Normally, a player with as few appearances as Herb Karpel had with the New York Yankees would not be featured on the Pinstripe Birthday Blog. You’re reading about him now only because he happened to have one of the greatest seasons of any pitcher in the history of the Amsterdam, Rugmakers. The Rugmakers were the Yankees’ old Class C affiliate in the Canadian-American League and I happen to have been born in Amsterdam, NY, which of course was the hometown of the Rugmaker team, from 1938 until the CanAm League was shut down after the 1951 season.
Karpel, a southpaw who was born in Brooklyn, NY and signed by the Yankees in 1937, spent the 1939 season with Amsterdam. He went 19-9 that year leading Amsterdam to the regular season pennant. During the next three seasons he climbed the rungs of New York’s farm system ladder, achieving double-digit victory totals at every stop. That’s when the US Army came calling. Karpel spent the next three years serving his country and when he was discharged in 1946, he was invited to New York’s spring training camp and pitched well enough to make the Opening Day roster.
He made his Yankee debut at the Stadium on April 19, 1946, in the eighth inning of the team’s home opener versus the Senators. He retired the only hitter he faced. New York skipper, Joe McCarthy threw him right back into the fire the next day, again against Washington, but this time with the Yankees trailing the Senators by a run. Karpel got hammered, surrendering four hits and two runs in his one-and-a-third innings of work. That turned out to be the last inning and a third he would ever pitch as a Yankee and as a big leaguer. McCarthy sent him to New York’s Triple A affiliate in Newark and Karpel went 14-6 for the Bears during the rest of that ’46 season.
He would keep pitching in the minors until 1951 before finally retiring. His footnote in Yankee history is that he was the last Yankee player to wear uniform number 37 before Casey Stengel put it on his back and made it famous.
When Joe Girardi made a pitching change in the bottom of the eighth inning with the Yankees trailing by five runs in a September 27th game against Tampa in 2012, there was only one thing especially noteworthy about the move. It marked the first time in two years and eight days that David Aardsma made an appearance in a big league ball game. The six foot three inch, right-handed native of Denver had been one of the American League’s most effective closers, saving 69 games for the Mariners during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, when he injured both his left hip and his right shoulder, requiring surgery on both joints.
The Yankees signed him during the 2012 preseason knowing he might never pitch an inning for them. New York GM, Brian Cashman called the signing and “R&D move,” At the time, Mariano Rivera was hinting around that 2012 might be his final season and the Yanks were looking at Aardsma as a possible set-up guy for the 2013 season, taking over either David Robertson’s or Raffie Soriano’s slot, depending upon which of the two succeeded the great Rivera as the new Yankee closer. Cashman gave Aardsma a $500,000 one year deal with incentives and an option for a second season.
In a twist of fate, it is Soriano who won’t be pitching in New York in 2013, after he exercised an option in his contract and became a free agent after a superb 2012 season as Yankee closer. Rivera than announced he will be returning in 2013 and the Yanks have exercised their option on Aardsma and are bringing him back as well. In about five or six months we will know if Cashman’s R&D investment returns any big league dividends. Aardsma’s situation brings back memories of Jon Lieber. The Yankees signed the former Cub and 20-game winner in 2003 knowing he would miss that entire year recovering from arm surgery. Lieber than won 14 games as a starter for New York in 2004. Will Aardsma be another Lieber? Yankee fans certainly hope so.
One thing became pretty clear to me as I researched Jim Leyritz for this post. It sounded like he was considered to be a pretty big jerk by most of the guys who managed him in the Yankee organization and also by quite a few of the guys who played with him. Bucky Dent couldn’t stand him and evidently Buck Showalter felt that way too. Joe Torre tolerated him but heck, Leyritz’s game-tying home run off of Atlanta’s Mark Wohlers in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series just may have saved Torre’s job. Don Mattingly nicknamed Leyritz “the King” because he was always telling everyone else how great he was.
Actually, I also sort of already knew that Leyritz was somewhat of a jerk before doing research for today’s post. My son’s good friend was related to a girl who once dated Jimmy boy. My son’s friend attended a family dinner to which Leyritz had also been invited. She told us that she had never met a more conceited human being in her entire life.
So now that I’ve established that Mr. Leyritz will never win any Most Popular Yankee awards, there was no argument about his ability to hit in the biggest of situations. That home run against Wohler was preceded by his two-run game-winner in the 15th inning of the 1995 ALDS against Seattle. He took his “big moment bat” to San Diego in 1998 and hit three huge home runs for the Padres that postseason. He then rejoined New York the following year and his Game 4 home run in 1999 World Series helped New York sweep the Braves.
The Yankees dealt Leyritz to the Dodgers for Jose Vizcaino in June of 2000 and after finishing that season in LA, he never played in another big league game. He played all or parts of nine of his eleven big league seasons in pinstripes and hit 58 of his 90 lifetime regular season home runs as a Yankee. He also hit eight postseason home runs in 28 total games of Fall Ball.
Leyritz has had tremendous problems trying to survive outside of baseball. The most infamous incident was the tragic accident he had the day after his 44th birthday in 2007 in the state of Florida. Leyritz was driving drunk when his car collided with one being driven by a young female who, as it turned out, was also driving while intoxicated. Authorities arrested the ex-Yankee, charging him with vehicular manslaughter. The case finally came to trial in November of 2010 and Leyritz was acquitted of the manslaughter charge.
Shortly after the first draft of this blog post appeared, a friend of Leyritz’s e-mailed me to present a different and more updated perspective of the former Yankee. According to him, Leyritz has been dating his sister for a while and has always treated her and her children great. The e-mailer also assured me that Leyritz is a “great” Dad to his own kids and good friends with his ex Yankee teammates, including David Cone and Bernie Williams.