Results tagged ‘ starting pitcher ’

September 12 – Happy Birthday Spud Chandler

This Commerce, Georgia native, who was born in 1907, didn’t throw his first pitch in a Major League baseball game until he was almost thirty years old. Some may think it was the name his parents gave him that delayed his arrival in the big leagues. Imagine you were the person in the Yankee front office who was responsible for notifying the team’s minor league players  that they were being called up to the parent club. Someone hands you a message that reads “Call Spurgeon Chandler and tell him to report immediately.” You’d probably start laughing so hard you wouldn’t be able to pick up the phone.

The truth is, however, that Spud was one of those rare future Major League baseball players who attended college during the years of the Great Depression. After he graduated from the University of Georgia, where he was also a star football player, it took Spud five more seasons to work his way up to the Bronx. Even then, an assortment of nagging injuries cut down on his starts during the first half of his ten-year career in Pinstripes.

That all changed in 1942, when Chandler went 16-5 and then in 1943 he had one the greatest seasons of any Yankee right-hander before or since. Spud went 20-4 that year with a microscopic 1.64 ERA and won the AL MVP Award, leading the Yankees to their third straight AL Pennant. He went on to pitch two complete game victories over the Cardinals in that year’s Fall Classic, giving up just one earned run in the process.

Spud made just five starts during the next two seasons but it was service in WWII and not injuries or school that prevented him from playing full seasons. When he returned from service in 1946 he put together his second twenty-victory season. By 1947, however, he was approaching forty years of age and his body could not do it anymore. Chandler retired with a regular season career record of 109-43. Who knows? He’d probably be in Cooperstown today if he’d skipped college and didn’t serve his country in a war.

This late great Yankee outfielder shares Chandler’s September 12th birthday.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1937 NYY 7 4 .636 2.84 12 10 0 6 2 0 82.1 79 31 26 8 20 31 1.202
1938 NYY 14 5 .737 4.03 23 23 0 14 2 0 172.0 183 86 77 7 47 36 1.337
1939 NYY 3 0 1.000 2.84 11 0 5 0 0 0 19.0 26 7 6 0 9 4 1.842
1940 NYY 8 7 .533 4.60 27 24 2 6 1 0 172.0 184 100 88 12 60 56 1.419
1941 NYY 10 4 .714 3.19 28 20 5 11 4 4 163.2 146 68 58 5 60 60 1.259
1942 NYY 16 5 .762 2.38 24 24 0 17 3 0 200.2 176 64 53 13 74 74 1.246
1943 NYY 20 4 .833 1.64 30 30 0 20 5 0 253.0 197 62 46 5 54 134 0.992
1944 NYY 0 0 4.50 1 1 0 0 0 0 6.0 6 3 3 1 1 1 1.167
1945 NYY 2 1 .667 4.65 4 4 0 2 1 0 31.0 30 16 16 2 7 12 1.194
1946 NYY 20 8 .714 2.10 34 32 2 20 6 2 257.1 200 71 60 7 90 138 1.127
1947 NYY 9 5 .643 2.46 17 16 0 13 2 0 128.0 100 41 35 4 41 68 1.102
11 Yrs 109 43 .717 2.84 211 184 14 109 26 6 1485.0 1327 549 468 64 463 614 1.205
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/18/2013.

September 11 – Happy Birthday Bill Hogg

BillHoggNew York had been in the thick of the 1904 AL Pennant race right up until a fluttering knuckleball from 41-game winner Jack Chesbro got past catcher Red Kleinow permitting the winning run to score during the team’s next-to-the-last game of that season. Hopes were high that the team’s starting rotation, led by Chesbro, Al Orth and Red Powell would lead the Highlanders to the league crown in ’05. Joining that trio for the new season would be a young right-hander named William “Buffalo Bill” Hogg.

Hogg was born in Michigan in 1881 but grew up in Pueblo, Colorado. New York signed him after he won a total of 33 games for two different minor league clubs in 1904. At six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, he was considered a “big” guy for his time and developed a reputation for being mean and nasty on the mound.

He pitched decently for New York during his 1905 rookie season but with Chesbro winning 23 fewer games, the Highlanders fell to sixth place. He had his best season in ’06 posting a career high 14 victories as New York improved to a second-place finish. After one more winning season in ’07, Hogg had an illness filled final year in New York and was released. He was trying to regain his health and pitch his way back to the big leagues when he died suddenly,while on a winter barnstorming tour in New Orleans. The cause of death was Brights Disease. Hogg was just 28-years-old at the time.

Hogg shares his birthday with this former Yankee catcher and this one-time Yankee prospect.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1905 NYY 9 13 .409 3.20 39 22 13 9 3 1 205.0 178 104 73 1 101 125 1.361
1906 NYY 14 13 .519 2.93 28 25 3 15 3 0 206.0 171 77 67 5 72 107 1.180
1907 NYY 10 8 .556 3.08 25 21 2 13 0 0 166.2 173 84 57 3 83 64 1.536
1908 NYY 4 16 .200 3.01 24 21 3 6 0 0 152.1 155 89 51 4 63 72 1.431
4 Yrs 37 50 .425 3.06 116 89 21 43 6 1 730.0 677 354 248 13 319 368 1.364
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/18/2013.

September 5 – Happy Birthday Al Orth

OrthWatching CC Sabathia pitch during most of the 2013 season has not always been fun. I’m a huge fan of the Yankee ace but it looks as if the elbow surgery he underwent last year or maybe the pounds he took off during the offseason has had a negative impact on the velocity of his fastball. As a result, he’s learning how to pitch without a 95 mph heater in his arsenal and at times during the process, he’s been forced to learn some hard-hit lessons.

I wish I could have Sabathia talk to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Al Orth, who in addition to being known as “Smiling Al” was also called “the Curveless Wonder” during his long-ago big league pitching career that began with the Phillies in 1895. Orth was considered to be one of the “softest throwing” pitchers in baseball history.

Hitters who faced the brawny right-hander did not worry about striking out. Orth fanned just two hitters per game during his 15-season career. Instead, opposing batsman fought impatience and attention deficit disorder as they watched and waited for Orth’s soft-tossed but well-aimed offerings to finally get close enough to the plate to swing at them.

The native of Sedalia, Missouri jumped to the newly formed American League in 1902 and pitched two-plus seasons for the Washington Senators before getting traded to the Yankees during the 1904 season, who were then still known as the Highlanders. In New York, he was united with “Happy” Jack Chesbro and introduced to Chesbro’s signature pitch, the spitball.

Experimenting with the juiced baseball, Orth found immediate success. He went 11-6 during his first partial season with the club and by 1906, he was throwing the wet one well enough to lead the AL in wins with 27. But Father Time and about nine-hundred innings of work the previous three seasons caught up to the veteran hurler. He turned 34-years-old in 1907 and when he lost 21 games that year, he became the first pitcher in history to lead the league in wins one season and in losses the next. When he lost 13 of his 15 decisions in ’08, the Yankees didn’t want him pitching any more but they did still want him on the team. Why?

In addition to being pretty good on the mound, Al Orth was one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball history. When he retired in 1909, he had a lifetime batting average of .273 and 184 career RBI’s. So in addition to having him talk to CC, if Orth was still around today, I might have him chat with Vernon Wells and Chris Stewart too. When he finally did quit playing, Orth became a big league umpire for a while. He died in 1948 at the age of 76.

Orth shares his birthday with this WWII-era Yankee first baseman and this more recent Yankee reliever.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1904 NYY 11 6 .647 2.68 20 18 2 11 2 0 137.2 122 47 41 0 19 47 1.024
1905 NYY 18 16 .529 2.86 40 37 3 26 6 0 305.1 273 122 97 8 61 121 1.094
1906 NYY 27 17 .614 2.34 45 39 5 36 3 0 338.2 317 115 88 2 66 133 1.131
1907 NYY 14 21 .400 2.61 36 33 3 21 2 0 248.2 244 134 72 2 53 78 1.194
1908 NYY 2 13 .133 3.42 21 17 3 8 1 0 139.1 134 62 53 4 30 22 1.177
1909 NYY 0 0 12.00 1 1 0 0 0 0 3.0 6 4 4 0 1 1 2.333
15 Yrs 204 189 .519 3.37 440 394 44 324 31 6 3354.2 3564 1704 1256 75 661 948 1.259
PHI (7 yrs) 100 72 .581 3.49 193 173 20 149 14 4 1504.2 1687 816 584 31 314 359 1.330
NYY (6 yrs) 72 73 .497 2.72 163 145 16 102 14 0 1172.2 1096 484 355 16 230 402 1.131
WSH (3 yrs) 32 44 .421 4.21 84 76 8 73 3 2 677.1 781 404 317 28 117 187 1.326
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/5/2013.

September 4 – Happy Birthday Doyle Alexander

Doyle Alexander would never win a Mr Cogeniality contest.  He had two tours of duty as a Yankee starter and made few friends in either. His first stay in the Bronx did however, reap significant dividends for both team and player.  It began during the 1976 season, when Doyle was part of a ten-player deal between New York and Baltimore. He went 10-5 after putting on the pinstripes that year, playing a huge role in helping New York capture the 1976 AL Pennant. He then got hammered in his only postseason start against the Reds in the ’76 World Series and I believe it was that shaky appearance and the fact that nobody in the Yankee organization was a big fan of Alexander’s prickly personality, that permitted the Texas Rangers to swoop in and sign the big right-hander to a free agent deal.

By 1982, this native of Cordova, Alabama was pitching for San Francisco and the Yankees traded for him a second time. Alexander was not so great during his encore appearance in pinstripes. In fact, when Steinbrenner insulted the pitcher by telling reporters he got hit so hard the Yankee infielders were afraid to play behind him, wise-guy Graig Nettles rubbed a bit more salt in the wound by adding that he would even avoid sitting in the bleachers when Alexander was on the mound. He won just one of nine decisions during his repeat stay in the Bronx and New York released him early on in the 1983 season. He went on to become a 17-game winner for the Blue Jays in each of the next two seasons. Born on this date in 1950, Alexander retired after the 1989 season with a Big League record of 194-174.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1976 NYY 10 5 .667 3.29 19 19 0 5 2 0 136.2 114 54 50 9 39 41 1.120
1982 NYY 1 7 .125 6.08 16 11 3 0 0 0 66.2 81 52 45 14 14 26 1.425
1983 NYY 0 2 .000 6.35 8 5 2 0 0 0 28.1 31 21 20 6 7 17 1.341
19 Yrs 194 174 .527 3.76 561 464 56 98 18 3 3367.2 3376 1541 1406 324 978 1528 1.293
BAL (5 yrs) 35 37 .486 3.41 137 64 43 19 4 3 593.0 559 260 225 41 196 215 1.273
TOR (4 yrs) 46 26 .639 3.56 106 103 2 25 3 0 750.0 752 315 297 81 172 392 1.232
ATL (3 yrs) 25 27 .481 4.09 68 68 0 12 1 0 466.2 477 235 212 50 118 252 1.275
TEX (3 yrs) 31 28 .525 3.89 88 80 6 19 2 0 541.1 533 252 234 45 222 213 1.395
NYY (3 yrs) 11 14 .440 4.47 43 35 5 5 2 0 231.2 226 127 115 29 60 84 1.235
DET (3 yrs) 29 29 .500 3.91 78 78 0 13 5 0 540.1 568 256 235 61 148 265 1.325
SFG (1 yr) 11 7 .611 2.89 24 24 0 1 1 0 152.1 156 51 49 11 44 77 1.313
LAD (1 yr) 6 6 .500 3.80 17 12 0 4 0 0 92.1 105 45 39 6 18 30 1.332
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/4/2013.

August 30 – Happy Birthday Roger Erickson

ericksonOpening Day of the 1982 season marked the official beginning of the second fall of the Yankee Dynasty. At that point, George Steinbrenner’s team had played in five of the previous six postseasons and split their four World Series appearances. But fall ball would become a memory for the franchise as the ’82 regular season commenced. It would be fourteen seasons before the Yanks made it back to the playoffs and fifteen years before they once again were participants (and victors) in a Fall Classic.

The 1981 strike and the Yankees’ loss to the Dodgers in that year’s Series seemed to push the Boss a bit over the edge. He became even more directly involved in the team’s personnel decisions. Convinced that his Bronx Bombers needed to convert to a small ball offense, he began drafting and trading for pieces that he thought fit that scheme. He also seemed intent on seeking revenge on Yankee players who had disappointed him. In the process, he created a hodge-podge roster that floundered in the AL East.

One of the players he was pissed at was Yankee starting catcher Rick Cerone. The Boss and the receiver had gotten into a highly publicized locker-room argument after Cerone’s base-running blunder cost the Yankees a game during the 1981 ALDS. Enflaming that situation was Steinbrenner’s anger over the fact that Cerone had taken him to salary arbitration before that ’81 season and won. So when the catcher had a horrible ALCS and World Series, the Yankee owner had the excuse he needed to go out and get another starting catcher. That turned out to be Butch Wynegar, who after a strong first couple of years behind the plate in Minnesota, had evolved into a very ordinary big league receiver.

In late May of the 1982 season, the Yankees made the deal to bring the Twins’ catcher and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant to New York. Like Wynegar, Roger Erickson had gotten his big league career off to an excellent start in Minnesota with a 14-win rookie season in 1978 and like his battery mate, it had been pretty much downhill for him ever since. A tall slender right hander and a native of Springfield, Illinois, Erickson’s father Don had pitched one game for the Phillies and his Uncle and two cousins had all pitched for a time in the minors.

He got off to a horrible start as a Yankee losing his first four decisions, but then rebounded during the month of July to win four consecutive starts. That’s when he hurt his right shoulder and was pretty much shelved for the rest of the season. In the mean time, that 1982 Yankee team went through three managers and finished in fifth place in the AL East.

The following spring, a healthy Erickson was looking forward to getting back into New York’s starting rotation but instead was told he’d start the 1983 season pitching for Columbus. The bitterly disappointed pitcher told the team he would retire if he was sent back to the minors. The Yankees tried to assure him he was part of their future and in a classic retort, the pitcher told them he didn’t want to be part of their future because “Its frustrating enough being part of your present.” That just about sums up what it must have felt like for plenty of the players who came and went from the Bronx during that fourteen year period of post-seasonless play. A team owned by a ship-builder that ironically seemed to be operating without a rudder.

Eventually, Erickson did accept the demotion and then got called back up that September. Three months later, he was traded to the Royals with Steve Balboni for two guys you probably never heard of. Erickson never threw another pitch in the big leagues.

He shares his birthday with this former Yankee third baseman and this former Yankee outfielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1982 NYY 4 5 .444 4.46 16 11 1 0 0 1 70.2 86 36 35 5 17 37 1.458
1983 NYY 0 1 .000 4.32 5 0 2 0 0 0 16.2 13 8 8 1 8 7 1.260
6 Yrs 35 53 .398 4.13 135 117 5 24 0 1 799.1 868 419 367 68 251 365 1.400
MIN (5 yrs) 31 47 .397 4.10 114 106 2 24 0 0 712.0 769 375 324 62 226 321 1.397
NYY (2 yrs) 4 6 .400 4.43 21 11 3 0 0 1 87.1 99 44 43 6 25 44 1.420
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/31/2013.

August 19 – Happy Birthday Atley Donald

The more I learned about former Yankee pitcher Atley Donald while doing research for today’s post, the more I liked the guy. A southern boy, who moved to Louisiana as a child, Donald was a great high school athlete who became a fire-balling college pitcher at LSU. When no big league scouts offered him a contract, Donald headed to St Petersburg, FL for the 1934 Major League spring training season, with $25 in his pocket. His goal was to convince his favorite big league team, the Yankees, to give him a tryout before his money ran out. When he got to that tryout, New York manager Joe McCarthy was impressed enough with the right-hander’s fastball that he kept the young pitcher in camp and when it was over, got him a deal to pitch for the Yankee’s Class C affiliate in Wheeling, West Virginia. From there to Norfolk, to Binghamton and finally to Newark, Atley pitched outstandingly all the way up New York’s chain of farm teams.

The Yankees gave him his first shot at the big leagues in 1938 but he wasn’t quite ready. He proved to be more than ready the following year when he burst into the Bronx and won his first 12 starts of the season. But the Yankees had so much starting pitching that year, McCarthy hardly used his hard-throwing rookie the final two months of the season. Donald finished 1939 with a 13-3 record and a 3.71 ERA. That was probably his most successful season in pinstripes. Over the next half dozen seasons, Donald would experience plenty of physical problems including a bad back and a loss of vision in his left eye. Still, when healthy, he was able to pitch effectively compiling a 65-33 career record during his eight seasons as a Yankee. During his final big league appearance in July of 1946, he tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. When the Yankees offered him a scouting position, Donald accepted it and spent the next few decades finding new Yankee talent in and around Louisiana. His signings included catcher Jake Gibbs and the great Ron Guidry.

Donald shares his August 19th birthday with this great former Yankee second baseman who was also born in the south.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1938 NYY 0 1 .000 5.25 2 2 0 0 0 0 12.0 7 8 7 0 14 6 1.750
1939 NYY 13 3 .813 3.71 24 20 2 11 2 1 153.0 144 74 63 12 60 55 1.333
1940 NYY 8 3 .727 3.03 24 11 10 6 1 0 118.2 113 49 40 11 59 60 1.449
1941 NYY 9 5 .643 3.57 22 20 2 10 0 0 159.0 141 69 63 11 69 71 1.321
1942 NYY 11 3 .786 3.11 20 19 0 10 1 0 147.2 133 58 51 6 45 53 1.205
1943 NYY 6 4 .600 4.60 22 15 5 2 0 0 119.1 134 69 61 10 38 57 1.441
1944 NYY 13 10 .565 3.34 30 19 9 9 0 0 159.0 173 77 59 13 59 48 1.459
1945 NYY 5 4 .556 2.97 9 9 0 6 2 0 63.2 62 29 21 3 25 19 1.366
8 Yrs 65 33 .663 3.52 153 115 28 54 6 1 932.1 907 433 365 66 369 369 1.369
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/19/2013.

August 16 – Happy Birthday Tiny Bonham

tiny.bonhamIf I had been around back then, I would have been a fan of Tiny Bonham. “Back then” was the WWII era and Bohnam was this big six-feet-two-inch lug of a Yankee right-hander who was born in northern California in 1913. He was the grandson of a 49er, not the football 49ers mind you but the prospectors who invaded the state when gold was discovered in the hills near Sacramento way back in 1849. Grandpa didn’t strike it rich but he did settle the Bonham’s in northern California. Tiny grew up there, developing his bulk and muscle early on in his teen years by working on his dad’s farm, a lumber camp and the shipping docks of Oakland. He had huge powerful hands with long fingers, two essential characteristics for developing a good fork ball and Bonham had one of the best ever.

The Yankees signed him to a contract in 1935 and he spent the next five years putting up good numbers at each level of New York’s farm system. His call-up to the Bronx came in August of the 1940 season. Joe McCarthy’s Yankee team was the four-time defending World Champions that year but they were floundering badly. Bonham proved to be just the medicine the ailing team needed. McCarthy started him 12 times and he went 9-3 while posting a sparkling 1.90 ERA and throwing three shutouts. The Yanks had been one-game over .500 when Tiny joined the team and finished the season twenty-two games over the break-even mark. Though only good enough for third place, Marse Joe told sportswriters if he had had Bonham at the beginning of the year, the Yanks would have won the pennant. The Hall-of-Fame skipper then proved his point by using Bonham to help him do exactly that during the next three seasons.

In 1941, a back injury Bonham had sustained as a youngster working in the lumber camp flared up and limited his action that season. McCarthy used him wisely out of the bullpen and as a spot starter. He won nine of his fifteen decisions that year, picked up two saves and that fall, won the fifth and deciding game against Brooklyn in a one-run, four-hit, complete game effort to win his first World Series ring. In 1942 his back felt better and he became one of the premier pitchers in all of baseball. He put together a 21-win season that included a league-leading six shutouts and an ERA of just 2.27. Always blessed with outstanding control, Tiny walked just 24 batters that year in 226 innings of pitching and surrendered the fewest walks-plus-hits per inning pitched (WHIP) of any hurler in the majors. He lost his only start against the Cardinals in the 1942 World Series, which the Yanks lost in five games

The condition of his back was bad enough to keep him out of military service during the war but not bad enough to prevent him from continuing to pitch for the Yankees. He won fifteen games in 1943 and though he again lost to St Louis in that year’s Fall Classic he did earn his second ring when the Yankees avenged their loss to the Cards from the previous year. Bonham’s back problems became more severe during the 1944 and ’45 seasons causing him to suffer through his only two losing seasons in pinstripes. In 1946, he got swept-up in the “clean-house” campaign of new Yankee co-owner Lee MacPhail Sr. and was traded to the Pirates for somebody named Cookie Cuccurullo.

Though his back ached, Boham still had enough talent and grit to go 11-8 for a very bad Pittsburgh team that finished 30 games below five hundred. Even more impressive were the three shutouts Tiny threw that year. He would not be able to keep up that pace during his final two seasons with the Pirates and he was planning to retire and return home to California, when he decided to check into a Pittsburgh hospital during the final month of the 1949 season to find the cause of the severe stomach pains he was experiencing. His doctors decided to perform an appendectomy on the 36-year-old pitcher. During the operation intestinal cancer was discovered and a week later Ernie “Tiny” Bonham was dead.

By all accounts, everyone loved Tiny. He had a great sense of humor, was easy-going and considered a great teammate. Upon his untimely death, his widow and child were supposed to become the first beneficiaries of a pension plan league owners had agreed to establish for the players and their families. Mrs. Bonham was due to receive $90 per month. The problem was that the owners had not funded the plan. Learning this enraged the players and in order to avert a full scale labor rebellion, then MLB Commissioner Happy Chandler went out and sold radio and television broadcast rights to the Gillette Razor Blade Company for the next six years for one million dollars per year and used the proceeds to get funds into the plan quickly. In his haste, it seems Chandler left some money on the table. Gillette broadcasting rights were later sold to NBC for four million dollars annually.

Bonham shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and this current Yankee third base coach.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1940 NYY 9 3 .750 1.90 12 12 0 10 3 0 99.1 83 24 21 4 13 37 0.966
1941 NYY 9 6 .600 2.98 23 14 5 7 1 2 126.2 118 44 42 12 31 43 1.176
1942 NYY 21 5 .808 2.27 28 27 1 22 6 0 226.0 199 65 57 11 24 71 0.987
1943 NYY 15 8 .652 2.27 28 26 1 17 4 1 225.2 197 63 57 13 52 71 1.103
1944 NYY 12 9 .571 2.99 26 25 0 17 1 0 213.2 228 84 71 14 41 54 1.259
1945 NYY 8 11 .421 3.29 23 23 0 12 0 0 180.2 186 72 66 11 22 42 1.151
1946 NYY 5 8 .385 3.70 18 14 4 6 2 3 104.2 97 47 43 6 23 30 1.146
10 Yrs 103 72 .589 3.06 231 193 27 110 21 9 1551.0 1501 580 528 117 287 478 1.153
NYY (7 yrs) 79 50 .612 2.73 158 141 11 91 17 6 1176.2 1108 399 357 71 206 348 1.117
PIT (3 yrs) 24 22 .522 4.11 73 52 16 19 4 3 374.1 393 181 171 46 81 130 1.266
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/15/2013.

August 4 – Happy Birthday Jeff Johnson

jeffjohnsonAfter ten years of futility attempting to do so, George Steinbrenner made the decision to stop trying to purchase free agent starting pitchers and to instead go with some of the organization’s top minor league prospects. The problem with that strategy was timing. If “the Boss” had made that decision earlier in the 1980′s, it might have meant that Doug Drabek would have won his Cy Young Award as a Yankee instead of a Pirate and Jose Rijo might have been World Series MVP for the Bronx Bombers instead of the Cincinnati Reds. But by waiting until the end of the decade, the Yanks were counting on the young unproven arms of prospects like Wade Taylor, Dave Eiland and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. I don’t know if Steinbrenner played poker but I guarantee you that if he did, he would end up gladly trading that “three of a kind” for just a single ace.

Johnson was the Yankees sixth round pick in the 1988 draft. He had pitched well during his first three years in the lower levels of New York’s farm system but it was his perfect 4-0 start-of-the-season at triple A Columbus that convinced the Yanks to add him to the parent club’s rotation in June of 1991. A six foot three inch well-built southpaw, he was 24 years-old at the time of his Yankee debut and he looked like a Major League pitcher. That look proved to be deceiving.

Johnson’s problem turned out to be an inability to get ahead in the count on big league hitters. Once he fell behind them, his must strike pitches were much to hittable. He finished a disappointing 6-11 during his rookie season, which was not that bad considering that ’91 Yankee team finished in fifth place in the AL East, twenty games below five hundred. What was more troubling however, was Johnson’s first-year 5.95 ERA. He was showing a consistent inability to get outs at the big league level. Taylor finished that year with a 7-12 record and a 6.27 ERA and Eiland’s numbers were 2-5, 5.33. So much for the Yankees’ patience with starting pitching prospects.

Johnson was the only one of the three who would be part of the team’s starting rotation the next Opening Day, but that status didn’t last long. By the end of April he was 1-2 with a 6.57 ERA and first-year Yankee manager, Buck Showalter demoted him to bullpen duty. He got one more shot in the rotation that June but again failed to impress and was sent back to Columbus. That’s where he started the 1993 season as well. His one last big league chance came in June of that season. Showalter brought him in out of the bullpen twice that month and he gave up a total 12 hits and 9 earned runs in those 2.2 innings of pitching. Johnson’s Yankee and big league career were over. He is now a minor league pitching coach.

Johnson shares his birthday with this multiple Cy Young Award winner, this former Yankee skipper and this former Yankee reliever.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1991 NYY 6 11 .353 5.95 23 23 0 0 0 0 127.0 156 89 84 15 33 62 1.488
1992 NYY 2 3 .400 6.66 13 8 3 0 0 0 52.2 71 44 39 4 23 14 1.785
1993 NYY 0 2 .000 30.38 2 2 0 0 0 0 2.2 12 10 9 1 2 0 5.250
3 Yrs 8 16 .333 6.52 38 33 3 0 0 0 182.1 239 143 132 20 58 76 1.629
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/4/2013.

August 1 – Happy Birthday Slim Love

His real name was Edward Haughton Love but folks called him “Slim” because he was 6’7″ tall but weighed just 195 pounds. When he joined the Washington Senators in 1913, he became the tallest player in the big leagues.  He was born in 1890 in a place called Love, Mississippi, making him the only Yankee to be born in a home town that shared his last name. A story that appeared in a 1913 Washington Post edition reported that Love had actually bragged his way into his first minor league tryout while tossing a few back, on a bar stool in Memphis.

Most likely under the influence of one too many cocktails, he started telling his fellow imbibers that he had come to the Tennessee city to pitch the town’s Memphis Turtles ball club to a Southern Association League championship. It just so happened that the owner of the bar was a friend  of the Turtles’ manager and he was able to arrange a tryout for Love. That tryout reportedly took place during an exhibition game between the Turtles and the Cleveland Indians, when Love was called in to face the legendary Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie with the bases loaded. Slim evidently and amazingly struck out the future Hall-of-Famer. I use the word amazingly, because it was soon thereafter apparent to the Turtles that the bold-tongued youngster could throw the ball hard but he had no idea where his pitches would end up. In other words, Love really didn’t know a thing about pitching.  But the impressive speed of his fastball and that strikeout of Lajoie finally got him a minor league contract and he spent the next three years trying to figure out how to get the ball to go where he wanted it to go, an objective he would never quite master.

He did however get good enough to win 21 games for New York between 1916 and 1918. Thirteen of those wins came in 1918, Miller Huggins first year as manager of the Yankees. New York’s starting pitching rotation at the time was very thin so Huggins kept starting Love that year even though he had a real tough time getting the ball over the plate.  The Yankee skipper wanted his lanky left-hander to learn how to throw a curveball but Love struggled to do so and continued to depend almost completely on his often-wild fastball. When the 1918 season was over, Slim led the league in walks and Huggins began a complete overhaul of his pitching staff. As part of that overhaul, Love and three of his teammates were traded to the Red Sox for two of Boston’s pitchers and an outfielder.

Slim never played a game in Beantown. Instead, the Red Sox quickly traded him to Detroit where he went 6-4 in 1919. But the bases on balls continued at an alarming pace for Love and he was out of the big leagues for good by 1921 and back in the minors, where he kept pitching for almost another decade.

His legend would tragically but almost poetically end where it began. On November 30, 1942, while taking a stroll in Memphis, TN, Love was hit by a car and died. It seems Slim never learned the lesson that also ended his big league career. Walks can kill you!

The above article was originally written in 2009. It was updated for today’s post using this excellent article about Slim Love as my primary reference.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP WHIP
1916 NYY 2 0 1.000 4.91 20 1 11 0 0 0 47.2 46 29 26 2 23 21 0 1.448
1917 NYY 6 5 .545 2.35 33 9 18 2 0 1 130.1 115 50 34 0 57 82 1 1.320
1918 NYY 13 12 .520 3.07 38 29 5 13 1 1 228.2 207 92 78 3 116 95 10 1.413
6 Yrs 28 21 .571 3.04 119 48 49 19 1 4 517.1 480 220 175 8 246 251 17 1.403
NYY (3 yrs) 21 17 .553 3.05 91 39 34 15 1 2 406.2 368 171 138 5 196 198 11 1.387
DET (2 yrs) 6 4 .600 3.26 23 8 11 4 0 1 94.0 98 44 34 3 44 48 6 1.511
WSH (1 yr) 1 0 1.000 1.62 5 1 4 0 0 1 16.2 14 5 3 0 6 5 0 1.200
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/1/2013.

July 27 – Happy Birthday Johnny Kucks

kucksThe Yanks had won five straight Pennants with a starting rotation led by the Holy Trinity of Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat. Raschi was the first of the three to go before the 1954 season and then both Reynolds and Lopat followed him out of the Bronx the following year. That left Whitey Ford as the only bonafide ace in New York’s rotation and thus began the era of what I like to call the in and outers. These were Yankee pitchers who were brought up from the minors or acquired from other teams who had one or maybe two great years in pinstripes pitching behind Ford. They’d help Stengel win another pennant or Fall Classic and then fade away. The four top in and outers during the second half of the 1950′s were Tommy Byrne, Tom Sturdivant, Bob Turley and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.

Johnny Kucks’ big Yankee season was 1956. The tall, skinny right-hander from Hoboken put together a sensational 18-9 regular season and then shut the Brooklyn Dodgers out in the 7th Game of the 1956 World Series to help New York avenge its only Fall Classic loss to D’em Bums from a year earlier. If Don Larsen hadn’t thrown his perfect game in that same Series, Kucks’ final game effort would have been much more celebrated in the annals of Yankee history.

New York had signed Kucks right out of high school right before the 1952 regular season began. They assigned the then 18-year-older to their Class B affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia and he wowed the entire organization when he finished 19-6 that year. He then spent the next two years in the military and then went 8-7 with the parent club during his 1955 rookie season. Kucks fit right into that mid-fifties Yankee clubhouse. He loved to party and with that crew, he had plenty of opportunities to do so. He was in attendance during the famous Copa incident in June of 1957.

Kucks never again approached the level of brilliance he displayed on the mound in that 1956 season. After two mediocre seasons for New York in 1957 and ’58, he was traded to Kansas City at the beginning of the ’59 season in the deal that brought Hector Lopez and a new Yankee in and outer for the early 1960′s by the name of Ralph Terry.

Kucks shares his July 27th birthday with this current Yankee slugger,  this former lippy shortstop and this former Yankee utility infielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1955 NYY 8 7 .533 3.41 29 13 5 3 1 0 126.2 122 54 48 8 44 49 1.311
1956 NYY 18 9 .667 3.85 34 31 1 12 3 0 224.1 223 113 96 19 72 67 1.315
1957 NYY 8 10 .444 3.56 37 23 10 4 1 2 179.1 169 82 71 13 59 78 1.271
1958 NYY 8 8 .500 3.93 34 15 8 4 1 4 126.0 132 67 55 14 39 46 1.357
1959 NYY 0 1 .000 8.64 9 1 4 0 0 0 16.2 21 16 16 5 9 9 1.800
6 Yrs 54 56 .491 4.10 207 123 39 30 7 7 938.1 970 493 427 91 308 338 1.362
NYY (5 yrs) 42 35 .545 3.82 143 83 28 23 6 6 673.0 667 332 286 59 223 249 1.322
KCA (2 yrs) 12 21 .364 4.78 64 40 11 7 1 1 265.1 303 161 141 32 85 89 1.462
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.