Results tagged ‘ catcher ’
You have to be a pretty passionate and long-time Yankee fan to remember today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Scott Bradley had been New York’s third round draft pick in the 1981 MLB amateur draft. After a decent cup-of-coffee trial with the parent club the previous fall, he showed up at the Yankees 1985 spring training camp with a duffel bag that included five different gloves. He had been a catcher during his days in the New York farm system but he was determined to prove to then Yankee manager Yogi Berra that he could also play first, third and the outfield. He knew that Yankee team already had two catchers, Butch Wynegar and Ron Hassey on its roster. As the Essex Falls, New Jersey native explained to a New York Times reporter who interviewed him during that exhibition season, “The best way for me to make this team is to play three or four different positions.”
Bradley’s strategy worked. Berra loved the kid’s attitude and he ended up winning the James P.Dawson Award as the outstanding rookie in that 1985 spring training camp. When Don Mattingly’s back problems forced him to start the ’85 season on the DL, it was an easy decision for Yogi to carry Bradley on the Yanks’ Opening Day roster.
The problem was that though Bradley could play several different positions, he was the Yankees third string choice at each of them. As a result, he saw action in only three games that April, before he was sent back down to the minors. Bradley reappeared in the Bronx that June, after Billy Martin had replaced Berra as Yankee manager and he made several appearances as a DH. But when his average dropped below .200 in early July, he was sent back down. He got one more opportunity in late July, when Wynegar went on the DL, but he again failed to generate any offense whatsoever.
Despite his .163 average, it appeared as if the Yanks were committing to using Bradley as their second string catcher in 1986, when they traded Hassey to the White Sox in December of ’85. But the New York front office had a change of heart and reacquired Hassey just three months later, sending Bradley to Chicago as part of the deal. He appeared in just 8 games as a White Sox before getting traded to the Mariners in July of 1986. It would be in Seattle where Bradley would become a big league starting catcher for the better part of six seasons.
He stopped playing in 1992 and became a minor league coach. In 1997, he accepted the head baseball coaching job at Princeton University, a position he continues to serve in today. Bradley shares his March 22nd birthday with this former Yankee outfielder, this former Yankee pitcher turned pitching instructor and this Yankee hurler who met a tragic death.
If former Yankee catching phee-nom, Jesus Montero had become the next great Yankee catcher, today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant would have had a lot to do with his success. That’s because Butch Wynegar served as Montero’s hitting and catching coach at Scranton/Wilkes Barre in 2010. Montero didn’t need much help at the plate but Wynegar’s task that season was to try and make the kid a better player behind it. At one time, Wynegar himself was being proclaimed as baseball’s next superstar catcher when he was drafted by the Twins in 1974. Two years later, when he was just 20-years-old, he was Minnesota’s starting catcher, made the AL All Star team and finished second behind Mark “The Bird” Fidrych in that season’s Rookie of the Year balloting. Wynegar was a switch hitter who like Montero, felt naturally comfortable hitting but uncomfortable catching. Ironically, Butch turned himself into one of baseball’s better defensive catchers but he never became the offensive force pundits had predicted he would be at the big league level.
Wynegar played for Minnesota from 1976 until May of 1982, when the Twins traded him to New York. The Yankees had given up hope that Rick Cerone was ever going to be the next Thurman Munson and their thinking was that Wynegar, who was only 26 at the time of the trade, still had his best years ahead of him. It looked like the Yankee brass had made the right decision after Butch hit .296 in 1983, his first full year in pinstripes and caught Dave Righetti’s unforgettable fourth-of-July no-hitter against Boston. But that turned out to be the best year he would have in New York. I remember he did do a great job handling a very unstable Yankee pitching staff during his tenure with the team but his bat never made much noise. By 1986, the Yankees decided they’s seen enough of Wynegar and shipped him to the Angels for next to nothing in return.
Wynegar shares his March 14th birthday with this former bad-tempered Yankee pitcher.
Shortly after Joe McCarthy took over as Yankee manager following the 1930 season, the Philadelphia A’s put their long-time catcher, Cy Perkins on waivers. Seeing an opportunity to take ownership of Perkins’ years of experience as one of the American League’s best defensive catchers, Marse Joe told the Yankee front office to claim the native of Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Perkins had been the A’s starting catcher for six seasons, from 1919 until 1924, which included some of the worst teams in the franchise’s history. In 1925, Mickey Cochrane took over as Philadelphia’s starter behind the plate and Perkins became his backup for the next six seasons, during which Philadelphia developed into the best team in the American League. Cochrane was born a great hitter but when he made his debut with Philadelphia, he was a horrible defensive catcher. It was Perkins who taught the future Hall-of-Famer how to catch and he proved to be an excellent teacher.
His real name was Ralph Foster Perkins which makes me wonder how in the hell he came to be known as “Cy.” He was a pretty good hitter himself, averaging right around .270 during his starting days with the A’s and usually driving in between 60 and 70 runs a year. When he got to the Yankees in 1931, Bill Dickey was firmly ensconced as the team’s number one catcher but just as McCarthy had hoped, Perkins became a huge asset on the Yankee bench. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of every hitter in the league and Dickey and the entire Yankee pitching staff took full advantage of his expert advice. New York’s staff gave gave up 138 fewer runs than they surrendered in 1930 and some of the credit for that improvement had to go to their new third-string catcher.
With both Dickey and Arndt Jorgens in front of him on the depth chart, Perkins didn’t get much of a chance to actually catch during his only season as a Yankee player. He appeared in just 16 games during the ’31 season, collecting 12 hits with 7 RBIs and a .255 batting average. He then spent the next two seasons as a Yankee coach, joining the legendary Art Fletcher to provide McCarthy with a dynamic duo of baseball brainpower that would help him direct New York to a World Championship in 1932. After two seasons of coaching for the Yankees, he rejoined his former student Cochrane, who had become the player-manager of the Detroit Tigers. That Tiger ball club then went to two straight World Series and won the 1935 Fall Classic. Perkins died in 1963 at the age of 67.
How 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.
He has one of the coolest names ever for an MLB player. Before Muddy Ruel became the greatest catcher in Washington Senator franchise history, he shared the New York Yankee starting catcher responsibilities during the 1919 and 1920 seasons with fellow receiver Truck Hannah. Despite being physically small for his position at 5’9″ and just 150 pounds, Ruel became one of the best defensive catchers in league history. There was nothing he could not do well from behind the plate and despite his diminutive size, Ruel was famous for his refusal to back down from much larger hard-charging base runners attempting to score. He was also a skilled hitter, averaging .275 during his 19 big league seasons.
With New York, Ruel averaged .251 during his two seasons in the Bronx. The Yankee team he joined as a 22-year-old had not yet acquired Babe Ruth from Boston but it was a quickly-improving ball club under the control of its talented skipper, Miller Huggins. Ruel started 69 games behind the plate for Huggins in 1919 and 76 more the following year. He was behind the plate in the August 1920 game, when New York pitcher Carl Mays beaned and killed Roy Chapman of the Cleveland Indians. Ruel would be asked about that tragic event for the rest of his days and always insisted Mays was not trying to hit Chapman.
When Ruth joined the team during Ruel’s second year as a starter, the Yankees instantly became one of the better teams in baseball and Ruel’s future with the emerging dynasty looked strong and secure. But that future ended abruptly in December of 1920, when the Yankees and Red Sox pulled off a huge eight player trade. The key players involved were Yankee second baseman Del Pratt and Boston pitcher Waite Hoyt, but the transaction also included a swap of the two teams’ catchers, Ruel for Wally Schang.
Muddy would start behind the plate for the Red Sox for the next two years and then get dealt to the Senators, where he would be paired with the immortal Walter Johnson, to form one of the great batteries in baseball history. The pair would lead Washington to the only two World Series appearances in that team’s long history in 1924 and ’25 and it would be Ruel who would score the winning run in the seventh and final game of the 1924 Fall Classic that earned that ball club its one and only world championship.
Ruel played for the Senators through 1930 and then spent the last four years of his playing career with four different teams. He had earned his law degree during his off-seasons with Washington, but instead of practicing law when his playing days were over, he went into coaching, then managing, then front office work and even became a special assistant to Baseball Commissioner, Happy Chandler for a while. He finally left the game for good in 1956 and moved to Italy for a year so his children could have the experience of attending school abroad. Ruel died in 1963 from a heart attack at the age of 67.
Right now is perhaps the most exciting time ever in Chris Stewart’s decade as a professional baseball player. He’s in Tampa, attending the Yankees’ spring training camp with a very good chance of winning the team’s starting catcher’s job vacated by recently departed free agent, Russell Martin. The odds of that happening may have also improved in his favor recently when it was revealed that his main competition for the job, Francisco Cervelli has been implicated in an investigation of a Miami-based PED dispensing clinic. When you consider the fact that this native of Fontana, California has been on five different teams during his six partial seasons in the Majors and has never appeared in more than 67 games or averaged higher than .243 in any of them, it is a near-miracle that he is this close to claiming a job once held by the likes of Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada.
As near as I can figure, Stewart’s most important asset is his ability to effectively frame pitches. That’s a term that describes how catchers position and quickly move their gloves on pitches that are just out of the strike zone in an effort to deceive umpires into thinking they are strikes. Now you probably find it as hard to believe as I do that the mighty Yankees would reward any catcher with the starting job behind the plate based on an ability to steal strikes. The truth is of course that the richest team in baseball has decided they are going to lower their annual player payroll to $189 million by 2014, which will save them $50 million in subsequent luxury tax payments. To get the dollars down to that level, they’ve decided to gamble, or actually penny-pinch with the catcher’s position. Instead of paying Russell Martin the $7.5 million in annual salary it would have taken to keep him in a Yankee uniform for the next two years, they are going to pay a career back-up like Stewart seven million per year less to take his place.
Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi believe that Stewart is or can be as good a defensive catcher as Martin was for them and I tend to agree. It appears that most of the Yankee rotation didn’t mind and might have actually preferred having Stewart behind the plate instead of Martin when they were on the mound. But Stewart lacks Martin’s offensive skills, especially in the power and base-running departments and he’s not as “fiery” as the former Yankee catcher either. My biggest concerns with Stewart behind the plate will be his near automatic out track record and his endurance. Opposing pitchers have little to fear when they face him and that won’t be a good situation for the Yankees during the upcoming season.
Setting these concerns aside for a moment, Stewart turns just 31-years-old today. He’s still young enough to improve his hitting stroke. He’s also physically a big guy, at 6’4″ tall and about 210 pounds, which should help him absorb the additional pounding his body will receive as a result of the increased playing time. If he is able to step up and play well enough to make people not miss Martin, it will mean a great deal to the Yankees’ chances of making another postseason. That’s exactly what I’m hoping for. Actually, I’m still hoping the Yankees make a trade for Joe Mauer before Opening Day but barring that, I’ll try to be Chris Stewart’s biggest fan in 2013.
In addition to the Yankees, Stewart has saw time with the White Sox, Rangers, Padres and Giants. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee shortstop.
When Jorge Posada tore his shoulder muscle during the 2008 season, the Yankees tried to make do with the backstop platoon of Jose Molina and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Originally drafted by New York out of high school in 1993, Moeller decided to instead play college ball for USC. Three years later, he was the Twins seventh round pick, even though he had torn his ACL in a home plate collision on the very last play of his USC career. He made his big league debut with Minnesota in 2000 and the following spring he was traded to the Diamondbacks where he would eventually become Randy Johnson’s personal receiver.
Tall for a catcher at 6′ 3″, Moeller had decent defensive skills but he was always a below-average big league hitter. His only shot at starting had come with the Brewers in 2004 and when he averaged just .208 that season, he was destined to remain a second-string receiver for the rest of his career. If you’re going to be a backup position player and survive in the big leagues, your best shot is as a catcher since every team is forced to carry at least two of them at all times. That fact helped Moeller put together an 11-year Major League career with seven different teams.
When Posada’s shoulder started hurting during the 2008 spring training season, the Yanks signed Moeller as a free agent insurance policy. When Hip Hip Jorge’s injury did not improve, the Yanks restricted him to DH duty and brought Moeller up in mid April to back up Molina. The Upland, California native surprised everyone including me by hitting a robust .350 during that initial call-up. When it was later determined that Posada’s shoulder would require season-ending surgery, Moeller was brought back up to the Bronx where he would pretty much become the personal catcher of Yankee veteran Andy Pettitte and Yankee rookie, Darrell Rasner.
Moeller ended up appearing in 41 games for New York that year. It would have been more but neither he (Moeller finished 2008 with a .231 average) or Molina (who finished with a .216 average) were hitting well and the Yankees’ offense was sputtering. That’s why, on July 30th of that season, GM Brian Cashman acquired veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez from the Tigers for Yankee reliever Kyle Farnesworth. Unfortunately by then, I-Rod’s best offensive days were behind him and he would end up hitting just .218 in pinstripes and the Yankees ended up missing the postseason for the first time in thirteen years. One thing Moeller did exhibit that year was an improved throwing arm. He threw out almost 40% of the runners attempting to steal off of him in 2008, a career high. His lifetime average was just 24%.
New York let Moeller become a free agent after that 2008 season. He spent the following year as a backup catcher with Baltimore. The Yankees re-signed him in April of 2010 and he played his final nine big-league games in pinstripes. He retired with 315 career hits, 29 home runs and a lifetime batting average of .226.
Unless they had another move to acquire a catcher in mind before Opening Day of the 2013 regular season, the Yankees made a mistake by not re-signing Russell Martin. Instead, they allowed their starting catcher for the 2011 and ’12 seasons to make a new two-year $15 million deal for himself with Pittsburgh. I realize this native Canadian had a very bad offensive season in 2012, but his game management skills and defense remained steady and he did pound 21 home runs. None of the trio of receivers who will battle to take over Martin’s job in 2013 will be as good as he was for New York.
My single biggest concern about the former Dodger catcher when the Yankees signed him before the 2011 season was his health. He had hurt his hip during the 2010 season and the injury required surgery. But Martin had worked like crazy to recuperate from that operation and was able to catch 253 games during his two years in the Big Apple. His pinstripe career got off to a great start during the first half of 2011 and he made the AL All Star team. But his offense then pretty much abandoned him until he finally started hitting again during the final month of the 2012 season. Fortunately, he never let those hitting woes impact his solid work behind the plate. I loved the fact that he had the confidence and catching ability necessary to have Yankee pitchers throw their nastiest curves and sliders when hitters were ahead in the count or with opposing runners on base. When Martin was on a roll, be could block short pitches and dig them out of the dirt as well as any catcher I’ve seen. I also liked the fact that Martin had some pop in his bat (39 home runs in his two seasons with New York) and some speed in his legs. He’s stolen 80 bases during his seven years in the big leagues. Plus the guy turns just 30-years-old today.
I think Pittsburgh got themselves one of the ten best catchers in baseball for their 2013 lineup. Meanwhile, neither Chris Stewart or Francisco Cervelli have really proven they’ve got the all-around skills to handle the role of a big league team’s starting catcher. A still developing Austin Romine hasn’t either. That means the Yanks go into a new season with a big question mark at one of baseball’s most important positions, when for $15 million over the next two seasons they could have had one of the better catchers in baseball in that slot. Brian Cashman has said the organization is just biding time, waiting for 19-year-old Gary Sanchez, the franchise’s number 1 catching prospect to be ready for the big show. But that’s at least two years and two postseasons away. Having Martin behind the plate until that happened was a wise and affordable option.
All the hopeful comments I read and hear about the Yankee’s top catching prospect, Gary Sanchez, remind me of the similar hype surrounding today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant back at the turn of this century. The Yankees signed Dioner Navarro as an amateur free agent in 2000 and three seasons later this native Venezuelan hit .341 for double-A Trenton and was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year. Only 19-years-old at the time, he was being groomed as the eventual replacement for Jorge Posada. He got Yankee fans really excited when New York brought him up to the parent club in September of 2004 and the kid hit .429 in the seven games in which he got a chance to play.
Just a few weeks later, the Yankees suffered their famous collapse against Boston in the 2004 ALCS and New York’s front office went into a panic mode for a pitching ace. They settled on Randy Johnson but it cost them Navarro. Arizona then turned right around and traded their new acquisition to the Dodgers in a deal for Shawn Greene. He was given a shot to battle Russell Martin for the Los Angeles starting catcher’s job but he broke his wrist. The Dodgers ended up dealing him to Tampa Bay the following season and he started for the Rays behind the plate from 2007 until 2010, when he lost his job to John Jaso. Navarro’s best season was 2008 when he averaged .297 and made the AL All Star team. He turns just 29-years-old today and spent the 2012 season as a backup catcher for the Reds.
After the Yankees traded Navarro, they signed another teen-aged native-Venezuelan catching prospect to take his place as Posada’s heir apparent. The new kid’s name was Jesus Montero. He too gave Yankee fans something to get excited about in a late season call-up a couple seasons ago and then got traded to Seattle. Perhaps now you understand why I refuse to get too excited about Gary Sanchez.
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.