Results tagged ‘ catcher ’
In 1985, a 24-year-old rookie from Montebello, California named Mark Salas surprised just about everyone by hitting .300 as the starting catcher of the Minnesota Twins. Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner, always looking for a good left-hand-hitting catcher who could take advantage of his home Stadium’s short right field porch, took notice of the kid. Two seasons later, he approved a mid-season deal that brought Salas to the Bronx in exchange for the Yankees disgruntled veteran knuckleballer, Joe Niekro.
The Boss ignored the fact that Salas had followed up his stellar rookie performance by hitting just .233 in his sophomore season with the Twins. He also didn’t pay attention to Salas’s below average defensive skills behind the plate. After all, even though Salas had lost Minnesota’s starting catching job to Mark Laudner, he was hitting a robust .379 in his back-up role at the time of the trade and he was a much better hitter than Joel Skinner, who had been serving as the Yankees second string catcher that year.
So Salas came to New York and was forced upon Lou Piniella, who was not a thrilled recipient. The Yankee skipper was struggling to keep his 1987 club in first place at the time and growing increasingly frustrated by having every decision he made as manager second guessed by “the Boss.” When it became apparent that Salas was not very good defensively and he stopped hitting too, Piniella wanted Skinner brought back up from Triple A, where he had been sent to make roster room for Salas. Steinbrenner refused to approve the move. So Piniella decided to refuse to accept any more of Steinbrenner’s phone calls, which served as perfect fodder for some creative back-page headlining in the New York City tabloids.
Eventually, Skinner was recalled and Salas was sent down to Columbus. The Yankees finished that ’87 season in fourth place in the AL East race with an 89-73 record. Salas finished his only half-season as a Yankee with a .200 batting average and then got traded to the White Sox with Dan Pasqua for pitcher Rich Dotson. His big league career would end after the 1991 season. He finished with 319 lifetime hits and a .247 batting average. He then went into coaching.
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|DET (2 yrs)||107||247||221||20||43||4||0||10||31||0||21||38||.195||.272||.348||.621|
|CLE (1 yr)||30||83||77||4||17||4||1||2||7||0||5||13||.221||.277||.377||.654|
|NYY (1 yr)||50||130||115||13||23||4||0||3||12||0||10||17||.200||.279||.313||.592|
|STL (1 yr)||14||21||20||1||2||1||0||0||1||0||0||3||.100||.100||.150||.250|
|CHW (1 yr)||75||211||196||17||49||7||0||3||9||0||12||17||.250||.303||.332||.635|
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 him. 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, Chris Stewart 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 hung in there. Even though he had a bad 2012 season down on the farm, he came to the 2013 Yankee spring training camp knowing Russell Martin was gone, Hal Steinbrenner was trying to cut the team’s payroll and he’d have his best opportunity ever to win New York’s starting catcher’s job. He actually did beat out Stewart and Romine for the position and was off to a decent regular season start, when a tipped foul ball broke his hand in a late-April game against the Blue Jays. Compounding his inability to stay injury free was his involvement in the now infamous Miami-based PEDs dispensing clinic investigation and subsequent 50-game suspension.
With New York’s off-season signing of Brian McCann emphatically disintegrating any shot Cervelli had of becoming the team’s starting catcher, the just-completed Yankee 2014 spring training season was most certainly his one-last opportunity to prove to New York’s management that he could play a valuable role as the ball club’s back-up catcher. He was certainly up to the challenge. Despite constant questioning about his role in the Biogenesis scandal and incessant rumors that the team had him on the trading block, Cervelli put together one of the best exhibition season performances of any of his teammates and started the regular season as McCann’s back-up.
Cervelli shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder.
Joel Skinner came to the Yankees in a trade with the White Sox during the 1986 season. New York was hoping he could take over the starting catcher slot from a disappointing Butch Wynegar, who was hitting in the low .200s at the time. Skinner did OK for Manager Lou Piniella’s team the rest of that season but not good enough to stop New York from re-acquiring Rick Cerone in 1988 and then Don Slaught from Texas in 1989. Skinner remained in pinstripes both years as the backup catcher, hitting just .214 as a Yankee. He was born in La Jolla, CA on this date in 1961. After his playing days were through in 1991, Skinner got into coaching and managing and in 2002, he was hired to replace Charley Manuel as the Indians’ field boss for the second half of that season. Skinner shares his February 21st birthday with this starting left-fielder for the 1990 Yankees and the first 34th round draft pick in Yankee history.
Can anybody out there tell me what the following Yankee lineup has in common?
Here are Joel Skinner’s Yankee regular season and MLB career stats:
|CHW (4 yrs)||131||311||284||32||65||11||2||5||29||2||21||76||.229||.282||.335||.617|
|CLE (3 yrs)||227||640||601||49||145||28||1||4||53||1||30||153||.241||.279||.311||.590|
|NYY (3 yrs)||206||600||556||38||119||23||0||8||54||0||29||158||.214||.253||.299||.551|
Yankee teams don’t win World Championships without good solid starting catchers. I’ve been a Bronx Bomber fan for over 50 years and during that time its been names like Berra, Howard, Munson, Girardi and Posada, who have been behind the plate when my favorite team won a ring. Most of these guys could hit, most of them were strong defensively as well and each and everyone of them were tough, strong leaders who weren’t afraid to take control of their pitching staffs.
Russell Martin was that type of player for the Yankees. Certainly not a superstar but most definitely a leader behind the plate and a guy who craved at bats with the game on the line. He had no fear and the Yankees could have got to a World Series with him as their starting catcher, which is why it distressed me, when they let him walk away to Pittsburgh last offseason and decided they’d try instead to go cheap by staffing such a critical position with Cervelli, Stewart, and eventually Austin Romine. It was that single front office decision that convinced me that this current Yankee brain trust actually believed they could be clever money-ball practitioners when I knew they were not. More importantly, I knew that trying to win with less money took away the franchise’s biggest advantage over its competition, which is HAVING MORE MONEY to spend!
We all saw the results. The offensive performance of the Yankee catching staff was as bad as I knew it would be last season and the co-catcher model hurt the stability of the pitching staff. There were also more empty seats in Yankee Stadium and fewer viewers watching those commercials on the YES Network.
Brian McCann had to be signed by New York, this offseason. He’s exactly the kind of catcher the Yankees must have to get back to Fall Ball. He’s also the signal I needed to see that this Yankee brain trust fully realized the error of their penny-pinching ways last winter. I’m once again officially excited about Opening Day!
Over the five decades I’ve been a Yankee fan, there have been a lot of back-up catchers come and go on the Yankee roster. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant held that position for New York back during the strike shortened season of 1981. But Barry Foote wasn’t always a back-up. In fact, when he came up to the big leagues in 1974, he was good enough to beat out future Hall-of-Famer, Gary Carter for Montreal’s starting catcher’s position. That season he hit 11 home runs, drove in 60, averaged .262 plus displayed a strong arm and great defensive ability behind home plate. He was named to the Topp’s All-Rookie team. The following year, however, Foote pretty much stopped hitting and his putrid .194 batting average in 1975, opened the door for Carter to begin his legendary career as one of the best backstops of his era.
Foote remained with Montreal as “The Kid’s” backup until 1977, when he was dealt to the Phillies. He got one more chance at a starting job in 1979, after Philadelphia traded him to the Cubs. He put together a strong debut season in Chicago, hitting a career high 16 home runs and averaging a respectable .256. Then in ’80, he lost his starting job to Tim Blackwell. The following April, the Yankees traded for Barry.
Rick Cerone had become New York’s starting catcher in 1980 and the veteran, Johnny Oates had been his backup that first year. The Yankees had signed Oates to another one-year contract just three weeks before they traded for Foote but it was Barry who became Cerone’s primary backup in that whacky strike-shortened 1981 split season. Foote hit just .208 his first year in pinstripes, appearing in 40 games and producing six home runs. He also got the opportunity to appear in his one and only World Series that fall against the Dodgers. He failed to get a hit in his only at-bat. He remained with the Yankees in 1982 and retired as a player after that season. The Yankees then hired Foote to manage in their Minor League system.
He shares his February 16th birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
Here’s a list of the New York’s starting catchers with their primary back-ups since I started following the Yankees in 1960
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|CHC (3 yrs)||204||711||653||63||157||39||1||22||85||6||50||74||.240||.298||.404||.702|
|PHI (2 yrs)||57||93||89||7||16||1||0||2||7||0||4||17||.180||.215||.258||.473|
|NYY (2 yrs)||57||187||173||16||33||9||0||6||12||0||9||32||.191||.230||.347||.576|
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant had the opportunity to replace the great Thurman Munson as the Yankees’ starting catcher. This opportunity arose for the Tampa, FL native not in 1979, when Munson was tragically killed in his plane crash, but the year before, when the great Yankee catcher was still an All Star.
For Yankee fans, 1978 will always be an historic year. It was the season of the great comeback, when New York came from 14 games behind their hated rival, the Red Sox, on July 18th to capture the AL East crown. As that year’s All Star break approached, George Steinbrenner was panicking. He was certain he could make better lineup decisions than Billy Martin, so he decided to go ahead and make them. At the time, Martin was near a nervous breakdown. He was fighting with Steinbrenner, feuding with Reggie Jackson and drinking way too much. He loved being Manager of the Yankees so much that he let “The Boss” make his moves.
Steinbrenner benched veteran Roy White and inserted Gary Thomasson in left field. He also ordered Martin to play Munson in right field to rest the aging catcher’s knees and revive his batting stroke. He wanted to platoon Lou Piniella and Reggie Jackson at DH and start the 23-year-old rookie catcher, Mike Heath, who had just been called up from the Yankees’ double A team in West Haven, CT.
Steinbrenner’s revised lineup made their debut on July 13, a Thursday afternoon game against the White Sox, at Yankee Stadium. They lost four of the next five and in that fifth game; Billy Martin gave Reggie Jackson the infamous bunt sign and then tried to remove it. When Jackson defied Martin, Billy benched the slugger, with Steinbrenner’s approval. The Yankees proceeded to win five straight and Heath was actually doing fine both behind and at the plate, keeping his average right around .300. That’s when Martin made his famous “One’s a born liar and the others a convicted one” comment that got him fired.
The rest is Yankee history. Bob Lemon replaced Martin and Bucky Dent’s blast a few weeks’ later capped off the best Cinderella comeback story in New York’s franchise history. What happened to Heath?
Lemon continued to start the rookie at catcher for about a week, but when Heath’s offense cooled off a bit, the Manager put Munson back behind the plate so he could get both Piniella’s and Jackson’s bats back in the lineup. Lemon also began using Cliff Johnson as Munson’s primary backup receiver and Heath saw his playing time pretty much disappear during New York’s historic stretch run.
He did make the postseason roster but right after the Yankees won their second straight World Series against the Dodgers, Heath was included in the Sparky Lyle trade to Texas that brought Dave Righetti to New York. He ended up on Oakland in 1979 and became a very good big league catcher, primarily for the A’s and then the Tigers for the next fourteen seasons.
Would Heath have been able to replace Munson the following season, after the tragic plane crash? I don’t think so. His offense was probably not strong enough to keep him in that Yankee lineup.
|OAK (7 yrs)||725||2653||2438||280||612||99||18||47||281||32||158||312||.251||.296||.364||.660|
|DET (5 yrs)||453||1468||1353||153||360||60||6||34||143||20||86||233||.266||.314||.395||.708|
|ATL (1 yr)||49||150||139||4||29||3||1||1||12||0||7||26||.209||.250||.266||.516|
|STL (1 yr)||65||216||190||19||39||8||1||4||25||2||23||36||.205||.293||.321||.614|
|NYY (1 yr)||33||99||92||6||21||3||1||0||8||0||4||9||.228||.265||.283||.548|
Ira Thomas was born on this date in 1881 about 20 miles north of my hometown, in Ballston Spa, NY. He grew into a sturdy 6’2″, 200 pound frame, which was considered “huge” back at the turn of the 20th century. That gave him the brawn he needed to handle the physical challenges of the catcher’s position. After a few years of minor league ball, he joined the New York Highlanders in 1906 and became Red Kleinow’s primary backup behind the plate.
Thomas had developed strong defensive skills for the position and he had a great arm for nailing opposing base runners. What he couldn’t do very well during his early big league days with New York was hit. In 44 games during his rookie season, he averaged just .200. Still, he was impressive enough defensively to remain with the team in 1907 and pretty much share the catching responsibilities evenly with Kleinow. Once again however, Thomas’s bat failed him. The increased at bats he got in 1907 did not improve his hitting stroke and he ended his second big league season with just a .192 average.
His weakness at the plate is what most likely got him sold to the Tigers in December of 1907. It was with Detroit that Thomas made MLB history and he did it ironically, with his bat. The Tigers faced the Cubs in the 1908 World Series and in the ninth inning of Game 1, Thomas got the first pinch hit, a single, in Series history.
Still just a backup with Detroit, Thomas was spending lots of time watching big league games and big league players perform from the bench. In doing so, he developed lots of knowledge that he would put to good and profitable use for the rest of his life. The first opportunity to do so came in 1909 when he was sold to Connie Mack’s A’s. Not only did his hitting improve in Philly, he also got his first chance to become a big league team’s starting catcher. Those Mack-led A’s teams would go onto win four AL Pennants in the next five years and Thomas was an integral part of each of them, first as the starting backstop and later as one of Mack’s most respected and knowledgeable bench coaches. The Yankees wanted to hire Thomas after the 1914 season ended to manage New York the following year but he wasn’t quite ready to retire as a player.
After he did quit playing in 1915, he accepted an offer to coach the baseball team at Williams College. Five years later, he revived his relationship with Mack and the A’s, as a coach, manager and later, a very talented scout for the organization. He also did some scouting for the Yankees late in his career. Thomas died in 1958 at the age of 77.
He shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfield prospect.
|PHA (7 yrs)||320||1027||928||86||233||39||11||2||108||13||59||93||.251||.308||.323||.631|
|NYY (2 yrs)||124||350||323||32||63||6||6||1||39||7||18||35||.195||.246||.260||.506|
|DET (1 yr)||40||108||101||6||31||1||0||0||8||0||5||10||.307||.346||.317||.663|
Jesse Gonder was a pretty special prospect in the late 1950’s because he was a catcher who hit left-handed and hit pretty well at that. Originally signed by the Reds, the Yankees got him in 1960 and sent him to their top farm club in Richmond. He opened lots of eyes in the Yankee hierarchy when he hit .327 for the Virginians that season. That performance earned him a September call-up to the Bronx, where he got his first big league hit, a home run off of Boston’s Bill Monboquette.
Despite the fact that Gonder’s sweet left-handed swing was perfectly suited to the short porch in right field at the old Yankee Stadium, there were four obstacles preventing him from getting the opportunity to fulfill his potential in pinstripes. The first was his mediocre defensive ability behind the plate. The other three were Yankee catchers named Howard, Berra and Blanchard, who were all ahead of him on the Bronx Bomber’s behind-the-plate depth chart.
When Ralph Houk became Yankee skipper in 1961, he brought Gonder north with the team at the start of the season and for the next two months used him exclusively as a pinch-hitter. Since that ’61 Yankee team was one of the best offensive teams in MLB history, Gonder’s bat was very expendable. He was sent back to Richmond at the end of May and the following December, the Yankees traded him back to Cincinnati for reliever Marshall Bridges.
He would later get dealt to the Mets, where he achieved a good degree of fame when he won the starting catchers job for the Amazin’s in 1964 and hit a pretty solid .270. But his bad glove and weak arm prevented him from holding onto that job. Complicating his situation was the fact that he was not a good pinch-hitter. He needed live at-bats to keep his swing sharp. His last big league season was 1967 with the Pirates. He then went back to his hometown of Oakland, California, where he became a bus driver.
In researching Gonder’s career and life for this post, I came across several references to his outspokenness. Back in 1960, the spring training cities in Florida all had ordinances preventing black ballplayers from staying at the same hotels as their white teammates. Gonder made no attempt to hide his distaste for this codified racism. Imagine the reaction of today’s black athletes if they were barred from their team’s hotel because of the color of their skin? People today would be shocked if those black athletes did not speak out forcefully about such segregation. But when Gonder did so five decades ago, he was labeled as an outspoken athlete. My how times have changed.
Gonder shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee phee-nom and this former Yankee who was once served as USC varsity football coach.
|NYM (3 yrs)||226||625||572||46||155||19||1||14||59||1||46||110||.271||.325||.381||.706|
|PIT (2 yrs)||81||219||196||17||41||4||1||7||19||0||17||48||.209||.286||.347||.633|
|CIN (2 yrs)||35||37||36||5||10||2||0||3||5||0||1||15||.278||.297||.583||.881|
|NYY (2 yrs)||22||24||19||3||6||1||0||1||6||0||4||2||.316||.417||.526||.943|
|MLN (1 yr)||31||57||53||2||8||2||0||1||5||0||4||9||.151||.211||.245||.456|
If you’re a long time Yankee fan, it was one of those multi-player trades you just don’t forget, the likes of which will probably never be seen again. Back in the 1950s, trades involving two big league teams and six to ten players were not unusual but they normally took place between a team in a pennant race and a team outside of one. In June of the 1976 season, the Yankees were battling Baltimore for supremacy in the AL East, when the two clubs announced a pretty stunning deal.
New York sent their backup catcher, Rick Dempsey, veteran starter, Rudy May, a young left-handed reliever named Tippy Martinez, pitching prospect Scott McGregor and starter/reliever Dave Pagan all to the Birds. In exchange, the Yankees received starting pitchers Ken Holtzman and Doyle Alexander, reliever Grant Jackson and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Elrod Hendricks. Baltimore definitely got the best of this deal long term, as Dempsey became their starting catcher for the next decade, McGregor turned into one of the league’s premier starters and Martinez evolved into one of the best relievers in all of baseball. Even Rudy May paid dividends, going 29-21 during his two seasons with the Orioles. But the most immediate benefit went to the Yankees. During the second half of that season, Holtzman, Alexander and Jackson won an incredible 25 decisions between them, helping New York beat out the Birds for the AL East and capture the team’s first AL Pennant in over a decade.
Elrod Hendricks became the forgotten man in that transaction. He only got into 18-regular season games as a backup to the very durable Thurman Munson during his first half season in the Bronx. In 1977, the ten year big league veteran actually agreed to go down to the Yankee’s triple A team in Syracuse for most of the season, ceding his backup receiving role with the parent club to Fran Healy. But baby boomer aged fans like me remember when Hendricks caught those great Baltimore pitching staffs of the late sixties and early seventies. He was a solid receiver with a great arm. Hendricks is a native of the Virgin Islands who was born on this date in 1940. He passed away on the day before his 65th birthday in 2005.
|BAL (11 yrs)||658||2031||1781||191||395||63||7||56||214||1||213||299||.222||.306||.359||.666|
|NYY (2 yrs)||36||68||64||7||15||2||0||4||10||0||3||12||.234||.265||.453||.718|
|CHC (1 yr)||17||56||43||7||5||1||0||2||6||0||13||8||.116||.321||.279||.600|
When the Yankees signed catcher, Gus Niarhos to his first contract, Hall-of-Famer Bill Dickey was still starting behind the plate for the parent club. Nine years later, when the Yankees placed the first Greek-American ever to wear pinstripes and play in a World Series on waivers, Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra was the team’s starting catcher. As Niarhos explained years later, when asked about his career as a Yankee, “That was a tough organization if you were a catcher.” It sure was.
Niarhos was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was a three-sport star as a high school athlete. He was actually enrolled at Auburn University on a football scholarship when the Yanks signed him and sent him to their Akron farm club. When WWII broke out, Niarhos joined the Navy and served his country for the next four years.
He got his first chance to play in the Bronx in 1946, when he was called up in June of that year, after Bill Dickey replaced Joe McCarthy as Yankee skipper. Though Dickey continued to catch occasionally after becoming manager , it was Niarhos who served as Aaron Robinson’s primary back-up during the second half of that season.
Solid defensively, Niarhos was pretty much a singles-hitter with the stick and he never hit a home run during his days with New York. After spending the entire 1947 season back in the minors, he shared the Yankees’ starting catching responsibilities with Yogi Berra in ’48, averaging a decent .268 but producing just 19 RBI’s.
Berra became the Yankees’ full time receiver the following season with Niarhos backing him up and since Yogi could catch 140 games a year in his prime, New York suddenly found itself with a glut of backup catching talent and released Niarhos.
He landed on his feet with the Chicago White Sox, where he hit a career high .324 backing up Phil Masi during the ’50 season. He hit his first and only big league home run the following year against his former team, when he connected off of Yankee reliever Bob Kuzava. He later played for both the Red Sox and the Phillies. He finally hung up his catcher’s mitt for good after the ’57 season and became a minor league manager and coach in the A’s organization. He passed away in 2004 at the age of 84.
|NYY (4 yrs)||153||393||311||59||82||15||4||0||27||2||76||25||.264||.410||.338||.747|
|PHI (2 yrs)||10||14||14||1||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||3||.143||.143||.143||.286|
|BOS (2 yrs)||45||113||93||10||13||1||1||0||6||0||16||13||.140||.279||.172||.451|
|CHW (2 yrs)||107||338||273||44||77||10||0||1||26||4||61||15||.282||.415||.330||.745|