova and Pettitte ended up being the two best starters down the stretch.
Bullpen – B+: Mo wasn’t perfect but he was better than good. Robertson was too. Logan did well but should not pitch against righties. Claireborn showed promise, Kelley faded after a strong start and Joba may be ruined forever.
Manager – B: Joe Girardi – I was going to give him an A- but his team folded up on him down the stretch. He does deserve a new contract from the Steinbrenner’s though.
What really bothers me is the fact that no Yankee prospects emerged during a season when doing so was absolutely necessary. Not a single young pitcher or position player in the entire organization took advantage of the bountiful opportunities to step up and fill holes at the big league level.
GM – Brian Cashman – D- – The future is here and it sure don’t look pretty and this is the guy most responsible. The deals he didn’t want to make for the two Soriano’s ended up being two of the better deals the Yankees made since they won it all in 2009.
My final observation: Injuries kept Yanks out of postseason this year. Despite a slew of bad front-office moves, if the Yanks had any combination of Jeter, Granderson and Teixeira in their lineup for a full season they would probably have at least sneaked into postseason with a wild card spot. They should have re-signed Russell Martin and Erik Chavez. CC Sabathia’s drop off was a devastating blow to this team’s starting pitching as was Phil Hughes year-long ineptness and Hiroki Kuroda’s late season collapse. Its now too late to trade Hughes or Joba and Yanks won’t end up getting a draft choice for either.
As horrible as this season was for the Yankees, Yankee fans like myself will always remember it as being Mariano Rivera’s final year in pinstripes. It has been a privilege and an honor to watch this guy get the last three outs of so many Yankee victories for all these years. He was the best closer in baseball during his playing days, the very best there ever was and I honestly feel no one will ever come along who will do that very difficult job any better than this guy has done it for my favorite baseball team. So long Mo! I admired the way you performed on the field and the way you lived your life off of it.
Tal Smith applied for his first job in baseball in 1960, when he was 27-years-old. He interviewed for an open position in the front office of the Cincinnati Reds with Gabe Paul, who happened to be the team’s GM at the time. Paul did not hire him. He told Smith the reason was he did not know shorthand, but three months later the eager exec-wannabe returned having mastered the skill and an impressed Paul gave him a job. Thus began a long association and friendship between the two men.
Two years later, Paul was hired as GM of the newly formed Houston Colt 45s and again hired Smith to assist him. Though Paul remained in Texas for just a few short months before accepting the GM job in Cleveland, Smith stayed in Houston for over a decade, serving in a variety of front office positions and gaining a level of knowledge and experience that would make him one of the more respected executives in the game.
Before George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees, he had been very close to purchasing the Indians and during the negotiation process, he had developed a fondness for Gabe Paul. When his offer for the Tribe was refused Steinbrenner called Paul and told him to keep his ears open for news of other big league owners that might want to sell. A few weeks later, Paul called “the Boss” and told him CBS wanted to dump the Yankees.
Though he had been promised the Presidency of the Yankees by Steinbrenner once the deal had been consummated, Paul did not completely trust the new owner. He therefore attempted to staff the Yankee front office with people he could trust and one of the first guys he brought to the Bronx as his de-facto GM in 1973 was Smith. The two men spent the next couple of years engineering a series of trades that brought the Yankees back to postseason play.
I had always thought that the reason Smith left New York to accept the GM’s position with Houston in August of 1975 was that he could not get along with the unpredictable Steinbrenner. As we learned later, Gabe Paul hated working for “the Boss” so I assumed his close friend Smith did as well. But years later, when Steinbrenner passed away, some of the most glowing tributes of him came from none other than Tal Smith. Still working in the Houston front office at the time, he spoke of the Yankee owner’s persistent and unpublicized generosity with all sorts of individuals and causes. The truth probably was that Smith loved the City of Houston, loved the Astros and didn’t at all mind removing himself from a job that had him answering to two egomaniacs in Steinbrenner and Paul.
He would remain associated with the Astros on and off for the next 35 years. He also became a sports industry entrepreneur. In 1981, he formed the Houston-based Tal Smith Enterprises, a firm which specialized in the preparation and presentation of salary arbitration cases. The company has done work for 26 different big league teams.
The only other member of the Yankee family born on this date is this one-time reliever.