Yankee fans are not known for their patience, especially with pitchers. We want strikes thrown, we want to hold leads and we want consistent performances game-to-game, season-to-season and especially in the postseason. Anything less than that and Yankee pitchers begin to see and hear Yankee fans express their dissatisfaction.
The team’s fans grow even more impatient when management touts young pitching prospects as ready-for-prime-time starting pitchers. That’s what happened to Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and also finally, today’s birthday boy, Phil Hughes. All three are now ex-Yankees and of the trio, it was Mr. Hughes who came closest to fulfilling the lofty expectations of New York’s front office and Yankee fans. But close only counts in horseshoes, not in the Bronx.
He originally showed us something in 2007, especially in the playoffs against Cleveland. He earned another reprieve after a very shaky start in 2008 and a rib injury that sidelined him for much of the year. Then in 2009, Hughes stepped up big when he was sent to the bullpen to become Mariano Rivera’s setup man. After a highly publicized spring training competition with Chamberlain for the 2010 fifth starter position, Hughes pitched as well as any starter in either league during the first half of 2010 season and made the All Star team. But even though he finished that year with an 18-8 record, he became a very ordinary pitcher in the second half and was once again ineffective in fall ball.
After failing to sign Cliff Lee and losing Andy Pettitte during the 2010 off season, the Yankees urgently needed Hughes to come out on fire in 2011. Instead, he was horrible. His confidence seemed to decrease in direct proportion to the lower and lower digital number readings on the radar gun aimed at Hughes’ fastballs. Finally, management put him on the DL and told us he had a dead arm. He did bounce back to win 16 games in 2012 and even pitched well in his first postseason start against Baltimore in that year’s ALCS. But in his next start against Detroit in Game 3 of the ALCS, Hughes complained of back stiffness in the third inning and he was taken out of the game.
Whatever the reason, physical, mental or mechanical, Hughes continued to be an enigma during what would be his final season as a Yankee in 2013 and actually regressed. He seemed to lose whatever ability he had to finish off good big league hitters on a consistent basis. Brian Cashman chose not to make him a qualifying offer after the season, afraid he’d accept the $14 million and make a bad situation in New York even worse and much more expensive. But “Hughesie” did land on his feet, signing a three-year $24 million deal to pitch for Minnesota. And through today’s date, the pitcher’s 28th birthday, the Twin Cities have proved very much to his liking. He’s currently 8-3 with his new team and I’m thrilled for him. He deserves the success.
|NYY (7 yrs)||56||50||.528||4.53||182||132||7||2||1||3||780.2||787||419||393||112||245||656||1.322|
|MIN (1 yr)||8||3||.727||3.40||15||15||0||1||0||0||95.1||99||37||36||7||9||82||1.133|
Every time I watch a Yankee Old Timers Day, it conjures up memories of the event from my 50 plus years as a Yankee fan. Back in 1970, the Yankees honored Casey Stengel by inviting him back to the Stadium for the 1970 Old Timers Day celebration, during which they surprised him by retiring his uniform number 37 during a pre-game ceremony. That was the Ol Perfessor’s first official visit to the House that Ruth built since New York had forced him to retire as Yankee skipper after the 1960 World Series. At the time, Casey was 80 years old and when asked to make some comments during the shin-dig about having his jersey retired he responded “I’m very impressed. I hope they bury me in it.”
The legendary field boss was not the oldest ex-Yankee in attendance on that hot August day in the Bronx. That honor belonged to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Doc Cook had just turned 84 earlier that same summer and though he was too old to play in that afternoon’s Old Timers game, photographers covering the event staged a photo-op of Cook standing in front of the Yankee dugout with bat in hand attempting to bunt. A much younger and more celebrated Yankee old-timer named Mickey Mantle was also included in the photo, wearing a catcher’s glove, on his knees behind Cook.
It was an appropriate pose for Cook, who was the speedy starting right fielder for the Yankees during both the 1914 and ’15 seasons. He led the Yankees in hits with 133 during the 1914 season and his .283 batting average was also tops on the club for players with enough at bats to be eligible for that year’s batting title. One problem Doc seemed to have was stealing second base. He tried the feat 58 times during the ’14 season and was thrown out 32 of those times, which was tops in the AL. Though he had another solid season at the plate for NY the following year, he lost his starting job in 1916 and the Yankees sold him to Oakland in the Pacific Coast League in May of 1916. He would never play another inning of big league ball.
Cook was born in Witt, Texas on June 24, 1886. His real name was Luther Almus. There were three Yankees nicknamed “Doc” (Adkins, Newton & Powers) before Cook came along and just four more (Farrell, Edwards, Medich & DOCk Ellis) since he was sold to Oakland almost a century ago. Cook died in 1973. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher who is not yet an old timer and this former Yankee All Star catcher who is.
Of the eight Yankee catchers who have made the AL All Star team, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant is perhaps the least recognized. That’s because he was actually the team’s second string catcher the year he was honored and it happened during WWII when America’s focus was more on the battles going on in Europe and the Pacific and not on baseball. Rollie Hemsley may not have been very well known as a Yankee, but prior to him wearing the pinstripes, the Syracuse, Ohio native had caught in the big leagues for thirteen seasons for five different big league ball clubs and made four other AL All Star teams. His best years were spent as the starting catcher for the Browns from 1934 through 1937. He hit a career-high .309 for St. Louis during the 1934 season and was better than adequate defensively, behind the plate.
The Yankees signed him in July of 1942, after he had been released by Cincinnati. New York needed an extra catcher because their starter, Bill Dickey had been injured. Hemsley ended up hitting .294 in the 31 games he appeared in for New York that season which got him an invite back the following year when he became Dickey’s primary backup. By 1944 Dickey was in military service and Hemsley pretty much shared the Yankee catching position with Mike Garbark. Though he was already 37 years-old at the time, Rollie thrived with the added playing time, hitting a solid .268 and earning his fifth and final All Star game nod.
During the 1945 spring training season, rookie catcher Aaron Robinson impressed the Yankee brass enough to feel they could sell Hemsley to the Phillies. Rollie was 40-years-old when he played his last game in the majors in 1947. He later became a big league coach for many years. He ended up catching in 1,482 big league games. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and this long-ago Yankee outfielder.
Here are the seven other Yankee catchers who have made the AL All Star team during their careers in pinstripes:
Here are Hemsley’s Yankee and career playing stats.
|SLB (5 yrs)||515||1932||1741||184||475||101||20||8||182||11||155||149||.273||.334||.368||.701|
|PIT (4 yrs)||252||789||727||93||192||37||16||2||101||5||40||56||.264||.302||.367||.670|
|CLE (4 yrs)||390||1415||1302||160||344||58||17||10||130||6||89||84||.264||.311||.358||.669|
|NYY (3 yrs)||174||590||549||47||144||21||9||4||65||1||27||31||.262||.297||.355||.652|
|PHI (2 yrs)||51||155||142||7||32||4||1||0||12||0||9||10||.225||.272||.268||.539|
|CIN (2 yrs)||85||241||231||16||35||9||2||0||14||0||10||19||.152||.187||.208||.395|
|CHC (2 yrs)||126||389||355||55||99||27||7||7||51||6||27||46||.279||.330||.454||.783|