As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I was far from thrilled with the November 1979 trade that sent Chris Chambliss to Toronto and brought Rick Cerone to New York to replace Thurman Munson as Yankee starting catcher. Besides being a huge Chambliss fan I was hoping Steinbrenner’s front office would go after Ted Simmons, the Cardinals switch-hitting receiver, to succeed Munson.
Cerone’s performance in 1980 helped me get over that disappointment pretty quickly. Even though his lifetime average at the time of the trade was just .229, Cerone hit .277 during his first year in pinstripes, caught 147 games, drove in 85 runs and led the league by throwing out 52% of the runners attempting to steal against him. He was a huge reason why that 1980 Yankee team won 103 regular season games and the AL East Division title. He was also one of the few Yankees who played well in the three game loss to the Royals in that season’s playoffs.
Like many players on many teams, Cerone’s Yankee fortunes began to turn sour during the strike shortened 1981 season. He hit just .244 and his run production per game was less than half of what it had been a season earlier. He gave up more steals as well and for the balance of his eighteen-year big league career, he would never again put up anything even close to the numbers he posted during that 1980 season. Cerone’s most widely publicized moment in pinstripes happened during the weirdly configured 1981 post-strike postseason, after the Yankees lost Game Four to fall into a two-two tie with the Brewers. George Steinbrenner came into the Yankee clubhouse after the game and started berating his players. Cerone screamed right back at the Boss, telling the owner his rants were of no value whatsoever to the team’s performance.Cerone was also not a fan of Yankee skipper Billy Martin and the feeling was definitely mutual.
The Yankees let him go a first time in a 1984 postseason trade with the Braves, for pitcher Brian Fisher. They signed him back as a free agent during the 1987 spring straining season. He was the starting catcher for manager Lou Piniella’s team that year and then caught a lot of games for the Red Sox in 1988 and ’89. New York picked him up a third time, in 1990 and Cerone had the first and only .300 batting average of his career that year, even though his season was comprised of just 149 plate appearances.
After he retired as a player, Cerone formed and owned the Newark Bears Minor League team in his New Jersey hometown. He sold the Bears in 2003.
|NYY (7 yrs)||587||2029||1842||188||459||81||7||31||203||2||122||210||.249||.297||.351||.648||80|
|TOR (3 yrs)||255||931||851||79||195||39||6||11||91||1||66||84||.229||.285||.328||.613||68|
|BOS (2 yrs)||186||630||560||59||143||29||2||7||75||0||54||72||.255||.323||.352||.675||86|
|CLE (2 yrs)||14||30||28||2||5||1||0||0||1||0||1||2||.179||.207||.214||.421||23|
|NYM (1 yr)||90||258||227||18||62||13||0||2||16||1||30||24||.273||.360||.357||.717||104|
|ATL (1 yr)||96||316||282||15||61||9||0||3||25||0||29||25||.216||.288||.280||.568||57|
|MON (1 yr)||33||68||63||10||17||4||0||1||7||1||3||5||.270||.313||.381||.694||96|
|MIL (1 yr)||68||242||216||22||56||14||0||4||18||1||15||28||.259||.304||.380||.683||83|
You’d have to be close to my age to remember a shortstop by the name of Freddie Patek, who started for the very good Kansas City Royal teams of the 1970s. Patek’s nickname was “the Flea” because he was tiny, just 5’5″ tall and also a real pest for Royal opponents to deal with. He had good speed, was a heck of a bunter and every time you looked up he was moving a runner into scoring position, beating out a slow grounder or stealing a base. Patek was the guy I thought about as I completed my research on today’s pretty obscure Pinstripe Birthday celebrant named Fritz Brickell. Like Patek, Brickell was a 5’5″ shortstop. But unlike Freddie, Fritzie never became a real pest for Yankee opponents at the big league level.
Brickell’s dad, also named Fred, had been a Major League outfielder back in the twenties who played against the Yankees in the 1927 World Series. In addition to being short, Brickell had the additional misfortune of being a middle infielder in a Yankee organization during the fifties that was loaded with great middle infielders. Nevertheless, when Fritzie took over for Tony Kubek as starting shortstop for the Yankee’s AAA team in Denver in 1957, he banged 170 hits and averaged .295. That performance convinced the Yankees he deserved some look-sees at the Major League level. The 1959 Yankee club was one of the most disappointing teams in the franchise’s history. They finished in third place in the AL that season with a 79-75 record. They were playing .500 baseball in June when Brickell was called up. Manager Casey Stengel played him in 18 games during the next six weeks and Fritz hit his one and only big league career home run off of Detroit’s Tom Morgan. Unfortunately, given his small strike zone, Brickell did not like to walk. Kubek’s job was safe.
The Yankees sent Fritz back down to Denver at the end of July. The next time he played in Yankee Stadium was 1961 and he was wearing the uniform of the Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees had traded him to LA in April of that year to reacquire Duke Maas. Maas had been a valuable member of the Yankee pitching staff during the previous three seasons but when New York left him unprotected in the AL Expansion Draft of 1960, the Angels snatched him. Brickell was the Angels’ first ever Opening Day starting shortstop but after 21 games he was hitting just .122 and was released. Four years later he was dead, a victim of cancer, at the age of 30.
Fritz was born in Wichita, Kansas on March 19, 1935. Only a small handful of Yankees were born in the home state of the Wizard of Oz. The three most notable are Johnny Damon (Ft. Riley) Ralph Houk (Lawrence) and Mike Torrez (Topeka.)
Brickell shares his birthday with this long-ago starting outfielder for the New York Highlanders.
|NYY (2 yrs)||20||41||39||4||10||1||0||1||4||0||1||10||.256||.275|
|LAA (1 yr)||21||55||49||3||6||0||0||0||3||0||6||9||.122||.218|
Some guys love playing under the brightest of lights. Eddie Lee Whitson definitely wasn’t one of those guys. The native of Johnson City, Tennessee had come up with the Pirates in 1977 and went 39-48 during his first seven seasons in the big leagues while pitching for four different teams. Then in 1984, the right-hander finally put it all together for the San Diego Padres, going 14-8 and helping the team capture the NL West Pennant and advance to the franchise’s first-ever World Series. I happened to be rooting for the Padres that year because the Yankee’s failed to make it to the postseason and ex-Yankees Graig Nettles, Goose Gossage and Bobby Brown all played for that San Diego team. The first time I ever saw Ed Whitson pitch was when he started the second game of that Fall Classic between the Padres and the Tigers. He got hit hard immediately, giving up five singles and three runs and was knocked out of the game in the first inning.
In any event, a few months later when I heard that the Yankees had signed the free agent Whitson to a four year deal, his disastrous start against the Tigers was the first thing that popped in my mind. History was about to repeat itself in the Bronx.
Whitson got off to a horrible start with New York and by the middle of May, his record was 1-6 and his ERA was over six. Yankee fans began booing him unmercifully and Whitson had a tough time dealing with their hostility. He refused to let his wife attend home games and at one point, the Yankees stopped starting him in games at Yankee Stadium. To make matters worse, George Steinbrenner had fired Yogi Berra in April of that season and brought back the mercurial Billy Martin as field boss. Martin immediately started picking on Whitson for his bad performances on the mound, often calling him gutless in front of his teammates. The bewildered pitcher would later tell people he hated every day he was a Yankee.
Somehow, Whitson began pitching much better and he had won nine of his previous ten decisions when Martin started him in a big game against Toronto in mid-September. At the time, New York was trailing the first-place Blue Jays by four-and-a-half games and couldn’t afford to give up any more ground. Whitson got shelled in the third inning as Toronto scored six runs in that frame to put the game away and also cause irreparable damage to the Yankees pennant hopes.
Billy Martin was so mad about the pitcher’s performance, he skipped over Whitson when his next scheduled start came up. That action enraged the pitcher and set the stage for one of the most famous bar fights in Billy Martin’s illustrious history. It happened after a Yankee game in Baltimore on September 22, 1985 in the cocktail lounge of the hotel at which the Yankees were staying. Martin was drinking heavily at the bar while Whitson was downing drinks just as quickly sitting at a table with friends. Reports of the incident indicate it was actually Whitson who started the altercation by getting into it with another customer in the lounge that evening. Martin was trying to act as a peace keeper when Whitson turned on his manager. Before it was over, Whitson had doubled Martin over with a kick to his crotch, broken Billy’s arm and cracked two of his skipper’s ribs.
It wasn’t until July of his second season in pinstripes that the Yankees finally granted Whitson’s desperate wish to get him out of New York. He was traded back to the Padres for reliever Tim Stoddard. He spent the final six of his fifteen big leagues seasons pitching for the Padres, retiring in 1991 with a lifetime record of 126-123 and an ERA of 3.79. During his season and a half with the Yankees he was 15-10 with an ERA of 5.38.
|SDP (8 yrs)||77||72||.517||3.69||227||208||4||22||6||1||1354.1||1314||596||555||148||350||767||1.229|
|SFG (3 yrs)||22||30||.423||3.56||74||73||1||10||3||0||435.0||450||196||172||22||142||217||1.361|
|PIT (3 yrs)||8||9||.471||3.73||67||9||19||0||0||5||147.1||130||73||61||11||82||105||1.439|
|NYY (2 yrs)||15||10||.600||5.38||44||34||6||2||2||0||195.2||255||137||117||24||66||116||1.641|
|CLE (1 yr)||4||2||.667||3.26||40||9||18||1||1||2||107.2||91||43||39||6||58||61||1.384|