The most national publicity Gulfport, Mississippi ever got was when Hurricane Katrina practically destroyed the Gulf Coast city of 69,000 people in 2005. Before that, Gulfport’s biggest claim to fame was being the birthplace of Brett Favre, the now retired Super Bowl winning NFL quarterback. Before the “Gunslinger” became an NFL legend, the most notable native athletes of this second biggest city in the state, played baseball.
In1931, Gulfport siblings Gee and Hub Walker both played in the same outfield for the Detroit Tigers. Gee was the older of the two but it would be Hub who would become the more successful big leaguer. Then in the late 1960’s, “Beltin” Bill Melton went north to Chicago and spent almost a decade as a decent home run hitter for the White Sox.
Then there were the Lawton brothers. Marcus and Matt. Like the Walker’s before them , it would be the younger of the two, Matt, who would become the big league All Star, but it was older brother Marcus, who had all of baseball buzzing back in 1985.
He had been drafted out of high school in the 6th round by the New York Mets in 1983. Two years later, he had played his way up to Class A ball and was starting in the outfield of the South Atlantic League’s Columbia Mets. In just 128 games, he stole 111 bases, getting caught only 8 times! He only had 126 base hits that season but he walked 83 times and scored 113 runs. He would put two more consecutive solid minor league seasons together, but they were happening during a time when the Met’s parent club was fielding some of the best teams in that franchise’s history. There was no room or no need for a base-stealing, singles-hitting outfielder who also struck out a bit too much and Marcus Lawton never got his chance to play at Shea Stadium.
In July of 1989, the Yanks traded pitching prospect Scott Nielsen to the Mets for Lawton. He finally made his big league debut in August of the 1989 season, striking out in his first two at bats as a Yankee in a game against the Twins. He stole his one and only big league base three days later. His first Major League hit didn’t happen until September 21st of that season, when he singled in the ninth inning off of the Brewers’ Paul Mirabella in a 14-1 Milwaukee rout of the Yankees. He ended up hitting just .214 in that 10-game trial and the Yankees waived him after the season. He would never again play in a big league game, eventually returning to Gulfport where he dealt cards on a riverboat casino and together with his dad, helped his younger brother Matt get better prepared than he had been for big league success.
When Joe Gordon was inducted into the Hall of Fame three summers ago, he became the 51st former Yankee player, manager or team executive to join the Hall. (Jacob Rupert later became the 52nd) Most of the names on this list are familiar ex-Yankees but there are a few who, though well-known as great baseball players, were not at all noted or remembered for their time wearing Pinstripes. The two ex-Yankee members of Cooperstown who are tied for spending the least amount of time in a New York uniform are the great hitter and outfielder, Paul “Big Poison” Waner and today’s birthday celebrant, Burleigh Grimes. Both appeared in just ten Yankee games at the very end of their illustrious careers. Grimes was baseball’s last and arguably most famous legitimate spitball pitcher. In fact, his 270th and final big league win came as a Yankee in 1934 and marked the last time in the history of Major League baseball that the winning pitcher was permitted to throw a spitball. Grimes was born in Emerald, WI on August 18, 1893.
Also born on this date, 51 years after Grimes was born, was this former Yankee third baseman and third base coach and this one-time Yankee outfielder.
|BRO (9 yrs)||158||121||.566||3.46||318||287||26||205||20||5||2426.0||2547||1175||934||76||744||952||1.357|
|PIT (5 yrs)||48||42||.533||3.26||132||92||34||58||7||5||830.1||818||398||301||28||237||260||1.271|
|STL (4 yrs)||32||17||.653||3.45||59||50||7||27||4||1||386.0||434||179||148||18||112||130||1.415|
|CHC (2 yrs)||9||17||.346||4.35||47||25||12||8||2||4||211.0||245||118||102||10||79||48||1.536|
|NYG (1 yr)||19||8||.704||3.54||39||34||4||15||2||2||259.2||274||116||102||12||87||102||1.390|
|BSN (1 yr)||3||5||.375||7.35||11||9||2||1||0||0||49.0||72||53||40||4||22||15||1.918|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||2||.333||5.50||10||0||9||0||0||1||18.0||22||11||11||0||14||5||2.000|
Mike Ferraro was given two chances to make his living working for the New York Yankees at third base. Neither ended up very successfully. The first opportunity came in the mid sixties, when Clete Boyer was nearing the end of his career in pinstripes. New York had signed Ferraro in 1962 when he was just 17-years-old and the native of Kingston, NY spent the next six years progressing slowly through the Yankee farm system. When the Yankees traded Boyer to the Braves after the 1966 season, the front office did not think Ferraro was quite ready to take over the hot corner and they gave that job to Charley Smith whom New York acquired from St Louis in their Roger Maris trade.
Smith was a bust in 1967 so when the team’s 1968 spring training camp opened, Yankee Skipper Ralph Houk announced that Ferraro would battle future Braves Manager, Bobby Cox for the position. Ferraro had a fantastic spring, leading the Yankees in hitting with a .353 average during the exhibition season. When the team headed north to begin the regular season, everyone figured Ferraro would start at third, everyone except Ralph Houk. For whatever reason, the Major went with Cox and Ferraro got into just 23 games that season with New York. The following April, he was traded to Seattle. After bouncing around a bit for the next few years, he finally got the opportunity to play regularly for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1972. When he hit just .255 in 124 games that year, the Brewers released him. He returned to the Yankee organization as a free agent but instead of playing, he got into coaching. By ’74 he was managing in the Yankee farm system.
During the ’68 season, while Ferraro was sitting on the Yankee bench watching Cox play third, he’d often sit next to another utility infielder on that same team, the veteran Dick Howser. The two became good friends and when Howser was named Yankee Manager in 1980, he made Ferraro his third base coach. That New York team won 103 games that year and captured the AL East Division crown. Even with that level of success, Steinbrenner had ridden Howser and his coaching staff hard all season long. The Yankees had to face the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
New York lost the first game and were behind by a run with two outs the eighth inning of the second contest when Bob Watson hit a ball against Kauffman Stadium’s left field wall with Willie Randolph on first. Wilson played the carom perfectly but overthrew his cutoff man. In the mean time, third base coach Ferraro was signaling Randolph to try and score. KC third baseman, George Brett was in perfect position to field Wilson’s overthrow and he made a perfect relay to catcher Darrel Porter who tagged Willie just an instant before he made contact with home plate. The Yankees ended up losing that game and according to Bill Madden, author of “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball,” the irate Yankee owner ran to the section of seats where the Yankee wives were watching the game and screamed at Ferraro’s wife that “her F’ing husband had cost New York the game.” He wanted Ferraro fired immediately and replaced by Don Zimmer. The whole embarrassing episode convinced Howser he could no longer work for Steinbrenner. Ironically, Ferrarro continued on as Yankee third base coach the following season. He later managed the Indians and Royals.
|NYY (2 yrs)||33||121||115||9||19||0||1||0||1||0||5||20||.165||.207||.183||.389|
|MIL (2 yrs)||129||411||385||19||97||18||1||2||29||0||18||41||.252||.283||.319||.602|