Originally the very first genuine “Amazin” Met, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant almost single-handedly turned Shea Stadium’s tenants from a running joke into a bonafide professional baseball team. Then, beginning in 1975, Met President M. Donald Grant committed three of the dumbest mistakes in Major League front office history.
First he enraged Tom Seaver by penny pinching him during the Mets last pre-free-agent era negotiation with their Ace in 1975. Then when baseball’s age of free agency began the following year, Grant refused to go after any of the newly available superstars who could have rejuvenated a Mets’ roster that had grown very mediocre.
Grants final error, the biggest of them all, was trading Seaver to the Reds in the first half of the 1977 regular season for four pretty ordinary big league players. Seaver would go on to win 20 games that year and the NL Cy Young Award. He would continue to pitch for another decade and on August 4, 1985, while pitching for the White Sox against the Yankees on Phil Rizzuto Day at Yankee Stadium, Tom Terrific won his 300th big league game.
The Yankee crowd that day adored Seaver and Yankee boss George Steinbrenner noticed. He would spend the next year trying to put the future Hall of Famer in pinstripes but could never quite reach an agreement with Chicago. At first, the Boss refused to give up any of his young stud pitchers for the aging right-hander and then it was Chicago GM Ken Harrelson’s turn to balk when Steinbrenner offered him disgruntled Yankee DH Don Baylor for Seaver.
So Seaver went to the Red Sox instead and finished his playing career in Beantown with a 5-7 record during the 1986 season. Two years later, Steinbrenner finally brought the Fresno, California native to Yankee Stadium as Phil Rizzuto’s broadcasting partner. He and the former Yankee shortstop remained a pair for the next five seasons and Yankee fans who were around to witness how extremely well these two Big Apple baseball legends got along in the booth, loved them.
In 1990, just as Steinbrenner was about to begin serving his “Howie Spira induced” lifetime ban from the game, the Boss was considering removing Seaver from the booth and making him the Yankees’ GM. That never happened. Seaver now spends his days overseeing his California vineyards. He turns 69 years old today and shares a birthday with this former Yankee reliever and this long-ago Yankee skipper.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant succeeded two Hall-of-Famers when he became the third manager in Yankee franchise history. John McGraw skippered the club during its first two seasons in existence while it was still located in Baltimore and known as the Orioles. “Little Napoleon” was followed by Clark Griffith, “the Old Fox,” who would later bring baseball to our Nation’s Capitol and join McGraw in Cooperstown. Unlike McGraw and Griffith, Gentleman George Stallings hardly played any Major League ball, getting just a couple of hits in 20 at bats in the Big Dance. He learned what he knew about the game while spending thirteen years toiling in the minors, at one time or another playing every position on the baseball field except the hot corner.
Stallings started managing in the minors in 1893 for a team located in his home town of Augusta, Georgia. He eventually took over as field boss of the Detroit Tigers, before that team became an AL franchise. He was then hired to manage the Philadelphia Phillies in 1898. He lost that job two months into his second season and then returned to Detroit where he remained skipper when the Tigers were admitted as a franchise in Ban Johnson’s newly formed American League. Johnson owned a large share of the Detroit ball club and when he suspected Stallings of conspiring to jump the team to the rival National League, he fired him as skipper.
Stallings then returned to manage in the minors and when no minor league team wanted him, he went back to farming in his native Georgia for a spell. He finally got another skipper’s job in Newark, NJ in 1908, so he was just across the river when the New York Highlanders finished the 1908 season, dead last in the AL and Clark Griffith threw his hands up and walked away from his job as the New York’s Manager. Highlander owner, Frank Farrell asked Stallings if he wanted the job and he accepted. He then led the team back to respectability in 1909 as they finished with a 74-79 record. It looked as if Gentleman George had found a home but the incorrigible and highly talented Yankee first baseman, Hal Chase, had other ideas.
Chase had become the regular New York Highlander first baseman in 1905 and remained in that position for a little more than eight seasons and over 1,000 games. “Prince Hal” was a smart and gifted athlete who immediately became a fan favorite in New York. It was Chase who first began the now accepted defensive strategy of charging the plate in likely sacrifice situations. He also pioneered the practice of moving into the outfield to receive and relay cut-off throws. In addition to being an excellent and innovative fielder, Chase was also a strong hitter and a great base runner. He had a .291 lifetime batting average and his 248 stolen bases made him the all-time Yankee base stealer until Willie Randolph and Ricky Henderson passed him seven decades later.
Chase, however, had one passion greater than his love for baseball and that was money. Perhaps, if he lived in today’s era of free agency and multi-million dollar contracts, his story and career would have had a different ending. But at the turn of the century, professional baseball players were not paid royally. As a result, many of them were forced to earn a living doing other things.
Before the 1908 season, Chase tried holding out on the Yankees, to force team management to pay him more money. Even though the tactic was successful, Chase still jumped to the outlawed California league and played for the San Jose franchise using a fake name. Caught in this charade, Chase was suspended by the Highlanders but his immense popularity with New York fans quickly got him reinstated.
It was at that point that George Stallings began to suspect Chase of throwing games. The skipper’s suspicions grew so strong during the 1910 season, he leveled the charges publicly. But Chase’s popularity on the field helped him earn enough support with Yankee owner Farrell and League President Ban Johnson to beat back Stallings’ charges and actually get the manager fired. Adding insult to injury, Chase got himself named to replace Stallings as the team’s field boss.
Although he didn’t realize it at the time, getting double-crossed by Chase and Farrell actually was a career blessing for the fired manager. Stallings went back to managing in the minors for the next two years and then was hired by the Boston Braves, who were one of the worst teams in the National League. That Braves team had finished in last place the previous four seasons in a row, so when Stallings got them to a fifth place finish in 1913, it was considered a minor miracle. But the real miracle took place the following season, when the Braves won the NL Pennant by 10.5 games and then shocked the mighty Philadelphia A’s by sweeping them in the 1914 World Series. It was certainly Stallings finest hour in the big leagues and he continued to manage the Braves through the 1920 season, but he never again led them to a Pennant.
|4||1909||New York Highlanders||74||77||.490||153||5|
|5||1910||New York Highlanders||1st of 2||78||59||.569||142||2|
|Philadelphia Phillies||2 years||74||104||.416||180||8.0|
|Detroit Tigers||1 year||74||61||.548||136||3.0|
|New York Highlanders||2 years||152||136||.528||295||3.5|
|Boston Braves||8 years||579||597||.492||1202||4.6||1 Pennant and 1 World Series Title|
|13 years||879||898||.495||1813||4.8||1 Pennant and 1 World Series Title|
The great Yankee teams of the late nineties won four World Series because of their bullpens. I’m not just referring to the closers on those teams either. Granted, there was nobody better at getting the last three outs than John Wetteland in 1996 and the great Mariano ever since, but those guys needed a lead to do their job and it was the great Yankee set-up relievers who made that possible. I’m talking about Rivera himself, when he setup for Wetteland, then Mike Stanton, Graeme Lloyd, Ramiro Mendoza and today’s birthday boy, Jeff Nelson. Born in Baltimore in 1966, there was no better right-handed setup man in baseball from 1996 through 2000, than this baby-faced, 6′ 8″ right-hander with a wicked curve. Yankee Manager, Joe Torre never hesitated to insert Nelson in tight ball games whenever an important out was needed with a tough right-handed hitter at the plate. Nelson pitched in 307 regular-season games during that span and almost fifty more during Yankee post season play. Nelson hated to lose and his smart-alecky personality could drive Torre crazy at times, but far more often than not, he got the out the Yankees needed to get at big moments in big games. During the last decade, we Yankee fans have come to realize how difficult it can be to find new Jeff Nelson’s to add to our bullpen. Nelson’s last year in the big leagues was 2006 with the White Sox.
|SEA (8 yrs)||24||23||.511||3.26||432||0||139||0||0||23||447.1||353||177||162||32||232||471||1.308|
|NYY (6 yrs)||23||19||.548||3.47||331||0||86||0||0||9||311.0||260||135||120||19||172||334||1.389|
|TEX (1 yr)||1||2||.333||5.32||29||0||9||0||0||1||23.2||17||16||14||3||19||22||1.521|
|CHW (1 yr)||0||1||.000||3.38||6||0||3||0||0||0||2.2||3||1||1||1||5||2||3.000|