Results tagged ‘ catcher ’
Johnny Oates’ two most significant interactions with the New York Yankees during his long career as a big league back-up catcher and manager, suffered from the same problem, poor timing. By the time he got to wear the pinstripes as a player, he was 34-years old and at the very tail end of his career. The Yankees signed Oates as a free agent at the very beginning of the 1980 regular season to serve as Rick Cerone’s backup. That happened to also be Cerone’s first season as the Yankees’ successor to Thurman Munson and he went out and had the greatest year of his entire big league career, starting an incredible 147 games behind the plate. That left Oates with a table-scrap portion of catching to do and when he hit just .188 while doing it, you knew his pinstriped days were numbered. He did manage to make the Yankees’ Opening Day roster the following year, but when his anemic offense continued during the first two months of the 1981 season, the Yankees turned to Barry Foote as Cerone’s new backup and released Oates as a player, offering instead to employ him as a minor league manager.
A decade later, the native North Carolinian became the skipper of the Baltimore Orioles, replacing Frank Robinson, 37 games into the 1991 regular season. He lasted in that job for the next three seasons, finishing with a winning record in each of them and earning plenty of admirers along the way. One of them was Texas Ranger GM Doug Melvin who hired Oates to manage his Arlington-based ball club. Johnny would spend seven seasons in that position, leading the Rangers to three AL West Division titles during that time and winning the 1996 AL Manager of the Year Award. His one abject failure during his Ranger years was his inability to get his Texas teams past the Yankees in three different postseasons. The Rangers’ record against New York during their three ALDS confrontations was 1-9. The last of those three series was particularly hard on Oates, as the Rangers high-powered offense was able to produce just one measly run in their three games against the Bronx Bombers.
Less than two years later, Oates was replaced as Ranger skipper by Jerry Narron, the former Yankee backup catcher Oates himself had replaced two decades earlier. Johnny Oates would never manage another big league team, ending his 11-year career with an overall 797-746 record as a skipper. Shortly after being dismissed as the Texas manager, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor in Oates’ brain. Though given just a year to live, a determined Oates lasted three, dying in 2004 at the age of 58.
He shares his January 21st birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the back up catcher on one of the greatest teams in MLB history, the 1927 Yankees. Johnny Grabowski had broke into the big leagues with the White Sox in 1924 and spent three seasons in the Windy City as a backup receiver to Hall of Fame catcher Ray Schalk. In January of 1927, Chicago traded him and a second baseman named Ray Morehart to the Yankees for second baseman, Aaron Ward. Ward had lost his starting position in New York to a rookie phee-nom named Tony Lazzeri in 1926, making him expendable. Grabowski was the key to the deal for New York. He had developed a reputation with the White Sox as a good defensive catcher and the Yankees wanted him to backup their regular receiver, Pat Collins.
Grabowski filled that spot admirably in 1927, getting 56 starts behind the plate that season and averaging a healthy .277. With Ruth and Gehrig providing the punch, that Yankee team set a record for wins in a 154 game season with 110 and then swept the Pirates in four games in the 1927 World Series. The juggernaut continued the following year as the Yankees won their second straight pennant and pulled off their second straight four-game World Series sweep, this time versus the Cardinals. Grabowski actually started more games behind the plate than any other New York catcher during the 1928 regular season, but his batting average plummeted to just .238 and that offensive ineptitude got him left off that year’s World Series roster. When Grabowski’s offensive troubles continued during the first half of the 1929 season, the Yankees released him.
Grabowski eventually returned to the minors and then got a second shot at the big leagues with Detroit in 1931. When he failed to stick there, he turned to umpiring. He was advancing up the ladder as a minor league man in blue when he was tragically killed attempting to fight a fire in his Guilderland, NY home, in May of 1946. Grabowski was only 46 years old at the time of his death. He shares his January 7th birthday with this former Yankee second baseman and this one-time MVP.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the legendary Branch Rickey revolutionized Major League Baseball not once but twice. His first engineered earth change took place when he created a farm system for the St. Louis Cardinals. There had always been minor leagues and minor league teams in US baseball, but not one of those teams had ever been formally affiliated with a big league franchise. The “Mahatma” changed that. As first manager and then president of the St. Louis Cardinals, he began buying portions of ownership in select minor league teams so that he could control the development and contracts of the players on those teams. It was the fruit from Rickey’s pioneer farm system that provided the core players who formed the great St. Louis Gashouse Gang teams that would win six pennants and three World Series before WWII.
Next stop for Rickey was as GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. In that role he engineered the breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier which helped convert the Dodgers into a National League dynasty.
But before he became the greatest baseball executive in the history of the sport, Rickey actually played it. He broke into the big leagues as a catcher with the Browns in 1905. The following year, he started 55 games behind the plate for St. Louis, averaged .284 and threw out close to 40% of the runners attempting to steal against him. The New York Highlanders’ starting catcher, Red Kleinow, had hit just .220 that same season and his back-up, Deacon McGuire was 42 years old. This may help explain why New York traded an outfielder named Little Joe Yeager to the Browns for Rickey, after the 1906 season.
Rickey’s catching career in New York, however, would end up consisting of just 11 games. The biggest reason for that miniscule level of playing time was an injured throwing arm and that bum arm explains Rickey’s only appearance in the MLB record book as a player. When every other Highlander catcher on the roster came down with more serious injuries than Rickey’s at one point during that 1907 season, he was forced to play behind the plate during a game between New York and the Senators. Thirteen Washington base runners were credited with successful stolen base attempts against the then 25-year-old New York catcher that afternoon. In the eleven games in which he was New York’s catcher that year, he made nine errors. His injured wing and his .182 Highlander batting average probably explains why the future Hall of Famer quit playing baseball that year and went to law school. The rest is, as they say, history.
Rickey was born on this date in 1881, in Flat, Ohio. He died in 1965. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee DH and outfielder.
Even though he was 37 years old at the time and suffering from painful bone chips in his throwing elbow, Yankee catcher Elston Howard still managed to catch 113 games during the 1966 season. But his batting average had dipped into the .250s and he had lost almost all of the pop in his once powerful bat. Concerned that their aging receiver would not last the season, the Yankees had made a trade in July of that year with Kansas City that brought the A’s one-time starting catcher, Bill Bryan to New York.
Bryan, a native of Morgan, Georgia, had put together his best big league season the year before, establishing career highs with 15 home runs, 51 RBIs and a .251 batting average. But the 6 foot 4 inch receiver had gotten off to a horrible start in 1966 and had lost his starting catching job in KC to Phil Roof. He was hitting just .132 when the Yankees traded for him in early June of that year.
During his first three months in New York, he backed up Howard and Jake Gibbs, but by September, Elston was physically spent and Gibbs was injured so Bryan took over as the starter. He finished the year with a putrid .172 batting average but Yankee manager Ralph Houk decided to keep him around for another look the following year. That was probably because Bryan had shown some evidence that he could reach the old Stadium’s short right field porch with his left-handed swing. But Houk’s second look only lasted a couple of months before Bryan was sent down to Syracuse in May of 1967. He played well in Triple A and was called up to back-up Gibbs, after New York traded a shocked and disappointed Howard to the Red Sox that August. Ellie was only hitting .196 for New York at the time that deal was made. Believe it or not, that was almost 30 points higher than Bryan would average for New York in the 16 games he ended up playing in that year.
The Yankees left him exposed in the 1967 Rule 5 draft and he was selected by the Senators. He played his final big league season for Washington in 1968. Bryan shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and manager and this one-time Yankee pitching prospect.
You’re fourteen years old, you love the Yankees and for the previous three years you’ve watched them degrade from perennial World Series participants to AL cellar dwellers. All your favorite pinstriper’s have grown old instantly together and you’re desperate for some good news. Is Bobby Murcer the next Mickey Mantle? Will Jerry Kenney make us forget about Clete Boyer.? Is Horace Clarke better than Bobby Richardson? You keep watching and listening to game after game and scouring the box scores to get the answer to these questions and even though it quickly became obvious that this next generation of Yankees were simply pale imitations of the previous ones, you didn’t give up hope.
It was this never-give-up-hope attitude that helps me clearly remember when today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant made his debut in the Bronx. It was a Sunday afternoon game at the Stadium in late May of 1968 and I can almost hear Scooter make the first-ever big league introduction of this native Puerto Rican. It probably went something like this; “and batting eighth and doing the catching is, holy cow Messer, this kid’s name is Ellie Rodriguez and he’s doing the catching. If he’s anything like the last Ellie (Elston Howard) who caught for the Yankees, we may have something special here.”
But alas, Ellie Rodriguez was no Ellie Howard. He went 0-3 in his Yankee debut that afternoon and was hitting just .167 by mid-June, when the Yankees sent him back to their Syracuse Chiefs farm team. He’d get called back up a couple of times that year but he did not do much better, finishing his nine-game debut season with a .209 batting average. New York had this other young catcher named Munson playing for Binghamton that same season, who was impressing everyone in the organization, so they left Ellie II unprotected in the AL expansion draft. The Kansas City Royals made him their 13th pick.
It turned out to be a big break for Rodriguez because he became the Royals’ starting catcher in 1969 and made the AL All Star team. Three seasons later he repeated that feat as the Brewers starting catcher. The Brewers traded him to the Angels following the ’73 season and he caught 137 games for California in 1974, a career high. He would end up spending nine years in all as a big league catcher, and then he played four more seasons in Mexico. Lifetime he hit .245 and threw out 41% of the runners attempting to steal against him. He may not have been the next Ellie Howard but he did just fine.
Rodriguez shares his May 24th birthday with this veteran pitcher who played an important role in the Yankees’ 2011 starting rotation.
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I can remember thinking the 2002 New York Yankees were going to roll to the team’s fifth World Series championship in seven seasons. They finished 103-58 during the regular season and had Mussina, Clemens, Pettitte and Wells in their rotation. They were loaded offensively as well, with Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano and Bernie Williams all driving in 100 runs that year and every member of the starting lineup hitting double figures in home runs.
Yankee catcher, Jorge Posada also had a strong regular season, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 99 while catching 131 games. During those rare games when Posada wasn’t behind the plate for New York, the honor went to today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant.
The Yankees signed Chris Widger to a free agent contract in February of 2002. The Wilmington, Delaware native had broken into the big leagues in 1995 with Seattle and had been the Expos’s starting catcher from 1997 until he was traded back to the Mariners in August of 2000. Widger then hurt his shoulder and was forced to sit out the entire 2001 season.
Back then, Posada was hypersensitive about playing time. He had broken in with New York behind Joe Girardi and hated sitting the bench when Torre gave Girardi his share of time behind the plate. After letting Girardi sign with the Cubs after the 1999 season, the Yankee front-office decided to quell Posada’s anxiety by using only journeymen for his back-ups. That’s why they had signed both Widger and former Met reserve catcher Albert Castillo before the ’02 season.
It was Castillo who started the year behind Posada that April, but when he hit just .135 during the first half of the season, the Yankees decided to give Widger a shot. When he started his Yankee career with a six-game hitting streak that July, one had to wonder if Posada started getting edgy. Widger followed that up with a five game streak in August and finished the reason hitting .297. The Yankees kept him on the postseason roster but he saw no action in the team’s bitterly disappointing loss to the Angels in the first round of the playoffs.
He went to spring training in Tampa the following February and in an ungraceful move, the Yankees waited until the first week of April to release him. He did get to play that season with the Cardinals and remained in the big leagues until 2006. Widger shares his birthday with a former Yankee third baseman who should be getting into the Hall-of-Fame in the next few years. This long-ago Yankee pitcher was also born on May 21.
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Arndt Jorgens probably holds the record for most retired Yankee uniform numbers worn by a Yankee. During his 11-year career with the Bronx Bombers, the native Norwegian at one time or another wore the numbers 15, 32, 10 and 9. None of those uniforms got too dirty however, because as the back-up catcher to Hall-of-Fame iron-man Bill Dickey, Jorgens played in just 307 games during his Yankee career. In fact, though Jorgen’s Yankee teams played in five World Series and he was kept on the postseason roster for each of them, he did not make a single appearance in any of the 23 games New York played in those Fall Classics.
Better known as “Arnie” to his teammates, the most games Jorgens ever played in a single season was in 1934, when an angry Dickey broke the jaw of an opposing baserunner who had collided with him in a play at the plate. Dickey was suspended and back then, the suspensions of players who intentionally injured opposing players generally lasted for as long as it took the injured player to recover and return to action. Dickey’s fist gave Jorgens the opportunity to appear in 58 games that year and he set career highs with 183 at bats, 14 runs scored, 38 hits and 20 RBIs. Like many Yankee backups before and after him, if he played elsewhere he would have played more but those regular World Series checks he cashed made him more than happy to spend most of his time in pinstripes either riding the pine in the Yankee dugout or catching relievers who needed to warm up in the Yankee bullpen.
Jorgens broke into the big leagues as a Yankee in 1929 and he retired as one in 1939. He was born in Modum, Norway in 1905 and moved to Chicago as a child. He had a brother named Orville, who made it to the big leagues as a pitcher with the Phillies. Jorgens passed away in 1980. Jorgens’ misfortune of not getting to play in so many World Series should have earned him the nickname “Misses October.” He happens to share his May 18th birthday with the former Yankee known as “Mr October.”
As the Yankees’ 2000 season approached, Jorge Posada was entering his prime. The one thing Joe Torre had learned about his sensitive catcher was that he hated not playing. That helps explain why the Yankees had let his predecessor, Joe Girardi sign with the Cubs as a free agent after the 1999 season. Torre knew there were not enough games or innings available in a season to keep both guys happy so he fully committed to Posada and the Yankees began their search for a backup catcher who was good enough to catch a game when necessary but not good enough to pose a consistent threat to Jorge’s playing time.
During the 2000 spring training season, it looked as if Tom Pagnozzi would be the guy. But he had a horrible spring and a sore shoulder to boot. Today’s Birthday Celebrant, Chris Turner was Pagnozzi’s primary competition in camp and he had not set the world on fire while in Florida either. So when the team headed north it went without either guy and Jim Leyritz was designated Jorge’s backup as the season started. Then when Nick Johnson got hurt at the end of April and went on the DL, the Yanks brought up Turner and he was ready.
The Bowling Green, KY native had spent his first five big league seasons as a reserve catcher with the Angels. In 1998, he caught four games for the Royals and the following year, he got into twelve games with the Indians. Now with the Yankees, Turner got off to a hot start with his bat. At the end of July, he was hitting .360 and had an on base percentage of .418. Torre figured out how to get him into games by making him David Cone’s personal catcher. “Conie” was having a horrible 2000 season but had pitched pretty well the two times he was matched up with Turner as his battery mate. Torre made the pairing permanent.
Unfortunately for both the pitcher and his catcher, it didn’t help. Cone finished the season 4-14 and Turner finished it in a horrific slump that saw his .360 average of July fall to just .236 by season’s end. Compounding Turner’s difficulties was the fact that with Cone on the mound, base runners ran frequently and Turner was only able to prevent three of the twenty-two runners attempting to steal against him.
After the Yankees beat the Mets in that year’s Series (in which Turner did not play) New York’s brain trust decided that despite Posada’s sensitive side, they had to shore up the back up catcher’s spot with somebody who could more effectively replace Jorge, both offensively and defensively, in case he got hurt. They released Turner and signed veteran Bob Oliver. Turner’s playing career was over at the age of 31.
This native Venezuelan emerged from the Yankee farm system when catchers Jorge Posada and Jose Molina both were hurt during the 2009 season. Cervelli did a surprisingly terrific job, hitting .298 in 42 games and earning the praise of the Yankee pitching staff for his work behind the plate. I use the word surprisingly because at the time, Cervelli seemed to handle big league pitching better than he did minor league stuff. That’s what I most liked about this kid. He seemed to step up when the pressure got more intense and that caused the expectations I had for the kid to rise up as the 2010 season approached.
Francisco got off to a rough start in 2010 when he was beaned on his birthday in spring training and suffered a concussion. When he returned he was wearing a new bulkier batting helmet that protected him better but also made it look like his head had shrunk. The new oversized lid also seemed to be making him a better hitter. When Posada got hurt early in the year, Cervelli took over as starter and had his batting average in the high .300′s well into May. I still remember blinking my eyes a couple of times when I checked a box score of a Yankee Red Sox game I missed that month and saw five RBI’s next to Cervelli’s name.
But the bat cooled off and more disappointingly, so did Francisco’s work behind the plate. The passed balls, errors and horrible throws started appearing in bunches and it convinced me that the kid was not yet ready to be a full-time catcher.
Give him credit though. Cervelli refused to give up on the notion that he and not Russell Martin, Jesus Montero or Austin Romine would be the next great Yankee behind home plate and he spent the winter of 2010 working like mad to get in the better physical shape he knew it would take to compete against that trio. But the injury bug hit him again during the 2011 exhibition season when a foul ball off his own bat fractured his foot. By the time he got back into action, Martin had not only solidified his hold on New York’s starting catching position, he proved to be an iron man back there and did not take many games off. As a result Cervelli played in just 43 games in 2011 and his season ended in early September when he suffered yet another concussion and missed the rest of the regular season and the Yankees’ two postseason series.
He arrived at New York’s 2012 spring camp knowing he was not going to push Martin out of his starting role and that he was going to have to compete with Austin Romine to keep his job as Martin’s backup. Everyone including Cervelli and me was shocked when Yankee GM Brian Cashman traded for San Francisco Giant back-up catcher just before Opening Day 2012 and Cervelli ended up getting sent back to Triple A for almost the entire regular season. Francisco actually broke into tears when Manager Joe Girardi gave him the news of his sudden demotion.
But Francisco has hung in there. Even though he had a bad season down on the farm, he came to the 2013 Yankee spring training camp knowing Russell Martin was gone and he’d have his best opportunity ever to win New York’s starting catcher’s job. He needs to beat out Stewart and Romine and I’d say his odds for doing so are fifty-fifty. I have to admit, however, that I found his alleged involvement in the recent Miami-based PEDs dispensing clinic investigation very disturbing. To me, Cervelli could serve as a classic example of a desperate ballplayer, at the crossroads of his career turning to performance enhancing pharmaceuticals to help him get to the next level. I hope my concern is proven to be completely unfounded when the results of the MLB investigation into this clinic are divulged.
During his five seasons in pinstripes, Cervelli has averaged .271.
Cervelli shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder.
I was a huge Elston Howard fan when I was a kid. He never seemed to get the amount of media attention accorded to his more famous Yankee teammates but he certainly got the attention of Yankee opponents. In 1961 he hit .348, a ridiculously high average for an everyday big league catcher. In 1962 he drove in 91 runs from the six-hole of the Yankee lineup. In 1963, he was selected the AL MVP and in 1964 he played in 150 games, hit .313 and was named to his seventh consecutive AL All Star team.
The Yankees were slow to integrate their team, waiting till 1956 to do it with Howard, who by then was already 26 years old. Compounding Ellie’s delayed development was a Yankee roster loaded with talent and his first Yankee manager, Casey Stengel’s platoon system, which combined to relegate Howard to less than 375 at bats in five of his first six big league seasons.
It wasn’t until Ralph Houk replaced Stengel in 1961 that Howard became a full-time part of the Yankee lineup and by then, he was already 32 years old. Give him those 450 at bat seasons beginning when he was 22 or 23 and Howard would have hit closer to 300 lifetime home runs instead of 167, he’d have easily added perhaps 700 more hits to his career total of 1,471, he’d have seven world series rings instead of four and perhaps he’d be in Cooperstown today.