June 23 – Happy Birthday George Weiss

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.

June 22 – Happy Birthday Jim Bronstad

This 6’3″ right-hander made his big league debut in 1959, as a member of the Yankee bullpen. He lost all three of his decisions but picked up two saves in his 16 appearances that season. He was sent back down to the minors in July of that season and the next time he pitched in the Majors was as a member of the Senators’ 1963 staff.

As I researched Bronstad’s career, I came across newspaper articles from the winter and spring of 1960 that talked about how the Yankees were really expecting this guy to make their big league roster that season. Then I came across a list of Yankee “prospects” who had been invited to the team’s 1960 spring training camp.The pitchers on that list were Bronstad, Bill Bethell, Tom Burrell, Frank Carpin, Ed Dick, Mark Freeman, John Gabler, George Haney, Johnny James, Billy Short, Bill Stafford, Hal Stowe and Don Thompson. Fritz Brickell was the only infield prospect invited to that camp and there were two catchers brought in by the names of Dan Bishop and Joe Miller. The outfielder invitees were Kent Hunt, Deron Johnson, Don Lock, Jack Reed and Roy Thomas. Of these 21 youngsters, only Stafford would end up making what I considered to be a significant contribution to the parent club during their subsequent careers. Deron Johnson and Don Lock would both become solid big leaguers with other organizations and Ken Hunt would have a couple of decent seasons as a member of the Angels. Remember, this was back in 1960, when Major League Baseball had just 16 teams so it was even tougher for a prospect to earn a roster spot with their parent club than it is today. Coincidentally, I was researching this information about the Yankees’ 1960 prospects last evening as I watched one of their 2013 prospects, outfielder Zoilio Almonte, hit his first big league home run against Tampa Bay. The odds are so stacked against these young kids, it truly has been and always will be a huge accomplishment for a young kid to become a star with the same big league organization that signs him.

Bronstad was born in Ft. Worth, TX. Just like “All my Ex’s” there have been some famous Yankees who have lived in Texas. There have not, however been many great Bronx Bombers who were born in the Lone Star State. Mickey Mantle moved his family to Dallas during his playing days. Roger Clemens was born in Ohio but moved to Texas when he was in high school. Andy Pettitte moved there from Louisiana. The honor of being the best-ever Texas-born Yankee is probably currently between Don Baylor, Chuck Knoblaugh and pitcher Ron Davis. Davis, in fact, is the only native born Texan to make an All Star team while wearing the Yankee uniform.

Jim Bronstad’s Yankee and career stats:

1959 NYY 0 3 .000 5.22 16 3 8 0 0 2 29.1 34 19 17 2 13 14 1.602
3 Yrs 1 7 .125 5.48 45 3 20 0 0 3 93.2 110 61 57 11 37 45 1.569
WSA (2 yrs) 1 4 .200 5.60 29 0 12 0 0 1 64.1 76 42 40 9 24 31 1.554
NYY (1 yr) 0 3 .000 5.22 16 3 8 0 0 2 29.1 34 19 17 2 13 14 1.602
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/22/2013.

June 21 – Happy Birthday Russ Van Atta

Talk about hot starts, southpaw starting pitcher Russ Van Atta’s big league and Yankee debut on April 25, 1933 could have melted hard steel. The New Jersey native not only threw a complete game five-hit shutout against the Washington Senators in our nation’s capitol that day, he also had a perfect 4-for-4 day at the plate, scoring three runs and driving in another in New York’s 16-0 victory. The guy they called “Sheriff” would go on to win 12 of his 16 decisions in his rookie season and lead the AL with a .750 winning percentage. He also would end up hitting .283 that first season. You couldn’t blame the Yankee brass for thinking that Van Atta would be a key member of the their team’s starting rotation for at least the rest of that decade. It didn’t quite work out that way.

That December, a fire broke out in Van Atta’s home and while fighting or trying to escape the blaze, the Augusta, New Jersey native suffered a severe cut on his pitching hand. That injury severely impacted his pitching performance for the rest of his career. He began the ’34 season still a member of the Yankee rotation, but after getting hit hard in his first four starts, Joe McCarthy demoted Van Atta to the bullpen. Having watched both Joba and Phil Hughes try to go back and forth between the Yankee rotation and bullpen the past few seasons, it was not surprising for me to learn that Van Atta had problems making the moves as well. For the rest of that ’34 season he was used as a reliever and spot starter. He finished the year with a 3-5 record and a 5.30 ERA. He also developed a sore arm.

He was back in the bullpen to start the 1935 season but not for long. On May 15th of that year he was sold to the St. Louis Browns. He continued to struggle with his new team for the next four years, until his contract was sold to a minor league team in Toronto. After appearing in two games there, he hung up his glove for good. He finished his seven-year big league career 15-9 as a Yankee and 18-32 with St. Louis. He shares his June 21st birthday with another Yankee southpaw starting pitcher and the first Mormon to ever wear the Yankee pinstripes.

1933 NYY 12 4 .750 4.18 26 22 3 10 2 1 157.0 160 81 73 8 63 76 1.420
1934 NYY 3 5 .375 6.34 28 9 9 0 0 0 88.0 107 69 62 3 46 39 1.739
1935 NYY 0 0 3.86 5 0 2 0 0 0 4.2 5 5 2 0 4 3 1.929
7 Yrs 33 41 .446 5.60 207 76 66 17 3 6 712.1 838 498 443 39 368 339 1.693
SLB (5 yrs) 18 32 .360 5.95 148 45 52 7 1 5 462.2 566 343 306 28 255 221 1.774
NYY (3 yrs) 15 9 .625 4.94 59 31 14 10 2 1 249.2 272 155 137 11 113 118 1.542
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/21/2013.