Results tagged ‘ all star ’
I really started collecting baseball cards in 1961. As a passionate six-year-old Yankee fan at the time, opening a nickel pack of Topps cards and discovering a Bronx Bomber inside felt like I had found a thousand dollar bill, well maybe not in all cases.
I can remember feeling no such thrill when I got the card pictured with today’s featured Pinstripe Birthday post. I’m sure Joe DeMaestri was a great guy and in his prime he was considered one of the upper tier shortstops in the American League. But he had spent those prime years of his career playing for the A’s in both Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Even though over a half century has passed since I purchased the pack from Puglisi’s Confectionary on Guy Park Avenue in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY, I still clearly remember this card. That’s because in addition to being perhaps the least recognized player on that 1961 Yankee team, DeMaestri wasn’t even wearing a Yankee hat when they took his picture for the card and I used to hate when that happened. Still, he was a Yankee and therefore it was a Yankee card so I figured it was a nickel well spent, just not one that returned that customary thrill worth a thousand bucks.
As it turned out, that 1961 season was this San Francisco native’s final year in the big leagues. The Yankees had acquired him in the historic seven player deal they made with Kansas City that also put Roger Maris in pinstripes. Nicknamed “Oats,” DeMaestri had been New York’s primary utility infielder for two seasons, appearing in just 79 total games during that span but getting the opportunity to play in his only World Series in 1960 and win his only ring in ’61. His most noteworthy moment in Yankee history took place in the eighth inning of the seventh game of that ’60 fall classic in Pittsburgh. It was DeMaestri who replaced Tony Kubek at short, after Bill Virdon’s certain double-play grounder hit a stone in the Forbes Field infield and struck Tony Kubek in the throat. In addition to almost killing the Yankee shortstop, the play started the rally that enabled Pittsburgh to erase a three run deficit and take a two-run lead. Ironically, all season long, New York manager Casey Stengel had been shifting Kubek from shortstop to replace Yogi Berra in left field in the eighth inning of games in which the Yankees had the lead. DeMaestri would then replace Kubek at short. For some reason, the “Ol Perfessor” didn’t make that move that afternoon in Forbes Field and you have to wonder how DeMaestri would have approached and been able to play that same ground ball.
In any event, my older brother Jerry and I were able to collect every card in that 1961 Topps series, but unlike all the rest of those we collected as kids, I don’t have this DeMaestri card anymore. Tragically, the younger brother of one of Jerry’s classmates was struck by a car and killed that year. I still remember walking up to his house a few days later with my brother and giving his grieving friend our entire collection of 1961 Topps baseball cards as our way of expressing sympathy for his loss.
He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and a Yankee franchise Hall-of-Famer nobody remembers.
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I was one of those Yankee fans who was vociferously against the 2013 preseason deal that made Vernon Wells a Yankee. I understand how and why it happened. When both Granderson and Texeira went down with injuries this spring and it became apparent that Jeter was not ready to play, New York’s front office went into sort of a cheapskate panic mode. They needed to do something fast but they wanted it to also be easy and not too expensive. That explains the Vernon Wells deal in a nutshell. All one had to do to understand this was listen to the incessant bragging the team’s publicity department did about how the Angels had agreed to pick up most of the outfielder’s salary for the next two years.
Still, as a loyal, long-time Yankee fan, once the deal went down, I became a Vernon Wells fan and rooted for him like crazy. My sincere hope was that I would be proven completely wrong about his inability to help this Yankee team make the playoffs. And for about six weeks at the beginning of the season, it looked as if I might have been. Wells got out of the gate quickly and helped the Yankees do the same. By the end of April, he was hitting .300 and was on a pace to hit 30 home runs and drive in 90. Then two weeks later, Wells pretty much stopped hitting. He hit his 10th home run of the season on May 15. He then went three months before he hit another. By the end of June, his batting average had fallen to .223 and it was apparent to me that the move to obtain Wells would definitely not go down in franchise history as one of Brian Cashman’s better ones.
Now that the Yankees have signed Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, one has to wonder if Wells will even be on the Yankee roster when Opening Day 2014 rolls around. He can still play good outfield defense but with Gardner, Soriano and Suzuki all still in Pinstripes, the Yankees have a glut of extra outfielders.
Wells was born in Shreveport, Louisiana on December 8, 1978. As anyone who has ever been his teammate will tell you, this guy is a class act in the clubhouse and during his prime, was one of the top outfielders in the American League. Even though he did not perform well during the 2013 season, he hustled every second he was on the field and handled the critical New York media like the consummate professional he is. That’s why I for one will continue to root for Vernon Wells.
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When I started following the Yankees in 1960, their best minor league outfield prospects required patience or a willingness to relocate. That’s because the parent club had Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, both in their primes, solidly stationed in center field and right, while in left they used a trio of highly skilled veterans that included Yogi Berra, Hector Lopez and Bob Cerv. There was simply not enough playing time available at the big league level for young promising outfield prospects like today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant to develop. As a result, they either stayed in the minors a very long time or they were traded to other teams to shore up weaknesses New York had in other areas.
Lee Thomas was one such prospect. The Yankees signed him right out of high school in 1954. He spent the next seven seasons climbing up the alphabet ladder of New York’s farm system, impressing everyone along the way with his patience at the plate, his ability to hit for average and his power. In his final two minor league seasons he averaged 27 home runs and 115 RBIs per season with a batting average right around .320. His only negative was a sometimes violent temper that would earn him the nickname “Mad Dog.”
By the 1961 Spring Training season, he was so good and so ready that first-year Yankee manager Ralph Houk had no choice but to put him on the Opening Day roster. But this was the same 1961 Yankee team that most baseball historians consider to be one of the great teams in MLB history, which is why during the first six weeks of the regular season, the only action Thomas had seen was two pinch-hitting opportunities. Finally, Roger Maris approached the rookie and told him he was too good a player to sit on the Yankee bench or get sent back down to triple A. Thomas explained what happened next in an interview documented in the book “The Yankees in the Early 1960’s,” authored by William J. Ryczek. On a flight to LA for a series against the Angels, Maris approached Thomas and told him he and Mantle had a plan to take care of the rookie. When the Yankees started batting practice in LA’s old Wrigley Field, the original home of the expansion team, Mickey, Roger and two other Yankee starters gave up their time in the batting cage so that Thomas could have an extended session in front of the watchful eyes of Angel skipper, Bill Rigney. These extended sessions continued for the next two games as well. Thomas took advantage of the showcase by smashing the ball all over the park. He said he hit at least fifteen home runs during those sessions and sure enough, before the Yankees left town, the Angels made a trade for the rookie.
Even though the deal meant a full-time big league starting position for Thomas, he admitted he hated leaving the Bronx Bombers. He knew that 1961 team was special, he knew they were going to win it all and he wanted to be part of it but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Thomas immediately became a star for the struggling expansion Angels. He hit 24 home runs for them in 1961 and in ’62, he made the AL All Star team and ended the season with 26 HRs, 105 RBIs and a .290 batting average. He appeared to have found a permanent home with the Halos but all of a sudden, he stopped hitting. Thomas’s average fell seventy points in 1963, and his home runs and RBIs that year dropped pretty much in half. When his slump continued into the first part of the 1964 season, the Angels sent him to the Red Sox for Boston outfielder, Lou Clinton.
The change of scenery seemed to help revive Lee’s bat a bit. He hit 13 home ruins for Boston during the final two thirds of the ’64 season and drove in 42 runs. The following year he did even better, with 22 home runs, 71 RBIs and he raised his batting average up to a more respectable .271. He probably thought he had found a new home in Beantown right up until ten days before Christmas in 1965, when he found out he had been traded to Atlanta for Braves’ pitchers Dan Osinski and Bob Sadowski.
He floundered horribly in Atlanta, and was hitting just .188 by the end of May when he was told he had been traded again, this time to the Cubs. After a season and a half in the Windy City and a final year playing with Houston, Thomas was gone from the big leagues for good. Thomas then got into managing at the minor league level for a few seasons before moving up to the big league front office of the Cardinals where he was named the organization’s Farm Director. He then got the Phillies’ GM job in 1988 and kept it for nine years. Thomas then returned to Boston where he served as assistant GM under Dan Duquette. He was born in Peoria, IL on February 5, 1936.
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Johnny Sturm was not your prototypical Yankee starting first baseman. He was instead, a singles hitter. In fact, no Yankee starting first baseman in the history of the franchise ever had a slugging average lower than the .300 figure turned in by Sturm during the 1941 regular season.
Lou Gehrig had set the impossible-to-fill mold all future Yankee first sackers would be measured by. Babe Dahlgren, the Iron Horse’s immediate successor had not hit more than 15 home runs or averaged above .264 during his two seasons in the position. Meanwhile, Sturm was hitting well over .300 and averaging 180 base-hits per year while playing first base for the Yankee’s farm team in Kansas City. At the end of New York’s 1941 spring training camp, Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy made the decision to put Sturm and two other infielders from that Kansas City farm club, second baseman Jerry Priddy and shortstop Phil Rizzuto on the Yank’s Opening Day roster. With an outfield full of home run power (DiMaggio, Henrich and Keller would each hit 30 round-trippers in 1941) plus Joe Gordon, Marse Joe figured any of these rookies and maybe even all three would be perfect table setters for the Yankees’ big bats.
The plan seemed reasonable but during the season a couple of hitches emerged. After getting the Opening Day start at first, Sturm was quickly benched so that Joe Gordon could move to first and McCarthy could play Priddy and Rizzuto together in the middle of the Yankee infield. But Priddy could not get himself untracked at the plate and by mid-May, “Marse Joe” had moved Gordon back to second and was starting Sturm at first. Almost immediately, Sturm went on an 11-game hitting streak and by the end of it, McCarthy had moved him into the leadoff spot of the Yankee lineup where he would remain for the rest of the ’41 season. Like Priddy however, Sturm also struggled with big league pitching, averaging just .239 during his rookie season. As a result, he scored just 58 times in 568 plate appearances. Despite that poor showing, McCarthy stuck with his punchless rookie in that year’s World Series and the then-25-year-old Sturm came through with a .318 average in the Yankees’ victory over Brooklyn, hitting safely in each of that Fall Classic’s five games.
So why did McCarthy stick with Sturm’s inefficient bat at first instead of giving Priddy another chance at second? After all, Phil Rizzuto always insisted that Priddy was a much better ballplayer than the Scooter was and could do everything well on a baseball field. From what I’ve read, it seems Priddy was a very cocky kid who thought nothing of mouthing off at his veteran Yankee teammates and vocally insisting he was as good as or better than most of them. Such brashness, especially from a rookie, did not sit well with his teammates. As a result, few if any of them showed any sympathy or offered to help Priddy with his offensive struggles, while reacting in the exact opposite way with the much more likable Sturm. I’m sure McCarthy realized all this and kept Priddy on the bench in part because he didn’t want to antagonize his veteran players.
Sturm’s very good 1941 postseason performance convinced most Yankee observers that he would be back at first base come the following season, but two months later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. On January 13, 1942, Sturm became the first married big league ballplayer to be drafted into military service. He spent most of his time in the Army playing baseball but he also was part of a detail that built baseball fields on army posts. While driving a tractor on one such detail, Sturm was involved in an accident that resulted in the amputation of two fingers on his non-throwing hand. When he tried to rejoin the Yankees in 1946, that injury destroyed his chances at being successful. Instead, he became a player-manager in the Yankees farm system and one day in 1948, while serving in that role for New York’s Class C Western Association League franchise in Joplin, Sturm’s phone rang. A father of a high school player was calling to request a tryout for his son. Sturm listened to the voice on the other end of the line tell him why this kid was worth looking at and was convinced enough to place a call to Yankee scout Tom Greenwade and arrange a tryout. The name of the dad who called Sturm that day was Mutt Mantle and the rest is Yankee history.
I began paying attention to the White Sox starting pitching rotation right around 1980. That was the season a former Yankee minor league phee-nom named Lamarr Hoyt made his first big league start for Chicago and went an impressive 9-3 in his rookie year. The Yankees had included Hoyt in the package of players they used to acquire shortstop Bucky Dent from the White Sox three seasons earlier and I had kept an eye on Hoyt’s progress ever since.
The Chicago rotation Hoyt joined that season included some very good young pitchers headed by 21-year-old Britt Burns, who led the staff with 15 victories that season. Hoyt and Burns were joined by 22-year-old left-hander Steve Trout and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Rich Dotson. Dotson was a 21-year-old rookie at the time, who finished the year with an impressive 12-10 record. Back then, the Yankee rotation by contrast was ancient but still effective, with 39-year-old Luis Tiant, 37-year-old Tommy John and 35-year-old Rudy May helping 29-year-old Ron Guidry win the AL East. Yankee fans like me couldn’t help but notice the young guns being assembled in the Windy City and wish our favorite team was as well-stocked with fresh young arms.
Dotson had a superb start to his sophomore year. By June 9th of the ’81 season, the young right-hander was 7-3 and four of those seven victories were complete game shutouts. Two days later the season stopped when players went on strike. The disruption clearly bothered Dotson, who went just 2-5 during the second half of the split season.
The Cincinnati native would reach his apex as a pro two years later when he went 22-7 to help lead the White Sox to an AL West Division flag. It looked as if he was on his way to becoming one of baseball’s premier right-handed pitchers after he started the ’84 season with 11 wins in his first 15 decisions and made the All Star team. But he fell apart in the second half of that year and the White Sox collapsed in the standings. A circulatory problem was later discovered in Dotson’s throwing shoulder and it limited him to just nine starts in 1985. After two more losing seasons in Chicago, he was traded to the Yankees in November of 1987, for outfielder Dan Pasqua.
Ironically, both Steve Trout and Britt Burns had preceded their former pitching mate to the Bronx in earlier deals and both had failed miserably. Dotson fared better in pinstripes than both of them, winning 12 games for New York in 1988, but his ERA hit five and the Yankees finished in a disappointing fifth place in the AL East. When he continued to struggle the following year, new Yankee manager Dallas Green demoted Dotson to the bullpen and a few weeks later, the pitcher was given his unconditional release. He retired after the 1990 season with a lifetime record of 111-113.
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