Results tagged ‘ catcher ’
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.
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|CHW (3 yrs)||89||243||224||21||60||8||2||1||24||0||8||23||.268||.293||.335||.628|
|DET (1 yr)||40||144||136||9||32||7||1||1||14||0||6||19||.235||.268||.324||.591|
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 the first starting second baseman in Yankee franchise history and this former Yankee DH and outfielder.
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|NYY (1 yr)||52||152||137||16||25||1||3||0||15||4||11||25||.182||.253||.234||.487|
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. His batting average, however 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. The 6 foot 4 inch receiver then got 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. 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 back up to catch behind Gibbs, after New York traded 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 Bryan 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. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and manager, this one-time Yankee pitching prospect and MLB’s former all-time saves leader.
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|WSA (1 yr)||40||123||108||7||22||3||0||3||8||0||14||27||.204||.301||.315||.616|
While researching materials for this post, I came across an absolutely wonderful quote from today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. In a July 1988 interview he did with then Times reporter (and present-day YES Network analyst) Jack Curry, Bob Geren was asked why he had endured over 800 games as a Minor League catcher. “People who think I should quit have probably never experienced the game of baseball,” was Geren’s response. So many of us who grew up playing different versions of America’s favorite pastime; in playgrounds and parks; off the steps of front porches and against solid brick walls; from the time we became strong enough to hold and swing a bat until our knees gave out in our final game of softball; we all would have instantly switched places with Geren on that day.
He had just been named the International League’s All Star catcher for the ’88 season and earlier that same year, he had gotten to play in his first big league game for the New York Yankees. The following year, Geren got called up from Columbus in May and pretty much shared the Yankees’ catching position the rest of that season, hitting a solid .288 and impressing the Yankee brass with his handling of the Yankee pitching staff and his strong throwing arm. But if you’re old enough to remember that 1989 Yankee season than you know it wasn’t too hard to stand out on that team. That was the first Yankee squad to finish below .500 in a regular season in fifteen years. Neither Dallas Green or his late-season predecessor, Bucky Dent could right the ship and George Steinbrenner was far too immersed in the aftereffects of his Dave Winfield/Howie Spira embarrassment to offer any help from ownership.
The following April, Geren joined illustrious company like Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Ellie Howard and Thurman Munson when he was named the Yankees’ Opening Day starting catcher for the 1990 season. Unfortunately for the native of San Diego, that’s where the comparisons to these pinstriped legends ended. Not only did the Yankees finish in last place for the first time in 23 years, Geren’s batting average plummeted to .211 and not a single Yankee starting pitcher won more than nine games that season or had an ERA of less than 4.11. It was a complete shipwreck of a season for the once proud franchise and a quick end to Geren’s tenure as New York’s starting backstop. The following year, New York brought in Matt Nokes from Detroit and Geren was once again relegated to back-up duty. But in addition to losing the starting job, Geren also confirmed he had lost his ability to hit big-league pitching when his 1991 season’s batting average came in at just .219. That November, the Yankees put the then 30-year-old catcher on waivers.
Geren would resurface as the Padres backup receiver in 1993 but he again failed to hit and his big league playing career ended that season. He became a minor league coach and manager. In 2007, he was hired to manage the Oakland A’s. Finally, in 2010, a Major League team that Bob Geren either played for or managed, ended a regular season without a losing record when that year’s A’s finished at 81-81. After Oakland got off to a slow start in 2011, Geren was fired and replaced by Bob Melvin.
|NYY (4 yrs)||249||680||620||54||147||15||1||19||70||0||36||151||.237||.284||.356||.641|
|SDP (1 yr)||58||162||145||8||31||6||0||3||6||0||13||28||.214||.278||.317||.596|
It was certainly no fun being a Yankee fan in the late eighties. Not only was my favorite Yankee player, Don Mattingly, beginning to lose his home run power thanks to a back injury, it seemed as if every prospect, trade, and free agent signing turned out to be a bust. I can remember, for example, when the New York front office was telling us fans that Joel Skinner was going to be the Yankee catcher of the future. That notion died quickly when after two seasons, it became apparent that Skinner would have problems keeping his batting average over .220. That’s when the Yankees made a trade with the Rangers for today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant. Texas was grooming a young Mike Stanley as their starting catcher and no longer wanted Slaught. The Yankees sent pitcher Brad Arnsberg to the Rangers, who was another of those late eighties can’t miss Pinstripe prospects who ended up missing.
Slaught had a phenomenal start with the Yankees in 1988 and made GM Lou Piniella look like a genius by reaching that season’s All Star break with a .340 batting average. But after he hit just .236 the second half and .251 the following year, New York realized Slaught was not going to make Yankee fans forget Thurman Munson and traded the Long Beach, CA native to Pittsburgh where he thrived as a part-time receiver for the next six years. Bob Geren took over for Slaught as the Yankee’s starting catcher followed by Matt Nokes, Mike Stanley, Joe Girardi, Hip Hip Jorge, and currently Russell Martin!
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|KCR (3 yrs)||250||863||800||83||226||46||8||7||78||3||40||94||.283||.315||.386||.701|
|TEX (3 yrs)||292||977||894||98||232||49||7||29||97||8||60||151||.260||.314||.427||.741|
|NYY (2 yrs)||214||750||672||67||179||46||4||14||81||2||54||111||.266||.324||.409||.734|
|SDP (1 yr)||20||26||20||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||5||4||.000||.200||.000||.200|
|CAL (1 yr)||62||224||207||23||67||9||0||6||32||0||13||20||.324||.366||.454||.820|
|CHW (1 yr)||14||39||36||2||9||1||0||0||4||0||2||2||.250||.289||.278||.567|
Ed Herrmann had been the pretty-good hitting starting catcher for the Chicago White Sox for six seasons when the Yankees picked him up in a trade one week before Opening Day in 1975 for four minor leaguers. I couldn’t understand why the Yankees made the deal at the time. They already had Thurman Munson and Rick Dempsey on that team. As it turned out, Herrmann, a San Diego native who was born on this date in 1946 ended up DH-ing more games (35) than he caught (24) that year.
He had some pop in his left handed bat, having reached double-figures in home runs during his previous five seasons in the Windy City. He ended up hitting a half-dozen round-trippers during his one and only year in pinstripes. He was sold to California in the off-season. None of the four minor leaguers the Yankees gave up for Herrmann ever appeared in a big league game. Ed spent part of just one season in California before getting traded to Houston. He retired after the 1978 season with a .240 lifetime average and 80 homeruns during an eleven-year big league career.
Hermann is one of quite a few players who saw time with both the Yankees and White Sox during their big league playing careers. Here’s my all-time line-up of Yankee/White Sox:
1b – Moose Skowren
2b – Steve Sax
3b – Robin Ventura
ss – Bucky Dent
c – Sherm Lollar
of – Tim Raines
of – Dan Pasqua
of – Claudell Washington
dh – Carlos May
p – Tommy John
rp – Goose Gossage
mgr – Bob Lemon
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s career initially suffered from poor timing. He started out as a catcher in the Cleveland organization right about the time the Indians’ Jim Hegan was just beginning to establish himself as one of the best defensive receivers ever. When he was brought up to the parent club in 1946, he begged management to send him back down instead of letting him rot on the bench. Instead, that December, the Cleveland front office traded the right-hand hitting Lollar to the Yankees.
Poor timing again. The Yankee organization and big league roster were both loaded with promising catchers. In 1947, they included Aaron Robinson, Ralph Houk, Ken Sylvestri and a young left-handed receiver named Yogi Berra. Lollar was sent to New York’s Newark farm team and he had a solid year with the Bears. The Yankees decided to give him a look-see late that season and ended up keeping him on their postseason roster. When Lollar got into two World Series games that year against Brooklyn and went 3-for-4 at the plate, his standing in the organization went up dramatically.
But the following year, the Yankees added the right-hand hitting Gus Niarhos to their big league roster and skipper Bucky Harris began platooning him and Berra behind the plate while Lollar again sat the pine. He got into just 22 games that season while Berra, who played the outfield when he wasn’t catching, had a breakout season at the plate, hitting .305 and driving in 98 runs. That’s when the timing in Lollar’s career went from bad to good. That October, the Yankees replaced Harris as Yankee manager with Casey Stengel. Though the Ol’ Perfessor would establish a legacy as the master of platooning, he would soon ignore that strategy when it came to Berra, and Yogi would go on to catch close to 1,700 games as a Yankee. Two months after Stengel got his pinstripes, Lollar lost his when he was traded to the Browns. In St. Louis, he finally got a chance to play regularly and quickly began to realize his potential. But after just three years there, Lollar was again traded, this time to the Chicago White Sox. It would be in the Windy City where this native of Durham, Arkansas would establish his legacy as one of baseball’s best catchers. He played a dozen seasons for the White Sox, and during the first nine of them, the team never finished below third in the AL Pennant race. Lollar’s career year was 1959, when his 22 home runs and 84 RBIs led Chicago to that year’s World Series, which they lost to the Dodgers.
Lollar would continue playing for Chicago until 1963, when he retired with 155 career home runs and a .264 lifetime batting average. He died suddenly from a heart attack in 1977, when he was just 56-years-old. In his NY Times obituary, the White Sox GM who traded for Lollar, the legendary Frank Lane was quoted as saying that trade was the best one he ever made. As Lane went on to explain, “Sherm turned out to be one of the best catchers in the American League behind only Yogi Berra and maybe Jim Hegan.” Some things never change.
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|SLB (3 yrs)||333||1154||990||127||263||52||4||29||158||3||139||73||.266||.364||.414||.778|
|NYY (2 yrs)||33||72||70||4||15||0||1||1||10||0||2||11||.214||.236||.286||.522|
|CLE (1 yr)||28||70||62||7||15||6||0||1||9||0||5||9||.242||.299||.387||.686|
Wally Schang was one of baseball’s premier catchers for close to two decades beginning in 1913 and he was also the first of the long line of star players who started behind the plate for baseball’s most successful franchise. The son of a western New York State farmer, he signed with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s team in 1913, when the club was in the middle of its first dynasty. He won his first World Series ring in his rookie season and then became the team’s starting catcher the following year. In 1915, he set a big league record by throwing out six would-be base stealers in a single game. A switch-hitter, in 1916 he became the first player in history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game. In addition to great defensive skills and above-average power, Schang had an outstanding batting eye. During his 19 seasons in the big leagues he averaged .284 lifetime but his career on-base percentage was a hefty .393.
In 1918, Mack made a trade with the Red Sox that sent Schang to Boston just in time to win his second World Series ring. He would spend three total seasons as starting catcher in Beantown before following his Red Sox batterymate, Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1921.
Again blessed with good timing, Schang was Miller Huggins’ starting catcher on the 1921, ’22 and ’23 AL Pennant winners and won his third World Series ring on that 1923 Yankee squad, the first World Championship team in franchise history.
During his five seasons as New York’s signal-caller, Schang hit .297 and threw out just less than half the runners who attempted to steal against him. He hit .316 during his first season in pinstripes and .319 in his second. By the 1925 season, he had reached 35 years of age and was losing playing time to the younger Benny Benough. Just before the 1926 Yankee spring training camp opened, New York traded Schang to the Browns for pitcher George Mogridge and cash.
Determined to prove he could still play the game, Schang hit .330 during his first season in St. Louis and caught there for an additional three seasons. His last big league season was 1931 with Detroit, when he was 41 years-old. The depression made it impossible for him to return to farming, so he kept playing and then coaching in the minor leagues. As one of the Game’s best catchers of his era, Schang deserved a lot more attention in Hall-of-Fame voting than he ever received. He died in 1965 at the age of 75.
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|NYY (5 yrs)||529||1935||1627||225||483||86||22||16||213||28||223||140||.297||.390||.406||.796|
|SLB (4 yrs)||385||1302||1043||160||307||54||17||21||168||17||215||101||.294||.423||.439||.862|
|BOS (3 yrs)||323||1160||942||137||274||53||11||4||126||26||181||114||.291||.412||.383||.796|
|DET (1 yr)||30||91||76||9||14||2||0||0||2||1||14||11||.184||.311||.211||.522|
One year before “El Duque” fled Cuba and signed with the Yankees and a year after his older brother, Livan did the same, there was another Cuban named Hernandez who made the same escape. His first name was Michel, he was no relation to the Hernandez siblings and he was a 23-year-old, highly heralded catcher. The Yankees managed to sign him but not without controversy. Major League Baseball began an investigation of allegations that some of the necessary paperwork filed by New York was forged.
As it turned out, Michel was not quite good enough to enjoy a long career as a Major League catcher. He spent five unspectacular years in the Yankee farm system before getting his only shot at the parent club. That opportunity came in September of the 2003 season. Joe Torre got him into his first four games as a late-inning replacement for Jorge Posada and then started him against the Orioles. He got his first hit against Baltimore’s Rodrigo Lopez when he led off the bottom-of-the-eighth inning of a tied game with a line drive single. Torre then sent Alfonso Soriano into run for him and Michel Hernandez’ Yankee career was over.
The following January the Yankees put him on waivers and he was claimed by the Red Sox. It would take the catcher another five years to get his second shot at the Big Leagues and by then, he was a member of the Ray’s organization. In 2009, he got into 35 games for Tampa as their back-up catcher and hit his first and only big league home run against Josh Beckett. He’s still playing minor league ball for the Cleveland organization.
The only other Yankee born on August 12th is this pitcher. One of my favorite actors of all time, John Cazale, who played Fredo in the Godfather movies, Sal in Dog Day Afternoon and Stosh in the Deer Hunter was also born on this date in 1936. He died on March 12, 1978 from lung cancer during filming of the Deer Hunter. Cazale was only in five movies during his short lifetime and all five were nominated for the Academy Award’s Best Picture Oscar.
|TBR (2 yrs)||40||122||114||14||27||3||1||1||12||2||7||15||.237||.281||.307||.588|
|NYY (1 yr)||5||5||4||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||.250||.400||.250||.650|
One of the things I enjoy most about authoring this blog is finding out that even the most short-term and unsuccessful Yankee players have interesting stories. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, a catcher named Mike Figga, is a great example. Back when “Boss” Steinbrenner either had to make or approve every decision that needed making in the entire organization, three catchers started the season on the Yankees’ 1999 roster. By that time, Jorge Posada had taken over the starting job behind the plate from Joe Girardi and with those two guys battling for innings, everyone wondered why on earth the Yankees also kept Figga. The “everyone” included interim Yankee manager, Don Zimmer, who was skippering New York that year while Joe Torre recovered from his cancer surgery. When a New York Times reporter following the team asked Zimmer why Figga was on the roster, the irascible “Popeye” responded with some questions of his own. “Can he hit big league pitching? I don’t know. Is he a big league catcher? I don’t know. Why don’t I know? Because I’ve never seen him catch in the big leagues? That interview took place six weeks after the ’99 season started and the only game-time action Figga had seen on the field up to that point was warming up Yankee relief pitchers in the bullpen.
There were two reasons Figga was on that roster. He was out of minor league options and he was born in Tampa, FL. If you wanted to play for the New York Yankees, it didn’t hurt to be from Tampa, which was Steinbrenner’s adopted hometown. The Boss loved Figga and had always hoped he would one day become the Yankees’ starting catcher, but Posada had outplayed him in the minors. Instead of trying to trade or release him however, the Yankee owner instructed Brian Cashman to put him on the big league roster.
So before every game, while Posada or Girardi was walking to home plate with the catcher’s gear on to start that day’s game, Figga, carrying his gear in a big bag, took the long walk out to the Yankee bullpen. Finally on May 22 of that season, with Joe Torre back at the helm, Figga was inserted into the first game of a double header against the White Sox as a defensive replacement for Posada in the ninth inning of a blowout 10-2 Yankee victory. Then, in the second game of that twin-bill, Torre pinch-hit Shane Spencer for Girardi in the bottom of the seventh and replaced him with Figga to start the eighth. Those turned out to be the only two games Figga appeared in as a Yankee during that ’99 season and he didn’t get a plate appearance in either of them. Two weeks later, with his team trying to keep pace with the Red Sox in the AL East, Steinbrenner finally relented and let Cashman put Figga on waivers. He was claimed by the Orioles but Figga’s story doesn’t end there.
Steinbrenner was born on Independence Day. The Orioles happened to be in town on his birthday that year and Baltimore started Figga behind the plate. Late in the game, with the Yankees nursing a 3-2 lead, Figga belted a double to extend what turned out to be the Orioles game-winning rally. As Figga’s ball sailed over Bernie Williams head in center field, I guarantee Cashman’s cell was already ringing and I’m equally certain the first four words he heard when he answered it were “I told you so.”
Figga played 41 games for Baltimore that year and then never appeared in another big league game. He shares his birthday with this former Baltimore manager who was also a star outfielder on five straight world champion Yankee teams and this one-time Yankee announcer.
|NYY (3 yrs)||5||8||8||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||4||.125||.125||.125||.250|
|BAL (1 yr)||41||91||86||12||19||4||0||1||5||0||2||27||.221||.236||.302||.538|