Todays Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is best known for his days with the New York Mets. He started at shortstop for the Amazin’s from 1988 through 1991 and set the since broken Major League record for consecutive error-less games at short with 88 straight during the 1988 and ’89 seasons. Kevin’s problem was his offense or lack there-of. He struggled to hit .230 during his days at Shea. When he hurt his shoulder during the 1991 season and underwent surgery, his Met career was all but over. He was then signed and released by respectively, the Dodgers, Marlins and Padres without appearing in a big league game for any of those teams. The Yankees then signed him in May of 1994 and he played in 13 games in pinstripes during the remainder of the 1994 and beginning of the ’95 seasons before he was again released. He signed with Texas in 1996 and suddenly erupted with his bat, hitting 24 home runs and driving in 99 from the bottom spot in the Rangers’ lineup. That one-time spurt got him a $1.6 million dollar one-year contract with the Pirates in ’97 and another $1.5 million in ’98 but he never again approached those lofty numbers.
Elster was considered a “hunk” by the ladies who used to swoon over him wherever he played. Married and divorced twice, the native of San Pedro, CA once hoped to use those good looks to establish a film career. He did get cast in a small part in the film “Little Big League” in 1994. In 1995, just before he started his second season with the Yankees, he told a New York Times interviewer that he kept making excuses for his below-average play, especially his poor hitting during the first part of his career. He actually retired after the 1998 season and was working on opening a bar in Las Vegas. An amateur drummer himself, Elster’s plan was to invite musicians to jam there whenever they wanted. Before the idea got off the ground, he accepted an offer to play for the Dodgers in 2000. His one last thrill as a big league player occurred on April 11th of that season, when the Dodgers travelled to San Francisco to face their arch-rival Giants in the first game ever to be played in Petco Park. Elster hit three home runs in that game to lead LA to a win.
Other Yankees born on August 3rd include this one-time phee-nom and this long-time New York bullpen coach. I’d also like to wish my oldest son Matthew John, who also happens to be a great Yankee fan, a very happy 35th birthday.
|NYM (7 yrs)||537||1765||1584||166||355||75||6||34||174||10||142||242||.224||.288||.343||.631|
|TEX (2 yrs)||241||932||812||112||199||42||3||32||136||4||85||204||.245||.315||.422||.738|
|NYY (2 yrs)||17||40||37||1||2||1||0||0||0||0||2||11||.054||.103||.081||.184|
|LAD (1 yr)||80||259||220||29||50||8||0||14||32||0||38||52||.227||.341||.455||.796|
|PIT (1 yr)||39||164||138||14||31||6||2||7||25||0||21||39||.225||.327||.449||.776|
|PHI (1 yr)||26||65||53||10||11||4||1||1||9||0||7||14||.208||.302||.377||.679|
Jim Hegan’s long career with the Yankees began in 1960. The then 40-year-old, five-time all-star catcher was released at midseason by the Chicago Cubs and signed a month later by New York, when both Yogi Berra and Ellie Howard went down with injuries. But Hegan never caught an inning in pinstripes because that Yankee team had a third catcher on its roster by the name of Johnny Blanchard. Blanchard had been wasting away on Casey Stengel’s bench for two seasons and when he heard New York had signed Hegan, he was irate and let Stengel and the Yankee front office know exactly how he felt. The outburst worked. Stengel finally played Blanchard behind the plate and Hegan sat the bench.
The Yankees replaced Stengel with Ralph Houk after that season and Houk asked Hegan to be his bullpen coach. Thus began Hegan’s fifteen year tenure as a coach with New York. During his seventeen-year playing career, he had established himself as one of the great defensive catchers of all-time. He was the master handler of those phenomenal Cleveland Indian starting rotations of the early 1950s, that included Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia and later Herb Score. These guys never shook off a sign Hegan put down and each of them credited the catcher for making them better pitchers. Hegan also had perfect technique behind the plate and a shotgun for an arm, which enabled him to throw out 50% of the runners who attempted to steal against him, a phenomenal lifetime average.
The only thing Hegan couldn’t do was hit. His lifetime batting average was just .228. The Yankee relief pitchers and catchers Hegan later coached loved the guy. His son Mike was signed by New York during Hegan’s first season as Yankee coach and was considered a top prospect in the organization for years. In 1973, Hegan followed Ralph Houk to Detroit and became a Tiger coach. He rejoined the Yankee staff in 1979 and coached for New York for two more seasons. He died from a heart attack in 1984. at the age of 63.
1965 was the year the music died if you were a Yankee fan. Actually, nobody really died but dependable All Stars like Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, Roger Maris, Tony Kubek and Bobby Richardson each seemed to become too old to play the game all at the same exact time. Tom Tresh won the team’s triple crown that year with just a .279 average, 26 home runs and only 79 RBIs. One year earlier, this same exact team had taken the St Louis Cardinals to seven games in the 1964 World Series. But they’d fallen off a cliff since October and it would be more than a decade before a Yankee pinstriped uniform would appear in another Fall Classic.
If you’re an old enough Yankee fan to remember that ’65 season, you don’t forget Mel Stottlemyre’s amazing 20-9, 2.63 ERA performance. You also don’t forget the first ten days a kid named Roger Repoz had as a Yankee. Repoz was being hailed as Mickey Mantle’s successor back then. He was 24 years old at the time, a native of Bellingham Washington, who was putting up pretty impressive power numbers in the upper levels of the Yankee farm system. Although taller than Mickey at 6’3″, the youngster’s muscular build and great speed had fans like me hoping we were welcoming Mantle’s successor to the Bronx. And after his first week and a half with the team, we really thought that was the case. Although it was close to fifty years ago, I can still remember loving the fact that he had the same first name as Maris and matching first and last name initials like the Mick.
Repoz started his first game of the ’65 season against the Orioles on July 1st and homered in his final at bat against Steve Barber. Ten days later, he had already hit his fifth Yankee home run, went 4-5 in the game against Minnesota and was hitting over .300. Could it be? Had the Yankees pulled another rabbit out of their hat? Would Repoz not only save the Yankee season but lead them to a whole new generation of post season play? Unfortunately not. After that great game against the Twins, Roger began an 0-29 streak. Though he did manage to hit a total of 12 home runs during his half season with the team, he also struck out too much and batted just .220. By the following June, New York’s front office had already given up on their left-hand hitting prospect and traded him to the A’s for reliever Fred Talbot and backup catcher, Bill Bryan.
Repoz ended up playing nine seasons of big league baseball which included four straight years of starting in the California Angel outfield. He also played in Japan after his Major League career ended in 1972. He ended up with 82 home runs in the big leagues but the final 77 of those HRs were not nearly as exciting as his first 5.
|CAL (6 yrs)||563||1705||1477||169||327||46||10||57||181||18||194||333||.221||.312||.382||.694|
|NYY (3 yrs)||127||295||262||39||63||11||5||12||37||1||30||66||.240||.315||.458||.773|
|KCA (2 yrs)||141||470||406||49||90||16||4||13||42||7||56||100||.222||.320||.377||.697|