I remember the 1974 baseball season very well because it brought forth a personal and slightly painful milestone. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant made his big league debut as a much-heralded 19-year-old outfielder with the 1974 Oakland A’s. He and the Milwaukee Brewer’s Robin Yount were the first players to start regularly for a Major League team, who were younger than me. There of course have been many more since.
That Oakland team was about to capture its third straight World Championship and there were baseball pundits back then predicting that the multi-talented Washington would lead the team to many more. It looked like those experts might be right when in his sophomore season, Washington led the A’s with 182 hits and a .308 batting average as Oakland captured its fifth straight AL West Division title. But that was the same season the A’s lost the rights to Catfish Hunter due to their failure to honor an insurance clause in the pitcher’s contract and within a year, free agency would begin decimating Oakland’s All Star roster. Surprisingly, it would take Claudell thirteen years to top the .300 batting average barrier again and when it happened, he was wearing Yankee pinstripes.
Claudell played with seven different teams during his seventeen-season big league career including two stops in the Bronx. He first became a Yankee in 1988 when New York traded Ken Griffey Sr and Andre Robertson to the Braves for Washington and Paul Zuvella. After signing with the Angels as a free agent in 1989, the Yankees reacquired Claudell in exchange for outfielder Louis Polonia. His best season in pinstripes was his first, in 1988 when he hit .308. In April of that year, Washington hit the 10,000th home run in Yankee franchise history. Claudell was born on August 31, 1954, in Los Angeles. He shares his birthday with this Hall-of-Fame pitcher, who was traded to the Yankees but never pitched for them.
Here’s my version of the Yankee’s All-Presidential Team followed by Claudell’s Yankee and career stats.
1B – Nick Johnson
2B – Homer Bush
3B – Charley Hayes
SS – John Kennedy
C – Cliff Johnson
OF – Reggie Jackson
OF – Claudell Washington
OF – Otis Nixon or Lou Clinton
SP – Whitey Ford
RP – Grant Jackson
|ATL (6 yrs)||651||2586||2330||347||647||116||25||67||279||115||213||426||.278||.339||.435||.774|
|NYY (4 yrs)||315||1051||982||127||272||45||4||26||130||34||60||178||.277||.320||.410||.730|
|CHW (3 yrs)||249||938||875||127||241||53||12||20||109||28||45||169||.275||.312||.432||.744|
|OAK (3 yrs)||355||1402||1301||167||371||54||18||15||149||83||75||214||.285||.326||.389||.715|
|TEX (2 yrs)||141||597||563||64||155||31||2||12||70||21||26||124||.275||.309||.401||.710|
|CAL (2 yrs)||122||487||452||56||120||19||4||14||45||14||29||92||.265||.312||.418||.730|
|NYM (1 yr)||79||306||284||38||78||16||4||10||42||17||20||63||.275||.324||.465||.788|
The 1917 season had ended, Miller Huggins had just taken over as manager of the Yankees and he was intent on completely re-hauling New York’s underachieving roster. The new skipper desperately wanted to add a good second baseman to his new team’s lineup. That second baseman’s name was Del Pratt, who was playing for the St. Louis Browns at the time and was considered the second best player at that position in the American League, behind only the future Hall-of-Famer, Eddie Collins. Huggins got the permission of Yankee co-owner, Jacob Ruppert, to send three Yankee starting position players and two of the team’s younger pitchers to the Browns for Pratt and the future Hall-of-Fame pitcher Eddie Plank. The problem was that Plank, who was already 42-years-old at the time, had already told the Browns he was retiring. Huggins knew that but he told Ruppert he could talk the veteran southpaw out of quitting to pitch for New York.
Plank had spent the first 14 years of his brilliant career pitching for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s. He had perfected a distinctive cross-body, side-arm pitching motion that helped him win 326 games and throw 69 shutouts. Though he pitched in an era of pitching legends and was often pushed out of the headlines by the likes of Cy Young, Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson, “Gettysburg Eddie” was as good as it gets on a Major League pitching mound. To visualize Plank at work, think of Mark Fydrich. Like “the Bird,” Plank employed constant motion and muttering on the pitching mound. When he wasn’t tugging at his jersey, tightening the laces on his spikes or furiously rubbing up the baseball, he’d be talking to himself, the batter, his catcher, the ump or anyone who’d listen to him. If you’re one of the many who thinks it takes Josh Beckett too long to throw a pitch, you’d probably would have been screaming at Plank. He could take forever to agree on a sign with his catcher and God forbid if there was a runner on first base because Eddie would often just stare at him until the player shortened his lead or Plank’s stare lulled him to sleep and he picked the guy off.
In 1915, Plank had abandoned the A’s and jumped to the rival Federal League to play for the St. Louis franchise, where he won 21 games. When that franchise went under, its owner purchased the Browns and brought Plank back to the AL. Though he was able to win 16 games at the age of 40, the years were catching up to him and when he went 5-6 for St Louis in 1917, he told the team he was going back to his farm in Pennsylvania and staying there.
Huggins assured the New York sports press that he would convince Plank to pitch again in 1918. The Yankee skipper’s plan was to stop by Plank’s farm on the way to spring training, make him an offer he couldn’t refuse and bring Plank south with him. But when Huggins arrived at spring training he was alone and Plank was still on his farm. The Browns sent the Yankees a rebate check for $2,500, a great career was over and the newest Yankee was never a Yankee after all.
This former Yankee outfielder shares Plank’s August 31 birthday.