The Yanks had won five straight Pennants with a starting rotation led by the Holy Trinity of Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat. Raschi was the first of the three to go before the 1954 season and then both Reynolds and Lopat followed him out of the Bronx the following year. That left Whitey Ford as the only bonafide ace in New York’s rotation and thus began the era of what I like to call the in and outers. These were Yankee pitchers who were brought up from the minors or acquired from other teams who had one or maybe two great years in pinstripes pitching behind Ford. They’d help Stengel win another pennant or Fall Classic and then fade away. The four top in and outers during the second half of the 1950’s were Tommy Byrne, Tom Sturdivant, Bob Turley and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
Johnny Kucks’ big Yankee season was 1956. The tall, skinny right-hander from Hoboken put together a sensational 18-9 regular season and then shut the Brooklyn Dodgers out in the 7th Game of the 1956 World Series to help New York avenge its only Fall Classic loss to D’em Bums from a year earlier. If Don Larsen hadn’t thrown his perfect game in that same Series, Kucks’ final game effort would have been much more celebrated in the annals of Yankee history.
New York had signed Kucks right out of high school right before the 1952 regular season began. They assigned the then 18-year-older to their Class B affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia and he wowed the entire organization when he finished 19-6 that year. He then spent the next two years in the military and then went 8-7 with the parent club during his 1955 rookie season. Kucks fit right into that mid-fifties Yankee clubhouse. He loved to party and with that crew, he had plenty of opportunities to do so. He was in attendance during the famous Copa incident in June of 1957.
Kucks never again approached the level of brilliance he displayed on the mound in that 1956 season. After two mediocre seasons for New York in 1957 and ’58, he was traded to Kansas City at the beginning of the ’59 season in the deal that brought Hector Lopez and a new Yankee in and outer for the early 1960’s by the name of Ralph Terry.
|NYY (5 yrs)||42||35||.545||3.82||143||83||28||23||6||6||673.0||667||332||286||59||223||249||1.322|
|KCA (2 yrs)||12||21||.364||4.78||64||40||11||7||1||1||265.1||303||161||141||32||85||89||1.462|
Enrique Wilson was a valuable utility infielder for the New York Yankees from 2001, when he was first acquired from the Pirates for pitcher Damaso Marte, through the 2004 season. During that span, he appeared in 104 games at second base, 83 at short and 62 at third. He was only a .244 lifetime hitter during his 9 seasons in the big leagues and hit just .216 during his four years in the Bronx. But when long-time Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez was on the mound, the light-hitting Wilson turned into a reincarnation of Rod Carew. He faced Martinez 25 times in a Yankee uniform and had ten hits against him for an average of .400.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Wilson was a switch-hitter. I admired the guy because of his defensive versatility and his ability to come up big whenever the Yankees faced their arch-rivals from Beantown. I remember one Boston-New York game during the 2002 season when Wilson hit a grand slam off of Red Sox reliever Rich Garces to break a 2-2 tie. Joe Torre was a big fan of Enrique’s and when the Yankees traded Soriano for A-Rod, the Yankee manager told the media that Wilson would be his starter at second base. But Wilson’s bat got real cold and by June of the 2004 season he had lost his job to Miguel Cairo. That September, when Torre didn’t start Wilson against Boston with Martinez on the mound, the disappointed second baseman told reporters he would be leaving the Yankees at the end of the season and that’s exactly what happened.
|CLE (4 yrs)||190||607||554||72||159||37||1||6||49||9||36||62||.287||.328||.390||.718|
|NYY (4 yrs)||264||636||579||64||125||25||3||12||69||5||36||70||.216||.261||.332||.593|
|PIT (2 yrs)||86||269||251||18||56||9||1||4||23||0||14||36||.223||.262||.315||.577|
|CHC (1 yr)||15||25||22||1||3||2||0||0||0||0||3||1||.136||.240||.227||.467|
I have read a lot of books about baseball in my lifetime. One of the best was “Nice Guys Finish Last,” the autobiography of Leo “The Lip” Durocher. I was not a fan of Durocher’s but I loved his book. I certainly was not alone in my dislike for the outspoken, ego maniacal native of West Springfield, MA, who started his almost fifty-year career in the big leagues as a Yankee shortstop. Miller Huggins loved the kid’s aggressiveness and the New York skipper gradually gave Durocher more and more playing time at short at the expense of the much more mild mannered Mark Koenig. In “Nice Guys Finish Last,” Durocher claims he used to sit right next to Huggins on the bench and write down every move the manager made in a little black book the shortstop carried with him at all times.Huggins biggest problem as Yankee field boss was trying to instill some sense of discipline in Babe Ruth and a core group of his Yankee teammates who seemed to follow the Bambino’s lead on and off the field, regardless if it was good or bad. Huggins began using Durocher’s willingness to do anything he was told to do by his manager as an example for his teammates to follow. Of course, Durocher’s willingness to comply with Huggins every request was looked upon by those same teammates as the age-old practice of ass-kissing. Compounding the young shortstop’s reputation problems was the fact that he dressed in flashy clothes, ate in fancy restaurants and loved to pal around and gamble with celebrities who did not play baseball for a living, all on a rookie’s salary.
On the field, Leo could not hit but he was above average defensively and always gave you the impression he was hustling and playing hard. He surprised many by hitting .270 during his first full season in pinstripes in 1928. He slumped a bit at the plate the following year but what most likely ended Durocher’s slightly longer than two-year Yankee career was the tragic and sudden death of Huggins during the ’29 season. Durocher also claims in his book that it was his propensity to spend a lot more than he was making that got him sold to the Reds after the 1929 season. Specifically, after Yankee GM Ed Barrow refused to give the shortstop a salary advance, Leo told him to “Go F himself.”
Leo went on to enjoy a 17-year playing career with the Reds, the Cardinal’s Gashouse Gang teams and finally the Brooklyn Dodgers. He transitioned into managing in 1939, while still playing for the Dodgers and during his 26 years as a field skipper his record was 2008-1709 and his teams won two NL Pennants and 1 World Series. If you have not read “Nice Guys Finish Last,” I highly recommend you do so and form your own opinions about “Leo the Lip.”
|BRO (6 yrs)||345||1195||1094||97||267||49||12||3||113||6||88||72||.244||.303||.319||.622|
|STL (5 yrs)||683||2587||2395||272||611||100||20||15||294||18||155||201||.255||.302||.332||.634|
|CIN (4 yrs)||399||1332||1223||106||278||49||13||6||97||3||78||122||.227||.275||.303||.579|
|NYY (3 yrs)||210||715||638||100||164||12||11||0||63||4||56||85||.257||.323||.310||.633|
As A-Rod celebrates his 40th birthday he remains perhaps one of professional sports’ all-time enigmas. I don’t think any one, including his family and friends can say with any certainty what to expect from this pharmaceutically enhanced superstar in the way of personal behavior over the next year. And even the most astute observers of baseball did not predict the reemergence of offensive skills he’s displayed during the first half of the 2015 season after sitting out all of last year on his infamous suspension.
I did not become a fan of A-Rod the player until 2007, when two things happened simultaneously. First, he had the most incredible year on the field of any Yankee I’ve ever seen play the game. Secondly, it seemed as if he learned how to say “no comment” whenever the New York media asked him questions that were not about his play on the field.
Then, A-Rod and his agent, Scott Boras orchestrated that tasteless and clueless announcement during the 2007 World Series that A-Rod was opting out of his Yankee contract. Even though the move did end up making millions more Yankee dollars for Rodriguez, it was a public relations disaster for him at the same time.
By the time 2008 rolled around, A-Rod was still saying no comment to the reporters but the papparazzi photos of his extra marital actions started speaking a lot louder than his words. With the Yankees struggling with injuries under then new manager, Joe Girardi, the sports pages of the New York tabloids were filled with photos of Rodriguez in night time action. Unfortunately, none of those photos showed A-Rod with a baseball uniform on.
Then during the spring of 2009 we learned that A-Rod did take steroids. So in the space of just two and a half pinstripe seasons, Rodriguez’s actions verified his greed, his marital infidelity and his cheating on the field, a sort of modern day ballplayer’s triple crown. But then came the Yankees’ glorious ’09 post season run, with Alex leading the way with some of the most impressive clutch hitting I’ve seen during my fifty years as an avid fan of MLB. He had reversed his reputation as a perennial goat of October, captured his elusive World Championship ring and gained the somewhat begrudging adoration of Big Apple fans all at the same time. It seemed too good to be true and as we now know, it was. The following year we learned that Rodriguez visited, Dr Anthony Galea, the convicted Canadian “blood doctor” without telling the Yankee front-office. Then came the Biogenesis scandal and I have to admit, once he was suspended and admitted using steroids yet again, I thought we’d seen the last of A-Rod in pinstripes.
Then like a bad dream sometime does, he returned and the Yankee front office that did everything possible to discourage him from doing so did nothing to prevent him from doing so. Now Steinbrenner, Cashman et. al. are actually praising his play again. Proves once again that the business of Major League Baseball is all about what did you do for me lately.
Ironically, A-Rod who has stopped talking about himself shares his birthday with another Yankee who never could. This utility-infielder and this Yankee starting pitcher from the 1950’s were also born on July 27th.
|NYY (11 yrs)||1375||6005||5120||958||1485||247||9||327||1030||146||727||1153||.290||.386||.533||.919|
|SEA (7 yrs)||790||3515||3126||627||966||194||13||189||595||133||310||616||.309||.374||.561||.934|
|TEX (3 yrs)||485||2172||1863||382||569||91||9||156||395||44||249||379||.305||.395||.615||1.011|