The hype surrounding Masahiro Tanaka’s migration from a pitching God in the Japan Pacific League to a first year Yankee phee-nom was as intense as any New York free agent signing since Reggie Jackson. Just 24 years-old, coming off a perfect 24-0 regular season in his native country, the Yankees made it clear they were not going to be outbid for the right-hander’s services and they made sure they weren’t.
They gave this kid $155 million and from April to July, his performance on the mound made it seem as if he was underpaid. In his first twenty starts, he never gave up more than three earned runs and his record on July 4th of the 2014 season was 12-3 with a 2.27 ERA.
That’s when the injury jinx permeating the Yankee roster since the 2012 postseason hit Tanaka. On July 9th he went on the disabled list with soreness in his right elbow. Doctors discovered a slight tearing in the ligament of that joint. I admit I was shocked when New York’s front office announced the decision not to surgically repair the tear and even more shocked when they told the media they intended to put Tanaka back in the rotation after resting him for six weeks. As Joe Girardi’s crippled team slowly dropped out of AL East title contention and eventually from a shot at a Wild Card spot, I was one of many who figured the plan for Tanaka would change and he would be shelved for the entire season. We were all wrong.
Per their original rehab blueprint, New York started their young ace in a September 21st contest versus Toronto and you could just about hear the collective sigh of relief emanating from Yankee universe, when Tanaka pitched six strong innings and got the win. If his season ended there and then, I’d be supremely confident going into 2015 spring training that this young man would be ready to again dominate opponents in his second big league season. But six days after his return against Toronto, he was given another start against Boston and he got absolutely shelled, giving up 7 runs and only getting five hitters out before Girardi mercifully removed him from the game. It was a disappointing end to a brilliant season that had begun with so much promise.
His full name was Robert Hamilton Hyatt. Fred Leib, one of a small group of widely read sportswriters who helped give early 20th century New York City baseball its amazing color, described today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant as “one of the game’s greatest pinch-hitters.” If Leib wrote it, it must have been true.
Ham Hamilton was the first player in baseball history to amass 50 pinch-hits during his career. The native of North Carolina made his big league debut with the 1909 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates and instantly exhibited a penchant for coming off the bench in key situations and delivering big hits. He averaged .299 that year and in the process he impressed Fred Clarke enough with his stick work that the Pittsburgh manager tried to make him the team’s starting first baseman the following season. That experiment failed because in addition to being a poor defensive player, Hyatt just didn’t seem to hit as well when he got more than one chance per game to do so.
Probably because the Pirates didn’t think they could afford the luxury of carrying a full-time pinch-hitter, Hyatt went back to the minors in 1911. He would reappear in Pittsburgh the following season however and remained with the team as their primary pinch-hitter for the next three years. When his average took a precipitous dip to just .215 in 1915, the Pirates put him on waivers and he was claimed by the Cardinals. It was in St. Louis that Hyatt met future Yankee manager Miller Huggins, who was the starting second baseman on that 1915 St. Louis team. The two men became good friends.
Three years later, Huggins was in his first season as manager for New York and with World War I causing a shortage of ballplayers, Hug needed a left handed bat for his bench. At the time, Hyatt’s contract was owned by the Boston Braves but he was playing for a minor league team in the Southern Association and leading that league in home runs. When the Yankees were able to purchase his contract from the Braves in June of that 1918 season, the one-time Cardinal teammates were reunited. Huggins gave his old buddy plenty of playing time but Ham was 33-years-old by then and could only manage a .229 batting average during his first season in New York. There would be no second season. Hyatt would end up playing in the Pacific Coast League until 1923, finally retiring for good at the age of 38.
Ham Hyatt shares his birthday with another WWI era Yankee.
|PIT (5 yrs)||306||540||499||51||138||20||14||6||90||7||27||55||.277||.323||.409||.732|
|STL (1 yr)||106||330||295||23||79||8||9||2||46||3||28||24||.268||.337||.376||.714|
|NYY (1 yr)||53||142||131||11||30||8||0||2||10||1||8||8||.229||.273||.336||.609|
Born in Chicago on November 1, 1893 to a well-to-do family, Burr became a pitching star at Williams College. At the time, the elite Massachusetts school employed the services of a trainer for their athletic teams by the name of Charles “Doc” Barrett. Barrett was also the trainer of the New York Yankees which helps explain why several of Williams’ best ballplayers back in that era ended up signing with the Yankee organization. Burr was a big hard-throwing right-handed pitcher who struggled with his control. He pitched well enough, however, during the Yankees’ 1914 spring training camp that he convinced then New York Manager, Frank Chance to bring the kid north to start the regular season. As it turned out, Burr got into just one regular season game with the Yankees and it wasn’t even as a pitcher. Chance inserted him as a pinch runner in the late innings of an April 1914 game against the Senators and was then forced to put his young pitcher in center field the next inning.
The following month the Yankees sold Burr to the Eastern League franchise in New London, CT. At first, Burr was determined to pitch his way back to the big leagues but instead, it appears as if he decided to go back to school. When America entered World War I, Burr enlisted in officer’s training school and was sent to France to attend flying school. It was while training to be a war pilot in October of 1918, that his plane collided with another being flown by a fellow student flier and both men were killed. Less than one month after the fatal accident, the War was over. Burr was one of five Major League players to lose their lives in WWI and he is the only member of the Yankee All-Time roster to have made the supreme sacrifice.
Burr shared a birthday with a former Yankee who was called one of the Game’s first great pinch hitters.