My in-laws became huge Atlanta Braves’ fans in the 1980s, which of course meant they adored Dale Murphy. I’m not certain of this but I think I do remember my mother-in-law actually crying on the day the team traded “the Murph” to the Phillies, in August of 1990. The guy who took over for the Braves’ legend was David Justice. He got off to a great start, winning the 1990 NL Rookie of the Year Award by hitting 28 home runs and averaging .282 in his first full big league season. He then had two consecutive 21 home run seasons before suddenly exploding with 40 round trippers and 120 RBIs in 1993.
The following season, Justice tore his shoulder muscle and was never again the force he had been in Atlanta’s lineup. He had also married the actress, Halle Barry in 1992 and their life together became fodder for the tabloids for the next few years. Their coupling ended pretty badly just a couple of years after it began and the outfielder’s marriage to the Braves also broke up shortly thereafter.
In March of 1997, Justice switched tribes when Atlanta traded him and fellow Braves’ outfielder, Marquis Grissom to the Indians for Kenny Lofton and pitcher Alan Embree. My mother-in-law didn’t cry that day but she wasn’t happy a year later when Lofton, who had hit .333 during his one season in Atlanta, became a free agent and rejoined the Indians. He and Justice, who hit 31 home runs and drove in 101 runs, led Cleveland to the 1997 World Series.
In June of 2000, Justice came to the Yankees. I had never been a big David Justice fan so when New York made the mid-season trade with Cleveland to get him that year, my first reaction was disappointment that the New York front office had given up on Ricky Ledee, who was part of the trade. But boy did Justice make me forget Ledee in a hurry. In just 78 games in pinstripes that season, he smacked 20 home runs, scored 58, and drove in 60 more. He pretty much put the team on his back and carried them to the playoffs. Then in the ALCS against Seattle, Justice drove in eight more runs. Without him, I doubt seriously the Subway Series of 2000 would ever have taken place.
In 2001, Justice suffered a groin injury that plagued him almost the entire season. He played in only 111 games, hit just 18 home runs and averaged a career low .241. Those numbers got him traded after the 2001 season, first to the Mets who then immediately turned around and traded Justice to the A’s, where the then 36-year-old three-time all-star played the final season of his 14-year big league career. He quit with 305 career home runs and two rings. But baseball wasn’t through with Justice yet.
Five years after he played his final big league game, his name showed up in “the Mitchell Report,” the Major League’s official expose of steroid and HGH abuse. An informant claimed to have sold Justice HGH after the 2000 World Series. Justice has steadfastly denied he ever used any PEDs during his career. What’s the truth? When Justice hit those 40 homers in 1993, the two guys who finished ahead of him in the NL MVP race were Barry Bonds and Larry Dykstra. When the Yankees traded for Justice during the 2000 season, it was only after Brian Cashman failed in his efforts to bring Sammy Sosa or Juan Gonzalez to New York. Justice played and peaked during the same era as Bonds, Dykstra, Sosa and Gonzalez. We know PEDs were part of the game. Are they still? Who really knows? That’s the damn shame.
Justice shares his April 14th birthday with this former Yankee reliever.
|ATL (8 yrs)||817||3349||2858||475||786||127||16||160||522||33||452||492||.275||.374||.499||.873|
|CLE (4 yrs)||486||2025||1713||299||503||102||4||96||335||14||288||316||.294||.392||.526||.918|
|NYY (2 yrs)||189||757||656||101||176||33||1||38||111||2||93||125||.268||.357||.495||.853|
|OAK (1 yr)||118||471||398||54||106||18||3||11||49||4||70||66||.266||.376||.410||.785|
His real name was Norman Arthur Elberfeld and back when he played professional baseball at the turn of the twentieth century, he was considered to be one of the meanest players in uniform. He was so hot-tempered that he was given the nickname “The Tabasco Kid.” Elberfeld’s meanness was not limited to the ball field. He also owned a farm in Tennessee. He was accused of stealing a calf from a neighboring farm. The case ended up in a local court and the ruling went against “The Kid” and he was forced to let his neighbor have the calf. A week later the animal was found poisoned to death.
As far as we know, Elberfeld never poisoned a human being but he did do a tap dance on an opposing player’s back wearing his razor-sharp baseball cleats. He also once threw a handful of mud INSIDE the mouth of an umpire he happened to be arguing with. He poked another ump in the stomach with his finger so many times that the guy started beating Elberfeld over the head with his mask. He would actually get so mad at umpires that he was known to chase men-in-blue around baseball diamonds trying to physically assault them.
This maniac was the first starting shortstop in Yankee (Highlander) history. He played that position from 1903 until he was sold to the Washington Senators after the 1909 season. As hot-tempered as he was, Elberfeld evidently was a pretty skilled player who knew how to get on base. During his seven seasons playing for New York, he batted .268 and had a .340 on base percentage.
At the beginning of the 1908 season, New York Manager, Clark Griffith got into a dispute with the team’s owners and was dismissed. Elberfeld happened to be injured at the time so since he was being paid anyway, the Highlander brain trust made him the team’s Manager. The results were disastrous. The umpires hated him and so did his own players. He piloted the team to an almost comical 27-71 record during the rest of that 1908 season and his big league managerial days were over forever. He played one more season for New York before getting sold to Washington where he was reunited with Clark Griffith.
|NYY (7 yrs)||667||2743||2412||330||647||89||28||4||257||117||182||94||.268||.340||.333||.674|
|DET (3 yrs)||286||1219||1052||175||305||43||20||4||159||48||123||33||.290||.376||.380||.757|
|WSH (2 yrs)||254||1022||859||111||224||28||6||2||89||43||100||23||.261||.363||.314||.677|
|BRO (1 yr)||30||71||62||7||14||1||0||0||1||0||2||4||.226||.304||.242||.546|
|CIN (1 yr)||41||166||138||23||36||4||2||0||22||5||15||6||.261||.378||.319||.697|
|PHI (1 yr)||14||52||38||1||9||4||0||0||7||0||5||5||.237||.420||.342||.762|
A few years ago, I read a book entitled “The Big Bam,” which is a biography of Babe Ruth, written by Leigh Montville. In it, the author goes into great detail about the transaction that made Ruth a Yankee, in January of 1920. At the time the deal was made, Ruth was coming off a season in which he hit the then unheard of total of 29 home runs. He had almost convinced Red Sox Manager, Ed Barrow, that he was too good a hitter to continue pitching. He was quickly becoming the most famous man in America and was about to embark on a career in pinstripes that would in effect, make him the God of baseball. So imagine for a moment that you are today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Sammy Vick. You’ve been a Yankee for three seasons and in 1919, you finally became the team’s starting right fielder. You’re only 24 years old and the Yankees, under second-year Manager Miller Huggins, were an improving baseball team, finishing in third place in the American League the past season. So you wake up on January 4, 1920 and you pour yourself a cup of coffee and grab the morning newspaper. You unfold it and there on the top of the front page, you’re suddenly staring at your own obituary. Actually, the headline reads “Yankees Purchase Ruth From Boston” but to your eyes it says “Sammy Vick’s Days as Yankees’ Starting Right Fielder Are Over Forever.” When he got to the part of the article where Huggins is quoted as saying Babe’s pitching days are over for good, Vick probably put down his coffee and the newspaper and went back to bed hoping against hope that everything that had just transpired was nothing but a bad dream.
Ruth went on to hit 59 home runs during his first season in New York. Vick only got to play when “The Big Bam” was hurt, tired, hung over or finished hitting for the day. That meant Vick, who was a native of Batesville, Mississippi, appeared in just 51 games in 1920. The following season he was traded to Boston as part of a nine-player swap between the two teams. He floundered as a Red Sox and was back in the minors by 1922. He played until 1930 but never got back to the big leagues. Sammy lived to be 91, passing away in 1986. I bet at the time, he was still telling anyone who would listen that he was the guy who lost his job to Babe Ruth.
Joining Vick as a former Yankee who celebrates his birthday on April 12 is this reliever who came to New York in a trade for El Duque and this outfielder the Yankees picked up from Detroit just as the 2013 season was about to begin.
|NYY (4 yrs)||169||621||564||85||139||25||10||2||41||12||1||50||81||.246||.310||.337||.647|
|BOS (1 yr)||44||81||77||5||20||3||1||0||9||0||1||1||10||.260||.269||.325||.594|
I believe it was my son Matthew who e-mailed me to let me know the Yankees had signed Mark Teixeira. I was both shocked and smiling when I read his message. It was early January in 2009 and New York had already snagged CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett during that free agent signing season to rejuvenate their starting rotation. The prevailing rumor was that Teixeira was going to sign with the Red Sox but at the last minute, the Yankees swooped in and made the offer that Tex was waiting for and he was on his way to the Bronx.
What surprised me most as I got to watch this guy play every day was how good he really is as a defensive first baseman. I knew he was a quality hitter with good power from both sides of the plate but I had no idea that he would make such a positive impact for New York with his glove. In both 2009 and 2010, his extraordinary range and his ability to catch any ball thrown anywhere near him improved the entire Yankee infield dramatically. In fact, during the 2009 postseason Teixeira was terrible at the plate but was so good in the field I truly doubt the Yankees would have gotten to or won that World Series without him.
Through 2011, his offensive numbers since arriving in the Bronx had also been pretty impressive. During his first three seasons in pinstripes, he averaged 34 home runs and 114 RBIs per season with 102 runs scored per year. He was on his way to similar numbers in 2012 when he suffered a calf injury in late August and missed the last month of the regular season and the playoffs. He managed to hit 24 home runs and drive in 84 runs in the 123 games he played. His 138 HRs as a Yankee put him in 35th place on the all-time list, two behind the late Tom Thresh.
What has been dropping since he came to New York are Teixeira’s batting average, on base percentage and most unfortunately, his playing time. A torn wrist tendon pretty much wiped out his entire 2013 season and he was back on the DL just six games into the 2014 season with a groin pull. One has to start wondering if this guy has become too frail to withstand the rigors of a complete season.
He has also been pretty much an offensive bust during his Yankee April’s and more problematically, his Yankee October’s. This is one of the few guys in baseball history to have hit at least 30 home runs and drive in 100 or more runs for eight straight seasons. When he’s in one of his hitting funks, it really has a negative impact on New York’s ability to score runs. I think one of the big reasons the Yanks signed Carlos Beltran was their uncertainty that Texeira could once again be the effective middle-of-the-lineup slugger they signed five seasons ago.
Mark was born on April 11, 1980, in Annapolis, MD. The Yankees have him under contract through 2016.
|NYY (6 yrs)||614||2714||2325||379||605||134||5||138||440||8||314||455||.260||.355||.500||.855|
|TEX (5 yrs)||693||3006||2632||426||746||173||12||153||499||11||318||555||.283||.368||.533||.901|
|ATL (2 yrs)||157||691||589||101||174||36||1||37||134||0||92||116||.295||.395||.548||.943|
|LAA (1 yr)||54||234||193||39||69||14||0||13||43||2||32||23||.358||.449||.632||1.081|
After a nine-year career as a star outfielder for Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, Ken Griffey Sr. was signed as a free agent by the Yankees after the 1981 season. That was right after the fractious players strike, the crazy split-season format caused by the work action and New York’s loss to the Dodgers in the 1981 World Series. All three of those events impacted George Steinbrenner’s ownership philosophy to a point where he stopped listening to his baseball people and started making baseball decisions and deals on his own. Nothing symbolized the Boss’s going rogue better than the signing of Griffey and the trade for his Cincinnati outfield teammate, Dave Collins. The Yankees ended up with six outfielders on their 1982 roster making it difficult for Griffey and completely impossible for Collins to feel like they fit in. A solid but not spectacular player, Griffey later admitted to Baseball Digest that he felt much more comfortable playing in the National League. He lasted four and a half seasons in the Bronx, averaging .285 during that span. Just before the 1986 All Star break, the Yankees traded Griffey and shortstop Andre Robertson to the Braves for Claudell Washington and Paul Zuvella. Griffey couldn’t wait to get back to the Senior Circuit.
He would end up playing nineteen seasons in the big leagues, finally retiring in 1991, with a lifetime average of .296 and 2,143 hits. He was the second best ballplayer to be born in Donora, PA behind Stan “the Man” Musial and the second best ballplayer to be born in his own family behind his superstar son and former Mariner teammate, Ken “the Kid” Griffey.
This former Yankee, also born on April 10th, was New York’s starting DH in the Opening Day lineup of Griffey’s first game in pinstripes in 1982.
|CIN (12 yrs)||1224||4716||4206||709||1275||212||63||71||466||156||455||549||.303||.370||.434||.804|
|NYY (5 yrs)||551||2169||1977||275||563||99||10||49||251||27||158||210||.285||.336||.419||.755|
|ATL (3 yrs)||271||976||884||122||252||44||4||28||115||17||83||123||.285||.345||.439||.784|
|SEA (2 yrs)||51||188||162||23||53||9||0||4||27||0||23||16||.327||.410||.457||.866|
When Mariano Rivera tore his ACL shagging fly balls during a Yankee batting practice in Kauffman Stadium’s outfield in May of 2012, I thought David Robertson’s moment with destiny had arrived. I was sure it would be D-Rob and not the much higher-salaried Rafael Soriano who would be given the opportunity to replace the greatest closer ever to play the game and I was right. The next day it was Robertson who Joe Giardi summoned to pitch the ninth inning of a CC Sabathia 6-2 victory over Kansas City. Back at Yankee Stadium against the Rays a few days later, it was again D-Rob who got the call in the ninth inning, this time in a save situation. I can distinctly remember wondering how Soriano felt that night watching Robertson walk to the mound in a save situation against the team Raffie had left to take millions of Yankee dollars.
Robertson got the save that evening but it wasn’t pretty. He walked two batters and gave up a hit. Yankee fans had gotten use to seeing Robertson put men on base and then wiggle his way out of it. But that was when he was Rivera’s set-up man. Now, as closer, that wiggle room seemed a lot less spacious to Yankee fans and maybe Robertson noticed the difference too. The next night he got shelled for four runs against the same Tampa team, blowing the save and losing the game. The following night, Girardi turned to Soriano to close out the final game of the series and you could feel the torch being passed. A couple nights later, Robertson finished a game in Seattle (a non-save-situation) and the a few days later he was placed on the DL with a strained muscle in his rib cage, which could have been the result of a young pitcher trying too hard in his effort to replace a legend.
When Soriano opted out of his Yankee contract after the 2012 season, Robertson was again the favorite to replace Mariano, who announced in spring training that the 2013 season would be his last one. I believed D-Rob would benefit from his first attempt at closer and be much better prepared mentally to take over the role the next time he was given the opportunity. After another very strong year as Mo’s eighth-inning set-up guy in 2013, its too early to tell if that will be the case.
Robertson did get his first two saves of the 2014 season without much of a problem but he also suffered a groin injury in the process of earning that second one, which put him back on the DL. I am now officially concerned about this guy’s physical frailty. Does he have the strength and stamina to withstand the rigors of being a big league closer? We shall see.
Robertson was born in Birmingham, AL, on April 9, 1985. He was a 17th round pick for New York in the 2006 draft.
Ten years before Robertson joined the Yankee bullpen, this lefty reliever, also born on April 9th, was a key member of New York’s relief corps. This long-ago starting pitcher also shares D-Rob’s birthday.
From the moment I started following my Yankees as a six-year-old in 1960 right up until the team’s fifth place finish in the AL Pennant race in 1965, I loved Major League Baseball’s Reserve Clause. It is what had permitted the Yankee’s skillful and ruthless front office to firmly imprison the best baseball talent in America in Pinstripes until they could no longer run, hit, field, or throw or at least until they could be traded for someone who could do these things a bit better.
But after 1966, my stance on the sanctity of this oppressive piece of contract language began to soften. Overnight, the Yankees’ glamorous galaxy of star players seemed to grow old. Compounding the problem was that CBS, the team’s new owner, stopped investing in the Yankee farm system and that thriftiness, combined with the impact of the newly introduced MLB Amateur Draft, caused New York’s cupboard of bonafide home grown prospects to quickly grow bare. Also coming back to bite the team in the rear end was the tendency of the Yankee front office to avoid signing black prospects all throughout the late forties and fifties.
So by the late sixties I was one of the biggest advocates of testing baseball’s reserve clause in the courts and when George Steinbrenner took control of my favorite team, I was actively rooting for Curt Flood’s legal victory.
The New York Yankee’s first signing in Baseball’s new free agent era took place on the very last day of 1974. At the time, Jim Catfish Hunter was the American League’s premier starter. He had just completed a string of four consecutive 20-victory seasons for Oakland, the ace pitcher on a team that had won the last three World Series.
Hunter’s best season in pinstripes turned out to be his first, in 1975. He won 23 of his 37 decisions, threw 7 shutouts and compiled a 2.49 ERA. It wasn’t enough to win the Yankees a pennant but that certainly was not Catfish’s fault. He literally pitched his arm off that year, completing 30 games and amassing 328 innings pitched. In fact, during the three seasons of 1974, ’75 and ’76, Hunter threw 944 innings of baseball and the damage caused to his arm by that strain helps explain why he spent much of his last three seasons with New York on the DL.
What many Yankee fans fail to fully appreciate about Hunter was his ability to pitch effectively and be a clubhouse leader on teams that had rosters full of strong player personalities led by eccentric, very vocal owners. Hunter’s experience with Charley Finley’s Oakland A’s prepared him well for the Bronx Zoo and George Steinbrenner. And even though he had just that one twenty-victory season with the Yankees, Catfish showed his Yankee teammates how to focus on winning while on the field and how to survive the glare of a hyperactive media, monitoring a crazy clubhouse.
I will never forget Catfish’s gutty seven-inning performance in Game 6 of the 1978 World Series. That victory clinched a second straight championship for New York and I felt it was Hunter’s finest moment as a Yankee.
Inducted into Cooperstown in 1987, Catfish died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, twelve years later.
Below is my all-time Yankee free agent lineup. Only players who became Yankees’ originally via free agency are eligible. This disqualifies Yankees like Derek Jeter, who became a free agent while he was a Yankee and re-signed with the team. It also disqualifies free agent signers like Andy Pettitte, who was a Yankee, left and then re-signed with NY as a free agent.
The Pinstripe Birthday Blog’s All-Time Yankee Free Agent Line-Up
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Steve Sax
3B Wade Boggs
SS Tony Fernandez
C Russ Martin/Butch Wynegar
OF Reggie Jackson
OF Dave Winfield
OF Hideki Matsui
DH Jason Giambi
P CC Sabathia
P Catfish Hunter
P Mike Mussina
P David Wells
CL Goose Gossage
|OAK (10 yrs)||161||113||.588||3.13||363||340||5||116||31||1||2456.1||2079||947||853||261||687||1520||1.126|
|NYY (5 yrs)||63||53||.543||3.58||137||136||1||65||11||0||993.0||879||433||395||113||267||492||1.154|
Long before the ballfields of Kalamazoo, Michigan produced Derek Jeter, the first Yankee to achieve 3,000 hits in pinstripes, they also produced Johnny Ganzel, the first starting first baseman in the history of the Yankee franchise, after it was relocated from Baltimore to New York. Known as “the first family of Michigan baseball” the Ganzel clan produced a bevy of players. There were five Ganzel brothers and every one of them played big league or minor league ball.
Ganzel had three prior years of experience in the National League, when he accepted Clark Griffith’s offer to play for New York’s new American League franchise in 1903. He had a strong season that year, averaging a solid .277 and finishing second on the team in RBIs with 71. He then slumped in 1904, causing Griffith to refuse the first baseman’s demand for a raise for the ’05 season. Ganzel then demanded a trade but Griffith waited until he had Hal Chase under contract before complying with his request and sending Ganzel to Detroit.
Ganzel would never get to play for Detroit. Instead he became the player manager for a minor league team in Grand Rapids before taking over the same role with the NL’s Cincinnati Reds in 1908. He shares his April 7th birthday with the first manager in Yankee franchise history, this former Yankee pitcher and this one too.
|CIN (2 yrs)||257||1002||919||93||232||36||26||3||117||15||48||51||.252||.293||.358||.651|
|NYY (2 yrs)||259||1035||941||112||253||41||17||9||119||22||54||79||.269||.323||.377||.700|
|CHC (1 yr)||78||308||284||29||78||14||4||4||32||5||10||10||.275||.316||.394||.710|
|NYG (1 yr)||138||562||526||42||113||13||3||2||66||6||20||32||.215||.256||.262||.518|
|PIT (1 yr)||15||50||45||5||6||0||0||0||2||0||4||1||.133||.220||.133||.353|
Jason Giambi’s mediocre defensive talents at first base were a source of constant consternation for Joe Torre and the Yankee front office. When he first joined the club as a prized free agent in 2002, the Giambino’s offensive production was good enough to offset his weakness
in the field but over the years, as his hitting declined, his defensive deficiencies became more of a net negative. So beginning in 2004, the
Yankees began employing what I’ve come to refer to as the “Affordable Gloves for Giambi” initiative. These were first basemen who could field better than Jason and who were willing to play for what the Yankee’s then considered were “modest” salaries. In 2004, Giambi’s glove was Tony Clarke. Then in 2005, the Yankees handed the job to an aging Tino Martinez. In 2006, as Giambi’s contract was nearing its end, the team took a new approach by giving the role to a first base prospect in the Yankee’s Minor League organization. That turned out to be today’s Birthday Celebrant.
Andy Phillips had hit 80 home runs during his three previous seasons in New York’s farm system when he assumed the “Glove for Giambi” role in April of 2006. The Yankees had selected the Tuscaloosa, AL native in the seventh round of the 1999 draft out of the University of Alabama, so he was already 29-years-old when given the opportunity to become the Yankee’s regular first baseman. He turned out to be solid defensively but as a right handed hitter, his power was marginalized by Yankee Stadium. He hit just .240 that first season and his on-base percentage was a very-low .288.
He found himself back in the minors to start the 2007 season as the Yankees opened that year with former Gold Glove winner and World Series Game 4 ball-stealer, Doug Mientkiewicz at first. When Mientkiewicz got hurt in June of that year, Phillips was called up to replace him and he did that rather well. Andy hit .292 in 61 games that year plus he played flawless defense at first base, handling 408 chances without making an error. Despite the improved effort, the Yankee front office decided Phillips was not in their plans for the future and released him after the 2007 season. He was picked up by the Reds and even played a few games for the Mets in 2008 but was back in the minors the following year and playing in Japan, during the 2010 season.
Phillips shares his April 6th birthday with another Yankee prospect who was trying to work his way up New York’s farm team chain the same time as Andy. This Yankee pitching prospect, also born on April 6th tried to make the same climb three decades earlier.
They called today’s birthday celebrant “Silent John” because he never argued with umpires. Back during the first two decades of the twentieth century, when Hummel became one of baseball’s best known utility players for the old Brooklyn Superbas, not arguing with the umps was almost equivalent to playing the game without your uniform on. The flexible Hummel played a lot of first base, second, shortstop and outfield for Brooklyn, during his 11 seasons with that team. The Superbas released Hummel after the 1915 season and he spent the next two years playing minor league ball. During the 1918 season, an injury bug and WWI forced the Yankees and their first-year Manager, Miller Huggins, to raid the minor leagues for talent. They found Hummel and put him in Yankee pinstripes. He appeared in just 22 games that year, which turned out to be the final 22 games of his big league career. He is the only Yankee to be born on April 4 but he is not the only Yankee to have been born in The Keystone State. Here is my list of the top five Yankees to be born in Pennsylvania:
There are also a bunch of good players named “John” on the all-time Yankee roster. My top five list of Pinstripe John’s would include: Johnny Damon, John Wetteland, Johnny Blanchard, Johnny Lindell and of course, two-time Yankee 20-game-winner, Tommy John. There was also the only Yankee player named “John” to make it into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. That would be the Big Cat, Johnny Mize.
|BRO (11 yrs)||1139||4301||3845||412||973||127||82||29||390||114||335||467||.253||.315||.666|
|NYY (1 yr)||22||75||61||9||18||1||2||0||4||5||11||8||.295||.411||.788|