When I started following the Yankees in 1960, their best minor league outfield prospects required patience or a willingness to relocate. That’s because the parent club had Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, both in their primes, solidly stationed in center field and right, while in left they used a trio of highly skilled veterans that included Yogi Berra, Hector Lopez and Bob Cerv. There was simply not enough playing time available at the big league level for young promising outfield prospects like today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant to develop. As a result, they either stayed in the minors a very long time or they were traded to other teams to shore up weaknesses New York had in other areas.
Lee Thomas was one such prospect. The Yankees signed him right out of high school in 1954. He spent the next seven seasons climbing up the alphabet ladder of New York’s farm system, impressing everyone along the way with his patience at the plate, his ability to hit for average and his power. In his final two minor league seasons he averaged 27 home runs and 115 RBIs per season with a batting average right around .320. His only negative was a sometimes violent temper that would earn him the nickname “Mad Dog.”
By the 1961 Spring Training season, he was so good and so ready that first-year Yankee manager Ralph Houk had no choice but to put him on the Opening Day roster. But this was the same 1961 Yankee team that most baseball historians consider to be one of the great teams in MLB history, which is why during the first six weeks of the regular season, the only action Thomas had seen was two pinch-hitting opportunities. Finally, Roger Maris approached the rookie and told him he was too good a player to sit on the Yankee bench or get sent back down to triple A. Thomas explained what happened next in an interview documented in the book “The Yankees in the Early 1960’s,” authored by William J. Ryczek. On a flight to LA for a series against the Angels, Maris approached Thomas and told him he and Mantle had a plan to take care of the rookie. When the Yankees started batting practice in LA’s old Wrigley Field, the original home of the expansion team, Mickey, Roger and two other Yankee starters gave up their time in the batting cage so that Thomas could have an extended session in front of the watchful eyes of Angel skipper, Bill Rigney. These extended sessions continued for the next two games as well. Thomas took advantage of the showcase by smashing the ball all over the park. He said he hit at least fifteen home runs during those sessions and sure enough, before the Yankees left town, the Angels made a trade for the rookie.
Even though the deal meant a full-time big league starting position for Thomas, he admitted he hated leaving the Bronx Bombers. He knew that 1961 team was special, he knew they were going to win it all and he wanted to be part of it but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Thomas immediately became a star for the struggling expansion Angels. He hit 24 home runs for them in 1961 and in ’62, he made the AL All Star team and ended the season with 26 HRs, 105 RBIs and a .290 batting average. He appeared to have found a permanent home with the Halos but all of a sudden, he stopped hitting. Thomas’s average fell seventy points in 1963, and his home runs and RBIs that year dropped pretty much in half. When his slump continued into the first part of the 1964 season, the Angels sent him to the Red Sox for Boston outfielder, Lou Clinton.
The change of scenery seemed to help revive Lee’s bat a bit. He hit 13 home ruins for Boston during the final two thirds of the ’64 season and drove in 42 runs. The following year he did even better, with 22 home runs, 71 RBIs and he raised his batting average up to a more respectable .271. He probably thought he had found a new home in Beantown right up until ten days before Christmas in 1965, when he found out he had been traded to Atlanta for Braves’ pitchers Dan Osinski and Bob Sadowski.
He floundered horribly in Atlanta, and was hitting just .188 by the end of May when he was told he had been traded again, this time to the Cubs. After a season and a half in the Windy City and a final year playing with Houston, Thomas was gone from the big leagues for good. Thomas then got into managing at the minor league level for a few seasons before moving up to the big league front office of the Cardinals where he was named the organization’s Farm Director. He then got the Phillies’ GM job in 1988 and kept it for nine years. Thomas then returned to Boston where he served as assistant GM under Dan Duquette. He was born in Peoria, IL on February 5, 1936.
|LAA (4 yrs)||486||1945||1733||231||460||52||14||61||253||13||173||252||.265||.336||.417||.753|
|BOS (2 yrs)||258||1045||922||118||244||46||6||35||117||8||106||71||.265||.343||.441||.785|
|CHC (2 yrs)||152||379||340||31||78||8||1||3||32||1||29||37||.229||.300||.285||.585|
|ATL (1 yr)||39||139||126||11||25||1||1||6||15||1||10||15||.198||.261||.365||.626|
|NYY (1 yr)||2||2||2||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.500||.500||.500||1.000|
|HOU (1 yr)||90||221||201||14||39||4||0||1||11||2||14||22||.194||.249||.229||.478|
Johnny Sturm was not your prototypical Yankee starting first baseman. He was instead, a singles hitter. In fact, no Yankee starting first baseman in the history of the franchise ever had a slugging average lower than the .300 figure turned in by Sturm during the 1941 regular season.
Lou Gehrig had set the impossible-to-fill mold all future Yankee first sackers would be measured by. Babe Dahlgren, the Iron Horse’s immediate successor had not hit more than 15 home runs or averaged above .264 during his two seasons in the position. Meanwhile, Sturm was hitting well over .300 and averaging 180 base-hits per year while playing first base for the Yankee’s farm team in Kansas City. At the end of New York’s 1941 spring training camp, Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy made the decision to put Sturm and two other infielders from that Kansas City farm club, second baseman Jerry Priddy and shortstop Phil Rizzuto on the Yank’s Opening Day roster. With an outfield full of home run power (DiMaggio, Henrich and Keller would each hit 30 round-trippers in 1941) plus Joe Gordon, Marse Joe figured any of these rookies and maybe even all three would be perfect table setters for the Yankees’ big bats.
The plan seemed reasonable but during the season a couple of hitches emerged. After getting the Opening Day start at first, Sturm was quickly benched so that Joe Gordon could move to first and McCarthy could play Priddy and Rizzuto together in the middle of the Yankee infield. But Priddy could not get himself untracked at the plate and by mid-May, “Marse Joe” had moved Gordon back to second and was starting Sturm at first. Almost immediately, Sturm went on an 11-game hitting streak and by the end of it, McCarthy had moved him into the leadoff spot of the Yankee lineup where he would remain for the rest of the ’41 season. Like Priddy however, Sturm also struggled with big league pitching, averaging just .239 during his rookie season. As a result, he scored just 58 times in 568 plate appearances. Despite that poor showing, McCarthy stuck with his punchless rookie in that year’s World Series and the then-25-year-old Sturm came through with a .318 average in the Yankees’ victory over Brooklyn, hitting safely in each of that Fall Classic’s five games.
So why did McCarthy stick with Sturm’s inefficient bat at first instead of giving Priddy another chance at second? After all, Phil Rizzuto always insisted that Priddy was a much better ballplayer than the Scooter was and could do everything well on a baseball field. From what I’ve read, it seems Priddy was a very cocky kid who thought nothing of mouthing off at his veteran Yankee teammates and vocally insisting he was as good as or better than most of them. Such brashness, especially from a rookie, did not sit well with his teammates. As a result, few if any of them showed any sympathy or offered to help Priddy with his offensive struggles, while reacting in the exact opposite way with the much more likable Sturm. I’m sure McCarthy realized all this and kept Priddy on the bench in part because he didn’t want to antagonize his veteran players.
Sturm’s very good 1941 postseason performance convinced most Yankee observers that he would be back at first base come the following season, but two months later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. On January 13, 1942, Sturm became the first married big league ballplayer to be drafted into military service. He spent most of his time in the Army playing baseball but he also was part of a detail that built baseball fields on army posts. While driving a tractor on one such detail, Sturm was involved in an accident that resulted in the amputation of two fingers on his non-throwing hand. When he tried to rejoin the Yankees in 1946, that injury destroyed his chances at being successful. Instead, he became a player-manager in the Yankees farm system and one day in 1948, while serving in that role for New York’s Class C Western Association League franchise in Joplin, Sturm’s phone rang. A father of a high school player was calling to request a tryout for his son. Sturm listened to the voice on the other end of the line tell him why this kid was worth looking at and was convinced enough to place a call to Yankee scout Tom Greenwade and arrange a tryout. The name of the dad who called Sturm that day was Mutt Mantle and the rest is Yankee history.
I began paying attention to the White Sox starting pitching rotation right around 1980. That was the season a former Yankee minor league phee-nom named Lamarr Hoyt made his first big league start for Chicago and went an impressive 9-3 in his rookie year. The Yankees had included Hoyt in the package of players they used to acquire shortstop Bucky Dent from the White Sox three seasons earlier and I had kept an eye on Hoyt’s progress ever since.
The Chicago rotation Hoyt joined that season included some very good young pitchers headed by 21-year-old Britt Burns, who led the staff with 15 victories that season. Hoyt and Burns were joined by 22-year-old left-hander Steve Trout and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Rich Dotson. Dotson was a 21-year-old rookie at the time, who finished the year with an impressive 12-10 record. Back then, the Yankee rotation by contrast was ancient but still effective, with 39-year-old Luis Tiant, 37-year-old Tommy John and 35-year-old Rudy May helping 29-year-old Ron Guidry win the AL East. Yankee fans like me couldn’t help but notice the young guns being assembled in the Windy City and wish our favorite team was as well-stocked with fresh young arms.
Dotson had a superb start to his sophomore year. By June 9th of the ’81 season, the young right-hander was 7-3 and four of those seven victories were complete game shutouts. Two days later the season stopped when players went on strike. The disruption clearly bothered Dotson, who went just 2-5 during the second half of the split season.
The Cincinnati native would reach his apex as a pro two years later when he went 22-7 to help lead the White Sox to an AL West Division flag. It looked as if he was on his way to becoming one of baseball’s premier right-handed pitchers after he started the ’84 season with 11 wins in his first 15 decisions and made the All Star team. But he fell apart in the second half of that year and the White Sox collapsed in the standings. A circulatory problem was later discovered in Dotson’s throwing shoulder and it limited him to just nine starts in 1985. After two more losing seasons in Chicago, he was traded to the Yankees in November of 1987, for outfielder Dan Pasqua.
Ironically, both Steve Trout and Britt Burns had preceded their former pitching mate to the Bronx in earlier deals and both had failed miserably. Dotson fared better in pinstripes than both of them, winning 12 games for New York in 1988, but his ERA hit five and the Yankees finished in a disappointing fifth place in the AL East. When he continued to struggle the following year, new Yankee manager Dallas Green demoted Dotson to the bullpen and a few weeks later, the pitcher was given his unconditional release. He retired after the 1990 season with a lifetime record of 111-113.
|CHW (10 yrs)||97||95||.505||4.02||254||250||4||50||11||0||1606.0||1594||799||718||156||637||873||1.389|
|NYY (2 yrs)||14||14||.500||5.13||43||38||2||5||0||0||222.2||247||136||127||35||89||91||1.509|
|KCR (1 yr)||0||4||.000||8.48||8||7||1||0||0||0||28.2||43||29||27||3||14||9||1.988|
Bobby Bonds came to the Yankees in a blockbuster trade that sent Yankee fan favorite, Bobby Murcer to the Giants in 1974. After a strong 1975 season in Pinstripes, Bobby was traded to the Angels for Ed Fiqueroa and Mickey Rivers. Bond’s most memorable contribution to baseball was his son Barry. Bonds died of Lung Cancer in August 2003.
I was 20-years-old when the Bonds for Murcer trade was made and can remember it as if it were yesterday. As a lifelong Yankee fan who had watched the Bomber dynasty crumble in the latter half of the sixties, Murcer was my favorite player at that time. He didn’t have superstar skills but he was the best player on some of the worst Yankee teams in the franchise’s hallowed history.
I started watching baseball in 1960 as a six-year-old and back then, Yankee fans took for granted that every October we’d be able to watch our Bronx Bombers play in the World Series. And that was the case right up until 1965. Then, within a matter of just a few years, instead of rooting for guys like Mantle, Maris, Berra, Ford, Howard and Skowron to win a pennant, I found myself actually getting some satisfaction when players with names like Tepedino, Repoz, Whitaker, Amaro and Kenney could win just enough to keep my team out of the AL basement.
Murcer, Mel Stottlemyre, and a new kid named Munson were pretty much the only bright spots for us Yankee fans during that bleak period and then “The Boss” showed up in the Bronx. After putting together and heading a group of investors that purchased the team from CBS in January of 1973, George Steinbrenner began looking to make huge changes to the roster almost immediately, convinced he could deal his team back into the World Series.
He therefore was ready to jump at the opportunity to acquire Bonds from the SF Giants for Murcer. Baseball pundits at the time thought a lot more of Bonds’ skills than Murcer’s and they were right. Bonds was a genuine five-tool player who always seemed just on the verge of super stardom. Murcer on the other hand, earned his keep by playing hard every second he was on the field. Plus Bobby loved being a Yankee and always used to say that the saddest day of his life was the day the Yankees swapped him for Bonds.
As it turned out, Steinbrenner was right about this one but not because Bonds ended up leading New York back to the Fall Classic. Instead, after just one pretty good year in pinstripes, the Yanks swapped him for Fiqueroa and Rivers who immediately became two critical cogs in the team’s drive to the 1976 World Series.
|SFG (7 yrs)||1014||4610||4047||765||1106||188||42||186||552||263||500||1016||.273||.356||.478||.834|
|CAL (2 yrs)||257||1106||970||151||256||33||12||47||169||71||115||231||.264||.340||.468||.808|
|STL (1 yr)||86||270||231||37||47||5||3||5||24||15||33||74||.203||.305||.316||.621|
|TEX (1 yr)||130||555||475||85||126||15||4||29||82||37||69||110||.265||.356||.497||.853|
|CHC (1 yr)||45||190||163||26||35||7||1||6||19||5||24||44||.215||.323||.380||.703|
|CLE (1 yr)||146||631||538||93||148||24||1||25||85||34||74||135||.275||.367||.463||.830|
|NYY (1 yr)||145||626||529||93||143||26||3||32||85||30||89||137||.270||.375||.512||.888|
|CHW (1 yr)||26||102||90||8||25||4||0||2||8||6||10||10||.278||.347||.389||.735|
The first few times I watched Tyler Clippard pitch in a Yankee uniform, I did not think he was going to be a particularly effective big league pitcher. I suppose one of the reasons I formed that initial opinion was the right-hander’s very unorthodox windup. Clippard is tall and thin and during his delivery, it seemed as if he could fold his back into a right angle and puff out his chest to a point where you thought it was going to explode. At the same time, he stretched and waved every appendage on his body to their furthest points. After winning 31 games during his four-year stay in the Yankee farm system, he made his big league debut against the Mets in May of 2007, pitching six strong innings and getting a win. Just 22 years old at the time, Clippard seemed to pitch less effectively in each successive start. He had a fastball in the very low nineties, he walked a lot of batters and he gave up a lot of fly balls. As a right-hander in the old Yankee Stadium that was not a good recipe for success on the mound. But Clippard did have an outstanding change-up, which made his very low nineties heater much more sneaky fast. New York’s front office gave up on the Yankee Clippard after the 2007 postseason, trading him to the Nationals for Jonathan Albaladejo. Clippard has evolved into a real force in Washington’s bullpen. He saved 32 games for the Nats in 2012. Meanwhile, Albaladejo did nothing but struggle for the Yankees.
|WSN (6 yrs)||27||20||.574||2.77||339||2||82||0||0||33||393.2||257||127||121||46||159||448||1.057|
|NYY (1 yr)||3||1||.750||6.33||6||6||0||0||0||0||27.0||29||19||19||6||17||18||1.704|
The Yankees obtained pitcher Ted Lilly as a player to be named later in a 2000 trade that sent Hideki Irabu to Montreal. Although he was just 8-12 during his one and a half seasons in pinstripes, I remember liking the way the young left hander conducted himself on the mound. In one of his final starts as a Yankee, Lilly threw a complete game, three-hit shutout against the Padres and I was certain he was about to become a solid winner in the Yankee rotation. Shows you how astute I was about Yankee baseball. Just two weeks after that shutout, New York traded away Lilly in a three-team deal that put pitcher Jeff Weaver in Pinstripes. Irabu left baseball in 2003. Weaver never became the big winner experts thought he would. Meanwhile, Lilly won 130 games after leaving the Bronx with his best year coming in 2008, when he went 17-9 for the Cubs. Lilly was born January 4, 1976, in Torrance, CA. He announced his retirement after the 2013 postseason.
Another Yankee who celebrated his birthday on January 4 was this right-fielder who took the place of Babe Ruth in New York’s lineup, in 1935. This former Yankee GM and this former Yankee reliever were also born on January 4th.
|LAD (4 yrs)||24||21||.533||3.83||58||58||0||1||1||0||341.0||296||157||145||48||95||284||1.147|
|CHC (4 yrs)||47||34||.580||3.70||113||113||0||0||0||0||705.2||623||306||290||101||184||598||1.144|
|NYY (3 yrs)||8||12||.400||4.65||49||32||4||2||1||0||205.1||191||118||106||31||80||182||1.320|
|TOR (3 yrs)||37||34||.521||4.52||89||89||0||2||1||0||505.1||485||269||254||77||228||424||1.411|
|OAK (2 yrs)||14||11||.560||4.37||38||36||0||0||0||0||201.2||202||104||98||29||65||165||1.324|
|MON (1 yr)||0||1||.000||7.61||9||3||1||0||0||0||23.2||30||20||20||7||9||28||1.648|
Don Gullett was just nineteen years old when he made his Major League debut in 1970 as a relief pitcher for Cincinnati. The Lynn, Kentucky native struck out Willie Mays to end his first inning of work in the big leagues. He got his first win a few days later when Reds ace Jim Maloney tore his achilles tendon in a game against the Dodgers and Gullett was called in to replace him. Willie Stargell called the hard-throwing rookie’s stuff “wall-to-wall heat” and for the next seven seasons, this left-hander was one of the most dominating pitchers in the National League and became the ace of the Big Red Machine’s pitching staff. After Cincinnati swept the Yankees in the 1976 World Series, Gullett became one of George Steinbrenner’s earliest free-agent acquisitions. He paid immediate dividends, going 14-4 for the 1977 World Championship Yankee team. The following year he won four of his first six decisions before a sore arm shut him down. The diagnosis was a double tear of the rotator cuff in his left shoulder. He worked like crazy to rehab the damage but never again pitched in the big leagues. His nine-year career resulted in 109 lifetime victories and an amazing .686 winning percentage.
Gullett shares his January 6th birthday with this long-ago Highlander starting hurler, this former Yankee shortstop, this former reliever and this one-time Yankee pitcher who was better known for his days as a Brooklyn Dodger.
|CIN (7 yrs)||91||44||.674||3.03||236||156||35||35||13||11||1187.0||1022||442||400||98||412||777||1.208|
|NYY (2 yrs)||18||6||.750||3.59||30||30||0||9||1||0||203.0||183||86||81||17||89||144||1.340|