The lucrative salaries paid in Major League Baseball nowadays continue to shock me. Those huge bucks have changed the way big leaguers play the game and live their lives. Even the most marginal players today have contracts sizable enough to permit them to not have to worry about working a second career, at least during their playing days. And with decent investment counseling and a much improved MLB pension plan, when these guys retire in their thirties, many can afford to kick back and relax their way through their forties and fifties too. Good for them. I just hope they tell their children and grandchildren the story about Marvin Miller some day.
When I was a kid, guys like Ray Barker, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had to scrape to make a living on what they were paid to play the game. Barker, who had grown up a Yankee fan, had been originally signed by the Orioles in 1955 when he was a 19-year-old kid and given a $1,000 bonus. The son of a West Virginia stone quarry worker, that was more money than his family had ever seen.
He then spent the next ten years of his life trying to get to the big leagues and trying to take care of his growing family on the few thousand dollars he would earn playing both minor league and winter baseball. His wife and children lived in a trailer park back in West Virginia and when Barker’s dad was killed while riding his motorcycle, his Mom moved in with them.
After brief big league appearances with the Orioles and Indians, Cleveland traded this left-hand-hitting first baseman to the Yankees for infielder Pedro Gonzalez, in May of 1965. The defending AL Pennant winners were a mess that year under new skipper, Johnny Keane. In addition to rebelling at Keane’s strict disciplinarian management style, injuries began crippling the veteran Yankee lineup. Both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were out for extended periods, forcing Keane to play his starting first baseman, Joe Pepitone in the outfield. That Yankee misfortune was the piece of good luck Barker needed to finally get an extended stay on a big league roster.
His debut season in the Bronx wasn’t spectacular but it was steady and in 1965, steady was good enough for the Yankee front office. In addition to tying a big league record that season by hitting two consecutive pinch-hit home runs, Barker’s 7 total round-trippers and 31 RBIs in 98 games got him invited back for a second season. He returned to West Virginia, bought a home and moved his brood out of that trailer park.
Unfortunately, the Yankees got even worse in 1966, finishing in last place and Barker got worse too. He pretty much stopped hitting, which meant he pretty much stopped getting chances to hit. During most any other season in Yankee history, Barker’s .187 batting average would have got him banished forever but not in 1966.
Ralph Houk brought Barker back to spring training in 1967 as a Mickey Mantle insurance policy. The Yankees had become convinced that in order to extend the switch-hitting legend’s career, they needed to get him out of the outfield and start him at first base. That meant they also had to commit to playing Joe Pepitone in the outfield full-time. Houk needed somebody to serve as a late-inning defensive replacement for Mantle at first. The organization’s bonus-baby heir to that position was Mike Hegan, who was doing Army reserve duty until May of that ’67 season. That gave Barker just a small window of time to impress Houk enough to keep him on the 25-man roster and get Hegan sent back down to the minors.
Barker couldn’t get it done. In the 17 games he appeared during the first part of that ’67 season, he hit an atrocious .077. During that trying period of his career, Barker was interviewed by long-time New York Times’ sports journalist Robert Lipsyte. He explained to Lipsyte that he needed to get hot at the plate in order to stick with the Yankees but he needed more at bats to get in an offensive groove but he would only get those at bats if he could get hot. It was the age-old Catch-22 lament of big-league utility players.
During that interview, Barker said his goal was to get five seasons of service as a Major League player so that he could qualify for the pension plan. If he could make that milestone, Barker would start receiving a retirement benefit of $250 per month when he reached the age of 50. Barker didn’t make that five-year milestone but hopefully, he’s not missing that $250 check every month.
|NYY (3 yrs)||176||342||306||34||68||16||0||10||44||1||27||71||.222||.289||.373||.662|
|CLE (1 yr)||11||8||6||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||2||.000||.250||.000||.250|
|BAL (1 yr)||5||6||6||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3||.000||.000||.000||.000|
When Oklahoma-born Johnny Callison made his big league debut with the White Sox in 1958, he was being favorably compared to another native Oklahoman who at the time had already won two MVP awards playing center field for the Yankees. Callison could run, hit for average and power plus field and throw. The White Sox back then were loaded with pitching but desperate for some power hitters so after just two years in the minors and that cup-of-coffee preview the season before, Chicago made the twenty year-old Callison their 1959 Opening Day left-fielder. He fell flat on his face. When he was sent back to Indianapolis that June, his batting average was just .163 and his confidence was shattered.
Chicago went on to win the ’59 AL Pennant and then continued their quest for more power by trading for Roy Sievers and sending Callison to the Phillies for third baseman Gene Freese, who had just hit a career high 23 home runs. The Phillies had something that would be very good for Callison’s evolution into a great big league player and also something that would hinder it. The something good was manager Gene Mauch, who would become the young player’s mentor and biggest fan. He handled his new outfielder’s fragile ego pretty close to perfectly and by the third year of their relationship, Callison was an NL All Star. He hit .300 in 1962 and put together two straight 30-HR, 100-RBI seasons in 1964 and ’65.
He would hit 195 home runs during his ten seasons as a Phillie but he would have hit a heck of a lot more if it wasn’t for the that one thing in Philadelphia that proved detrimental to Callison’s power legacy, a 34 foot high wall in right field of Connie Mack Stadium. That wall converted many of Callison’s hardest hit balls from home runs in any other park to just triples and doubles in the City of brotherly love.
In 1966, Callison’s offensive stats began declining. Still one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, he would never again hit 20 home runs in a regular season or drive in even 70 runs. No one could explain why his hitting skills deserted him but by 1969, with Gene Mauch no longer the team’s skipper, the Phillies traded him to the Cubs for Oscar Gamble and pitcher Dick Selma. Though he played decently in Chicago for two seasons, Callison didn’t get along with Cubs’ skipper Leo Durocher and was not at all upset to be traded to the Yankees in January of 1972.
Now 33-years old, the three-time all star loved playing for Ralph Houk, who’s managing style reminded him of Gene Mauch’s. Callison started in right field for much of his first season in pinstripes, averaging .258 in 92 games of action, with 9 home runs but just 34 RBIs. He was hitting just .176 during his second season with New York, when he was given his outright release in August of 1973.
He sold cars and tended bar in his post baseball career and experienced a lot of health problems. He died from cancer in 2006 at the age of 67. This former NL Rookie of the Year, this other former NL Rookie of the Year, this former Yankee back-up first baseman and this one-time Yankee center-fielder were all also born on march 12th.
|PHI (10 yrs)||1432||5930||5306||774||1438||265||84||185||666||60||513||854||.271||.338||.457||.795|
|CHC (2 yrs)||250||876||767||92||187||35||3||27||106||9||96||118||.244||.329||.403||.732|
|NYY (2 yrs)||137||442||411||38||95||14||0||10||44||4||22||58||.231||.266||.338||.604|
|CHW (2 yrs)||67||189||168||22||37||7||2||4||24||1||19||34||.220||.302||.357||.659|
The day before Thurman Munson died on August 2, 1979, the Yankees had traded Mickey Rivers to Texas for Oscar Gamble. Then, during the 1979 offseason they went searching for a new catcher and a new center fielder. They didn’t waste much time, taking care of both needs on the same day. On November 1, 1979 New York traded for Toronto’s Rick Cerone to take Munson’s place behind the plate and they sent four players to the Mariners for Seattle’s starting center fielder, Ruppert Jones. “Rupe” was 25 years old at the time of that trade and had been in the big leagues since 1976. He was originally drafted by the Royals and later selected by Seattle in the 1976 expansion draft.
He made the All Star team during his rookie season of 1977, hitting 24 home runs. After getting hurt the following year and slumping badly at the plate, Jones had rebounded in 1979, hitting 21 dingers, scoring 109 runs and stealing 33 bases. It turned out to be the best season of his 12-year career, which explains why New York had to send Seattle four players including Jim Beattie, one of the team’s top pitching prospects at the time. I remember not being thrilled with either deal. The Yanks had to give up Chris Chambliss to get the weak-hitting Cerone and although the New York sports media had nice things to say about Jones, starting in center field in Seattle was a lot different than starting in center field in Yankee Stadium. The guy was a left-handed hitter with lots of pop so I was hoping he’d develop into a classic Yankee Stadium power broker but he never really got the chance.
Dick Howser was the Yankees new Manager in 1980 and he ended up doing a masterful job with that team. Cerone helped him by having a career year but Jones was a disaster in pinstripes. He was hurt much of the season and when he could play, he hit just .223. By the end of the year, Howser had made switch-hitting Bobby Brown his starter in center and Jones was left off the postseason roster.
Howser was infamously let go by George Steinbrenner after the Yankees lost the 1980 ALDS to the Royals. It was a chaotic Yankee front office that then traded Jones to San Diego for Padres center-fielder Jerry Mumphrey on the final day of New York’s 1981 spring training season.
Jones was actually a solid big league player, who played well for Seattle and San Diego but could not get it going as a Yankee. He retired after the 1987 season with 1,103 big league hits, 147 career home runs and a .250 lifetime batting average.
|SDP (3 yrs)||354||1316||1156||164||297||66||6||28||149||36||140||214||.257||.335||.397||.732|
|CAL (3 yrs)||336||1140||974||164||227||46||7||46||144||19||141||207||.233||.330||.436||.767|
|SEA (3 yrs)||451||1921||1691||242||434||79||20||51||200||68||195||283||.257||.333||.418||.750|
|KCR (1 yr)||28||54||51||9||11||1||1||1||7||0||3||16||.216||.259||.333||.593|
|NYY (1 yr)||83||373||328||38||73||11||3||9||42||18||34||50||.223||.299||.357||.656|
|DET (1 yr)||79||237||215||26||61||12||1||12||37||2||21||47||.284||.346||.516||.862|
The “Straw Man” was an immensely talented power hitter who became a valuable contributor to the 1998 Yankee team, which I consider one of the greatest squads in Major League Baseball history. He also struggled throughout his career to control a well-documented substance abuse problem.
He was an important part of the 1996 Yankee World Championship team, hitting 11 home runs in 63 games and driving in 36 as a part-time DH and outfielder during the regular season. He then belted three home runs and averaged .417 against Baltimore in that year’s ALCS, perhaps Darryl’s finest moment in pinstripes. He made another solid contribution to New York’s great 1998 squad, playing in 101 games and hitting 24 home runs. But then Darryl’s demons and a bout with cancer ended his career.
Darryl will be most remembered as one of the all-time great Mets. He hit 252 home runs during his eight years at Shea and drove in 733. He was a classic slugger with a trademark swing who could have made the Hall of Fame but instead, ended up in jail when his playing days were over. I saw Darryl do a Center Stage show with Michael Kay a year ago and he sounds as if he has his life in order. I certainly hope so and I also wish him a happy 49th birthday.
Darryl was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1983. This 1994 NL Rookie of the Year was also a slugging outfielder who joined the Yankees late in his career and who also celebrates his birthday on May 12th as does this one-time Yankee center-fielder, this one-time Yankee first-baseman and this former NL All Star outfielder too.
|NYM (8 yrs)||1109||4549||3903||662||1025||187||30||252||733||191||580||960||.263||.359||.520||.878|
|NYY (5 yrs)||231||779||662||105||169||34||3||41||114||16||107||192||.255||.362||.502||.864|
|LAD (3 yrs)||214||885||761||118||185||32||4||38||136||14||110||178||.243||.340||.445||.786|
|SFG (1 yr)||29||113||92||13||22||3||1||4||17||0||19||22||.239||.363||.424||.787|