Ban Johnson was about to see his wish come true. He had been hoping he could get a team for his infant American Baseball League located in New York City and when the AL’s Baltimore Orioles franchise collapsed financially, he saw his chance. The only problem was timing. The 1903 season opener was just months away and not only was Johnson without an owner for a Big Apple franchise, the City didn’t even have an available ballpark.
If the self-righteous Johnson had more time to find the right guy to purchase the Orioles there would be no way he’d agree to partner with a saloon-owning, bookmaker with a notorious reputation for bribing Tammany Hall political hacks to look the other way. But Frank Farrell had both the cash and political muscle necessary to overcome the ballpark building obstacles that forces friendly to the National League’s New York Giants’ ownership were throwing up to block any competitive League or team from putting down roots in their neighborhood.
So Johnson accepted both Farrell’s $25,000 certified check and his even more unsavory partner, a former crooked New York City cop named Bill Devery. Together, the two got a 16,000 seat ballpark built in the Washington Heights section of the City in less than six weeks and American League had a foothold in the most important professional baseball market in the world.
Farrell would then spend the next decade fighting with Devery but he also made a sincere attempt to turn his ball club into a World Champion. When he was pretty much forced to sell the club to Jacob Ruppert after the 1914 season, he had no AL Pennants to boast about and little if any profit to show for his efforts. Farrell, Devery and CBS are the only owners of the Yankee franchise who failed to win a Pennant or World Series during their reigns. Frank Farrell died in 1926 at the age of 60.
Nobody was happier than me, when the Yankees acquired Lance Berkman from the Astros at the 2010 inter-league trading deadline. I had followed the career of the Waco, Texas native ever since he made his Major League debut with Houston in 1999. Back then, the Astros killer B duo of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were both at the peak of their careers and the addition of Berkman as the third “B” in that hive added even more sting to Houston’s offense.
The switch-hitting first-round draft pick became a full-time starting outfielder for the Astros in 2001 and during the next eight seasons he averaged 35 home runs and 117 RBIs along with a .303 batting average. Injuries plagued the “Big Puma” the next two seasons and with the struggling Astros desperate to shed payroll, Berkman ok’d the trade to the Yankees on July 31, 2010. Houston got Yankee pitching prospect Mark Melancon and minor league infielder, Jimmy Paredes in the deal but they also had to agree to pay $5 million of Berkman’s remaining 2010 salary.
I absolutely loved the move. I was sure that Berkman would deliver some key hits during the Yankees stretch drive and I was really hoping he’d tear it up in the second half so the Yankee would offer him enough money to stick around a second season. As it turned out, he was still not fully recovered from his knee surgery. He struggled at the plate, hitting just .255 during second half of the 2010 season with just 1 home run and 9 RBIs in 37 games. It wasn’t until the ALDS against the Twins that he made an impact, when he broke a 2-2 tie in Game 2 against the Twins with a monster two-run shot in the seventh inning. He then played in every game against Texas in that season’s ALCS but after he hit just .250 in that series and the Yanks were eliminated, any interest on the part of New York’s front office to offer Berkman a new contract, disappeared. I remember being very disappointed that Cashman did not do so. The Yankee GM had already made up his mind that Jorge Posada would never catch again for New York forcing the veteran catcher into the left-handed DH slot for the final year of his final Yankee contract.
So instead, a now healthy Berkman signed with the Cardinals in 2011 and all he did was smack 31 home runs, drive in 94 and average .301 during that year’s regular season and than followed that up by hitting .423 against the Rangers and winning his first and only World Series ring. The injury bug would hit Berkman again in 2012 and he ended appearing in just 32 games for St. Louis. He then signed a free agent contract to play for the Texas Rangers in 2013. Though I was again hoping the Yankees would consider signing Berkman to DH for them this year, New York was absolutely justified to not pay him the $22 million he will receive from Texas this year and next. After all, he turns 37 years-old today.
In our younger days, my brother and I used to play softball for a bar called Shorty’s Tavern. Shorty’s was a great hangout and was run by a friendly ex-boxer named Carmen “Shorty” Persico. Back then, most of the bar’s regulars were either retirement age like Shorty or college age like my brother, me and our friends.
The two generations would drink Schlitz on tap together for twenty-five cents a glass, watch sporting events and old movies on Shorty’s television, and argue politics, religion and sports. My favorite of Shorty’s older generation was Nick Fusella. He had retired from Sears, was still single, loved to read, philosophize and watch Yankee baseball. My buddies knew Nick could be easily goaded into an argument by telling him that a modern day Yankee was much better at his position than the player who started there for the Bombers back when Nick was our age. You know, Munson was better than Berra, Mantle was better than DiMaggio, etc. etc.
The reason we loved to get into these arguments with Nick was because his passionate rebuttals always included classic, expletive-filled clichés and phrases like, “Munson couldn’t carry Berra’s jock strap,” or Babe Ruth would show Reggie where the hen sh#@ freezes.”
One day we were all in Shorty’s watching a Yankee game and some Yankee starter was pitching pretty good and somebody tried to get Nick going by saying that the guy was the best starter in the team’s history. Nick quietly took a sip of his draft, smacked his lips and stared back at us and said, “You guys obviously never saw the f*@#&ng Indian pitch.” He was referring to the Superchief, Allie Reynolds.
To be accurate, Reynolds was only three-sixteenths Indian but Nick Fusella was right, he was one of the most skilled and effective pitchers in Yankee history. What made him especially valuable to the Yankee teams that won five straight World Championships from 1949 through 1953 was his ability to both start and relieve. Reynolds, Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat combined to give the Yankees one of the most successful trio of starters on one team in the game’s history.
The Yankees got Reynolds in a post WWII trade with Cleveland by giving up their future Hall of Fame second baseman, Joe Gordon. He went 131-60 during his eight seasons in Pinstripes, saving 41 games and throwing 27 shutouts along the way. He was 7-2 in the six World Series in which he appeared and collected six championship rings. Reynolds was born on this date in 1917.
This Hall-of-Fame Yankee hurler shares today’s birthday with Superchief. So does this much more recent addition to the Yankees’ starting rotation, this long-ago owner of the Yankee franchise and this one-time Yankee DH.
|NYY (8 yrs)||131||60||.686||3.30||295||209||70||96||27||41||1700.0||1500||695||624||111||819||967||1.364|
|CLE (5 yrs)||51||47||.520||3.31||139||100||27||41||9||8||792.1||693||331||291||22||442||456||1.432|