In 1985, a 24-year-old rookie from Montebello, California named Mark Salas surprised just about everyone by hitting .300 as the starting catcher of the Minnesota Twins. Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner, always looking for a good left-hand-hitting catcher who could take advantage of his home Stadium’s short right field porch, took notice of the kid. Two seasons later, he approved a mid-season deal that brought Salas to the Bronx in exchange for the Yankees disgruntled veteran knuckleballer, Joe Niekro.
The Boss ignored the fact that Salas had followed up his stellar rookie performance by hitting just .233 in his sophomore season with the Twins. He also didn’t pay attention to Salas’s below average defensive skills behind the plate. After all, even though Salas had lost Minnesota’s starting catching job to Mark Laudner, he was hitting a robust .379 in his back-up role at the time of the trade and he was a much better hitter than Joel Skinner, who had been serving as the Yankees second string catcher that year.
So Salas came to New York and was forced upon Lou Piniella, who was not a thrilled recipient. The Yankee skipper was struggling to keep his 1987 club in first place at the time and growing increasingly frustrated by having every decision he made as manager second guessed by “the Boss.” When it became apparent that Salas was not very good defensively and he stopped hitting too, Piniella wanted Skinner brought back up from Triple A, where he had been sent to make roster room for Salas. Steinbrenner refused to approve the move. So Piniella decided to refuse to accept any more of Steinbrenner’s phone calls, which served as perfect fodder for some creative back-page headlining in the New York City tabloids.
Eventually, Skinner was recalled and Salas was sent down to Columbus. The Yankees finished that ’87 season in fourth place in the AL East race with an 89-73 record. Salas finished his only half-season as a Yankee with a .200 batting average and then got traded to the White Sox with Dan Pasqua for pitcher Rich Dotson. His big league career would end after the 1991 season. He finished with 319 lifetime hits and a .247 batting average. He then went into coaching.
|MIN (3 yrs)||233||718||663||87||185||29||9||20||83||3||41||75||.279||.320||.440||.760|
|DET (2 yrs)||107||247||221||20||43||4||0||10||31||0||21||38||.195||.272||.348||.621|
|CLE (1 yr)||30||83||77||4||17||4||1||2||7||0||5||13||.221||.277||.377||.654|
|NYY (1 yr)||50||130||115||13||23||4||0||3||12||0||10||17||.200||.279||.313||.592|
|STL (1 yr)||14||21||20||1||2||1||0||0||1||0||0||3||.100||.100||.150||.250|
|CHW (1 yr)||75||211||196||17||49||7||0||3||9||0||12||17||.250||.303||.332||.635|
Jim Konstanty became one of baseball’s first outstanding relief specialists when the Phillies brought him up to the big leagues for good in 1948. He threw a lot of junk with great control and in 1950, his work out of the bullpen won the Philadelphia Whiz Kids the NL Pennant and Konstanty an MVP award. But the following season, the right-hander thought he needed another pitch to continue his success and he claimed it was his efforts to develop that pitch that screwed up both his rhythm and confidence. Whatever the reason, Konstanty was never again able to regain his 1950 form as a Phillie. Five years after watching him hold the Yankees to just one run as Philadelphia’s surprise starter in the first game of the1950 Series, Casey Stengel told George Weiss to buy Konstanty’s contract in 1954. Jim pitched well for New York the final month of that season and in 1955, he became a top reliever in the American League with a 7-2 record, 11 saves and a 2.32 ERA. Stengel had so much pitching depth on his team that season that he decided to leave Konstanty off the World Series roster, forcing the Strykersville, NY native to watch helplessly as Brooklyn finally beat New York in a Fall Classic. New York released Konstanty the following season and he retired after a brief stint with the Cardinals. He died in 1976.
Konstanty shares his birthday with the first hitter in Yankee franchise history to lead the league in most strikeouts during a regular season.
|PHI (7 yrs)||51||39||.567||3.64||314||23||202||9||1||54||675.1||687||309||273||63||187||205||1.294|
|NYY (3 yrs)||8||3||.727||2.36||62||0||41||0||0||15||103.0||94||36||27||8||36||28||1.262|
|CIN (1 yr)||6||4||.600||2.80||20||12||4||5||1||0||112.2||113||46||35||11||33||19||1.296|
|BSN (1 yr)||0||1||.000||5.28||10||1||3||0||0||0||15.1||17||9||9||2||7||9||1.565|
|STL (1 yr)||1||1||.500||4.58||27||0||16||0||0||5||39.1||46||20||20||4||6||7||1.322|
UPDATE 2015: Year three of the Michael Pineda-for-Jesus Montero trade was perhaps the most bizarre. Why? Because as the Yankees prepare for their 2015 spring training camp, they can now claim they are getting the better results from the three-year-old transaction despite the fact that during the 2014 season:
– In an April start against the Red Sox, in one of the strangest episodes I’ve ever seen on a baseball diamond, Pineda was caught pitching with a dollop of pine tar on his neck, one start after he was caught on camera, doctoring the baseball with pine tar, resulting in a ten-game suspension for the hurler.
– While trying to stay in shape during his suspension, Pineda injured his shoulder pitching a simulated game causing yet another stay on the DL that lasted until early August.
– Jose Campos, the highly regarded pitching prospect who came to New York with Pineda in the Montero deal, was released by the Yankees after a third straight injury plagued season in the minors.
Still, the Yanks can claim they are getting the better of the deal because in the 13 starts Pineda did make for New York in 2014, he showed distinct moments of the same brilliance on the mound he exhibited during his first half season with the Mariners, when he made the 2011 AL All Star team. Though his record was just 5-5, his 2014 ERA was just 1.89, giving Yankee fans a glimpse of just how good this big lug could be if he remains both injury and pine tar free for a full year.
Meanwhile, Jesus Montero made it even easier for Pineda to come out on top in their head-to-head comparison in 2014. The one-time catching prospect reported to Seattle’s spring training grossly overweight and failed to even make the parent club’s roster. A Mariner scout, angry at Montero’s refusal to work hard and hustle during a minor league game, sent the former Yankee an ice cream sandwich as a sarcastic signal of his displeasure. The effort backfired badly, when an irate Montero attempted to enter the stands and attack the scout.
Pine tar, ice cream sandwiches, injury-after-injury, the soap opera known as the Pineda-Montero trade continues. Tune into episode number 4, this time next year.
UPDATE-2014: Phase 2 is now over and its becoming even harder to believe that the trade that brought Pineda to the Yankees two years ago was considered a blockbuster. None of the players involved spent a majority of the season on their parent club’s active 25-man roster in 2013 and Pineda, once again, didn’t see an inning of regular season action for the Yankees. In fact, he only made 10 starts in the minors last season, finishing with a 2-1 record and a 3.32 ERA. as he continued his rehab from shoulder surgery. Despite his continued inaction, there’s a lot of talk among Yankee brass this offseason that they are expecting Pineda to grab a spot on in the rotation this spring. I hope so but I won’t believe it until I see him standing on the mound in the Bronx with the ball in his hand after the National Anthem ends. So how could the original trade now look better for the Yanks than it does for the Mariners? Not only was Montero sent back to the minors by Seattle early last season because he seemed to completely forget how to hit, he was also named as one of the “Biogenesis Boys” and suspended for 50 games for violating the league’s PED policy.
UPDATE-2013: Phase 1 of the Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda trade aftermath is over and the Mariners have taken the advantage. The two players they got in the deal, Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi at least both played for the Mariners last year, albeit not as well as Seattle hoped either would. Noesi had eighteen starts for his new team, going 2-12 with an ERA in the five’s and getting demoted to Tacoma for most of the second half of the season. Montero averaged .260 for Seattle in his official rookie season, with 15 home runs, 62 RBIs and an .OPS of just .685. Seattle’s Safeco Field has proven to be a tough park for home run hitters and the Mariners have decided to move the fences in for the 2013 season. I have no doubt Montero’s power production would have been significantly better if he spent his full rookie campaign in the comfortable confines of Yankee Stadium, especially with the way this kid showed Yankee fans he could punch opposite field drives over that short right field wall in the Bronx during his September 2011 debut. The real problem with Montero is that it looks like he may not have the ability to become a decent big league catcher, defensively. The Mariners were not happy with his game management skills or his arm and he spent most of his first regular season in the northwest DH-ing.
Meanwhile, Pineda never made it out of the Yankees’ 2012 spring training camp. First he reported overweight and then he had nothing but trouble trying to get his highly touted fastball to travel even 90 miles per hour. It was almost with relief that the Yankees announced he had a physical problem with his throwing shoulder and sure enough, doctors discovered a torn labrum muscle, which required season-ending surgery. The key concern I now have about Pineda is his maturity level. He turns just 24-years-old today. Has he figured out how to take care of his huge 6 foot 7 inch body and especially that golden right arm or will he just let nature take its course? Unfortunately, a warning signal occurred this past August when police arrested Pineda in the wee hours of the morning for driving recklessly and at high speeds. He was charged with DUI. Where was he at the time? In Tampa, where he was supposed to be working out and rehabbing his shoulder. Meanwhile, not quite a week after Pineda was sidelined, Jose Campos, the well-regarded minor league pitcher the Yanks acquired with Pineda, also went on the DL of his Class A minor league team with an arm injury that pretty much ended his season.
Let’s hope Phase 2 of the Pineda/Montero swap delivers better results for the Yankees. Here’s what I wrote for Pineda’s Birthday post last year:
When President Franklin Roosevelt died, his wife Eleanor met with his just sworn in successor and asked him how he was doing. Harry Truman, referring to the intense pressure he felt at being thrust unexpectedly into the world’s most important job during a time of world war, told the former first lady it was as if the sun and the moon and all the planets and stars had just fallen on him.
I’m hoping Michael Pineda doesn’t feel like old “Give em Hell Harry” did on that fateful day. A few days ago, he was the bright young pitching star of the struggling Seattle Mariners, coming off a very decent rookie season. Then suddenly, he found himself thrust into the number two spot of the New York Yankee starting rotation and the expectations on his right arm increased a thousand fold. If he finishes the 2012 regular season with the same record (9-10) that he put up for Seattle in 2011, he might very well get booed out of Yankee Stadium.
All indications are that this youngster is the real deal. “Nasty” seems to be the adjective used most when players who’ve had to hit against him, describe this native Dominican’s stuff. I can’t help remembering Derek Jeter using the same adjective in an interview a few years ago to describe the stuff of another just-acquired-Yankee pitcher named AJ Burnett.
I got my fingers crossed for Pineda (and the young minor league pitcher named Jose Campos who the Yankees also picked up in the same trade.) I was really pretty pumped about seeing Jesus Montero get a full season of at bats in pinstripes but now that is not going to happen. Instead, I can’t wait to see Pineda get that first start in April.
The only other Yankee I could find who was born on this date was also the last Yankee to wear number 5 before Joe DiMaggio.
Here’s Pineda’s Yankee stats:
|NYY (1 yr)||5||5||.500||1.89||13||13||0||0||0||0||76.1||56||18||16||5||7||59||0||0.825|
|SEA (1 yr)||9||10||.474||3.74||28||28||0||0||0||0||171.0||133||76||71||18||55||173||5||1.099|
His December, 2004 free agent signing turned out to be one of the worst moves in Yankee front-office history. After paying him $40 million to pitch the next four seasons, the right hander left New York at the conclusion of that contract, having appeared in just 26 games in pinstripes with a 9-8 won-loss record. That equates to more than $1.5 million per start or a bit more than $4 million per victory. Rubbing just a bit more salt in the Yankee’s wounds, Pavano then won 31 times in his first two post Yankee seasons, including a 17-11 record with the Twins in 2010 that had Brian Cashman even considering bringing the guy back to the Bronx in 2011.
That didn’t happen. Pavano ended up signing a new $17 million two-year deal to remain with Minnesota. Turns out Cashman and New York avoided another bad deal. He was a combined 11-18 for the Twins during the two years covered by that contract and his 2012 season was limited to just 11 starts by a shoulder injury that required surgical repair. Then in January of 2013, Pavano slipped and fell while shoveling the driveway of his home in Vermont and ruptured his spleen. He was contemplating a comeback at the time of that mishap but it looks as if his pitching career is now over.
|MON (5 yrs)||24||35||.407||4.83||81||78||0||1||1||0||452.2||493||264||243||55||159||304||1.440|
|MIN (4 yrs)||33||33||.500||4.32||88||88||0||10||3||0||579.2||654||303||278||63||101||311||1.302|
|NYY (3 yrs)||9||8||.529||5.00||26||26||0||1||1||0||145.2||182||96||81||23||30||75||1.455|
|FLA (3 yrs)||33||23||.589||3.64||86||71||3||4||2||0||485.0||492||212||196||40||112||313||1.245|
|CLE (1 yr)||9||8||.529||5.37||21||21||0||1||1||0||125.2||150||80||75||19||23||88||1.377|
I remember being somewhat excited by the news that the Yankees had acquired Kittle in a trade with the White Sox, after the 1986 All Star break. He had been named AL Rookie of the Year just three seasons earlier, when he belted 35 home runs and drove in 100 for Chicago. Even though he was a right-handed hitter who would not be able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, the guy had impressive power and I thought he’d make a decent contribution if then Yankee Manager, Lou Piniella could find a place to play him. That turned out to be the problem. Piniella had too many DHs and outfielders on his roster already and he couldn’t give Kittle the volume of at bats streaky hitters like him needed to get hot. What the Yankees really needed back then was starting pitchers. I still can’t believe a Yankee lineup that featured Dave Winfield, Ricky Henderson and Donnie Baseball, all in their primes, never made it to the postseason. Ron did play the entire 1987 season with New York, getting in 59 games and hitting 12 home runs but the Yankees ended up releasing him after that season. Kittle was born in Gary, Indiana on January 5, 1958.
|CHW (8 yrs)||657||2433||2183||292||517||83||3||140||374||14||201||606||.237||.307||.470||.777|
|NYY (2 yrs)||89||262||239||29||63||7||0||16||40||2||17||59||.264||.309||.494||.803|
|CLE (1 yr)||75||254||225||31||58||8||0||18||43||0||16||65||.258||.323||.533||.856|
|BAL (1 yr)||22||64||61||4||10||2||0||2||3||0||2||14||.164||.203||.295||.498|
I really started collecting baseball cards in 1961. As a passionate six-year-old Yankee fan at the time, opening a nickel pack of Topps cards and discovering a Bronx Bomber inside felt like I had found a thousand dollar bill, well maybe not in all cases.
I can remember feeling no such thrill when I got the card pictured with today’s featured Pinstripe Birthday post. I’m sure Joe DeMaestri was a great guy and in his prime he was considered one of the upper tier shortstops in the American League. But he had spent those prime years of his career playing for the A’s in both Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Even though over a half century has passed since I purchased the pack from Puglisi’s Confectionary on Guy Park Avenue in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY, I still clearly remember this card. That’s because in addition to being perhaps the least recognized player on that 1961 Yankee team, DeMaestri wasn’t even wearing a Yankee hat when they took his picture for the card and I used to hate when that happened. Still, he was a Yankee and therefore it was a Yankee card so I figured it was a nickel well spent, just not one that returned that customary thrill worth a thousand bucks.
As it turned out, that 1961 season was this San Francisco native’s final year in the big leagues. The Yankees had acquired him in the historic seven player deal they made with Kansas City that also put Roger Maris in pinstripes. Nicknamed “Oats,” DeMaestri had been New York’s primary utility infielder for two seasons, appearing in just 79 total games during that span but getting the opportunity to play in his only World Series in 1960 and win his only ring in ’61. His most noteworthy moment in Yankee history took place in the eighth inning of the seventh game of that ’60 fall classic in Pittsburgh. It was DeMaestri who replaced Tony Kubek at short, after Bill Virdon’s certain double-play grounder hit a stone in the Forbes Field infield and struck Tony Kubek in the throat. In addition to almost killing the Yankee shortstop, the play started the rally that enabled Pittsburgh to erase a three run deficit and take a two-run lead. Ironically, all season long, New York manager Casey Stengel had been shifting Kubek from shortstop to replace Yogi Berra in left field in the eighth inning of games in which the Yankees had the lead. DeMaestri would then replace Kubek at short. For some reason, the “Ol Perfessor” didn’t make that move that afternoon in Forbes Field and you have to wonder how DeMaestri would have approached and been able to play that same ground ball.
In any event, my older brother Jerry and I were able to collect every card in that 1961 Topps series, but unlike all the rest of those we collected as kids, I don’t have this DeMaestri card anymore. Tragically, the younger brother of one of Jerry’s classmates was struck by a car and killed that year. I still remember walking up to his house a few days later with my brother and giving his grieving friend our entire collection of 1961 Topps baseball cards as our way of expressing sympathy for his loss.
He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and a Yankee franchise Hall-of-Famer nobody remembers.
|KCA (7 yrs)||905||3325||3105||292||742||104||20||47||256||15||155||453||.239||.277||.331||.608|
|NYY (2 yrs)||79||77||76||9||14||1||0||0||4||0||0||22||.184||.184||.197||.382|
|SLB (1 yr)||81||198||186||13||42||9||1||1||18||0||8||25||.226||.258||.301||.559|
|CHW (1 yr)||56||79||74||8||15||0||2||1||3||0||5||11||.203||.253||.297||.550|
I was one of those Yankee fans who was vociferously against the 2013 preseason deal that made Vernon Wells a Yankee. I understand how and why it happened. When both Granderson and Texeira went down with injuries this spring and it became apparent that Jeter was not ready to play, New York’s front office went into sort of a cheapskate panic mode. They needed to do something fast but they wanted it to also be easy and not too expensive. That explains the Vernon Wells deal in a nutshell. All one had to do to understand this was listen to the incessant bragging the team’s publicity department did about how the Angels had agreed to pick up most of the outfielder’s salary for the next two years.
Still, as a loyal, long-time Yankee fan, once the deal went down, I became a Vernon Wells fan and rooted for him like crazy. My sincere hope was that I would be proven completely wrong about his inability to help this Yankee team make the playoffs. And for about six weeks at the beginning of the season, it looked as if I might have been. Wells got out of the gate quickly and helped the Yankees do the same. By the end of April, he was hitting .300 and was on a pace to hit 30 home runs and drive in 90. Then two weeks later, Wells pretty much stopped hitting. He hit his 10th home run of the season on May 15. He then went three months before he hit another. By the end of June, his batting average had fallen to .223 and it was apparent to me that the move to obtain Wells would definitely not go down in franchise history as one of Brian Cashman’s better ones.
Now that the Yankees have signed Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, one has to wonder if Wells will even be on the Yankee roster when Opening Day 2014 rolls around. He can still play good outfield defense but with Gardner, Soriano and Suzuki all still in Pinstripes, the Yankees have a glut of extra outfielders.
Wells was born in Shreveport, Louisiana on December 8, 1978. As anyone who has ever been his teammate will tell you, this guy is a class act in the clubhouse and during his prime, was one of the top outfielders in the American League. Even though he did not perform well during the 2013 season, he hustled every second he was on the field and handled the critical New York media like the consummate professional he is. That’s why I for one will continue to root for Vernon Wells.
|TOR (12 yrs)||1393||5963||5470||789||1529||339||30||223||813||90||406||762||.280||.329||.475||.804|
|LAA (2 yrs)||208||791||748||96||166||24||4||36||95||12||36||121||.222||.258||.409||.667|
|NYY (1 yr)||130||458||424||45||99||16||0||11||50||7||30||73||.233||.282||.349||.631|