Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was a back up catcher during his days in pinstripes. Many have served in that role through the ages. The current guy in that position, Chris Stewart, was a surprise choice at the very end of the 2012 spring training season, a move that ended the popular Francisco Cervelli’s two-year hold on the same job. The first backup catcher in franchise history was Jack O’Connor. Known as Rowdy Jack, he was already 37 years old when he spent the 1903 season backing up Monte Beville behind home plate. O’Connor batted just .203 that season but that was nine points better than Beville hit. Benny Bengough was the Yankees’ first long-term second catcher. He started his pinstripe career in 1923 behind Wally Schang on the depth chart and finished it eight seasons later behind Hall-of-Famer, Bill Dickey. Dickey’s longtime backup was the Norwegian receiver, Arndt Jorgens, who spent all eleven of his big league seasons in that role. Yogi Berra’s backup during the first half of his Yankee careeer was Charley Silvera. Elston Howard took over from him and gradually took over the starting catcher’s job from Berra. During the fabled 1961 Yankee season, the Yankees had three catchers, Howard, Berra and Johnny Blanchard all hit more than 20 home runs in the same season. Former Yankee Manager, Ralph Houk had been a backup catcher for New York during his playing days and the team’s current Manager, Joe Girardi, ended his Yankee playing days in that supporting role behind Jorge Posada. Some of the better known Yankee backup catchers included Rick Dempsey, Fran Healy, and Ivan Rodriguez.
I can clearly recall when today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant took over as the Yankee backup receiver. It was during the 1967 season. Elston Howard had broke completely down physically that year and the Yankees inserted his backup, Jake Gibbs as starting catcher and brought up Frank Fernandez from their farm system to become the new number two receiver. The native of Staten Island held onto that backup role for three seasons until Thurman Munson arrived in the Bronx in 1969. Fernandez was then traded to the A’s. He was decent defensively and had some power in his bat, hitting 12 home runs for New York in 1969 and then 15 for the A’s a season later. He also had a keen batting eye. His biggest problem was that when he did swing the bat he usually missed the ball. Frank averaged about one strikeout every three times at bat during his Yankee career and averaged just .199 during the six seasons he played in the big leagues.
|OAK (2 yrs)||98||304||261||31||55||6||0||15||45||1||0||41||79||.211||.322||.406||.728|
|NYY (3 yrs)||149||501||392||50||80||14||2||20||63||3||4||102||125||.204||.372||.403||.775|
|CHC (2 yrs)||20||61||44||11||7||1||0||4||4||0||0||17||17||.159||.393||.455||.848|
|WSA (1 yr)||18||37||30||0||3||0||0||0||4||0||0||4||10||.100||.194||.100||.294|
When Bernie Allen graduated from high school in his hometown of East Liverpool, OH, he was a good enough school-boy quarterback to get a scholarship offer from Purdue University. Problem was Bernie didn’t like playing football but he knew if he wanted to go to college, accepting that scholarship was the only way he’d be able to, so that’s what he did. During his time on the gridiron as a Boilermaker, he became one of the better QB’s in the Big Ten but he also got the opportunity to play collegiate baseball and become an All American in that sport. In early 1961, the Minnesota Twins made Allen one of the first amateurs signed by that team after it had relocated to the Twin Cities from our Nation’s capitol.
After just one year in the minors, he made the Twins big league roster during the team’s 1962 spring training season. Minnesota’s first year manager, Sam Mele liked his rookie infielder so much, he benched the veteran Billy Martin and started Allen at second base. Mele also installed a second rookie, third baseman Rich Rollins in his starting infield and the two first-year players helped the surprising Twins finish in second place with 91 wins, a 20-game improvement over the previous season. Bernie had 154 hits that year including 12 home runs, with 64 RBIs and finished third in the AL Rookie-of-theYear balloting. Though I was just 8-years-old at the time, I clearly remember that 1962 Minnesota team because in addition to battling my Yankees for the Pennant, every player in their starting lineup reached double figures in home runs that season.
Allen got off to a horrendously slow start at the plate in his sophomore season and his batting average was still under.200 by late August. He then hit .320 during the last six weeks of the ’63 season, saving his starting job in the process. But his potential to develop into a perennial big league All Star was wiped out with one play during the 1964 season. Attempting to turn a double play, Allen was bowled over by Don Zimmer who rolled over the second baseman’s leg. Allen had torn his ACL, but the injury was mis-diagnosed by Minnesota’a team doctors. When the leg didn’t get better, Allen got his own doctors to examine the knee and they made a correct diagnosis and operated five months after the injury occurred. By then however, the ligament had shriveled and the surgeon didn’t think Allen would ever again play baseball. He proved that doctor wrong but it does explain why all of Allen’s highest single-season offensive numbers took place during that 1962 rookie season. He was simply never the same player after Zimmer rolled his knee.
The Yankees got Bernie in 1972. The Twins had traded him to the Senators after the 1966 season and he played pretty regularly for Washington for five years, right up until that franchise moved to Texas. He then became Ralph Houk’s primary utility infielder during the 1972 season, appearing in 84 games, mostly as a third baseman, but hitting a paltry .227 in the process. It was that weak bat that got him sold to the Expos in August of 1973. When he hit just .180, the then 34-year-old Allen hung up his glove for good.
|MIN (5 yrs)||492||1789||1595||195||392||75||10||32||163||3||165||212||.246||.316||.366||.682|
|WSA (5 yrs)||530||1669||1482||126||351||52||11||30||154||10||172||161||.237||.317||.348||.665|
|NYY (2 yrs)||101||310||277||31||63||12||0||9||26||0||28||47||.227||.294||.368||.663|
|MON (1 yr)||16||56||50||5||9||1||0||2||9||0||5||4||.180||.255||.320||.575|
Even close followers of baseball history are probably surprised to learn that Hall of Famer, Paul Waner was a Yankee. Waner was best known as a Pittsburgh Pirate where he played in the same outfield with his younger brother and fellow Hall of Famer Lloyd from 1927 until 1940, when Paul was released and signed on with Brooklyn. Paul was nicknamed “Big Poison” and they called Lloyd “Little Poison. ” Together they collected 5,611 base hits during their careers, beating both the three DiMaggio brothers and the three Alou’s for most hits by Major League siblings.
Paul won three NL batting titles during his career and collected his 3,000th career hit after joining the Boston Braves, in 1941. In September of 1944, the Yankees found themselves chasing the St. Louis Browns for the AL Pennant and they signed the then 41 year-old Waner, hoping he’d be the spark that led the team to the postseason. That’s not what happened. Waner got just one hit in nine at bats for New York that season and the Yankees ended up finishing in third place.
Waner is one of just five Yankees who have collected 3,000 hits during their playing careers. The others are Derek Jeter, Ricky Henderson, Wade Boggs and Dave Winfield.
|PIT (15 yrs)||2154||9536||8429||1493||2868||558||187||109||1177||100||909||325||.340||.407||.490||.896|
|BRO (3 yrs)||176||475||396||50||115||20||1||1||46||0||70||16||.290||.398||.354||.752|
|NYY (2 yrs)||10||10||7||1||1||0||0||0||1||1||0||3||1||.143||.400||.143||.543|
|BSN (2 yrs)||209||745||627||83||168||27||3||3||85||3||109||34||.268||.377||.335||.712|