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.
|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|
When 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:
|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|
The only member of the Yankee all-time player roster to be born on June 18 (1975) is their former reliever, Felix Heredia. The Yankees claimed the southpaw off waivers during the 2003 season and he pitched real well out of their bullpen for the remainder of that year, making 12 appearances during which he allowed just two earned runs in fifteen total innings. That effort represented an ERA of just 1.20 prompting New York to sign him to a new two-year contract. But during his second season in pinstripes, Heredia struggled with control problems and his Yankee ERA ballooned by over five times causing Joe Torre to eventually lose faith in him. The Yankees traded him to the Mets after the 2005 season in a deal that returned Mike Stanton to the Yankee bullpen. Heredia retired after the 2005 season with a 28-19 record for his ten years in the big leagues and 6 career saves. During that decade he pitched for six other teams in addition to the Yankees.
The only other member of the Yankee baseball family to be born on this same date is this announcer, who’s most famous call had nothing to do with Yankee baseball.
|CHC (4 yrs)||15||6||.714||5.01||221||0||54||0||0||3||163.1||166||102||91||20||80||146||1.506|
|FLA (3 yrs)||6||7||.462||4.72||118||2||27||0||0||2||114.1||112||68||60||5||72||102||1.609|
|NYY (2 yrs)||1||2||.333||4.86||59||0||13||0||0||0||53.2||57||33||29||6||25||29||1.528|
|NYM (1 yr)||0||0||0.00||3||0||1||0||0||0||2.2||1||0||0||0||1||2||0.750|
|CIN (1 yr)||5||2||.714||3.00||57||0||18||0||0||1||72.0||61||27||24||9||28||41||1.236|
|TOR (1 yr)||1||2||.333||3.61||53||0||15||0||0||0||52.1||51||29||21||5||26||31||1.471|
I was pretty pumped when I learned the Yanks had signed Tony Clark in January of 2004. He had put together three consecutive outstanding offensive seasons as a Detroit Tiger first baseman earlier in his career. He was a switch-hitter and even though he was packed in a giant six foot eight inch frame, he was very agile defensively.
Jason Giambi had become a disaster defensively at first for New York and he was about to experience the worst season of his career, physically in 2004. Having Clark on the roster helped the team return to postseason that fall. Though not nearly as productive offensively as a healthy Giambi was in pinstripes, this native of Newton, Kansas had his moments. He belted 16 home runs that year and at the end of May, he had a stretch where he drove in 12 runs over an 8-game period.
By the end of the regular season, I thought maybe New York would bring Clark back, especially when Giambi’s physical problems persisted and rumors of his steroid use got louder and louder. Then the Yanks suffered one of the most devastating postseason defeats in the history of the franchise against Boston in that year’s ALCS during which Clark averaged just .143. He ended up signing with the Diamondbacks and having a stellar 2005 season in Arizona. Clark retired after the 2009 season with 251 big league home runs.
In December of 2013, Clark replaced Michael Weiner as the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Clark shares his June 15th birthday with this Hall-of-Fame third baseman, one of the members of the famous Yankee core four, this former Yankee infielder and this other former Yankee first baseman.
|DET (7 yrs)||772||3212||2831||428||783||156||7||156||514||6||343||721||.277||.355||.502||.857|
|ARI (5 yrs)||396||940||831||105||212||37||3||59||178||0||94||234||.255||.330||.520||.850|
|NYM (1 yr)||125||280||254||29||59||13||0||16||43||0||24||73||.232||.300||.472||.772|
|BOS (1 yr)||90||298||275||25||57||12||1||3||29||0||21||57||.207||.265||.291||.556|
|SDP (1 yr)||70||107||88||5||21||3||0||1||11||0||19||32||.239||.374||.307||.681|
|NYY (1 yr)||106||283||253||37||56||12||0||16||49||0||26||92||.221||.297||.458||.755|
It took 64 years but finally, there’s another member of the Yankee all-time roster who shares my own June 14th birthday. I’m hoping this second one leaves a much more significant imprint on Yankee history than the first one, a first baseman named Fenton Mole did.
After a solid 2014 spring training performance, Chase Whitley was sent back to Triple A only because the Yankees had a sudden wealth of healthy pitching arms for their parent club’s bullpen. But when starting pitchers CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda went on the DL it was the reliever Whitley who was surprisingly called up to the Bronx to fill in during their absence.
Thus far, he’s performed better than expected. The Yanks have won six of his eight starts and Whitley has won three of his four decisions. Will his good pitching continue? I can’t say for sure but there’s something about this six foot three inch right-hander from Radburne, AL that makes me think he’s going to be continue to pitch successfully at the big league level.
The only Yankee player in history to be born on June 13th was a journeyman pitcher named Darrell May. The Yankees picked May up from the Padres in July of 2005 in exchange for another reliever named Paul Quantrill. May had made his big league debut in 1995 for the Braves but by 1997, he had pitched his way back to the minor leagues. The Royals brought him back to the Majors in 2002 and he was a member of the Kansas City starting rotation for three seasons. His best year was 2003 when he went 10-8 for KC with a career low ERA of 3.77. The following year, May led the League in losses with 19 and he was traded to the Padres. He went 1-3 in San Diego before getting dealt for Quantrill and he made just two appearances in pinstripes, getting rocked each time and he lost his only decision as a Yankee. He pitched in the minors for one more year then hung his glove up for good.
May was born on this date in 1972, in San Bernardino, CA. The most famous ballplayer and only Hall of Famer ever born in that same city was the great big league pitcher and former Yankee manager, Bob Lemon. Darrell became the third player named “May” to play in pinstripes joining pitcher Rudy May and outfielder/DH Carlos May.
Over the years, several players have played for both the Yankees and Padres during their careers. Here’s my all-time best lineup of guys who played for both San Diego and New York. (*) Note that four members of this group are now in the Hall of Fame:
1B – Jack Clark
2B – Mark Bellhorn
3B – Graig Nettles
SS – Tony Fernandez
C – John Flaherty
OF – Dave Winfield*
OF – Ricky Henderson*
OF – Jerry Mumphrey
P – David Wells
P – Gaylord Perry*
CL – Goose Gossage*
Here’s Darrell May’s Yankee and career stats:
|KCR (3 yrs)||23||37||.383||4.81||96||84||4||7||3||0||527.1||575||311||282||97||158||330||1.390|
|ANA (2 yrs)||2||1||.667||5.47||34||2||9||0||0||0||54.1||59||34||33||7||27||43||1.583|
|PIT (1 yr)||0||1||.000||9.35||5||2||0||0||0||0||8.2||15||10||9||5||4||5||2.192|
|ATL (1 yr)||0||0||11.25||2||0||1||0||0||0||4.0||10||5||5||0||0||1||2.500|
|SDP (1 yr)||1||3||.250||5.61||22||8||9||0||0||0||59.1||73||38||37||10||20||32||1.567|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||1||.000||16.71||2||1||0||0||0||0||7.0||14||13||13||4||3||3||2.429|
Ban Johnson, the first-ever American League President did not like John McGraw, who was then the manager of the new league’s Baltimore franchise. McGraw was famous for fighting with umpires and flouting the rules. The fact that the fiery skipper also had an ownership stake in the Orioles’ franchise meant that he was technically one of the AL chief executive’s bosses, which also drove Johnson nuts. So during the 1902 season, Johnson put together a reason to put McGraw on indefinite suspension. Instead of fighting it or serving it out, McGraw jumped to the rival National League and accepted a managerial position with the New York Giants. When he did, he invited a core group of his favorite Orioles players to accompany him to his new team. That is why both McGraw and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant were already in the Big Apple when one season later, the Orioles’ franchise was also relocated there and became the Highlanders (and eventually the Yankees.) If Johnson and McGraw did not dislike each other so much both the manager and Roger Bresnahan would have become Highlanders instead of Giants and the Yankee franchise would surly have won its first Pennants and World Series much earlier in team history. Eventually, baseball’s most famous catcher during the first decade of the 20th century would one day join his buddy and skipper in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Bresnahan was a versatile athlete and a very interesting character. He was famous for his hair-trigger temper. Nobody got ejected from baseball games for fighting with umpires and opposing players more frequently than Bresnahan did and it was often necessary to call in the local police to escort the Toledo, Ohio native off the field. He was also not your prototypical catcher. He had outstanding speed, stealing 212 bases during his big league career. He was a second-string receiver for McGraw in Baltimore but when he joined the Giants they already had two catchers so Lil Napoleon started his buddy in center during his first full season in New York and he hit .350. Bresnahan had started his big league career as a pitcher and went 4-0 doing his 1897 rookie season with Washington. He actually played all nine positions during his career. This guy was also quite the innovator. It was Bresnahan who introduced shin guards to the catching position and he also wore baseball’s first-ever batting helmet.
Roger no doubt owed much of his big league success to Giant Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Matthewson. It was Matthewson who went to McGraw and told him he preferred to have Bresnahan catch his games. In 1905, the two would lead the Giants to their second straight NL Pennant and first ever World Series title. In that Fall Classic, Matthewson would throw three complete game shutouts with Bresnahan behind the plate in each of them. In addition, the Giants’ starting catcher also led New York with a .313 batting average during that Series.
Bresnahan would continue catching for the Giants until 1909, when he was offered the opportunity to become a player-manager for the Cardinals. Not wanting to stand in his friend’s way, McGraw let him go. Bresnahan would spend four years catching and managing for the Cardinals and later hold the same position with the Cubs. He retired in 1915, after playing 15 Major League seasons and would one day buy a minor league franchise in Toledo. He was voted into Cooperstown by the Old Timer’s Committee in 1945, one year after he had died of a heart attack in Toledo, at the age of 65.
Bresnahan shares his June 11th birthday with this former Yankee co-owner.
|NYG (7 yrs)||751||3024||2499||438||731||135||35||15||291||118||410||234||.293||.403||.393||.795|
|STL (4 yrs)||289||992||803||92||221||43||14||4||106||32||160||64||.275||.401||.379||.779|
|CHC (4 yrs)||249||756||633||81||151||23||7||2||64||40||99||54||.239||.345||.306||.652|
|BLA (2 yrs)||151||585||530||70||143||17||15||5||66||22||44||49||.270||.329||.387||.716|
|WHS (1 yr)||6||17||16||1||6||0||0||0||3||0||1||2||.375||.412||.375||.787|