Most Yankee fans around my age can clearly remember the famous shower-room scuffle between Goose Gossage and Cliff Johnson in 1979 but how many of you can recall a similar incident between Don Mattingly and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant that took place eight years later, during the 1987 season? At the time, the southpaw Shirley was in his fifth year as a Yankee pitcher. He had been signed by New York as a free agent after the 1982 season and went 5-8 as a member of Billy Martin’s starting rotation in ’83. After that inauspicious beginning, he was demoted to the bullpen and became the Yankees’ primary left-handed long reliever. He thrived in that role for the next two seasons and had his best year in pinstripes in ’85 when he appeared in 48 games and posted a career-low ERA of 2.64. He then had a horrible year in 1986, going 0-4 with an ERA that exploded to over five runs for every nine innings he pitched. So Shirley was already on pretty thin ice when according to published reports in June of 1987, he and Donnie Baseball engaged in a playful wrestling match in the visitors’ locker room of Milwaukee’s County Stadium, where the Yankees were playing a series against the Brewers. Mattingly ended up on the DL with two ruptured discs in his back. Though both players and their teammates denied the wrestling had taken place, George Steinbrenner was reportedly livid and ordered that Shirley be released the next day. Mattingly continued to insist that his former teammate was not the cause of his injury, explaining to reporters that Shirley was now looking for a job and he did not want other teams to think that the pitcher was some kind of locker room trouble maker.
Mattingly’s chronic back trouble would of course end up stunting the glorious start he had put together as a Yankee. Shirley would sign on with the Royals one week after being let go but pitched horribly during his only three appearances with Kansas City and was quickly released. He never again pitched in a big league game. He finished his 165-game Yankee career with a 14-20 record, 5 saves and a 4.05 ERA. Lifetime, he was 67-94 during his 11 big league seasons with 18 saves and a 3.82 ERA. Shirley shares his June 25th birthday with this former Yankee catcher. Besides George “Babe” Ruth and Shirley, can you think of any other Yankees who have a girl’s first name as their surname?
|NYY (5 yrs)||14||20||.412||4.05||165||39||38||4||1||5||470.2||488||232||212||40||156||232||1.368|
|SDP (4 yrs)||39||57||.406||3.58||197||92||55||10||1||12||722.0||718||329||287||59||274||432||1.374|
|KCR (1 yr)||0||0||14.73||3||0||1||0||0||0||7.1||10||12||12||5||6||1||2.182|
|STL (1 yr)||6||4||.600||4.08||28||11||5||1||0||1||79.1||78||42||36||6||34||36||1.412|
|CIN (1 yr)||8||13||.381||3.60||41||20||6||1||0||0||152.2||138||74||61||17||73||89||1.382|
Yankee fans are not known for their patience, especially with pitchers. We want strikes thrown, we want to hold leads and we want consistent performances game-to-game, season-to-season and especially in the postseason. Anything less than that and Yankee pitchers begin to see and hear Yankee fans express their dissatisfaction.
The team’s fans grow even more impatient when management touts young pitching prospects as ready-for-prime-time starting pitchers. That’s what happened to Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and also finally, today’s birthday boy, Phil Hughes. All three are now ex-Yankees and of the trio, it was Mr. Hughes who came closest to fulfilling the lofty expectations of New York’s front office and Yankee fans. But close only counts in horseshoes, not in the Bronx.
He originally showed us something in 2007, especially in the playoffs against Cleveland. He earned another reprieve after a very shaky start in 2008 and a rib injury that sidelined him for much of the year. Then in 2009, Hughes stepped up big when he was sent to the bullpen to become Mariano Rivera’s setup man. After a highly publicized spring training competition with Chamberlain for the 2010 fifth starter position, Hughes pitched as well as any starter in either league during the first half of 2010 season and made the All Star team. But even though he finished that year with an 18-8 record, he became a very ordinary pitcher in the second half and was once again ineffective in fall ball.
After failing to sign Cliff Lee and losing Andy Pettitte during the 2010 off season, the Yankees urgently needed Hughes to come out on fire in 2011. Instead, he was horrible. His confidence seemed to decrease in direct proportion to the lower and lower digital number readings on the radar gun aimed at Hughes’ fastballs. Finally, management put him on the DL and told us he had a dead arm. He did bounce back to win 16 games in 2012 and even pitched well in his first postseason start against Baltimore in that year’s ALCS. But in his next start against Detroit in Game 3 of the ALCS, Hughes complained of back stiffness in the third inning and he was taken out of the game.
Whatever the reason, physical, mental or mechanical, Hughes continued to be an enigma during what would be his final season as a Yankee in 2013 and actually regressed. He seemed to lose whatever ability he had to finish off good big league hitters on a consistent basis. Brian Cashman chose not to make him a qualifying offer after the season, afraid he’d accept the $14 million and make a bad situation in New York even worse and much more expensive. But “Hughesie” did land on his feet, signing a three-year $24 million deal to pitch for Minnesota. And through today’s date, the pitcher’s 28th birthday, the Twin Cities have proved very much to his liking. He’s currently 8-3 with his new team and I’m thrilled for him. He deserves the success.
|NYY (7 yrs)||56||50||.528||4.53||182||132||7||2||1||3||780.2||787||419||393||112||245||656||1.322|
|MIN (1 yr)||8||3||.727||3.40||15||15||0||1||0||0||95.1||99||37||36||7||9||82||1.133|
George Weiss was not an easy guy to get along with. Even his wife agreed with that, once complaining after he was let go by the Yankees that she didn’t like having him at home too much. The reason George did not make friends easily could be summed up by his business philosophy, which was to never be satisfied with anything. He always felt things could be better and to him, better meant winning more world championships and becoming more profitable. That’s the philosophy he used when he designed and built the Yankee farm system during the thirties and forties and also exactly how he ran the organization when he was named General Manager of the parent club in January of 1948. Weiss managed every detail at every level of the Yankee organization, regardless how small and that usually meant saving or making every penny possible.
My favorite story about “Lonesome George” took place in 1957. Mickey Mantle had won the triple crown in 1956 and finished the ’57 season with a .365 batting average, 34 home runs and 94 RBIs. Weiss sent him a contract with a $17,000 pay cut. Mantle asked why. Weiss pointed out that Mantle had failed to repeat as triple crown winner. Weiss was GM of the Yankees from 1948 until 1961. During that time, New York won ten AL Pennants and seven Fall Classics. His greatest move as GM was hiring Casey Stengel. His biggest failure and the stain on his otherwise brilliant career was his refusal to sign black ballplayers.
Weiss shares his birthday with this Yankee catcher, who he traded to the White Sox for Eddie Lopat in 1948 . This one-time Yankee slugging prospect and this former Yankee pitching prospect were also born on June 23rd.