Ira Thomas was born on this date in 1881 about 20 miles north of my hometown, in Ballston Spa, NY. He grew into a sturdy 6’2″, 200 pound frame, which was considered “huge” back at the turn of the 20th century. That gave him the brawn he needed to handle the physical challenges of the catcher’s position. After a few years of minor league ball, he joined the New York Highlanders in 1906 and became Red Kleinow’s primary backup behind the plate.
Thomas had developed strong defensive skills for the position and he had a great arm for nailing opposing base runners. What he couldn’t do very well during his early big league days with New York was hit. In 44 games during his rookie season, he averaged just .200. Still, he was impressive enough defensively to remain with the team in 1907 and pretty much share the catching responsibilities evenly with Kleinow. Once again however, Thomas’s bat failed him. The increased at bats he got in 1907 did not improve his hitting stroke and he ended his second big league season with just a .192 average.
His weakness at the plate is what most likely got him sold to the Tigers in December of 1907. It was with Detroit that Thomas made MLB history and he did it ironically, with his bat. The Tigers faced the Cubs in the 1908 World Series and in the ninth inning of Game 1, Thomas got the first pinch hit, a single, in Series history.
Still just a backup with Detroit, Thomas was spending lots of time watching big league games and big league players perform from the bench. In doing so, he developed lots of knowledge that he would put to good and profitable use for the rest of his life. The first opportunity to do so came in 1909 when he was sold to Connie Mack’s A’s. Not only did his hitting improve in Philly, he also got his first chance to become a big league team’s starting catcher. Those Mack-led A’s teams would go onto win four AL Pennants in the next five years and Thomas was an integral part of each of them, first as the starting backstop and later as one of Mack’s most respected and knowledgeable bench coaches. The Yankees wanted to hire Thomas after the 1914 season ended to manage New York the following year but he wasn’t quite ready to retire as a player.
After he did quit playing in 1915, he accepted an offer to coach the baseball team at Williams College. Five years later, he revived his relationship with Mack and the A’s, as a coach, manager and later, a very talented scout for the organization. He also did some scouting for the Yankees late in his career. Thomas died in 1958 at the age of 77.
He shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfield prospect.
|PHA (7 yrs)||320||1027||928||86||233||39||11||2||108||13||59||93||.251||.308||.323||.631|
|NYY (2 yrs)||124||350||323||32||63||6||6||1||39||7||18||35||.195||.246||.260||.506|
|DET (1 yr)||40||108||101||6||31||1||0||0||8||0||5||10||.307||.346||.317||.663|
If it wasn’t for a horrible September, this big right-hander from Dallas would have been my choice for the Yankees’ 2013 Rookie of the Year. In his pinstriped debut against Oakland on May 5, 2013, he relieved Andy Pettitte in the sixth inning and retired all six A’s he faced. He remained in a groove, not surrendering a run in his first seven appearances and by the end of July, his ERA was still a splendid 2.06.
He quickly became one of Joe Girardi’s favorite go-to guys in the middle innings and when both Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan proved ineffective, it was Claiborne and Shawn Kelley who picked up the Yankee bullpen time and again until September reared its ugly head. That’s when this former Tulane Green Waver was hammered in three straight appearances against the Red Sox, giving up a total of eight runs in the one and two-thirds innings he pitched against Boston. That sent his ERA over four and put a damper on what had been a splendid first year.
Claiborne remains prominent in Girardi’s bullpen plans for the 2014 season, especially with both Logan and Chamberlain gone and David Robertson assuming the closer role left vacant by Mariano Rivera’s retirement.
Jesse Gonder was a pretty special prospect in the late 1950′s because he was a catcher who hit left-handed and hit pretty well at that. Originally signed by the Reds, the Yankees got him in 1960 and sent him to their top farm club in Richmond. He opened lots of eyes in the Yankee hierarchy when he hit .327 for the Virginians that season. That performance earned him a September call-up to the Bronx, where he got his first big league hit, a home run off of Boston’s Bill Monboquette.
Despite the fact that Gonder’s sweet left-handed swing was perfectly suited to the short porch in right field at the old Yankee Stadium, there were four obstacles preventing him from getting the opportunity to fulfill his potential in pinstripes. The first was his mediocre defensive ability behind the plate. The other three were Yankee catchers named Howard, Berra and Blanchard, who were all ahead of him on the Bronx Bomber’s behind-the-plate depth chart.
When Ralph Houk became Yankee skipper in 1961, he brought Gonder north with the team at the start of the season and for the next two months used him exclusively as a pinch-hitter. Since that ’61 Yankee team was one of the best offensive teams in MLB history, Gonder’s bat was very expendable. He was sent back to Richmond at the end of May and the following December, the Yankees traded him back to Cincinnati for reliever Marshall Bridges.
He would later get dealt to the Mets, where he achieved a good degree of fame when he won the starting catchers job for the Amazin’s in 1964 and hit a pretty solid .270. But his bad glove and weak arm prevented him from holding onto that job. Complicating his situation was the fact that he was not a good pinch-hitter. He needed live at-bats to keep his swing sharp. His last big league season was 1967 with the Pirates. He then went back to his hometown of Oakland, California, where he became a bus driver.
In researching Gonder’s career and life for this post, I came across several references to his outspokenness. Back in 1960, the spring training cities in Florida all had ordinances preventing black ballplayers from staying at the same hotels as their white teammates. Gonder made no attempt to hide his distaste for this codified racism. Imagine the reaction of today’s black athletes if they were barred from their team’s hotel because of the color of their skin? People today would be shocked if those black athletes did not speak out forcefully about such segregation. But when Gonder did so five decades ago, he was labeled as an outspoken athlete. My how times have changed.
Gonder shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee phee-nom and this former Yankee who was once served as USC varsity football coach.
|NYM (3 yrs)||226||625||572||46||155||19||1||14||59||1||46||110||.271||.325||.381||.706|
|PIT (2 yrs)||81||219||196||17||41||4||1||7||19||0||17||48||.209||.286||.347||.633|
|CIN (2 yrs)||35||37||36||5||10||2||0||3||5||0||1||15||.278||.297||.583||.881|
|NYY (2 yrs)||22||24||19||3||6||1||0||1||6||0||4||2||.316||.417||.526||.943|
|MLN (1 yr)||31||57||53||2||8||2||0||1||5||0||4||9||.151||.211||.245||.456|
In one of the best deals in Yankee history, New York acquired closer John Wetteland from the Expos at the start of the 1995 regular season. At the time, Wetteland was considered one of the very best closers in the game and the only reason he became available was the precarious financial condition of the Montreal franchise. The transaction cost George Steinbrenner lots of Yankee bucks and an intriguing giant-sized switch-hitting prospect from Panama with a name that was impossible to say and even harder to spell.
Fernando Seguignol (pronounced SEG ee nol) was a 6’5″ outfielder who tipped the scales at close to 260 pounds. The Yankees had signed him as an amateur free agent in 1993 and after a rough first year in the rookie league, he had put up some decent numbers in his sophomore season with the Yankees’ Oneonta, NY single A affiliate. The Expos were hoping he’d develop as a power hitter and though it took a bit longer than expected, that’s exactly what happened. When he hit 31 home runs during the 1998 minor league season, he got a four-year shot to break into the Expos’s starting outfield but never made it.
He then spent the 2002 season playing in Japan. That’s when he returned to the States and re-signed with the Yankees. He very nearly won the International League triple crown in 2003. That earned him a September call-up, during which he got his one and only Yankee hit, a single off of Baltimore’s Rodrigo Lopez.
When that season ended he was 28 years old and not a part of the Yankees immediate outfield plans so he decided to go back to the Land of the Rising Sun. It turned out to be a good decision. Seguignol became a star slugger there, hitting 121 home runs during the next four seasons. He retired in 2010.
|MON (4 yrs)||173||394||359||42||90||23||0||17||40||0||19||111||.251||.305||.457||.761|
|NYY (1 yr)||5||8||7||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||3||.143||.250||.143||.393|
UPDATE-2014: Phase 2 is now over and its becoming even harder to believe that the trade that brought Pineda to the Yankees two years ago was considered a blockbuster. None of the players involved spent a majority of the season on their parent club’s active 25-man roster in 2013 and Pineda, once again, didn’t see an inning of regular season action for the Yankees. In fact, he only made 10 starts in the minors last season, finishing with a 2-1 record and a 3.32 ERA. as he continued his rehab from shoulder surgery. Despite his continued inaction, there’s a lot of talk among Yankee brass this offseason that they are expecting Pineda to grab a spot on in the rotation this spring. I hope so but I won’t believe it until I see him standing on the mound in the Bronx with the ball in his hand after the National Anthem ends. So how could the original trade now look better for the Yanks than it does for the Mariners? Not only was Montero sent back to the minors by Seattle early last season because he seemed to completely forget how to hit, he was also named as one of the “Biogenesis Boys” and suspended for 50 games for violating the league’s PED policy.
UPDATE-2013: Phase 1 of the Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda trade aftermath is over and the Mariners have taken the advantage. The two players they got in the deal, Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi at least both played for the Mariners last year, albeit not as well as Seattle hoped either would. Noesi had eighteen starts for his new team, going 2-12 with an ERA in the five’s and getting demoted to Tacoma for most of the second half of the season. Montero averaged .260 for Seattle in his official rookie season, with 15 home runs, 62 RBIs and an .OPS of just .685. Seattle’s Safeco Field has proven to be a tough park for home run hitters and the Mariners have decided to move the fences in for the 2013 season. I have no doubt Montero’s power production would have been significantly better if he spent his full rookie campaign in the comfortable confines of Yankee Stadium, especially with the way this kid showed Yankee fans he could punch opposite field drives over that short right field wall in the Bronx during his September 2011 debut. The real problem with Montero is that it looks like he may not have the ability to become a decent big league catcher, defensively. The Mariners were not happy with his game management skills or his arm and he spent most of his first regular season in the northwest DH-ing.
Meanwhile, Pineda never made it out of the Yankees’ 2012 spring training camp. First he reported overweight and then he had nothing but trouble trying to get his highly touted fastball to travel even 90 miles per hour. It was almost with relief that the Yankees announced he had a physical problem with his throwing shoulder and sure enough, doctors discovered a torn labrum muscle, which required season-ending surgery. The key concern I now have about Pineda is his maturity level. He turns just 24-years-old today. Has he figured out how to take care of his huge 6 foot 7 inch body and especially that golden right arm or will he just let nature take its course? Unfortunately, a warning signal occurred this past August when police arrested Pineda in the wee hours of the morning for driving recklessly and at high speeds. He was charged with DUI. Where was he at the time? In Tampa, where he was supposed to be working out and rehabbing his shoulder. Meanwhile, not quite a week after Pineda was sidelined, Jose Campos, the well-regarded minor league pitcher the Yanks acquired with Pineda, also went on the DL of his Class A minor league team with an arm injury that pretty much ended his season.
Let’s hope Phase 2 of the Pineda/Montero swap delivers better results for the Yankees. Here’s what I wrote for Pineda’s Birthday post last year:
When President Franklin Roosevelt died, his wife Eleanor met with his just sworn in successor and asked him how he was doing. Harry Truman, referring to the intense pressure he felt at being thrust unexpectedly into the world’s most important job during a time of world war, told the former first lady it was as if the sun and the moon and all the planets and stars had just fallen on him.
I’m hoping Michael Pineda doesn’t feel like old “Give em Hell Harry” did on that fateful day. A few days ago, he was the bright young pitching star of the struggling Seattle Mariners, coming off a very decent rookie season. Then suddenly, he found himself thrust into the number two spot of the New York Yankee starting rotation and the expectations on his right arm increased a thousand fold. If he finishes the 2012 regular season with the same record (9-10) that he put up for Seattle in 2011, he might very well get booed out of Yankee Stadium.
All indications are that this youngster is the real deal. “Nasty” seems to be the adjective used most when players who’ve had to hit against him, describe this native Dominican’s stuff. I can’t help remembering Derek Jeter using the same adjective in an interview a few years ago to describe the stuff of another just-acquired-Yankee pitcher named AJ Burnett.
I got my fingers crossed for Pineda (and the young minor league pitcher named Jose Campos who the Yankees also picked up in the same trade.) I was really pretty pumped about seeing Jesus Montero get a full season of at bats in pinstripes but now that is not going to happen. Instead, I can’t wait to see Pineda get that first start in April.
The only other Yankee I could find who was born on this date was also the last Yankee to wear number 5 before Joe DiMaggio.
His real name is Charles Theodore Davis. In addition to being in fifth place on the Major League’s all-time home run list for switch hitters with 350 (behind Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, Chipper Jones and Lance Berkman) Chili was also the first native Jamaican to play Major League baseball. The Yankees signed him in 1997, right after he hit 30 home runs in a season for the first and only time in his 19-year big league career, for the Royals. His first season in pinstripes got off to a nightmare start when an ankle injury required an operation and an almost season-long stay on the DL. But Davis got himself in shape to play in the 1998 postseason, during which he was a key contributor. His best year in New York was his second, when he was the everyday DH and hit 19 home runs, while providing veteran leadership in the Yankee clubhouse. He did not have a good postseason in 1999 and I believe that helped convince him to not try and play again the following season. Davis retired with three championship rings, 2,380 career hits and three All Star game appearances.
|SFG (7 yrs)||874||3564||3148||432||840||144||20||101||418||95||62||361||578||.267||.340||.422||.762|
|CAL (7 yrs)||950||4031||3491||520||973||167||6||156||618||28||20||493||713||.279||.365||.464||.829|
|MIN (2 yrs)||291||1163||978||147||276||61||3||41||159||9||11||168||193||.282||.385||.476||.862|
|NYY (2 yrs)||181||672||579||70||158||32||1||22||87||4||2||87||118||.273||.368||.446||.813|
|KCR (1 yr)||140||567||477||71||133||20||0||30||90||6||3||85||96||.279||.386||.509||.896|
Remember Colter Bean? I do, all six feet, six inches and 250 or so pounds of him. He was a right-handed pitcher from Alabama who went un-drafted after completing his collegiate career in 2000 and was then signed by the Yankees as an amateur free agent that same year.
During the next five seasons, he developed into one of the potential “Mariano Rivera successors” in the Yankee farm system. The problem with that of course was that Rivera was like the Energizer Bunny, he just kept going and going and going and didn’t require any successoring.
So Bean kept pitching well out of the pen for Yankee farm teams, putting together a 38-20 record with 16 saves, while getting three brief trials with the parent club. Unfortunately for Bean, he didn’t impress anyone in any of them and ended up getting released by New York in 2007, when he was already 30-years-old.
The Braves signed him and a year later, so did the Rays, but he would never again pitch in a big league game. Too bad, because I thought Colter Bean had one of the coolest names in Yankee franchise history. Its a name you can’t forget. I never have.
|162 Game Avg.||0||11||.000||9.00||68||0||23||0||0||0||79||91||79||79||0||102||57||2.429|
I’m the first to admit that I don’t remember today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant playing for the New York Yankees. This native of Ft. Lauderdale, FL pitched in pinstripes during the 1984 season for manager Yogi Berra after he was acquired in a trade with the California Angels the previous December. He was a tall right-hander who didn’t make New York’s Opening Day roster that year but was instead called up a month later, when starter John Montefusco went on the DL.
Berra used Brown a lot, getting him into 13 games in just over a month and the then-24-year-old pitcher was up to the task. He gave up just 5 runs in 16 2/3 innings of work for an impressive ERA of 2.70. But whenYankee starter, Shane Rawley was ready to return from the DL at the beginning of June, it was Brown who was reassigned to Columbus to make room for him on the 25-man roster.
New York released him in October of 1985 and he signed with the Expos. Montreal gave him two more shots at the big leagues in both 1986 and ’87 but he could not take advantage of either opportunity.
I chose to include Curt Brown in the Pinstipe Birthday Blog because of his common last name. I thought it might be interesting to find out the most popular last name on the Yankees’s all-time roster and figured Brown would be one of them. I was right. There have been seven players with the last name of Brown to play for the franchise. In addition to Curt, they include two Bobby’s, one nicknamed Boardwalk, Hal, Jumbo and Kevin. The most popular last name in Yankee history is Johnson. There are 17 “Johnson’s” on the Yankees’ all-time roster. “Rodriguez” and “Williams” are the second most popular Yankee player surnames with 8 each. There have also been 7 Yankees with the last name of Robinson, 7 more named Jones and another 7 named Smith.
Brown shares his January 15th birthday with the only big league player to be born on the Island of Samoa and this former Yankee catcher.
|MON (2 yrs)||0||2||.000||4.74||11||0||3||0||0||0||19.0||25||13||10||2||6||10||1.632|
|CAL (1 yr)||1||1||.500||7.31||10||0||7||0||0||0||16.0||25||13||13||1||4||7||1.813|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||1||.500||2.70||13||0||7||0||0||0||16.2||18||5||5||1||4||10||1.320|
When I was a youngster, my Mom used to work second shift at a diner. Every night, after eating dinner, my Dad would take me and my two brothers to visit our Grandmother. At about nine o’clock each evening, my grandmother would make me a cup of coffee and put about three spoons of sugar in it. I’d drink it and then head home with my Dad and brothers. Since there was no way I could fall asleep with all that caffeine and sugar in my system, I’d beg my father to let me watch a little TV and then fall asleep on the couch. He’d usually relent. Dad would then sit on his chair and fall asleep in about five minutes and I would stay up and watch the late show, making sure to close my eyes and fake being asleep as soon as I heard my mother’s car door slam when she got home from the diner, after midnight.
It was on one of these nights long ago, when I was wired on caffeine that I saw the movie “The Babe Ruth Story” for the first time. For me, it was an experience that can best be described by comparing it to a kid today visiting Disney World for the first time. Up until that night, the only things I knew about the Bambino were the stories I read about him in books and magazines. Then suddenly, there in front of me on my parents’ black and white Sylvania, was the Sultan of Swat himself. It took about three weeks for my brothers and parents to finally convince me that the Babe Ruth in that movie was actually the late great Hollywood Actor, William Bendix. And since I can’t find a real member of the Yankee’s All-Time roster who was born on January 14, we’re going to wish Hollywood’s first Babe Ruth, aka Mr Bendix, a happy birthday instead. He was born on January 14, 1906 in New York City and passed away much too young, in 1964. Note: Other actors who have portrayed Ruth in films include John Goodman “The Babe” (2003) Brian Dennehy “Everyone’s Hero” – animated (2006) Babe Ruth also portrayed himself in “Pride of the Yankees” (1942).
Yankee fans do not have fond memories of the 2008 season. It was Joe Girardi’s first year at the helm and the team went into the regular season betting heavily that Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy were going to provide at least two fifths of New York’s starting rotation, with Andy Pettitte, Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina. Not only did the three youngsters fail miserably, Wang ruined his season with a freak base-running accident and Pettitte had a sub-par year going 14-14. Only 20-game winner Mike Mussina delivered better than expected results and by the end of the season, the Yankees found themselves out of the race for a postseason berth.
Besides Mussina, the only good story among the Yankees’ 2008 menagerie of starters was the jolt provided by Darrell Rasner when Gerardi inserted the Nevada-born right-hander into the rotation in early May. Rasner had broken into the big leagues in 2005 with the Nationals. The Yankees got him off waivers just before their 2006 spring training camp opened. In ’06 and ’07 he had bounced back and forth between New York and just about every farm team in the organization. When he got off to a great start in Scranton in 2008, he was called up and thrust into a starting role. He then proceeded to win his first three starts for New York and suddenly the pundits were wondering if it might be Rasner instead of Joba, Hughes or Kennedy who would actually solidify the Yankee rotation. That expectations balloon burst when he went on to lose ten of his last twelve decisions, but for that brief three-week stretch in May, he captured the attention and felt the admiration of Yankee fans.
When the 2008 season ended, Rasner faced a big decision. The Yankees were interested in re-signing him but his agent got him a bigger offer to play in Japan. The difference in dollars was at least a million bucks. He loved pitching in New York and he had lots of apprehension about playing and living in Japan. But his wife was expecting the couple’s second child and the then 28-year-old Rasner knew the money he could make in Japan would help him solidify his growing family’s future so he made the move. After a rough first couple of years as a starter for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League, Rasner was converted to a reliever and he’s become very good in that role. He registered 17 saves for the Eagles in 2013. If the name of his Japanese team sounds a bit familiar to Yankee fans, its because Rasner has been Masahiro Tanaka’s teammate for the past five seasons. The Yankees are about to offer the moon to Tanaka to make him part of their starting rotation in 2014.
Rasner shares his birthday with this not-well-remembered Yankee shortstop.
|NYY (3 yrs)||9||14||.391||5.06||36||29||2||0||0||0||158.1||182||98||89||20||52||89||1.478|
|WSN (1 yr)||0||1||.000||3.68||5||1||1||0||0||0||7.1||5||3||3||0||2||4||0.955|