1968 was a terrible year in the history of our country and was shaping up to be a terrible year in Yankee history as well. New York had finished ninth the previous season. Joe Pepitone, the team’s best hitter was getting nuttier every year and the great Mickey Mantle was literally on his last leg.
I had two passions as a young teenager, sports and politics. When Bobby Kennedy was killed all I had left to look forward to were Yankee games so I was hoping they’d be decent that year. Almost miraculously, they were. Thanks to a starting staff featuring Mel Stottlemyre, Stan Bahnsen and Fritz Peterson and a bullpen led by Steve Hamilton and Lindy McDaniel, the Yankees could hang around most games and were pretty good at holding a lead if they were lucky enough to have one in the later innings.
The offense was another story. Pepitone imploded and Mantle continued to decline. As a team they hit just just .214 but guys like Roy White, Andy Kosco, and a 27 year-old rookie third baseman named Bobby Cox seemed to get on base and cross home plate just enough times to win more games than they lost. The bomberless Bombers finished 83-79 which to me felt like winning a pennant.
Cox of course went on to become one of the game’s all-time great managers with Atlanta. My In-laws are huge Brave fans and my Mother-in-law loves Cox. Several years ago we were with them at Disney World after the Braves had moved their spring-training operation to the resort. Early one morning, we went to the stadium to watch the Braves practice and Bobby Cox was alongside the dugout talking to someone sitting in the stands. As soon as she saw him my mother started shouting “Yoo-hoo Bobby Cox. I love you. Can I have your autograph? Can I take my picture with you?” Cox looked up feigning annoyance and held up his hand signaling he’d come over to us after he was done talking to the other person. Sure enough he did and he spent the next five minutes talking to my Mother-in-Law like he had known her all his life. I went from being a big Bobby Cox fan to being a huge Bobby Cox fan that day. Cox was voted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2014, along with former Yankee skipper, Joe Torre. It certainly is a well-deserved honor.
By most accounts, when Enos “Country” Slaughter joined the Yankees in 1954, many of his new Yankee teammates weren’t too fond of him. That group included and was probably led by the temperamental Billy Martin, who thought Slaughter ‘s habit of running hard to first on every hit ball and even after bases on balls, was an attempt to show up his teammates. Martin considered Slaughter and for that matter most teammates who had not come up through the Yankee organization, as outsiders who could not be trusted on the field or in the clubhouse. Fortunately for Slaughter, Casey Stengel did not share that sentiment, probably because he was an old National Leaguer himself.
Slaughter explained the real reason he hustled every second while on the field in his autobiography. He was playing on a Cardinal farm team in Columbus, GA in 1932, hitting in the low .200’s and thinking he was going to be released any minute when in between innings during a game, he walked backed to the dugout from his right field position. Burt Shotten happened to be his Manager at the time and when Slaughter finally got to the dugout, Shotten told him if he was too tired to run back to the bench that maybe he was too tired to play in the game. Slaughter said that not-too-subtle hint from Shotten forever changed the way he approached the game. He vowed that he would never ever loaf on a baseball field again and he kept that promise for the next 27 years.
The saddest day of his life was August 11, 1954, the day the Cardinals traded him to the Yankees. He actually burst into tears after hearing the news but not because he had any particular animosity toward the Bronx Bombers. Slaughter absolutely loved playing in St. Louis and never dreamed getting traded was even a remote possibility.
As hard as it was for him to do so, Slaughter brought all of his experience and enthusiasm for the game with him to New York. From 1954 until he was traded to Kansas City in 1955 and then again after he was reacquired by New York a season later until 1959, Casey used the aging veteran frequently as both a pinch hitter and outfield substitute. He also treated Slaughter as his bench coach. The two veterans would often sit next to each other in the dugout, constantly discussing strategy and possible moves.
Slaughter contributed on the field as well. He was a star in the 1956 World Series, hitting .350 as the Yankees beat Brooklyn. His best regular season in pinstripes was 1958, when he hit .304 in 160 plate appearances. Enos retired after the 1959 season, at the ripe age of 43 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame, 26-years later. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 85.
|STL (13 yrs)||1820||7713||6775||1071||2064||366||135||146||1148||64||838||429||.305||.384||.463||.847|
|NYY (6 yrs)||350||782||663||90||168||21||6||16||98||4||108||69||.253||.356||.376||.732|
|KCA (2 yrs)||199||570||490||86||148||26||7||7||57||3||69||37||.302||.387||.427||.814|
|MLN (1 yr)||11||21||18||0||3||0||0||0||1||0||3||3||.167||.286||.167||.452|
From the moment I started following my Yankees as a six-year-old in 1960 right up until the team’s fifth place finish in the AL Pennant race in 1965, I loved Major League Baseball’s Reserve Clause. It is what had permitted the Yankee’s skillful and ruthless front office to firmly imprison the best baseball talent in America in Pinstripes until they could no longer run, hit, field, or throw or at least until they could be traded for someone who could do these things a bit better.
But after 1966, my stance on the sanctity of this oppressive piece of contract language began to soften. Overnight, the Yankees’ glamorous galaxy of star players seemed to grow old. Compounding the problem was that CBS, the team’s new owner, stopped investing in the Yankee farm system and that thriftiness, combined with the impact of the newly introduced MLB Amateur Draft, caused New York’s cupboard of bonafide home grown prospects to quickly grow bare. Also coming back to bite the team in the rear end was the tendency of the Yankee front office to avoid signing black prospects all throughout the late forties and fifties.
So by the late sixties I was one of the biggest advocates of testing baseball’s reserve clause in the courts and when George Steinbrenner took control of my favorite team, I was actively rooting for Curt Flood’s legal victory.
The New York Yankee’s first signing in Baseball’s new free agent era took place on the very last day of 1974. At the time, Jim Catfish Hunter was the American League’s premier starter. He had just completed a string of four consecutive 20-victory seasons for Oakland, the ace pitcher on a team that had won the last three World Series.
Hunter’s best season in pinstripes turned out to be his first, in 1975. He won 23 of his 37 decisions, threw 7 shutouts and compiled a 2.49 ERA. It wasn’t enough to win the Yankees a pennant but that certainly was not Catfish’s fault. He literally pitched his arm off that year, completing 30 games and amassing 328 innings pitched. In fact, during the three seasons of 1974, ’75 and ’76, Hunter threw 944 innings of baseball and the damage caused to his arm by that strain helps explain why he spent much of his last three seasons with New York on the DL.
What many Yankee fans fail to fully appreciate about Hunter was his ability to pitch effectively and be a clubhouse leader on teams that had rosters full of strong player personalities led by eccentric, very vocal owners. Hunter’s experience with Charley Finley’s Oakland A’s prepared him well for the Bronx Zoo and George Steinbrenner. And even though he had just that one twenty-victory season with the Yankees, Catfish showed his Yankee teammates how to focus on winning while on the field and how to survive the glare of a hyperactive media, monitoring a crazy clubhouse.
I will never forget Catfish’s gutty seven-inning performance in Game 6 of the 1978 World Series. That victory clinched a second straight championship for New York and I felt it was Hunter’s finest moment as a Yankee.
Inducted into Cooperstown in 1987, Catfish died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, twelve years later.
Below is my all-time Yankee free agent lineup. Only players who became Yankees’ originally via free agency are eligible. This disqualifies Yankees like Derek Jeter, who became a free agent while he was a Yankee and re-signed with the team. It also disqualifies free agent signers like Andy Pettitte, who was a Yankee, left and then re-signed with NY as a free agent.
The Pinstripe Birthday Blog’s All-Time Yankee Free Agent Line-Up
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Steve Sax
3B Wade Boggs
SS Tony Fernandez
C Russ Martin/Butch Wynegar
OF Reggie Jackson
OF Dave Winfield
OF Hideki Matsui
DH Jason Giambi
P CC Sabathia
P Catfish Hunter
P Mike Mussina
P David Wells
CL Goose Gossage
|OAK (10 yrs)||161||113||.588||3.13||363||340||5||116||31||1||2456.1||2079||947||853||261||687||1520||1.126|
|NYY (5 yrs)||63||53||.543||3.58||137||136||1||65||11||0||993.0||879||433||395||113||267||492||1.154|
Deacon Bill McKechnie wasn’t an especially good baseball player. He played a total of 846 games over eleven seasons as a utility infielder for five different ball clubs, averaging just .251 lifetime. Forty-five of those games were played in a Yankee uniform during the 1913 season. The switch-hitting Wilkinsburg, PA native hit just .134 for that Frank Chance managed New York team that finished in seventh place that season with a horrible 57-94 record. Those mediocre numbers may explain why the Yankees or nobody else seemed to care when McKechnie jumped to the upstart Federal League the following season to play for the Indianapolis Hoosiers. He averaged .304 as the Hoosier’s starting third baseman in 1914 and when the franchise was relocated to Newark, NJ the following year, McKechnie was made the team’s player-manager.
McKechne may have not been a very good big league player but he became an excellent big league manager. After the Federal League went belly up in 1916, he returned to the National League and played five more seasons before landing the Pittsburgh Pirates’ skipper’s job in June of 1922. His 1925 Pirate team won the World Series. His 1928 St. Louis Cardinal team won the NL Pennant. He then won two more Pennants with the 1939 and ’40 Cincinnati Reds and captured his second World Championship with that 1940 Reds team. He was the only big league manager to win pennants with three different teams until Dick Williams accomplished that same feat in 1984. In all he managed for 24 seasons in the National League. In addition to the Pirates, Cards and Reds, he also managed the Boston Braves for eight seasons. In all, he won 1,842 games which placed him in second place on the all-time list, when he retired in 1946, behind only John McGraw. He was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1962. He died three years later at the age of 79.
|PIT (6 yrs)||368||1313||1182||118||278||25||20||5||109||34||71||80||.235||.281||.303||.584|
|NEW (2 yrs)||276||1179||1021||156||286||46||11||3||81||75||94||67||.280||.345||.356||.700|
|CIN (2 yrs)||85||285||264||15||70||6||1||0||25||9||10||19||.265||.295||.295||.590|
|NYG (1 yr)||71||273||260||22||64||9||1||0||17||7||7||20||.246||.269||.288||.557|
|BSN (1 yr)||1||5||4||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||.000||.200||.000||.200|
|NYY (1 yr)||45||124||112||7||15||0||0||0||8||2||8||17||.134||.198||.134||.332|
Over a half-century before George Steinbrenner came on the scene, another son of a wealthy German-American businessman purchased New York City’s American League baseball franchise and wheeled and dealed his way to World Championships and a brand new Big Apple stadium for his team. But instead of building ships like George’s dad, this guy’s father made beer.
His name was Jacob Ruppert and he took over the family business when his Dad died in 1915 and immediately began looking for ways to get his brewery’s name in the newspapers more often. He accomplished that by purchasing a baseball team. Originally, Ruppert was co-owner of the Yankees along with partner Cap Huston. He bought out Huston in 1923 to become sole owner of the ball club.
In a series of astute business and hiring maneuvers, he turned the Yankees into the most valuable brand in all of sports. He brought Babe Ruth to New York. He hired Ed Barrow to build baseball’s best farm system and he put managerial legends, Miller Huggins and then Joe McCarthy in the Yankee dugout. During his 23 years owning the franchise, the Yankees won the first ten of their World Series championships. Though I’ve never been a big fan of the guy, I agree with those who felt George Steinbrenner belongs in Baseball’s Hall of Fame but only if they put Jake Ruppert in their first. Rupert received that honor in 2013, when he was the choice of the Hall’s Veterans’ Committee.
Dazzy Vance is in the Hall of Fame even though he did not win his first Major League game until he was 31 years old. What took him so long? He spent almost a decade, from 1912 until 1921 in the minor leagues trying to figure out how to throw his lightening quick fastball over the plate for strikes. Before he came up for good with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1922, Vance spent about four seasons in the Yankee organization. New York brought him up to the big leagues for two look-see’s. The first time was 1915. Vance was a 17-game winner that year pitching single A ball in St. Joseph, MO. He got into eight games for New York, losing all three of his decisions. He didn’t get his next taste of the Big Apple until four years later, in 1918 and it did not taste good. Dazzy got shelled in both his Yankee relief appearances that season and since he was 27 at the time, it seemed as if his chances of making the big leagues were over. But the persistent Vance went back to the minors and toiled for four more years.
In 1922, Brooklyn purchased his contract and dumped him immediately into their starting rotation. Dazzy won 18 games in his full-fledged rookie season and led the NL in strikeouts. For the next ten seasons he was one of the very best pitchers in baseball. He ended up winning seven-straight strikeout titles. In 1924 he had one of the greatest seasons any big league pitcher has ever had, leading the NL in victories (28), ERA (2.16) and K’s (262.) By the time his career was over, in 1935, the 44-year-old right-hander had put together a lifetime record of 197-140. That’s on top of the 139 victories he had accumulated in the minor leagues. In 1955, Vance was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
His real name was Charles. He was born in Orient,IA on March 4, 1891. He passed away in 1961.
Ironically, Dazzy shares his March 4th birthday with this other Major League baseball star with a well-known nickname, who also got big league call-ups as a Yankee early in his career, who also didn’t make it to the major leagues for good until he was 31 years old and when he did, he also became a star for Brooklyn.
|BRO (12 yrs)||190||131||.592||3.17||378||328||36||212||29||7||2757.2||2579||1135||972||123||764||1918||1.212|
|NYY (2 yrs)||0||3||.000||4.45||10||3||5||1||0||0||30.1||32||19||15||1||18||18||1.648|
|STL (2 yrs)||7||3||.700||3.59||47||15||11||3||0||4||158.0||167||68||63||7||42||100||1.323|
|CIN (1 yr)||0||2||.000||7.50||6||2||1||0||0||0||18.0||28||21||15||1||11||9||2.167|
|PIT (1 yr)||0||1||.000||10.13||1||1||0||0||0||0||2.2||3||3||3||0||5||0||3.000|
The list below identifies New York Yankees who have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as of January 6, 2015. The list is presented in the order of induction date with the most recent inductee listed first and includes players, managers and team executives who played or worked for the Yankees at any time in franchise history, including the 1903-1912 Highlanders and the 1901-1902 Orioles. The year listed along-side each individual’s name is the year that person was inducted.
Randy Johnson 2015
Joe Torre 2014
Bobby Cox 2014
Jacob Rupert 2013
Joe Gordon 2009
Ricky Henderson 2009
Rich Gossage 2008
Wade Boggs 2005
Dave Winfield 2001
Lee MacPhail 1998
Phil Niekro 1997
Leo Durocher 1994
Phil Rizzuto 1994
Reggie Jackson 1993
Tony Lazzeri 1991
Gaylord Perry 1991
Catfish Hunter 1987
Enos Slaughter 1985
Johnny Mize 1981
Larry MacPhail 1978
Joe Sewell 1977
Bucky Harris 1975
Whitey Ford 1974
Mickey Mantle 1974
Yogi Berra 1972
Lefty Gomez 1972
Joe Kelley 1971
George Weiss 1971
Earl Combs 1970
Stan Coveleski 1969
Waite Hoyt 1969
Branch Rickey 1967
Red Ruffing 1967
Casey Stengel 1966
Burleigh Grimes 1964
Miller Huggins 1964
Bill McKechnie 1962
Joe McCarthy 1957
Home Run Baker 1955
Joe DiMaggio 1955
Dazzy Vance 1955
Bill Dickey 1954
Ed Barrow 1953
Paul Waner 1952
Herb Pennock 1948
Frank Chance 1946
Jack Chesbro 1946
Clark Griffith 1946
Joe McGinnity 1946
Roger Bresnahan 1945
Wilbert Robinson 1945
Lou Gehrig 1939
Willie Keeler 1939
John McGraw 1937
Babe Ruth 1936