Results tagged ‘ general manager ’

June 17 – Happy Birthday Bill Bergesch

Bill-Bergesch.jpgxAfter winning a Purple Heart in WWII during the invasion of Italy, Bill Bergesch returned home, used the GI Bill to to get his business degree and began a long career as a baseball executive by accepting a job in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league organization. Ten years later he made his indelible contribution to that franchise when he became the guy who signed the great pitcher, Bob Gibson.

He was promoted to Cardinal’s scouting coordinator in 1959 and then was hired by the Kansas City A’s as an assistant GM, where he worked for the franchise’s new, slightly off-kilter owner, Charley Finley. He was hired by the Mets the following year to help that brand new franchise create its minor league organization from scratch and in 1964, was hired by the Yankees to serve as the team’s traveling secretary and manager of Yankee Stadium. He then changed sports, accepting front office positions with two Big Apple soccer teams. It was as GM of the New York Cosmos that Bergesch signed Brazilian superstar Pele out of retirement.

He then changed professions and industries, leaving sports and going to work for the next decade as a venture capitalist. By then, George Steinbrenner had taken over the Yankees and hired Bergesch as the team’s scouting director in 1978 and then promoted him to vice president of baseball operations a couple of years later. This was right during the time that “the Boss” was in his most tyrannical state as owner of the Yankees. In fact, Steinbrenner decided that he could be his own general manager, so he pointedly refused to give Bergesch that title. As it turned out, perhaps “hatchet man” would have been an even better one.

Regardless if it was devastating young Yankee prospects like Dave Righetti by unexpectedly demoting them back to the minors, firing Bob Lemon or Yogi Berra as skippers even though they each had been promised full years in the job or reminding established veterans like Tommy John that they were being paid too much money to have a bad outing, it was Bergesch who would be sent to deliver the ill-timed news from George. In fact, I remember thinking that Bergesch had as tough and thankless a job as Richard Nixon’s chief-of-staff did after the Watergate break in was discovered.

Before too long, Bergesch had carried out so many unpleasant Steinbrenner-directed edicts that he became a very unpopular guy in the Yankee clubhouse. The problem was that even though he was doing what George told him to do, the Boss would blame the poor guy whenever any of the things he did back fired or caused negative press, which happened about three times a week back then. It was the ultimate no-win situation.

The irony was that Bergesch genuinely liked Steinbrenner and enjoyed their friendship. He cited this as the reason why he had decided to leave the Yankees in 1984. He told the press he needed to go in a different direction. Unfortunately for Bergesch, that direction turned out to be working for the one owner in baseball who was capable of acting even more irrationally than Steinbrenner did at the time. Bergesch became the GM of Marge Schott’s Cincinnati Reds.

Not only did Bergesch value his friendship with the Boss, the feeling was mutual and when Steinbrenner entered a much more rational period of his tenure as Yankee owner in the early nineties, he brought Bergesch back to serve as Gene Michael’s assistant in 1990. The grateful executive would remain part of the Yankee family and good friends with George for the rest of their days. Bergesch passed away in 2011 at the age of 89.

Bergesch shares his June 17th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder.

June 9 – Happy Birthday Roy Hamey

hameyThe Yankee dynasty was a product of great players but those great players were a product of great front-office management and player development skills. Wealthy Yankee owners like Jake Ruppert, Del Webb, Dan Topping and George Steinbrenner came up with the necessary cash but it was the guys like Ed Barrow, George Weiss, Gabe Paul and Brian Cashman who converted that cash into the rosters that won pennants and World Series. And because the Yankees have been so successful for so long, even their GMs become legends and get inducted into Cooperstown. So how come nobody remembers Roy Hamey?

Henry Roy Hamey succeeded George Weiss as the Yankee GM right after New York had been dramatically upset in the 1960 World Series. Topping and Webb were the Yankee co-owners at the time and it was their decision to fire Casey Stengel after losing to the Pirates and make Ralph Houk the team’s new skipper. It was also their decision to simultaneously force Weiss out as GM and replace him with his former assistant.

Weiss had been the guy who originally hired Hamey to run the Yankees’ Class A minor league franchise in Binghamton in 1934. He did such a great job there that Weiss promoted him to run New York’s top minor league franchise in Kansas City. The two men made New York’s farm system the best in baseball and Weiss fully expected to become Yankee GM when Barrow retired and Hamey fully expected to replace Weiss as director of the team’s minor league operation. What neither man expected however was Larry MacPhail becoming part owner with Webb and Topping of the Yankee franchise in 1946 and effectively making himself the team’s new GM. Weiss licked his wounds and stuck with the organization but a disappointed Hamey jumped ship and became president of the American Association. A year later, he was hired as GM of the Pirates. He spent three seasons in that job but when he failed to produce a winning team he was replaced by Branch Rickey.

That’s when Weiss, who had finally become Yankee GM in 1947, rehired Hamey to serve as his assistant GM in New York. Hamey remained in that post for three years, leaving to become top dog for the Phillies in 1954. He once again failed in his efforts to build a winning club and “resigned” in 1958 to go back to work in his old job as assistant Yankee GM. The rumor at the time was that the Yankees had tried to hire Milwaukee Braves’ GM, John Quinn for that job but he wanted assurances that he would replace Weiss as GM when Weiss retired or was let go. When New York wouldn’t give Quinn that guarantee, the GM of the 1957 World Champions accepted an offer to become GM of the Phillies, replacing Hamey. If in fact Hamey was fired by the Phillies it proved to be the biggest break of his career because it put him in place to succeed Weiss two seasons later.

Hamey served as GM of three Yankee teams. Those three teams won three AL Pennants, two World Series and 309 regular season games. He also managed the Yankees first three amateur drafts. Though its true that Hamey inherited a loaded Yankee roster he did engineer several key acquisitions and call-ups during his short tenure at the helm. His biggest trade, which took place in November of 1962 was a controversial one in which he sent the popular Yankee first baseman, Moose Skowron to the Dodgers for pitcher Stan Williams. It was definitely the right time to deal Skowron but Williams turned out to be a dud in pinstripes and the deal was not remembered kindly by most Yankee fans of that era.

In 1964, Topping and Webb asked Hamey to retire as GM so they could promote Houk to that job. Hamey did as they wished and became a part time Yankee scout. When the new Seattle Pilots franchise was struggling to stay afloat after the 1969 season ended, AL President Joe Cronin asked Hamey to run the team until new ownership could be found. That would be the Havana, Illinois native’s last job in baseball. He retired to Arizona, where he died in 1983 at the age of 81.

Hamey shares his birthday with this former Yankee manager and this one-time Yankee outfielder.

June 2 – Happy Birthday Gene Michael

michaelIf you weren’t around during the 1960’s when the great New York teams led by Mantle and Maris were doing their thing, you missed a great era of the Yankee dynasty. Fortunately, you also missed the second-half of that decade as well, which means you didn’t see that dynasty crumble, as the players who comprised it grew old or got hurt seemingly all at once. What was left were a bunch of prospects who would never become good big league players along with a few who weren’t yet ready to do so. That forced the Yankees to fill in the holes and gaps with acquisitions from other teams and one of those deals was for a switch-hitting Dodger shortstop named Gene Michael.

The resident of Akron, Ohio had only been in the big leagues for a couple of seasons when the Yanks purchased his contract from Los Angeles, yet Michael was already 30 years old. He was considered a decent fielding shortstop but what had kept him in the minor leagues for so long was his inability to hit. He might have been a switch-hitter but the problem was he really couldn’t swing the bat very well from either side of the plate. In fact, after he averaged just .202 trying to replace Maury Wills as the Dodger shortstop in 1967, Michael spent the following winter in the Florida Instructional League, determined to become a pitcher. That’s when his phone rang and it was Yankee GM Larry MacPhail telling him he was coming to New York where Ralph Houk hoped to make him his starting shortstop. That plan looked like it had flopped decisively after Michael played 61 games at short during the ’68 season and hit just .198. That forced Houk to bring Tom Tresh back in from the outfield to once again play the position at which he had won the 1962 Rookie of the Year Award.

When the 1969 spring training season rolled around, Houk had penciled in Tresh to remain at short but was also hoping Bobby Murcer or Jerry Kenney might win the job in camp. Both players were returning from military service that spring but neither could handle the position and when Tresh started the regular season in a horrible slump, Houk again turned to Michael.

Even though this all happened over 45 years ago, I can remember feeling not-to-thrilled when I heard that Michael was being given the job again. If he had been with the Yankees just a half dozen seasons earlier and hit .198, he’d have been released or buried so deeply in the Yankee farm system his family would have needed a backhoe to find him. So what’s Michael do? He goes out and hits, 272 and fields the position close to brilliantly. Could I have been wrong? Was the player sarcastically nicknamed “Stick” actually evolving into a good stick? Unfortunately no. Houk and Yankee fans like me spent the next four years waiting for Michael to replicate the offense he generated during that 1969 season and he never did.

When Steinbrenner took over the team, Houk left to manage in Detroit and when the Yankees released Michael in January of 1975, he joined the Major in Mo-Town for his final season as a big league player. Steinbrenner may have not respected the Stick as a player but he valued his baseball smarts so he kept giving Michael jobs in the Yankee organization. In 1981, Steinbrenner made him Yankee manager and he had the Yankees in first place when baseball went on strike that June. When play resumed that August, Michael grew so sick of Steinbrenner’s meddling with his handling of the team that he told the Boss to either fire him or shut up. Steinbrenner felt he had no choice but the latter and replaced him with Bob Lemon. The following April, when Lemon’s decision making irked the Boss, he fired him too and replaced him with the Stick.

He would eventually ask Steinbrenner to relieve him as manager because the two argued too much when Michael was in that job. He wanted to work in the Yankee front office and fortunately for the Boss, he gave Michael his wish. So when Faye Vincent suspended the Yankee owner for his roll in the Dave Winfield-Howie Spira episode in 1990, Michael took over control of the organization and is credited with building the team that won four World Series between 1996 and 2000. So the shortstop who signified the end of one Yankee dynasty became the architect of another.

The Stick shares his birthday with this effective Yankee reliever from the late 1990’s, this postseason hero from 2012 and  this former Yankee second baseman.

Michael’s Yankee playing record:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1968 NYY 61 119 116 8 23 3 0 1 8 3 2 23 .198 .218 .250 .468
1969 NYY 119 464 412 41 112 24 4 2 31 7 43 56 .272 .341 .364 .705
1970 NYY 134 491 435 42 93 10 1 2 38 3 50 93 .214 .292 .255 .548
1971 NYY 139 513 456 36 102 15 0 3 35 3 48 64 .224 .299 .276 .576
1972 NYY 126 430 391 29 91 7 4 1 32 4 32 45 .233 .290 .279 .568
1973 NYY 129 446 418 30 94 11 1 3 47 1 26 51 .225 .270 .278 .547
1974 NYY 81 193 177 19 46 9 0 0 13 0 14 24 .260 .313 .311 .623
10 Yrs 973 3092 2806 249 642 86 12 15 226 22 234 421 .229 .288 .284 .572
NYY (7 yrs) 789 2656 2405 205 561 79 10 12 204 21 215 356 .233 .296 .289 .585
PIT (1 yr) 30 33 33 9 5 2 1 0 2 0 0 7 .152 .152 .273 .424
LAD (1 yr) 98 245 223 20 45 3 1 0 7 1 11 30 .202 .246 .224 .470
DET (1 yr) 56 158 145 15 31 2 0 3 13 0 8 28 .214 .253 .290 .543
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/1/2013.

Michael’s Yankee managing record:

Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
1 1981 43 New York Yankees AL 1st of 2 56 34 22 .607 1 First half of season
2 1981 43 New York Yankees AL 1st of 2 26 14 12 .538 6 Second half of season
3 1982 44 New York Yankees AL 2nd of 3 86 44 42 .512 5
New York Yankees 2 years 168 92 76 .548 4.0
Chicago Cubs 2 years 238 114 124 .479 5.5
4 years 406 206 200 .507 4.6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/1/2013.

May 10 – Happy Birthday Ed Barrow

edbarrowThe only thing Edward Grant Barrow couldn’t do real well in the game of baseball, was play it. But nobody managed a team, an organization or a league better than this one-time farm boy from Springield, IL. Barrow’s Yankee career started after he managed the Red Sox and Babe Ruth to a World Series title in 1918. Boston owner, Harry Frazee than began selling his best players for the money he needed to finance his Broadway shows. At the time the Yankees were co-owned by Jacob Rupert and a guy named Tillinghast Huston. The two millionaires hated each other and were constantly arguing about what was best for their baseball team. Hiring Barrow to serve as the team’s business manager in 1920 was about the only thing the two agreed on and it turned out to be the best decision in the history of the Yankee franchise.

Barrow convinced Rupert to make the deal for Ruth. Working closely with Huggins, the new team exec put together a 1921 Yankee roster that won the franchise’s first-ever pennant. Barrow was the architect and overseer of a Yankee minor league organization that became the envy of all of baseball. He handled every detail in the opening and operation of the greatest stadium in the history of US sports. When Huggins died in 1929, it was Barrow who hired Joe McCarthy as soon as the Cubs fired him. Many of the players he put into pinstripes have their faces on plaques that reside in Cooperstown today. Barrow was known for having a fiery temper and for being a strict negotiator. He spent Ruppert’s money as thriftily as if it was his own and his annual contract squabbles with the Yankee stable of superstars were legendary. When Ruppert died and Dan Topping, Del Webb and Larry MacPhail purchased the team, they made Barrow Chairman of the Board. He retired from that position in 1946, after over a half century making his living in and his mark on the game of baseball.  Barrow’s Yankee teams had won 14 Pennants and ten World Series. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1953 and he died that same year at the age of 85.

Barrow shares his May 10th birthday with this one-time Yankee pitcher.

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.