You’d have to be about my age or older to remember today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant and if you do, you might not remember him as a Yankee. That’s because in October of 1967, everyone including me thought Gary Waslewski was on the cusp of becoming a very good starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.
Waslewski was born in Connecticut to a Polish father and a mom who was half German and half Cherokee Indian. He was signed by the Pirates in 1960, after his freshman year of college. He spent the next four years pitching in the Pittsburgh farm system and then, when he was left unprotected in the minor league draft in 1964, the Red Sox grabbed him. Three years later he was called up by Boston when the team was in the midst of their 1967 miracle season. In Waslewski’s second ever big league start, the then 25-year-old right-hander shut out the White Sox for nine innings but was forced to leave the game in the tenth with a strained left shoulder. He recovered quickly and won his next two decisions. He had allowed just 3 earned runs in his first 26.1 big league innings. That’s when his right arm started aching.
He ended up with a 2-2 record that year and a 3.21 ERA. Everybody, including Waslewski was surprised when Boston Manager Dick Williams put him on the World Series roster as a replacement for the injured pitcher, Bucky Brandon. Everyone was pretty much shocked, when Williams named Waslewski as his Game 6 starting pitcher. After all, Boston was down 3 games to 2 to the Cardinals at the time and placing the fate of the team in a must win game on the shoulders of a rookie, much less a 2-game-winning rookie seemed crazy. Dick Williams was crazy, crazy like a fox.
The Boston manager had been impressed by Waslewski’s perfect two-inning relief stint against the heart of the St Louis’s lineup in Game 3. Besides, the manager’s other choices as starters for that game were Jose Santiago or Gary Bell, neither of whom was considered a better than average arm. Waslewski ended up pitching into the sixth inning and leaving that game with a 4-2 lead. Though he didn’t get the win because the Cards later tied the score, Boston pulled out the victory and everyone praised the rookies’ clutch performance and poise. After Boston lost the next game and the Series, Red Sox fans took solace in the fact that a new number 2 starter seemed ready to help Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg get Boston back to the postseason in 1968.
That didn’t happen. After winning his first two starts in 1968, Gary lost his next seven decisions and finished the year 4-7. His bubble had burst in Beantown and following that ’68 season, he was traded to the Cardinals for Dick Schofield. He was sent to Montreal the following June and did nothing for either National League team that indicated he was becoming a better big league pitcher. In fact, his 3-11 record since leaving the Red Sox, a rising ERA and a chronically sore right arm seemed to signal impending retirement. The New York Yankees felt differently.
New York got Waslewski in a May 1970 trade for a first baseman named Dave McDonald. Ralph Houk used him a lot (26 appearances) during the second half of that 1970 season, including 5 starts. Though his record with New York was just 2-2, he pitched well enough to get invited back in 1971. He appeared in 24 games during his only full year in the Bronx and all of them were in relief.
The Yankees cut him toward the end of their 1972 spring training camp. He signed with Oakland but after an 0-3 start he was reassigned to the minors. He hung up his glove for good after the 1974 season.
|MON (2 yrs)||3||9||.250||3.63||36||18||7||3||1||1||134.0||125||67||54||8||78||82||1.515|
|NYY (2 yrs)||2||3||.400||3.18||50||5||13||0||0||1||90.2||70||35||32||6||43||44||1.246|
|BOS (2 yrs)||6||9||.400||3.54||46||19||6||2||0||2||147.1||142||68||58||12||60||79||1.371|
|STL (1 yr)||0||2||.000||3.92||12||0||7||0||0||1||20.2||19||9||9||3||8||16||1.306|
|OAK (1 yr)||0||3||.000||2.04||8||0||3||0||0||0||17.2||12||5||4||3||8||8||1.132|
While doing research for today’s post, I had to smile when I came across a comment made by Yankee great Joe DiMaggio about the son of former Cleveland catcher and Yankee coach, Jim Hegan. The elder Hegan made five All Star teams during his 14-year-career with the Indians without ever getting his batting average above the .240s. Never a good hitter, he had built his sterling reputation and earned his salary with his defensive skills behind the plate. Hegan’s son Mike had been signed by the Yankees in 1961. When he was invited to his first Yankee spring training camp, Joe D was on hand serving as a special hitting instructor. When someone from the press asked the Yankee Clipper what he thought of Mike Hegan, he assured the reporter that the kid would become a better Major League hitter than his old man ever was. Talk about an underhanded compliment.
Mike Hegan did turn out to be a better hitter than his dad, but not that much better. His lifetime batting average would end up 14 points higher than his father’s own .228 figure. But unlike his dad, who spent fourteen of his seventeen big league seasons in the starting lineup of the team that brought him to the big leagues, the son was in the starting lineup for just one of the twelve years he played in the Majors and never as a Yankee.
Like his pop, Mike Hegan was also an excellent defensive player, but he played first base. At the time he was putting together some great seasons for New York’s minor league teams, Moose Skowren and Joe Pepitone were doing the same for the Yankees. By the time he got his first real shot in the Bronx, it was 1967 and Mickey Mantle had been moved to first in an effort to prolong his Yankee career. That same move effectively ended Hegan’s.
He was sent back down to the minors at the beginning of the 1968 season and that June his contract was purchased by the new Seattle Pilots franchise. Finally getting a chance to be number one on a big league team’s depth chart, Hegan prospered, hitting .292 for Seattle in the team’s inaugural 1969 season and making the AL All Star team. When the team was moved to Milwaukee the following year, Hegan continued to start but his batting average dropped by almost fifty points. The Brewers traded him to the A’s during the ’71 season, where he won his first and only World Series ring the following year. He rejoined the Yankees and his dad in 1973. In 37 games that year he had 6 home runs and 14 RBIs, while averaging .275. He might have remained a Yankee for the rest of his career if Ralph Houk and his dad had not left New York after the ’73 season and moved together over to Detroit. The Yankees then sold Hegan to the Brewers during the ’74 season. Mike would spend the final three and a half years of his big league career as a part-time first baseman, outfielder and DH , back in the city made famous by Schlitz Beer. After hanging up his glove in 1977, Hegan picked up a microphone and became a broadcaster for the Brewers for the next 11 seasons. In 1989, he was hired to do Indian games and has been one of Cleveland’s announcers ever since.
|MIL (7 yrs)||586||1823||1529||221||380||56||13||42||188||17||254||343||.249||.355||.385||.739|
|NYY (5 yrs)||141||399||346||34||72||9||4||9||28||9||40||96||.208||.295||.335||.630|
|OAK (3 yrs)||238||230||205||26||52||8||1||2||13||2||17||50||.254||.308||.332||.640|
Based on his and the team’s performance after his first three and a half seasons in pinstripes, the free agent signing of CC Sabathia had to be considered at that time, one of the best decisions a Yankee front office ever made. Carsten Charles had done just about everything the Yankees hoped he would do when they agreed to pay him just over $160 million to pitch eight seasons for New York. During the first year of that contract in 2009, he led the AL in wins with 19 and pitched 230 innings during the regular season. He was a major reason why the Yankees got into that year’s World Series when he won his only start against Minnesota and both his starts against the Angels in the ’09 League playoffs. And even though he lost his only decision in the Phillies’ Series, he did keep the Yankees in Game 4, a game they eventually won.
In 2010, he repeated as the AL victories leader with 21 wins and he threw 237 innings. He should have won the AL Cy Young Award for his performance but for some reason, lost it to Felix Hernandez. He did not pitch super well in the 2010 postseason but he did win both of his decisions.
In 2011, Sabathia finished the regular season with a 19-8 record and an even 3.00 ERA. He was the glue that held New York’s patch worked starting rotation together. He was practically un-hittable during much of the second half of the season but was ineffective during his one appearance against the Tigers in the 2011 postseason. I sort of blame that bad final start on Joe Girardi and his Yankee pitching brain trust. When New York had opened up a big lead in the AL East late in the 2011 regular season, Girardi decided he was going to give his top starters a few days off. I’ve always felt that CC needed to pitch a lot to be effective. He depends so much on rhythm and when Girardi stopped starting him every fifth day, I was worried he’d lose the marvelous rhythm he had been in. To make matters even worse, when the rains came in the second inning of Game 1, in the ALDS between New York and Detroit, CC did not return to the mound after the long delay that day. When he came back to pitch in Game 3, he was simply not sharp.
The fact that CC had that opt-out clause in his contract after the 2011 season made me very nervous. After the way the Yankee front office had been taken to the cleaners by A-Rod over his opt-out years earlier and then botched up Derek Jeter’s contract negotiations in 2010, I was unsure if CC was going to still be in pinstripes when the 2012 season opened. He remained a Yankee, though it did cost 50 million more Yankee bucks to be able to say that. It has not proven to be a brilliant investment thus far. After a 15-6 season in 2012, CC experienced a huge drop-off in 2012 after showing up in training camp that season fifty pounds lighter. His knee then gave out in 2014 causing him to miss most of that season and this far in 2015, he has been the Yankees’ must unreliable starter.
The Yankees signed CC Sabathia hoping this big left-hander would give them a chance to win every time he took the mound and up until three seasons ago, that is exactly what he did in a Yankee uniform. I still have my fingers crossed that an older CC can learn how to consistently get outs with a slower fastball and sore knee. He turns 35-years-old today.
|CLE (8 yrs)||106||71||.599||3.83||237||237||0||19||7||0||1528.2||1435||700||650||144||498||1265||1.265|
|NYY (7 yrs)||95||54||.638||3.74||186||186||0||12||2||0||1262.1||1224||580||524||134||341||1128||1.240|
|MIL (1 yr)||11||2||.846||1.65||17||17||0||7||3||0||130.2||106||31||24||6||25||128||1.003|