Flash turns 46 years old today. Before he joined the YES Network as an analyst for Yankee games and as a commentator on the Post Game shows, Flaherty was a big league catcher for fourteen seasons with five different teams. Born in the Big Apple, he ended that playing career in his hometown, with three seasons as Jorge Posada’s backup from 2003 until 2005. During lulls in the action, when he is in the booth for Yankee games, viewers often hear Michael Kay or Kenny Singleton tease Flaherty about the lucrative contract he signed with Tampa Bay, back in 1998. He pocketed about $12 million of Devil Ray money during his five season stay for catching about 90 games per year and averaging .252. He hit just .226 during his 134-game career in pinstripes but he’s doing a much better job for New York in his broadcasting role.
In 2011, Flaherty became an owner of a professional baseball team, when he founded the Rockland Boulders, a member of the unaffiliated Canadian-American League. The team is based in Rockland County, NY.
Like Flaherty, this Yankee was born in New York City and celebrates his birthday on this date. He did a bit better than John did while playing in New York and now has a plaque in Cooperstown. Also born on October 21st is this former Yankee pitcher who flirted with World Series history in 1947.
|TBD (5 yrs)||471||1802||1673||157||422||82||1||35||196||3||86||250||.252||.289||.365||.654|
|NYY (3 yrs)||134||389||359||37||81||22||0||12||41||0||15||70||.226||.261||.387||.648|
|DET (3 yrs)||193||594||546||59||130||35||1||15||67||1||27||83||.238||.277||.388||.665|
|BOS (2 yrs)||48||100||91||6||16||4||0||0||4||0||5||13||.176||.224||.220||.444|
|SDP (2 yrs)||201||755||703||60||200||33||1||18||87||6||42||98||.284||.324||.411||.736|
Walter Blair was a back-up catcher for the New York Highlanders during the first decade of the team’s existence. After playing college ball at Bucknell and spending a couple of seasons in the minors, New York signed him in 1907 to back up their starting receiver at the time, Red Kleinow. By then, the native of Landrus, Pennsylvania was 23-years-old and had developed solid defensive skills behind the plate and a sharp mind for the game. His problem was he couldn’t hit.
It was his offensive inabilities that doomed his one attempt at becoming New York’s starting catcher. In 1911, then manager, Hal Chase pretty much alternated Blair and 22-year-old Jeff Sweeney behind the plate the entire season. Sweeney hit just .231 and still outhit Blair by close to 40 points.
That performance ended Blair’s Highlander and big league career. He went back to the Minors for two seasons and then played in the upstart Federal League for a couple of more. He found he had a knack for helping young ballplayers develop their skills and got into managing and even purchased an interest in a minor league team back in his home state of Pennsylvania. Then in 1917, he took over as the coach of the University of Pittsburgh’s baseball team. Three years later, he moved into the same position for his alma mater, Bucknell. He passed away in 1948 at the age of 64.
|NYY (5 yrs)||216||652||587||35||115||16||6||1||53||8||36||80||.196||.251||.249||.500|
Learned something interesting when researching for stuff I could use to write a post about today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. The Yankees first started spending more money on player acquisition than any other team in baseball, back when Jacob Ruppert owned the team and employed Ed Barrow as the team’s de facto GM and Miller Huggins as field skipper.
Red Sox owner Harry Frazee became the first beneficiary (or should I say “victim”) of New York’s generosity, when he accepted lot’s of Yankee dollars for most of Boston’s starting pitching rotation, including a soon-to-be-ex-pitcher by the name of Ruth. Another team that saw a lot of Ruppert’s money come their way was the Saint Paul Saints, an American Association minor league team based in Minnesota’s capital city.
The two most notable players the Yankees got from the Saints were shortstop Mark Koenig and today’s birthday celebrant, catcher Pat Collins. A native of Sweet Springs, Missouri, Collins had been a big league backup catcher for the St. Louis Browns from 1919 through 1924, when he was released and signed with the Saints. He was not a good defensive receiver and was an exceptionally slow runner but his pretty decent hitting had kept him on the Browns roster for all that time.
Collins feasted on minor league pitching during the 1925 season, smacking 19 home runs and averaging .316. Meanwhile, during that same year, the Yankees had tried to replace their veteran backstop, Wally Schang with 26-year-old Benny Bengough. Neither Huggins or Barrow were pleased with Bengough’s offense so the Yankee GM gave the Saints $15,000 for Collins.
He did provide the offensive boost the Yankees hoped for during his two seasons as New York’s starting catcher, averaging right around .280 with an excellent on-base percentage. His problem remained defense and it was his poor overall glove work that convinced New York they needed to find his replacement. They gave Johnny Grabowski a shot at the job in 1928 and when he was injured in an off-season home fire, they went with a youngster named Bill Dickey who would remain a fixture behind the plate in Yankee Stadium for the next sixteen years.
Collins got sold to the Braves in December of 1928 and after appearing in just 11 games for Boston during the 1929 season, his big league career was over. He and his wife later operated a bar outside Kansas City and became owners of a minor league team. He was also convicted for evading about $4,000 worth of federal income tax in 1952. He died in 1960 at the age of 63.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention the “something interesting” thing I learned when doing my research on Pat Collins. Ed Barrow would end up spending more than $300,000 purchasing players from that Saint Paul Saints minor league team and among them all, only Koenig and to a lesser extent, Collins ever made any significant contributions to the Yankees. The fact that the keen-eyed New York scouting organization could be so right about most of its signings and acquisitions and so frequently wrong when it came to deals made with the Saints sort of defied explanation. Or did it? Come to find out, one of the co-owners of that Saints franchise, who made lot’s of money from those transactions was none other than Yankee manager, Miller Huggins.
|SLB (6 yrs)||272||605||522||48||124||21||0||13||81||1||2||70||104||.238||.328||.352||.680|
|NYY (3 yrs)||264||858||677||97||182||25||6||20||85||3||3||162||97||.269||.413||.412||.825|
|BSN (1 yr)||7||11||5||1||0||0||0||0||2||0||3||1||.000||.375||.000||.375|
Gus Triandos passed through my hometown on his way to a very noteworthy big league career. He spent the 1950 season playing for the Amsterdam Rugmakers, the Yankees’ Class C affiliate in the old CanAm League. He hit an amazing .363 that season and impressed every baseball-lovng fan in Amsterdam with his shotgun arm and powerful swing. In fact, Triandos impressed fans in each of the seven Yankee minor league home towns he played in during his half-dozen season climb up the Yankee farm system, which was interrupted by two years of military service during the Korean War.
The only weakness Triandos had on a baseball field was his slowness afoot. Simply put, the guy was considered one of the slowest runners in Major League history. Despite that handicap, his strong hitting and outstanding defensive ability were clear indications that this native of San Francisco and son of Greek immigrants would some day be a starting catcher on a big league team. Blocking his path to that destiny with the Yankees was a guy named Yogi Berra.
The Yankees brought Triandos up a first time in mid-August of the 1953 season. Casey Stengel got the then 22-year-old prospect into 18 games down the stretch and he hit his first and only home run as a Yankee. But he averaged just .157 and when the season was over so was his Yankee career, pretty much. He spent almost the entire ’54 season with the Yanks’ Double A club in Birmingham and that November, was included in a historic 17-player transaction with the Orioles that brought Bob Turley and Don Larsen to the Yankees.
It was the big break Triandos’s career needed. He was actually the starting first baseman on the 1955 Baltimore team and Hal Smith started behind the plate. He took over the starting catcher’s job during the 1956 season and remained in that role for the next seven years. He quickly established his reputation as one of the league’s best all-around receivers. He made three straight AL All Star teams and his 30-home runs in 1958 tied Berra’s record for most HRs by a catcher in a season. Though he was still obscured by the Yankee great’s shadow, he became a huge fan favorite in Baltimore, where they named a street after him.
Triandos gained lots of notoriety and sympathy for having to catch Hoyt Wilhelm’s fluttering knuckleball during the Hall-of-Famer’s four-plus seasons as an Oriole. Baltimore manager, Paul Richards designed and had made an over-sized catcher’s mitt to assist Triandos with the task. Though Wilhelm had some of his best big league seasons pitching to Triandos, including his only no-hitter, big Gus often said that catching the hurler’s signature pitch was the worst part of his career.
In 1962, Triandos was traded to the Detroit Tigers and a year later, Detroit sent him and pitcher Jim Bunning to the Phillies. It was there that he caught his second career no-hitter, when Bunning accomplished the feat in June of 1964 against the Mets. But Triandos had stopped hitting during his final few seasons in Baltimore and never again regained his stroke. He retired after the 1965 season and returned to his native California, where he started a mail delivery business. He died in his sleep, from heart failure in March of 2013 at the age of 82. One of my favorite all-time TV shows was the HBO series “Wire,” which dramatized crime and corruption in the City of Baltimore. This story of how Triandos was immortalized in an episode of the show is must reading for fans of this great former Oriole.
|BAL (8 yrs)||953||3610||3186||331||794||119||6||142||517||1||365||487||.249||.326||.424||.751|
|PHI (2 yrs)||103||311||270||20||61||11||0||8||37||0||35||58||.226||.314||.356||.669|
|NYY (2 yrs)||20||56||52||5||8||2||0||1||6||0||3||10||.154||.200||.250||.450|
|HOU (1 yr)||24||78||72||5||13||2||0||2||7||0||5||14||.181||.244||.292||.535|
|DET (1 yr)||106||369||327||28||78||13||0||14||41||0||32||67||.239||.315||.407||.722|
One of the key reasons the Yankees were not successful reaching the postseason for a dozen seasons after 1981 was their lack of a strong all-around catcher during that time span. From Dickey-to-Berra-to Howard-to-Munson, those Yankee teams that regularly reached fall ball had catchers who could hit well, field well, and lead their pitching staffs. When the Yankees signed Mike Stanley as a free agent before the 1992 season, I thought we had the makings of the next great Yankee receiver. He did well enough offensively in pinstripes but the Yankee front-office ended up replacing him with a better defensive catcher.
Stanley started his Yankee career as a backup for Matt Nokes. He took over as starter in 1993 and had a great offensive season, hitting 26 home runs, driving in 84 and averaging .305. He continued to hit well in 1994 as the Yankees became the best team in the League under Buck Showalter. When the disastrous strike ended that season, it also marked the peaking of the Yankee careers of both Showalter and Stanley. Even though New York made the postseason in 1995, Stanley’s batting average took a 30-point dip and after the Yankees got knocked out of the playoffs by the Mariners in the first round, Yankee fans could feel the Steinbrenner-induced winds of change blowing. Showalter was fired and replaced by Joe Torre. They let Mattingly retire and Stanley was not re-signed. The Yankees traded for Tino Martinez and Joe Girardi instead.
Update: The above post was originally written in 2009. Stanley did rejoin the Yankees during the latter half of the 1997 season. At the time, Yankee GM Bob Watson had been looking for a right-handed bat to replace the one lost when Cecil Fielder broke his thumb just before the All Star break that year. He traded coveted Yankee pitching prospect Tony Armas Jr to the Red Sox to bring Stanley’s opposite field power back for a second go-round in the Bronx. At the time the deal was made, Watson told the press he intended to re-sign the returning player to a longer term deal, but even though Stanley hit .287 in the 28 games he played down the stretch of that ’97 regular season and a .388 on-base-percentage, the Yankees let him walk when the year ended.
During the 1995 season, Stanley became the 13th Yankee in history to homer three times in the same regular season game. Here’s a list of the 20 Bronx Bombers who have accomplished this feat during their pinstriped careers: Tony Lazzeri (1927, ’36) Lou Gehrig (1927, ’29, ’30, ’32*) Babe Ruth (1930) Ben Chapman (1932) Joe DiMaggio (1937) Bill Dickey (1939) Charley Keller (1940) Johnny Mize (1950) Mickey Mantle (1955) Tom Tresh (1965) Bobby Murcer (1970, ’73) Cliff Johnson (1977) Mike Stanley (1995) Paul O’Neill (1995) Darryl Strawberry (1996) Tino Martinez (1997) Tony Clark (2004) Alex Rodriguez (2005) Mark Teixeira (2010) Curtis Granderson (2012)
*Gehrig went on to hit a fourth home run in the 1932 game.
Stanley shares his June 25th birthday with this former Yankee long reliever.
Here are Stanley’s Yankee and career playing stats:
|TEX (6 yrs)||452||1164||987||114||248||43||4||16||120||6||147||215||.251||.348||.352||.699|
|BOS (5 yrs)||459||1703||1425||224||391||76||1||73||254||3||234||293||.274||.381||.483||.864|
|NYY (5 yrs)||426||1604||1372||227||391||81||2||72||263||2||201||314||.285||.377||.504||.882|
|OAK (1 yr)||32||113||97||11||26||7||0||4||18||0||14||21||.268||.363||.464||.827|
|TOR (1 yr)||98||405||341||49||82||13||0||22||47||2||56||86||.240||.353||.472||.825|
If you’ve read some of my earlier posts you know how it felt for some of us to be Yankee fans during the late sixties. Optimism was something you actually had to hope for. Nothing and no one looked promising. There seemed to be no silver lining in the huge gray cloud that hung over the Bronx.
And then suddenly he was there, squatting behind home plate with a rocket for an arm and a good bat to boot. He hit .300 his rookie season, made the All Star team and when they announced Thurman Munson won the 1970 AL Rookie of the Year award I can remember it felt almost as good as winning a pennant. There was hope again.
The next couple of years weren’t great statistically for Munson, but his fiery demeanor and leadership on the field began to take hold. If you were going to play on Munson’s team you were going to get your uniform dirty, run out every thing you hit, and be just as pissed as he was after every Yankee loss. By 1975, the talent on the Yankees caught up with the team’s attitude and one year later, Munson won the AL MVP and led New York back to the World Series.
Munson hit .529 in that Series but the Yankees were swept by the Reds and during a classless moment, Sparky Anderson felt a need to insult Thurman by telling sportswriters he’s no Johnny Bench. Then in 1977 the Yankees won it all but Jackson’s “straw that stirs the drink” comment knawed at Munson the whole season. So even when he reached baseball’s mountaintop Thurman seemed to have a difficult time simply enjoying the moment.
I believe that on the ball field, Thurman had to have that chip on his shoulder to stay motivated. Off the field he had his family and his flying. The Yankee team he left never recovered from his death. They lost their leader and they lost that chip. The Captain would have turned 65-years-old today.
Update: The above post about Thurman Munson was originally written in 2009 and updated once in 2011. I now add to it below:
Munson was the best defensive catcher in the American League until 1974, when he deeply bruised his throwing hand and also underwent surgery on his right shoulder. From that point on, Munson was forced to make his throws to second sidearmed and they began ending up in right center field with alarming regularity. But if you talk to Yankee pitchers who pitched to other big league catchers in addition to Munson during their careers, guys like Mel Stottlemyre, Catfish Hunter, Tommy John, and Goose Gossage, they will tell you that nobody managed a game better than Thurman.
As his throwing ability declined however his offensive game got better. Look at his numbers from 1975-77 in the stats matrix below and ask yourself how many big league catchers ever put three years like that together in their careers. All the one’s who did before Thurman came along are in Cooperstown.
It wasn’t until just recently that I learned how dysfunctional Munson’s family was, thanks largely to his long-distance truck driver father named Darrell. In Marty Appel’s second book about the Yankee captain published in 2009, the author revealed Munson’s true and very harsh feelings about his dad. Darrell Munson was described as an unloving, uncaring father who resented the fact that his son had achieved a level of success that he himself had no hope of replicating. At Munson’s funeral, Darrell approached his son’s coffin and according to witnesses addressed it out loud with the following words; “You always thought you were too big for this world. Well you weren’t. Look who’s still standing, you son of a bitch.”
Munson shares his June 7th birthday with the Yankee pitcher who was with Babe Ruth when the Bambino was shot by an angry husband.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant may not have been very famous as a Yankee or even a big leaguer, but he was a legend of the game none-the-less. His name was James Harrison Hannah and he shared the Yankees catching duties with at first, Roxy Walters and then Muddy Ruel. “James Harrison” was what was on his birth certificate, but like both Walters and Ruel, he too had a nickname, one of the most fitting aka’s ever for a baseball catcher. Being six feet one inch tall and weighing 190 pounds, Hannah was close to half a foot taller and forty-to-fifty pounds heavier than the dimensions of an average American male back during WWI. So folks called him “Truck.”
As the war raged in Europe, the Yankees were well on there way to laying the foundation of what would become the game’s greatest dynasty. The cornerstone was an owner with lots of money who truly understood how spending big chunks of that cash to build a winning baseball team could be a wise investment. That owner, a beer brewer named Jake Ruppert showed up in 1915. The next piece of the foundation was a team manager who was not just a good judge of talent and effective field technician, but one who was tough enough to handle the rowdy, hard-living young men who played the game back then. For the Yankees, that was Miller Huggins, who took over as New York skipper the same year that Truck Hannah joined the team, in 1918.
One of just 15 big league players (and three Yankees) to be born in the state of North Dakota, Truck Hannah had started playing professional baseball as a 20-year-old back in 1909, with the Tacoma Tigers in the Northwestern League. He pretty much lived out of his suitcase the next half-dozen years, moving from one town and minor league team to another until he found a more permanent home in Salt Lake City, catching for the Bee’s, that city’s Pacific Coast League franchise. He was that team’s starting catcher for the next three years, giving Major League scouts a wide enough window to notice both his decent bat and huge physical size. Sure enough, New York offered him a contract and on Opening Day 1918, Huggins put “Truck” behind home plate and the two participated in their very first games as Yankees.
Unfortunately for Hannah, he got to the Major Leagues just as the game was changing. The deadball era was coming to a close and every team wanted players who could hit as well as field. Hannah had averaged right around .275 during his three seasons at Salt Lake and if he had been able to do likewise with New York, we may have been able to include the name “Truck” as the first in the long line of great catchers who have worn the pinstripes. But Hannah hit just .235 during his three seasons as a Yankee and that simply wasn’t good enough.
The Yankees released Hannah after the 1920 season. That December, the Yankees made a deal that sent Muddy Ruel to Boston and brought Red Sox catcher, Wally Schang to New York. The switch-hitting Schang would hit .316 in his first year in pinstripes and start behind the plate for the Yankees’ first-ever World Championship team two years later.
Meanwhile Hannah returned to the Pacific Coast League, where he would continue to catch (and also manage) for the next 18 seasons, finally leaving the employ of the Los Angeles Angels in 1939 at the age of 49. Along the way, he appeared (as himself) in two of Hollywood’s earliest talking films and became famous for throwing handfuls of dirt into an opposing hitter’s shoes or at their hands as pitches approached the plate. He might not be in Cooperstown but Hannah did become a PCL Hall of Famer. And even after he left the Angels, the old Truck wasn’t quite ready for the junk heap. He accepted a job to manage the Memphis Chicasaws and during the team’s 1942 season, both Memphis catchers were hurt and unable to play on the day of a doubleheader. Hannah suited up and at the age of 52 caught both ends of the twin bill.
By the way, the other two Yankees to have been born in North Dakota were former outfielder Ken Hunt and the current Yankee DH, Travis Hafner. Hannah shares his birthday with this record-setting pitcher and another former Yankee catcher.