Back in the early forties, Yankee front-office guru, Ed Barrow was busily signing every catching prospect he could find, knowing that the Yankee’s all-time great, Bill Dickey was nearing the end-of-the-line as the team’s starting receiver. One such prospect was Ken Sears, who’s dad, Ziggy was then a National League umpire.
Sears had played collegiate ball at the University of Alabama and had good power. Since he swung a bat from the left side, Barrow was hoping he’d be a good fit for that short right field porch in the old Yankee Stadium. Sears played his first year of professional ball in my hometown, with the 1939 Amsterdam Rugmakers of the old Class C Canadian American League. The following season he smashed 38 home runs for the Yankees Class B team in Norfolk, VA. That impressive power output got him moved up to the double A level of the Yankee organization, where he continued to pound the ball. There is little doubt that the migration of young Yankee catchers into military service during World War II helped Sears earn his first big league roster spot with the 1943 parent club, but by then he had also established himself as one of the franchise’s prime candidates to succeed Dickey.
His Yankee career got off to a great start on Opening Day 1943, when he hit his first big league home run. He got into 64 games that season as Dickey’s backup and hit .278. He helped the Yankees capture the AL Pennant but he did not get to play in what would be McCarthy’s seventh and final World Series win as a Yankee manager that fall.
What Sears was not able to do that year was hit with anywhere near the level of power he had exhibited at the minor league level. His Opening Day blast was one of just two home runs he managed during his rookie season. That issue became moot when Sears was also called into military service and missed playing the next two years. When he returned to the club, so had all of the other Yankee catchers who had made the switch from baseball to WWII military uniforms. Sears was out of shape and lost his spot on the Yankee catching depth chart quickly. New York then sold him to the Browns who would later try and return the catcher to New York, complaining he had reported to St. Louis with a bum throwing arm. The seven games he played for the Browns in 1946 would be the last of his big league career. Sears died in 1971 at the age of just 58.
|NYY (1 yr)||60||201||187||22||52||7||0||2||22||1||11||18||.278||.328||.348||.676|
|SLB (1 yr)||7||18||15||1||5||0||0||0||1||0||3||0||.333||.444||.333||.778|
Having seven bonafide candidates for the five spots in the Yankees’ 2012 starting rotation is certainly one of Joe Gerardi’s spring training dilemmas this year. But it pales in comparison to the crowd of first basemen Casey Stengel dealt with back in 1949. Stengel, however, loved platooning his ballplayers and he had a veritable ball with that particular Yankee team. To begin with, Joe DiMaggio was disabled with a sore heel that year, so Stengel shuffled his three outfield spots among Hank Bauer, Johnny Lindell, Gene Woodling and Cliff Mapes. At third base, he had the good fielding Billy “the Bull” Johnson and the good hitting but horrible fielding future doctor, Bobby Brown. His two alternatives at second were Snuffy Stirnweiss and Jerry Coleman. But it was at first that the Ol Perfessor had a real logjam. The veteran ex-outfielder, Tommy Henrich was considered the starter but he was joined by fellow first-sackers, Jack Phillips, Fenton Mole, Joe Collins and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Dick Kryhoski.
I know that baseball fans in my hometown of Amsterdam New York were rooting for Kryhoski to make Stengel’s cut. That’s because he had spent part of his first year in the Yankee organization playing for the Amsterdam Rugmakers, New York’s old Class C affiliate in the Canadian American League. Not only did the Livonia, NJ native make the parent club that spring, he also returned to Amsterdam when the Yankees squared off against the Rugmakers in an exhibition and thrilled the crowd with a home run that day.
As the season began, Stengel inserted Kryhoski at first quite a bit to give the then-36-year-old Henrich a breather. Though both he and Henrich batted from the left side, Stengel played him almost exclusively against right-handed pitching. If you played first base for the Yankees and swung from the left side, you better have been able to pull the ball into the old Stadium’s short right field porch. Kryhoski’s inability to do so frustrated Casey and even though the kid had his batting average up over .300, it did not prevent Casey from looking for a better alternative among the aforementioned group of first-sackers already in the Yankee organization. When none of them caught fire, the Yankees went out and purchased “the Big Cat,” Johnny Mize from the cross-town Giants and Kryhoski’s days in Pinstripes were effectively over. He did hit .291 during his rookie season. That December, he was traded to the Tigers. He ended up playing two seasons in Detroit, three seasons for the Browns/Orioles and one more with the A’s. He retired in 1955, with a .265 career average in 569 big league games. He passed away in 2007 at the age of 82.
|BAL (3 yrs)||315||1071||980||105||255||44||7||28||126||2||68||99||.260||.312||.405||.717|
|DET (2 yrs)||172||634||590||78||158||29||4||16||76||1||36||40||.268||.313||.412||.725|
|KCA (1 yr)||28||53||47||2||10||2||0||0||2||0||6||7||.213||.302||.255||.557|
|NYY (1 yr)||54||188||177||18||52||10||3||1||27||2||9||17||.294||.335||.401||.736|
By 1949, Joe Collins had been in the Yankee farm system for eleven years, starting as a sixteen year old with the Easton (Maryland) Yankees in the old D-level Eastern Shore League. During his last three seasons in the minors, the Scranton, PA native had torn up the pitching at the triple A level and was more than ready to play in the Majors. The problem was that Casey Stengel’s 1949 Yankees had more first baseman than some teams had pitchers. They included Tommy Henrich, Johnny Mize, Billy Jones, Fenton Mole, Jack Phillips and Dick Kryhoski. But Collins had averaged 25 home runs during his last three Minor League seasons and by 1950, the Yankee brass decided the then 26-year-old prospect needed a shot at the big leagues. Joe then became the team’s most frequently used first baseman until Moose Skowren took over the position in 1955. When that happened, Stengel continued to use Collins as an outfielder for two seasons until the New York front office sold him to the Philadelphia Athletics. Collins chose to retire rather than play in a uniform other than the Yankee pinstripes, ending the career of one of the classiest Yankees ever. Collins’ Yankee teams got into eight World Series, winning five of them. He never displayed as much power as he showed at the Minor League level during his Major League career but he did hit 18 home runs during the the 1952 season and 17 more in 1953. Collins, who was born in 1922, passed away in 1989.
The Yankees certainly thought Lew Burdette was going to be a good big league pitcher, when they signed him to a contract out of the University of Richmond in 1947. He ended up spending most of his first year in minor league ball right in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY, pitching for New York’s Rugmakers farm team in the Class C Canadian-American League.
What might have prevented him from getting the opportunity to become a big winner for the Yankees was the fact that he was a right-handed finesse pitcher who depended on stuff instead of power to get batters out. When righthanders without a good fastball struggled with their stuff on the mound of the old Yankee Stadium, balls had a tendency to fly off the bats of the opposing team’s left-handed hitters and quickly get over the waist-high railing of the old Stadium’s short right field porch. A second reason Burdette probably didn’t get to spend a large part of his career wearing pinstripes was the plethora of starting pitching Yankee GM, George Weiss had assembled in the late 1940s. That stable included Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, Eddie Lopat, and Whitey Ford. Weiss also knew if he needed more pitching he could easily exchange young arms for veteran arms, which by the way is exactly what happened to Burdette.
After getting his first call-up to the Bronx in September of 1950 he appeared in two games out of Casey Stengel’s bullpen. Those would be his only two games as a Yankee because in August of the following season, Weiss sent Burdette and $50,000 to the Braves for veteran pitcher Johnny Sain. For the next three seasons, Sain was the best combination starter/reliever in baseball for New York. It was the Braves however, who ended up getting the better end of the deal. Burdette evolved into one of the best starting pitchers in the NL for the next decade. He won 179 games during his 13 seasons with that team which included back-to-back 20-victory seasons in 1958 and ’59. He teamed with Warren Spahn to give Milwaukee one of the Senior League’s elite starting pitching tandems. Together, they won 443 Braves games in thirteen years and led Milwaukee to two NL Pennants and, in what was Burdette’s finest big league moment, the 1957 World Championship versus his original big league employers, the Yankees..
In that Fall Classic, Burdette beat Bobby Shantz, 4-2, in Game 2. He next won Game 5 with a brilliant 1-0 shutout. Then, when Spahn came down with the flu, Burdette got the Game 7 start on just two-days’ rest and threw his second straight shutout in a 5-0 Brave victory. The two teams would meet again the following October and Burdette would beat the Yankees a fourth straight time before New York finally figured him out in Game 7, capturing the Series with a 6-2 victory over their nemesis.
Burdette was one of the meanest men in baseball. He once called Roy Campanella a “nigger” during a Braves-Dodger game. He was also a bit of a flake on the mound, always fidgeting with his arms and hands and talking to both himself and the baseball. He was dogged throughout his career by accusations that he threw a spitball. Burdette did little to dispel the rumor that he doctored the baseball, knowing it kept opposing hitters on edge. He died in 2007, at the age of 80.
|MLN (13 yrs)||179||120||.599||3.53||468||330||88||146||30||23||2638.0||2698||1163||1036||251||557||923||1.234|
|STL (2 yrs)||4||8||.333||3.58||29||14||5||3||0||2||108.0||116||53||43||7||19||48||1.250|
|CAL (2 yrs)||8||2||.800||3.67||73||0||30||0||0||6||98.0||96||42||40||8||12||35||1.102|
|CHC (2 yrs)||9||11||.450||4.94||35||20||3||8||2||0||151.1||178||91||83||18||23||45||1.328|
|PHI (1 yr)||3||3||.500||5.48||19||9||2||1||1||0||70.2||95||50||43||5||17||23||1.585|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||0||6.75||2||0||0||0||0||0||1.1||3||1||1||0||0||0||2.250|
I was born, raised and still live in a small Upstate New York city named Amsterdam. Back in the first half of the twentieth century, our town was the center of this country’s carpet industry and the gigantic looms in the factories of Amsterdam-based companies named Mohawk and Sanford turned out more rugs than any city in the world. We also had our own Minor League baseball team, a C-level Yankee franchise in the old Canadian American League. They were called the Amsterdam Rugmakers.
Today’s birthday celebrant, Frank “Spec” Shea spent his first season of organized ball in our City, playing for the old Rugmakers and living in the old Amsterdam Hotel. The year was 1940 and Shea finished the Rugmaker season with an 11-4 record. He spent the next two seasons climbing up New York’s minor league ladder and the three after that serving his country in WWII. He then went 15-5 for the Yankee’s Triple A team in Oakland, finally making the big club in 1947.
Spec went 14-5 as a rookie for the Yankees and won the AL All Star game plus beat the Dodgers twice in the 1947 World Series. He would have been AL Rookie of the Year as well but back then only one player in all of baseball got that award and Shea finished behind Jackie Robinson. Spec never again achieved the level of success he had during his first year in pinstripes and was finally traded to the Senators in 1952.
He pitched very well during his first two seasons in Washington winning 23 games and losing just 14 times for a very bad team. He called it quits after the 1955 season. He was 29-21 as a Yankee and 56-46 for his eight-season big league career.
|WSH (4 yrs)||27||25||.519||3.92||95||59||26||25||4||2||461.1||445||229||201||30||228||141||1.459|
|NYY (4 yrs)||29||21||.580||3.68||100||59||24||23||8||3||482.1||404||224||197||36||269||220||1.395|
Most Yankee fans have never heard of today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant but if you happened to have loved the Bronx Bombers and also lived in my hometown of Amsterdam, New York back in 1942, you remember him well. That’s because that was the year Bill Drescher was the starting catcher for the Amsterdam Rugmakers, the Yankee affiliate in the old Class C Canadian American League. It was the 21-year-old Drescher’s first season of professional baseball and according to his Rugmaker Manager at the time, a guy named Tom Kain, the native of Congers, NY seemed like a natural both at the plate and behind it. Dresher hit .301 in 100 games for Amsterdam that season and was featured in a New York Times article that described him as “a carbon copy” of the Yankees’ Hall-of-Fame receiver, Bill Dickey. In fact, that same article went on to say that if Dickey, who was nearing the end of his outstanding career at the time, could hang on for two or three more seasons it would be Drescher who would take his place as the Yankee starting catcher.
Dickey did his part but when the time came to replace him, Drescher was not ready. He did make his first appearance behind the plate in the Bronx during the 1944 season and then got his real shot the following year, when he caught 48 games for what would be Manager Joe McCarthy’s final full season as Yankee Manager. He hit .270 and fielded adequately but the following year WWII ended and all of the Yankees’ catchers returned to the game. Drescher ended up getting lost in that crowd and spending the rest of his professional playing career catching in the Yankee farm system. He died in 1968 at the very young age of 47.
No Yankee pitcher has had a more impressive rookie season than the one Bob Grim put together in 1954. Not only did he win 20 games in his debut year, he did it while pitching just 199.0 innings, which is the fewest of any 20-game winner in history. Seven of those victories came in relief roles, which helps explain the low number of total innings. For his effort, Grim won that year’s Rookie of the Year Award and led New York to a 103 victory season, the most wins in the six seasons Casey Stengel had been managing the club. Ironically, that Yankee team failed to win the AL Pennant for the first time since Stengel was hired, finishing eight games behind Cleveland. Still, all of Yankeedom was thrilled to have this new young right-hander and Big Apple native on a Yankee starting staff that was then transitioning from the Reynolds, Raschi, Lopat era to a new rotation generation led by Whitey Ford and Grim.
What might have contributed most to the end of Grim’s career in pinstripes was his failure to pitch well in October. In both the World Series he appeared in, 1955 and ’57, Grim pitched poorly in key situations contributing to New York’s disappointing losses in these two seven-game Fall Classics. In June of 1958, Grim was traded to Kansas City. After two decent seasons of relief pitching for a very bad A’s ballclub, he faded quickly. His big league career ended in 1962 with a 61-41 record and 37 career saves. Born on March 8, 1930, Grim passed away in 1996.