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|
I will always have a special affinity for Victor John Angelo Raschi, even though I never saw him throw a pitch in a single big league game. That’s because he started his professional and Yankee career in my home town of Amsterdam, NY, pitching for the Amsterdam Rugmakers in 1941. At the time, the Rugmakers were New York’s minor league affiliate in the old Canadian American League.
Notice that year, 1941 again. Raschi was born on March 28, 1919 in West Springfield, MA. That was not a particularly good time to be born if you turned out to be an aspiring big league baseball player. Why? Because just as you reached the age at which most professional baseball careers began, your country got involved in WWII and you were called to serve. So after going 10-6 for the Rugmakers that first season and becoming a legend in my home town, Raschi got to spend just one more season in the Yankee farm system before joining the air force for the next three years.
By the time he returned, in 1946, the Springfield, Massachusetts native was already 27-years-old and by the time he became a starter for New York he was 29. For a half-dozen seasons from 1948 to 1954, this fire-baller was as good as any pitcher in baseball. Raschi was a three-time twenty-game winner for the Yankees, compiling a .706 winning percentage and a 120-50 record during his nine years in pinstripes. He combined with Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat to give New York one of the top trio of starters to ever pitch in the same Yankee rotation and that rotation led them to five straight World Series victories from 1949 to 1953.
Unfortunately, Raschi’s Yankee career ended on a sour note when he complained vociferously about a pay cut the Yankees forced upon him after he went 13-6 in 1953. Yankee GM George Weiss sold the then 34-year-old veteran to the Cardinals. It turned out to be the right move by the heartless Weiss as Raschi never again had a winning season in the big leagues. If military service had not stalled the start of his career, I feel Raschi would be in Cooperstown today. He died in 1988 at the age of 69. It was Yankee announcer, Mel Allen who gave this great Yankee right-hander the nickname, “The Springfield Rifle.”
|NYY (8 yrs)||120||50||.706||3.47||218||207||5||99||24||3||1537.0||1347||659||593||104||620||832||1.280|
|STL (2 yrs)||8||10||.444||4.88||31||30||0||6||2||0||180.2||187||103||98||24||72||74||1.434|
|KCA (1 yr)||4||6||.400||5.42||20||18||0||1||0||0||101.1||132||66||61||10||35||38||1.648|
Normally, a player with as few appearances as Herb Karpel had with the New York Yankees would not be featured on the Pinstripe Birthday Blog. You’re reading about him now only because he happened to have one of the greatest seasons of any pitcher in the history of the Amsterdam, Rugmakers. The Rugmakers were the Yankees’ old Class C affiliate in the Canadian-American League and I happen to have been born in Amsterdam, NY, which of course was the hometown of the Rugmaker team, from 1938 until the CanAm League was shut down after the 1951 season.
Karpel, a southpaw who was born in Brooklyn, NY and signed by the Yankees in 1937, spent the 1939 season with Amsterdam. He went 19-9 that year leading Amsterdam to the regular season pennant. During the next three seasons he climbed the rungs of New York’s farm system ladder, achieving double-digit victory totals at every stop. That’s when the US Army came calling. Karpel spent the next three years serving his country and when he was discharged in 1946, he was invited to New York’s spring training camp and pitched well enough to make the Opening Day roster.
He made his Yankee debut at the Stadium on April 19, 1946, in the eighth inning of the team’s home opener versus the Senators. He retired the only hitter he faced. New York skipper, Joe McCarthy threw him right back into the fire the next day, again against Washington, but this time with the Yankees trailing the Senators by a run. Karpel got hammered, surrendering four hits and two runs in his one-and-a-third innings of work. That turned out to be the last inning and a third he would ever pitch as a Yankee and as a big leaguer. McCarthy sent him to New York’s Triple A affiliate in Newark and Karpel went 14-6 for the Bears during the rest of that ’46 season.
He would keep pitching in the minors until 1951 before finally retiring. His footnote in Yankee history is that he was the last Yankee player to wear uniform number 37 before Casey Stengel put it on his back and made it famous.
Gus Triandos passed through my hometown on his way to a very noteworthy big league career. He spent the 1950 season playing for the Amsterdam Rugmakers, the Yankees’ Class C affiliate in the old CanAm League. He hit an amazing .363 that season and impressed every baseball-lovng fan in Amsterdam with his shotgun arm and powerful swing. In fact, Triandos impressed fans in each of the seven Yankee minor league home towns he played in during his half-dozen season climb up the Yankee farm system, which was interrupted by two years of military service during the Korean War.
The only weakness Triandos had on a baseball field was his slowness afoot. Simply put, the guy was considered one of the slowest runners in Major League history. Despite that handicap, his strong hitting and outstanding defensive ability were clear indications that this native of San Francisco and son of Greek immigrants would some day be a starting catcher on a big league team. Blocking his path to that destiny with the Yankees was a guy named Yogi Berra.
The Yankees brought Triandos up a first time in mid-August of the 1953 season. Casey Stengel got the then 22-year-old prospect into 18 games down the stretch and he hit his first and only home run as a Yankee. But he averaged just .157 and when the season was over so was his Yankee career, pretty much. He spent almost the entire ’54 season with the Yanks’ Double A club in Birmingham and that November, was included in a historic 17-player transaction with the Orioles that brought Bob Turley and Don Larsen to the Yankees.
It was the big break Triandos’s career needed. He was actually the starting first baseman on the 1955 Baltimore team and Hal Smith started behind the plate. He took over the starting catcher’s job during the 1956 season and remained in that role for the next seven years. He quickly established his reputation as one of the league’s best all-around receivers. He made three straight AL All Star teams and his 30-home runs in 1958 tied Berra’s record for most HRs by a catcher in a season. Though he was still obscured by the Yankee great’s shadow, he became a huge fan favorite in Baltimore, where they named a street after him.
Triandos gained lots of notoriety and sympathy for having to catch Hoyt Wilhelm’s fluttering knuckleball during the Hall-of-Famer’s four-plus seasons as an Oriole. Baltimore manager, Paul Richards designed and had made an over-sized catcher’s mitt to assist Triandos with the task. Though Wilhelm had some of his best big league seasons pitching to Triandos, including his only no-hitter, big Gus often said that catching the hurler’s signature pitch was the worst part of his career.
In 1962, Triandos was traded to the Detroit Tigers and a year later, Detroit sent him and pitcher Jim Bunning to the Phillies. It was there that he caught his second career no-hitter, when Bunning accomplished the feat in June of 1964 against the Mets. But Triandos had stopped hitting during his final few seasons in Baltimore and never again regained his stroke. He retired after the 1965 season and returned to his native California, where he started a mail delivery business. He died in his sleep, from heart failure in March of 2013 at the age of 82. One of my favorite all-time TV shows was the HBO series “Wire,” which dramatized crime and corruption in the City of Baltimore. This story of how Triandos was immortalized in an episode of the show is must reading for fans of this great former Oriole.
|BAL (8 yrs)||953||3610||3186||331||794||119||6||142||517||1||365||487||.249||.326||.424||.751|
|PHI (2 yrs)||103||311||270||20||61||11||0||8||37||0||35||58||.226||.314||.356||.669|
|NYY (2 yrs)||20||56||52||5||8||2||0||1||6||0||3||10||.154||.200||.250||.450|
|HOU (1 yr)||24||78||72||5||13||2||0||2||7||0||5||14||.181||.244||.292||.535|
|DET (1 yr)||106||369||327||28||78||13||0||14||41||0||32||67||.239||.315||.407||.722|
How many third string catchers hit 21 home runs in a season? That’s exactly what this Minneapolis native did in 1961, while playing behind both Elston Howard and Yogi Berra. In the 1961 Fall Classic, Blanchard blasted two home runs against the Reds in just ten total at-bats.
He had been a three sport all-star in high school who could have attended the University of Minnesota on a basketball scholarship, but chose to play baseball instead. The Yankees gave him a $50,000 bonus to sign with them in 1951, which at the time was a huge amount of money. Having been an outfielder during his high school days, Blanchard entered a Yankee organization loaded with outfielders at every level. Since they gave him so much money to sign, New York decided to start him near the top, in triple A ball with their Kansas City affiliate. When he struggled there he was demoted to single A Binghamton, where he played even worse. It was right about this time that the Yankees got the idea to convert him to catcher, and that conversion began when Blanchard was again demoted during his first season in the minors, this time to the Class C Amsterdam Rugmakers, who used to play in my New York State hometown.
The following year, he started to catch full time for the Yankees’ class C team in Joplin Missouri and banged 30 home runs and averaged .301. Just when he thought he was on his way, Uncle Sam called and Blanchard spent the next two years of his life in the US Army. He made his Yankee debut during a brief 1955 cup-of-coffee preview and then was brought up for good in 1959. The problem was that when he finally reached the Bronx, both Yogi Berra and Elston Howard were doing his job just fine and Blanchard quickly became convinced that Yankee skipper Casey Stengel did not like him. He did however, appear in five games during New York’s 1960 World series defeat to Pittsburgh and averaged .455 in that Fall Classic. But it wasn’t until Ralph Houk took over the team in 1961 and made Berra his left fielder that Blanchard finally started seeing more game action.
Johnny played seven seasons in all for the Yankees and got to the World Series five times. Nobody loved wearing the pinstripes more than this guy. I read an interview with Mel Stottlemyre not too long ago in which the former Yankee pitcher recalled the day during the 1965 season when he walked into the Yankee clubhouse before a game and found Blanchard crying inconsolably. The Yankees had just traded the catcher and pitcher Roland Sheldon to the A’s for catcher Doc Edwards. Blanchard had a good bat but a weak arm. Elston Howard had just been injured and put on the disabled list and the Yankees feared opposing teams would run crazy on Blanchard so they made the trade. Like everything else New York did during that 1965 season, Edwards turned out to be a bust. This popular Yankee died in March of 2009.
Blanchard had been a big drinker during his Yankee days. In fact, one of his best friends on the Yankees had been Ryne Duren, who was hardly ever sober. Fortunately, after he retired, Blanchard realized his problem and kicked the habit. He became a successful salesman for printing companies.
This pitcher who shares Blanchard’s birthday was the first ex Yankee to become a Texas Ranger. I’m not referring to the Texas Ranger baseball team, I mean the real Texas Rangers! This one-time Yankee first base prospect was also born on February 26.
|NYY (8 yrs)||454||1207||1063||126||260||34||2||64||187||2||126||146||.245||.325||.461||.786|
|MLN (1 yr)||10||12||10||1||1||0||0||1||2||0||2||1||.100||.250||.400||.650|
|KCA (1 yr)||52||132||120||10||24||2||0||2||11||0||8||16||.200||.250||.267||.517|
The phone rang and he let it ring one more time before picking it up. His family, friends and coaches who were gathered in his Sarasota, Florida living room that early June day in 1993 all fell silent and turned their attention to the expression on the face of the eighteen-year-old high school pitcher who was now holding the receiver tightly to his ear. As soon as they saw the huge grin break out across his face, every person in the room knew not only who was on the other end of that phone conversation but also what he had just said. The caller was Yankee scout Paul Turco, and he had just told the talented teenager that he had been selected with the Yankees first draft pick (13th overall) in Major League Baseball’s 1993 Amateur Draft.
The kids name was Matt Drews and right after he hung up the phone that day, his Dad, Ron Drews handed him a Yankee cap and told him it was his now. But unlike the brand new New Era team lids most modern day top picks get to place on their heads, the Yankee hat Matt’s Dad had handed him looked a bit aged and odd. That’s because at the time, that particular hat was close to a half-century old. It had been given originally to Matt’s grandfather by Joe DiMaggio as a gift for Matt’s Dad. Ron Drew’s Dad and Matt Drew’s Grandfather was former Yankee pitcher and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Karl Drews. In his rookie year of 1947, Karl had gone 6-6 for New York, appearing in 30 games for Yankee skipper Bucky Harris, including ten starts. Six years earlier, Karl was pitching for the Class C farm team that used to play in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY. He had signed with the Yankees in 1939 and was working his way up the minor league ladder when he was called into the military for service in WWII. That’s why he was already 27 years-old during his first full season in the big leagues.
Drews threw very hard but he had trouble finding the strike zone consistently. Still, Harris had enough faith in his rookie to use him twice in the 1947 World Series against Brooklyn. After his first appearance in Game 3 of that Fall Classic, the gracious DiMaggio walked up to him in the clubhouse after the game and handed him the Yankee cap, telling Drews to give it to his boy as a souvenir of his first World Series game.
DiMaggio would return to three more World Series as a Yankee before retiring but unfortuntely for Karl Drews, 1947 would be his one and only appearance in postseason play. The following season, the Yankees found themselves in a year-long and eventually unsuccessful battle with the Red Sox and Indians to defend their AL Pennant. Drews was actually pitching better baseball than he had the season before, walking fewer hitters and lowering his ERA by over a full run, to 3.79. That didn’t prevent the Yankees from selling Drews to the St. Louis Browns in early August of that 1948 season.
Now pitching for one of the worst teams in baseball, Drews went 4-12 for the Browns in 1949 and was sent back to the minors, where he broke his skull in a base path collision. He got back to the big leagues with the Phillies in 1951 and had his best big league season a year later, as a member of Philadelphia’s starting rotation. He went 14-15 with a sparkling 2.72 ERA and threw 5 shutouts. He would last two more years in the big leagues and then settled with his family in Hollywood, Florida. On August 15th, 1963, he was taking his daughter to swimming practice when his car stalled on a Florida highway. When he got out of the disabled vehicle and attempted to wave a passing car down, the drunken driver of the car plowed into Drews and killed him instantly. He was just 43 years old at the time of his death and he would never get to meet his grandson Matt.
Unlike his grandfather, Matt Drews never made it to the mound of Yankee Stadium. His career started out well, as he went 22-13 during his first two seasons in the lowest levels of New York’s farm system, but during the next five he was 16-58. He left baseball after the 2000 season.
|PHI (4 yrs)||25||25||.500||3.74||93||60||9||22||5||3||453.0||478||221||188||43||117||187||1.313|
|NYY (3 yrs)||8||10||.444||4.76||52||13||18||0||0||2||136.0||133||80||72||9||92||60||1.654|
|SLB (2 yrs)||7||14||.333||6.94||51||25||10||3||1||2||177.2||223||148||137||14||104||46||1.841|
|CIN (1 yr)||4||4||.500||6.00||22||9||7||1||1||0||60.0||79||44||40||6||19||29||1.633|
Since my home town is Amsterdam, NY and I’m a passionate long-time fan of the New York Yankees, its only natural that I have a strong interest in the history of a now-defunct minor league franchise known as the Amsterdam Rugmakers. The team was the Yankees’ affiliate in the Class C Canadian-American League from 1938 until 1951. They were immediately successful, winning their league’s pennant during the first two years of their existence and the CanAm Championship in their third. Several future Yankee players made early career marks in Amsterdam. They included the great Vic Raschi, Spec Shea, Joe Page, Lew Burdette, Bob Grim, Joe Collins, Gus Triandous and Johnny Blanchard.
The team ceased operations during the WWII years and when play resumed in 1946, the Rugmakers struggled to regain their pre-war winning ways. They hit bottom in 1948, finishing in seventh place with a 57-80 record, setting a franchise record for most losses in a season. It was decided that a managerial change was in order. At the time, Jim Turner, the former Yankee relief pitcher and future Yankee pitching coach was managing a minor league team in Portland. His starting center fielder on that team was a 33-year-old native Floridian who had failed to stick in his one trial as a big leaguer. His name was Mayo Smith and Turner recommended him to the Yankees for the Rugmakers’ job. Seeing a chance to save some money by employing a player/manager, Smith was hired and spent two years managing and playing outfield for Amsterdam.
After a 67-71 fifth place finish in 1949, Smith’s 1950 Rugmakers got back into the playoffs with a 72-65 fourth place finish and advanced to but lost in the finals. Smith was rewarded with a promotion to the Yankee’s Class B Piedmont League affiliate in Norfolk, VA. He managed that team to two straight league championships and then got promoted again, this time to the Yankee Class A Southern League affiliate in Birmingham, where his team advanced to the league championship finals(but lost) in his first season at the helm. Suddenly, Smith was being mentioned as the potential successor for Yankee legend Casey Stengel. In fact, the Ol Perfessor told reporters that Smith was the most impressive coach he encountered during New York’s spring training camps and he predicted great things for Smith’s future.
Stengel was right. In 1955 Smith got his first big league managerial position with the Philadelphia Phillies. He did a solid job with a pretty mediocre ball club for three-and-a-half seasons. After getting let go by the Phillies midway through the 1958 season he was hired to manage the Reds in ’59. After lasting just a half year in Cincinnati, Smith left managing to return to the Yankees as a scout. Actually, he became the team’s first ever super scout. Major League Baseball had just instituted its inter-league trading period. Previously, if a team in one league wanted to trade a player to a team in the other league, that player would have to clear waivers within his own league first. The Yankees gave Smith the responsibility of scouting all NL teams and in that capacity he became a well-known fixture at all of the senior circuit’s ballparks. Smith remained in that role for six years until he was hired to manage the Detroit Tigers. He managed his 1968 team to a World Series win over the Cardinals. A key move made by Smith during that fall classic to play outfielder Mickey Stanley at shortstop so he could keep both Stanley’s and Al Kaline’s bat in the lineup, was praised for years afterwards by the baseball press.