Before the 2001 season began, the Yankees had signed veteran catcher, Joe Oliver to back up Jorge Posada behind the plate. After a 12-game trial, Oliver had not impressed anyone with his defense or his arm, throwing out just 2 of the 12 runners who had attempted steals against him. New York had signed Todd Greene that April, right after the five-year veteran had been released by the Blue Jays. Greene had spent four seasons as a utility catcher, first baseman and outfielder for the Angels. The Yankees called him up in June of 2001 and the native of Augusta, Georgia turned some heads by hitting a homer in his first game in pinstripes and driving in a total of six runs in his first two. With his shaved head and stocky build, he looked like a professional wrestler and Yankee fans hoped his great start was a sign of more good things to come. It was not. He not only cooled off at the plate, base stealers had a field day running with him behind it. He did make the 2001 postseason roster and doubled and scored a run against Arizona in that year’s World Series. Joe Torre cut him at the end of the 2002 spring training season and he signed on with the Rangers. Greene played until 2006, retiring with 71 big league home runs and a .252 lifetime batting average.
This former Yankee prospect shares Greene’s May 8th birthday.
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|COL (2 yrs)||113||343||321||33||87||18||0||17||58||0||20||59||.271||.315||.486||.801|
|TEX (2 yrs)||104||328||317||40||77||15||1||20||39||0||4||70||.243||.257||.486||.743|
|SFG (1 yr)||61||170||159||16||46||12||2||2||17||0||10||45||.289||.335||.428||.763|
|NYY (1 yr)||35||100||96||9||20||4||0||1||11||0||3||21||.208||.240||.281||.521|
|TOR (1 yr)||34||90||85||11||20||2||0||5||10||0||5||18||.235||.278||.435||.713|
You have to be a pretty passionate and long-time Yankee fan to remember today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Scott Bradley had been New York’s third round draft pick in the 1981 MLB amateur draft. After a decent cup-of-coffee trial with the parent club the previous fall, he showed up at the Yankees 1985 spring training camp with a duffel bag that included five different gloves. He had been a catcher during his days in the New York farm system but he was determined to prove to then Yankee manager Yogi Berra that he could also play first, third and the outfield. He knew that Yankee team already had two catchers, Butch Wynegar and Ron Hassey on its roster. As the Essex Falls, New Jersey native explained to a New York Times reporter who interviewed him during that exhibition season, “The best way for me to make this team is to play three or four different positions.”
Bradley’s strategy worked. Berra loved the kid’s attitude and he ended up winning the James P.Dawson Award as the outstanding rookie in that 1985 spring training camp. When Don Mattingly’s back problems forced him to start the ’85 season on the DL, it was an easy decision for Yogi to carry Bradley on the Yanks’ Opening Day roster.
The problem was that though Bradley could play several different positions, he was the Yankees third string choice at each of them. As a result, he saw action in only three games that April, before he was sent back down to the minors. Bradley reappeared in the Bronx that June, after Billy Martin had replaced Berra as Yankee manager and he made several appearances as a DH. But when his average dropped below .200 in early July, he was sent back down. He got one more opportunity in late July, when Wynegar went on the DL, but he again failed to generate any offense whatsoever.
Despite his .163 average, it appeared as if the Yanks were committing to using Bradley as their second string catcher in 1986, when they traded Hassey to the White Sox in December of ’85. But the New York front office had a change of heart and reacquired Hassey just three months later, sending Bradley to Chicago as part of the deal. He appeared in just 8 games as a White Sox before getting traded to the Mariners in July of 1986. It would be in Seattle where Bradley would become a big league starting catcher for the better part of six seasons.
He stopped playing in 1992 and became a minor league coach. In 1997, he accepted the head baseball coaching job at Princeton University, a position he continues to serve in today. Bradley shares his March 22nd birthday with this former Yankee outfielder, this former Yankee pitcher turned pitching instructor and this Yankee hurler who met a tragic death.
|SEA (7 yrs)||562||1698||1552||138||402||72||5||18||180||3||100||104||.259||.303||.347||.650|
|NYY (2 yrs)||28||73||70||7||14||3||1||0||3||0||2||6||.200||.233||.271||.504|
|CIN (1 yr)||5||6||5||1||2||0||0||0||1||0||1||0||.400||.500||.400||.900|
|CHW (1 yr)||9||24||21||3||6||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||.286||.375||.286||.661|
If former Yankee catching phee-nom, Jesus Montero had become the next great Yankee catcher, today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant would have had a lot to do with his success. That’s because Butch Wynegar served as Montero’s hitting and catching coach at Scranton/Wilkes Barre in 2010. Montero didn’t need much help at the plate but Wynegar’s task that season was to try and make the kid a better player behind it. At one time, Wynegar himself was being proclaimed as baseball’s next superstar catcher when he was drafted by the Twins in 1974. Two years later, when he was just 20-years-old, he was Minnesota’s starting catcher, made the AL All Star team and finished second behind Mark “The Bird” Fidrych in that season’s Rookie of the Year balloting. Wynegar was a switch hitter who like Montero, felt naturally comfortable hitting but uncomfortable catching. Ironically, Butch turned himself into one of baseball’s better defensive catchers but he never became the offensive force pundits had predicted he would be at the big league level.
Wynegar played for Minnesota from 1976 until May of 1982, when the Twins traded him to New York. The Yankees had given up hope that Rick Cerone was ever going to be the next Thurman Munson and their thinking was that Wynegar, who was only 26 at the time of the trade, still had his best years ahead of him. It looked like the Yankee brass had made the right decision after Butch hit .296 in 1983, his first full year in pinstripes and caught Dave Righetti’s unforgettable fourth-of-July no-hitter against Boston. But that turned out to be the best year he would have in New York. I remember he did do a great job handling a very unstable Yankee pitching staff during his tenure with the team but his bat never made much noise. By 1986, the Yankees decided they’s seen enough of Wynegar and shipped him to the Angels for next to nothing in return.
Wynegar shares his March 14th birthday with this former bad-tempered Yankee pitcher.
|MIN (7 yrs)||794||3188||2746||325||697||112||9||37||325||8||358||259||.254||.340||.342||.682|
|NYY (5 yrs)||449||1712||1437||161||372||58||5||27||168||2||251||149||.259||.368||.363||.730|
|CAL (2 yrs)||58||167||147||12||33||6||1||1||13||0||17||20||.224||.301||.299||.601|
Shortly after Joe McCarthy took over as Yankee manager following the 1930 season, the Philadelphia A’s put their long-time catcher, Cy Perkins on waivers. Seeing an opportunity to take ownership of Perkins’ years of experience as one of the American League’s best defensive catchers, Marse Joe told the Yankee front office to claim the native of Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Perkins had been the A’s starting catcher for six seasons, from 1919 until 1924, which included some of the worst teams in the franchise’s history. In 1925, Mickey Cochrane took over as Philadelphia’s starter behind the plate and Perkins became his backup for the next six seasons, during which Philadelphia developed into the best team in the American League. Cochrane was born a great hitter but when he made his debut with Philadelphia, he was a horrible defensive catcher. It was Perkins who taught the future Hall-of-Famer how to catch and he proved to be an excellent teacher.
His real name was Ralph Foster Perkins which makes me wonder how in the hell he came to be known as “Cy.” He was a pretty good hitter himself, averaging right around .270 during his starting days with the A’s and usually driving in between 60 and 70 runs a year. When he got to the Yankees in 1931, Bill Dickey was firmly ensconced as the team’s number one catcher but just as McCarthy had hoped, Perkins became a huge asset on the Yankee bench. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of every hitter in the league and Dickey and the entire Yankee pitching staff took full advantage of his expert advice. New York’s staff gave gave up 138 fewer runs than they surrendered in 1930 and some of the credit for that improvement had to go to their new third-string catcher.
With both Dickey and Arndt Jorgens in front of him on the depth chart, Perkins didn’t get much of a chance to actually catch during his only season as a Yankee player. He appeared in just 16 games during the ’31 season, collecting 12 hits with 7 RBIs and a .255 batting average. He then spent the next two seasons as a Yankee coach, joining the legendary Art Fletcher to provide McCarthy with a dynamic duo of baseball brainpower that would help him direct New York to a World Championship in 1932. After two seasons of coaching for the Yankees, he rejoined his former student Cochrane, who had become the player-manager of the Detroit Tigers. That Tiger ball club then went to two straight World Series and won the 1935 Fall Classic. Perkins died in 1963 at the age of 67.
|PHA (15 yrs)||1154||3972||3556||326||921||174||35||30||402||18||300||217||.259||.319||.353||.672|
|NYY (1 yr)||16||49||47||3||12||1||0||0||7||0||1||4||.255||.286||.277||.562|
|DET (1 yr)||1||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000||.000||.000||.000|
How many third string catchers hit 21 home runs in a season? That’s exactly what this Minneapolis native did in 1961, while playing behind both Elston Howard and Yogi Berra. In the 1961 Fall Classic, Blanchard blasted two home runs against the Reds in just ten total at-bats.
He had been a three sport all-star in high school who could have attended the University of Minnesota on a basketball scholarship, but chose to play baseball instead. The Yankees gave him a $50,000 bonus to sign with them in 1951, which at the time was a huge amount of money. Having been an outfielder during his high school days, Blanchard entered a Yankee organization loaded with outfielders at every level. Since they gave him so much money to sign, New York decided to start him near the top, in triple A ball with their Kansas City affiliate. When he struggled there he was demoted to single A Binghamton, where he played even worse. It was right about this time that the Yankees got the idea to convert him to catcher, and that conversion began when Blanchard was again demoted during his first season in the minors, this time to the Class C Amsterdam Rugmakers, who used to play in my New York State hometown.
The following year, he started to catch full time for the Yankees’ class C team in Joplin Missouri and banged 30 home runs and averaged .301. Just when he thought he was on his way, Uncle Sam called and Blanchard spent the next two years of his life in the US Army. He made his Yankee debut during a brief 1955 cup-of-coffee preview and then was brought up for good in 1959. The problem was that when he finally reached the Bronx, both Yogi Berra and Elston Howard were doing his job just fine and Blanchard quickly became convinced that Yankee skipper Casey Stengel did not like him. He did however, appear in five games during New York’s 1960 World series defeat to Pittsburgh and averaged .455 in that Fall Classic. But it wasn’t until Ralph Houk took over the team in 1961 and made Berra his left fielder that Blanchard finally started seeing more game action.
Johnny played seven seasons in all for the Yankees and got to the World Series five times. Nobody loved wearing the pinstripes more than this guy. I read an interview with Mel Stottlemyre not too long ago in which the former Yankee pitcher recalled the day during the 1965 season when he walked into the Yankee clubhouse before a game and found Blanchard crying inconsolably. The Yankees had just traded the catcher and pitcher Roland Sheldon to the A’s for catcher Doc Edwards. Blanchard had a good bat but a weak arm. Elston Howard had just been injured and put on the disabled list and the Yankees feared opposing teams would run crazy on Blanchard so they made the trade. Like everything else New York did during that 1965 season, Edwards turned out to be a bust. This popular Yankee died in March of 2009.
Blanchard had been a big drinker during his Yankee days. In fact, one of his best friends on the Yankees had been Ryne Duren, who was hardly ever sober. Fortunately, after he retired, Blanchard realized his problem and kicked the habit. He became a successful salesman for printing companies.
This pitcher who shares Blanchard’s birthday was the first ex Yankee to become a Texas Ranger. I’m not referring to the Texas Ranger baseball team, I mean the real Texas Rangers! This one-time Yankee first base prospect was also born on February 26.
|NYY (8 yrs)||454||1207||1063||126||260||34||2||64||187||2||126||146||.245||.325||.461||.786|
|MLN (1 yr)||10||12||10||1||1||0||0||1||2||0||2||1||.100||.250||.400||.650|
|KCA (1 yr)||52||132||120||10||24||2||0||2||11||0||8||16||.200||.250||.267||.517|
He has one of the coolest names ever for an MLB player. Before Muddy Ruel became the greatest catcher in Washington Senator franchise history, he shared the New York Yankee starting catcher responsibilities during the 1919 and 1920 seasons with fellow receiver Truck Hannah. Despite being physically small for his position at 5’9″ and just 150 pounds, Ruel became one of the best defensive catchers in league history. There was nothing he could not do well from behind the plate and despite his diminutive size, Ruel was famous for his refusal to back down from much larger hard-charging base runners attempting to score. He was also a skilled hitter, averaging .275 during his 19 big league seasons.
With New York, Ruel averaged .251 during his two seasons in the Bronx. The Yankee team he joined as a 22-year-old had not yet acquired Babe Ruth from Boston but it was a quickly-improving ball club under the control of its talented skipper, Miller Huggins. Ruel started 69 games behind the plate for Huggins in 1919 and 76 more the following year. He was behind the plate in the August 1920 game, when New York pitcher Carl Mays beaned and killed Roy Chapman of the Cleveland Indians. Ruel would be asked about that tragic event for the rest of his days and always insisted Mays was not trying to hit Chapman.
When Ruth joined the team during Ruel’s second year as a starter, the Yankees instantly became one of the better teams in baseball and Ruel’s future with the emerging dynasty looked strong and secure. But that future ended abruptly in December of 1920, when the Yankees and Red Sox pulled off a huge eight player trade. The key players involved were Yankee second baseman Del Pratt and Boston pitcher Waite Hoyt, but the transaction also included a swap of the two teams’ catchers, Ruel for Wally Schang.
Muddy would start behind the plate for the Red Sox for the next two years and then get dealt to the Senators, where he would be paired with the immortal Walter Johnson, to form one of the great batteries in baseball history. The pair would lead Washington to the only two World Series appearances in that team’s long history in 1924 and ’25 and it would be Ruel who would score the winning run in the seventh and final game of the 1924 Fall Classic that earned that ball club its one and only world championship.
Ruel played for the Senators through 1930 and then spent the last four years of his playing career with four different teams. He had earned his law degree during his off-seasons with Washington, but instead of practicing law when his playing days were over, he went into coaching, then managing, then front office work and even became a special assistant to Baseball Commissioner, Happy Chandler for a while. He finally left the game for good in 1956 and moved to Italy for a year so his children could have the experience of attending school abroad. Ruel died in 1963 from a heart attack at the age of 67.
|WSH (8 yrs)||903||3406||2875||336||834||116||24||2||373||44||403||123||.290||.382||.349||.731|
|NYY (4 yrs)||170||588||517||49||130||20||1||1||47||10||53||47||.251||.323||.300||.623|
|BOS (3 yrs)||262||917||802||81||216||41||2||1||79||6||91||47||.269||.345||.329||.674|
|DET (2 yrs)||65||211||186||11||38||5||2||0||21||1||22||7||.204||.288||.253||.541|
|SLB (2 yrs)||46||106||77||13||12||2||0||0||9||0||29||9||.156||.387||.182||.569|
|CHW (1 yr)||22||67||57||4||12||3||0||0||7||0||8||5||.211||.308||.263||.571|
As near as I could figure, Chris Stewart’s most important asset is his ability to effectively frame pitches. That’s a term that describes how catchers position and quickly move their gloves on pitches that are just out of the strike zone in an effort to deceive umpires into thinking they are strikes. Now you probably find it as hard to believe as I do that the mighty Yankees would reward any catcher with the starting job behind the plate based on an ability to steal strikes. The truth is of course that the richest team in baseball had decided after the 2012 regular season that they were going to lower their annual player payroll to $189 million by 2014, which would save them $50 million in subsequent luxury tax payments. To get the dollars down to that level, they’ decided to gamble, or actually penny-pinch with the catcher’s position. Instead of paying Russell Martin the $7.5 million in annual salary it would have taken to keep him in a Yankee uniform for the next two years, they let Martin go to the Pirates and put Chris Stewart in the starting catchers’ slot. That’s the same slot once filled by the likes of Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Ellie Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada and last winter, the Yankee front office thought it was a good idea to put Stewart in it.
Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi believed that Stewart was as good a defensive catcher as Martin was for them and I guess that might have been true. It appeared that most of the Yankee rotation didn’t mind and might have actually preferred having Stewart behind the plate instead of Martin when they were on the mound. But Stewart lacked Martin’s offensive skills, especially in the power and base-running departments and he’s not as “fiery” as the former Yankee catcher either. My biggest concern with Stewart behind the plate was his near automatic-out track record with the bat. Opposing pitchers had little to fear when they faced him and that wasn’t a good situation for the Yankees, especially during the team’s injury-plagued 2013 season during which every one of their top offensive weapons, with the exception of Robbie Cano spent mucho time on the DL.
As it turned out, the Yankee front office put Stewart in a no-win situation last year. He proved he couldn’t handle the starting catching responsibilities and in the process lost his claim to the role of serving as the team’s back-up receiver. This winter, New York went out and signed Brian McCann. He is everything Stewart was not and if he stays healthy, will help my favorite team return to postseason play. Meanwhile, the Yanks traded Stewart to the Pirates where ironically, he will once again serve as the backup to Russell Martin, a role that suits him perfectly. I wish him well.
In addition to the Yankees, Stewart has saw time with the White Sox, Rangers, Padres and Giants. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee shortstop.
|NYY (3 yrs)||165||500||438||43||96||14||0||5||38||6||40||71||.219||.291||.285||.577|
|TEX (1 yr)||17||43||37||4||9||2||0||0||3||0||3||6||.243||.300||.297||.597|
|SDP (1 yr)||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|SFG (1 yr)||67||183||162||20||33||8||0||3||10||0||16||18||.204||.283||.309||.592|
|CHW (1 yr)||6||8||8||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.000||.000||.000||.000|