Results tagged ‘ catcher ’
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|
Today is the 49th birthday of Major League Baseball’s controversial career home run leader and son of a former-Yankee, Barry Bonds. Exactly one year after Bonds came into this world, today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Joe Oliver played just 12 games of his 13-year big league career in a Yankee uniform as a backup catcher during the 2001 season. He spent his most productive big league seasons with the Reds and started behind the plate for Lou Piniella’s 1990 World Champion Cincinnati team. He caught 1,033 games in thirteen big league seasons. He hit the last of his 102 big league home runs in a Yankee uniform against the great Greg Maddux. The only other member of the Yankee family to be born on this date is this former Yankee pitcher.
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|SEA (2 yrs)||98||316||285||45||72||16||1||12||45||3||24||53||.253||.311||.442||.753|
|PIT (1 yr)||45||146||134||10||27||8||0||1||13||2||10||33||.201||.253||.284||.537|
|BOS (1 yr)||5||13||12||1||3||1||0||0||1||0||1||3||.250||.308||.333||.641|
|NYY (1 yr)||12||40||36||3||9||1||0||1||2||0||1||12||.250||.263||.361||.624|
|DET (1 yr)||50||166||155||8||35||8||0||4||22||0||7||33||.226||.253||.355||.608|
|MIL (1 yr)||97||369||337||43||92||20||0||12||51||2||27||66||.273||.332||.439||.772|
When Hall of Famer Bill Dickey began his sixth consecutive season as the Yankees’ starting catcher in 1934 he broke the 25-year-old record for most consecutive years starting for New York at that position, which was set by today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. John Peter Kleinow, better known as Red, was born in Milwaukee on this date in 1877. He played baseball in college and then the minor leagues before signing with the Highlanders in 1904. During his first season in New York, he was the team’s back-up backstop to Deacon McGuire. He took over as starter the following year and maintained that status through the 1909 season.
Never a good hitter, Kleinow was instead considered to be an excellent defensive catcher. His lifetime percentage for throwing out base runners attempting to steal was an impressive 44%. But it was a pitch that got over Kleinow’s head in his rookie season that cost New York a shot at the franchise’s first pennant in 1904. Trailing Boston by a game and a half with just two to play, New York’s 41-game winner, Jack Chesbro was pitching against the first place team in the eighth inning of a 2-2 tie game. Chesbro threw one of the dirtiest baseballs in the game and in the later innings, when the sun was low in the sky and shadows covered the Hilltopper Park pitching mound, it was next to impossible for a hitter or catcher to pick up the flight of a “Happy Jack” doctored baseball. With a runner on third, Chesbro let loose a spitball that the hitter never saw. Unfortunately, neither did Kleinow. As the ball sailed over the catcher’s head, the runner on third scampered safely home and Boston won the game and clinched the pennant.
In 1910, Red became a Red Sox when Boston purchased his contract from New York. But by then, the wear and tear on Kleinow’s legs from all those years of catching had caught up with him and he was out of the big leagues after 1911. His batting average during his seven years with New York was only .219 and he drove in an average of just 17 runs per season. He must have been a defensive wizard!
Red shares his July 20th birthday with this pitcher the Yankees acquired in a trade for Dave Winfield. Today is also the 44th anniversary of Man’s first steps on the Moon which also means it is my oldest brother’s birthday. Happy birthday Big J.
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|BOS (2 yrs)||58||186||161||9||25||1||0||1||8||4||22||26||.155||.257||.180||.437|
|PHI (1 yr)||4||8||8||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||.125||.125||.250||.375|
Bubbles and his brother Pinky made careers out of back-up catching. His real first name was Eugene and he was four years older than Pinky. He played in 852 big league games in a career that spanned a dozen seasons, most of them in Cincinnati. For a part-time player, Bubbles could really handle the bat. In fact, he won the NL batting title in 1926 with a .353 average back when all a hitter had to do to qualify was appear in 100 games (Bubble had 115 hits in just 326 at bats that season.) He retired with a very noteworthy .310 lifetime batting average. The Reds let him go after the 1928 season and he spent all of 1929 catching for a double A franchise in St Paul, MN. In 1930, the Yankees signed him to back up their young catching phee-nom, Bill Dickey. Hargrave appeared in 45 games that season for New York, hitting .278. He then caught for a few more years in the minors before hanging his tools of ignorance up for good. He was born on July 15, 1892 in New Haven, IN. He died in 1969 in his adopted hometown of Cincinnati.
|CIN (8 yrs)||766||2671||2367||298||744||146||57||29||359||27||206||147||.314||.377||.461||.838|
|CHC (3 yrs)||41||60||58||5||12||2||1||0||5||2||1||9||.207||.220||.276||.496|
|NYY (1 yr)||45||121||108||11||30||7||0||0||12||0||10||9||.278||.339||.343||.682|
Back in the early forties, Yankee front-office guru, Ed Barrow was busily signing every catching prospect he could find, knowing that the Yankee’s all-time great, Bill Dickey was nearing the end-of-the-line as the team’s starting receiver. One such prospect was Ken Sears, who’s dad, Ziggy was then a National League umpire.
Sears had played collegiate ball at the University of Alabama and had good power. Since he swung a bat from the left side, Barrow was hoping he’d be a good fit for that short right field porch in the old Yankee Stadium. Sears played his first year of professional ball in my hometown, with the 1939 Amsterdam Rugmakers of the old Class C Canadian American League. The following season he smashed 38 home runs for the Yankees Class B team in Norfolk, VA. That impressive power output got him moved up to the double A level of the Yankee organization, where he continued to pound the ball. There is little doubt that the migration of young Yankee catchers into military service during World War II helped Sears earn his first big league roster spot with the 1943 parent club, but by then he had also established himself as one of the franchise’s prime candidates to succeed Dickey.
His Yankee career got off to a great start on Opening Day 1943, when he hit his first big league home run. He got into 64 games that season as Dickey’s backup and hit .278. He helped the Yankees capture the AL Pennant but he did not get to play in what would be McCarthy’s seventh and final World Series win as a Yankee manager that fall.
What Sears was not able to do that year was hit with anywhere near the level of power he had exhibited at the minor league level. His Opening Day blast was one of just two home runs he managed during his rookie season. That issue became moot when Sears was also called into military service and missed playing the next two years. When he returned to the club, so had all of the other Yankee catchers who had made the switch from baseball to WWII military uniforms. Sears was out of shape and lost his spot on the Yankee catching depth chart quickly. New York then sold him to the Browns who would later try and return the catcher to New York, complaining he had reported to St. Louis with a bum throwing arm. The seven games he played for the Browns in 1946 would be the last of his big league career. Sears died in 1971 at the age of just 58.
|NYY (1 yr)||60||201||187||22||52||7||0||2||22||1||11||18||.278||.328||.348||.676|
|SLB (1 yr)||7||18||15||1||5||0||0||0||1||0||3||0||.333||.444||.333||.778|
Of the eight Yankee catchers who have made the AL All Star team, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant is perhaps the least recognized. That’s because he was actually the team’s second string catcher the year he was honored and it happened during WWII when America’s focus was more on the battles going on in Europe and the Pacific and not on baseball. Rollie Hemsley may not have been very well known as a Yankee, but prior to him wearing the pinstripes, the Syracuse, Ohio native had caught in the big leagues for thirteen seasons for five different big league ball clubs and made four other AL All Star teams. His best years were spent as the starting catcher for the Browns from 1934 through 1937. He hit a career-high .309 for St. Louis during the 1934 season and was better than adequate defensively, behind the plate.
The Yankees signed him in July of 1942, after he had been released by Cincinnati. New York needed an extra catcher because their starter, Bill Dickey had been injured. Hemsley ended up hitting .294 in the 31 games he appeared in for New York that season which got him an invite back the following year when he became Dickey’s primary backup. By 1944 Dickey was in military service and Hemsley pretty much shared the Yankee catching position with Mike Garbark. Though he was already 37 years-old at the time, Rollie thrived with the added playing time, hitting a solid .268 and earning his fifth and final All Star game nod.
During the 1945 spring training season, rookie catcher Aaron Robinson impressed the Yankee brass enough to feel they could sell Hemsley to the Phillies. Rollie was 40-years-old when he played his last game in the majors in 1947. He later became a big league coach for many years. He ended up catching in 1,482 big league games. He shares his birthday with this Yankee starting pitcher and this long-ago Yankee outfielder.
Here are the seven other Yankee catchers who have made the AL All Star team during their careers in pinstripes:
Here are Hemsley’s Yankee and career playing stats.
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|PIT (4 yrs)||252||789||727||93||192||37||16||2||101||5||40||56||.264||.302||.367||.670|
|CLE (4 yrs)||390||1415||1302||160||344||58||17||10||130||6||89||84||.264||.311||.358||.669|
|NYY (3 yrs)||174||590||549||47||144||21||9||4||65||1||27||31||.262||.297||.355||.652|
|PHI (2 yrs)||51||155||142||7||32||4||1||0||12||0||9||10||.225||.272||.268||.539|
|CIN (2 yrs)||85||241||231||16||35||9||2||0||14||0||10||19||.152||.187||.208||.395|
|CHC (2 yrs)||126||389||355||55||99||27||7||7||51||6||27||46||.279||.330||.454||.783|
Ban Johnson, the first-ever American League President did not like John McGraw, who was then the manager of the new league’s Baltimore franchise. McGraw was famous for fighting with umpires and flouting the rules. The fact that the fiery skipper also had an ownership stake in the Orioles’ franchise meant that he was technically one of the AL chief executive’s bosses, which also drove Johnson nuts. So during the 1902 season, Johnson put together a reason to put McGraw on indefinite suspension. Instead of fighting it or serving it out, McGraw jumped to the rival National League and accepted a managerial position with the New York Giants. When he did, he invited a core group of his favorite Orioles players to accompany him to his new team. That is why both McGraw and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant were already in the Big Apple when one season later, the Orioles’ franchise was also relocated there and became the Highlanders (and eventually the Yankees.) If Johnson and McGraw did not dislike each other so much both the manager and Roger Bresnahan would have become Highlanders instead of Giants and the Yankee franchise would surly have won its first Pennants and World Series much earlier in team history. Eventually, baseball’s most famous catcher during the first decade of the 20th century would one day join his buddy and skipper in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Bresnahan was a versatile athlete and a very interesting character. He was famous for his hair-trigger temper. Nobody got ejected from baseball games for fighting with umpires and opposing players more frequently than Bresnahan did and it was often necessary to call in the local police to escort the Toledo, Ohio native off the field. He was also not your prototypical catcher. He had outstanding speed, stealing 212 bases during his big league career. He was a second-string receiver for McGraw in Baltimore but when he joined the Giants they already had two catchers so Lil Napoleon started his buddy in center during his first full season in New York and he hit .350. Bresnahan had started his big league career as a pitcher and went 4-0 doing his 1897 rookie season with Washington. He actually played all nine positions during his career. This guy was also quite the innovator. It was Bresnahan who introduced shin guards to the catching position and he also wore baseball’s first-ever batting helmet.
Roger no doubt owed much of his big league success to Giant Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Matthewson. It was Matthewson who went to McGraw and told him he preferred to have Bresnahan catch his games. In 1905, the two would lead the Giants to their second straight NL Pennant and first ever World Series title. In that Fall Classic, Matthewson would throw three complete game shutouts with Bresnahan behind the plate in each of them. In addition, the Giants’ starting catcher also led New York with a .313 batting average during that Series.
Bresnahan would continue catching for the Giants until 1909, when he was offered the opportunity to become a player-manager for the Cardinals. Not wanting to stand in his friend’s way, McGraw let him go. Bresnahan would spend four years catching and managing for the Cardinals and later hold the same position with the Cubs. He retired in 1915, after playing 15 Major League seasons and would one day buy a minor league franchise in Toledo. He was voted into Cooperstown by the Old Timer’s Committee in 1945, one year after he had died of a heart attack in Toledo, at the age of 65.
Bresnahan shares his June 11th birthday with this former Yankee co-owner.
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|STL (4 yrs)||289||992||803||92||221||43||14||4||106||32||160||64||.275||.401||.379||.779|
|CHC (4 yrs)||249||756||633||81||151||23||7||2||64||40||99||54||.239||.345||.306||.652|
|BLA (2 yrs)||151||585||530||70||143||17||15||5||66||22||44||49||.270||.329||.387||.716|
|WHS (1 yr)||6||17||16||1||6||0||0||0||3||0||1||2||.375||.412||.375||.787|
During the 1979 spring training season, Thurman Munson had nicknamed the then 22-year-old Brad Gulden the “Little Midget” and told the youngster he would one day replace Munson as the Yankees’ starting catcher. I’m sure neither player was thinking that prophecy would be realized just six months later.
The Yankees had acquired Gulden in a trade with the Dodgers in February of 1979. When he was later interviewed for Marty Appel’s book “Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain,” Gulden recalled how Munson befriended and encouraged him that spring and how the two would sit and talk about baseball and flying. According to Gulden, Munson spent much more time with him than a veteran should with a rookie and Gulden loved him for it.
Gulden’s Yankee debut took place the day after Munson was killed, when he replaced Jerry Narron behind the plate in the ninth inning of that evening’s game against Baltimore. Yankee skipper, Billy Martin then gave Gulden an opportunity to take over Munson’s spot by regularly starting him behind the plate for much of the rest of that season. But Gulden hit just .163 in those 40 games and the Yankees instead traded for Rick Cerone during the 1979 off-season.
Gulden did become part of Yankee trivia history in 1980. That November, the Yankees traded him to Seattle for infielder Larry Milbourne and a player to be named later. The following May, the Mariners completed the traded by sending Gulden back to the Yankees as the “player to be named later” part of the trade. This makes Gulden the only Yankee ever traded for himself.
|NYY (2 yrs)||42||108||95||11||16||4||0||1||8||0||9||16||.168||.240||.242||.482|
|SFG (1 yr)||17||24||22||2||2||0||0||0||1||0||2||5||.091||.167||.091||.258|
|LAD (1 yr)||3||4||4||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|CIN (1 yr)||107||332||292||31||66||8||2||4||33||2||33||35||.226||.307||.308||.615|
|MON (1 yr)||5||7||6||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||.000||.143||.000||.143|
|SEA (1 yr)||8||16||16||0||3||2||0||0||1||0||0||2||.188||.188||.313||.500|
One of the all-time great catchers in baseball history, Dickey was superb both at the plate and behind it. He hit .300 in ten of his first eleven seasons as the starting Yankee receiver and drove in over 100 runs in a season four times during his Hall of Fame career. This eleven-time All-Star played in eight World Series with New York, winning seven rings in the process. Dickey’s prime was the four-year-period from 1936 through 1939, during which he averaged 26 home runs, and 115 RBIs with a batting average of .326. He entered Military service in 1943, returning to the team in 1946. When Yankee skipper, Joe McCarthy fell ill and resigned, the team made Dickey the player-manager for the balance of the ’46 season. After leading New York to a 57-48 finish that year, he ended both his big league playing and managing career. He then accepted the Yankee’s offer to manage their Minor League team in Dickey’s hometown of Little, Rock Arkansas. After one season there, he was back in the Bronx to begin a decade long career as a Yankee coach. His Hall-of-Fame Yankee successor at catcher, Yogi Berra credits Dickey for teaching him how to play the position.
Dickey was a quiet hard-working professional, much like his close friend and roommate, Lou Gehrig. He played hard on the field and behaved himself off of it. His playing career lasted 17 seasons. The Yankees retired his uniform number 8 (shared with Berra) and a plaque in his honor now rests in the Monument Park of the new Yankee Stadium. It certainly belongs there.
Dickey shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee prospect.
Dickey’s record as a Yankee player:
Dickey’s record as a Yankee manager:
There have only been three “Duke’s” in Yankee franchise history. The first was the very versatile starter and reliever, Duke Maas, who went 26-12 during Casey Stengel’s last three seasons as Yankee skipper. The second Yankee “Duke” was New York City native, Duke Carmel, who first played for Stengel’s Mets in 1963 before donning the pinstripes for just six games during the 1965 season. The third and most recent Bronx Bomber named Duke, was the veteran catcher, Duke Sims, who spent his first seven big league seasons doing a lot of catching and some pretty effective hitting for the Cleveland Indians. He then got traded to the Dodgers in 1971, was released by LA the following year and got picked up by the Tigers. He played parts of two seasons in MoTown and was again put on waivers during the 1973 season. That’s when the Yankees picked him up.
Sims was a solid defensive catcher with a strong arm and not to shabby offensively either. He had hit 23 home runs for the Indians in 1970 and though his lifetime average was just .239, he carried a .340 career on base percentage. But with Thurman Munson entrenched as Yankee catcher and both Jerry Mays and a youngster named Rick Dempsey backing him up, Sims was pretty much a luxury the Yankees couldn’t afford or find a spot to play. He got into only 4 games during the end of the 1973 season and just 5 more at the beginning of the following year. That’s when the Yankees made a terrific deal. They traded Sims to Texas for a left-handed pitcher named Larry Gura.
Sims would end up retiring that year after going to the Rangers and hitting .209. Gura, on the other hand would pitch another eleven seasons in the big leagues and win 123 more games before retiring. The only problem was that he got 111 of those victories wearing the uniform of the Kansas City Royals instead of the Yankee pinstripes. That’s because after going 12-9 during his first two seasons in New York, somebody in the front office got the bright idea to trade Gura for catcher Fran Healy. So instead of magically transforming the inexpensive waiver selection Duke Sims into one of the AL’s better southpaws during the late seventies and early eighties, the Yankees ended up with two easy-to-forget seasons of Fran Healy’s backup catching.
|CLE (7 yrs)||536||1823||1561||180||369||51||4||76||216||5||230||337||.236||.344||.420||.764|
|LAD (2 yrs)||141||432||381||30||92||14||2||8||36||0||47||62||.241||.326||.352||.678|
|NYY (2 yrs)||9||28||24||4||5||1||0||1||3||0||4||6||.208||.321||.375||.696|
|DET (2 yrs)||118||409||350||42||92||14||0||12||49||1||49||54||.263||.356||.406||.761|
|TEX (1 yr)||39||118||106||7||22||0||0||3||6||0||8||24||.208||.280||.292||.572|