Before Dewayne Staats became the first official television voice of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998, he had served a four year spot as MSG-TV’s lead Yankee play-by-play announcer, teaming with the great Tony Kubek in the booth. The Missouri native got that job in 1990, in the middle of the Stump Merrill era and left after the strike-shortened 1994 season, right before the Yankees went on their impressive run of postseason play. He and Kubek were replaced by MSG with Dave Cohen and Jim Kaat.
Staats big league play-by-play career had started in 1977, when he got his first gig with the Houston Astros, his favorite boyhood team. After four years there, he did play-by-play for the Cubs for four more years before landing his Bronx Bomber assignment with MSG. The fact that Staats was behind the microphone during a time when the Yankees were struggling to win, limited his personal Yankee highlights reel. His most famous moment in the role was when he called Jim Abbott’s 1993 no-hit game, though in 2011, he did get to call Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit because it came against Tampa.
Compare a tape of a Kubek/Staats Yankee broadcast with one from today’s crew and you’ll feel like you’re comparing a silent movie with a talk-radio show. The former Yankee shortstop won his Ford C. Frick award for expert analysis and unlike Tim McCarver, Kubek’s goal was to provide it with as few words as possible. Ditto for Staats. In fact. a 1992 New York Times’ article comparing the Yankee and Met booth crews labeled Kubek and Staats the “Dragnet” team because they “gave just the facts” during a game, with a bare minimum of chattiness or cheerleading. Of course as bad as the early Yankee teams they covered were, there was not a whole lot to cheer about.
When Staats left the Yankees he joined ESPN for a couple years before getting hired by the Rays. Dave Cohen replaced Staats in the Yankee booth and Jim Kaat took over for Kubek, who retired at the same time. Staats shares his birthday with this Yankee pitcher, this Yankee pitcher and this Yankee coach.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was a legitimate monster of the game during the 1960’s. Nicknamed “Hondo,” he stood six feet eight inches tall, weighed close to 300 pounds and handled his tree-trunk sized bat as if it was a toothpick. Howard played both basketball and baseball at Ohio State and was signed by the Dodgers in 1958. During his two plus seasons in LA’s minor league system, he smashed 84 home runs and then became the NL Rookie of the Year in 1960. Five years later the Dodgers traded him to the Senators in the deal that brought pitcher Claude Osteen to Los Angeles.
During the next seven seasons, Hondo became the Senators first legitimate star player. He led the AL in homers in 1968 (44) and again in ’70 (44), when he also captured the AL RBI title with 126. He was a four-time AL All Star and hit some of the longest home runs in MLB history during his years playing in our Nation’s Capital. When the Senators moved to Texas in 1972, Howard’s stats nosedived and he was sold to the Tigers. Two years later he went to Japan but a knee injury prevented him from becoming the new “Godzilla.” He hit 382 big league home runs during his 16 season career back when reaching the 400 mark in that category meant automatic induction into Cooperstown.
He then turned to managing in the minor leagues and eventually got big league jobs skippering both the Padres and Mets. Though he didn’t have winning teams in either city he was considered a real good communicator, especially with the younger players. The Yankees hired him as a hitting coach in the late eighties and he served under both Stump Merrill and Bucky Showalter in that capacity. He was a tireless coach who would be the first person to arrive at the park every day of spring training and the last guy to leave at night. He’d hit fungos to Yankee outfielders for hours and stand by the batting cage just as long, helping young Yankee prospects like Bernie Williams work on weaknesses in their swings. He was widely respected by everyone on the team and his huge physical size made young Yankee prospects think twice about trying to skip out early on practice. He was born in Columbus, OH and turns 76 years old today. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this other one too, and this former Yankee play-by-play announcer.
I remember getting pretty excited by Ray Fontenot’s rookie year performance with the Yankees during the second half of the 1983 season. The Yankee rotation he joined that year included 20-game winner Ron Guidry, perfect game thrower Dave Righetti and Shane Rawley. When Fontenot was called up at the end of June and won his first three big league starts, I thought that Yankee rotation was strong enough to make the postseason. As it turned out, not quite. Fontenot continued to pitch well, finishing the year with an 8-2 record and that Yankee team won 91 games, but Baltimore won 98 and took the Division crown.
Still, it seemed as if the southpaw Fontenot had a bright future with New York. He was just 25 years old during his rookie year but he already pitched with a lot of poise on the mound. His ERA that first year was an impressive 3.33. Like Guidry, he was born in Louisiana and the Yankee beat writers would get a kick out of hearing Gator and the rookie converse in Creole French in the Yankee clubhouse. When New York also added John Montefusco to their starting staff in August of ’83 and “The Count” won five straight decisions, Yankee fans were beginning to feel downright giddy about our starters entering the 1984 season. Boy were we wrong!
First of all, the Yankees didn’t re-sign their closer Goose Gossage after the ’83 season. New York’s front office made the decision to switch Righetti to that role. In my research for today’s blog post, I discovered that Billy Martin, who was then serving as a Steinbrenner consultant, was against making Righetti the closer and actually suggested that Fontenot would be the better alternative. Righetti proved a smart choice as he went on to save 31 games during his first season pitching out of the bullpen. The Yankees signed the veteran knuckleballer, Phil Niekro to replace Righetti in the rotation and he did an outstanding job, going 16-8. But Guidry had an off-year in ’84, finishing with a 10-11 record and both Rawley and Montefusco were injured and appeared in just 11 games each. Ray Fontenot won just 8 games during his first full season in the big leagues and lost 9. He did not pitch really badly, compiling a 3.61 ERA in his sophomore year, but when four starting pitchers on the same staff all under-produce in the same season the results are never pretty.
Back then, the Yankees had little patience with young pitchers and Fontenot was traded to the Cubbies in December of ’84 as part of a six-player deal. He went just 6-10 during his first season with Chicago and was just 3-5 the following year when he was traded and then released by the Minnesota Twins. Although he tried to get back to the big leagues after the 1986 season, he never did.
|CHC (2 yrs)||9||15||.375||4.23||80||23||16||0||0||2||210.2||234||116||99||28||66||94||1.424|
|NYY (2 yrs)||16||11||.593||3.51||50||39||1||3||1||0||266.2||290||118||104||11||83||112||1.399|
|MIN (1 yr)||0||0||9.92||15||0||7||0||0||0||16.1||27||19||18||3||4||10||1.898|
I hated to see the Yankees trade Ohlendorf to Pittsburgh at the 2008 trading deadline. I did not think Xavier Nady was as good as he was playing for Pittsburgh and I thought Ross O had the stuff and the smarts to become a good starting pitcher at the big league level. I turned out to be right about Nady but the jury’s sill out on Ross O. and time is getting short for him to prove he has the right stuff to be a successful big league pitcher.
He had a real good first full year in Pittsburgh in 2009, going 12-11 but he regressed to 1-11 in 2010. He then spent the 2011 season bouncing up in down between Pittsburgh and three different Pirate minor league teams before being released outright in December of 2011. Two months later, the Red Sox signed Ohlendorf but then released him in June. In July, he resurfaced in the big leagues with the Padres and he’s been starting and relieving for San Diego since. His record as I update this post this morning is 3-2, but his ERA has climbed over six. Ross was born in Austin, TX, in 1982. The guy really is a brainiac, having graduated from Princeton with a degree in finance. He got lots of national press attention when he interned at the USDA during the 2009-10 offseason, analyzing if programs to trace livestock diseases were cost-effective.
|PIT (4 yrs)||13||27||.325||4.60||64||64||0||0||0||0||346.1||367||190||177||49||124||228||1.418|
|NYY (2 yrs)||1||1||.500||6.02||31||0||6||0||0||0||46.1||55||33||31||8||21||45||1.640|
|SDP (1 yr)||4||4||.500||7.77||13||9||2||0||0||0||48.2||62||44||42||7||24||39||1.767|
|WSN (1 yr)||2||0||1.000||1.85||10||2||1||0||0||0||34.0||26||7||7||2||9||29||1.029|