After the Yanks were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round for the second consecutive year in 2006, New York’s front office decided it was time to end the Randy Johnson era in the Bronx. They had brought the “Big Unit” to the Big Apple after the 2003 ALCS debacle with the Red Sox, thinking he would be the stopper they needed to go deep in future postseasons. But his bad back and prickly personality made his two-year stay in pinstripes uncomfortable and unsuccessful, especially in the postseason.
Still, I was upset that the best New York could get in return for their ace was an Arizona Diamondback package of three minor league prospects and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. After all, despite all his problems, Johnson did put together two seventeen-win seasons as a Yankee. In Luis Vizcaino, the Yanks were getting a 31-year-old journeyman right-handed reliever who had yet to distinguish himself during tenures with four different big league teams.
As it turned out, the Dominican native had a surprisingly productive season for the Yankees in 2007. He became a workhorse out of the bullpen for manager Joe Torre, appearing in 77 games and winning eight of his ten decisions in the process. Unfortunately the postseason was a different story. The Yanks were protecting a one-run lead in Game 2 against the Indians in Cleveland after losing Game 1 of that year’s ALDS. Torre went to his rookie phee-nom Joba Chamberlain with one out and two runners on in the home half of the seventh. Chamberlain got the last two outs of that inning but in the bottom of the eighth, a swarm of midges were blown into Jacobs Field with a wind off of Lake Erie and an obviously distracted Joba surrendered the tying run. Three innings later, Torre turned to Vizcaino to start the 11th. He walked the first hitter he faced, gave up a single to the next batter and after an intentional walk and a pop out, gave up a game-winning single to Travis Hafner and the Yanks went down 2-0 in that series. They ended up losing in four games to Cleveland for their third straight first-round exit from postseason play.
The Yanks were interested in re-signing Vizcaino for 2008 but the pitcher was looking to convert his 8-2 record into a three-year deal. New York was only interested in doing one so they let the pitcher sign as a free agent with the Rockies. Unfortunately, the Yankees used the draft pick on a pitcher named Jeremy Bleich, a southpaw out of Stanford who is still trying to make it up to the Bronx. Vizcaino ended up getting a nice seven million dollar two year deal but got rocked during his one and only season in Colorado. He was traded to the Cubs in January of 2009 and was released by both Chicago and the Indians during the ’09 regular season. The Yankees then signed him to a minor league deal but he was suspended in 2011 for using PEDs.
Vizcaino shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitching coach, this DH and first baseman made famous in a Seinfeld episode and this fireballing former Yankee reliever.
|OAK (3 yrs)||2||2||.500||5.61||49||0||17||0||0||1||59.1||66||38||37||11||26||51||1.551|
|MIL (3 yrs)||13||10||.565||4.22||224||0||72||0||0||6||215.1||180||107||101||34||79||203||1.203|
|ARI (1 yr)||4||6||.400||3.58||70||0||15||0||0||0||65.1||51||26||26||8||29||72||1.224|
|COL (1 yr)||1||2||.333||5.28||43||0||13||0||0||0||46.0||48||28||27||10||19||49||1.457|
|CHC (1 yr)||0||0||0.00||4||0||2||0||0||0||3.2||2||0||0||0||0||3||0.545|
|CLE (1 yr)||1||3||.250||5.40||11||0||4||0||0||1||11.2||8||7||7||2||12||9||1.714|
|NYY (1 yr)||8||2||.800||4.30||77||0||13||0||0||0||75.1||66||37||36||6||43||62||1.447|
|CHW (1 yr)||6||5||.545||3.73||65||0||20||0||0||0||70.0||74||30||29||8||29||43||1.471|
Most of today’s MLB pitching coaches actually manage their team’s pitching staffs. That wasn’t always the case. It was Casey Stengel who revolutionized the role of that position when the Ol Perfessor made today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant his first Yankee pitching coach in 1949. Jim Turner decided who was going to pitch when for the Yankees and for the most part, Stengel never interfered. The arrangement worked, as New York won nine pennants and seven World Series under these two men.
Turner was a special mentor. It didn’t matter if his pitchers were stars, youngsters, grizzly old veterans or journeymen, Turner had the knack for getting them all to pitch better. He was revered by the Yankees’ big three of Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat. He was the guy who figured out Whitey Ford was tipping his curve ball and the adjustment they made together helped Ford get to Cooperstown. Bob Grim told reporters he wouldn’t have won 20 games or his Rookie of the Year Award without Turner’s guidance. Johnny Kucks and Tom Sturdivant couldn’t win anywhere else but they won in New York. He convinced Bob Turley to pitch without a windup and the rotund right-hander won a Cy Young Award.
Known as the “Milkman,” Turner was a detail sort of guy who took copious notes during each of his pitchers’ outings. He was also a proponent of pitchers acting responsibly off the field as well and would often assign veteran hurlers to room with rookie pitchers on the road to keep the kids on the straight and narrow.
When the Yankees finished a disappointing third in the 1959 AL standings it was Turner who was turned into the sacrificial lamb. He was fired and replaced by Lopat. He later became pitching coach for the Reds, before returning to the Yankees and coaching under Ralph Houk from 1966 until ’73.
A native of Tennessee, Turner pitched in the minors for fourteen years before getting his first shot in the big leagues with the old Boston Braves in 1937 at the age of 33. He went 20-11 in his rookie season and led the NL with a 2.38 ERA, 24 complete games and 5 shutouts. The following year, Stengel took over as manager of the Braves and Turner finished 14-18. He ended up getting traded to the Reds in 1940, where he helped Cincinnati win the NL Pennant with a 14-7 record and also earned his first World Series ring. The Yankees got him in 1942 and Turner became New York’s top reliever during the WWII years, leading the AL in saves with 10 in 1945. That was his last year playing in the big leagues. When he retired from coaching after the 1973 season, Turners professional baseball career had lasted one year more than a half-century. He died in 1998 at the age of 95.
|NYY (4 yrs)||11||9||.550||3.44||88||0||71||0||0||19||146.1||135||72||56||8||67||52||1.380|
|BSN (3 yrs)||38||40||.487||3.24||93||86||6||55||8||1||682.1||676||286||246||44||157||190||1.221|
|CIN (3 yrs)||20||11||.645||3.06||50||33||9||14||0||0||303.1||312||124||103||15||59||87||1.223|
Every fan of the “Seinfeld” television series remembers when George Costanza’s father blurted out this question to George Steinbrenner (played by Larry David). If you didn’t see that episode, you can watch the clip here. The reason that trade was made is today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
Back in the mid eighties, a guy named Bill James was in the process of revolutionizing the way baseball stats were kept and interpreted and he was sharing his work through his annual “Baseball Abstract.” James started applying and trumpeting the use of OPS as a true measure of a baseball player’s value to a team. He would illustrate how the measure was being virtually ignored by coming up with complete lineups of players with great OPS numbers who were then sitting on the benches or playing in the Minor Leagues of MLB teams. Ken Phelps’ name appeared on every one of these lists. That’s why, when George Costanza’s Dad asked about the Buhner trade, Larry David’s Steinbrenner responded that his “baseball people” loved Ken Phelps bat. That’s because Steinbrenner’s real-life baseball people were becoming real-life disciples of Bill James.
Phelps’ career OPS during his 10-season Minor League career was .954. An average OPS for the Major Leagues would be somewhere in the high .700s. Phelps’ OPS during his five plus seasons in Seattle was .913. James loved players like Phelps because his home run per at bat ratio and on base percentage as a minor leaguer had been so impressive. So you could say the Yankees were playing the percentages when they gave away Buhner for Phelps in that mid-season 1988 transaction.
Phelps’ OPS during his 131 games in pinstripes was just .781. By comparison, Buhner’s OPS during his 14 seasons in Seattle, was .852. The Yankees traded “Digger” Phelps to the A’s for a guy named Scott Holcomb in August of 1989. He played big league ball until 1995. The Seinfeld episode was a lot funnier and much more entertaining than the results of the actual trade, especially if you were a Yankee fan.
|SEA (6 yrs)||529||1753||1399||254||349||53||6||105||255||9||317||337||.249||.392||.521||.913|
|KCR (2 yrs)||24||27||26||1||3||0||1||0||1||0||1||15||.115||.148||.192||.340|
|OAK (2 yrs)||43||85||68||6||12||3||0||1||6||0||16||10||.176||.329||.265||.594|
|NYY (2 yrs)||131||342||292||43||70||8||0||17||51||0||46||73||.240||.339||.442||.781|
|CLE (1 yr)||24||71||61||4||7||0||0||0||0||1||10||11||.115||.239||.115||.354|
|MON (1 yr)||10||9||8||0||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||3||.250||.333||.250||.583|