Results tagged ‘ march 3 ’
By 1991 both the Yankees’ front-office decision making and the team’s starting pitching had gotten so bad that we fans were being told today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the best southpaw starter in the American League. I remember wanting to believe it but having a hard time doing so because I had been watching Cary struggle on the Yankee Stadium mound for two seasons by then. If he was indeed one of the best pitchers in the junior circuit he had been doing a masterful job disguising it.
The six foot four inch native of California had made his big league debut pitching out of the Detroit Tiger bullpen in 1985. He than spent the next four seasons bouncing back and forth between the minors and majors, Detroit had traded him to Atlanta in 1987 and when his inconsistency on the mound continued, the Braves gave him his outright release after the 1988 regular season.
That’s when the Yankees signed him as a free agent. He didn’t make New York’s roster out of spring training in 1989 but he was called up in May to pitch relief for Manager Dallas Green’s club. By late July, it was clear that season’s starting staff of Andy Hawkins, Clay Parker, Dave LaPoint, Greg Cadaret and Walt Terrell were not going to get New York into fall ball so Cary, who was pitching impressively out of the bullpen, was given an opportunity to join the rotation. He put together five consecutive quality starts, including two straight complete game victories. Though he tired in August and was hurt in September, his 4-4 record and his 3.26 ERA were at least something to build on.
Unfortunately, Cary’s building skills were not very good. In 1990 he became part of one of the worst performing starting rotations in Yankee franchise history. All five starters (the other four were Hawkins, LaPoint, Time Leary and Mike Witt) finished with losing records and not one of them won as many as ten games or had an ERA below 4.11. Cary went 6-12 with a 4.19 ERA. That Yankee team finished dead last in the AL Eastern Division.
That’s why the following spring, when Yankee pitching coach Jimmy Connor was telling every Yankee beat reporter who would listen to him that Cary could very well become a 20-game-winner that year, it made you wonder if there was another Chuck Cary on New York’s spring training roster. According to both Connor and Yankee manager Stump Merrill, Cary’s problem during his first two seasons in New York was that he had gotten away from throwing his screwball to right-handed hitters and was trying to overpower everyone with his fastball. The weakness with that rationale was that even when he was throwing the screwball, he had never won more than eight games in a season in the minors or the majors. Why would things be any different now? They weren’t.
Cary had a horrendous 1-6 start for New York in 1991 and an ERA that was just a shade under six runs per game. By June of that year he was back in Columbus and that October, the Yankee released him. He did get one more shot in the big leagues two years later with the White Sox and that was it. His final eight-season big league record was 14-26 (11-22 as a Yankee) with 3 saves and a 4.17 ERA. He may not have been able to start or close a big league game but he certainly was an all star when it came to starting and closing real estate deals. In his post baseball career, Cary has successfully sold billions of dollars worth of properties.
I guarantee you that very few Yankee fans have ever heard of Steve Souchok. That’s too bad because the guy was a genuine hero, not on the baseball field but on the battlefield. Souchok’s story begins in a town called Yatesboro, Pennsylvania, in the heart of coal-mining country, where he was born on March 3, 1919. He became a great high school athlete but he couldn’t think about college because with the country in the midst of a depression, his coal-miner Dad became ill and Souchok needed to find a job. He went to Detroit, hoping to work in the auto industry but grew homesick and returned to Yatesboro. He got a tryout with a Washington Senator farm team in nearby Greensberg. They offered him $65 a month to play for the team but within a year, the club went bankrupt and Souchok became the property of the New York Yankees. During the next three seasons he developed rapidly as a ballplayer but America’s entry into WWII changed his career path. He turned in his bat for a gun. Souchok enlisted in the army and was sent to France where he was made part of a tank destroyer battalion. He eventually became commander of his own gun crew. He would take that crew all the way to Germany during the final two years of the War, fighting so valiantly along the way that he was awarded both a silver and a bronze star. If you know any military veterans ask them what it takes to win either of these medals. Better yet, Google these commendations and find out for yourself. It will help you better understand the sort of exceptional soldier Steve Souchok actually was.
By the time the war ended and he got back to baseball, Souchok was already 27-years-old. To accommodate all the ballplayers returning from service to their country, Major League Baseball expanded the big league rosters from 25-to-30 players. Those five extra slots made it possible for Souchok to make his big league debut in pinstripes during the 1946 season and it was a pretty decent opening act for the returning war hero. He appeared in 46 games that season, mostly as a backup first baseman. He got 26 hits in 86 at bats to average .302 and hit his first two big league home runs. The following year, Souchok’s batting average fell 100 points and the well-stocked Yankees gave up on him, trading him to the White Sox. Souchok would spend just one season in the Windy City before returning to Detroit, where he was once a homesick auto worker. He would remain with the Tigers as a utility player for the final five years of his big league career, never earning a starting position during that time. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 83.
This Brooklyn-born Hall-of-Fame, former Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee starting pitcher also celebrate birthdays today.
Of all the incredible things I’ve learned about Wee Willie Keeler during my research for today’s post, I was most impressed by the fact that it is now called a third strike when a Major League hitter fouls off a two-strike bunt attempt because of this guy. Evidently, Willie never ever failed to make contact with the ball when bunting so he could just foul two strike bunts off all day long and run the opposing team’s pitcher and infield ragged in the process.
At just 5’4″ tall, Willie had to learn how to bunt, slap-hit and high-hop his way into baseball immortality. He developed and refined these skills as a member of the great Baltimore Oriole clubs of the 1890s, where he teamed with future Hall of Famers, John McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Hughie Jennings and Dan Brouthers to win three straight NL Pennants.
Keeler joined Brooklyn in 1899 and jumped to the Yankees (then called the Highlanders) in 1903 before retiring as a player with the Giants and his old friend McGraw, in 1910. His record of eight straight seasons with 200 or more hits was only just broken in 2009, by the great Ichiro Suzuki. Willie batted a remarkable .341 lifetime and was considered one of the baseball’s all-time great base-runners and defensive right-fielders. He died in Brooklyn in the same apartment he was born in, at the age of fifty, in 1923. He was one of the most beloved figures in Big Apple sports during his era.
Wee Willie shares his birthday with this WWII hero and this former Yankee starting pitcher.