No one complained more than me during the 2013 preseason about the Yankees’ penny pinching approach to developing the team’s 25-man Opening Day roster. You won’t hear me complaining this year. Prince Hal and company have put an additional $400 million Yankee bucks back into their product thus far this winter.
The Bronx Bombers have upgraded their catching position, their rotation and their outfield. The recent signing of former A’s closer Andrew Bailey was Brian Cashman’s way of putting in place some insurance for a stretch run just in case David Robertson proves unready to master the Closer’s role in New York’s bullpen.
The only area of the team that the Yanks can be accused of “downgrading” is the infield. Granted, if Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter can both bounce back from serious injuries, Yankee fans will be pleased with the results. But the efforts to replace Robbie Cano with Brian Roberts and A-Rod with today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant were definitely done on the cheap.
Johnson will not make us forget what A-Rod was in his juiced-up prime but, then again, who could. He’s an eight-year veteran who came up with the Braves in 2005 and later put up some good home run numbers for the Diamondbacks. The Yanks are hoping their Stadium’s short right field porch provides as big a boost to Johnson’s power stats as he got from the thin desert air during his top dinger-production days in Arizona. If that does happen, Joe Girardi should be able to live with Johnson’s limited defensive experience and skills as a third baseman
Born in Austin, Texas on this date in 1982, Johnson was a first round draft pick of Atlanta’s in 2000. He spent last year with the Rays and the year before that with the Blue Jays so he’s got lots of experience against AL East pitchers. Both Scott Sizemore and the perennial Yankee infield question mark, Eduardo Nunez will challenge Johnson for the hot corner job this spring but conventional wisdom says the spot is his to lose. He shares his birthday with this former 20-game-winning pitcher, this one-time Yankee closer, this former Yankee phee-nom and this grandfather of a number 1 Yankee draft pick.
|ATL (4 yrs)||490||1902||1661||270||439||97||22||45||206||29||203||359||.264||.346||.430||.777|
|ARI (2 yrs)||268||1152||1015||152||256||59||10||44||120||26||123||280||.252||.335||.460||.795|
|TOR (2 yrs)||175||713||622||77||145||23||4||19||64||17||78||190||.233||.323||.375||.697|
|TBR (1 yr)||118||407||366||41||86||12||2||16||52||7||35||99||.235||.305||.410||.715|
The phone rang and he let it ring one more time before picking it up. His family, friends and coaches who were gathered in his Sarasota, Florida living room that early June day in 1993 all fell silent and turned their attention to the expression on the face of the eighteen-year-old high school pitcher who was now holding the receiver tightly to his ear. As soon as they saw the huge grin break out across his face, every person in the room knew not only who was on the other end of that phone conversation but also what he had just said. The caller was Yankee scout Paul Turco, and he had just told the talented teenager that he had been selected with the Yankees first draft pick (13th overall) in Major League Baseball’s 1993 Amateur Draft.
The kids name was Matt Drews and right after he hung up the phone that day, his Dad, Ron Drews handed him a Yankee cap and told him it was his now. But unlike the brand new New Era team lids most modern day top picks get to place on their heads, the Yankee hat Matt’s Dad had handed him looked a bit aged and odd. That’s because at the time, that particular hat was close to a half-century old. It had been given originally to Matt’s grandfather by Joe DiMaggio as a gift for Matt’s Dad. Ron Drew’s Dad and Matt Drew’s Grandfather was former Yankee pitcher and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Karl Drews. In his rookie year of 1947, Karl had gone 6-6 for New York, appearing in 30 games for Yankee skipper Bucky Harris, including ten starts. Six years earlier, Karl was pitching for the Class C farm team that used to play in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY. He had signed with the Yankees in 1939 and was working his way up the minor league ladder when he was called into the military for service in WWII. That’s why he was already 27 years-old during his first full season in the big leagues.
Drews threw very hard but he had trouble finding the strike zone consistently. Still, Harris had enough faith in his rookie to use him twice in the 1947 World Series against Brooklyn. After his first appearance in Game 3 of that Fall Classic, the gracious DiMaggio walked up to him in the clubhouse after the game and handed him the Yankee cap, telling Drews to give it to his boy as a souvenir of his first World Series game.
DiMaggio would return to three more World Series as a Yankee before retiring but unfortuntely for Karl Drews, 1947 would be his one and only appearance in postseason play. The following season, the Yankees found themselves in a year-long and eventually unsuccessful battle with the Red Sox and Indians to defend their AL Pennant. Drews was actually pitching better baseball than he had the season before, walking fewer hitters and lowering his ERA by over a full run, to 3.79. That didn’t prevent the Yankees from selling Drews to the St. Louis Browns in early August of that 1948 season.
Now pitching for one of the worst teams in baseball, Drews went 4-12 for the Browns in 1949 and was sent back to the minors, where he broke his skull in a base path collision. He got back to the big leagues with the Phillies in 1951 and had his best big league season a year later, as a member of Philadelphia’s starting rotation. He went 14-15 with a sparkling 2.72 ERA and threw 5 shutouts. He would last two more years in the big leagues and then settled with his family in Hollywood, Florida. On August 15th, 1963, he was taking his daughter to swimming practice when his car stalled on a Florida highway. When he got out of the disabled vehicle and attempted to wave a passing car down, the drunken driver of the car plowed into Drews and killed him instantly. He was just 43 years old at the time of his death and he would never get to meet his grandson Matt.
Unlike his grandfather, Matt Drews never made it to the mound of Yankee Stadium. His career started out well, as he went 22-13 during his first two seasons in the lowest levels of New York’s farm system, but during the next five he was 16-58. He left baseball after the 2000 season.
|PHI (4 yrs)||25||25||.500||3.74||93||60||9||22||5||3||453.0||478||221||188||43||117||187||1.313|
|NYY (3 yrs)||8||10||.444||4.76||52||13||18||0||0||2||136.0||133||80||72||9||92||60||1.654|
|SLB (2 yrs)||7||14||.333||6.94||51||25||10||3||1||2||177.2||223||148||137||14||104||46||1.841|
|CIN (1 yr)||4||4||.500||6.00||22||9||7||1||1||0||60.0||79||44||40||6||19||29||1.633|
It may be hard for younger fans to believe this but at one time, the Baltimore Orioles had one of the best pitching traditions in baseball. The Birds Golden Era of pitching was definitely the 1970’s. In fact, of the 12 AL Cy Young Awards presented from 1969 to 1980, half of them were won by Baltimore starters (Mike Cuellar, Jim Palmer(3) Mike Flanagan, Steve Stone.) Remember all the talk this time last year about how the Phillies’ staff had the opportunity to produce four twenty-game winners in 2011? The Orioles actually accomplished that in 1971 with Cuellar, Palmer, Dave McNally and one-time Yankee, Pat Dobson.
Baltimore’s outstanding breeding of pitching excellence had begun way back in the late fifties, just a few years after the franchise had moved to B-town from St. Louis. In 1959, a nineteen year-old right-hander with the rather odd name of Milt Pappas made his first big league start against the Senators. A year later, he was joined by a 22-year-old southpaw named Steve Barber. During the six seasons they pitched together on the Orioles, Pappas (85) and Barber (81) would win 166 games between the two of them, and help turn visiting team road trips to Memorial Stadium into many a batting slump.
In December of 1965, Pappas was traded to the Reds for future Hall-of-Famer, Frank Robinson. “Robbie” would lead Baltimore to the Oriole’s first World Championship the following season. Barber played a huge role in the team’s success by getting off to a 10-3 start that year. When he was named to the 1966 AL All Star team that July, his ERA stood at 1.96. Then tendinitis struck his pitching arm and he only appeared in seven games the second half of that season and completely missed the Birds World Series sweep of the Dodgers that year. By the start of the ’67 season, his left arm felt better and he was pitching the best ball of his career early that April. But he cooled off considerably in the following weeks, and at 29, Barber was by then the oldest member of a very young and very talented Orioles pitching staff, experiencing tendinitis in his throwing arm. Baltimore decided they didn’t need him and dealt him to the Yankees for a backup first baseman named Ray Barker and two Minor League pitchers. None of the three players the Orioles acquired ever appeared in a game for Baltimore.
I remember being thrilled about the trade because the 1967 Yankees were a really bad team that could use all the help it could get. Barber went from being the oldest member of the Orioles rotation to being the senior citizen on a Yankee starting staff that included Mel Stottlemyre, Al Downing, Fritz Peterson and Fred Talbot. Barber’s first start in pinstripes was against his former team in Baltimore on July 7, 1967. He got shelled for six runs and three innings and took the loss. But then he won three of his next four starts rather impressively giving Yankee fans hope that the old Steve Barber was back and now pitching for our side. Unfortunately, that was not the case. He ended up going 6-9 his first half-season in pinstripes and then just 6-5 in ’68. There were moments along the way where you could tell why he had been a 20-game winner in 1963 but for the most part, the old Steve Barber had disappeared. In October of ’68 he also vanished from New York when the Yankees left him unprotected in that year’s AL Expansion Draft and he was selected by the Seattle Pilots.
Barber would pitch until 1974 before retiring with a 121-106 lifetime record and a fine 3.36 career ERA during his fifteen-season big league career. He was born in Takoma Park, MD on February 22, 1938 and passed away in 2007. He shares his birthday with this grandfather of a number 1 Yankee draft pick, this one-time Yankee closer, this new Yankee infielder and this former Yankee phee-nom.
|BAL (8 yrs)||95||75||.559||3.12||253||211||14||53||19||4||1414.2||1212||573||491||86||668||918||1.329|
|ATL (3 yrs)||3||2||.600||4.96||49||5||25||0||0||2||105.1||127||62||58||10||36||57||1.547|
|CAL (2 yrs)||7||6||.538||2.93||84||4||36||0||0||6||147.1||127||56||48||9||62||92||1.283|
|NYY (2 yrs)||12||14||.462||3.58||37||36||0||6||2||0||226.0||230||110||90||11||118||157||1.540|
|SFG (1 yr)||0||1||.000||5.27||13||0||6||0||0||1||13.2||13||12||8||0||12||13||1.829|
|CHC (1 yr)||0||1||.000||9.53||5||0||4||0||0||0||5.2||10||6||6||0||6||3||2.824|
|SEP (1 yr)||4||7||.364||4.80||25||16||5||0||0||0||86.1||99||51||46||9||48||69||1.703|
When he made his debut with New York in 1980, I was hoping I was looking at the next great Yankee outfielder. Why? Joe Lefebrve had been one of the top sluggers in the Yankee farm system the previous two seasons. He then hit home runs in each of his first two games in pinstripes and started his Yankee career with a six-game hitting streak. At the end of his first month in the big leagues, his average was .357. At the same time that Lefebvre was white hot, the Yankee’s starting center fielder that season, Ruppert Jones was ice cold, mired in a terrible offensive slump that would end up lasting the entire season. I figured Lefebvre would soon replace Jones in the Yankee starting lineup. Dick Howser, who was the Manager of that Yankee team, did end up starting Lefebvre almost the entire month of June, but he alternated the Concord, NH native in left field and right. By the end of that month, Mighty Joe’s batting average had plummeted by over 100 points and when his slump continued into July, he lost most of his playing time to another first year Yankee outfielder, a switch-hitter named Bobby Brown. Lefebvre ended up getting dealt to the Padres after his first Yankee season. He was a good enough big league hitter to stick around for six seasons. He ended up hitting just .227 during his one and only season in New York but his lifetime batting average in the Majors was a more respectable .258. He became a coach after his playing days and now works in the front office of the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants.
|PHI (3 yrs)||167||503||436||56||122||29||8||11||56||5||5||88||.280||.367||.459||.825|
|SDP (3 yrs)||206||572||505||57||125||22||4||12||53||6||4||86||.248||.323||.378||.702|
|NYY (1 yr)||74||178||150||26||34||1||1||8||21||0||0||30||.227||.345||.407||.751|
The consensus was that Ryne Duren was the best reliever in all of baseball in 1958. This near-sighted monster on the mound used to throw 100 mph warm-up pitches five feet off the plate to unnerve on-deck hitters. The Yankees got him in the same 1957 trade with Kansas City that ended Billy Martin’s pinstriped playing career. GM George Weiss then sent the wild right-hander to New York’s Denver farm club to work on his control for the rest of that season. The move worked. Duren went 13-2 in the Mile High City and more importantly lowered his bases on balls from more than one per inning to less than one every three innings. He joined the parent club in 1958 and absolutely dominated opposing teams in the late innings of Yankee ball games, leading the league in saves and striking out 87 batters in the 75 innings he pitched that year. He also won and saved a game in the 1958 World Series, helping New York avenge their 1957 Fall Classic defeat to the Braves. While Duren may have learned how to control his fastball, he couldn’t figure out how to control his drinking and the guy was a mean drunk. In the end, alcohol dependency destroyed his career but his eventual ability to overcome it created another one for him as a substance abuse counselor. He is credited with helping many active and ex big league ballplayers kick the habit. Duren was born in Cazanovia, Washington in 1929.
|NYY (4 yrs)||12||15||.444||2.75||131||2||81||0||0||43||206.1||118||70||63||15||139||257||1.246|
|PHI (3 yrs)||6||2||.750||3.38||41||7||19||1||0||2||101.1||80||43||38||6||57||95||1.352|
|LAA (2 yrs)||8||21||.276||4.86||82||17||25||1||1||10||170.1||140||108||92||14||132||182||1.597|
|KCA (1 yr)||0||3||.000||5.27||14||6||2||0||0||1||42.2||37||26||25||4||30||37||1.570|
|WSA (1 yr)||1||1||.500||6.65||16||0||8||0||0||0||23.0||24||17||17||0||18||18||1.826|
|CIN (1 yr)||0||2||.000||2.89||26||0||10||0||0||1||43.2||41||17||14||1||15||39||1.282|
|BAL (1 yr)||0||0||9.00||1||0||0||0||0||0||2.0||3||3||2||0||1||2||2.000|