Results tagged ‘ february 9 ’
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.
He may have been a member of perhaps the most famous Yankee team in history, but even the most diehard and long time Bronx Bomber fans have probably never heard of Julie Wera. He was a reserve third baseman on the 1927 Murderers’ Row team and his $2,400 salary made him the lowest paid player on that great squad’s roster. Wera was just 5 feet 8 inches tall and when 5 foot 6 inch Manager, Miller Huggins got his first look at his rookie third baseman during the Yankees’ 1927 spring training season, he took an immediate liking to him. In fact, according to a March, 1927 New York Times article, the usually tight-lipped Huggins told every sports writer in that camp that Vera was one of the most impressive rookie players he had seen come up from New York’s farm system in “quite a while.”
Julie did not live up to that hype. Huggins put the Winona Minnesota native into 38 games that season and Wera hit just .238 with one home run and eight RBIs. Even though it would have been impossible for the youngster to earn a starting berth n that great team, Wera’s lack of playing was not because of any lack of ability on his part. During that season he blew out his knee and was never again the same ballplayer Huggins had raved about that spring. But he remained on the Yankee roster the entire year and even though he didn’t get a chance to play in the 1927 World Series, he did get a ring and a full winning share. Then it was back to the minors for a couple seasons and another quick five-game cup-of-coffee visit with the Yankees in September of 1929. He spent the next eight years in the minors and by 1939, he ended up working in a butcher shop back home in Minnesota. That same summer, he was working behind the meat counter when a surprise visitor showed up at the shop. It was his old Yankee teammate Lou Gehrig. The Iron Horse was in town getting medical tests at the Mayo Clinic and when he found out Wera worked nearby he decided to go say hello and ended up putting on a butcher’s apron and posing for pictures with his old friend. Hours later, Gehrig would receive the devastating news that he had ALS.
Wera’s name again showed up in the newspapers nine years later, when the New York Times reported on September 14, 1948 that he had killed himself by overdosing on sleeping pills. The article reported that a suicide note had been left explaining he was distraught over separating from his wife. It was also erroneously reported in that same article that Wera had made his big league and Yankee debut at the age of 16 and hit a home run off of the great Walter Johnson in his first game. It was later learned that the dead man had been posing as Vera in order to get a front-office position with a minor league baseball team in Oroville, California. He told his employers that his face had been disfigured in World War II and the resulting plastic surgery had changed his appearance.
The real Julie Wera actually lived until December of 1979, when he was felled by a fatal heart attack.
Wera shares his February 9th birthday with another much more successful Yankee third baseman and also with this former Yankee catching prospect. Today is also the 90th birthday of the man who took me to my very first Yankee game in 1961 and dozens more after that. Happy Birthday Uncle Jim Gentile.
What you can learn doing research for a blog about the New York Yankees. Today’s birthday celebrant is a Hall-of-Fame southpaw who pitched for the great Yankee teams of the 1920s. His Manager at the time, Miller Huggins, called Pennock the best left-hander in baseball back then. My choice would probably have been Lefty Grove but Pennock was indeed very good. He went 162-90 during his 11 seasons in New York and 5-0 in the World Series. He was a native of Kennett Square, PA and was nicknamed the “Knight of Kennett Square,” but when it came to his feelings about blacks, chivalry played no part.
Many respected authors and baseball historians have presented strong evidence that Pennock was a racist. Playing in an era when blacks were not permitted in the Major Leagues helped hide that fact, but when he retired from the mound and became a front-office executive, first for the Red Sox as head of their farm system and then later as GM of the Phillies, Pennock was able to actively help prevent integration in the big leagues. And when it did happen, he was among its’ most vociferous opponents.
Pennock was known to threaten that he’d never let his Philadelphia team take the field against any opponent that had a black man on their roster. Dodger owner Branch Rickey claimed that Pennock told him that Philadelphia wasn’t ready to see a “n—–r” play Major League baseball. He hired Ben Chapman, his old Yankee teammate and one of the most notorious racists in all of baseball, to manage the Phillies. Chapman was an equal-opportunity bigot. The anti-Semitc slurs he had made as a New York outfielder during the 1930s had so enraged the team’s Jewish fans that they presented a petition, signed by over 15,000 people, requesting that the New York front office banish the player.
I’m not naive. I realize it was a different time in our society back then, but can you imagine what would happen to a modern day ballplayer who committed the same offenses as Chapman? Well if you were Herb Pennock you’d hire the guy to manage the Phillies. If those were the “good old days” of baseball in this country, I’m glad I wasn’t around to witness them. It was Chapman who became infamous for his cruel treatment of Jackie Robinson whenever Philadelphia played Brooklyn during the 1947 season.
The fact that Pennock is in the Hall of Fame and Pete Rose is not is why so many of today’s fans wonder what the phrase; “protecting the moral integrity of the game,” truly means.
My first memory of Clete Boyer was of him playing third base for the great New York Yankee team of 1961. I can still see him in his number 6 pinstriped jersey, making a diving stop on a hard hit ground ball down the line and jumping to his feet to throw a bullet to Moose Skowren with his powerful right arm to nip an opposing runner at first base. Just one season before, Casey Stengel had almost destroyed Boyer’s confidence by pinch-hitting Dale Long for him in the second inning of the very first game of the 1960 World Series. Ralph Houk had replaced Stengel in 1961 and assured Boyer he would be New York’s every day third baseman. Clete was constantly among league leaders in assists, chances and double plays but he would watch Brooks Robinson win the AL Gold Glove for third baseman year in and year out. Boyer had to leave the league to win his first and only Gold Glove for Atlanta, in 1969.
Clete was not a great hitter but his offensive numbers with New York would have been better if he did not occupy the eighth spot in the Yankee lineup. With the pitcher hitting behind him, Boyer saw very few strikes and was too aggressive at the plate to work the count effectively. As a result, he usually hit in the .240s and struck out close to 100 times a year during his Yankee career. But he also had enough power to hit 95 home runs during his eight seasons in New York.
Boyer was the Yankees’ regular third baseman for seven seasons, winning five pennants and two World Series during that time. He was one of the few veterans on the team not to experience a drastic decline in his offensive numbers during the debacle seasons of 1965 and ’66. Still, he was purged during the mid-sixties house-cleaning that saw New York trade one veteran after another in return for mediocre players who would never succeed with the Yankees. In Boyer’s case, he was swapped for a young outfielder from the Braves named Bill Robinson who hit just .206 during three dreadful seasons in pinstripes. Meanwhile, Boyer had a career year his first season in Atlanta, with 26 home runs and 96 RBIs in 1967. Clete remained with the Braves until he retired as a player after the 1971 season.
Born in Cassville, MO, in 1937, Clete was one of 14 Boyer children. His older brothers, Cloyd, a pitcher and Ken, a third baseman and one-time NL MVP with St Louis, also played in the big leagues. Clete died in 2007. He shares his February 9th birthday with another third baseman who played on the great 1927 Yankee team and this one-time Yankee catching prospect.
Number 1 – Alex Rodriguez – Passed Nettles in both home runs and RBIs as a Yankee in 2010 even though he’s played 500 fewer games.
Number 2 – Graig Nettles – Won two rings, two Gold Gloves, hit most home runs, and played most games as Yankee third baseman.
Number 3 – Red Rolfe – A .289 lifetime hitter with five rings and a great glove.
Number 4 – Clete Boyer
Number 5 – Wade Boggs – Won two rings, two Gold Gloves and averaged .313 in pinstripes.