Gus Triandos passed through my hometown on his way to a very noteworthy big league career. He spent the 1950 season playing for the Amsterdam Rugmakers, the Yankees’ Class C affiliate in the old CanAm League. He hit an amazing .363 that season and impressed every baseball-lovng fan in Amsterdam with his shotgun arm and powerful swing. In fact, Triandos impressed fans in each of the seven Yankee minor league home towns he played in during his half-dozen season climb up the Yankee farm system, which was interrupted by two years of military service during the Korean War.
The only weakness Triandos had on a baseball field was his slowness afoot. Simply put, the guy was considered one of the slowest runners in Major League history. Despite that handicap, his strong hitting and outstanding defensive ability were clear indications that this native of San Francisco and son of Greek immigrants would some day be a starting catcher on a big league team. Blocking his path to that destiny with the Yankees was a guy named Yogi Berra.
The Yankees brought Triandos up a first time in mid-August of the 1953 season. Casey Stengel got the then 22-year-old prospect into 18 games down the stretch and he hit his first and only home run as a Yankee. But he averaged just .157 and when the season was over so was his Yankee career, pretty much. He spent almost the entire ’54 season with the Yanks’ Double A club in Birmingham and that November, was included in a historic 17-player transaction with the Orioles that brought Bob Turley and Don Larsen to the Yankees.
It was the big break Triandos’s career needed. He was actually the starting first baseman on the 1955 Baltimore team and Hal Smith started behind the plate. He took over the starting catcher’s job during the 1956 season and remained in that role for the next seven years. He quickly established his reputation as one of the league’s best all-around receivers. He made three straight AL All Star teams and his 30-home runs in 1958 tied Berra’s record for most HRs by a catcher in a season. Though he was still obscured by the Yankee great’s shadow, he became a huge fan favorite in Baltimore, where they named a street after him.
Triandos gained lots of notoriety and sympathy for having to catch Hoyt Wilhelm’s fluttering knuckleball during the Hall-of-Famer’s four-plus seasons as an Oriole. Baltimore manager, Paul Richards designed and had made an over-sized catcher’s mitt to assist Triandos with the task. Though Wilhelm had some of his best big league seasons pitching to Triandos, including his only no-hitter, big Gus often said that catching the hurler’s signature pitch was the worst part of his career.
In 1962, Triandos was traded to the Detroit Tigers and a year later, Detroit sent him and pitcher Jim Bunning to the Phillies. It was there that he caught his second career no-hitter, when Bunning accomplished the feat in June of 1964 against the Mets. But Triandos had stopped hitting during his final few seasons in Baltimore and never again regained his stroke. He retired after the 1965 season and returned to his native California, where he started a mail delivery business. He died in his sleep, from heart failure in March of 2013 at the age of 82. One of my favorite all-time TV shows was the HBO series “Wire,” which dramatized crime and corruption in the City of Baltimore. This story of how Triandos was immortalized in an episode of the show is must reading for fans of this great former Oriole.
|BAL (8 yrs)||953||3610||3186||331||794||119||6||142||517||1||365||487||.249||.326||.424||.751|
|PHI (2 yrs)||103||311||270||20||61||11||0||8||37||0||35||58||.226||.314||.356||.669|
|NYY (2 yrs)||20||56||52||5||8||2||0||1||6||0||3||10||.154||.200||.250||.450|
|HOU (1 yr)||24||78||72||5||13||2||0||2||7||0||5||14||.181||.244||.292||.535|
|DET (1 yr)||106||369||327||28||78||13||0||14||41||0||32||67||.239||.315||.407||.722|
Many long-time Yankee fans remember Steve Trout. Many also wish they could forget him. He was the left-handed starting pitcher the Yankees got from the Cubs in July of 1987, who was supposed to help that team win the AL East. Lou Piniella was the Yankee Manager that year and the addition of Trout gave him a starting rotation consisting of four southpaws (Trout, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Dennis Rasmussen) and right-hander Rick Rhoden. The deal occurred in Trout’s tenth big league season. He had come up with the White Sox in 1978 and pitched there for his first five years in the majors and then was traded to the cross-town Cubs. He had compiled a 43-38 record as an AL pitcher and a 37-40 mark as a Cubbie and had never really had a breakout season with either team. But in Trout’s last two starts before being dealt to New York, he had pitched consecutive complete game shutouts. Back then, I think George Steinbrenner used to scour the headlines looking for any player on a hot streak and when he found one, he’d tell his GM to try and get him before their streak ended. So New York sent the disappointing young pitcher, Bob Tewksbury to the Windy City in exchange for Steve “Rainbow” Trout, who’s father was Dizzy Trout, a 170-game winning big league pitcher (mostly with the Tigers) from the 1940’s.
Unfortunately for the Yankees and for Trout, that second straight shutout was the end of his hot streak. When he got to New York, he was cold as ice. In eight starts and four relief appearances with his new team he had an 0-4 record and an ERA that was almost as high as the Empire State Building. He was also the victim of some high crescendo booing during almost all of his painful Yankee Stadium appearances. The low point for Trout came in a relief appearance against the Tigers in early August. He pitched to just two batters and gave up a hit a walk, two wild pitches and two runs. After that game, Piniella told the press “I know this much for sure, we certainly can’t pitch him any more.” Trout was jettisoned to Seattle the following December and Piniella tried to sum up the pitcher’s dismal career in Pinstripes, when he told reporters after the 1987 season, “Maybe he just put too much pressure on himself.”
I’ve certainly criticized Yankee pitchers in my lifetime, but I’ve never disrespected one. Once, when I was in my twenties, I was somewhere where they had a speed gun set-up so you could see how fast you could throw a baseball. I had trouble getting the reading up over 60 mph. I can only dream of being able to do what Steve Trout actually did. He shares his July 30th birthday with this legendary Yankee skipper, this long-ago catcher and this one-time Yankee DH/first baseman.
|CHC (5 yrs)||43||38||.531||3.95||138||123||4||13||5||0||746.2||820||357||328||37||286||306||1.481|
|CHW (5 yrs)||37||40||.481||3.82||115||88||17||19||4||4||622.0||665||318||264||40||207||292||1.402|
|SEA (2 yrs)||8||10||.444||7.40||34||16||2||0||0||0||86.1||129||80||71||9||48||31||2.050|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||4||.000||6.60||14||9||2||0||0||0||46.1||51||36||34||4||37||27||1.899|
Simply put, I hated seeing today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant’s name in the Yankee lineup during the 1980 season. Why? Because he batted left-handed and was used as a DH. So why did those seemingly innocuous details make me cringe when Jim Spencer was in a Yankee game that particular year? Allow me to explain.
The Yankees acquired Spencer in a trade with the White Sox in December of 1977. “Spence” was a native of Hanover, PA who had played for Billy Martin when he managed the Texas Rangers in the early seventies. According to many baseball pundits back then, Spencer was one of the best defensive first basemen in the Majors at the time of the trade and a .260 lefty hitter with decent power. That ’78 Yankee team he would be joining already had a Gold Glove winner and better hitter at first in Chris Chambliss and they had Roy White and Cliff Johnson to DH.
During that historic 1978 season that followed Spencer’s acquisition, Martin was famously fired, allegedly because he called George Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson liars but more likely because he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Spencer, who was playing just about every day when Billy was the boss, saw his playing time cut in half after Bob Lemon took over in late July. He averaged just .227 his first season in pinstripes.
After the Yankees won their second straight World Series that October, they let Roy White go to Japan. Bob Lemon’s son was killed in a car accident just a few weeks after the Series and the Yankee Manager entered the ’79 season in a deep depression. Then Goose Gossage was hurt in that shower room scuffle with Cliff Johnson and the Yankee season was suddenly in serious peril. Steinbrenner’s answer was to replace Lemon with Billy Martin in late June. That was good news for Spencer. A week after Billy returned to the Bronx, Bobby Murcer came back as well. Murcer had been my favorite Yankee during his first tenure in pinstripes so I was thrilled. When he took over as Skipper, Martin was playing both Spencer and Murcer and I was hoping the Yankees would stage another comeback in the AL East Division Race. Any hope of that went down in the crash of Thurman Munson’s plane at the beginning of August. So the 1979 Yankee season had quickly turned into a nightmare. Spencer, however, had been one of the bright spots. In 106 games he had blasted a career high 23 home runs and averaged .288. Murcer had also done well and I was hoping he’d have a great full-year with New York in 1980.
That did not happen and Spencer was one of the key reasons why. During the ’79 offseason the Yankees made several moves. They replaced Martin as Manager with Dick Howser. They traded their first baseman, Chris Chambliss to Toronto for catcher, Rick Cerone. They signed Bob Watson to replace Chambliss at first and they went out and got Rupert Jones to play center field. The Howser hiring was the only decision of these four that I liked. Chambliss was one of my favorite Yankees. I thought they should have gone after Cardinal catcher Ted Simmons instead of Cerone. I wanted Murcer to have a starting outfielder’s slot on that 1980 team and the Jones acquisition nixed that.
I still feel to this day that if the Yankees did not sign Watson or make the Rupert Jones trade, Murcer would have put together a 25 homer, 100 RBI season for New York in 1980 as either a full-time outfielder or DH. And since Spencer was supposedly the best defensive first baseman in baseball who was coming off one of his best big league offensive seasons, why didn’t the Yankees just replace Chambliss with him instead of signing Watson? When they picked up Watson, that meant Spencer would not be the full-time first baseman and since he hit left-handed like Murcer, the two would be competing for swings as the Yankee’s DH. Spencer and Murcer still each hit 13 home runs that season and combined to drive in 100.
Spencer’s Yankee career ended the following May, when he was traded to Oakland. He was born on July 29, 1946. I should also mention that that 1980 Yankee team did win 103 regular season games with the lineups Dick Howser put together. Jim Spencer suffered a heart attack and died at in February of 2002. He was just 54 years old at the time.
|CAL (6 yrs)||537||1941||1774||175||440||65||11||43||188||1||126||221||.248||.298||.370||.668|
|NYY (4 yrs)||299||869||767||116||189||35||4||45||124||1||92||108||.246||.325||.478||.804|
|TEX (3 yrs)||352||1217||1107||121||299||41||8||22||134||1||91||111||.270||.327||.381||.708|
|OAK (2 yrs)||87||288||272||20||52||9||1||4||14||1||13||40||.191||.226||.276||.501|
|CHW (2 yrs)||278||1093||988||109||247||29||3||32||139||7||85||102||.250||.308||.383||.690|
Since Stengel managed the Yankees over a half century ago, it would be helpful to younger fans to compare his achievements as New York’s skipper to the much more recent tenure of Joe Torre. Casey and Torre each managed the Yankees for a dozen seasons. Both men had losing records managing other teams. Stengel’s Yankee teams won 1,149 ball games and Torre’s squads won 1,173. Stengel, managing during the era of 154-game seasons, achieved a winning percentage with New York of .623 compared to Torre’s .605. Stengel’s teams won 10 AL Pennants and 7 World Series titles while Torre’s Yankees won 6 and 4 respectively. Torre’s teams made the postseason in each of his dozen seasons as skipper under baseball’s current divisional structure that didn’t exist in Stengel’s era.
Both Managers left the Yankees reluctantly, with bitter tastes in their mouths. Stengel was let go after the Yankees lost the 1960 World Series to the Pirates during which some of his managerial decisions were questioned. Stengel insisted he was fired for “being too old.” Torre, on the other hand, turned down a one-year incentive laden contract to continue managing New York, after the team again failed to make it to the World Series in 2007. I don’t think Stengel, who was definitely the highest paid manager in the game in his day, probably averaging $75 to $100 thousand in salary per season, would have turned down the $5 million offer Torre refused.
Charles Dillon Stengel was born in Kansas City, MO on this date in 1890. His nickname is derived from the name of his hometown.
|10||1949||58||New York Yankees||AL||155||97||57||.630||1||WS Champs|
|11||1950||59||New York Yankees||AL||155||98||56||.636||1||WS Champs|
|12||1951||60||New York Yankees||AL||154||98||56||.636||1||WS Champs|
|13||1952||61||New York Yankees||AL||154||95||59||.617||1||WS Champs|
|14||1953||62||New York Yankees||AL||151||99||52||.656||1||WS Champs|
|15||1954||63||New York Yankees||AL||155||103||51||.669||2|
|16||1955||64||New York Yankees||AL||154||96||58||.623||1||AL Pennant|
|17||1956||65||New York Yankees||AL||154||97||57||.630||1||WS Champs|
|18||1957||66||New York Yankees||AL||154||98||56||.636||1||AL Pennant|
|19||1958||67||New York Yankees||AL||155||92||62||.597||1||WS Champs|
|20||1959||68||New York Yankees||AL||155||79||75||.513||3|
|21||1960||69||New York Yankees||AL||155||97||57||.630||1||AL Pennant|
|Brooklyn Dodgers||3 years||463||208||251||.453||6.0|
|Boston Braves||6 years||870||373||491||.432||6.5|
|New York Yankees||12 years||1851||1149||696||.623||1.3||10 Pennants and 7 World Series Titles|
|New York Mets||4 years||582||175||404||.302||10.0|
|25 years||3766||1905||1842||.508||4.5||10 Pennants and 7 World Series Titles|