Growing up in Sausalito, California, Charles “Butch” Wensloff did not have an easy life. He was just six years old and the eldest of three children, when his dad left his mom to marry another woman. In an effort to help his family put food on the table during the Great Depression, Charley quit school at a young age to work at a variety of odd jobs.
In his spare time he pitched for semi-pro teams. Strong as a bull, the young right-hander had an impressive fastball and to keep opposing hitters off balance, he developed a very good knuckler. His mastery of those two pitches got him his first minor league contract in 1937 with the El Paso Texans, a D-level club in the old Aztec League. His 17-10 record that season caught the attention of the Yankees and they purchased his contract and moved him up to their Joplin affiliate in the C-level Western Association. When Wensloff won 21 games during his second year in Joplin, he was sent up to the Yankees double A affiliate in Kansas City, where during the next three seasons he won 49 ball games.
The Yankees finally brought him up in 1943, when he was 27 years old. Manager Joe McCarthy loved the fact that in addition to a fastball and curve, his new rookie hurler had better than average command of his knuckleball. The Yankee skipper wasted little time throwing Wensloff into the starting rotation and by the end of his first year in the big leagues, he had compiled a 13-11 record and a 2.58 ERA.
He didn’t get to throw a single pitch in the Yankees five-game victory over the Cardinals in the ’43 Series because McCarthy had decided to use him as his long reliever out of the bullpen if the need arose. It never did.
Wensloff was one of those guys who never felt as if he was being paid enough and for all I know, he probably had good reasons for feeling that way. When he received his proposed Yankee contract for the 1944 season in the mail, he was unhappy with it and refused to sign it. When the stalemate continued, he was put on the voluntarily retired list and missed the entire 1944 season. He then got drafted into the Army in 1945 and wasn’t discharged until August of 1946, long after all of the Yankees other pitchers had returned from service. The long period of inactivity and his late discharge probably contributed to the sore arm he developed during the Yankees’ 1947 spring training camp.
Though he did finally return to pitch for New York again in June of that year, his arm was never the same. After going 3-1 for Bucky Harris’s 1947 AL Pennant winners he finally got to pitch in a World Series that fall. But when he again was unhappy with the Yankees contract offer for the following season, he asked to be traded. His wish was granted when he was dealt to the Indians but after just one painful appearance with Cleveland, his big league career was over. He passed away in 2001, at the age of 85.
|NYY (2 yrs)||16||12||.571||2.55||40||32||4||19||1||1||275.0||220||97||78||10||92||123||1.135|
|CLE (1 yr)||0||1||.000||10.80||1||0||1||0||0||0||1.2||2||2||2||1||3||2||3.000|
Yankee fans will need a long and good memory to remember when today’s birthday celebrant played in pinstripes. In fact, many of you may have a tough time remembering Gene Nelson at all, even though he was a very steady big league reliever for a dozen seasons with Seattle, the White Sox and Oakland, retiring after the 1993 season. But before Nelson went to the bullpen, he was a 20-year-old Yankee starting pitcher prospect, who found himself inserted into Gene Michael’s starting rotation in May of the Yankee’s strike-split 1981 season. He did better than OK. In seven starts, he won three of his four decisions, including a strong eight and a third inning effort against the Orioles on June 4th that would prove to be his last victory as a Yankee. One week later, Major League Baseball players went on strike.
When the work stoppage ended seven weeks later, Nelson was still a Yankee but Bob Lemon had replaced Michael as Yankee manager and the relationships between MLB owners and the players had been severely damaged. Lemon left his young right-hander off the Yankees’ postseason roster that year and just before the 1982 season got under way, the Yankees traded Nelson to the Mariners in the deal that brought starting pitcher Shane Rawley to the Bronx.
Nelson was born in Tampa, FL. His lifetime big league won-loss record was 53-64 and he had 28 career saves. The highlight of his career was the 1988 ALCS, when he got two of Oakland’s three victories, as the A’s beat Boston in four games. He also won a ring with Oakland in 1988.
|OAK (6 yrs)||25||25||.500||3.82||281||9||86||0||0||14||490.1||456||222||208||48||165||315||1.266|
|CHW (3 yrs)||19||21||.475||4.16||120||28||41||3||0||9||335.0||334||164||155||39||125||207||1.370|
|SEA (2 yrs)||6||12||.333||5.30||32||24||4||3||1||0||154.2||171||99||91||22||81||82||1.629|
|TEX (1 yr)||0||0||3.38||6||0||2||0||0||1||8.0||10||3||3||0||1||4||1.375|
|CAL (1 yr)||0||5||.000||3.08||46||0||20||0||0||4||52.2||50||25||18||3||23||31||1.386|
|NYY (1 yr)||3||1||.750||4.81||8||7||0||0||0||0||39.1||40||24||21||5||23||16||1.602|
By 1949, Joe Collins had been in the Yankee farm system for eleven years, starting as a sixteen year old with the Easton (Maryland) Yankees in the old D-level Eastern Shore League. During his last three seasons in the minors, the Scranton, PA native had torn up the pitching at the triple A level and was more than ready to play in the Majors. The problem was that Casey Stengel’s 1949 Yankees had more first baseman than some teams had pitchers. They included Tommy Henrich, Johnny Mize, Billy Jones, Fenton Mole, Jack Phillips and Dick Kryhoski. But Collins had averaged 25 home runs during his last three Minor League seasons and by 1950, the Yankee brass decided the then 26-year-old prospect needed a shot at the big leagues. Joe then became the team’s most frequently used first baseman until Moose Skowren took over the position in 1955. When that happened, Stengel continued to use Collins as an outfielder for two seasons until the New York front office sold him to the Philadelphia Athletics. Collins chose to retire rather than play in a uniform other than the Yankee pinstripes, ending the career of one of the classiest Yankees ever. Collins’ Yankee teams got into eight World Series, winning five of them. He never displayed as much power as he showed at the Minor League level during his Major League career but he did hit 18 home runs during the the 1952 season and 17 more in 1953. Collins, who was born in 1922, passed away in 1989.