Results tagged ‘ yankees ’

June 21 – Happy Birthday Russ Van Atta

Talk about hot starts, southpaw starting pitcher Russ Van Atta’s big league and Yankee debut on April 25, 1933 could have melted hard steel. The New Jersey native not only threw a complete game five-hit shutout against the Washington Senators in our nation’s capitol that day, he also had a perfect 4-for-4 day at the plate, scoring three runs and driving in another in New York’s 16-0 victory. The guy they called “Sheriff” would go on to win 12 of his 16 decisions in his rookie season and lead the AL with a .750 winning percentage. He also would end up hitting .283 that first season. You couldn’t blame the Yankee brass for thinking that Van Atta would be a key member of the their team’s starting rotation for at least the rest of that decade. It didn’t quite work out that way.

That December, a fire broke out in Van Atta’s home and while fighting or trying to escape the blaze, the Augusta, New Jersey native suffered a severe cut on his pitching hand. That injury severely impacted his pitching performance for the rest of his career. He began the ’34 season still a member of the Yankee rotation, but after getting hit hard in his first four starts, Joe McCarthy demoted Van Atta to the bullpen. Having watched both Joba and Phil Hughes try to go back and forth between the Yankee rotation and bullpen the past few seasons, it was not surprising for me to learn that Van Atta had problems making the moves as well. For the rest of that ’34 season he was used as a reliever and spot starter. He finished the year with a 3-5 record and a 5.30 ERA. He also developed a sore arm.

He was back in the bullpen to start the 1935 season but not for long. On May 15th of that year he was sold to the St. Louis Browns. He continued to struggle with his new team for the next four years, until his contract was sold to a minor league team in Toronto. After appearing in two games there, he hung up his glove for good. He finished his seven-year big league career 15-9 as a Yankee and 18-32 with St. Louis. He shares his June 21st birthday with another Yankee southpaw starting pitcher and the first Mormon to ever wear the Yankee pinstripes.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1933 NYY 12 4 .750 4.18 26 22 3 10 2 1 157.0 160 81 73 8 63 76 1.420
1934 NYY 3 5 .375 6.34 28 9 9 0 0 0 88.0 107 69 62 3 46 39 1.739
1935 NYY 0 0 3.86 5 0 2 0 0 0 4.2 5 5 2 0 4 3 1.929
7 Yrs 33 41 .446 5.60 207 76 66 17 3 6 712.1 838 498 443 39 368 339 1.693
SLB (5 yrs) 18 32 .360 5.95 148 45 52 7 1 5 462.2 566 343 306 28 255 221 1.774
NYY (3 yrs) 15 9 .625 4.94 59 31 14 10 2 1 249.2 272 155 137 11 113 118 1.542
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/21/2013.

June 20 – Happy Birthday Bill Werber

bill_werberhWhen he died in January of 2009, today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was 100 years old. He had become the oldest living MLB player and his book, Memories of a Ballplayer, co-written with baseball historian, Paul Rogers in 2001, represented his eye witness account of what playing in the big leagues was like back in the 1930s.

Werber’s Major League career actually began back in 1927, when he was a freshman at Duke University, where he was a brilliant athlete (the first Duke basketball player to be named All American) and a brilliant student (he graduated Phi Beta Kappa.) The legendary scout, Paul Krichell signed the first year collegian  to a Yankee contract and had him spend a couple of weeks during that ’27 season sitting on the bench of the famed Murderers Row team to pick up some knowledge of the game. According to Werber, he hated those two weeks because everybody simply ignored him.

He didn’t make it back to Yankee Stadium until 1930 when he got called up in June and appeared in three games at short and one at third for Manager Bob Shawkey’s team. He went 2-3 in his first big league start and also became Babe Ruth’s bridge partner on the train rides during Yankee road trips. Werber and Ruth would play partners against Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey and Werber remembered in his book, how Babe used to drink a bottle of Seagrams during those contests, gradually getting drunker and nastier as the game progressed.

Werber spent the 1932 season back in the minors and then was promoted back to the parent club when the ’33 season started, but not for long. The Yankees had a ton of left-side infielders in their organization back then, so they sold the native of Berwyn, Maryland to the Red Sox. That was the break Werber’s career needed. By 1934, he had become Boston’s starting third baseman and that year he reached the 200 hit mark for the first and only time of his career and led the AL with 40 stolen bases while batting .321. He ended up winning a total of three AL stolen base titles. Werber played until 1942 and finished his 11-year career with a .271 batting average and 1,363 career hits. He won a World Series ring in 1940 with the Reds. He was instrumental in Cincinnati’s victory in that seven game Fall Classic, as he smacked ten hits and batted .370.

Update: The above post was last updated in June of 2011. Since that time I have learned that when Werber left baseball in 1942, he sold life insurance for his father’s company. He evidently was pretty good at it because during his first year in that new career he earned over $100,000. When he retired from his second career he was a millionaire. I also learned from an interview with Werber published in a 2008 edition of the New York Times, that he was not Ruth’s bridge partner on those long-ago Yankee train rides but instead it would be him and Dickey versus the Bambino and Gehrig.  According to Werber, Babe and the Iron Horse weren’t too bright so he and Dickey would always win the $3.50 pot from card games. When Werber walked in his first ever Yankee at bat, Ruth came up behind him and hit a home run. Werber decided to take the opportunity to show his teammates just how fleet afoot he was and ran around the bases as fast as he could in front of Babe. When Ruth caught up to him in the dugout, he patted the rookie on top of the head and told him, “Son, you don’t have to run like that when the Babe hits one.

Here are Werber’s Yankee and career player stats:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1930 NYY 4 17 14 5 4 0 0 0 2 0 3 1 .286 .412 .286 .697
1933 NYY 3 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
11 Yrs 1295 5842 5024 875 1363 271 50 78 539 215 701 363 .271 .364 .392 .756
BOS (4 yrs) 529 2372 2045 366 575 130 25 38 234 107 268 154 .281 .367 .425 .792
CIN (3 yrs) 399 1847 1601 276 435 79 12 21 151 45 212 110 .272 .362 .375 .738
PHA (2 yrs) 262 1175 992 177 273 53 11 18 139 54 167 76 .275 .381 .405 .786
NYY (2 yrs) 7 19 16 5 4 0 0 0 2 0 3 1 .250 .368 .250 .618
NYG (1 yr) 98 429 370 51 76 9 2 1 13 9 51 22 .205 .308 .249 .557
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/20/2013.

June 19 – Happy Birthday Lou Gehrig

gehrigIf Yankee Stadium was a church June 19th would be a holy day of obligation for Yankee fans. The “Iron Horse” was Major League Baseball’s all-time greatest first baseman and perhaps the greatest athlete ever to be born in the Big Apple. In 17 years with New York he batted .340 lifetime and in seven World Series, he averaged .361. Lou had thirteen straight seasons in which he drove in and scored at least 100 runs. Along with his achievements on the ball field, his untimely illness, the grace with which he handled his misfortune, and his early death made Gehrig a true American hero.

Ruth, DiMaggio, and Mantle were each truly great Yankees on the field who lived unhappy, personal lives. I always found it ironic that Gehrig, the Yankee legend with an extremely strong marriage and idyllic private life, never got the opportunity to enjoy his retirement years.

Update: I originally wrote the above post in June of 2008. Since that time I learned something I never knew about Gehrig. I had always thought that after he was diagnosed with ALS at the Mayo Clinic, he simply returned to his home in the Bronx and waited to die. But Gehrig, who would live until June 2, 1941, over two years after his fatal diagnosis, actually accepted Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s appointment to the New York City Parole Commission in October of 1939. The appointment was for a ten-year-term and the position paid a salary of $5,700 per year. Besides sympathy for one of his city’s sports heroes, LaGuardia’s rationalization for selecting the Iron Horse for this job was sound. The Mayor was quoted in the New York Times after making the announcement, “I believe that he will not only be an able and intelligent commissioner but that he will be an inspiration and a hope to many of the younger boys who had gotten into trouble. Surely the misfortune of some of the young men will compare as something trivial with what Mr. Gehrig has so cheerfully and courageously faced.” LaGuardia went on to say that Gehrig had told him he wanted to dedicate his remaining days to public service and the Yankee legend meant what he said. Gehrig showed up for work regularly and did not stop doing so until just a month before he died, when he became to weak to leave his home.

Gehrig shares his birthday with another former Yankee first baseman.

Here are Gehrig’s incredible regular season statistics as a Yankee player:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1923 NYY 13 29 26 6 11 4 1 1 9 0 2 5 .423 .464 .769 1.234
1924 NYY 10 13 12 2 6 1 0 0 5 0 1 3 .500 .538 .583 1.122
1925 NYY 126 497 437 73 129 23 10 20 68 6 46 49 .295 .365 .531 .896
1926 NYY 155 696 572 135 179 47 20 16 109 6 105 73 .313 .420 .549 .969
1927 NYY 155 717 584 149 218 52 18 47 175 10 109 84 .373 .474 .765 1.240
1928 NYY 154 677 562 139 210 47 13 27 142 4 95 69 .374 .467 .648 1.115
1929 NYY 154 694 553 127 166 32 10 35 126 4 122 68 .300 .431 .584 1.015
1930 NYY 154 703 581 143 220 42 17 41 174 12 101 63 .379 .473 .721 1.194
1931 NYY 155 738 619 163 211 31 15 46 184 17 117 56 .341 .446 .662 1.108
1932 NYY 156 708 596 138 208 42 9 34 151 4 108 38 .349 .451 .621 1.072
1933 NYY 152 687 593 138 198 41 12 32 139 9 92 42 .334 .424 .605 1.030
1934 NYY 154 690 579 128 210 40 6 49 165 9 109 31 .363 .465 .706 1.172
1935 NYY 149 673 535 125 176 26 10 30 119 8 132 38 .329 .466 .583 1.049
1936 NYY 155 719 579 167 205 37 7 49 152 3 130 46 .354 .478 .696 1.174
1937 NYY 157 700 569 138 200 37 9 37 159 4 127 49 .351 .473 .643 1.116
1938 NYY 157 689 576 115 170 32 6 29 114 6 107 75 .295 .410 .523 .932
1939 NYY 8 33 28 2 4 0 0 0 1 0 5 1 .143 .273 .143 .416
17 Yrs 2164 9663 8001 1888 2721 534 163 493 1992 102 1508 790 .340 .447 .632 1.080
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/19/2013.