Tagged: may 7

May 7 – Happy Birthday Tom Zachary

TomZachary.jpgThis guy will forever be best known as the pitcher who gave up Babe Ruth’s sixtieth home run during the 1927 season. That happened when Zachary was wearing the uniform of the Washington Senators. The left-hander had been originally signed by Washington but had made his big league debut in 1919 as a member of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s pitching staff. The Senators got him back in a trade the following year and Zachary evolved into one of the AL’s upper tier southpaws, winning in double digits for six straight seasons. His best year had been 1924, when his 15-9 record helped the Senators win the Pennant. He then beat the Giants twice in that season’s World Series.

In August of 1928, the Yankees picked him up off waivers. He went 3-3 during the rest of that season. Yankee skipper, Miller Huggins, most likely remembering Zachary’s 1924 postseason success, got a hunch to start him against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the 1928 World Series. That hunch paid off when the Graham, NC native responded with a complete game victory.

In 1929, Zachary went a perfect 12-0, but that performance was overshadowed by the tragic death of Huggins and the Yankee’s failure to defend their AL Pennant. After getting off to a slow start during the 1930 season, the Yankees placed the then-34-year-old pitcher on waivers and  he was picked up by the Braves. He ended up pitching six more years of big league baseball, retiring after the 1936 season with a 186-191 lifetime record.

Also born on this date was this former Yankee outfielder and this almost Yankee manager.

1928 NYY 3 3 .500 3.94 7 6 1 3 0 1 45.2 54 26 20 0 15 7 0 1.511
1929 NYY 12 0 1.000 2.48 26 11 9 7 2 2 119.2 131 43 33 5 30 35 2 1.345
1930 NYY 1 1 .500 6.48 3 3 0 0 0 0 16.2 18 16 12 0 9 1 0 1.620
19 Yrs 186 191 .493 3.73 533 408 84 186 24 22 3126.1 3580 1551 1295 118 914 720 41 1.437
WSH (9 yrs) 96 103 .482 3.78 273 210 45 93 10 8 1589.0 1822 803 668 54 460 327 26 1.436
BSN (5 yrs) 42 42 .500 3.48 120 98 11 46 8 4 741.1 827 333 287 24 201 214 3 1.387
BRO (3 yrs) 12 18 .400 3.98 48 33 12 13 1 6 260.0 317 131 115 15 57 61 4 1.438
NYY (3 yrs) 16 4 .800 3.21 36 20 10 10 2 3 182.0 203 85 65 5 54 43 2 1.412
SLB (2 yrs) 18 21 .462 3.79 47 43 4 24 3 0 325.2 374 174 137 18 124 66 6 1.529
PHI (1 yr) 0 3 .000 7.97 7 2 2 0 0 1 20.1 28 20 18 2 11 8 0 1.918
PHA (1 yr) 2 0 1.000 5.63 2 2 0 0 0 0 8.0 9 5 5 0 7 1 0 2.000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/7/2013.

May 7 – Happy Birthday Steve Whitaker

The 1966 Yankee spring training camp was the first one in my lifetime in which anxiety about the upcoming season competed with confidence in the minds of most Bronx Bomber fans, myself included. The team’s outfield situation was a perfect example. Mickey Mantle had just experienced the worst season of his illustrious career in 1965 and Roger Maris had spent most of that same year on the DL. Tom Tresh had been about the only offensive bright spot in that ’65 lineup and it would again be him and the M&M Boys who would be penciled in to start in manager Johnny Keane’s second Yankee Opening Day outfield.

With the Mick’s crippled knees and Maris’s chronically sore wrist, Keane’s choices for reserve outfielders on that ’65 roster were especially important. Long-time Yankee Hector Lopez was pretty much guaranteed one of those three spots. Four other players were in that 1966 camp to compete for the other two. One was the recently acquired Red Sox veteran Lou Clinton and the other three were the Yankee’s top prospects at the time, Roy White, Roger Repoz and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.

Steve Whitaker, a 22-year-old left-hand-hitting slugger from Tacoma, Washington had been in the Yankee farm system since 1962. He had hit 27 homers for Greensboro in 1964 but he had two big chinks in his resume. In order to hit a home run, your bat has to make contact with the ball and Whitaker’s bat did not do that very often. Compounding the youngster’s propensity to strike out was an explosive temper that just happened to peak whenever the kid struck out. So after an exhibition-season filled with slammed down batting helmets, knocked over water coolers and punched walls, the Yankee brain trust thought it best to send Whitaker back down to the farm for more “seasoning.”

By August of that ’66 season, however, everything had changed. By then it had become clear to everyone that the Yankee team  that had won that decade’s first five AL Pennants was no more. After a horrible start, Houk had replaced Keane as skipper and Whitaker had hit 25 more minor league home runs. The Yankees brought him up that August and told the kid he was a huge part of their future.

Houk threw him into the fire and Whitaker responded pretty well, belting 7 home runs in just 31 games. But his temper hadn’t improved, he still struck out too much and the Yankees still finished in the basement of the AL’s 1966 standings. But I do remember thinking the guy was good enough to help make my Yankee’s winners again and Ralph Houk agreed with me. He started Whitaker in the Yank’s 1967 outfield pretty much the whole season. When that year was over, New York was in ninth place and Houk had seen enough of his young outfielder to decide that he was not the future of the franchise. The Yankees left him unprotected in the 1968 AL expansion draft and he was the 23rd pick of the new Kansas City Royals team. Before he ever played a game for the Royals, KC traded him to Seattle for Lou Piniella. After a year with the Pilots and one more with the Giants, Whitaker’s big league career was over. He and his son, who was also a prospect in the Cleveland Indians’ organization, now operate Whitaker Realty in southern Florida.

Also born on this date was this former Yankee pitcher who’s most famous pitch in Yankee Stadium took place while he was wearing an opposing team’s uniform. Still another May 7th pinstripe birthday belongs to the first guy George Steinbrenner ever hired to manage the Yankees.

1966 23 NYY AL 31 124 114 15 28 3 2 7 15 0 9 24 .246 .306 .491 .798
1967 24 NYY AL 122 472 441 37 107 12 3 11 50 2 23 89 .243 .283 .358 .641
1968 25 NYY AL 28 68 60 3 7 2 0 0 3 0 8 18 .117 .221 .150 .371
5 Yrs 266 824 758 73 174 20 6 24 85 4 54 174 .230 .283 .367 .650
NYY (3 yrs) 181 664 615 55 142 17 5 18 68 2 40 131 .231 .281 .363 .644
SFG (1 yr) 16 30 27 3 3 1 0 0 4 0 2 14 .111 .167 .148 .315
SEP (1 yr) 69 130 116 15 29 2 1 6 13 2 12 29 .250 .323 .440 .763
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/7/2013.

May 7 – Happy Birthday Dick Williams

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was actually George Steinbrenner’s first managerial hiring as the owner of the New York Yankees. There would be many many more such hirings, each of them controversial and this very first one served as a sign of things to come. When Steinbrenner took over the team, he inherited long-time Yankee skipper (and one-time GM) Ralph Houk as his team’s field boss. Nicknamed the “Major,” Houk had come home from WW II with a Bronze and Silver Star and began his Yankee career as one of the team’s back-up catchers. When his playing days ended, he became a highly successful minor league manager in the organization, then a coach for Casey Stengel and then Stengel’s successor as Yankee Manager in 1961. He won two straight World Series in his first two years managing New York and led them to three straight AL Pennants before accepting the GM job. It was as Yankee GM that Houk first encountered failure. He presided over the dismantling of the Yankee dynasty in the mid sixties and it seemed almost as if he was being punished for that failure, when he fired Johnny Keane in 1966 and took back his old job.

Back then, the Yankees were owned by CBS, who seemed to ignore all aspects of the team’s operation and let the franchise run itself. That’s how George Steinbrenner, a shipbuilder’s son from Cleveland was able to pretty much steal the franchise from the huge entertainment company for practically nothing. But unlike CBS, Steinbrenner was a hands on owner. Actually, he proved to be more like a vise grips owner and Houk hated the change in his work environment. The “Major” who had led men on the battlefield’s of WWII was now being ordered by the “Boss” with a silver spoon in his mouth to tell his Yankee players when they had to shave and when it was time for a haircut.

While all this had been happening in New York, Dick Williams also had his hands full working for his own controversial hands-on team owner. Williams had began his playing career as an outfielder in the Brooklyn Dodger organization. An injury to his throwing shoulder early in his career sapped the strength in his throwing arm and forced Williams to become an infielder. The Brooklyn Dodger infield of the early fifties was loaded with All Stars so Williams sat the bench but instead of wasting his time there, he learned how managers made decisions and he learned how to become one of baseball’s great bench jockeys. His big league career as a utility infielder would last for 13 seasons and when it ended in 1964, he took a job as manager in the Boston Red Sox farm system. His big break came when he skippered the 1967 Red Sox to their Impossible Dream Pennant.

During his three seasons in Beantown, Williams developed a reputation as a tough, no nonsense manager who was not afraid to discipline his players in private or in public. That caught the attention of A’s owner, Charlie Finley. Finley had been assembling a roster full of marvelous young players over in Oakland and he knew Williams would be the perfect choice to manage them. Williams became the A’s field boss in 1971 led them to three straight pennants and World Championships in both 1972 and ’73. But it was during the 1973 World Series that Williams long-time resentment of Finley’s meddling ways came to a head. When Oakland second baseman, Mike Andrews made two errors on back-to-back plays in the 12th inning of Game 2 against the Mets, Finley forced the infielder onto the DL. When Williams defended Andrews and resigned as A’s Manager immediately after winning that series with a Year remaining on his contract, the sports world praised him for giving up a World Series winning team on a matter of principle. As Williams would later admit, he was angry but not foolish.

It seems that a month before the Series began, Steinbrenner had ordered his Yankee front office to approach Williams with an offer to manage the Yankees. George had already decided that Ralph Houk had to go and when Houk obliged him by tendering his resignation as manager at the end of the 1973 season, the Yankee owner was ecstatic. Back then as now, making offers to players and managers already under contract to another team is considered tampering and not permitted by any professional sports league. Steinbrenner knew that but as the Boss would later prove many times, he felt rules were simply obstacles that needed to be overcome and not necessarily followed. So when Williams requested that Finley release him from the final year of his contract so he could become the Yankee manager, the thrifty millionaire insurance magnate refused. That didn’t stop Steinbrenner from hiring Williams any way, even holding a Yankee Stadium press conference to introduce him as the new Yankee skipper. The case went to the baseball commissioner’s office. Finley was demanding the Yankees give him Otto Velez, New York’s best hitting prospect and Scott MacGregor, their best pitching prospect as compensation for Williams. Steinbrenner countered with a list of lesser prospects but Bowie Kuhn ruled the Yankee signing had violated the rules and declared it null and void.

That’s how George Steinbrenner was forced to replace the first Yankee manager he ever hired before the guy got to manage a single game and that’s why Bill Virdon managed the Yankees in 1974. Finley would let Williams accept an offer to manage the California Angels in June of that 1974 season. Williams would manage in (and lose) one more World Series with San Diego in 1984. He got  elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008. He passed away on July 7, 2011.

Two other Yankees, a pitcher and an outfielder, who unlike Williams did get a chance to wear the pinstripes, were also born on May 7th.