Results tagged ‘ amsterdam rugmakers ’

July 30 – Happy Birthday Gus Triandos

triandosGus Triandos passed through my hometown on his way to a very noteworthy big league career. He spent the 1950 season playing for the Amsterdam Rugmakers, the Yankees’ Class C affiliate in the old CanAm League. He hit an amazing .363 that season and impressed every baseball-lovng fan in Amsterdam with his shotgun arm and powerful swing. In fact, Triandos impressed fans in each of the seven Yankee minor league home towns he played in during his half-dozen season climb up the Yankee farm system, which was interrupted by two years of military service during the Korean War.

The only weakness Triandos had on a baseball field was his slowness afoot. Simply put, the guy was considered one of the slowest runners in Major League history. Despite that handicap, his strong hitting and outstanding defensive ability were clear indications that this native of San Francisco and son of Greek immigrants would some day be a starting catcher on a big league team. Blocking his path to that destiny with the Yankees was a guy named Yogi Berra.

The Yankees brought Triandos up a first time in mid-August of the 1953 season. Casey Stengel got the then 22-year-old prospect into 18 games down the stretch and he hit his first and only home run as a Yankee. But he averaged just .157 and when the season was over so was his Yankee career, pretty much. He spent almost the entire ’54 season with the Yanks’ Double A club in Birmingham and that November, was included in a historic 17-player transaction with the Orioles that brought Bob Turley and Don Larsen to the Yankees.

It was the big break Triandos’s career needed. He was actually the starting first baseman on the 1955 Baltimore team and Hal Smith started behind the plate. He took over the starting catcher’s job during the 1956 season and remained in that role for the next seven years. He quickly established his reputation as one of the league’s best all-around receivers. He made three straight AL All Star teams and his 30-home runs in 1958 tied Berra’s record for most HRs by a catcher in a season. Though he was still obscured by the Yankee great’s shadow, he became a huge fan favorite in Baltimore, where they named a street after him.

Triandos gained lots of notoriety and sympathy for having to catch Hoyt Wilhelm’s fluttering knuckleball during the Hall-of-Famer’s four-plus seasons as an Oriole. Baltimore manager, Paul Richards designed and had made an over-sized catcher’s mitt to assist Triandos with the task. Though Wilhelm had some of his best big league seasons pitching to Triandos, including his only no-hitter, big Gus often said that catching the hurler’s signature pitch was the worst part of his career.

In 1962, Triandos was traded to the Detroit Tigers and a year later, Detroit sent him and pitcher Jim Bunning to the Phillies. It was there that he caught his second career no-hitter, when Bunning accomplished the feat in June of 1964 against the Mets. But Triandos had stopped hitting during his final few seasons in Baltimore and never again regained his stroke. He retired after the 1965 season and returned to his native California, where he started a mail delivery business. He died in his sleep, from heart failure in March of 2013 at the age of 82. One of my favorite all-time TV shows was the HBO series “Wire,” which dramatized crime and corruption in the City of Baltimore. This story of how Triandos was immortalized in an episode of the show is must reading for fans of this great former Oriole.

Triandos shares his birthday with his former Yankee manager, this former Yankee first baseman and this one-time New York pitcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1953 NYY 18 55 51 5 8 2 0 1 6 0 3 9 .157 .204 .255 .459
1954 NYY 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
13 Yrs 1206 4424 3907 389 954 147 6 167 608 1 440 636 .244 .322 .413 .735
BAL (8 yrs) 953 3610 3186 331 794 119 6 142 517 1 365 487 .249 .326 .424 .751
PHI (2 yrs) 103 311 270 20 61 11 0 8 37 0 35 58 .226 .314 .356 .669
NYY (2 yrs) 20 56 52 5 8 2 0 1 6 0 3 10 .154 .200 .250 .450
HOU (1 yr) 24 78 72 5 13 2 0 2 7 0 5 14 .181 .244 .292 .535
DET (1 yr) 106 369 327 28 78 13 0 14 41 0 32 67 .239 .315 .407 .722
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/29/2013.

February 26 – Happy Birthday Johnny Blanchard

BlanchardJohnnyHow many third string catchers hit 21 home runs in a season? That’s exactly what this Minneapolis native did in 1961, while playing behind both Elston Howard and Yogi Berra. In the 1961 Fall Classic, Blanchard blasted two home runs against the Reds in just ten total at-bats.

He had been a three sport all-star in high school who could have attended the University of Minnesota on a basketball scholarship, but chose to  play baseball instead. The Yankees gave him a $50,000 bonus to sign with them in 1951, which at the time was a huge amount of money. Having been an outfielder during his high school days, Blanchard entered a Yankee organization loaded with outfielders at every level. Since they gave him so much money to sign, New York decided to start him near the top, in triple A ball with their Kansas City affiliate. When he struggled there he was demoted to single A Binghamton, where he played even worse. It was right about this time that the Yankees got the idea to convert him to catcher, and that conversion began when Blanchard was again demoted during his first season in the minors, this time to the Class C Amsterdam Rugmakers, who used to play in my New York State hometown.

The following year, he started to catch full time for the Yankees’ class C team in Joplin Missouri and banged 30 home runs and averaged .301. Just when he thought he was on his way, Uncle Sam called and Blanchard spent the next two years of his life in the US Army. He made his Yankee debut during a brief 1955 cup-of-coffee preview and then was brought up for good in 1959. The problem was that when he finally reached the Bronx, both Yogi Berra and Elston Howard were doing his job just fine and Blanchard quickly became convinced that Yankee skipper Casey Stengel did not like him. He did however, appear in five games during New York’s 1960 World series defeat to Pittsburgh and averaged .455 in that Fall Classic. But it wasn’t until Ralph Houk took over the team in 1961 and made Berra his left fielder that Blanchard finally started seeing more game action.

Johnny played seven seasons in all for the Yankees and got to the World Series five times. Nobody loved wearing the pinstripes more than this guy. I read an interview with Mel Stottlemyre not too long ago in which the former Yankee pitcher recalled the day during the 1965 season when he walked into the Yankee clubhouse before a game and found Blanchard crying inconsolably. The Yankees had just traded the catcher and pitcher Roland Sheldon to the A’s for catcher Doc Edwards. Blanchard had a good bat but a weak arm. Elston Howard had just been injured and put on the disabled list and the Yankees feared opposing teams would run crazy on Blanchard so they made the trade. Like everything else New York did during that 1965 season, Edwards turned out to be a bust. This popular Yankee died in March of 2009.

Blanchard had been a big drinker during his Yankee days. In fact, one of his best friends on the Yankees had been Ryne Duren, who was hardly ever sober. Fortunately, after he retired, Blanchard realized his problem and kicked the habit. He became a successful salesman for printing companies.

This pitcher who shares Blanchard’s birthday was the first ex Yankee to become a Texas Ranger. I’m not referring to the Texas Ranger baseball team, I mean the real Texas Rangers! This one-time Yankee first base prospect was also born on February 26.

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1955 22 NYY AL 1 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .250 .000 .250
1959 26 NYY AL 49 65 59 6 10 1 0 2 4 0 7 12 .169 .258 .288 .546
1960 27 NYY AL 53 107 99 8 24 3 1 4 14 0 6 17 .242 .292 .414 .707
1961 28 NYY AL 93 275 243 38 74 10 1 21 54 1 27 28 .305 .382 .613 .995
1962 29 NYY AL 93 278 246 33 57 7 0 13 39 0 28 32 .232 .309 .419 .728
1963 30 NYY AL 76 247 218 22 49 4 0 16 45 0 26 30 .225 .305 .463 .768
1964 31 NYY AL 77 189 161 18 41 8 0 7 28 1 24 24 .255 .344 .435 .779
1965 32 NYY AL 12 42 34 1 5 1 0 1 3 0 7 3 .147 .286 .265 .550
8 Yrs 516 1351 1193 137 285 36 2 67 200 2 136 163 .239 .317 .441 .758
NYY (8 yrs) 454 1207 1063 126 260 34 2 64 187 2 126 146 .245 .325 .461 .786
MLN (1 yr) 10 12 10 1 1 0 0 1 2 0 2 1 .100 .250 .400 .650
KCA (1 yr) 52 132 120 10 24 2 0 2 11 0 8 16 .200 .250 .267 .517
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/2/2014.

February 22 – Happy Birthday Karl Drews

kdrewsThe phone rang and he let it ring one more time before picking it up. His family, friends and coaches who were gathered in his Sarasota, Florida living room that early June day in 1993 all fell silent and turned their attention to the expression on the face of the eighteen-year-old high school pitcher who was now holding the receiver tightly to his ear. As soon as they saw the huge grin break out across his face, every person in the room knew not only who was on the other end of that phone conversation but also what he had just said. The caller was Yankee scout Paul Turco, and he had just told the talented teenager that he had been selected with the Yankees first draft pick (13th overall) in Major League Baseball’s 1993 Amateur Draft.

The kids name was Matt Drews and right after he hung up the phone that day, his Dad, Ron Drews handed him a Yankee cap and told him it was his now. But unlike the brand new New Era team lids most modern day top picks get to place on their heads, the Yankee hat Matt’s Dad had handed him looked a bit aged and odd. That’s because at the time, that particular hat was close to a half-century old. It had been given originally to Matt’s grandfather by Joe DiMaggio as a gift for Matt’s Dad. Ron Drew’s Dad and Matt Drew’s Grandfather was former Yankee pitcher and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Karl Drews. In his rookie year of 1947, Karl had gone 6-6 for New York, appearing in 30 games for Yankee skipper Bucky Harris, including ten starts. Six years earlier, Karl was pitching for the Class C farm team that used to play in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY. He had signed with the Yankees in 1939 and was working his way up the minor league ladder when he was called into the military for service in WWII. That’s why he was already 27 years-old during his first full season in the big leagues.

Drews threw very hard but he had trouble finding the strike zone consistently. Still, Harris had enough faith in his rookie to use him twice in the 1947 World Series against Brooklyn. After his first appearance in Game 3 of that Fall Classic, the gracious DiMaggio walked up to him in the clubhouse after the game and handed him the Yankee cap, telling Drews to give it to his boy as a souvenir of his first World Series game.

DiMaggio would return to three more World Series as a Yankee before retiring but unfortuntely for Karl Drews, 1947 would be his one and only appearance in postseason play. The following season, the Yankees found themselves in a year-long and eventually unsuccessful battle with the Red Sox and Indians to defend their AL Pennant. Drews was actually pitching better baseball than he had the season before, walking fewer hitters and lowering his ERA by over a full run, to 3.79. That didn’t prevent the Yankees from selling Drews to the St. Louis Browns in early August of that 1948 season.

Now pitching for one of the worst teams in baseball, Drews went 4-12 for the Browns in 1949 and was sent back to the minors, where he broke his skull in a base path collision. He got back to the big leagues with the Phillies in 1951 and had his best big league season a year later, as a member of Philadelphia’s starting rotation. He went 14-15 with a sparkling 2.72 ERA and threw 5 shutouts. He would last two more years in the big leagues and then settled with his family in Hollywood, Florida. On August 15th, 1963, he was taking his daughter to swimming practice when his car stalled on a Florida highway. When he got out of the disabled vehicle and attempted to wave a passing car down, the drunken driver of the car plowed into Drews and killed him instantly. He was just 43 years old at the time of his death and he would never get to meet his grandson Matt.

matt.drewsUnlike his grandfather, Matt Drews never made it to the mound of Yankee Stadium. His career started out well, as he went 22-13 during his first two seasons in the lowest levels of New York’s farm system, but during the next five he was 16-58. He left baseball after the 2000 season.

He shares his birthday with this former 20-game-winning pitcherthis one-time Yankee closerthis new Yankee infielder and this former Yankee phee-nom.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1946 NYY 0 1 .000 8.53 3 1 1 0 0 0 6.1 6 6 6 0 6 4 1.895
1947 NYY 6 6 .500 4.91 30 10 9 0 0 1 91.2 92 57 50 6 55 45 1.604
1948 NYY 2 3 .400 3.79 19 2 8 0 0 1 38.0 35 17 16 3 31 11 1.737
8 Yrs 44 53 .454 4.76 218 107 44 26 7 7 826.2 913 493 437 72 332 322 1.506
PHI (4 yrs) 25 25 .500 3.74 93 60 9 22 5 3 453.0 478 221 188 43 117 187 1.313
NYY (3 yrs) 8 10 .444 4.76 52 13 18 0 0 2 136.0 133 80 72 9 92 60 1.654
SLB (2 yrs) 7 14 .333 6.94 51 25 10 3 1 2 177.2 223 148 137 14 104 46 1.841
CIN (1 yr) 4 4 .500 6.00 22 9 7 1 1 0 60.0 79 44 40 6 19 29 1.633
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/1/2014.