For the second day in a row, this blog celebrates the birthday of a Yankee super scout. Like yesterday’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant Bill Essick, Paul Krichell started his career as a ballplayer. Born in Paris, France in 1882, Krichell’s parents immigrated to New York City when he was just an infant and he grew up to become a minor league catcher. He finally got his shot at the big leagues with the St. Louis Browns in 1911 at the age of 28, but his weak hitting kept him from sticking. After two seasons as the Browns’ second string catcher, Krichell returned to the minors, where he quickly got into managing.
The first indication that he had a sharp eye for baseball talent occurred when he became player-manager of a minor league club in Bridgeport, CT. With America’s entry into World War I, able-bodied baseball players not already under contract to some other team or serving in the military became extremely hard-to-find. Krichell solved that problem by signing players from China and Japan and even perhaps a ringer or two not under contract and his Bridgeport squad won 23 of its first 25 games. A dispute with that league’s president so infuriated Krichell that he quit as skipper of the Bridgeport team in midseason and vowed never to return to work for a minor league club again. He then spent a season coaching college baseball for New York University before getting a call from an old friend.
During his minor league playing days, one of Krichell’s managers had been Ed Barrow. In 1919, Barrow was managing the Boston Red Sox, and that team’s owner, Harry Frazee was in the midst of a selling binge that was completely devastating the ball club’s once mighty roster. Barrow hired Krichell to try and find the Red Sox some new stars and when Jake Ruppert then hired Barrow to run the New York Yankees a year later, he brought Krichell along with him.
During the next thirty years, Krichell’s keen eye and power of persuasion was a key component of the rise and extended rule of the Yankee dynasty. He is credited with signing Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford and a bunch of other talented Yankee role players. He kept working for the team right up until he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1955. He lost a two year battle with the disease in June of 1957.
A piano-playing pitcher, who got two shots to make it to the big leagues but couldn’t stick, Vinegar Bill Essick loved the game of baseball enough to purchase a share in a minor league team and serve as both its general manager and field skipper. He did well enough there to receive and accept an offer to manage the Vernon Tigers, in the prestigious Pacific Coast League.
During his tenure with the team, Tiger players like Babe Borton, Hugh High, Ham Hyatt, and Truck Hannah ended up playing for the Yankees. The constant dealing between both clubs enabled Essick to develop a relationship with Ed Barrow and Miller Huggins, which was cemented when Essick recommended the Yankees sign Vernon’s star third baseman, Bob Meusel. He had also recommended that Barrow go after a second baseman who was playing for Salt Lake City back then by the name of Tony Lazzeri. So when the owner of the Vernon team fired Essick in 1925, the Yankees quickly hired him to become their chief scout on the west coast.
From that position, Essick became a key component of the brain trust that added a new layer to the Yankee Dynasty that was born on Babe Ruth’s back in the 1920’s. Essick is credited with the signings of Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez and Joe Gordon as well as Frank Crosetti. Without that core four, Joe McCarthy would not have won those four straight World Series crowns at the end of the 1930’s.
He continued scouting for the Yankees until 1950 and died just a year later at the age of 70. He joins Paul Krichell and Tom Greenwade to form the holy trinity of Yankee super scouts.
Besides paying him lots and lots of money, the Yankees did very little to help Raffie Soriano feel comfortable or even wanted, when he first put on the pinstripes. He was coming off a league-leading 45-save, 2010 season with the Tampa Bay Rays and had declared free agency. Everyone assumed the Dominican right-hander would get signed to a huge contract by a team that badly needed a closer. Everybody was mostly wrong. Soriano got the huge contract alright, but it was with the Yankees, a team that already had the greatest closer who ever played the game in their bullpen. Not only would Soriano not be closing, the GM of his new team let it be publicly known that he was against his signing.
I had seen Soriano pitch with the Rays the previous two years and he certainly looked mean and intimidating on the mound. But after watching him try to acclimate to an eighth inning set-up role during his first season in New York, this new Yankee looked more unhappy when he was pitching than anything else. After holding opponents scoreless in his first two appearances, he got roughed up by the Twins for four runs in his third and finished his first month in New York with an ERA over seven. Than he got hurt in the middle of May and was on the DL for the next month and a half. By the time he got back, David Robertson had firmly ensconced himself in the Yankee’s eighth-inning set-up role and Soriano had to be wondering what his future was with his new team. But instead of sulking, he sucked it up and kept pitching and though he got roughed up a couple of times in the final two months of that 2011 season, I could tell the guy was a battler.
When the 2012 season started, the press crew covering the Yankees were all trying to figure out if it would be Mariano Rivera’s final year. Robertson’s brilliance in 2011 dictated he’d start the year as the eighth-inning set-up guy and Sori was once again expected to work the seventh. Then on May 3, the Yankees were taking batting practice in Kansas City and Rivera fell awkwardly on Kaufman Stadium’s center field warning track while pursuing a hard-hit ball off the bat of A-Rod. I’m sure lots of Yankee fans watching replays of Rivera being carted off the field felt New York’s hopes of making the postseason were being carted away with him.
I remember thinking how badly Soriano must have felt when Joe Girardi turned to Robertson in the first save situation the Yankees faced without Rivera, especially because the opponent was Soriano’s former team, the Rays. Robertson was successful in that first attempt but he blew the next save and then injured his ribs. Suddenly, Soriano was the new Yankee closer. Forty-two saves later he was arguably the most valuable Yankee of the 2012 regular season. Considering his shaky start the season before, it was a truly remarkable performance, one of the most clutch in franchise history.
After New York’s disappointing 2012 postseason, during which he pitched four and a third innings of scoreless ball, Soriano decided to take advantage of the opt-out clause in his Yankee contract and again become a free agent. Fortunately for New York, Mariano Rivera announced he was coming back in 2013. Still, losing Soriano represented a major depletion in the Yankees’ 2013 bullpen. I’m so glad Hal Steinbrenner overruled Cashman three years ago and insisted the Yankees sign this guy. Once he left New York, I actually missed seeing him stare inside his hat before facing a batter and untucking his jersey after nailing down a save. He ended up saving 43 games for the Nationals in 2013 and 32 more the following year. He then became a 34-year-old free agent who was not signed until late in the 2015 season by the Cubs.
|SEA (5 yrs)||4||8||.333||2.89||116||8||31||0||0||4||171.0||134||57||55||16||53||177||1.094|
|ATL (3 yrs)||4||10||.286||2.95||162||0||85||0||0||39||161.2||107||56||53||19||51||188||0.977|
|WSN (2 yrs)||7||4||.636||3.15||132||0||106||0||0||75||128.2||116||47||45||11||36||110||1.181|
|NYY (2 yrs)||4||4||.500||2.94||111||0||62||0||0||44||107.0||88||35||35||10||42||105||1.215|
|TBR (1 yr)||3||2||.600||1.73||64||0||56||0||0||45||62.1||36||14||12||4||14||57||0.802|
|CHC (1 yr)||2||0||1.000||6.35||6||0||3||0||0||0||5.2||8||4||4||2||1||4||1.588|