1920 was an historic year for the New York Yankee franchise. Major League baseball was in the throes of scandal over the alleged involvement of several Chicago White Sox players in a concerted effort to lose the 1919 World Series against Cincinnati. Fans all over the country were turning away from the game in disgust. That wasn’t the case in the Big Apple thanks to the Yankees’ acquisition of Babe Ruth from Boston in January of 1920. In his first season as a Yankee, Ruth stunned the nation by hitting the then unbelievable total of 54 home runs. That would be like someone hitting 180 home runs during the 2010 season, without the help of any pharmaceuticals.
New York set a franchise record by winning 95 games that year and although Ruth was clearly the driving force behind that success, New York had also assembled an outstanding pitching staff. Three veterans on that staff, Carl Mays, Bob Shawkey and Jack Quinn combined to win 64 games that season. The fourth starter was a young, whiskey drinking rookie from Texas named Rip Collins. He was a former Texas Aggie football player who was as tough as they come and he put together a fourteen-victory season during his first year in pinstripes. The following year, Ruth hit 59 bombs and the Yankees won the first AL Pennant in their illustrious history. Collins went 11-5 in his sophomore season and although he had a tendency to walk too many hitters, it looked as if he was in the infant stages of what promised to be a long and successful career with New York. But Yankee manager Miller Huggins had different ideas. From the moment Ruth came to New York, Huggins found it impossible to control this slugging wild man off the field. The manager knew he couldn’t trade Ruth so he did the next best thing. He started getting rid of the Yankee teammates that Ruth enjoyed partying with. Young Rip Collins was one such teammate. In December of 1921, the pitcher was part of a seven player swap with the Red Sox. He went 14-7 during his one season in Beantown but the same control issues that he had experienced as a Yankee followed him to Boston as he led the AL in bases-on-balls. Collins then spent the next five years in Detroit pitching for the Tigers. He then pitched in Canada in 1928 and then signed with the Browns, where he finished his big league career in 1931. Lifetime, Collins was 108-82. After he left baseball he began a career in law enforcement which included a job as a Texas Ranger. He died in Texas in May of 1968 at the age of 72.
|DET (5 yrs)||44||40||.524||3.94||137||102||14||34||6||1||743.0||787||415||325||25||240||214||1.382|
|SLB (3 yrs)||25||18||.581||4.09||78||54||17||18||2||3||434.0||460||224||197||32||174||156||1.461|
|NYY (2 yrs)||25||13||.658||4.16||64||34||16||17||4||1||324.2||329||186||150||12||157||130||1.497|
|BOS (1 yr)||14||11||.560||3.76||32||29||2||15||3||0||210.2||219||101||88||4||103||69||1.528|
How many third string catchers hit 21 home runs in a season? That’s exactly what this Minneapolis native did in 1961, while playing behind both Elston Howard and Yogi Berra. In the 1961 Fall Classic, Blanchard blasted two home runs against the Reds in just ten total at-bats.
He had been a three sport all-star in high school who could have attended the University of Minnesota on a basketball scholarship, but chose to play baseball instead. The Yankees gave him a $50,000 bonus to sign with them in 1951, which at the time was a huge amount of money. Having been an outfielder during his high school days, Blanchard entered a Yankee organization loaded with outfielders at every level. Since they gave him so much money to sign, New York decided to start him near the top, in triple A ball with their Kansas City affiliate. When he struggled there he was demoted to single A Binghamton, where he played even worse. It was right about this time that the Yankees got the idea to convert him to catcher, and that conversion began when Blanchard was again demoted during his first season in the minors, this time to the Class C Amsterdam Rugmakers, who used to play in my New York State hometown.
The following year, he started to catch full time for the Yankees’ class C team in Joplin Missouri and banged 30 home runs and averaged .301. Just when he thought he was on his way, Uncle Sam called and Blanchard spent the next two years of his life in the US Army. He made his Yankee debut during a brief 1955 cup-of-coffee preview and then was brought up for good in 1959. The problem was that when he finally reached the Bronx, both Yogi Berra and Elston Howard were doing his job just fine and Blanchard quickly became convinced that Yankee skipper Casey Stengel did not like him. He did however, appear in five games during New York’s 1960 World series defeat to Pittsburgh and averaged .455 in that Fall Classic. But it wasn’t until Ralph Houk took over the team in 1961 and made Berra his left fielder that Blanchard finally started seeing more game action.
Johnny played seven seasons in all for the Yankees and got to the World Series five times. Nobody loved wearing the pinstripes more than this guy. I read an interview with Mel Stottlemyre not too long ago in which the former Yankee pitcher recalled the day during the 1965 season when he walked into the Yankee clubhouse before a game and found Blanchard crying inconsolably. The Yankees had just traded the catcher and pitcher Roland Sheldon to the A’s for catcher Doc Edwards. Blanchard had a good bat but a weak arm. Elston Howard had just been injured and put on the disabled list and the Yankees feared opposing teams would run crazy on Blanchard so they made the trade. Like everything else New York did during that 1965 season, Edwards turned out to be a bust. This popular Yankee died in March of 2009.
Blanchard had been a big drinker during his Yankee days. In fact, one of his best friends on the Yankees had been Ryne Duren, who was hardly ever sober. Fortunately, after he retired, Blanchard realized his problem and kicked the habit. He became a successful salesman for printing companies.
This pitcher who shares Blanchard’s birthday was the first ex Yankee to become a Texas Ranger. I’m not referring to the Texas Ranger baseball team, I mean the real Texas Rangers! This one-time Yankee first base prospect was also born on February 26.
|NYY (8 yrs)||454||1207||1063||126||260||34||2||64||187||2||126||146||.245||.325||.461||.786|
|MLN (1 yr)||10||12||10||1||1||0||0||1||2||0||2||1||.100||.250||.400||.650|
|KCA (1 yr)||52||132||120||10||24||2||0||2||11||0||8||16||.200||.250||.267||.517|
By the early nineties it had become pretty evident that Don Mattingly was never going to regain the stroke that had made him the very best hitter in baseball during the first half of his career. The Yankees would need to find a new first baseman in the very near future and the question became would they go the free agent route, make a trade or was their a prospect down in the minors who had the game to at least attempt to fill “Donnie Baseball’s” hard-to-fill cleats. The best first base prospect at the time in New York’s farm system was today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant.
Jack Thomas Snow, better known as “J. T.” had the genetics of a professional athlete. His Dad was the great All-Pro receiver for the LA Rams, Jack Snow. The younger Snow played his college ball at the University of Arizona and the Yankees had selected him in the fifth round of the 1989 Amateur Draft. I saw him play for the Albany Colonie Yankees in the Eastern League in 1991. He had both a good bat and a fine glove. By 1992 he had made it to the top rung of New York’s farm system and put together a strong season for the Columbus Clippers, averaging .313 with 15 home runs and 78 RBIs. That was also the year that Snow made his big league debut via a seven-game call-up with New York in late September.
As it turned out, the Yankees needed started pitching back then more than they needed a replacement for Mattingly. In December of ’92, they went after the Angels one-handed starter, Jim Abbott. New York had to include Snow in the deal to close it. Getting a chance to watch the remarkable Abbott pitch regularly was certainly a thrill for me but California had gotten the best player in that trade. Snow started at first immediately for the Angels. By 1995, he had won his first Gold Glove and also hit 24 home runs and drove in 102 for California. But when he slumped at the plate the following season, the Halo’s traded him to the Giants, where he would play for the next nine years. His best years in San Fran were his first four, when he won the Gold Glove for first basemen each year while averaging 22 home runs and 94 RBIs per season. By then, Tino Martinez had also replaced Mattingly in New York. Martinez would prove to be the better choice for the Yankees but I’ve always felt J.T. Snow would have handled the job pretty well, himself. We’ll never know.
Snow shares his birthday with this former and pretty famous Yankee third-string catcher and this Yankee pitcher from the roaring twenties.
|SFG (10 yrs)||1183||4497||3822||561||1043||228||15||124||615||14||565||806||.273||.369||.438||.807|
|CAL (4 yrs)||488||1984||1761||231||455||64||4||65||256||6||182||323||.258||.330||.410||.740|
|BOS (1 yr)||38||53||44||5||9||0||0||0||4||0||8||8||.205||.340||.205||.544|
|NYY (1 yr)||7||19||14||1||2||1||0||0||2||0||5||5||.143||.368||.214||.583|