One of the things that has changed most about the Major League game between the time I started following the Yankees and now is the balance of trade when it comes to Major League Baseball and baseball in Japan.
Before WWII, the people of Japan had fallen in love with the game of baseball and Babe Ruth became just as popular in the Land of the Rising Sun as he was in our country. WWII of course changed the dynamic between the two countries. By the time I was Bradley’s age in the late 1950s, the bitter feelings and suspicions we Americans and the Japanese had for each other still lingered and carried over to each country’s professional baseball leagues. At the same time, however, the game of baseball was a passion shared by both peoples and it was that passion for a common game that would eventually help bring us together again.
The first American to play professional baseball in Japan after the War was a Japanese American and former NFL running back named Wally Yonamine, who played there in 1951. The first Japanese player to play in America was a left handed pitcher named Masanori Murakami who played for the Giants in 1964 and 65. By the time I was a teenager, the Japanese professional leagues had become a common destination for American players who were not quite good enough to make the rosters of Major League teams. By the time my sons were born in the late seventies and early eighties, Major League veterans, who’s best playing days were behind them in the US were finding new markets for their slowing bats and fast balls on the other side of the Pacific.
It took until 1995 for the pendulum to begin swinging and it was the one-time Yankee, Hideki Nomo who got it going in the other direction, when he signed to pitch with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees first ever Japanese born roster member was pitcher Hideki Irabu, who began his career in pinstripes in July of 2007. The greatest Japanese-born Yankee to date has been Hideki Matsui. The big league successes of guys like Nomo, Matsui and especially Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki, have caused every Major League franchise to both begin and then expand their scouting operations in Japan.
Orestes Destrade was a classic example of a young Major League prospect who struggled to make a big league roster and then traveled to Japan and became a star in that country’s version of the same sport. I can remember when he hit a bunch of homers as a minor-leaguer for the Albany-Colonie Yankees during their 1985 season. The Yankees had predicted this left-hand-hitting Cuban native would be a thirty-home-run hitter, playing in Yankee Stadium. That never happened. He failed to hit a home run during his nine-game, 1987 stint in pinstripes. He had much more success in Japan, leading the league in home runs for three straight seasons from 1990-’92. He then returned to the States and managed to hit 20 round trippers for Seattle in 1993.
This one-time Yankee catcher was also born on May 8.
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|NYY (1 yr)||9||24||19||5||5||0||0||0||1||0||5||5||.263||.417||.263||.680|
This guy will forever be best known as the pitcher who gave up Babe Ruth’s sixtieth home run during the 1927 season. That happened when Zachary was wearing the uniform of the Washington Senators. The left-hander had been originally signed by Washington but had made his big league debut in 1919 as a member of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s pitching staff. The Senators got him back in a trade the following year and Zachary evolved into one of the AL’s upper tier southpaws, winning in double digits for six straight seasons. His best year had been 1924, when his 15-9 record helped the Senators win the Pennant. He then beat the Giants twice in that season’s World Series.
In August of 1928, the Yankees picked him up off waivers. He went 3-3 during the rest of that season. Yankee skipper, Miller Huggins, most likely remembering Zachary’s 1924 postseason success, got a hunch to start him against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the 1928 World Series. That hunch paid off when the Graham, NC native responded with a complete game victory.
In 1929, Zachary went a perfect 12-0, but that performance was overshadowed by the tragic death of Huggins and the Yankee’s failure to defend their AL Pennant. After getting off to a slow start during the 1930 season, the Yankees placed the then-34-year-old pitcher on waivers and he was picked up by the Braves. He ended up pitching six more years of big league baseball, retiring after the 1936 season with a 186-191 lifetime record.
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|BRO (3 yrs)||12||18||.400||3.98||48||33||12||13||1||6||260.0||317||131||115||15||57||61||4||1.438|
|NYY (3 yrs)||16||4||.800||3.21||36||20||10||10||2||3||182.0||203||85||65||5||54||43||2||1.412|
|SLB (2 yrs)||18||21||.462||3.79||47||43||4||24||3||0||325.2||374||174||137||18||124||66||6||1.529|
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|PHA (1 yr)||2||0||1.000||5.63||2||2||0||0||0||0||8.0||9||5||5||0||7||1||0||2.000|
There have been 30 starting second basemen in Yankee franchise history. If he had played two or three more years in the Bronx instead of leaving for Seattle in 2014, Robinson Cano would have certainly been considered the greatest Yankee second sacker of all time. In my opinion, he now falls just short. That honor still belongs to the Hall of Famer, Tony Lazzeri, who started at second base for New York for twelve seasons. One of my favorites, Willie Randolph holds the record for most seasons starting at second base for the Yankees with thirteen. Cano started at second for New York for nine straight seasons, tying him with Bobby Richardson. The first second baseman in franchise history was a guy named Jimmy Williams, who held the job for seven straight seasons, until 1907. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Lute Boone was the starting second baseman for New York in 1914 and ’15. An excellent defensive infielder, he was a horrible big league hitter, averaging just .209 during his four seasons in the Big Apple. He had much better success hitting in the American Association. That’s where he ended up after his big league career ended for good in 1918. He kept playing in that league until he was 40 years old and then he became an owner and player manager of his own minor league team. Here’s a look at some key stats of my picks for the top five second basemen in Yankee franchise history:
Player Yrs Starting G H R HR RBI AVE Rings
Tony Lazzeri 12 1659 1784 952 169 1154 .293 5
Willie Randolph 13 1694 1731 1027 48 549 .275 2
Robinson Cano 9 1374 1649 799 204 822 .309 1
Joe Gordon 7 1000 1000 596 153 975 .271 4
Bobby Richardson 9 1412 1432 643 34 390 .266 1
Lute Boone shares his May 6th birthday with this former Yankee reliever.
|NYY (4 yrs)||288||1068||937||95||197||24||4||6||73||31||35||83||105||.210||.284||.264||.547|
|PIT (1 yr)||27||101||91||7||18||3||0||0||3||1||8||6||.198||.263||.231||.493|
They may have played their home games in the “Show Me State” but the 1958 starting lineup of the Kansas City A’s certainly had lots of pinstripe connections. Former Yankee prospects, Vic Power and Hal Smith started at first and third respectively. Future Yankees Hector Lopez and shortstop Joe DeMaestri held down the middle positions of the A’s infield and their soon-to-be New York teammates, Roger Maris and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Bob Cerv comprised two thirds of Kansas City’s starting outfield that year. If either Ralph Terry, Bob Grim, Duke Maas, Tom Gorman, Bud Daley or Virgil Trucks happened to be on the mound that day and the A’s fourth outfielder Woodie Held started in place of KC’s Bill Tuttle in center, eight of the nine positions would be manned by former or future players from the Yankee organization. It was no wonder people inside of baseball began referring to the A’s as the Yankees big league farm team.
Cerv had made his debut in New York in 1951, which also happened to be Joe DiMaggio’s last season as a Yankee and Mickey Mantle’s first. Unlike those two superstars, Cerv would never become a Yankee regular, but because he played for Casey Stengel at the time, the platoon maestro of big league managers, he would evolve into a very valuable member of those great New York teams. By 1954, ’55 and ’56 he had settled into the role of the Yankee’s starting right-fielder against left handed pitching. Cerv had a vicious swing and it produced some of the hardest hit balls in the game at the time. His home run power was thwarted by the vast dimensions of the Yankee Stadium’s left-center field, but those line drives off his bat would have been hits in any park.
His best year in the Bronx was 1955, when he hit .341 in 55 games plus his only World Series home run. The following year, he hit .304 while playing in 54 regular season contests. During his first six seasons with New York, the team played in five World Series and won four of them, generating perhaps $30-to-$40 thousand of additional income for the the growing Cerv family. Then the Yankees sold him to Kansas City where he became an All Star outfielder in 1958, belting 38 home runs, driving in 104 runs and topping the .300 mark in batting average.
By 1960, Cerv was back in the Bronx as a reserve outfielder. When the Yankees didn’t protect him during that year’s AL expansion draft, he was selected by the Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees quickly brought him back in a May 1961 trade with LA and he then became the house-mother-like roommate of both Mantle and Maris during their famous home run race that season. Even though he probably could have enjoyed a much more productive statistical career playing somewhere else, Cerv always cherished his days in a Yankee uniform during an era when World Series checks were as regular as paychecks for those on the Yankee roster. His second tenure in pinstripes ended in June of the 1962 season, when he was sold to Houston.
I actually hated seeing Bob Cerv play when I was a kid only because it usually meant my hero, Mickey Mantle, was scratched from the lineup again. The Lincoln, Nebraska native was born in 1926 and played a total of 12 seasons in the Majors. He may have been just a part-time player but Cerv was among the Yankees top ten all-time lists in one important category. He and his wife raised ten children and got each of them through college. That qualifies him for my own Hall of Fame, any day of the week. Mr. Cerv turns 89 years old today. Happy Birthday Bob Cerv!
Cerv shares his Yankee birthday with this one-time Yankee pitcher who’s life ended tragically in July of 2011.
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|KCA (4 yrs)||413||1544||1401||203||403||57||14||75||247||7||115||243||.288||.342||.509||.851|
|LAA (1 yr)||18||60||57||3||9||3||0||2||6||0||1||8||.158||.169||.316||.485|
|HOU (1 yr)||19||33||31||2||7||0||0||2||3||0||2||10||.226||.273||.419||.692|
This native of Rapid City, SD is one of only two all-time Yankee roster members I could find who celebrate their birthday on May 1. He went to high school in Roswell, New Mexico, site of the space center where most of America’s space rockets were originally designed. Appropriately, this southpaw had a rocket for a fastball but not much else. The Yankees selected him in the 34th round of the 1998 amateur draft. He got the attention of the parent club’s brain trust in 2001, when he went 14-4 and led every minor league player in the country with 220 strikeouts.
Claussen ended up appearing in only one game for New York, a single start during the 2003 season in which he was credited with the victory. That win however, was not Brandon’s only contribution to helping the Yankees get into that season’s World Series. He was also included in the July 2003 trade with the Reds that brought Aaron Boone to the Yankees. He had a 10-win season for Cincinnati in 2005 but after a bad year in ’06 he was out of the big leagues for good.
Claussen shares his May 1 birthday with another pitcher who played for the Yankees over a century earlier.
|NYY (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||1.42||1||1||0||0||0||0||6.1||8||2||1||1||1||5||1.421|
When CC Sabathia shed 25 pounds after the 2010 postseason, he also shed the mantra of being the heaviest full-time player in MLB history. That honor now reverts back to another Yankee pitcher named Walter Brown. Brown was 6’4″ tall, three inches shorter than Sabathia and tipped the scales at 295 pounds. As a result, he was better known as “Jumbo” Brown. Born in Green, Rhode Island, he broke into the big leagues with the Cubs in 1925 and then pitched for the Indians during the 1927 and ’28 seasons. Not yet ready for prime time, the big guy then returned to the minors.
He became a Yankee in 1932 and spent four of the next five seasons as a member of the Yankee bullpen and one of manager Joe McCarthy’s occasional starters. Unfortunately for Brown, those Yankee teams of the 1930’s were loaded with talented pitchers. One of Brown’s biggest problems, according to author Stephen Lombardi in his book “The Baseball Same Game,” was the fact that his fingers were too short and too stubby to throw a curveball so he was limited to throwing only a fastball. Though Brown’s heater was a good one, it was not good enough to break into that Yankee rotation because after one time through a lineup, opposing hitters had a much easier time squaring up to a one-pitch pitcher.
By 1934, Jumbo was forced to pitch in Newark where he again got a chance to start and won 20-games for the Yankees’ top Minor League franchise. He was 19-16 during his stay in pinstripes, earning two saves and pitching two shutouts. The Reds purchased his contract in 1937 but he quickly returned to the Big Apple when the Giants bought him from Cincinnati that same season. He spent his final five big league seasons pitching very effectively out of the bullpen at the Polo Grounds. His one pitch repertoire was much more suited to relief work, during which hitters faced the rotund right hander and his fastball just once. Brown actually led the NL in saves in both 1940 and ’41 before joining the US Navy. His baseball career ended for good when his military service began. Jumbo is the only member of the Yankee all-time roster to celebrate his birthday on the last day of April.
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|NYY (4 yrs)||19||16||.543||4.74||80||22||31||7||2||2||281.0||323||166||148||10||148||146||1.676|
|CLE (2 yrs)||0||3||.000||6.48||13||0||10||0||0||0||33.1||38||29||24||3||41||20||2.370|
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|CHC (1 yr)||0||0||3.00||2||0||2||0||0||0||6.0||5||5||2||0||4||0||1.500|
Back in the nineteen fifties, slugger Mickey Mantle would begin drooling a week before his Yankees were scheduled to play a series against the Washington Senators. Why? There were three reasons, and their names were Chuck Stobbs, Camilio Pascual and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Pedro “Pistol Pete” Ramos. They formed three fifths of Washington’s starting rotation back then and it seemed as if Mantle hit three-fifths of his 536 lifetime home runs off the trio. Pascual and Ramos were both from Cuba and both were actually very talented big league pitchers. In fact, I saw Pascual pitch a couple of times live at Yankee Stadium and several times on television and to this day, I believe he belongs in Cooperstown. Ramos was a notch below his countryman in talent but it would end up being Ramos who would help pitch the Yankees into a World Series.
Pedro pitched his first seven big league seasons for the Senators (who moved to Minnesota and became the Twins in 1961) and achieved double figures in victories in six of them. Unfortunately, thanks in large part to the anemic offense and porous defense of those Washington teams, Ramos also lost 112 games during that same span. He was then traded to the Indians, where he pitched decently for almost three seasons until September 5, 1964 when Yankee GM Ralph Houk acquired him for two players to be named later, who would turn out to be pitchers Ralph Terry and Bud Daley.
Yogi Berra had replaced Houk as Yankee skipper that season and the team took a long time to respond to their new Manager and were in danger of not reaching the World Series for the first time in five straight seasons. Berra’s starting rotation and bullpen were running on fumes. The additions of Mel Stottlemyre and Ramos proved to be the perfect elixir to what ailed Yankee pitching. Ramos took over the closer role and pitched brilliantly, saving eight games down the stretch as New York pulled off a late-season surge to win the AL Pennant. Unfortunately, he had joined the Yankees to late in the season to qualify for the World Series roster so he was forced to watch helplessly as the Cardinals beat New York in that year’s seven-game Fall Classic.
Houk then replaced Berra as Yankee Manager with Johnny Keane right after that series and Ramos spent the next two years as the closer on a Yankee team that was not able to generate too many leads that needed closing. Still, Ramos did save a total 32 games for New York during the 1965 and ’66 seasons before getting dealt to Philadelphia for relief pitcher Joe Verbanic. He retired after the 1970 season with a lifetime record of 117-160, 55 saves and 13 shutouts.
It seems Ramos was pretty much a wild man in his private life. In fact, his nickname “Pistol Pete” was only partially attributable to the right-hander’s fastball. This guy actually carried a gun with him off the field, almost all the time. He once used that gun to shoot out the screen of his family’s television set when he objected to the channel choice of Mrs. Ramos (who quickly thereafter became the ex-Mrs. Ramos.) He also used his gun after his playing days were over when he got himself involved in Little Havana’s drug business, which landed him in jail in the early 1980’s.
Ramos shares his April 28th birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
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|CLE (3 yrs)||26||30||.464||3.87||109||68||15||15||3||1||519.0||489||262||223||75||152||363||1.235|
|NYY (3 yrs)||9||14||.391||3.05||130||1||91||0||0||40||203.2||191||80||69||18||45||147||1.159|
|WSA (1 yr)||0||0||7.56||4||0||1||0||0||0||8.1||10||7||7||2||4||10||1.680|
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|PIT (1 yr)||0||1||.000||6.00||5||0||3||0||0||0||6.0||8||4||4||2||0||4||1.333|
|PHI (1 yr)||0||0||9.00||6||0||4||0||0||0||8.0||14||8||8||1||8||1||2.750|