Results tagged ‘ first baseman ’
The whole reason I started this blog was because I thought Yankee fans would enjoy learning which Yankee player(s) they shared a birthday with. I can’t say I was overly excited when my research uncovered the fact that the only Yankee born on my birthday was this weirdly named first baseman nicknamed “Muscles.”
Mole played just ten games for New York during the 1949 season and never again appeared in a big league game. He got his nickname from his days as a pretty good home run hitter in the Pacific Coast League. Mole’s playing time in New York wasn’t helped by the fact that he played first base. That 1949 Yankee team had six different first basemen on its roster including “Ol Reliable,” Tommy Henrich, Johnny Mize, Joe Collins, Dick Kryhoski, Jack Phillips and of course our birthday boy Fenton. Add in the fact that Casey Stengel, the platooning master was Yankee skipper that season and its a wonder Mr. Mole ever emerged from the dugout to see the light of a game day!
On the last day of the Yankee’s 1950 spring training camp, Stengel told the press that Mr. Mole would not be traveling north with the team. Instead, he would remain in Florida where he would continue to work out with the Kansas City farmhands. The best MLB player to be born on my birthday remains former Brooklyn Dodger ace Don Newcombe. The only current MLB player who celebrates his birthday on Flag Day is San Diego outfielder, Jesus Guzman. But I’m keeping my eye on a young Yankee reliever named Chase Whitley, who is currently pitching for the Yankees Scranton/WilkesBarre farm team. He’s a big right-hander who turns 23 today and he currently has a 5-2 record in Triple A ball.
As for Fenton Mole, he joins Andy Fox, Doug Bird, Goose Gossage, Yogi Berra, Jim Kitty Kaat and Bill Moose Skowren as former Yankees with animal or animal- sounding names or nicknames. I guess all the above would be a little nervous around Catfish Hunter and Enos Slaughter. See what I’m forced to resort to when no famous Yankees are born on your birthday? Happy Flag Day everyone!
One of the things I find interesting as a long-time Yankee fan is examining the big league careers of former Yankee prospects who’s paths to the Bronx were blocked by good players already in their positions. Take David Adams as an example. He’s been being groomed as a Yankee second baseman for the past five years even though the only way Robbie Cano would lose that job is if he chooses to leave it as a free agent after this season.
The obstacle blocking today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s ascent to the Yankee roster in the mid 1970’s was the all star first baseman and postseason hero, Chris Chambliss. Dave Bergman was a good enough player in high school to get drafted by the Cubs in the 12th round of the 1971 amateur draft but he decided to attend college instead. Three years later the Yankees drafted him in the third round. If he’d signed with the Cubs the first time around and took five years to make it to Wrigley, he’d have been challenging guys like Pete LaCock and Billy Buckner instead of Chambliss.
By 1977, Bergman had put together four consecutive strong seasons in New York’s farm system, averaging well over .300 with an on base percentage in the .430 range. The only thing he had to show for it however was a seven-game cup-of-coffee preview with the parent club at the end of 1975 and another five-game late-season call-up, two years later.
So as often happens with an organization’s good but unneeded prospects, Bergman was traded to fill an immediate need on the Yankees’ big league roster. With his 1977 club again in the hunt for the AL Pennant, Yankee GM Gabe Paul was looking for a right-handed bat with power that Billy Martin could use to dissuade opposing teams from bringing in lefthanders to pitch to Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson. So in June of that year, Paul swung a deal for Houston’s Cliff Johnson. Bergman was the Yankee player to be named later (in November of ’77) that was included in that swap.
The trade was an opportunity for Bergman to finally spend an entire season in the big leagues, as he took over Johnson’s old role with Houston as a backup first baseman and outfielder during the ’78 season. He hit just .231 that year in 104 games and spent the next two seasons going back and forth between the Astros and their top farm team.
Then right after the 1981 season started, Bergman was traded with Houston outfielder Jeffrey Leonard to the Giants for first baseman, Mike Ivie. He spent three decent years in San Francisco and then finally found his home in the big leagues.
Toward the end of the 1984 spring training season, the Giants traded Bergman to the Phillies. On that same day, before he could say “the City of brotherly love” Philadelphia traded Bergman and reliever Willie Hernandez to the Tigers. That trade was the key to Detroit becoming World Champions that year, but not because of Bergman. Don’t get me wrong, the native of Evanston, IL had a great first season in Mo-Town, becoming a favorite guy off the bench for manager Sparky Anderson, appearing in 120 games and averaging .273. But it was the relief pitching of Hernandez that turned that ’84 Tiger team into World Series winners.
Bergman spent the next eight seasons playing for Anderson whenever the need arose and loving every minute of it. When he retired after the 1992 season at the age of 39, he had played in 1,349 big league ball games.
Bergman shares his birthday with this Yankee legend.
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|HOU (4 yrs)||213||340||285||32||70||11||2||2||18||3||49||45||.246||.354||.319||.673|
|SFG (3 yrs)||253||474||406||54||110||16||2||13||51||7||61||50||.271||.366||.416||.782|
|NYY (2 yrs)||12||24||21||1||1||0||0||0||1||0||2||4||.048||.125||.048||.173|
Jason Giambi’s nightmare Yankee season of 2004 represented an opportunity for Travis Lee. The Yankee brass loved Lee’s glove at first base and all they wanted from him was good defense and decent at bats. So they signed him to a one year, two-million-dollar deal even though they had already signed veteran first baseman Tony Clark a few weeks earlier. But Lee hurt his shoulder in spring training and began the season on the DL. He ended up appearing in just seven games for New York that year. Instead, it was the switch-hitting Clark who became Giambi’s “designated glove” and started the most games at first base for the Yankees that season. Lee ended up back with Tampa Bay the following year and out of baseball all together following the 2006 season.
Update: The above post was originally written in 2011. Lee left baseball because he said he had no passion left for the game. The Nationals had invited him to their 2007 spring training camp to try and win the starting first baseman’s job that was vacant as a result of one of former Yankee, Nick Johnson’s numerous injuries. Lee evidently walked into the Washington GM’s office one day and asked for his unconditional release, got it and went home.
I can remember when Lee broke into the big leagues with Arizona in 1998 because that was the Diamondbacks’ very first year in the league and former Yankee skipper Buck Showalter was in charge of baseball’s newest team on the field. The 23-year-old Lee was one of that historic squad’s bright spots, belting 151 hits, tying for the team lead in home runs with 22 and finishing third in that year’s NL Rookie of the Year Award behind Todd Helton and that year’s winner, former Yankee Kerry Wood.
Lee shares his May 26th birthday with the only Yankee ever to bat 1.000 during a pinstripe career that consisted of more than a single at bat.
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|TBD (3 yrs)||388||1442||1289||164||336||70||7||42||150||18||141||236||.261||.333||.424||.757|
|PHI (3 yrs)||366||1455||1271||149||328||71||5||34||174||11||165||246||.258||.343||.402||.745|
|NYY (1 yr)||7||20||19||1||2||1||0||0||2||0||1||3||.105||.150||.158||.308|
If you ask any native of the Dominican Republic currently playing big league ball which of their countrymen did the most to pave the way for them to play in the majors, their answer would be Felipe Alou. Actually, they might say Felipe Rojas. (His Dad’s last name was Rojas and his Mom’s was Alou.) Ozzie Virgil was the first Dominican to play in the MLB, when the New York Giants brought him up in 1956 but Virgil had migrated to the US as a youth and attended high school in New York City. Alou became the second native of his country (and the first to have lived there all his life) to play big league ball the following year as a member of that same Giants organization.
He was born in the Dominican Republic on May 12, 1935 to extremely poor parents. Felipe was an outstanding athlete and an outstanding student, who had been accepted in the pre-med program at the University of Santo Domingo. But he also played on his country’s baseball team that competed in 1955 Pan American Game. When he led the Dominican Republic to a victory over the US in the finals of those Games the MLB scouts came calling and he signed with the Giants.
It took awhile because the Giant organization in the late fifties was loaded with outstanding black and latino prospects, but Alou finally became a starter in San Franciso’s outfield in the early sixties. His younger brothers Matty and Jesus later joined him there and the three made history when they became the first three siblings to ever play in one team’s outfield at the same time, in September of 1963.
That was also Alou’s last year with the Giants. After the ’63 season, he was traded to Milwaukee in a seven-player deal. Felipe played for the Braves for the next six seasons, including 1966, when the team relocated to Atlanta and he put together his best year in the big leagues, with 31 HRs, a .327 batting average and leading the league in hits (218) and runs (122.)
He was traded to the A’s in 1970. By then he was 35-years-old and his best playing days were behind him. During the first week of his second season with Oakland, he was traded to the Yankees for pitchers Rob Gardner and Ron Klimkowski, where he was reunited with his brother Matty to become the first set of siblings to wear the pinstripes together since Bobby and Billy Shantz had done so in 1960.
Ralph Houk, the Yankee skipper at the time of the trade loved Felipe and put him in the lineup as a first baseman or outfielder 131 times during his first season in the Bronx. Alou responded with a .289 batting average and 69 RBIs that year. He continued to play a lot for Houk the following year, but his run production took a nose dive. Still, when the Yankees 1973 spring training season came around, Felipe was hammering the ball and Houk was telling the press that the elder Alou would share the brand new DH position with Ron Blomberg and also play a lot of first base. But on September 6th of that season, with his average hovering in the .230′s, Alou was put on waivers and picked up by the Expos. On that same day, the Yankees sold his brother Matty to the Cardinals and the Yankees were suddenly Alou-less.
Felipe Alou would retire as a player the following year and became a minor league manager in the Expos organization. He would later become a highly successful big league skipper of the Expos and also manage the Giants. His son Moises became a big league all star outfielder who played for his Dad with both Montreal and the Giants.
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|ATL (6 yrs)||841||3604||3348||464||989||163||20||94||335||40||188||284||.295||.338||.440||.778|
|NYY (3 yrs)||344||1145||1065||110||289||50||7||18||133||6||63||76||.271||.311||.382||.694|
|OAK (2 yrs)||156||627||583||70||158||26||3||8||55||10||32||32||.271||.307||.367||.674|
|MON (1 yr)||19||50||48||4||10||1||0||1||4||0||2||4||.208||.240||.292||.532|
|MIL (1 yr)||3||3||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.000||.000||.000||.000|
The only member of the all-time Yankee/Highlander roster to celebrate his birthday on May 8th is this right-handed first baseman who appeared in just three games during the Highlanders 1909 season. He broke into the big leagues in 1906, in Cincinnati, the city of his birth. A few other former Yankees born in Cincinnati include, Miller Huggins, Dave Justice, and Joe Torre’s former bench coach, Don Zimmer.
Here’s my all-time lineup of Yankees who also played for Cincinnati:
1b – Wally Pipp
2b – Billy Martin
3b – Aaron Boone
ss – Leo Durocher
c – Joe Oliver
of – Ken Griffey Sr.
of – Paul O’Neill
of – Roberto Kelly
sp – Carl Mays (right-hander)
sp – Don Gullett (left-hander)
closer – David Weathers
mgr – Miller Huggins
|CIN (2 yrs)||6||13||11||4||2||0||0||0||0||0||2||3||.182||.308||.182||.490|
|NYY (1 yr)||3||9||8||1||3||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||.375||.444||.500||.944|
I believe it was my son Matthew who e-mailed me to let me know the Yankees had signed Mark Teixeira. I was both shocked and smiling when I read his message. It was early January in 2009 and New York had already snagged CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett during that free agent signing season to rejuvenate their starting rotation. The prevailing rumor was that Teixeira was going to sign with the Red Sox but at the last minute, the Yankees swooped in and made the offer that Tex was waiting for and he was on his way to the Bronx.
What surprised me most as I got to watch this guy play every day was how good he really is as a defensive first baseman. I knew he was a quality hitter with good power from both sides of the plate but I had no idea that he would make such a positive impact for New York with his glove. In both 2009 and 2010, his extraordinary range and his ability to catch any ball thrown anywhere near him improved the entire Yankee infield dramatically. In fact, during the 2009 postseason Teixeira was terrible at the plate but was so good in the field I truly doubt the Yankees would have gotten to or won that World Series without him.
Through 2011, his offensive numbers since arriving in the Bronx had also been pretty impressive. During his first three seasons in pinstripes, he averaged 34 home runs and 114 RBIs per season with 102 runs scored per year. He was on his way to similar numbers in 2012 when he suffered a calf injury in late August and missed the last month of the regular season and the playoffs. He managed to hit 24 home runs and drive in 84 runs in the 123 games he played. His 135 HRs as a Yankee put him in 35th place on the all-time list, five behind the late Tom Thresh.
What has been dropping since he came to New York are Teixeira’s batting average and on base percentage. He has also been pretty much an offensive bust during his Yankee April’s and more problematically, his Yankee October’s. This is one of the few guys in baseball history to have hit at least 30 home runs and drive in 100 or more runs for eight straight seasons. When he’s in one of his hitting funks, it really has a negative impact on New York’s ability to score runs. As the Yankees’ 2013 spring training camp was opening, I was really hoping Teixeira would not experience yet another horrible April at the plate and I sort of got my wish. After hurting his wrist hitting balls off a tee while practicing with the US team for the WBC Championship series this spring, Teixeira will not even get to swing his bat in a 2013 regular season game for New York until at least May 1.
Mark was born on April 11, 1980, in Annapolis, MD. The Yankees have him under contract through 2016.
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|TEX (5 yrs)||693||3006||2632||426||746||173||12||153||499||11||3||318||555||.283||.368||.533||.901||128||1402||60||42||0||14||44|
|NYY (4 yrs)||593||2627||2250||372||591||132||5||135||425||8||3||304||429||.263||.357||.506||.863||126||1138||51||43||0||30||19|
|ATL (2 yrs)||157||691||589||101||174||36||1||37||134||0||0||92||116||.295||.395||.548||.943||146||323||15||7||0||3||12|
|LAA (1 yr)||54||234||193||39||69||14||0||13||43||2||0||32||23||.358||.449||.632||1.081||181||122||4||4||0||5||4|
I was not a big fan of Bob Watson when he became the Yankee’s starting first baseman in 1980. The biggest reason for this was that I had been a big fan of the starting first baseman Watson replaced that season for New York, Chris Chambliss. In my humble opinion, the historic home run Chambliss had hit to get the Yankees into the 1976 World Series earned him the right to remain in pinstripes for the rest of his playing career. Instead, the Yankees had dealt him to the Blue Jays to get Toronto catcher, Rick Cerone. New York then signed Watson as a free agent to take over at first.
Watson was actually a very similar player to Chambliss. He averaged about 16 home-runs per season, drove in close to 90 and hit close to .300. He wasn’t as good defensively as Chambliss was, but few were. He had a good first year in pinstripes, hitting .307 and helping New York make the playoffs. He slumped badly in 1981, hitting just .212 during that strike shortened season. He then surprised me and every other Yankee fan by putting together an outstanding 1981 postseason. He hit .438 against the Brewers in that year’s ALDS and then had 2 home runs and 7 RBIs in the Yankees’ 6-game loss to the Dodgers in the ’81 World Series. That didn’t prevent the Yankees from trading the LA native to the Braves in April of the following season. Watson then spent the final three years of his 19-season big league career, backing up the same first baseman he had replaced as a Yankee starter in 1980.
After retiring in 1984, Watson became a coach with Oakland, then an assistant GM at Houston and in 1993, he was promoted to GM by the Astros, becoming the first black man in Major League history to hold that position. George Steinbrenner then hired Watson as GM of the Yankees in October of 1995 where he remained until Brian Cashman replaced him in February of 1998. Watson found out very quickly that working as GM for the Boss could be hazardous to one’s health. Steinbrenner would not let Watson make any decisions by himself, which still did not prevent the Yankee owner from berating his new GM’s every action. George even refused to congratulate Watson after the Yankees’ 1996 World Series win. The stress of working for Steinbrenner was so bad that the guy who’s nickname had been “the Bull” during his playing days, ended up in the hospital in April of 1997 with high blood pressure and orders from his doctors to reduce his Yankee GM workload by 25%.
Also born on this date was this father of one of baseball’s all-time great home run hitters.
|HOU (14 yrs)||1381||5496||4883||640||1448||241||30||139||782||21||22||508||635||.297||.364||.444||.808|
|ATL (3 yrs)||171||394||348||34||92||16||1||13||71||1||3||41||55||.264||.338||.428||.766|
|NYY (3 yrs)||196||725||642||80||181||31||6||19||83||2||1||75||73||.282||.355||.438||.793|
|BOS (1 yr)||84||347||312||48||105||19||4||13||53||3||2||29||33||.337||.401||.548||.949|
At Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings in December of 1973, the American League owners voted to make the designated hitter rule a permanent feature of Junior Circuit play. As soon as the votes were counted, the Yankees made a trade with the Kansas City Royals acquiring Lou Piniella, who many considered a near-perfect DH role-model. But Sweet Lou, had slumped to a .250 batting average the previous season, so just in case he did not return to his .300-hitting ways, New York hedged their bet by also acquiring on that same day, the switch-hitting Bill “Suds” Sudakis from the Rangers.
The then 28-year-old native of Joliet, IL had broken into the big leagues impressively as a third baseman with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1968. But some serious knee problems during his first few seasons in LA, turned him into a role player. LA had released him in 1971 and after a short-time with the Mets, he had landed in Texas in ’73, just in time for the AL’s one-year DH experimental season.
He hit 15 HRs for Texas but only DH’d nine times. He also played a lot of third and first for that Ranger team and even went behind the plate for nine games. That versatility and his two-way hitting caught the attention of Yankee GM Gabe Paul, who was able to negotiate the outright purchase of Sudakis’s contract from Texas.
Suds would play just one season (1974) in pinstripes. Under the direction of skipper Bill Virdon, the Yanks made a surprising run at for the AL East title that year, finishing just two-games behind the Orioles. Sudakis got into 89 games, mostly as a DH and first baseman. He averaged just .232, but he also hit 7 home runs and drove in 39. His biggest impact on that year’s pennant drive however, may have occurred in the lobby of a downtown Milwaukee hotel.
The Yanks were scheduled to fly to Brewer town after a road-series with the Indians to play the last two games of their regular season, but their flight out of Cleveland was delayed for three hours. During those three hours, many of the Yankees did what many big league ballplayers do when they have lots of idle time in an airport, they headed to the bar. Well evidently Sudakis and Dempsey started getting on each other before they left Cleveland and the verbal sparring continued between the two all during their now very late flight. By the time the team departed their bus and entered the lobby of their downtown hotel, Dempsey had reached the boiling point and went after Sudakis like a madman. Yankee players at the scene later verified the ensuing fight was a knockdown drag-out classic with furniture overturned and pictures knocked off the walls. It took quite a while for their Yankee teammates and hotel security to separate the two and when they finally did, it was star outfielder Bobby Murcer, who had gotten the worst of it. Somebody stepped on his hand and broke his finger and that injury kept him out of the next day’s lineup against the Brewers. The Yankees lost that game while the Orioles won their contest against the Indians, clinching the division for the Birds.
I’m not 100% certain his role in that fight is the reason the Yanks traded Sudakis to California for pitcher Skip Lockwood that December, but it sure didn’t help to prevent it. Sudakis played one more season of big league ball before returning to the minors in 1976.
While researching this post I came across some compelling evidence that Sudakis was a bit crazy. For example, he once offered to add some bounce to Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles bat. He sawed the top off, drilled into the barrel and inserted some super balls and then reattached the sawed-off bat top with Elmer’s Glue. Then Yankee shortstop Gene Michael asked Sudakis how he had reassembled the doctored bat and when he got to the Elmer’s Glue part, “the Stick” warned him the glue would not hold. Sudakis assured him it would and one week later, after homering with it in his previous at bat, Nettles hit one off the the end of the modified piece of lumber and sure enough, the bat-top pops off and the rubber balls come rolling out the end of it, getting Nettles ejected.
Long before Gladys Knight recorded Midnight Train to Georgia, Wally was the most famous Pipp in America. He succeeded the notorious Hal Chase as the regular Yankee first baseman and played brilliantly at that position for eleven consecutive seasons.
Pipp established several firsts as a Yankee first baseman. He was the first Yankee to lead the American League in home runs. He was the first Yankee starting first baseman to wear the Yankee pinstripes. He was the first one to play in the World Series. He was the first Yankee starting first baseman to play in the now-closed original Yankee Stadium and the first one to play on a world championship team, in 1923.
None of those honors mattered, however, when Pipp innocently sat out a game against the Senators on the first day of June during the 1925 season. Legend has it that he had a headache and asked Yankee skipper, Miller Huggins, for that afternoon off. Whatever the reason, Lou Gehrig, took his place and every Yankee fan knows the rest of that story.
Pipp broke into the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers in 1913 and was picked up on waivers by the Yankees on January 15, 1915. He led the American League in home runs in both 1916 and 1917. In fact, the Yankees earned the nickname Murderers Row because of pre-Ruth sluggers like Pipp and Frank “Home Run” Baker. In addition to being a power hitter in the dead-ball era, he was also a good and graceful fielder and smart base runner, stealing 114 bases during his eleven years with the Yanks.
Pipp’s best year in New York was 1922, when he hit .329 with 190 hits, 96 runs scored, and drove in 90 more. His best World Series performance was the 1922 Fall Classic when he batted .286 in a losing effort against arch rival Giants.
In 1926, the Yankees sold Pipp, outright, to the Cincinnati Reds where he played three more seasons before retiring. He passed away in Rapid City, MI on January 11, 1965, at the age of 71.
Dale Long was born in Springfield, Missouri on February 6, 1926 and then moved to Massachusetts as a young boy. A multi-talented athlete as a youngster, he starred in semi-pro football and turned down an opportunity to sign with the Green Bay Packers to give a career in baseball a shot. That career started in 1944, when Long joined the Milwaukee Brewers, then a non-affiliated double A franchise in the American Association being managed at the time by Casey Stengel. During the next ten seasons, Long spent time with fourteen different minor league ball clubs in the organizations of five different Major League teams. In 1951, he made his big league debut as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, where GM Branch Rickey was determined to convert Long into a left-handed catcher. That experiment lasted two pitches. He ended up on waivers that year and spent four more seasons trying to get back to the big dance.
His second chance came in 1955, again with the Pirates. This time Long was ready. He averaged .291 with 16 home runs, 79 RBIs and led all of baseball with his 13 triples. The following year, Long swung his way into baseball history when he hit home runs in eight consecutive games. That stretch of power made him a national celebrity and his 27 home runs and 91 RBIs that season made him a National League All Star.
After a slow start in 1957, Long was traded to the Cubs and after three seasons in the Windy City, he was sold to the Giants just as the 1960 regular season was beginning. In August of that year, Yankee GM George Weiss was looking for some left-handed power to add to Casey Stengel’s bench and he purchased Long from San Francisco. At the time the deal was made, the big guy was hitting just .167 but when he got to the Bronx, he went on a tear. He hit a robust .366 in his 46 at bats with New York that year and made the Yankees’ postseason roster, getting a hit in three pinch-hitting appearances against his former Pirate teammates in the 1960 World Series.
Long was a left-handed pull hitter who’s stroke was perfect for reaching the short porch down the old Yankee Stadium’s right field line. New York really loved having him as a pinch hitter but they had too many other stars and prospects in their employ to protect Long during the 1960 AL Expansion Draft. Sure enough, the Senators selected the veteran slugger with the 28th pick and he became the new Washington franchise’s first starting first baseman during their inaugural 1961 season. In July of 1962, the Yankees were once again in need of a left-handed pinch hitter and they offered the Senators a very good right-hand-hitting outfielder prospect from their farm system by the name of Don Lock in exchange for Long. Washington jumped at the offer and Lock became their team’s starting center fielder for the next half-decade. Long again came through in his role as a Yankee pinch-hitter and Moose Skowren’s back-up at first base. In 41 games he averaged .298 with 4 home runs and 17 RBIs. He again got to play in a World Series and this time won his first and only ring when the Yankees defeated the Giants in the 1962 Fall Classic.
By the time the 1963 season rolled around, Long had reached 37 years of age and his bat and his body were slowing down. He was hitting just .200 that August, when the Yankees released him and his big league career was over. Years later, Long became a sports announcer for a local television station in my viewing area. He died in 1991, a victim of a heart attack at the age of 64.
Long shares his birthday with a Yankee God.