Yankee fans had little to cheer about at the end of their 2008 season, which took some of the luster off of Phil Coke’s sizzling end-of-the-year pinstriped debut that year. While the Yanks spent the last full month playing just poorly enough to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1993, you couldn’t blame Coke. Joe Girardi called him into 12 September games and he delivered big time. He gave up just a single run in 14.2 innings and walked just two hitters, winning his only decision and getting credited with 5 holds.
That performance rocketed the southpaw native of Sonora, California to the top of the Yankee bullpen’s depth chart when the team’s 2009 spring training camp opened. Coke, however, got off to a horrible start that year and struggled to regain his first year form right through May. He then put together a brilliant June, but was inconsistent in both July and August. Fortunately for New York, Coke was able to put together his second straight brilliant September and this time it helped the Yankee’s make a successful stretch run to the AL East Diivision title.
He then made a total of four scoreless appearances in the 2009 ALDS and ALCS before getting roughed up a bit by Philadelphia in that tear’s Fall Classic. All-in-all, Coke’s sophomore season was a success, as he led the staff in appearances with 72 and was again a force down the stretch. Though his ERA that year climbed to 4.50 runs, after the Yankees won that World Series I never once thought Phil Coke’s Yankee days were over.
That December, Brian Cashman orchestrated a complicated three-team-trade to bring outfielder Curtis Granderson to New York. As part of that deal, Phil Coke ended up in Detroit along with Yankee outfield prospect, Austin Jackson. Like his first year in New York, Coke had a solid first year with Detroit but has not been as effective since, with one significant exception. During the 2012 ALCS against the Yankees, Tiger skipper Jim Leyland lost all faith in Jose Valverde after the closer gave up two crushing home runs in the ninth inning of Game 1. For the rest of that series he used Coke as his closer and he pitched brilliantly in that role.
|DET (4 yrs)||12||22||.353||4.35||218||15||46||0||0||5||256.2||285||140||124||15||99||197||1.496|
|NYY (2 yrs)||5||3||.625||3.74||84||0||13||0||0||2||74.2||52||35||31||10||22||63||0.991|
Derek Jeter will be the last Yankee shortstop to wear uniform number 2 but the first one to do so is today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Mark Koenig started at short for New York’s legendary Murderers’ Row team of 1927 and batted second, after leadoff man Earle Combs and right before the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth. That hallowed team became the first in AL history to remain in first place the entire season, set a regular season record with 110 victories and become the first junior circuit squad to sweep an NL opponent (the Pirates) in a World Series. Koenig hit .285 for that Yankee team and scored 99 runs. He was a very good fielder and was also universally liked and respected by his teammates.
The Yankees became this San Francisco native’s first big league club in 1925, when he was just 20-years old. He won the starting job at short the following season and held it until 1929, when he was replaced by the bold and brash Leo Durocher. In May of the following season, he was traded to the Tigers, but when he couldn’t get his average above the .250s, Detroit sold his contract to a Pacific Coast League team. After 89 games in the minors, he was hitting .335 and caught the attention of the Cubs who were in a battle for the 1932 NL Pennant. He was brought to the Windy City that August and played outstanding baseball for 2 months, hitting a robust .353 to help Chicago hold off the Pirates and earn the right to face the Yankees in the ’32 World Series.
When his former Yankee teammates learned that Koenig’s new Chicago’ teammates had not voted him a full share of the team’s World Series prize money, they exhibited their resentment with a constant and fierce series-long razzing targeting the entire Cubs’ team, except Koenig of course. That razzing was nearing the boil-over point by Game 3, when Babe Ruth came to the plate in the fifth inning with the score tied 4-4 to face Cub pitcher Charley Root. Root and the entire Cub bench were screaming obscenities at the Bambino, who was responding in kind. When Root supposedly quick pitched a second strike, legend has it that Ruth pointed to center and hit Root’s next pitch into the Wrigley Field bleachers in the general direction of where he had pointed.
The Cubs brought Koenig back for the ’33 season and then traded him to the Phillies, who in turn dealt him to the Reds. Still just 29 years old, Koenig became Cincinnati’s starting third baseman in 1934 and had a strong season. He then came back to New York in 1935, this time with the cross town Giants where he finished out his playing career in 1936. Koenig’s lifetime average for his dozen years as a big leaguer was a respectable .279 and he collected 1,190 hits. He would live until 1993 and become the oldest surviving starter from that 1927 Yankee team and missing by a couple of seasons, the beginning of the career of the last Yankee shortstop who will ever wear Koenig’s number.
|NYY (6 yrs)||567||2428||2233||348||636||103||35||15||244||11||134||103||.285||.327||.382||.710|
|NYG (2 yrs)||149||487||454||47||128||16||0||4||44||0||21||22||.282||.315||.344||.659|
|CHC (2 yrs)||113||345||320||47||98||17||2||6||36||5||18||14||.306||.345||.428||.773|
|DET (2 yrs)||182||682||631||70||156||33||6||2||55||10||34||27||.247||.288||.328||.616|
|CIN (1 yr)||151||661||633||60||172||26||6||1||67||5||15||24||.272||.289||.336||.625|
Marius Russo was a southpaw with outstanding control and a sinking sidearm fastball that made him tough against right-handed hitters. Before joining the Yankees in 1939, he was a key starter on their Newark Bears farm team in 1937 and ’38. That club has been labeled by many baseball historians as the best Minor League team in history. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, he went 8-3 during his rookie season in pinstripes including two shutouts. The following year, he went 14-8 for Manager Joe McCarthy’s third place team, becoming New York’s most efficient starter. He followed that up with a 14-10 season in 1941 as the Yankees rebounded to win 101 games and capture the AL Pennant. Then in that year’s World Series against the Cinderella Dodgers, Russo pitched a complete game, 2-1 victory in Game 3. An arm injury limited him to just nine appearances during the 1942 season and when he came back the following year, his arm didn’t hurt but he had lost a few miles on his fastball. Still, he had enough to duplicate his 1941 post season success by throwing another 2-1 complete game victory over the Cardinals in Game 4 of the ’43 Fall Classic.
He spent the next two years in military service and when he returned to the Yankees in 1946, he no longer had the stuff required to pitch in the big leagues. He retired with a career record of 45-34, a lifetime ERA of just 3.13 and those two sterling Series victories. He went to work for Grumman Aircraft and lived to be 90-years-old, passing away in 2005.
From 1921 to 1924, Elmer Frederick “Irish” Meusel was John McGraw’s left-fielder on four consecutive pennant winning and two world championship teams. His four season RBI total for the Giants beginning in 1922, was 470.
Irish was not, however, the best left fielder playing for the home team in the Polo Grounds, back then. He was not even considered the best left-fielder in his family. That honor went to his younger and much more ornery brother Bob, who played for the Yankees. The Big Apple has not had a set of better-playing brothers since the Meusels were in town.
Consider this. In 1922, Irish drove in 111 runs for the Giants and “Long Bob” led the AL in RBIs with 138. That’s a total of 249 RBI’s from one set of brothers. In 1941, The DiMaggio boys had 283 RBIs in one season but there were three of them. Even more impressively, in the five seasons from 1921 until 1925, the Meusel brothers combined to drive in 1,125 runs.
If the Meusel’s were around today, I could see Reebok or Nike releasing a new pair of baseball shoes. The left one would be called the “Irish” and the right one, “Long Bob.” Or perhaps modern sneaker companies would have been turned off by the attitude and behavior of today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant.
As I dug deeper into the younger Meusel’s background, I found he had developed a reputation for being lazy on the field. Such criticism came not just from sportswriters of that era but from Meusel’s own Manager, the great Miller Huggins. It was also referenced in his New York Time’s obituary which stated that Meusel’s alleged laziness may have been in appearance only, caused by the fact that the tall, graceful athlete had such a long and loping stride, that he always looked like he was running slow even when he was not. I also found articles indicating that Meusel was not known as a very friendly guy. In 1924, he charged the pitcher in a game in Detroit with his bat-in-hand setting off one of the worst riots in MLB history. Other published accounts described the California native as “dark” and “moody” and a perennial complainer especially when it was time to sign a
contract or comply with a league rule.
But no one disputes Meusel’s five-tool talent on the field. This guy could run, hit, hit for power, field and had a shotgun for an arm. He played left field for one of the greatest Yankee teams in history and during his decade in New York the Yankees appeared in their first six World Series and earned the franchise’s first three championship banners. Meusel’s Yankee career ended when he was sold to the Reds after the 1929 season. During his ten seasons in pinstripes he hit 146 home runs, drove in 1,005 runs, hit .311 and maintained a .500 slugging percentage.
|NYY (10 yrs)||1294||5543||5032||764||1565||338||87||146||1002||134||349||556||.311||.358||.500||.858|
|CIN (1 yr)||113||484||443||62||128||30||8||10||62||9||26||63||.289||.330||.460||.790|