Results tagged ‘ highlanders ’
There must have been a slight but confusing communication problem in the New York Highlander clubhouse during the 1908 season. The manager of that team at the start of the season was Hall of Famer, Clark Griffith, who would go on to become the patriarch of baseball in our nation’s capital. Griffith’s ’08 Highlanders were not a very good team. In fact they were so bad, Griffith voluntarily resigned as skipper in early June, telling the press that he had tried everything possible to fix what was wrong with the squad and was simply giving up, indicating that perhaps he himself was a jinx.
I’m sure one of the “everything possible remedies” the bewildered skipper used was regular pep talks to his team. If these were like most managerial pep talks through the ages, Griffith would end his oratories with the battle cry “Now let’s play ball!” Therein may have lied the problem. The Highlander players would probably just sit there looking at each other and thinking to themselves; “We are playing Ball already at shortstop and we’re still losing!”
They would be referring to one Cornelius “Neal” Ball, their 5 foot 7 inch teammate from Grand Haven, MI. Ball started 132 games at shortstop for the Highlanders in that ’08 season, hitting .247 and leading the league in strikeouts with 91. It was the 27-year-old Ball’s first full big league season and it would be his last one with the Yankees. In May of 1909, New York sold Ball to the Cleveland Nats. Two months later, he became the first Major League player in history to execute an unassisted triple play.
Ball and this very good former starting pitcher are the only two members of the Yankee roster I could find who celebrate a birthday on April 22.
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What was the worst Yankee team in history? During my time as a Yankee fan the candidates for this dubious honor would be the 1966 team that finished dead last in the AL with a 70-89 record or Stump Merrill’s 1990 squad, which finished at the bottom of the AL East Division with a horrid 67-95 mark. Both those teams filled a summer of my life with sports agony. But when you’re trying to identify the very worst Yankee team in the history of the franchise, you have to place the New York Highlander squad of 1908 at the very top of the heap, or more accurately, the very bottom of the pile.
They finished the season with a 51-103 record, which represents a .331 winning percentage, a low-water mark that has stood as the franchise record for team futility for over a century. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the starting right-fielder on that 1908 Yankee/Highlander debacle.
New York had acquired Hemphill the previous November in a trade with the Browns. At the time of that deal, this Greenville, Michigan native was 31-years-old and a veteran of eight big league seasons and five different big league franchises. There were good reasons why he kept his suitcase packed all those years. The guy had hands of stone and he had a real problem with alcohol. On the positive side, in an era when the game was played with the deadest baseball of all-time, Hemphill was considered a good stick. It was his ability with a bat that kept him from getting benched for his poor fielding and persistent drinking and it was the same reason why, whenever a team got tired enough of those faults to get rid of him, he seemed to have no trouble finding a new team willing to take him on.
That 1908 Yankee team did not start out bad. Their Manager, Hall-of-Famer Clark Griffith actually got them out of the gate quickly that year by winning 16 of their first 24 games. But when they lost 24 of their next 32 contests, the bitterly disappointed Griffith resigned and the penny-pinching Highlander ownership made New York’s mercurial shortstop, Kid Elberfeld the team’s player-manager. At the time there wasn’t an umpire in the league who didn’t hate Elberfeld. I’m not certain if that collective hatred had anything to do with the Highlanders going 27-71 under their new manager but I can guarantee you that none of the “men in blue” felt a tinge of sorrow for the Kid’s historic failure in his new role.
Just about the only thing that wasn’t horrible on that 1908 Highlander team was the performance of Charley Hemphill. He put together the best season of his big league career. He led the team in runs, hits, RBIs and average. He also stole a career-high 42 bases. The only things that didn’t improve were his defense (he made 20 errors in ’08) and his drinking but Hemphill had built up enough good will with his offensive performance during his inaugural year in New York that he remained a member of the club’s roster for four seasons.
The team finally released him after the 1911 season and he was able to land a coveted player managing position with a minor league team in Atlanta. But before his first season in that post was over, he was fired because of his drinking and ended up moving to Detroit and working in the auto industry.
Hemphill shares his April 20th birthday with one of my all-time favorite Yankees.
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His real name was James Leslie Vaughn. He was born in Texas, the son of a stone mason and after playing ball for his high school team, he began a career as a minor league pitcher in 1906. The New York Highlanders took notice of him after he went 9-1 for a club in the Arkansas State League and signed Vaughn to a contract. He made his big league debut in June of 1908 as a reliever but after just two appearances he was sent back down to the minors for more seasoning.
He reappeared at the Highlander spring training camp in 1910 and pitched so well there that not only did he go north with the team, he was also given the Opening Day starting assignment. At just 22 years of age, he was and still is the youngest Opening Day starter in Yankee franchise history. In that game, he faced off against the Red Sox Eddie Cicotte in New York’s Hilltop Park and battled the Beantown knuckleballer to a 4-4 tie after 14 innings, when the contest was called because of darkness. Vaughn would go on to pitch brilliantly for Manager George Stallings ball club, finishing his rookie season with a 13-9 record and a sterling ERA of just 1.83. It looked as if the big young southpaw was on his way to an outstanding career and he in fact was. The unfortunate thing was that the best part of that career would not take place in New York.
Vaughn’s Hilltopper team was in complete disarray. Its star player, first baseman Hal Chase had been accused of throwing games by George Stallings, the team’s manager. The team’s owner sided with his accused first baseman, fired Stallings and made Chase the new skipper. Under Stallings, the team had finished in second place in 1910 with an 88-63 record. They fell to sixth place the following year under Chase and Vaughn finished the 1911 season with a disappointing 8-10 record. Chase was fired but that move did nothing to prevent Vaughn from getting off to a horrible start in his third full season in New York. His record was just 2-8 and he had been relegated to the bullpen, when New York put him on waivers in June of the 1912 season. He was claimed by Washington.
He pitched OK for the Senators but still got sold to the minor league Kansas City Blues and the demotion seemed to help Vaughn recover his mound mojo. The Chicago Cubs purchased his contract from the Blues in June of the 1913 season and for five of the next six years, Vaughn was a 20-game winner for the Cubbies and became the top left-handed pitcher in the National League. If the Yanks had kept Vaughn long enough, his pitching may have helped them win their first AL Pennant a few years before they actually did and Vaughn would have certainly had a happier ending to his big league career.
Vaughn ran into two big problems while pitching in the Windy City. The first was his weight. Always heavy, which is how the nickname Hippo originated, by some accounts the six foot four inch Vaughn ballooned up to 300 pounds during the latter part of his career. His second problem arose when Chicago made their volatile infielder, Johnny Evers the team’s player manager at the beginning of the 1921 season. Imagine Joe Girardi telling the press that CC Sabathia was too fat and too lazy to keep winning in the big leagues? That’s what Evers was saying about Hippo, when Vaughn got off to a horrid start during the 1921 season, going just 3-11. After a disastrous appearance against the Giants that July, Evers pulled Hippo in the third inning and the dejected pitcher didn’t just leave the field, he got dressed and jumped the team. The Cubs then suspended him and Vaughn would never again pitch in a big league game. He finished his thirteen year Major League career with a 178-137 record, a lifetime ERA of just 2.49 and 41 shutouts.
You couldn’t blame the Yankee fans back in June of 1904 for getting real excited when they heard the news that their favorite team, then known as the Highlanders, had just traded a rookie named Bob Unglaub for Boston’s star left fielder, Patsy Dougherty. After all, Unglaub had barely played for New York during the first half of that season, while Dougherty had led the American League in both runs and hits the season before, averaged .331 and became the first player ever to hit two home runs in one World Series game the previous postseason against Pittsburgh. Patsy also held the distinction of being the first AL hitter ever to get an at bat in a regular season baseball game in the Big Apple when he led off for Boston in their 1903 season opener against New York in Hilltop Park.
Dougherty had a strong first season for New York, hitting .283 and leading the league in runs scored for the second straight year. But that turned out to be the apex of his Big Apple playing performance. During the next two seasons his batting average plummeted and as a result, so did his playing time. He was sold to the White Sox in June of 1906. The change of scenery revived him and he played five more years in the Windy City before retiring in 1911. Dougherty was born in Andover, NY in 1876 and passed away in 1940. He is the only member of the Yankee all-time roster who celebrates his birthday on October 26th.
Counting Patsy Dougherty, seventeen different Yankees have led the American League in runs scored during at least one of the past 111 big league seasons. Here they are in chronological order. Note multiple winners have the number of times they led league in scoring as a Yankee, in parenthesis following their names: Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez (2), Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Ricky Henderson (2), Roy White, Bobby Murcer, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle (5), Tommy Henrich, Snuffy Stirnweiss (2), Red Rolfe, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig (4), Babe Ruth (7), Patsy Dougherty.
It was certainly fun to watch the Yankees spoil Fenway Park’s 100th Anniversary Celebration earlier this season when they overcame a 9-run deficit to beat Boston in front of thirty-something thousand stunned members of Red Sox nation and just about every living former Red Sox on the planet. A century ago, it was the Red Sox who overcame a three-run Yankee lead to win the inaugural game at Fenway, 7-6. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was New York’s starting right-fielder in that 1912 game, who became the first man ever to get a Fenway Park base hit, when he took a half-swing at Boston hurler Buck O’Brien’s pitch and tapped the ball slowly on-the-ground toward the mound. O’Brien got to the ball but when he wheeled to throw to first, no one was covering the bag and Harry Wolter was safe and part of Fenway Park history.
Wolter had joined the Yankees (who were then called the Highlanders) in 1909, when the Red Sox put him on waivers and Yankee Manager, George Stallings grabbed the then 24-year-old native of Monterey, CA. Like many position players from that era, Wolter had spent the early part of his career doubling as a pitcher, before devoting himself full time to the outfield once he came to New York. The Yankees had picked him up at exactly the right time in his career. Wolter started in right field for New York in 1910 and hit a respectable .267 and scored 84 runs. After Wolter’s home run beat the Red Sox in an early season game that year, Skipper Stallings told the press that the $1,500 paid to get the young outfielder was indeed a bargain. Wolter was just getting started.
During his second season in New York, he hit .304, belting 132 hits that included 17 doubles, 15 triples and 4 home runs. Although not especially big physically, this guy had good pop in his bat and the Yankees really did expect him to evolve into one of the league’s top stars. Unfortunately, that evolution pretty much ended 12 games into the 1912 season, when Wolter broke his ankle sliding into second. He would come back the following year and once again start in right field, but he had lost much of his speed and his average fell to .254. The Yankees did not re-sign him following that 1913 season and he went back to California, where in addition to playing in the Pacific Coast League, he got involved coaching for the Stanford University baseball team. He would eventually serve as head baseball coach at that prestigious school for a record (since broken) 26 seasons.
Also born on this date was a former Yankee pitcher with a name so complicated, even his mother couldn’t pronounce it.