Just as he was during his tenure as the team’s pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre was under- appreciated as a Yankee starting pitcher. He did the bulk of his hurling during one of the bleakest ten-year periods in Pinstripe history. Yet he finished his career with a 2.97 ERA, 40 shutouts and averaged 16 victories per season.
Born in Hazelton, MO in 1941, Stottlemyre became one of my favorite players when the Yankees brought him up from the minors at the 1964 mid season and he won nine of twelve decisions to help the team come from behind and win the pennant. He then pitched two great games against the Cardinals in that season’s Fall Classic. I still remember watching the final game of that Series when Yankee Manager,Yogi Berra gave the 22-year-old right-hander the starting assignment a third time on just two-days rest because Whitey Ford couldn’t lift his left arm. Mel gave up three runs in the fourth inning on a walk and a bunch of singles. Berra’s decision to replace Stottlemyre with Al Downing an inning later immediately backfired when Downing gave up a lead-off home run to Lou Brock and a couple of more hits and the Cardinals scored three more runs. That negated the impact of Mickey Mantle’s three-run blast the following inning. The Yankees and Stottlemyre lost the game, Berra lost his job and my favorite team didn’t get back to a World Series for the next 11 years.
My anti-Yankee friends like to point out that Stottlemyre did almost all of his pitching before the American League implemented the designated hitter rule in 1973. This, they contend, explains why his ERA and shutout numbers are much more impressive than today’s starting pitchers. Not so fast. Stottlemyre’s record during the 1973 season, his only full year pitching to a DH, shows 16 victories, 4 shutouts, and an ERA of 3.07 for a Yankee team that had the third worst rated offense in the league that season.
In fact, if it were not for a rotator cuff injury that ended his career at the age of 32, in 1974, I believe Stottlemyre would have remained an effective sinker-balling starter for the great Yankee teams of the mid-seventies. In the process, he might have won a World Series, close to fifty more career victories and had his uniform number retired.
Besides pitching, the other thing Mel did very well was help others become better pitchers. Both his sons ended up pitching in the big leagues and Mel was the pitching coach for both the 1986 World Champion Mets and the four Joe Torre-led World Champion Yankee teams.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant did not accomplish much as a Yankee. After getting signed by New York as a 16-year-old pitching phee-nom out of Portland Oregon in 1944, this six foot three inch right-hander’s minor league career was interrupted by two years of military service just as WWII ended. When he returned from service he was still just 20 years-old and he was able to pitch his way onto New York’s 1947 Opening Day roster with a strong spring training performance.
Bucky Harris, the Yankee skipper back then, used Johnson in fifteen games that year including 8 starts. He finished his debut season with a 4-3 record and a 3.64 ERA. He also won a World Series ring that year though he did not appear in the Yankees seven-game victory over the Dodgers. After he got off to a slow start the next year, Johnson was included in a seven-player deal New York GM George Weiss made with the St. Louis Browns. Over the next eight seasons, Johnson became a journeyman, pitching for five different big league teams as well as spending quite a bit of time with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. He hung up his glove for good in 1960 and returned to his hometown, where among other things, he drove a Taxi for 25 years.
While researching Brown’s background for this post, I came across a one-hour video below, which shows an 86-year-old Johnson being interviewed in June of 2013, at his old grade school in Portland. It runs for about an hour and in it, Johnson either mis-remembers or exaggerates some of his accomplishments on the ball field. For example,he claims he once faced Bob Feller when he was on a 4-game winning streak and lost a 1-0 complete-game decision, but a review of his career performances turned up no such streak or decision. He also claimed he won 27 games for Toronto during the 1957 season but Baseball-Reference.com has him winning just 17 games that year. Despite these apparent exaggerations, I found the interview delightful to listen to and hopefully you will as well.
Here are Johnson’s Yankee and career pitching statistics.
|BAL (3 yrs)||7||11||.389||6.54||62||20||19||4||1||2||179.0||242||144||130||22||108||66||1.955|
|WSH (2 yrs)||7||16||.304||4.11||50||26||12||8||1||2||212.2||218||108||97||13||91||89||1.453|
|NYY (2 yrs)||5||3||.625||5.23||23||8||8||2||0||0||72.1||92||47||42||4||35||25||1.756|
|SFG (1 yr)||0||1||.000||6.26||17||0||6||0||0||1||23.0||31||19||16||2||8||14||1.696|
|CHW (1 yr)||8||7||.533||3.13||46||16||17||3||3||7||144.0||129||53||50||14||43||68||1.194|
There have only been four players in the history of Major League Baseball to have been born in Spain. One of them is today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant. Rios came into this world in Madrid on this date in 1972. He and his parents moved to the US two years later. He played baseball for the University of Miami and was signed by the Yankees in 1993. He was groomed from the beginning as a closer by the Yankee organization and had some really strong seasons in that role for New York’s Greensboro, Tampa and Norwich farm teams. By 1997 he was pitching in Columbus and got his call up to the parent club in May of that season.
Unfortunately for Rios, he got shelled by the Red Sox in his first Major League appearance, giving up three home runs and five earned runs during his one and two-thirds inning pitched. That debut performance got him sent back to Columbus and he didn’t throw another pitch in a big league game until September of that season. This time, in his first and only game in the original Yankee Stadium, Rios got shelled again, giving up five hits in two-thirds of an inning against the Orioles. Having seen enough, the Yankees released him after the 1997 season. He signed with the Royals the following year, appeared in five games for Kansas City in 1998 and then left the big leagues for good.
He landed on his feet in the Korean Baseball Organization, becoming the first non-Korean ever to win 20 games in that league in 2007. That performance earned him a huge contract to pitch in Japan the following year. According to his “Bullpen” profile section at Baseball-Reference.com, Rios tested positive for steroids while pitching in Japan and was suspended.
Another nondescript Yankee pitcher named Ownie Carroll was also born on this date.
|KCR (1 yr)||0||1||.000||6.14||5||0||1||0||0||0||7.1||9||9||5||1||6||6||2.045|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||0||19.29||2||0||0||0||0||0||2.1||9||5||5||3||2||1||4.714|
It would not take too long for just about any Yankee fan to corresctly guess who hit the first World Series home run in franchise history. That would be the one and only Babe Ruth. The Bambino hit the historic blast in Game 4 of the 1921 World Series versus the Yankees’ Polo Grounds landlord at the time, the mighty New York Giants. But even the most astute fan of Bronx Bomber baseball could keep guessing for the next ten years and not come up with the name of the second Yankee to perform that same feat.
The correct answer of course, is today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Wilson Lloyd “Chick” Fewster. His two-run blast in the top of the second inning of that same Fall Classic’s very next game, gave the Yankees a temporary 5-3 lead they would eventually lose. Its no wonder the name “Chick Fewster” means nothing to Yankee fans. After all, his entire Yankee career consisted of just 228 games spread over six lackluster seasons beginning in 1917. Back then, Yankee manager Miller Huggins was predicting great things for his young outfielder, telling the New York sports press that he had never seen a better prospect than this new kid from Baltimore. But Fewster would never fulfill that promise and he almost didn’t live long enough to hit that World Series home run either.
In a 1920 spring training game against the Brooklyn Robins, Fewster was hit in the head by a pitch and nearly died. They put a plate in his head and doctors told him he’d never play baseball again. Miraculously, he was back in action by early July of that same season.
|NYY (6 yrs)||228||783||642||113||174||33||4||3||45||15||90||109||.271||.372||.349||.721|
|BOS (2 yrs)||113||424||367||40||91||14||2||0||24||15||45||45||.248||.337||.297||.634|
|BRO (2 yrs)||109||397||338||54||82||16||3||2||24||9||45||49||.243||.340||.325||.666|
|CLE (2 yrs)||194||704||616||75||159||28||3||1||74||18||60||61||.258||.327||.318||.645|
After Miller Huggins’ Yankee team lost their second straight World Series to the New York Giants in 1922, the diminutive field skipper spent his offseason trying to figure out what his ball club needed in the way of personnel to finally beat his crosstown rivals in a Fall Classic. He brought his shopping list with him to the Yanks 1923 spring training camp in New Orleans and it included an infielder, two pitchers, a third string catcher and two new outfielders. One of those outfielders ended up being today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
Harvey “Gink” Hendrick was born in Mason, TN in 1897 and had played college ball at Vanderbilt University, his native state’s most famous school. He then spent a couple of years in the minors including a solid 1922 season with Galveston in the Texas League during which he belted 16 home runs and averaged .311. The Red Sox signed him to a contract but in early January of 1923, he was traded to New York along with pitcher George Pipgras. Hendrick then performed well enough that spring to earn a spot on Huggins’ Opening Day roster.
He ended up serving as a fifth outfielder and occasional pinch-hitter on that 1923 Yankee squad, which featured a strong starting outfield of Babe Ruth,Bob Meusel and Whitey Witt along with the veteran Elmer Smith as their primary backup. Like fellow rookie and teammate, Lou Gehrig, Hendrick spent most of that season sitting on the Yankee bench. Fortunately for him, however, New York dominated the AL Pennant race that year, beating second place Detroit by a full 16 games. That permitted Huggins to rest his starters the whole final month of his season. That meant lots of playing time for Hendrick and he made the most of it, raising his average by 40 points and hitting all three of his rookie season home runs that September. His strong finish helped convince Huggins to keep the rookie outfielder on the Yanks’ postseason roster. Hendrick made his one and only career World Series appearance in the eighth inning of that Series’ first game as a pinch hitter for Yankee shortstop Everett Scott, flying out to center off of Giants’ reliever Rosey Ryan. He did end up winning a coveted ring.
He spent one more season in New York in 1924, playing about as much and performing about as well as he did the year before. The Yanks released him after that second season and he ended up with the Indians in 1925 and back in the minors in ’26. He got his break in 1927 when he became an often-used utility player for a pretty bad Brooklyn Robins team. For the next three seasons he averaged 120 games played and over 400 at bats playing some outfield, some third base and some first base for Brooklyn. He averaged over .300 in each of those seasons including a career high .354 in 1929.
The Robins traded Hendrick to Cincinnati at the start of the 1931 regular season and he would later also play for the Cardinals and Phillies before his big league career ended in 1936. Evidently, Hendrick struggled in life after his playing days were over because in 1941 he committed suicide by shooting himself in his Covington, Tennessee home. Other former Yankees who have taken their own lives include; Dan McGann, Jake Powell, Hugh Casey and most recently, Hideki Irabu.
|BRO (5 yrs)||433||1604||1435||236||456||68||28||34||219||61||129||113||.318||.378||.475||.853|
|CIN (2 yrs)||231||1021||928||130||287||62||12||5||115||6||76||69||.309||.363||.418||.782|
|NYY (2 yrs)||77||149||142||16||38||3||1||4||23||4||4||15||.268||.293||.387||.680|
|PHI (1 yr)||59||127||116||12||34||8||0||0||19||0||9||15||.293||.344||.362||.706|
|STL (1 yr)||28||77||72||8||18||2||0||1||5||0||5||9||.250||.299||.319||.618|
|CHC (1 yr)||69||208||189||30||55||13||3||4||23||4||13||17||.291||.346||.455||.801|
|CLE (1 yr)||25||33||28||2||8||1||2||0||9||0||3||5||.286||.355||.464||.819|
When Del Webb and Dan Topping purchased the Yankees in 1945, they needed a baseball man to run things and they selected former Dodger and Cardinal team president, Larry MacPhail to fulfill that role. The two multi-millionaires loaned MacPhail the $900,000 he needed to purchase ten percent of the team. That presented a problem for legendary Yankee Manager, Joe McCarthy, who did not like MacPhail. It became the key reason why Marse Joe quit as the Yankee skipper 35 games into the 1946 season. He was replaced by Yankee catching legend Bill Dickey, who had been one of McCarthy’s coaches.
The Yankees finished in third place in 1946 and Dickey did not even finish the season as manager, resigning that September, as soon as the Red Sox had eliminated New York from the pennant race. Two days after Dickey quit as skipper, MacPhail hired Bucky Harris to an unnamed front office position, to serve as MacPhail’s personal liason with the Yankee clubhouse. Harris then got the Manager’s job after the 1946 season ended.
Bucky had become famous in 1926, when at just 27 years of age, he became the player manager of the Senators and led the team to a World Series Championship that season. That title earned him the nickname “The Boy Wonder.” He then continued to manage for the next two decades but had not won another World Series.
The Yankee team he inherited in 1947 was getting old and ornery. His outfield was a mess. Joe DiMaggio had sore heels, Charley Keller a bad back and Tommy Henrich had turned 37 and hit just .251 in 1946. His infield wasn’t any better. First baseman Nick Etten had become an automatic out once big league pitchers returned from serving in WWII plus he was a horrible defensive first baseman. Third baseman Snuffy Stirnweiss was also a much less effective hitter against post war pitching and both second baseman Joe Gordon and shortstop Phil Rizzuto had a difficult time getting their swings back after their military service. As for pitching, Red Ruffing had retired and Spud Chandler was getting old fast.
Working with MacPhail, Harris made a series of moves that turned out to be genius-like. He replaced Etten at first with 38-year old George McQuinn, an NL veteran with a decent glove and good bat. MacPhail traded Joe Gordon to the Indians for pitcher Allie Reynolds and Harris switched Stirnweiss from third to Gordon’s old spot at second and inserted rookie Billy Johnson at the hot corner. He benched Keller and made Johnny Lindell his starting left fielder. His best move was converting Yankee starter Joe Page to his closer. Each of these maneuvers panned out perfectly and with DiMaggio, Henrich and Rizzuto all enjoying bounce back seasons, the Yankees rolled to the 1947 AL Pennant, finishing a dozen games ahead of the second place Tigers. A few weeks later, Harris had his second World Championship as a Manager when the Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven games.
Despite winning 94 games the following season, the Yankees finished a disappointing third in the AL Pennant race. MacPhail had also been bought out by Topping and Webb, who had installed George Weiss as the new Yankee GM. Weiss used the Yankees third place finish in ’47 as an excuse to replace Harris with his own man, Casey Stengel.
If a Manager was hired in today’s times, who then won 191 regular season games during his first two years managing a team plus a World Series, he’d get a multi-year contract worth eight figures. Instead, Bucky Harris got fired. In all, Harris managed 30 years in the Majors. He was named to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans’ Committee in 1975.
Harris shares his birthday with this short-time Yankee outfielder.
|21||1947||50||New York Yankees||AL||97||57||.630||155||1||WS Champs|
|22||1948||51||New York Yankees||AL||94||60||.610||154||3|
|Boston Red Sox||1 year||76||76||.500||153||4.0|
|Philadelphia Phillies||1 year||39||53||.424||94||7.0|
|New York Yankees||2 years||191||117||.620||309||2.0||1 Pennant and 1 World Series Title|
|Washington Senators||18 years||1336||1416||.485||2776||4.9||2 Pennants and 1 World Series Title|
|Detroit Tigers||7 years||516||557||.481||1078||5.4|
|29 years||2158||2219||.493||4410||4.9||3 Pennants and 2 World Series Titles|
The “Scooter” will always be my all-time favorite Yankee announcer but not because he was a particularly good analyst or play-by-play guy. Quite the opposite, he was petty bad at both. But Rizzuto helped me enjoy Yankee broadcasts regardless if the team won or lost and he wore and flashed his unabashed lack of objectivity on behalf of the Bronx Bombers like a badge of honor.
As much as I enjoyed Rizzuto, I appreciated Jim Kaat. His award-winning commentary taught me things I didn’t know about the game of baseball and how it is played at the highest of levels. He did a great job of explaining technical things to his non-technical audience, like why a curve ball curves, what pitchers have to be prepared for in a suicide squeeze situation, and how the best fielding catchers play the spin of the ball on foul pops.
Unlike Rizzuto, who played his ball before my time during the forties and early fifties, “Kitty” played his rookie season just one year before I became an avid fan of Major League baseball. I loved to listen to him talk about his personal experiences with ballplayers he played with and against, especially during the sixties. Back before you could watch every Yankee game on TV or bring up Major League Baseball’s Web site on the Internet, the only things I knew about players like Bob Allison, Zoilio Versailles, Don Mossi, or Leon Wagner were printed on the backs of the baseball cards that I collected as a kid. Kaat’s vivid memories of the players I grew up watching gave life to the faces on those cards for me.
In addition to announcing for the Yankees for a dozen seasons, Kaat pitched in Pinstripes for parts of both the 1979 and 1980 seasons. He ended his 25-year playing career three seasons later, with 283 career victories. Jim Kaat belongs in the Hall-of-Fame.
|MIN (15 yrs)||190||159||.544||3.34||484||433||20||133||23||6||3014.1||2982||1343||1118||279||729||1851||1.231|
|PHI (4 yrs)||27||30||.474||4.23||102||87||6||11||2||0||536.2||611||266||252||51||109||188||1.342|
|STL (4 yrs)||19||16||.543||3.82||176||17||59||6||1||10||292.1||327||145||124||19||83||98||1.403|
|CHW (3 yrs)||45||28||.616||3.10||92||87||1||30||5||0||623.2||628||250||215||42||144||300||1.238|
|NYY (2 yrs)||2||4||.333||4.12||44||1||16||0||0||2||63.1||72||34||29||4||18||24||1.421|
The New York Yankees were a very competitive team from 1982 until the wheels came off in 1989. In fact, no team in baseball won more games than New York did during that time but, they failed to make the playoffs in each of those seasons. With Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and Ricky Henderson in their lineup for much of that decade, offense wasn’t the problem for New York but starting pitching and managerial consistency was. It seemed as if every season, the Yankees had at least one new manager and three new starters in their rotation. In 1988, the Yankee front office signed former Pirate ace, John Candelaria to a free agent contract and hoped he would anchor their staff. For half a season, the “Candy Man” did just that, going 8-2 and helping New York get out to a quick start and take the Eastern Division lead for Manager Billy Martin, who was on his fifth tour of duty that year as Yankee skipper. As usual, however, Martin was fired on June 23rd of that season, when Clyde King, George Steinbrenner’s personal scout told the Boss that Martin had behaved unprofessionally by leaving reliever Tim Stoddard in a game in which he was getting shelled. King felt it was because Billy disliked Stoddard. By the time Lou Piniella took over for Martin, Candelaria’s knee was hurting and he won just five of his last ten decisions. The Yankees ended up finishing in fifth place, but were just 3.5 games behind Division winning Boston. That 1988 season really was the straw that ended up breaking the Yankee’s back. The next four Yankee teams finished below five hundred under five different Managers, going through a whole bunch of different starting pitchers. Martin died drunk, when his pickup truck drove off the road and Steinbrenner was actually banned from the game for his role in the Howie Spira episode.
When Candelaria got off to a 3-3 start for New York in 1989, he was traded to the Expos for an infielder named Mike Blowers. The New York City-born southpaw tried to make the Yankees winners again but in the end, the Candy Man couldn’t.
|PIT (12 yrs)||124||87||.588||3.17||345||271||42||45||9||16||1873.0||1763||731||660||172||436||1159||1.174|
|CAL (3 yrs)||25||11||.694||3.77||49||49||0||2||2||0||279.1||265||133||117||28||70||208||1.199|
|LAD (2 yrs)||3||6||.333||3.36||109||0||21||0||0||7||59.0||51||25||22||4||24||61||1.271|
|NYY (2 yrs)||16||10||.615||3.80||35||30||2||7||2||1||206.0||199||97||87||26||35||158||1.136|
|MIN (1 yr)||7||3||.700||3.39||34||1||10||0||0||4||58.1||55||23||22||9||9||44||1.097|
|NYM (1 yr)||2||0||1.000||5.84||3||3||0||0||0||0||12.1||17||8||8||1||3||10||1.622|
|MON (1 yr)||0||2||.000||3.31||12||0||2||0||0||0||16.1||17||8||6||3||4||14||1.286|
|TOR (1 yr)||0||3||.000||5.48||13||2||5||0||0||1||21.1||32||13||13||2||11||19||2.016|
John Craig “Sonny” Dixon was already a good enough pitcher at the age of sixteen to be signed to a contract by the Washington Senators just before the 1941 season started. At that young of an age you would expect him to struggle during his first couple of seasons of pro ball and he did. But instead of being allowed to mature on a minor league mound, this big right-hander from Charlotte, North Carolina was called into the Navy and spent the next three years of his life battling the Japanese in the Pacific. He was still only 21 years of age when he returned from Service and put together an impressive 19-11 season for the Senators’ Class B affiliate in his hometown of Charlotte, in 1946.
You’d think that performance would have been good enough to put Dixon on a fast track to the parent club, especially since Washington was a pretty bad ball club back then. The post WWII Senators never found themselves in a Pennant race so one would have expected them to give their top minor league pitching prospects plenty of chances to pitch at the big league level. Dixon, however, would end up spending another six full seasons in Washington’s farm system, finally making his big league debut in 1953. He posted a 5-8 first year record in 20 appearances that included 6 starts. He went 6-9 in his sophomore season during which he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics.
In 1956, Yankee GM George Weiss was on the prowl for relief pitchers who could shore up Casey Stengel’s bullpen for the second half stretch drive. In May of that season, he sent 37-year-old Johnny Sain and 39-year-old Enos Slaughter to the A’s in exchange for Dixon. The Yanks then kept their new pitcher down in Richmond until the very end of the season, when he was called up so that Stengel could rest his best arms for the postseason. Dixon made three appearances in ten days, losing his only Yankee decision during his final performance in pinstripes. His final pitch as a Yankee turned out to also be his final pitch as a big leaguer.
Dixon spent the next five seasons pitching back in the minors before returning to Charlotte where he worked as a convenience store manager. He passed away at the age of 87 in 2011. Folks might wonder how a guy who lived the life of a Major League ballplayer could feel happy and satisfied working the rest of his life in a convenience store in his home town. Sonny Dixon signed a professional baseball contract as a 16-year-old and fought in WWII while still a teenager. Perhaps Old Sonny felt he had enough excitement just in those five years to last him a lifetime.
Dixon shares his birthday with this former outfielder who helped end one memorable Yankee postseason and win another.
|WSH (2 yrs)||6||10||.375||3.61||59||6||26||3||0||4||149.2||149||72||60||16||43||47||1.283|
|KCA (2 yrs)||5||7||.417||5.04||40||6||24||1||0||4||109.0||142||66||61||9||27||42||1.550|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||1||.000||2.08||3||0||2||0||0||1||4.1||5||3||1||0||5||1||2.308|
You can consider yourself a solid fan of Yankee baseball if you can remember this Chestertown, MD native, who was born on November 4, 1967. He played his first four seasons of big league ball as a regularly-used spare outfielder with the Mets. In 2000, he was signed as a free agent by the Yankees after that season’s All Star break. He got off to a fast start, driving in five runs during his first two games in pinstripes. In 33 games that year, he hit .260 and drove in 14 runs. The Yankees did not put him on that season’s postseason roster and released Thompson in the off-season that followed.
The only other Yankee I could find who was born on November 2nd is this Yankee pitcher from the late 1930s.
|NYM (4 yrs)||283||1106||997||127||238||53||4||39||126||8||74||276||.239||.300||.417||.717|
|CLE (1 yr)||8||23||22||2||7||0||0||1||5||0||1||6||.318||.348||.455||.802|
|NYY (1 yr)||33||56||50||12||13||3||0||3||14||0||5||12||.260||.339||.500||.839|
|FLA (1 yr)||18||32||31||6||9||5||0||0||2||0||1||8||.290||.313||.452||.764|
|HOU (1 yr)||12||22||20||2||4||1||0||1||5||0||2||7||.200||.273||.400||.673|
|MIL (1 yr)||62||146||137||16||34||9||2||8||24||1||7||38||.248||.295||.518||.813|