Results tagged ‘ first baseman ’

August 14 – Happy Birthday Babe Borton

bortonWell what do you know? There is yet another Yankee nicknamed Babe on the team’s all-time roster. This one’s real name was William Borton, a native of Marion, IL who made his big league debut as a 23-year-old first baseman with the 1912 Chicago White Sox. He only appeared in 31 games that season but he caused quite a stir in the Windy City by averaging .371 in his rookie year. That earned him a spot on the team’s 1913 roster, but thanks to the unsavory behavior of one of the most notorious players in Yankee team history, he would not finish his second season as a White Sox.

Hal Chase had been the Yankee’s best player and a fan favorite during the franchise’s first decade in New York. Unfortunately, he was also a gambler and a con man. Chase would do anything for money including throwing baseball games and by 1913, he had worn out his welcome in New York. The Yankees traded him to Chicago for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant and a White Sox infielder named Rollie Zeider on June 1, 1913. While Chase hit .286 for the White Sox during the second half of that season, Babe Borton floundered badly in New York, averaging just .130. As a result, he was not invited back by the Yankees the following year.

Instead, Borton played minor league ball in 1914 and then signed on with the St Louis Terriers of the upstart Federal League in 1915. He became a star for the Terriers, averaging a robust .286 and leading the new league in both runs and walks. When the Federal League went belly up at the end of that 1915 season, Borton signed on with the St. Louis Browns. He again struggled against American League pitching, averaging just .224 for the Browns in 1916 and would never again play in a big league ball game. He spent the next four years putting up some very decent numbers in the Pacific Coast League. Ironically, the guy the Yanks got for Hal Chase ended up getting suspended from that league when he admitted to accepting money to throw games.

Borton shares his birthday with this former Yankee shortstop and this onetime Yankee infielder.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1913 NYY 33 131 108 8 14 2 0 0 11 1 18 19 .130 .260 .148 .408
4 Yrs 317 1141 940 139 254 31 17 4 136 21 160 110 .270 .381 .352 .734
CHW (2 yrs) 59 224 185 24 61 8 1 0 30 2 31 14 .330 .429 .384 .812
SLM (1 yr) 159 668 549 97 157 20 14 3 83 17 92 64 .286 .395 .390 .785
NYY (1 yr) 33 131 108 8 14 2 0 0 11 1 18 19 .130 .260 .148 .408
SLB (1 yr) 66 118 98 10 22 1 2 1 12 1 19 13 .224 .350 .306 .657
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/14/2013.

July 15 – Happy Birthday Dan McGann

mcgannWhen Hideki Irabu was found dead in his California home in July 2011, he became the third ex-Yankee franchise player who’s death was ruled a suicide. The two other suicide victims were both born on July 15th.

Dan McGann was a very good switch-hitting big league first baseman who became best friends with the legendary John McGraw when the two were National League teammates and starting infielders on the 1898 Baltimore Orioles. A native of Shelbyville, Kentucky, McGann was considered one of the league’s better first basemen.

He and McGraw were split up in 1899 when McGraw was traded to St Louis and McGann went to Brooklyn. Two years later they were reunited in St Louis. Then in 1901, McGraw was wooed back to Baltimore to manage that city’s first American League franchise, also called the Orioles. One year later, Little Napoleon convinced McGann to join him there and become the team’s starting first baseman in 1902. He did well in that role, averaging .316 during the 68 games he played for the team that season. But when McGraw couldn’t get along with or trust AL President Ban Johnson, he decided to leave the O’s to accept the New York Giants’ field skipper’s position, McGann again packed his bags and accompanied his old friend. In New York, McGraw made McGann his starting first baseman in a move that just may have changed the course of Giants’ history. Before McGann arrived, Christy Matthewson had been playing first base for the team in between his starts on the mound. After McGann showed up, McGraw made the then 21-year-old Matthewson a full-time pitcher and he would go on to win 373 big league games.

Meanwhile, McGann’s bat, glove and speed on the base paths helped the Giants capture the 1904 and ’05 pennants and the first-ever World Series, with their victory over the A’s in ’05. But as McGann aged he lost a step and in the Dead Ball era, when a player’s speed was especially critical to his offensive value, his average plummeted by over 60 points in 1906, his last full season as a Giant starter. His failure to produce on the field also had a negative impact on his relationship with McGraw off of it. They went from best drinking buddies to barely speaking to each other and in 1908, McGraw traded McGann to the Braves.

Two years later, on December 10, 1910, McGann’s lifeless body was found in a Louisville hotel room, the victim of a gunshot to the chest. The death was ruled a suicide. Two of McGann’s sisters disputed that finding, citing a missing diamond ring as evidence their brother had been murdered during a robbery attempt. Others however pointed to the deterioration of his playing skills and tragic family history as reasons why they thought the coroner had ruled correctly. One of McGann’s brothers had killed himself the previous year, another brother had died from an accidental shooting and one of his sisters had also killed herself.

Thirty eight years later, this Yankee outfielder who shares McGann’s birth date, also shot and killed himself. This former Yankee catcher was also born on July 15th.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1902 BLA 68 285 250 40 79 10 8 0 42 17 19 13 .316 .378 .420 .798
12 Yrs 1437 6051 5226 842 1482 181 100 42 727 282 429 334 .284 .364 .381 .744
NYG (6 yrs) 682 2835 2430 360 678 94 42 16 290 151 224 151 .279 .358 .372 .730
BSN (2 yrs) 178 740 646 77 169 14 12 4 85 11 50 40 .262 .338 .339 .677
STL (2 yrs) 224 976 867 152 247 25 18 10 114 43 48 72 .285 .356 .390 .745
WHS (1 yr) 77 321 284 65 96 9 8 5 58 11 14 12 .338 .405 .479 .884
BLN (1 yr) 145 635 535 99 161 18 8 5 106 33 53 30 .301 .404 .393 .796
BRO (1 yr) 63 259 214 49 52 11 4 2 32 16 21 16 .243 .362 .360 .722
BLA (1 yr) 68 285 250 40 79 10 8 0 42 17 19 13 .316 .378 .420 .798
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/15/2013.

June 28 – Happy Birthday Len Boehmer

boehmerlBy 1969, getting a Yankee in a pack of Topps Baseball cards wasn’t as much a thrill for me as it had been just a few years earlier. First of all, I was fifteen years old by then and the allure of collecting those cardboard mini posters was losing its pull on me. Secondly, by that year the Yankees had evolved into pretty bad baseball team. Mickey Mantle had finally retired and Joe Pepitone was the only remaining starting position player on the club to have also started for the last Yankee team to play in a World Series five years earlier. So it was most likely in one of the very last individual packs of Topps baseball cards I would purchase (until I started buying them for my own sons fifteen years later) that I got the card pictured here. I’m sure that when I took a look at the two prospects pictured on it I hoped to myself that the card’s title, “Rookie Stars” would prove to be appropriate. It would not, in either player’s case. I’m also sure that at the time I did not realize that Topps had misspelled Jerry Kenney’s first name and I’m positive I mispronounced Len Boehmer’s last name, pronouncing it Bo-mer instead of the correct way, which is Bay-mer.

A native of Flint, Missouri, Boehmer had been signed by the Reds out of St Louis University in 1961, and spent almost all of the next seven years playing minor league ball in Cincinnati’s farm system. He had one minuscule mid-season two-game call-up with the Reds in 1967. The Yankees had picked him up in a trade in September of that same year. After one decent year with New York’s triple A team in Syracuse, he made New York’s parent club’s roster out of spring training in 1969 as Pepitone’s primary back-up at first base. He got off to a horrid start at the plate that year and he was 0-26 as a Yankee and 0-29 as a big leaguer when he was called in to replace Pepitone in the eighth inning of a game against the Red Sox, after the whacky first baseman had been ejected from the game. The Yankees were trailing 2-1 in the ninth when Boehmer’s first big league hit, a single tied the game. Advancing to second on the throw to home plate, he scored the winning run when Roy White singled him home.

Back in 1969, the Yankees often flew regularly scheduled commercial flights to road games. It was customary for the team’s managers, coaches and front line players to be given all the first class seats on those flights and the subs would be assigned to coach. Boehmer’s reward for his big hit that night in New York was seeing his named cross of the coach-section on the seating list for that evening’s impending flight to Detroit which was posted in the Yankee locker room after the game and instead penciled in the first class section.

Boehmer would go on to get 18 more base hits for New York that season and then spend most of the next two years back in Syracuse. After one more brief three-game mid season call-up to the Bronx in 1971, the Yankees released Bohmer and his big league career was over.

Boehmer shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this former reliever, and this power-hitting DH.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1969 NYY 45 116 108 5 19 4 0 0 7 0 8 10 .176 .233 .213 .446
1971 NYY 3 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
3 Yrs 50 124 116 5 19 4 0 0 7 0 8 10 .164 .218 .198 .416
NYY (2 yrs) 48 121 113 5 19 4 0 0 7 0 8 10 .168 .223 .204 .427
CIN (1 yr) 2 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/28/2013.

June 15 – Happy Birthday Babe Dahlgren

dahlgrenTo understand the size of the target that was on the back of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant when he got his chance to play for the New York Yankees, I need you to picture a fictional modern-day scenario. Imagine if Derek Jeter comes back from his broken ankle this summer and after struggling at the plate for a few games, tragically breaks his ankle again. While they are carrying the Yankee Captain off the field the Stadium’s PA announcer introduces the new Yankee shortstop, a young prospect Brian Cashman has just traded for who’s name happens to be Billy Mattingly. Not only does this poor kid have to replace one Yankee legend, he’s got a last name that will remind every Yankee fan of another one every time it is seen or heard. Then to make that target on this young guy’s back even bigger, after he plays decently for the rest of the season, the Yankees trade him to the Braves, even though they have nobody any better than him to take over at short. When another big league GM asks Cashman why he got rid of Mattingly, Cashman tells him its because the just-traded player has a drinking problem.

Now let’s turn the above fictional scenario into a non-fictional historical account of what actually happened to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s baseball career. Substitute Lou Gehrig for Derek Jeter, instead of the new replacement player having the same last name as Donnie Baseball give him the same nickname as Babe Ruth. Now replace Brian Cashman’s name with the Yankee Hall-of-Fame managing legend, Joe McCarthy and instead of using alcohol as the substance being abused, make it marijuana. Do all that and you now will understand what happened to the once promising career of former Yankee first baseman, Babe Dahlgren.

This native of San Francisco had broken into the big leagues with the Red Sox in 1935, when he was just 23-years-old and put together a strong rookie season in Beantown. Then that winter, Boston acquired Philadelphia A’s slugging first baseman, Jimmie Foxx and Dahlgren spent almost all of his sophomore season on the Boston bench. Dahlgren probably realized his days as a Red Sox were numbered with Foxx playing his position, so imagine how he felt when he found out that his contract had been purchased by the Yankees just before the 1937 spring training camps opened. At least in Boston, Foxx liked to take a day off every once in a while. The first baseman Dahlgren would now be backing up over in the Bronx hadn’t missed a game a dozen years. Gherig’s streak would continue for the next two years and that meant more time on the pine (and in the minors) for Dahlgren who played in just 1 Yankee game in 1937 and then 27 more in 1938.

It was only after ALS disease struck the Iron Horse in April of 1939 that he got his chance to start in New York and as he had done in his rookie season with the Red Sox, Dahlgren performed well. Though he averaged just .235, he did bang 15 home runs and drive in 89 to help New York win its fourth straight pennant. He then appeared in his only World Series that year and hit a home run as the Yankees captured their fourth straight ring with their victory over Cincinnati in that Fall Classic.

The second Yankee “Babe” then began a streak of his own in 1940, appearing in all 155 of New York’s games that season and he got his average up to .264. But by that time, according to a book self-published by Dahlgren’s grandson in 2007 and based on an unfinished manuscript written by the player himself, an incident had already occurred that led Joe McCarthy to believe he couldn’t trust Dahlgren. The Yankee skipper and Dahlgren had both attended Joe DiMaggio’s wedding to Hollywood starlet Dorothy Arnold a month after the 1939 World Series. Also in attendance was former big leaguer Lefty O’Doul, who was then in the process of building a reputation as baseball’s best hitting instructor. Dahlgren later explained that his manager had seen him and O’Doul discussing the first baseman’s swing at the affair and McCarthy was worried that Lefty was trying to undermine him and possibly take his job. Far-fetched on the part of Dahlgren? Perhaps, but so was the explanation McCarthy gave the press when the Yankees sold the first baseman to the Boston Braves during the 1941 spring training season. Marse Joe told reporters that Dahlgren’s arms were too short to play his position even though Babe was by all accounts an excellent defensive first baseman. Since baseball insiders knew this couldn’t have been the real reason McCarthy traded his staring first baseman, Dahlgren says his skipper made one up and the lie he concocted ruined the player’s career. According to Babe, McCarthy told “baseball-insiders” that the reason Dahlgren had committed a costly error in a late-season 1940 Yankee game was because the player was a “marijuana smoker.”

Now-a-days, I wouldn’t be surprised if half of the players (and coaches & managers) in the big leagues toked an occasional joint but back in the 1940′s, using marijuana was a societal taboo that left a deep and dark stain on a person’s reputation, especially if that person was a professional athlete. According to Dahlgren, McCarthy’s false accusation would become the reason why he would play for seven different teams during the final seven seasons of his big league career and his grandson’s book does a very good job of validating this claim.

Babe Dahlgren’s big league playing career ended after the 1946 season. I wonder what went through his head just a few years later, when another Joe McCarthy became specifically infamous for making false accusations that ruined peoples’ careers? Dahlgren lived until 1996, passing away at the age of 84. By the way, his real name was Ellsworth Tenney Dahlgren.

He shares his birthday with this great Yankee pitcher, this Hall-of-Fame third baseman and the guy who just might actually replace  Jeter should he re-injure his ankle in a late-season game this year (though trust me, that’s not going to happen!)

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1937 NYY 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
1938 NYY 27 44 43 8 8 1 0 0 1 0 1 7 .186 .205 .209 .414
1939 NYY 144 603 531 71 125 18 6 15 89 2 57 54 .235 .312 .377 .689
1940 NYY 155 622 568 51 150 24 4 12 73 1 46 54 .264 .325 .384 .709
12 Yrs 1137 4508 4045 470 1056 174 37 82 569 18 390 401 .261 .329 .383 .713
NYY (4 yrs) 327 1270 1143 130 283 43 10 27 163 3 104 115 .248 .314 .374 .688
CHC (2 yrs) 116 463 415 54 113 21 1 16 65 2 47 41 .272 .348 .443 .791
PIT (2 yrs) 302 1252 1130 124 306 52 15 17 176 3 98 107 .271 .333 .388 .722
SLB (2 yrs) 30 91 82 2 14 1 0 0 9 0 8 13 .171 .244 .183 .427
BOS (2 yrs) 165 661 582 83 154 30 8 10 70 8 63 68 .265 .340 .395 .735
BRO (1 yr) 17 23 19 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 5 .053 .217 .053 .270
PHI (1 yr) 136 565 508 55 146 19 2 5 56 2 50 39 .287 .354 .362 .716
BSN (1 yr) 44 183 166 20 39 8 1 7 30 0 16 13 .235 .306 .422 .728
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/15/2013.

June 14 – Happy Birthday Fenton Mole

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.  Happy Flag Day everyone! Bulletin: There is a brand new June 14th birthday Yankee on the team’s 2014 roster.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1949 NYY 10 30 27 2 5 2 1 0 2 0 3 5 .185 .267 .333 .600
1 Yr 10 30 27 2 5 2 1 0 2 0 3 5 .185 .267 .333 .600
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2013.

June 6 – Happy Birthday Dave Bergman

Dave_BergmanOne 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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1975 NYY 7 19 17 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 4 .000 .105 .000 .105
1977 NYY 5 5 4 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 .250 .200 .250 .450
17 Yrs 1349 3114 2679 312 690 100 16 54 289 19 380 347 .258 .348 .367 .716
DET (9 yrs) 871 2276 1967 225 509 73 12 39 219 9 268 248 .259 .346 .368 .714
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/6/2013.

May 26 – Happy Birthday Travis Lee

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.

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2004 29 NYY AL 7 20 19 1 2 1 0 0 2 0 1 3 .105 .150 .158 .308
9 Yrs 1099 4233 3740 476 958 191 16 115 488 59 457 704 .256 .337 .408 .745
ARI (3 yrs) 338 1316 1161 162 292 49 4 39 162 30 150 219 .252 .336 .401 .737
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/26/2014.

May 12 – Happy Birthday Felipe Alou

falouIf 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.

This Hall-of-Fame Yankee catcher and this former Yankee Murderer’s Row third baseman and this WWII era Yankee pitcher were also born on May 12th.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1971 NYY 131 501 461 52 133 20 6 8 69 5 32 24 .289 .334 .410 .744
1972 NYY 120 351 324 33 90 18 1 6 37 1 22 27 .278 .326 .395 .721
1973 NYY 93 293 280 25 66 12 0 4 27 0 9 25 .236 .256 .321 .577
17 Yrs 2082 7907 7339 985 2101 359 49 206 852 107 423 706 .286 .328 .433 .761
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
SFG (6 yrs) 719 2478 2292 337 655 119 19 85 325 51 138 308 .286 .328 .466 .794
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/12/2013.

April 10 – Happy Birthday Bob Watson

watson.jpgI 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.

Year Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1980 NYY AL 130 525 469 62 144 25 3 13 68 2 1 48 56 .307 .368 .456 .825
1981 NYY AL 59 180 156 15 33 3 3 6 12 0 0 24 17 .212 .317 .385 .701
1982 NYY AL 7 20 17 3 4 3 0 0 3 0 0 3 0 .235 .350 .412 .762
19 Yrs 1832 6962 6185 802 1826 307 41 184 989 27 28 653 796 .295 .364 .447 .811
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/12/2013.

March 27 – Happy Birthday Bill Sudakis

sudakisAt 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.

Suds shares his birthday with this Hall-of-Fame Yankee Manager and this long-ago Yankee starting pitcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1974 NYY 89 293 259 26 60 8 0 7 39 0 25 48 .232 .296 .344 .639
8 Yrs 530 1751 1548 177 362 56 7 59 214 9 172 313 .234 .311 .393 .704
LAD (4 yrs) 291 1016 901 108 219 35 7 34 116 8 102 176 .243 .321 .411 .732
NYM (1 yr) 18 56 49 3 7 0 0 1 7 0 6 14 .143 .236 .204 .440
TEX (1 yr) 82 263 235 32 60 11 0 15 43 0 23 53 .255 .320 .494 .814
CLE (1 yr) 20 50 46 4 9 0 0 1 3 0 4 7 .196 .260 .261 .521
CAL (1 yr) 30 73 58 4 7 2 0 1 6 1 12 15 .121 .274 .207 .481
NYY (1 yr) 89 293 259 26 60 8 0 7 39 0 25 48 .232 .296 .344 .639
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/14/2014.