If 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:
Vic Mata got his opportunity to play in the Bronx in 1984 mostly because George Steinbrenner was growing frustrated playing and paying high-priced veterans to miss the playoffs. In 1983, the Yankees had won 91 games but finished third in the AL East. That was the second consecutive season New York had failed to qualify for Fall Ball and that was the first time that had happened to a Yankee team since 1975. So “The Boss” let it be known he wanted to start testing the fruit from the Yankee farm system, hoping young guys like Don Mattingly, Mike Pagliarullo, Bobby Meacham and Vic Mata could show the old guys how to win with hunger and hustle. The Yankees were a game under .500 in July when Mata got his first start. Yogi Berra played the Dominican Republic native quite a bit in center field for the balance of that year and both Vic and the Yankees responded. Mata got real hot at the plate in August and helped the Yankees go 40-27 the rest of the way. But that proved to be the best and longest stretch of big league baseball Mata would ever play. That December, the short-memoried Steinbrenner went out and got the A’s Ricky Henderson to play center field for the Yankees. Then when the Yankees got off to a slow start in ’85 “The Boss” canned Berra and replaced him with good old Billy Martin. Berra liked Mata and Martin loved Henderson. Mata ended up playing just six more regular-season games in pinstripes.
After spending the final couple of seasons of his playing career in the minors, Mata eventually got into scouting. It has been in that capacity that this he has made his most significant contribution to the Yankees. Vic is the guy who signed Robinson Cano. He is also the only Yankee past or present who was born on June 17th. Happy Fathers’ Day to all you Dads out there.
Mata shares his birthday with this former front office Yankee executive.
This Jersey native started his seven-season big league career appearing in 24 games with the 1947 Yankees. Most of those appearances were as a first baseman. He was one of the last Yankees to wear uniform number 3 before it was retired upon Babe Ruth’s death in 1948. The highlight of Clarke’s short stay in pinstripes had to be his participation in the 1947 World Series. He appeared in three games against the Dodgers in that Fall Classic, came to the plate three times, getting a walk a base hit, scoring a run and delivering an RBI. He was then traded to the Indians for pitcher Red Embree and appeared in his second straight Series that year, when the Indians captured the AL Pennant. He played three plus seasons in Cleveland and then joined the A’s in Philadelphia for a while. He played his last big league game in 1953.
Clarke played briefly for the Amsterdam Rugmakers in 1941. The team was based in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY and was the Yankees’ C-level affiliate in the old Canadian-American League. He wowed our town’s local sports press by averaging .368 during his 20 games with the team.
|CLE (4 yrs)||178||562||518||73||135||17||3||17||71||0||39||32||.261||.312||.403||.716|
|PHA (3 yrs)||147||456||421||49||106||26||1||14||64||2||28||31||.252||.303||.418||.721|
|NYY (1 yr)||24||73||67||9||25||5||0||1||14||0||5||2||.373||.417||.493||.909|
|CHW (1 yr)||9||15||15||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||5||.067||.067||.067||.133|
The initial signing of this former Yomiuri Giant standout was a great move by the Yankee front office prior to the 2003 season. Only Ishiru Suzuki ranks in front of him in terms of on-the-field performance by a Japanese player in the Major Leagues. He knocked in over 100 runs in four of his first five seasons in Pinstripes and only a wrist injury prevented him from making it all five.
The second contract the Yankees gave Matsui (four years, $52 million) after the 2005 season, did not turn out as well for New York. The wrist mishap ended Hideki’s consecutive game streak of over 1,700 (started in Japan and continued during his first 518 games as a Yankee.) After the broken wrist, he missed close to forty percent of the Yankee’s regular-season games during the next three seasons with an assortment of ailments and injuries including two very painful knees.
Matsui then put together a memorable final year in pinstripes in 2009. During the regular season he blasted 28 home runs and drove in ninety. But he saved his very best effort for the 2009 World Series. He hit .615 in fourteen plate appearances against the Phillies with three home runs and 8 RBIs. I had the pleasure of seeing him hit one of those round-trippers live, at Game 2 at the Stadium. His Game 6 performance will remain one for the ages. Matsui drove in six of the seven Yankee runs with a homer, double and single and was named the Series MVP. Since he hit 332 home runs while playing in Japan, Matsui ended up with 507 combined home runs during his career.
Matsui’s quiet brilliance during his seven seasons in the Bronx made him one of my favorite Yankees. “Godzilla” announced his retirement from baseball on December 27, 2012.
This former Yankee relief pitcher shares Matsui’s birthday.
|NYY (7 yrs)||916||3820||3348||536||977||196||11||140||597||12||416||485||.292||.370||.482||.852|
|TBR (1 yr)||34||103||95||7||14||1||0||2||7||0||8||22||.147||.214||.221||.435|
|OAK (1 yr)||141||585||517||58||130||28||0||12||72||1||56||84||.251||.321||.375||.696|
|LAA (1 yr)||145||558||482||55||132||24||1||21||84||0||67||98||.274||.361||.459||.820|
I remember when the Mets brought Kenny Singleton up in the early seventies and put him in right field, alongside Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones. At the time, I was convinced these three would form the best outfield in the National League if not all of baseball for the next several seasons. Shows you how smart I was.
Singleton played just two seasons at Shea and then was traded to Montreal for Rusty Staub. The middle season of his three years in Montreal was his best as he reached the 20-homer, 100-RBI and .300 batting average milestones all for the first time in his career. After the following season, the Expos made one of the worst trades in the history of their franchise when they sent Singleton and starter Mike Torrez to the Orioles for a washed up Dave McNally and outfielder Rich Coggins.
Singleton went on to a great playing career for the O’s, making three All Star teams, appearing in two World Series and finally winning a championship in 1983.
I always admired Singleton as a player. He was consistent and very professional on the field and the same can be said for his performance in the Yankee broadcast booth. I enjoy listening to him do color and play-by-play. He was born on June 10, 1947 in the Big Apple.
Although he spent almost all of his playing career as a Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder, Bill Virdon was originally signed by the Yankees in 1950 and spent his first five seasons as a pro climbing his way up New York’s minor league ladder. Then in 1954, he was included in a package of players and prospects the Yankees traded to St Louis for veteran outfielder Enos Slaughter. Virdon enjoyed a solid 12-season playing career in the NL, retiring for good in 1968. He then got into coaching and in 1972 he became skipper of the Pirates, leading Pittsburgh to a Division title in his first year as their field boss. When the team slumped the following season, Virdon was dumped. George Steinbrenner hired him to pilot the Yankees in 1974 and he led them to an 89-73 record and second-place finish in their division. “The Boss” was not truly a fan of Virdon’s low-key managing style and when the fiery Billy Martin became available during the second half of the 1975 season, Virdon was dumped again. He immediately got the manager’s job in Houston where he remained for the next seven seasons. Virdon then completed his managerial career with a two year stint as Montreal Expo skipper, finishing with a 995-921 lifetime won-loss record during his 13-seasons. I always felt it was the acquisitions of Willie Randolph, Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers that won the Yankees’ the 1976 pennant and not the switch from Virdon to Martin. Imagine how different Yankee history would have been if Steinbrenner kept Virdon in the Yankee dugout instead of hiring Billy.
|3||1974||43||New York Yankees||AL||162||89||73||.549||2|
|4||1975||44||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 2||104||53||51||.510||3|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||2 years||291||163||128||.560||2.0|
|New York Yankees||2 years||266||142||124||.534||2.5|
|Houston Astros||8 years||1067||544||522||.510||3.2|
|Montreal Expos||2 years||294||146||147||.498||4.0|
One of the all-time great catchers in baseball history, Dickey was superb both at the plate and behind it. He hit .300 in ten of his first eleven seasons as the starting Yankee receiver and drove in over 100 runs in a season four times during his Hall of Fame career. This eleven-time All-Star played in eight World Series with New York, winning seven rings in the process. Dickey’s prime was the four-year-period from 1936 through 1939, during which he averaged 26 home runs, and 115 RBIs with a batting average of .326. He entered Military service in 1943, returning to the team in 1946. When Yankee skipper, Joe McCarthy fell ill and resigned, the team made Dickey the player-manager for the balance of the ’46 season. After leading New York to a 57-48 finish that year, he ended both his big league playing and managing career. He then accepted the Yankee’s offer to manage their Minor League team in Dickey’s hometown of Little, Rock Arkansas. After one season there, he was back in the Bronx to begin a decade long career as a Yankee coach. His Hall-of-Fame Yankee successor at catcher, Yogi Berra credits Dickey for teaching him how to play the position.
Dickey was a quiet hard-working professional, much like his close friend and roommate, Lou Gehrig. He played hard on the field and behaved himself off of it. His playing career lasted 17 seasons. The Yankees retired his uniform number 8 (shared with Berra) and a plaque in his honor now rests in the Monument Park of the new Yankee Stadium. It certainly belongs there.
Dickey shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee prospect.
Dickey’s record as a Yankee player:
Dickey’s record as a Yankee manager: