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|
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant had the opportunity to replace the great Thurman Munson as the Yankees’ starting catcher. This opportunity arose for the Tampa, FL native not in 1979, when Munson was tragically killed in his plane crash, but the year before, when the great Yankee catcher was still an All Star.
For Yankee fans, 1978 will always be an historic year. It was the season of the great comeback, when New York came from 14 games behind their hated rival, the Red Sox, on July 18th to capture the AL East crown. As that year’s All Star break approached, George Steinbrenner was panicking. He was certain he could make better lineup decisions than Billy Martin, so he decided to go ahead and make them. At the time, Martin was near a nervous breakdown. He was fighting with Steinbrenner, feuding with Reggie Jackson and drinking way too much. He loved being Manager of the Yankees so much that he let “The Boss” make his moves.
Steinbrenner benched veteran Roy White and inserted Gary Thomasson in left field. He also ordered Martin to play Munson in right field to rest the aging catcher’s knees and revive his batting stroke. He wanted to platoon Lou Piniella and Reggie Jackson at DH and start the 23-year-old rookie catcher, Mike Heath, who had just been called up from the Yankees’ double A team in West Haven, CT.
Steinbrenner’s revised lineup made their debut on July 13, a Thursday afternoon game against the White Sox, at Yankee Stadium. They lost four of the next five and in that fifth game; Billy Martin gave Reggie Jackson the infamous bunt sign and then tried to remove it. When Jackson defied Martin, Billy benched the slugger, with Steinbrenner’s approval. The Yankees proceeded to win five straight and Heath was actually doing fine both behind and at the plate, keeping his average right around .300. That’s when Martin made his famous “One’s a born liar and the others a convicted one” comment that got him fired.
The rest is Yankee history. Bob Lemon replaced Martin and Bucky Dent’s blast a few weeks’ later capped off the best Cinderella comeback story in New York’s franchise history. What happened to Heath?
Lemon continued to start the rookie at catcher for about a week, but when Heath’s offense cooled off a bit, the Manager put Munson back behind the plate so he could get both Piniella’s and Jackson’s bats back in the lineup. Lemon also began using Cliff Johnson as Munson’s primary backup receiver and Heath saw his playing time pretty much disappear during New York’s historic stretch run.
He did make the postseason roster but right after the Yankees won their second straight World Series against the Dodgers, Heath was included in the Sparky Lyle trade to Texas that brought Dave Righetti to New York. He ended up on Oakland in 1979 and became a very good big league catcher, primarily for the A’s and then the Tigers for the next fourteen seasons.
Would Heath have been able to replace Munson the following season, after the tragic plane crash? I don’t think so. His offense was probably not strong enough to keep him in that Yankee lineup.
|OAK (7 yrs)||725||2653||2438||280||612||99||18||47||281||32||158||312||.251||.296||.364||.660|
|DET (5 yrs)||453||1468||1353||153||360||60||6||34||143||20||86||233||.266||.314||.395||.708|
|ATL (1 yr)||49||150||139||4||29||3||1||1||12||0||7||26||.209||.250||.266||.516|
|STL (1 yr)||65||216||190||19||39||8||1||4||25||2||23||36||.205||.293||.321||.614|
|NYY (1 yr)||33||99||92||6||21||3||1||0||8||0||4||9||.228||.265||.283||.548|
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had over 4,300 plate appearances during his fifteen-year big league career but only one of them was in a Yankee uniform. That was too bad for that era’s Yankee fans because William Herman Schaefer, or “Germany,” as he liked to be called, was one of the funniest, most entertaining Major League baseball players in the history of the game. He came up with the Cubs in 1901 and spent most of the rest of his career with Detroit and Washington. He played all of the infield positions at one time or another but mostly second base. He got his only Yankee at bat during the 1916 season and made an out. He also served as a coach on that New York team.
I don’t know who first came up with the saying, “You can’t steal first base,” but before 1920, Major League Baseball players actually could and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant invented the maneuver. During a game against the White Sox in 1911, Germany was the runner on first and with a teammate on third the signal was on for a double steal. Schaefer did his part, making it safely to second. But when he looked over at third, the runner was still standing there. On the next pitch, old Germany became the first player in history to steal first base. He figured he had to do it so that the double steal could be attempted again and because it had never been done before, the umpires allowed it. Eventually the league passed a rule outlawing the maneuver.
In 1907, he hit his only home run of the season off Philadelphia A’s, Rube Waddell. Schaefer carried the bat with him around the bases and when he got to home plate, aimed it like a rifle at Hall of Fame hurler’s noggin and pulled the trigger. Every pitch Germany saw from Waddell for the rest of that season was aimed directly at his head. He once hit a home run and slid into every base on his way to home plate. If his team was ahead late in a game and it started raining, Schaefer would come to the plate wearing a raincoat or carrying an umbrella. Schaefer was so good at making the fans laugh he started a baseball-related vaudeville act after his playing days were over. That act served as the inspiration for the Hollywood film, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Schaefer also quickly changed his nickname from “Germany” to “Liberty” when America entered WWI .
He died of a heart attack, while on a train bound for Saranac Lake in northern New York state in 1919. Germany shares his birthday with this long-ago starting Highlander outfielder.
|WSH (6 yrs)||380||1267||1092||157||321||34||17||1||91||62||129||135||.294||.372||.359||.731|
|DET (5 yrs)||626||2519||2236||278||558||75||25||8||195||123||158||305||.250||.300||.316||.616|
|CHC (2 yrs)||83||330||296||32||60||3||3||0||14||12||21||48||.203||.260||.233||.493|
|NEW (1 yr)||59||183||154||26||33||5||3||0||8||3||25||11||.214||.328||.286||.613|
|CLE (1 yr)||1||5||5||2||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000||.000||.000||.000|