When Hideki Irabu was found dead in his California home in July 2011, he became the third ex-Yankee franchise player who’s death was ruled a suicide. The two other suicide victims were both born on July 15th.
Dan McGann was a very good switch-hitting big league first baseman who became best friends with the legendary John McGraw when the two were National League teammates and starting infielders on the 1898 Baltimore Orioles. A native of Shelbyville, Kentucky, McGann was considered one of the league’s better first basemen.
He and McGraw were split up in 1899 when McGraw was traded to St Louis and McGann went to Brooklyn. Two years later they were reunited in St Louis. Then in 1901, McGraw was wooed back to Baltimore to manage that city’s first American League franchise, also called the Orioles. One year later, Little Napoleon convinced McGann to join him there and become the team’s starting first baseman in 1902. He did well in that role, averaging .316 during the 68 games he played for the team that season. But when McGraw couldn’t get along with or trust AL President Ban Johnson, he decided to leave the O’s to accept the New York Giants’ field skipper’s position, McGann again packed his bags and accompanied his old friend. In New York, McGraw made McGann his starting first baseman in a move that just may have changed the course of Giants’ history. Before McGann arrived, Christy Matthewson had been playing first base for the team in between his starts on the mound. After McGann showed up, McGraw made the then 21-year-old Matthewson a full-time pitcher and he would go on to win 373 big league games.
Meanwhile, McGann’s bat, glove and speed on the base paths helped the Giants capture the 1904 and ’05 pennants and the first-ever World Series, with their victory over the A’s in ’05. But as McGann aged he lost a step and in the Dead Ball era, when a player’s speed was especially critical to his offensive value, his average plummeted by over 60 points in 1906, his last full season as a Giant starter. His failure to produce on the field also had a negative impact on his relationship with McGraw off of it. They went from best drinking buddies to barely speaking to each other and in 1908, McGraw traded McGann to the Braves.
Two years later, on December 10, 1910, McGann’s lifeless body was found in a Louisville hotel room, the victim of a gunshot to the chest. The death was ruled a suicide. Two of McGann’s sisters disputed that finding, citing a missing diamond ring as evidence their brother had been murdered during a robbery attempt. Others however pointed to the deterioration of his playing skills and tragic family history as reasons why they thought the coroner had ruled correctly. One of McGann’s brothers had killed himself the previous year, another brother had died from an accidental shooting and one of his sisters had also killed herself.
|NYG (6 yrs)||682||2835||2430||360||678||94||42||16||290||151||224||151||.279||.358||.372||.730|
|BSN (2 yrs)||178||740||646||77||169||14||12||4||85||11||50||40||.262||.338||.339||.677|
|STL (2 yrs)||224||976||867||152||247||25||18||10||114||43||48||72||.285||.356||.390||.745|
|WHS (1 yr)||77||321||284||65||96||9||8||5||58||11||14||12||.338||.405||.479||.884|
|BLN (1 yr)||145||635||535||99||161||18||8||5||106||33||53||30||.301||.404||.393||.796|
|BRO (1 yr)||63||259||214||49||52||11||4||2||32||16||21||16||.243||.362||.360||.722|
|BLA (1 yr)||68||285||250||40||79||10||8||0||42||17||19||13||.316||.378||.420||.798|
By 1969, getting a Yankee in a pack of Topps Baseball cards wasn’t as much a thrill for me as it had been just a few years earlier. First of all, I was fifteen years old by then and the allure of collecting those cardboard mini posters was losing its pull on me. Secondly, by that year the Yankees had evolved into pretty bad baseball team. Mickey Mantle had finally retired and Joe Pepitone was the only remaining starting position player on the club to have also started for the last Yankee team to play in a World Series five years earlier. So it was most likely in one of the very last individual packs of Topps baseball cards I would purchase (until I started buying them for my own sons fifteen years later) that I got the card pictured here. I’m sure that when I took a look at the two prospects pictured on it I hoped to myself that the card’s title, “Rookie Stars” would prove to be appropriate. It would not, in either player’s case. I’m also sure that at the time I did not realize that Topps had misspelled Jerry Kenney’s first name and I’m positive I mispronounced Len Boehmer’s last name, pronouncing it Bo-mer instead of the correct way, which is Bay-mer.
A native of Flint, Missouri, Boehmer had been signed by the Reds out of St Louis University in 1961, and spent almost all of the next seven years playing minor league ball in Cincinnati’s farm system. He had one minuscule mid-season two-game call-up with the Reds in 1967. The Yankees had picked him up in a trade in September of that same year. After one decent year with New York’s triple A team in Syracuse, he made New York’s parent club’s roster out of spring training in 1969 as Pepitone’s primary back-up at first base. He got off to a horrid start at the plate that year and he was 0-26 as a Yankee and 0-29 as a big leaguer when he was called in to replace Pepitone in the eighth inning of a game against the Red Sox, after the whacky first baseman had been ejected from the game. The Yankees were trailing 2-1 in the ninth when Boehmer’s first big league hit, a single tied the game. Advancing to second on the throw to home plate, he scored the winning run when Roy White singled him home.
Back in 1969, the Yankees often flew regularly scheduled commercial flights to road games. It was customary for the team’s managers, coaches and front line players to be given all the first class seats on those flights and the subs would be assigned to coach. Boehmer’s reward for his big hit that night in New York was seeing his named cross of the coach-section on the seating list for that evening’s impending flight to Detroit which was posted in the Yankee locker room after the game and instead penciled in the first class section.
Boehmer would go on to get 18 more base hits for New York that season and then spend most of the next two years back in Syracuse. After one more brief three-game mid season call-up to the Bronx in 1971, the Yankees released Bohmer and his big league career was over.
|NYY (2 yrs)||48||121||113||5||19||4||0||0||7||0||8||10||.168||.223||.204||.427|
|CIN (1 yr)||2||3||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000||.000||.000||.000|
To understand the size of the target that was on the back of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant when he got his chance to play for the New York Yankees, I need you to picture a fictional modern-day scenario. Imagine if Derek Jeter comes back from his broken ankle this summer and after struggling at the plate for a few games, tragically breaks his ankle again. While they are carrying the Yankee Captain off the field the Stadium’s PA announcer introduces the new Yankee shortstop, a young prospect Brian Cashman has just traded for who’s name happens to be Billy Mattingly. Not only does this poor kid have to replace one Yankee legend, he’s got a last name that will remind every Yankee fan of another one every time it is seen or heard. Then to make that target on this young guy’s back even bigger, after he plays decently for the rest of the season, the Yankees trade him to the Braves, even though they have nobody any better than him to take over at short. When another big league GM asks Cashman why he got rid of Mattingly, Cashman tells him its because the just-traded player has a drinking problem.
Now let’s turn the above fictional scenario into a non-fictional historical account of what actually happened to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s baseball career. Substitute Lou Gehrig for Derek Jeter, instead of the new replacement player having the same last name as Donnie Baseball give him the same nickname as Babe Ruth. Now replace Brian Cashman’s name with the Yankee Hall-of-Fame managing legend, Joe McCarthy and instead of using alcohol as the substance being abused, make it marijuana. Do all that and you now will understand what happened to the once promising career of former Yankee first baseman, Babe Dahlgren.
This native of San Francisco had broken into the big leagues with the Red Sox in 1935, when he was just 23-years-old and put together a strong rookie season in Beantown. Then that winter, Boston acquired Philadelphia A’s slugging first baseman, Jimmie Foxx and Dahlgren spent almost all of his sophomore season on the Boston bench. Dahlgren probably realized his days as a Red Sox were numbered with Foxx playing his position, so imagine how he felt when he found out that his contract had been purchased by the Yankees just before the 1937 spring training camps opened. At least in Boston, Foxx liked to take a day off every once in a while. The first baseman Dahlgren would now be backing up over in the Bronx hadn’t missed a game a dozen years. Gherig’s streak would continue for the next two years and that meant more time on the pine (and in the minors) for Dahlgren who played in just 1 Yankee game in 1937 and then 27 more in 1938.
It was only after ALS disease struck the Iron Horse in April of 1939 that he got his chance to start in New York and as he had done in his rookie season with the Red Sox, Dahlgren performed well. Though he averaged just .235, he did bang 15 home runs and drive in 89 to help New York win its fourth straight pennant. He then appeared in his only World Series that year and hit a home run as the Yankees captured their fourth straight ring with their victory over Cincinnati in that Fall Classic.
The second Yankee “Babe” then began a streak of his own in 1940, appearing in all 155 of New York’s games that season and he got his average up to .264. But by that time, according to a book self-published by Dahlgren’s grandson in 2007 and based on an unfinished manuscript written by the player himself, an incident had already occurred that led Joe McCarthy to believe he couldn’t trust Dahlgren. The Yankee skipper and Dahlgren had both attended Joe DiMaggio’s wedding to Hollywood starlet Dorothy Arnold a month after the 1939 World Series. Also in attendance was former big leaguer Lefty O’Doul, who was then in the process of building a reputation as baseball’s best hitting instructor. Dahlgren later explained that his manager had seen him and O’Doul discussing the first baseman’s swing at the affair and McCarthy was worried that Lefty was trying to undermine him and possibly take his job. Far-fetched on the part of Dahlgren? Perhaps, but so was the explanation McCarthy gave the press when the Yankees sold the first baseman to the Boston Braves during the 1941 spring training season. Marse Joe told reporters that Dahlgren’s arms were too short to play his position even though Babe was by all accounts an excellent defensive first baseman. Since baseball insiders knew this couldn’t have been the real reason McCarthy traded his staring first baseman, Dahlgren says his skipper made one up and the lie he concocted ruined the player’s career. According to Babe, McCarthy told “baseball-insiders” that the reason Dahlgren had committed a costly error in a late-season 1940 Yankee game was because the player was a “marijuana smoker.”
Now-a-days, I wouldn’t be surprised if half of the players (and coaches & managers) in the big leagues toked an occasional joint but back in the 1940’s, using marijuana was a societal taboo that left a deep and dark stain on a person’s reputation, especially if that person was a professional athlete. According to Dahlgren, McCarthy’s false accusation would become the reason why he would play for seven different teams during the final seven seasons of his big league career and his grandson’s book does a very good job of validating this claim.
Babe Dahlgren’s big league playing career ended after the 1946 season. I wonder what went through his head just a few years later, when another Joe McCarthy became specifically infamous for making false accusations that ruined peoples’ careers? Dahlgren lived until 1996, passing away at the age of 84. By the way, his real name was Ellsworth Tenney Dahlgren.
He shares his birthday with this great Yankee pitcher, this Hall-of-Fame third baseman and the guy who just might actually replace Jeter should he re-injure his ankle in a late-season game this year (though trust me, that’s not going to happen!)
|NYY (4 yrs)||327||1270||1143||130||283||43||10||27||163||3||104||115||.248||.314||.374||.688|
|CHC (2 yrs)||116||463||415||54||113||21||1||16||65||2||47||41||.272||.348||.443||.791|
|PIT (2 yrs)||302||1252||1130||124||306||52||15||17||176||3||98||107||.271||.333||.388||.722|
|SLB (2 yrs)||30||91||82||2||14||1||0||0||9||0||8||13||.171||.244||.183||.427|
|BOS (2 yrs)||165||661||582||83||154||30||8||10||70||8||63||68||.265||.340||.395||.735|
|BRO (1 yr)||17||23||19||2||1||0||0||0||0||0||4||5||.053||.217||.053||.270|
|PHI (1 yr)||136||565||508||55||146||19||2||5||56||2||50||39||.287||.354||.362||.716|
|BSN (1 yr)||44||183||166||20||39||8||1||7||30||0||16||13||.235||.306||.422||.728|
The whole reason I started this blog was because I thought Yankee fans would enjoy learning which Yankee player(s) they shared a birthday with. I can’t say I was overly excited when my research uncovered the fact that the only Yankee born on my birthday was this weirdly named first baseman nicknamed “Muscles.”
Mole played just ten games for New York during the 1949 season and never again appeared in a big league game. He got his nickname from his days as a pretty good home run hitter in the Pacific Coast League. Mole’s playing time in New York wasn’t helped by the fact that he played first base. That 1949 Yankee team had six different first basemen on its roster including “Ol Reliable,” Tommy Henrich, Johnny Mize, Joe Collins, Dick Kryhoski, Jack Phillips and of course our birthday boy Fenton. Add in the fact that Casey Stengel, the platooning master was Yankee skipper that season and its a wonder Mr. Mole ever emerged from the dugout to see the light of a game day!
On the last day of the Yankee’s 1950 spring training camp, Stengel told the press that Mr. Mole would not be traveling north with the team. Instead, he would remain in Florida where he would continue to work out with the Kansas City farmhands. The best MLB player to be born on my birthday remains former Brooklyn Dodger ace Don Newcombe. The only current MLB player who celebrates his birthday on Flag Day is San Diego outfielder, Jesus Guzman. But I’m keeping my eye on a young Yankee reliever named Chase Whitley, who is currently pitching for the Yankees Scranton/WilkesBarre farm team. He’s a big right-hander who turns 23 today and he currently has a 5-2 record in Triple A ball.
As for Fenton Mole, he joins Andy Fox, Doug Bird, Goose Gossage, Yogi Berra, Jim Kitty Kaat and Bill Moose Skowren as former Yankees with animal or animal- sounding names or nicknames. I guess all the above would be a little nervous around Catfish Hunter and Enos Slaughter. Happy Flag Day everyone! Bulletin: There is a brand new June 14th birthday Yankee on the team’s 2014 roster.
One of the things I find interesting as a long-time Yankee fan is examining the big league careers of former Yankee prospects who’s paths to the Bronx were blocked by good players already in their positions. Take David Adams as an example. He’s been being groomed as a Yankee second baseman for the past five years even though the only way Robbie Cano would lose that job is if he chooses to leave it as a free agent after this season.
The obstacle blocking today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s ascent to the Yankee roster in the mid 1970’s was the all star first baseman and postseason hero, Chris Chambliss. Dave Bergman was a good enough player in high school to get drafted by the Cubs in the 12th round of the 1971 amateur draft but he decided to attend college instead. Three years later the Yankees drafted him in the third round. If he’d signed with the Cubs the first time around and took five years to make it to Wrigley, he’d have been challenging guys like Pete LaCock and Billy Buckner instead of Chambliss.
By 1977, Bergman had put together four consecutive strong seasons in New York’s farm system, averaging well over .300 with an on base percentage in the .430 range. The only thing he had to show for it however was a seven-game cup-of-coffee preview with the parent club at the end of 1975 and another five-game late-season call-up, two years later.
So as often happens with an organization’s good but unneeded prospects, Bergman was traded to fill an immediate need on the Yankees’ big league roster. With his 1977 club again in the hunt for the AL Pennant, Yankee GM Gabe Paul was looking for a right-handed bat with power that Billy Martin could use to dissuade opposing teams from bringing in lefthanders to pitch to Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson. So in June of that year, Paul swung a deal for Houston’s Cliff Johnson. Bergman was the Yankee player to be named later (in November of ’77) that was included in that swap.
The trade was an opportunity for Bergman to finally spend an entire season in the big leagues, as he took over Johnson’s old role with Houston as a backup first baseman and outfielder during the ’78 season. He hit just .231 that year in 104 games and spent the next two seasons going back and forth between the Astros and their top farm team.
Then right after the 1981 season started, Bergman was traded with Houston outfielder Jeffrey Leonard to the Giants for first baseman, Mike Ivie. He spent three decent years in San Francisco and then finally found his home in the big leagues.
Toward the end of the 1984 spring training season, the Giants traded Bergman to the Phillies. On that same day, before he could say “the City of brotherly love” Philadelphia traded Bergman and reliever Willie Hernandez to the Tigers. That trade was the key to Detroit becoming World Champions that year, but not because of Bergman. Don’t get me wrong, the native of Evanston, IL had a great first season in Mo-Town, becoming a favorite guy off the bench for manager Sparky Anderson, appearing in 120 games and averaging .273. But it was the relief pitching of Hernandez that turned that ’84 Tiger team into World Series winners.
Bergman spent the next eight seasons playing for Anderson whenever the need arose and loving every minute of it. When he retired after the 1992 season at the age of 39, he had played in 1,349 big league ball games.
Bergman shares his birthday with this Yankee legend.
|DET (9 yrs)||871||2276||1967||225||509||73||12||39||219||9||268||248||.259||.346||.368||.714|
|HOU (4 yrs)||213||340||285||32||70||11||2||2||18||3||49||45||.246||.354||.319||.673|
|SFG (3 yrs)||253||474||406||54||110||16||2||13||51||7||61||50||.271||.366||.416||.782|
|NYY (2 yrs)||12||24||21||1||1||0||0||0||1||0||2||4||.048||.125||.048||.173|
Jason Giambi’s nightmare Yankee season of 2004 represented an opportunity for Travis Lee. The Yankee brass loved Lee’s glove at first base and all they wanted from him was good defense and decent at bats. So they signed him to a one year, two-million-dollar deal even though they had already signed veteran first baseman Tony Clark a few weeks earlier. But Lee hurt his shoulder in spring training and began the season on the DL. He ended up appearing in just seven games for New York that year. Instead, it was the switch-hitting Clark who became Giambi’s “designated glove” and started the most games at first base for the Yankees that season. Lee ended up back with Tampa Bay the following year and out of baseball all together following the 2006 season.
Update: The above post was originally written in 2011. Lee left baseball because he said he had no passion left for the game. The Nationals had invited him to their 2007 spring training camp to try and win the starting first baseman’s job that was vacant as a result of one of former Yankee, Nick Johnson’s numerous injuries. Lee evidently walked into the Washington GM’s office one day and asked for his unconditional release, got it and went home.
I can remember when Lee broke into the big leagues with Arizona in 1998 because that was the Diamondbacks’ very first year in the league and former Yankee skipper Buck Showalter was in charge of baseball’s newest team on the field. The 23-year-old Lee was one of that historic squad’s bright spots, belting 151 hits, tying for the team lead in home runs with 22 and finishing third in that year’s NL Rookie of the Year Award behind Todd Helton and that year’s winner, former Yankee Kerry Wood.
Lee shares his May 26th birthday with the only Yankee ever to bat 1.000 during a pinstripe career that consisted of more than a single at bat.
|ARI (3 yrs)||338||1316||1161||162||292||49||4||39||162||30||150||219||.252||.336||.401||.737|
|TBD (3 yrs)||388||1442||1289||164||336||70||7||42||150||18||141||236||.261||.333||.424||.757|
|PHI (3 yrs)||366||1455||1271||149||328||71||5||34||174||11||165||246||.258||.343||.402||.745|
|NYY (1 yr)||7||20||19||1||2||1||0||0||2||0||1||3||.105||.150||.158||.308|
If you ask any native of the Dominican Republic currently playing big league ball which of their countrymen did the most to pave the way for them to play in the majors, their answer would be Felipe Alou. Actually, they might say Felipe Rojas. (His Dad’s last name was Rojas and his Mom’s was Alou.) Ozzie Virgil was the first Dominican to play in the MLB, when the New York Giants brought him up in 1956 but Virgil had migrated to the US as a youth and attended high school in New York City. Alou became the second native of his country (and the first to have lived there all his life) to play big league ball the following year as a member of that same Giants organization.
He was born in the Dominican Republic on May 12, 1935 to extremely poor parents. Felipe was an outstanding athlete and an outstanding student, who had been accepted in the pre-med program at the University of Santo Domingo. But he also played on his country’s baseball team that competed in 1955 Pan American Game. When he led the Dominican Republic to a victory over the US in the finals of those Games the MLB scouts came calling and he signed with the Giants.
It took awhile because the Giant organization in the late fifties was loaded with outstanding black and latino prospects, but Alou finally became a starter in San Franciso’s outfield in the early sixties. His younger brothers Matty and Jesus later joined him there and the three made history when they became the first three siblings to ever play in one team’s outfield at the same time, in September of 1963.
That was also Alou’s last year with the Giants. After the ’63 season, he was traded to Milwaukee in a seven-player deal. Felipe played for the Braves for the next six seasons, including 1966, when the team relocated to Atlanta and he put together his best year in the big leagues, with 31 HRs, a .327 batting average and leading the league in hits (218) and runs (122.)
He was traded to the A’s in 1970. By then he was 35-years-old and his best playing days were behind him. During the first week of his second season with Oakland, he was traded to the Yankees for pitchers Rob Gardner and Ron Klimkowski, where he was reunited with his brother Matty to become the first set of siblings to wear the pinstripes together since Bobby and Billy Shantz had done so in 1960.
Ralph Houk, the Yankee skipper at the time of the trade loved Felipe and put him in the lineup as a first baseman or outfielder 131 times during his first season in the Bronx. Alou responded with a .289 batting average and 69 RBIs that year. He continued to play a lot for Houk the following year, but his run production took a nose dive. Still, when the Yankees 1973 spring training season came around, Felipe was hammering the ball and Houk was telling the press that the elder Alou would share the brand new DH position with Ron Blomberg and also play a lot of first base. But on September 6th of that season, with his average hovering in the .230’s, Alou was put on waivers and picked up by the Expos. On that same day, the Yankees sold his brother Matty to the Cardinals and the Yankees were suddenly Alou-less.
Felipe Alou would retire as a player the following year and became a minor league manager in the Expos organization. He would later become a highly successful big league skipper of the Expos and also manage the Giants. His son Moises became a big league all star outfielder who played for his Dad with both Montreal and the Giants.
|SFG (6 yrs)||719||2478||2292||337||655||119||19||85||325||51||138||308||.286||.328||.466||.794|
|ATL (6 yrs)||841||3604||3348||464||989||163||20||94||335||40||188||284||.295||.338||.440||.778|
|NYY (3 yrs)||344||1145||1065||110||289||50||7||18||133||6||63||76||.271||.311||.382||.694|
|OAK (2 yrs)||156||627||583||70||158||26||3||8||55||10||32||32||.271||.307||.367||.674|
|MON (1 yr)||19||50||48||4||10||1||0||1||4||0||2||4||.208||.240||.292||.532|
|MIL (1 yr)||3||3||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.000||.000||.000||.000|