George Weiss was not an easy guy to get along with. Even his wife agreed with that, once complaining after he was let go by the Yankees that she didn’t like having him at home too much. The reason George did not make friends easily could be summed up by his business philosophy, which was to never be satisfied with anything. He always felt things could be better and to him, better meant winning more world championships and becoming more profitable. That’s the philosophy he used when he designed and built the Yankee farm system during the thirties and forties and also exactly how he ran the organization when he was named General Manager of the parent club in January of 1948. Weiss managed every detail at every level of the Yankee organization, regardless how small and that usually meant saving or making every penny possible.
My favorite story about “Lonesome George” took place in 1957. Mickey Mantle had won the triple crown in 1956 and finished the ’57 season with a .365 batting average, 34 home runs and 94 RBIs. Weiss sent him a contract with a $17,000 pay cut. Mantle asked why. Weiss pointed out that Mantle had failed to repeat as triple crown winner. Weiss was GM of the Yankees from 1948 until 1961. During that time, New York won ten AL Pennants and seven Fall Classics. His greatest move as GM was hiring Casey Stengel. His biggest failure and the stain on his otherwise brilliant career was his refusal to sign black ballplayers.
Weiss shares his birthday with this Yankee catcher, who he traded to the White Sox for Eddie Lopat in 1948 . This one-time Yankee slugging prospect and this former Yankee pitching prospect were also born on June 23rd.
The Yankees stopped making postseason play after the 1981 season because they did not have starting pitching that was good enough to beat some very good Toronto, Boston, Detroit and Milwaukee ball clubs. With a lineup that featured Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and Ricky Henderson in their prime, they would not have needed a rotation filled with Sandy Koufax’s to make at least a couple more postseason runs during the 14 straight seasons they failed to make the playoffs. Just a few more quality starters from that era would have done the trick; guys like Doug Drabek, Jose Rijo, Al Leiter, Bob Tewksbury and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Oh wait a minute. I forgot. All these guys were Yankees before the George Steinbrenner dominated front-office traded them away for players who would contribute next-to-nothing during their years in pinstripes.
Jim Deshaies was a huge left-hander from Massena, NY. He had played collegiate baseball at LeMoyne, a Division II school outside of Syracuse, NY where he teamed with another future big-league southpaw named Tom Browning to lead the Dolphins to two consecutive college World Series appearances. The Yankees drafted him in the 21st round of the 1982 amateur draft and over the next four seasons he put together a 38-21 record with 11 shutouts and a sub-three ERA as he ascended New York’s minor league ladder. Everybody who saw this kid pitch back then thought he’d be perfect for Yankee Stadium.
He made his big league debut there in 1984 and though he got shelled by the White Sox and took the loss (giving up 8 hits and 4 earned runs in 4 innings pitched) Deshaies did make history that afternoon. He became the 1,000th Yankee to appear in a big league ball game. Six days later, Yankee skipper Yogi Berra gave him his second start in Cleveland and Deshaies got shelled again. That would be his final appearance ever for New York. The following September he was traded to the Astros for knuckleballer Joe Niekro, who’s older brother Phil was also a Yankee at the time and was just about to win the 300th game of his career. Though the trade made it possible for Joe to be the first guy to congratulate his sibling for his landmark victory, the younger Niekro made little impact during his tenure as a Yankees, going just 14-15 before being traded to the Twins in June of 1987.
Meanwhile, Deshaies went 12-5 for the Astros in 1986 and would win a total of 49 games during his first four seasons in Houston. During his official rookie season he also set a record by striking out the first eight batters he faced in a game, the first time that had been done by a Major League pitcher in over 100 years. His best year was 1989, when he finished with a 15-10 record, a career low 2.91 ERA and 3 shutouts. By contrast, the 1989 Yankee starting rotation featured Andy Hawkins with his 15-15 record and four other journeymen who put together a cumulative won-loss mark of just 21-25.
That 1989 season turned out to be the last time DeShaies was able to produce a winning record. He pitched in the big leagues until 1995 and two years later he became a Houston Astro broadcaster, a job he still holds. He shares his birthday with another former Yankee prospect from the 1980s, this one-time Yankee starting catcher and this legendary Yankee GM.
|HOU (7 yrs)||61||59||.508||3.67||181||178||0||14||6||0||1102.0||960||479||449||113||423||731||1.255|
|MIN (2 yrs)||17||25||.405||5.71||52||52||0||1||0||0||297.2||329||194||189||54||105||158||1.458|
|SFG (1 yr)||2||2||.500||4.24||5||4||1||0||0||0||17.0||24||9||8||2||6||5||1.765|
|PHI (1 yr)||0||1||.000||20.25||2||2||0||0||0||0||5.1||15||12||12||3||1||6||3.000|
|SDP (1 yr)||4||7||.364||3.28||15||15||0||0||0||0||96.0||92||40||35||6||33||46||1.302|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||1||.000||11.57||2||2||0||0||0||0||7.0||14||9||9||1||7||5||3.000|
Yankee fans remember the 1980’s as a bleak period in franchise history. The decade started out with such promise, when Dick Howser led the 1980 team to a 100-win season. That good Karma reversed itself quickly however, as “the Boss” fired Howser for failing to beat the Royals in the 1980 ALCS and the team’s signing of Dave Winfield did not result in another decade full of World Championship banners flying over the House that Ruth built.
Instead, the Yankee PR machine once again began to tout the team’s prospects down on the farm as the elixir the Yankees needed to get back on top again. As much as we fans wanted to believe there was a pinstriped fountain of youth flowing in towns like Columbus, Nashville and Albany, the most promising harvests of the Yankee farm system were either busts at the big league level or were quickly traded away for veterans who would then perform ineffectively once they reached the Bronx.
Two such prospects with outstanding and alliterative nicknames framed the 1980’s for New York. The first was Steve “Bye-Bye” Balboni who was supposed to become the best slugging Yankee first baseman since Lou Gehrig. Instead he became a strikeout magnet and was traded to the Royals in 1984. Then at the end of the 80’s came “Bam-Bam,” today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Hensley Meulens was a bonafide home run hitter, who would indeed hit over 330 home runs as a professional ball player. Unfortunately for Bam Bam and Yankee fans, he hit about 315 of them while playing in the minors, Japan, Korea and Mexico and just a dozen during the four seasons the Yankees bounced him back and forth between the Bronx and Columbus.
Meulens did make history when he made his big league debut for New York on August 23, 1989. On that day he became the first native of Curacao to play Major League baseball. By then, Steve Balboni had completed his long tenure with the Royals and Mariners and was also back in pinstripes. So for a time, the Yankees had both Bye-Bye and Bam-Bam on their roster but the duo didn’t help them win-win anything.
|NYY (5 yrs)||159||505||457||60||101||16||2||12||46||4||38||149||.221||.290||.344||.633|
|ARI (1 yr)||7||15||15||1||1||0||0||1||1||0||0||6||.067||.067||.267||.333|
|MON (1 yr)||16||29||24||6||7||1||0||2||6||0||4||10||.292||.379||.583||.963|
Few big league catchers experienced as bad a case of poor career timing as Aaron Robinson did with the New York Yankees. First he had the misfortune of being the best Yankee catching prospect during the late thirties, when Hall of Famer Bill Dickey was still considered the best all-around receiver in the game. Dickey’s dominance was a big part of the reason why it took six years for Robinson to make his way through the Yankee farm system. Then by the time he got to put on the pinstripes, WWII was raging and Robinson played just one game for the parent club before he was called into military service.
Finally, after his discharge two seasons later, Robinson was gradually inserted into New York’s starting catcher’s position and in 1946, he hit .297 and smashed 16 home runs in his first full big league season. The following year, Robinson was named to the AL All Star team but by the end of that 1947 season, he was losing a lot of playing time to a young catcher named Yogi Berra. That October, he won his one and only World Series ring when the Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven games. By then, Robinson was 32 years old and the Yankee brass decided Berra was the better choice as catcher. They traded Robinson to the White Sox for Eddie Lopat.
It was truly a great trade for New York. Berra and Lopat were instrumental in helping New York win five straight world championships. After one season in the Windy City, Robinson was traded to the Tigers. He had a good first year with Detroit in 1949 but by the following season he pretty much stopped hitting. It was also during that 1950 season he made a fielding gaffe that might have cost Detroit the Pennant. They were battling the Yankees for first place and playing Cleveland in a late season game in the Motor City. Smoke from a huge Canadian forest fire had drifted across Lake Michigan and was creating a haze in Briggs Stadium that made it difficult for players to see. With the score tied and the bases loaded, Cleveland’s Luke Easter hit a groundball to Tiger first baseman Don Kolloway. Kolloway fielded it cleanly, stepped on first and threw to Robinson in plenty of time to get the Cleveland runner trying to score from third. But in the smoky haze, Robinson had not seen Kolloway tag first so when he caught his first baseman’s throw he simply stepped on home thinking it was a force play and did not tag the runner. That turned out to be the winning run and the Tigers never recovered from that defeat.
Robinson’s eight-year big league career ended in 1951 as a Red Sox. He hit .260 lifetime with 61 home runs. He died in 1966 at the very young age of 50.
|NYY (4 yrs)||233||859||743||74||211||34||8||29||124||0||109||89||.284||.377||.468||.845|
|DET (3 yrs)||253||868||696||78||170||25||0||22||102||0||165||65||.244||.390||.375||.765|
|BOS (1 yr)||26||91||74||9||15||1||1||2||7||0||17||10||.203||.352||.324||.676|
|CHW (1 yr)||98||373||326||47||82||14||2||8||39||0||46||30||.252||.344||.380||.724|