If it wasn’t for a horrible September, this big right-hander from Dallas would have been my choice for the Yankees’ 2013 Rookie of the Year. In his pinstriped debut against Oakland on May 5, 2013, he relieved Andy Pettitte in the sixth inning and retired all six A’s he faced. He remained in a groove, not surrendering a run in his first seven appearances and by the end of July, his ERA was still a splendid 2.06.
He quickly became one of Joe Girardi’s favorite go-to guys in the middle innings and when both Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan proved ineffective, it was Claiborne and Shawn Kelley who picked up the Yankee bullpen time and again until September reared its ugly head. That’s when this former Tulane Green Waver was hammered in three straight appearances against the Red Sox, giving up a total of eight runs in the one and two-thirds innings he pitched against Boston. That sent his ERA over four and put a damper on what had been a splendid first year.
Claiborne remains prominent in Girardi’s bullpen plans for the 2014 season, especially with both Logan and Chamberlain gone and David Robertson assuming the closer role left vacant by Mariano Rivera’s retirement.
Johnny Oates’ two most significant interactions with the New York Yankees during his long career as a big league back-up catcher and manager, suffered from the same problem, poor timing. By the time he got to wear the pinstripes as a player, he was 34-years old and at the very tail end of his career. The Yankees signed Oates as a free agent at the very beginning of the 1980 regular season to serve as Rick Cerone’s backup. That happened to also be Cerone’s first season as the Yankees’ successor to Thurman Munson and he went out and had the greatest year of his entire big league career, starting an incredible 147 games behind the plate. That left Oates with a table-scrap portion of catching to do and when he hit just .188 while doing it, you knew his pinstriped days were numbered. He did manage to make the Yankees’ Opening Day roster the following year, but when his anemic offense continued during the first two months of the 1981 season, the Yankees turned to Barry Foote as Cerone’s new backup and released Oates as a player, offering instead to employ him as a minor league manager.
A decade later, the native North Carolinian became the skipper of the Baltimore Orioles, replacing Frank Robinson, 37 games into the 1991 regular season. He lasted in that job for the next three seasons, finishing with a winning record in each of them and earning plenty of admirers along the way. One of them was Texas Ranger GM Doug Melvin who hired Oates to manage his Arlington-based ball club. Johnny would spend seven seasons in that position, leading the Rangers to three AL West Division titles during that time and winning the 1996 AL Manager of the Year Award. His one abject failure during his Ranger years was his inability to get his Texas teams past the Yankees in three different postseasons. The Rangers’ record against New York during their three ALDS confrontations was 1-9. The last of those three series was particularly hard on Oates, as the Rangers high-powered offense was able to produce just one measly run in their three games against the Bronx Bombers.
Less than two years later, Oates was replaced as Ranger skipper by Jerry Narron, the former Yankee backup catcher Oates himself had replaced two decades earlier. Johnny Oates would never manage another big league team, ending his 11-year career with an overall 797-746 record as a skipper. Shortly after being dismissed as the Texas manager, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor in Oates’ brain. Though given just a year to live, a determined Oates lasted three, dying in 2004 at the age of 58.
|ATL (3 yrs)||201||697||631||49||149||17||0||5||48||3||46||59||.236||.288||.287||.575|
|LAD (3 yrs)||126||302||277||27||71||7||0||3||19||1||20||15||.256||.304||.314||.618|
|PHI (2 yrs)||127||417||368||38||102||16||0||1||33||1||41||41||.277||.346||.329||.675|
|NYY (2 yrs)||49||95||90||10||17||4||0||1||3||1||4||3||.189||.232||.267||.498|
|BAL (2 yrs)||90||309||271||22||71||12||2||4||23||5||30||31||.262||.332||.365||.698|
I did not find myself watching too many complete Yankee televised games back during the 1990 season. Why? Because the Yankee team was so bad that year, if I watched more than three or four innings of a game, something bad or stupid would usually happen that would give me agita and cause me to turn the channel. But I do clearly remember watching every single inning of a game that took place on July 1 of that season. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant started that contest against the White Sox.
The Yankees had signed Hawkins as a free agent in December of 1988, after the big right hander had spent his first seven big league seasons pitching for the Padres. The 1988 Yankees had finished in fifth place in the AL East but they had done so with a respectable 83-78 record and an aging starting pitching staff that included Tommy John, John Candelaria and Rick Rhoden. All three veteran hurlers were at the end of their careers and the Yankee front office was hoping that the younger Hawkins would become the ace of their staff for the next few years. He did become that ace during the 1989 season, but considering the rest of that staff included Clay Parker, Dave LaPoint, Greg Cadaret and Walt Terrell, that designation was not especially flattering. Hawkins finished 15-15 that season and New York again finished fifth in the AL East but this time they lost thirteen more games than they won.
With Steinbrenner stuck in the murky aftermath of the Howie Spira/Dave Winfield scandal, the Yankee front office was a complete mess. That explains why the team tried to fix their starting pitching woes with names like Tim Leary, Mike Witt and Chuck Cary. The 1990 Yankees turned out to be one of the worst New York teams in my lifetime.
Which brings me back to that July 1st game Hawkins pitched against the White Sox that year. He pitched perfect for four innings and ended up completing the game and not allowing a single hit. One other thing. The Yankees lost that day. New York’s defense crumbled in the eighth inning when three errors and a couple of walks led to four unearned Chicago runs. Hawkins wasn’t even credited with an official complete game no-hitter because as the visiting pitcher of the losing team, he only threw eight innings.
That loss was Hawkins’ fifth in six decisions that year. He would finish the season with a record of 5-12. Four weeks after Hawkins pitched his no-hitter-NOT, George Steinbrenner was suspended for his role in the Spira affair. The Yankees would end up in last place in their division in 1990, with the embarrassing record of 65-97. It was certainly not a great time to be a Yankee fan.
Hawkins shares his birthday with this Yankee reliever and this former Yankee catcher and frequent postseason Yankee opponent.
|SDP (7 yrs)||60||58||.508||3.84||199||172||14||19||7||0||1102.2||1089||531||471||99||412||489||1.361|
|NYY (3 yrs)||20||29||.408||5.21||66||63||2||7||3||0||378.2||417||243||219||48||164||177||1.534|
|OAK (1 yr)||4||4||.500||4.79||15||14||1||1||0||0||77.0||68||41||41||5||36||40||1.351|