Deacon Bill McKechnie wasn’t an especially good baseball player. He played a total of 846 games over eleven seasons as a utility infielder for five different ball clubs, averaging just .251 lifetime. Forty-five of those games were played in a Yankee uniform during the 1913 season. The switch-hitting Wilkinsburg, PA native hit just .134 for that Frank Chance managed New York team that finished in seventh place that season with a horrible 57-94 record. Those mediocre numbers may explain why the Yankees or nobody else seemed to care when McKechnie jumped to the upstart Federal League the following season to play for the Indianapolis Hoosiers. He averaged .304 as the Hoosier’s starting third baseman in 1914 and when the franchise was relocated to Newark, NJ the following year, McKechnie was made the team’s player-manager.
McKechne may have not been a very good big league player but he became an excellent big league manager. After the Federal League went belly up in 1916, he returned to the National League and played five more seasons before landing the Pittsburgh Pirates’ skipper’s job in June of 1922. His 1925 Pirate team won the World Series. His 1928 St. Louis Cardinal team won the NL Pennant. He then won two more Pennants with the 1939 and ’40 Cincinnati Reds and captured his second World Championship with that 1940 Reds team. He was the only big league manager to win pennants with three different teams until Dick Williams accomplished that same feat in 1984. In all he managed for 24 seasons in the National League. In addition to the Pirates, Cards and Reds, he also managed the Boston Braves for eight seasons. In all, he won 1,842 games which placed him in second place on the all-time list, when he retired in 1946, behind only John McGraw. He was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1962. He died three years later at the age of 79.
|PIT (6 yrs)||368||1313||1182||118||278||25||20||5||109||34||71||80||.235||.281||.303||.584|
|NEW (2 yrs)||276||1179||1021||156||286||46||11||3||81||75||94||67||.280||.345||.356||.700|
|CIN (2 yrs)||85||285||264||15||70||6||1||0||25||9||10||19||.265||.295||.295||.590|
|NYG (1 yr)||71||273||260||22||64||9||1||0||17||7||7||20||.246||.269||.288||.557|
|BSN (1 yr)||1||5||4||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||.000||.200||.000||.200|
|NYY (1 yr)||45||124||112||7||15||0||0||0||8||2||8||17||.134||.198||.134||.332|
Its a lot easier for me to criticize star players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for allegedly turning to PEDs to help them pad already impressive personal stats and lengthen their careers, than it is to criticize today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Back in 1996, it looked as if Jason Grimsley’s career as a Major League pitcher was over. In seven seasons, pitching mostly as a starter with the Phillies, Indians and Angels, he had not been able to win more than five games or earn much more than the league’s minimum salary. He was 28 years-old and being sent back to the minors and the odds were he’d never put on a big league uniform again.
Then three years later, he re-emerged in the Bronx, in Joe Torre’s Yankee bullpen. When New York’s late-inning relievers Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson both struggled during that 1999 season, it was Grimsley who picked them up. The tall right-hander appeared in 55 games that year, won seven of his nine decisions and finished with a 3.60 ERA. When asked to explain why he was pitching so much more effectively than he did earlier in his career, Grimsley credited the improvement to his conversion to a full-time reliever. He said the change in roles permitted him to focus on mastering one pitch, a hard sinking fastball, instead of trying to master four different ones. That made sense, but seven years later we learned that other factors may have also been involved.
In 2006, the front door doorbell of Grimsley’s Arizona home rang. When the Cleveland, Texas native answered it, he found federal agents with a search warrant. They were there looking for human growth hormone and in the conversation that followed, Grimsley not only admitted using the substance, he reportedly gave the agents the names of several teammates who used HGH, steroids and amphetamines. The next day, Grimsley asked his then current employer, the Arizona Diamondbacks to release him and they immediately obliged.
So why do I find it so hard to criticize Grimsley for turning to performance enhancers? Simply put, I feel he was cheating just to survive and feed his family, while guys like Clemens and Bonds, who had already made their marks and fortunes in the game, could only have been motivated by greed and/or ego. Grimsley’s drug-taking helped him get back to the majors and raise his salary from $425,000 to $2 million annually. During the eight years after his return to the big leagues, Grimsley earned over $8 million and probably secured his family’s future for life. If I were Grimsley, faced with the same choices, I’d have a real difficult time not making the same exact one he did.
|KCR (4 yrs)||10||21||.323||3.94||251||0||59||0||0||1||253.1||247||122||111||19||116||196||1.433|
|PHI (3 yrs)||5||12||.294||4.35||27||27||0||0||0||0||136.2||120||68||66||7||103||90||1.632|
|CLE (3 yrs)||8||6||.571||5.09||39||21||3||1||0||1||159.0||180||97||90||14||86||111||1.673|
|NYY (2 yrs)||10||4||.714||4.41||118||4||43||0||0||2||171.1||166||97||84||17||82||102||1.447|
|BAL (2 yrs)||3||6||.333||4.78||63||0||12||0||0||0||58.1||61||40||31||8||29||31||1.543|
|ARI (1 yr)||1||2||.333||4.88||19||0||6||0||0||0||27.2||30||15||15||4||8||10||1.373|
|CAL (1 yr)||5||7||.417||6.84||35||20||4||2||1||0||130.1||150||110||99||14||74||82||1.719|
Steve Kemp was a college star at USC and the overall number one draft pick in MLB’s 1976 amateur draft. After just one year in the minors, the Detroit Tigers brought Kemp up to the big leagues and he responded with an 18-home run, 88-RBI rookie season in 1977. Over the next three seasons, he became one of the upper tier outfielders in the AL and an All Star in 1979, when he belted 26 home runs, drove in 105 and hit .318.
The problem with Kemp was his defense. He was a below average left-fielder with limited range and one of the league’s weakest outfield arms. So when he slumped at the plate during the strike-shortened season of 1981, the Tigers traded him to Chicago for outfielder Chet Lemon. Kemp had a strong year in the Windy City, hitting 19 HRs and driving in 98. When he became a free agent at the end of the ’82 season, White Sox owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn offered Kemp a contract worth $800K per year.
But back in 1983, George Steinbrenner was on a free agent spending spree. He seemed to want to sign anybody who ever hit .300 or won 20 games in a season. He gave Kemp a $5.5 million, five-year deal and Reinsdorf and Einhorn howled publicly in protest. They claimed Kemp wasn’t worth those kind of dollars and that “The Boss’s” stupid spending would ruin baseball’s salary structure. They turned out to be half-right anyway.
Kemp became one of the many Steinbrenner signings from that era to fail on the Big Apple stage. During his two seasons in pinstripes he hit just .264 and averaged 9 home runs and only 45 RBIs per season. Yankee Stadium favored left handed pull hitters but not lefties who hit the ball with power into the gaps. Pop ups down the line in the old Stadium were home runs while 400 yard drives to right-center were usually just long outs. Kemp’s power was to that cow-pasture-like gap in right center. His defensive shortcomings were also highlighted by the Stadium’s tough left field.
By 1984, Steinbrenner had seen enough. He OK’d a trade that sent Kemp to Pittsburgh for Yogi’s kid, Dale Berra and a prospect named Jay Buhner. Kemp’s skills faded fast in the Steel City and he was out of the big leagues for good by 1987. He was born in San Angelo, TX on August 7, 1954. Kemp certainly wasn’t a perfect Yankee but he shares today as a birthday with this former Yankee pitcher who on one brilliant October day in 1956, was. Today is also the birthday of this one-time Yankee reliever and this Hall of Fame manager.
|DET (5 yrs)||684||2930||2504||378||711||114||18||89||422||24||375||362||.284||.376||.450||.826|
|PIT (2 yrs)||105||286||252||20||62||13||2||3||22||2||29||60||.246||.319||.349||.669|
|NYY (2 yrs)||203||780||686||90||181||29||4||19||90||5||81||91||.264||.341||.401||.742|
|TEX (1 yr)||16||39||36||2||8||0||0||0||2||1||2||9||.222||.256||.222||.479|
|CHW (1 yr)||160||679||580||91||166||23||1||19||98||7||89||83||.286||.381||.428||.808|
Larsen will of course always be remembered as the guy who threw the only perfect game in World Series history. When most fans think of this big right-hander they probably visualize the famous clip of that game’s final out, when umpire Babe Pinelli ended the at bat of the Dodgers’ Dale Mitchell with a questionable third strike call. At the end of that clip, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra is shown jumping joyously into Larsen’s arms. Did you know that during that leap, Yogi’s knee hit Larsen squarely in the groin, putting the Yankee pitcher in excruciating pain?
One of the things I most like about sports is getting the opportunity to watch non-stars have their day in the sun. Just two seasons before he became a Yankee legend, Larsen had a 3-21 record for baseball’s worst team at the time, the Baltimore Orioles. After that horrific year, he was traded to the Yankees as part of a sixteen-player transaction that was then the largest trade in baseball history. Can you imagine the current Yankees making a trade involving sixteen players and their agents?
Larsen pitched decently for the Yankees for five seasons, compiling a 45-24 regular season record and a total of three World Series victories against just one defeat. But during his fourteen-year big league career he was traded eight times, lost more games than he won, and was never considered one of baseball’s upper tier pitchers. None of that mattered to Larsen. During the fiftieth year anniversary celebration of his World Series classic, I heard Larsen tell an interviewer that one game performance had changed his life and continued to help him pay the bills a full half century after it happened. Larsen was born on this date in 1929, in Michigan City, IN.
|NYY (5 yrs)||45||24||.652||3.50||128||90||22||23||7||3||655.1||549||286||255||57||362||356||1.390|
|SFG (3 yrs)||12||12||.500||3.86||101||0||54||0||0||14||158.2||139||72||68||17||83||108||1.399|
|BAL (3 yrs)||11||35||.239||4.08||94||51||23||19||3||3||448.1||467||227||203||33||173||216||1.428|
|KCA (2 yrs)||2||10||.167||5.20||30||16||8||0||0||0||98.2||118||64||57||13||53||56||1.733|
|HOU (2 yrs)||4||8||.333||2.40||31||11||11||2||1||1||108.2||100||39||29||4||23||59||1.132|
|CHC (1 yr)||0||0||9.00||3||0||1||0||0||0||4.0||5||4||4||1||2||1||1.750|
|CHW (1 yr)||7||2||.778||4.12||25||3||13||0||0||2||74.1||64||36||34||5||29||53||1.251|