It really was amazing that despite a rash of injuries and bad personnel moves by the team’s front office, the Yankees still had a shot at postseason play going into the second week of September. But when they dropped the first two games of their final series with the Red Sox, I knew there’d be no fall ball for my favorite team in 2013.
On the evening of Sunday, September 15th, I decided to turn on the final game of that three-game set for one reason and one reason only. Ivan Nova was scheduled to pitch and I wanted to see if he was back in his groove. Even though he had won his previous four decisions, he had pitched poorly in his last two outings, getting roughed up by the Rays and the Red Sox. With Pettitte retiring and Hughes imploding, I figured Nova was an essential member of New York’s 2014 rotation so I wanted to see if he could hold the soon-to-be World Champion Red Sox in check that night. He didn’t. When Boston knocked him out in the fifth inning the Yankees were behind 5-1.
By the time the seventh inning rolled around I was probably already snoring away and dreaming that the Yankees would not only sign Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran the following offseason, but also snare Masahiro Tanaka. Whatever the reason, I ended up missing the Yankee debut of today’s Pinstripe Biirthday Celebrant. It turned out to also be his farewell performance as a Bronx Bomber. When he took the mound in Fenway that evening, he became the 23rd different pitcher to do so for New York during the disappointing 2013 regular season.
Like Joba Chamberlain, the guy he relieved in that night’s game, Zagurski is a native of Nebraska. A 12th round draft choice of the Phillies in 2005, he had made his big league debut two years later, appearing in 25 games out of the bullpen for Philadelphia in 2007 and struggling mightily with his control. The portly southpaw then spent most of the next four seasons in the minors, eventually getting traded to the Diamondbacks. He made Arizona’s big league staff in 2012, appeared in 45 games that season and again struggled with his control.
He was released that November and picked up by Pittsburgh that December. The Yankees originally signed him in June of 2013, when the Pirates let him go. New York then released him two months later. He was with Oakland for two short weeks, got dropped and re-signed with the Yankees. Cashman picked him up again only because Boone Logan’s sore pitching elbow wasn’t responding to treatment and Joe Girardi needed a left-arm in the pen to replace it. Unfortunately, Zagurski failed the only chance the Yankee skipper gave him to fill that void.
The first hitter he faced against Boston that night was Stephen Drew, who drilled a long fly ball out to deep right. Red Sox phee-nom Xander Bogaerts then singled sharply. Another Red Sox phee-nom, Jackie Bradley became the last hitter the Big Zag would ever face while wearing a Yankee uniform. He ended up hitting the young outfielder with a pitch. Cashman released him right after the season ended and Zagurski’s odyssey continued when he was signed the following month by the Indians.
Zagurski became the ninth member of the all-time Yankee roster with a last name that began with the letter “Z.” He shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee who won the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year Award, this long-ago Yankee pitcher and this one too.
|PHI (3 yrs)||1||0||1.000||6.82||37||0||8||0||0||0||31.2||37||24||24||5||19||36||1.768|
|ARI (1 yr)||0||0||5.54||45||0||13||0||0||0||37.1||37||24||23||5||19||34||1.500|
|PIT (1 yr)||0||0||15.00||6||0||2||0||0||0||6.0||10||10||10||1||8||5||3.000|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||0||54.00||1||0||0||0||0||0||0.1||1||2||2||0||0||0||3.000|
One could sum up today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s career with three words, “strange but interesting.” It started out late but promising. Though this right-handed hurler never played an inning of minor league ball, he was already 28-years-old when he signed with the Yankees in 1924. Up until then, he had been playing semi-pro baseball for a company-sponsored team back in his native New Jersey. Such teams were common throughout the country during much of the first half of the 20th century and the competition was certainly, in many cases, minor-league quality. In fact, Gaston’s semi-pro team regularly played exhibition games versus Major League clubs and through the years, he had offers from several of them to pitch for their organizations. But it wasn’t until the Yankees offered him a contract that he decided to make the move.
That happened in 1924. Gaston joined a Yankee team that had won the franchise’s first World Series the year before. Miller Huggins was his manager and a fellow rookie, Lou Gehrig, his first big league roommate. Huggins liked Gaston a lot and got him into 29 games during his rookie season, mostly as a reliever. In fact, he won his first four straight big league decisions coming out of the bullpen, before Huggins gave him a chance to start. Gaston’s signature pitch was a fork ball that moved so much, there were times he had no idea where the ball was going. As a result, he would often walk an awful lot of hitters, and in his first ever big league start, he issued eight bases on balls against the St. Louis Browns in six-plus innings and suffered his first loss. But all-in-all, his rookie season had been a success. He finished it with a 5-3 record and a save, a budding friendship with the Iron Horse, plus Huggins liked his stuff. Gaston was certainly in a good place to be with his baseball career. But not for long.
The 1924 Yankees had failed to make it back to the World Series for the first time in three years, and New York owner Jacob Rupert, who was George Steinbrenner before George Steinbrenner was even born, wanted better pitching. He heard the St. Louis Browns wanted to trade their four-time 20-game winner, Urban Shocker and he went after him hard. The deal between the two teams was reached a week before Christmas in 1924. The Yanks sent Gaston, starting pitcher Bullet Joe Bush and another pitcher named Joe Giard to the Browns for Shocker. When Huggins told Gaston he had been traded, the Yankee manager also told the departing pitcher he hated to lose him.
Thus, Gaston’s pinstriped career ended but he would go on to establish a few unusual Major League firsts. He holds the record for giving up the most hits in a shutout, 14. He also owns the record for taking part in the most double plays as a pitcher in a single game, 4. Though he was teammates with 17 different future Hall of Famers during his eleven-year career, they all must have been in hitting slumps on the days Gaston pitched because his career record was 97-164, which gives him the record for most games below the .500 mark for pitchers with at least 100 decisions. In addition to the Yankees and Browns, he also pitched for the White Sox, Senators and Red Sox, and while with Boston, he got the opportunity to pitch to his older brother, catcher Alex Gaston, during the 1929 season. Milt Gaston kept setting records after he retired in 1934. He became the only former player with at least ten years of service to live to 100. He died in his sleep in a Massachusetts nursing home in 1996.
|SLB (3 yrs)||38||49||.437||4.60||111||87||15||51||1||2||707.0||786||439||361||39||302||200||1.539|
|CHW (3 yrs)||21||48||.304||4.95||87||78||6||24||3||1||527.2||607||353||290||35||217||131||1.562|
|BOS (3 yrs)||27||52||.342||3.95||100||80||18||44||3||4||635.2||674||335||279||34||220||215||1.406|
|WSH (1 yr)||6||12||.333||5.51||28||22||4||8||3||0||148.2||179||102||91||3||53||45||1.561|
|NYY (1 yr)||5||3||.625||4.50||29||2||20||0||0||1||86.0||92||48||43||3||44||24||1.581|
After seven seasons of pitching in the big leagues, left-handed fireballer, Fred Heimach found himself back in the minors in 1927, pitching for the St Paul Saints. The Camden, New Jersey native had been a combination starter/reliever for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s during his first half-dozen big league seasons before getting traded to the Red Sox during his seventh. Boston had a horrible team and “Lefty” had a horrible year pitching for them, going just 2-9 with an ERA of 5.65, which set the stage for his demotion to St Paul. His fortunes changed in Minnesota. He won 34 games for the Saints over the next two seasons and caught the attention of the New York Yankees, who purchased his contract in August of 1928.
Yankee Manager, Miller Huggins immediately added Heimach to the Yankee starting rotation that season and he finished 2-3 in his first 13 appearances (including 9 starts) in pinstripes. The following season, Freddie finally realized the full benefits of pitching for the Yankees’ magnificent offensive lineup. In his ten starts and twenty-five relief appearances during the 1929 season, he finished 11-6 with three shutouts and four saves. It was his best year in the big leagues but ironically, it also ended up being his last season in pinstripes. Heimach’s biggest problem was consistency. He’d look great in one outing and putrid in the next. According to Yankee skipper Huggins, all Freddie needed to become a star was a good change up. Unfortunately, the diminutive Yankee manager died during the 1929 season and Heimach lost his biggest booster. Huggins’ replacement, Bob Shawkey was not impressed by the pitcher’s performance during New York’s 1930 spring training season and Lefty Heimach’s roster spot was given to a 21-year-old pitcher from San Francisco named Lefty Gomez.
Heimach ended up pitching most of the next four seasons for Brooklyn. He was out of the big leagues by 1934 and ended up becoming a cop on the Miami Beach police force. He shares his January 27th birthday with this one-time Yankee who won the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year Award, this long-ago Yankee pitcher and this much more recent Yankee hurler.
|PHA (7 yrs)||29||37||.439||4.57||142||67||44||28||1||1||644.0||773||392||327||37||208||185||1.523|
|BRO (4 yrs)||18||14||.563||4.31||86||28||38||14||1||2||340.0||411||189||163||15||65||81||1.400|
|NYY (2 yrs)||13||9||.591||3.77||48||19||18||8||3||4||202.2||207||102||85||8||45||51||1.243|
|BOS (1 yr)||2||9||.182||5.65||20||13||4||6||0||0||102.0||119||72||64||5||42||17||1.578|