April 29 – Happy Birthday Mickey McDermott

Long before Karaoke made its way from Japan to our shores, big league pitcher Mickey McDermott loved to sing in bars. Perhaps the biggest reason he loved to sing in bars was because he had to be in a bar in order to do it which meant he could drink and if their was one thing old Mickey liked to do in bars more than sing in them, it was drink in them. Born in Poughkeepsie, NY on April 29, 1929 and raised in New Jersey, his full name was Maurice Joseph McDermott. Big league scouts drooled over his fastball and the Red Sox won the race to sign him by doing so when he was just fifteen years-old. His shifty father actually forged a birth certificate that claimed his talented son was 18 years old. The elder McDermott than pocketed $5,000 of his son’s bonus money. Mickey made his big league debut for Boston when he was just 19 and by 1949 he was splitting his time between the team’s starting rotation and its bullpen.

I’ve found testimony from great big league hitters like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams that indicate this guy could be very impressive on the mound. He showed many moments of brilliance in his early career and seemed to be putting it all together in 1952 when he went 10-9 in Beantown and then followed that up with an 18-10 1953 season that included 4 shutouts. Making him even more valuable was the fact that he was an extremely gifted hitter who averaged .252 lifetime and was frequently used as a pinch hitter.

McDermott’s achille’s heel was his desire to party, which is what made Tom Yawkey’s decision to approve trading him after his great 1953 season an easy one. It turned out to be one of the best deals Boston ever made because in return for McDermott, they got a gifted, ex-Yankee outfielder from Washington by the name of Jackie Jensen. By 1958, Jensen would become an AL MVP winner and McDermott would find himself pitching back in the Minor Leagues.

Mickey would start for the lowly Senators for two seasons, compiling a 17-25 record in our Nation’s capital. The Yankees then acquired him in a seven player trade in February of 1956. New York had just lost the 1955 Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers and Yankee GM George Weiss and Manager Casey Stengel both knew the team needed to get some pitching. Weiss and Stengel had been the beneficiaries of one of the greatest starting rotations in the club’s history when Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat and then Whitey Ford had pitched the team to five straight World Series wins between 1949 and ’53. With Reynolds, Raschi and Lopat now all gone from the team, Weiss knew he had to replace them with quality arms but the thrifty GM was determined to do so as cheaply as possible. That was his goal when he agreed to send a five player package of Yankee subs and prospects to the Senators for McDermott, figuring that lot’s of mediocre bodies for one quality pitcher would end up being a steal. Weiss thought the vaunted Yankee offense combined with McDermott’s talent would make him a big winner in New York. Instead, even though none of the five players the Yankees gave up became stars in Washington, the Senators still were the big winners in the McDermott deal.

That’s because instead of taking advantage of New York’s powerful lineup when he got to the Big Apple, Mickey McDermott took advantage of the City’s vibrant night life. He would finish 2-6 during his only season in pinstripes and then become part of a thirteen player deal with the A’s in February of 1957 that brought Clete Boyer to New York. McDermott did get a chance to pitch in his only World Series as a Yankee and Stengel let him take an at bat in that 1956 Fall Classic as well. Mickey uncharacteristically took advantage of an opportunity by singling in the eighth inning of Game 2 so that he finished his career with a 1.000 postseason average.

McDermott was out of the big leagues for good by 1962 and back in the minors, where he continued his hard-partying lifestyle. After hanging up his glove for good, his self-destructive ways continued. Ironically, his old drinking buddy with the Yankees, Billy Martin hired Mickey as a coach for the Oakland A’s but both were fired in 1982. McDermott then became a player agent until his affinity for alcohol ruined that career too. He hit rock bottom in 1991, when he was sent to jail for multiple DWI offenses. That’s when he became sober. That same year, he and his wife hit the Arizona Lottery for $7 million.

McDermott decided to chronicle his crazy life in a book. He did so in his well received autobiography “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cooperstown,” which was published in 2003. He died of cancer at the age of 73, just as his book went on sale.

Mickey shares his April 29th birthday with this long-ago utility infielder, this other Yankee pitcher and this one too.

1956 NYY 2 6 .250 4.24 23 9 11 1 0 0 87.0 85 46 41 10 47 38 1.517
12 Yrs 69 69 .500 3.91 291 156 86 54 11 14 1316.2 1161 655 572 86 838 757 1.518
BOS (6 yrs) 48 34 .585 3.80 153 97 36 34 9 8 773.2 647 359 327 47 504 499 1.488
WSH (2 yrs) 17 25 .405 3.58 61 46 11 19 2 2 352.1 312 170 140 17 210 173 1.482
KCA (2 yrs) 1 4 .200 6.15 33 4 15 0 0 0 74.2 82 59 51 9 60 32 1.902
STL (1 yr) 1 0 1.000 3.67 19 0 13 0 0 4 27.0 29 17 11 3 15 15 1.630
NYY (1 yr) 2 6 .250 4.24 23 9 11 1 0 0 87.0 85 46 41 10 47 38 1.517
DET (1 yr) 0 0 9.00 2 0 0 0 0 0 2.0 6 4 2 0 2 0 4.000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/29/2013.

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