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|
Remember the Yankees’ last spring training camp? There were lots of questions about who would form the team’s starting rotation for the 2011 season. Although there was plenty of speculation that one might, most Yankee fans were not expecting any of the “Three B’s” to head north with that rotation in April. We knew Banuelos, Betances and Brackman were not yet ready for prime time, partly because a similar situation from 2008 was still fresh in our minds. Back then, Brian Cashman’s plan was to fill New York’s urgent starting pitching needs with another trio of young arms developed in the Yankees’ own farm system. Even though he had a phenomenal run as the bullpen’s bridge to Mariano Rivera during the 2007 regular season, Joba Chamberlain was being touted as the team’s next ace back then. Phil Hughes had also already provided New York fans with a glimpse of how good he could be, when he flirted with a no-hitter in his second big league start in May 2007 against the Rangers. Then, after fully recovering from an injury, Hughes finished strong by winning his final three starts that same season. The final part of that young Yankee pitching triumvirate was today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, a young right-hander from Huntington Beach, CA named Ian Kennedy.
As we all know now, none of the three were ready to take on the responsibility they were given at the start of that 2008 season. Instead of pitching inning after inning of lights out baseball as he had as Mo’s setup man the season before, Joba as a starter seemed to to struggle with both concentration and rhythm. Hughes stunk up the joint too, going 0-4 before a cracked rib forced him out of action. Both Chamberlain and Hughes remain enigmas in the Bronx.
As for Ian, well let’s just say his Yankee debut was another Kennedy assassination. He was 0-4 in 2008 with an ERA of over eight runs per game. In his last start that year in early August, he lasted just two innings against the Angels, giving up five runs in a 10-5 loss. When the Yankee media surrounded his locker after that game, Kennedy insisted he had pitched well. The Big Apple tabloids crucified him for the comment, which the young pitcher later explained was an attempt by him not to get too down on himself and destroy his self confidence.
Kennedy was sent back down to the minors and his Yankee career ended when he was included in the three-team trade in December of 2009 that brought Curtis Granderson to New York and landed Kennedy in Arizona. Ian was 9-10 for the Diamondbacks in his first season in Arizona, finishing strong by winning his last three starts and lowering his ERA to 3.80 for the year. Then in 2011, Kennedy finally busted out with an outstanding season, compiling a 21-4 record with 198 strikeouts and a sparkling 2.88 ERA as he led Arizona to the NL West Division flag. The Yankee front office had finally been proven right about Kennedy’s potential as a big league front line starter. Fortunately, they were also right about Curtis Granderson.
|ARI (4 yrs)||48||34||.585||3.82||119||119||0||2||1||0||748.1||693||340||318||91||228||661||1.231|
|NYY (3 yrs)||1||4||.200||6.03||14||12||1||0||0||0||59.2||63||43||40||6||37||43||1.676|
|SDP (1 yr)||4||2||.667||4.24||10||10||0||0||0||0||57.1||52||29||27||9||25||55||1.343|
Walt Williams got his nickname from Paul Richards, the one-time GM of the old Houston Colt 45s. Richards and Houston coach, Eddie Robinson were meeting with all of Houston’s prospects during spring training and when Willams walked into his appointment, Richards supposedly said, “Look Eddie, this guy’s got no neck.” Despite the lack of an important anatomical appendage, Williams did OK on a baseball field. Born in Brownwood, TX, in 1943, he was a steady big league performer for ten seasons. A .270 lifetime hitter, Walt ended his career as a Yankee reserve outfielder during the 1974 and ’75 seasons. His Yankee teammates enjoyed the affable, always optimistic Williams. When no other big league team wanted him, Walt went on to play in both Mexico and Japan.
|CHW (6 yrs)||603||1918||1776||208||481||86||9||20||116||23||103||147||.271||.314||.363||.678|
|NYY (2 yrs)||125||256||238||32||58||5||1||5||19||1||9||33||.244||.278||.336||.614|
|CLE (1 yr)||104||371||350||43||101||15||1||8||38||9||14||29||.289||.316||.406||.722|
|HOU (1 yr)||10||10||9||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||2||.000||.000||.000||.000|