“Ross Moschitto” is the name most often mentioned by lukewarm Yankee fans who are my age, when they are trying to convince someone else how big a Yankee fan they are. I’m not sure why but that’s just the way it is. They don’t mention Frank Tepedino or Steve Whitaker or Roger Repoz. Its always Moschitto. He has to be the most famous non-famous Yankee in pinstripe history.
In 1965, Major League baseball started its free agent draft along with the rule that any player in the Majors or Minor leagues could be drafted if that player’s name was not on a Major League club’s 40-man expanded roster at the time the draft was conducted. For years, the Yankees had dominated their league by signing up all the best amateur prospects and developing their talent in New York’s well financed and well managed minor league farm system. No other team could steal a prospect from another franchise and since the Yankees had the most money they consistently had the most prospects.The draft and the 40-man roster rule changed that forever and Ross Moschitto paid the price for those changes.
He had signed with New York in 1964 and was assigned to their lowest level minor league team, in Johnson City, TN. When Ross hit 20 home runs in just 71 games that year, he popped onto the radar of every big league franchise. Instead of practicing their usual prospect patience, the Yankees put Moschitto on their big league roster the following April, when he was far from ready. So instead of getting a chance to play every day, Ross spent the the 1965 season sitting on a big league bench, pinch running for Mickey Mantle if the aging slugger got on base in his last at bat or taking his spot in the outfield if the Mick made an out. He got just 27 big league at bats that year and when he was sent back to the Minors the following season, he had lost his stroke for good. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Blog celebrant was born in Fresno, CA in 1945.
Moschitto was an Italian American but not good enough to make my All-Time Yankee team of Italian Americans. Here’s my all-time Pinstriped Paisans:
1B – Jason Giambi
2B – Tony Lazzeri
3B – Mike Pagliarulo (or Frank Crosetti who started one season at third for NY)
SS – Phil Rizzuto
C – Yogi Berra
OF – Joe DiMaggio
OF - Joe Pepitone
OF -Francesco Pezzolo (better known as Ping Bodie, the first Italian American player in the Majors)
SP – Mike Mussina
RP – Dave Righetti
The deal that made Larry Milbourne a Yankee for the first time became part of Yankee trivia history. In November of 1980, the Seattle Mariners traded Milbourne and a player to be named later to New York for catcher Brad Gulden. The following May, the Mariners completed the trade by sending Gulden back to the Yankees as the “player to be named later” part of the trade. This made Gulden the only player in franchise history ever to be traded for himself.
Milbourne would go on to have his best big league season during his 1981 Yankee debut. He played sparingly but well as a pinch-hitter and back-up infielder during the first half of that season, which was split in two by a players’ strike. In the second half, he took over as New York’s starting shortstop after Bucky Dent tore a ligament in his hand at the end of August. The League’s embarrassingly bad decision to award team’s with the best pre-strike records a postseason spot gave the Yankee players little motivation to give a damn during the second half, but Milbourne impressed everyone with his grit and hustle as he filled in for Dent.
He then hit a combined .363 in New York’s ALDS and ALCS victories that postseason and though his bat cooled off a bit against the Dodgers in the Series, Yankee fans like me were very grateful for his better-than-expected performance. Milbourne also loved playing for New York and told reporters he was so happy wearing the pinstripes, he’d prefer staying with the Yanks and backing up Dent and Willie Randolph to starting for any other team. But after getting off to a horrible start in 1982, he was traded to the Twins in May of that year in the deal that brought Butch Wynegar to New York. The Yanks brought him back to New York the following year but traded him back to the Mariners after he hit just .200 in 31 games. His final big league season was 1984.
Nicknamed “the Devil,” Milbourne was born on Valentine’s Day in 1951 in Port Norris, NJ. He shares a birthday with this Hall-of-Fame Yankee announcer, this former Yankee relief pitcher and this one-time Yankee pitching prospect.
|SEA (5 yrs)||487||1420||1301||148||329||40||13||7||115||20||65||75||.253||.287||.320||.607|
|NYY (3 yrs)||106||281||260||31||69||12||2||1||14||3||15||28||.265||.309||.338||.648|
|HOU (3 yrs)||244||472||432||70||106||7||3||1||25||13||30||38||.245||.297||.282||.579|
|MIN (1 yr)||29||106||98||9||23||1||1||0||1||1||7||8||.235||.283||.265||.548|
|PHI (1 yr)||41||73||66||3||16||0||1||0||4||2||4||7||.242||.282||.273||.554|
|CLE (1 yr)||82||319||291||29||80||11||4||2||25||2||12||20||.275||.301||.361||.662|
As the 1953 season approached, New York’s veteran shortstop, Phil Rizzuto was not enjoying his offseason. Two years removed from his MVP year of 1950, Scooter was getting on in years and slumping at the plate. Yankee GM George Weiss had sent Rizzuto a contract for the ’53 season that included a significant pay cut and to make matters worse, the future Hall of Famer had spent time in the hospital that winter, being treated for some sort of stomach disorder.
Observing all this from his home in California, Yankee skipper Casey Stengel was making plans just in case he did not have the services of Rizzuto on Opening Day of that ’53 season. The Ol Perfessor had two young Yankee shortstop prospects attend his baseball school in Glendale that winter. The first was Andy Carey, who was considered number one in line to succeed Scooter. The second was a University of Southern California graduate by the name of Jim Brideweser.
Brideweser had put himself into contention for the job with a solid 1951 season with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. Then in 1952, he saw significant action with the parent club as Rizzuto’s backup. When Carey showed up at the Yanks 1953 spring training camp with a sore arm, Stengel told the Yankee press he was going to start Bridweser at short and give him a “thorough trial” that spring.
Casey was true to his word and as late as March 22nd of that year, he was still telling anyone who’d listen that he was thrilled with Brideweser’s effort that spring. As the situation played out however, Rizzuto was finally signed and got healthy enough to play 134 games that season and put together a fine bounce-back performance. Carey was switched over to third, where he’d play the rest of his career. Brideweser started the year on the Opening Day roster but spent most of that ’53 season in Syracuse playing for the Yanks Triple A team there. New York GM George Weiss purchased switch-hitting utility infielder Willy Miranda from the Browns that June and he became Rizzuto’s primary backup.
The following May, Brideweser was traded to the Orioles. He would get big league at bats with Baltimore, the White Sox and the Tigers before retiring as a player in 1957 and becoming a high school math teacher and baseball coach.
|NYY (3 yrs)||51||53||49||16||16||0||1||0||5||0||4||6||.327||.377||.367||.745|
|BAL (2 yrs)||164||392||346||34||92||14||3||1||30||3||36||43||.266||.336||.332||.668|
|CHW (2 yrs)||44||75||69||6||14||4||2||0||5||0||3||10||.203||.247||.319||.565|
|DET (1 yr)||70||180||156||23||34||4||0||0||10||3||20||19||.218||.307||.244||.550|
Lenny Randle was a superb athlete, an intelligent human being and a good big league ballplayer who unfortunately, is perhaps now best known for punching out his manager and trying to blow a bunted ball foul. The skipper he decked was Frank Luchessi, during the Texas Rangers’ 1977 spring training season. Randle had been a Washington Senator first round draft pick (10th selection overall) in 1970. Before that, he had starred in both baseball and football at Arizona State.
He made his big league debut for the last Washington Senator team in history before that franchise relocated to Texas in 1972. Three years later, Randle was Billy Martin’s starting third baseman on a 1974 Ranger team that surprised everyone by finishing second in the AL West Division race. Randle hit .302 that year and led the team with 26 stolen bases as he thrived under Martin’s aggressive style of play. But when the team struggled to win the following year and Ranger ownership grew tired of Martin’s volcanic temper, he was replaced by Luchessi 95 games into the season.
Randle, who was by then starting at second for Texas, had a terrible offensive season in 1976, averaging just .224. The following spring, Luchessi decided to replace Lenny as the team’s starting second baseman with Bump Wills. Just before Opening Day, Randle approached Luchessi telling him he wanted to talk and in the ensuing conversation, the skipper evidently called the player a “punk.” An enraged Randle decked Luchessi with a three punch combination, breaking his jaw in the process. The player was immediately suspended and one month later, was on his way to New York, where he would become one of the best players on a very bad 1977 Mets’ ball club. Once again, Randle followed up a .300 season with a horrible offensive year in ’78 and the Mets released him.
The Yankees got him on August 3, 1979, one day after Thurman Munson lost his life in a tragic plane crash. Though he was being reunited with Billy Martin, the spirit of that ’79 Yankee team had been destroyed with Munson’s plane and Randle’s addition proved insignificant as New York went through the motions of completing what would be a lost season. He played in just 20 games during the last two months of the season, hitting just .179. The Yanks released him after the season and he would then play for the Cubs and Mariners before becoming the first Major League ballplayer to play professional baseball in Italy, in 1983.
|TEX (6 yrs)||608||2392||2153||256||545||77||18||11||192||77||169||295||.253||.308||.321||.629|
|NYM (2 yrs)||268||1093||950||131||258||38||15||7||62||47||129||127||.272||.358||.365||.724|
|SEA (2 yrs)||112||351||319||32||71||11||1||4||26||13||21||26||.223||.270||.301||.571|
|CHC (1 yr)||130||549||489||67||135||19||6||5||39||19||50||55||.276||.343||.370||.713|
|NYY (1 yr)||20||42||39||2||7||0||0||0||3||0||3||2||.179||.238||.179||.418|
One of the Yankees’ less publicized free agent signings during their busy winter of 2013-14 was Matt Thornton, a veteran left-handed reliever who they are now counting on to replace the departed Boone Logan. They liked Thornton enough to give him a two-year, $7 million deal. I was kind of thinking that they already had Logan’s replacement on their roster.
Cesar Cabral is a huge, hard-throwing southpaw, who made his big league and Yankee debut during September of the 2013 season. Joe Girardi got this 6’3″ – 250 pound native Dominican into eight games that month and he responded by giving up just 1 run while striking out six in the 3.2 innings he pitched. New York had hoped to feature Cabral in their parent club’s bullpen much sooner, when they picked him up in the Rule 5 Draft in 2012. In fact, he was impressing everyone during New York’s 2012 spring training camp, when he injured his left shoulder during the same game Michael Pineda injured his right one, forcing both pitchers to undergo career-disrupting surgery.
If Cabral’s arm is fully healed, I do think he has the stuff to make an impact at the big league level, especially if the Thornton signing backfires. He turns just 25-years-old today, which means he’s young enough to have long-term late-inning impact for my favorite team.
Ban Johnson was about to see his wish come true. He had been hoping he could get a team for his infant American Baseball League located in New York City and when the AL’s Baltimore Orioles franchise collapsed financially, he saw his chance. The only problem was timing. The 1903 season opener was just months away and not only was Johnson without an owner for a Big Apple franchise, the City didn’t even have an available ballpark.
If the self-righteous Johnson had more time to find the right guy to purchase the Orioles there would be no way he’d agree to partner with a saloon-owning, bookmaker with a notorious reputation for bribing Tammany Hall political hacks to look the other way. But Frank Farrell had both the cash and political muscle necessary to overcome the ballpark building obstacles that forces friendly to the National League’s New York Giants’ ownership were throwing up to block any competitive League or team from putting down roots in their neighborhood.
So Johnson accepted both Farrell’s $25,000 certified check and his even more unsavory partner, a former crooked New York City cop named Bill Devery. Together, the two got a 16,000 seat ballpark built in the Washington Heights section of the City in less than six weeks and American League had a foothold in the most important professional baseball market in the world.
Farrell would then spend the next decade fighting with Devery but he also made a sincere attempt to turn his ball club into a World Champion. When he was pretty much forced to sell the club to Jacob Ruppert after the 1914 season, he had no AL Pennants to boast about and little if any profit to show for his efforts. Farrell, Devery and CBS are the only owners of the Yankee franchise who failed to win a Pennant or World Series during their reigns. Frank Farrell died in 1926 at the age of 60.
New York’s second round draft choice in 1990, Sir Robert Eenhoorn was the first Yankee to hail from the Netherlands and the first Yankee to be knighted. When he joined the Yankee organization, GM Gene Michael was hoping he’d one day become the parent club’s starting shortstop. A superb fielder, Eenhoorn’s hitting skills were good enough to keep him advancing up New York’s farm system ladder until he got to the Bronx. His biggest obstacle to prime time however, was another young Yankee shortstop prospect by the name of Derek Jeter.
Over a three year-period beginning in 1994, he got to wear pinstripes for a total of 20 games and 32 at bats before he was released and picked up by the Angels. By 1998 he had returned to his native country and played on the Netherlands National team eventually becoming its manager. In 2003, Eenhoorn’s young son was killed by a rare form of cancer. Former Mets’ manager, Davey Johnson took control of the Dutch National Team while Eenhoorn and his family recovered from the tragedy.
Over the next several years Eenhoorn dedicated his professional live to developing the game of baseball in Europe. He started a European baseball academy that was modeled after similar schools in the US. In 2011 he was knighted by the Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix after the National Team he assembled as General Manager, won the 2011 World Cup. His next goal is to have Major League regular season baseball games played in Europe. He also hope to get MLB teams to sponsor farm clubs in his native country.
|NYY (3 yrs)||20||38||32||4||5||2||0||0||4||0||3||6||.156||.216||.219||.435|
|ANA (2 yrs)||17||36||35||3||11||1||0||1||6||0||0||4||.314||.306||.429||.734|
Don “Jeep” Heffner was Tony Lazzeri’s primary back-up at second base during the final years of “Poosh Em Up’s” Hall of Fame career in New York. The only Major League player ever to be born in Rouzerville, PA, Heffner made a decent big league debut with the Yankees in 1934, appearing in 72 games and averaging .261 for a Joe McCarthy-led team that won 94 games that year but still finished second to Mickey Cochrane’s powerful Detroit Tiger ball club.
That turned out to be Heffner’s best offensive season in pinstripes but he stuck around in the Bronx long enough to win championship rings in both 1936 and ’37. When an aging Lazzeri was let go by New York after the ’37 season, Hefner’s weak bat removed him from consideration for the vacant starting job. Instead, he was traded to the Browns for a better hitting second baseman named Bill Knickerbocker.
Heffner spent the next four seasons starting at second for St. Louis while Knickerbocker lost the battle for the Yankees’ starting second base job to rookie Joe Gordon. Heffner continued playing in the big leagues until 1943 and then got into coaching and managing. In 1966, he skippered the Cincinnati Reds for 83 games, his only big league managerial position.
|SLB (6 yrs)||524||2039||1803||196||434||73||9||6||179||13||193||162||.241||.317||.301||.618|
|NYY (4 yrs)||161||586||526||62||135||19||10||0||60||2||54||43||.257||.326||.331||.657|
|PHA (1 yr)||52||198||178||17||37||6||0||0||8||3||18||12||.208||.284||.242||.526|
|DET (1 yr)||6||24||19||0||4||1||0||0||1||0||5||1||.211||.375||.263||.638|
They were called “Bonus Rules” and before salary caps and luxury taxes existed, they were used to prevent Baseball’s richest teams from signing up all the best amateur talent around the country so their competition could not. Teams like the Yankees would then stock the rosters of their minor league affiliates with these outstanding prospects and keep them down on the farm until they were needed at the big league level or could be sold at hefty profits to other talent-starved organizations.
Major League Baseball’s first Bonus Rule went into effect in 1947. It stated that any amateur player signed by a big league team for a bonus of $4,000 or more had to remain on that team’s 40-man big league roster for a minimum of two full years. If the prospect was removed from the roster before his two years were up, the team lost its contract rights to the player and he was automatically placed on waivers. This rule was repeatedly challenged, put on temporary moratorium and frequently modified but some version of it remained in force right up until Baseball’s Amateur Draft began in 1965. The Bonus Rule is partially credited with destroying the big league career of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
His name was Frank Leja. When he was signed by legendary Yankee scout Paul Krichell, this powerful 6’4″ native of Holyoke, MA was being favorably compared with another first baseman signed by Krichell who was known by the nickname “the Iron Horse.” Leja’s first workout at Yankee Stadium became part of franchise legend. At one point, the young left-handed slugger hit nine of the ten pitches he was thrown into the Stadium’s stands in fair territory. This helps explain why the Yankees paid this kid a $100,000 bonus to sign with them in 1953 and the Bonus Rule helps explain why New York then let this kid spend his first two seasons under contract rotting on their big league bench instead of developing his skills in live-game action as a member of one of their minor league ball clubs.
When the two-year time period expired, Leja was finally sent down. He was still just 20-years-old and the Yankees were hoping that he would simply turn his game-playing switch back on and get his career going. That didn’t happen. He spent the next four seasons hitting a decent number of home runs for Yankee affiliates in Binghamton, New Orleans and Richmond but by the time he might have been really ready for a big league trial, Moose Skowren had a solid hold on the parent club’s first base position. Perhaps if he had been able to spend those first two wasted years after his signing playing instead of sitting, Leja would have been ready to challenge Skowren before big Moose had locked up the job.
The Yankees ended up trading Leja to the Cardinal organization in 1960. His entire Yankee career consisted of nineteen games, eighteen plate appearances and just one hit, all of which took place during his 1954 and ’55 Bonus Rule sit-the-bench mandated seasons. He would eventually get another shot at the big leagues in 1962 as a member of the Los Angeles Angels but that didn’t work out either. Leja passed away at the very young age of 55, in 1991. He shares his February 7th birthday with this one-time Yankee infield prospect.
|NYY (2 yrs)||19||7||7||3||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.143||.143||.143||.286|
|LAA (1 yr)||7||18||16||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||6||.000||.059||.000||.059|
I was a fan of Bob Wickman, even if I couldn’t remember his name. Both my sons were avid Yankee rooters growing up and we used to spend many a summer evening sitting in front of our family room television, watching Bronx Bomber games together during the early 1990′s. Whenever a Yankee pitcher began struggling, I’d say to my boys, “They ought to bring in Wickham.” Both Matt and Mike would scream in unison, “Its Wick-MAN Dad, not Wick-HAM!”
This right-handed native of Green Bay, WI was originally a second round draft choice of the Chicago White Sox in 1990. Two years later, the Yankees acquired him, Melido Perez and another minor league pitcher named Domingo Jean in exchange for second baseman, Steve Sax. New York GM Gene Michael was desperate for pitching at the time and he was hoping Perez would become a solid long-time member of the Yankees’ starting rotation. But “the Stick” also liked Wickman a lot as a prospect and was thinking he’d be ready to contribute some wins at the Major League level two years down the road. It happened a lot faster than that.
One guy who didn’t like the deal was Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. He lambasted his GM publicly for getting too little in return for Sax, who had been New York’s only .300 hitter the season before. But it was Michael who was proven right, when Perez developed into the Yankees best starter during that 1992 season while Sax’s batting average was plunging to .234 in the Windy City. Making the trade an even bigger-time win for the Bronx Bombers was Wickman’s surprisingly good 6-1 record after being called up that August and inserted into manager Buck Showalter’s starting rotation.
Wickman had lost part of the index finger of his pitching hand in a childhood farming accident. He credited that partially missing digit as the reason his sinker ball sank so dramatically. He really had that pitch working during his second year in pinstripes, as he went 14-4 over 41 games, including 19 starts. Showalter than converted him into a full-time reliever and he became a workhorse for New York in that role over the next three seasons, appearing in 174 games during that span.
There were times during his years with the Yankees that he struggled with his control and had stretches during which he surrendered a rash of home-runs but for the most part Wickman pitched effectively in the pinstripes. That’s why I can clearly remember being disappointed in late August of 1996, when I first heard the news that the Yanks had traded him and outfielder Gerald Williams to the Brewers for utility man Pat Listach and reliever Graeme Lloyd. Wickman had been a big reason why the Yankees found themselves heading for the AL East crown that season and he was well-liked by his New York teammates. The deal prevented him from pitching in the 1996 World Series but he did receive a World Series ring for his contribution.
By 1998, he had worked himself into the closer’s role with the Brewers. He went on to accumulate over 250 saves during the final nine seasons of his pitching career, including a league-leading 45 with the Indians in 2005.
|CLE (6 yrs)||8||16||.333||3.23||255||0||215||0||0||139||248.1||249||98||89||21||78||197||1.317|
|NYY (5 yrs)||31||14||.689||4.21||223||28||56||1||1||11||419.1||432||212||196||31||183||259||1.467|
|MIL (5 yrs)||21||25||.457||3.20||272||0||174||0||0||79||315.0||292||128||112||23||148||267||1.397|
|ATL (2 yrs)||3||5||.375||2.84||77||0||65||0||0||38||69.2||72||29||22||5||22||60||1.349|
|ARI (1 yr)||0||1||.000||1.35||8||0||1||0||0||0||6.2||6||2||1||0||1||2||1.050|