Before Derek Jeter came along and reserved a spot on the wall of Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park for his pinstriped jersey, the most famous number “2” in Yankee history had been a red-headed graduate of Dartmouth named Robert Abial Rolfe. Though hair-color earned him the workingman’s nickname he made famous, Rolfe was an Ivy League gentleman. An article in “Baseball Digest” once referred to him as “the best-educated, best dressed, politest Bronx Bomber of the thirties.”
Those Joe McCarthy-led Yankee teams put up some incredible offensive numbers during their pre-WWII era of success and it was their great third baseman Rolfe, batting second, who would help light the fuse for the team’s explosive lineup. Here’s some examples: In the three-season period from 1937-to-1939, Rolfe scored a total of 414 runs. In 1937, Rolfe scored the incredible total of 143 runs and didn’t even lead the team in scoring that year because Joe DiMaggio scored 151. In 1938, five different Yankees scored at least 109 runs. The 1939 Yankee team lost Lou Gehrig to ALS disease yet seven members of their starting lineup scored at least 87 runs that year and the team won 106 regular season games and then swept the Reds four straight in the World Series. During Rolfe’s decade-long Yankee career, he averaged 130 runs scored for every 162 games he played.
Rolfe was one of Manager Joe McCarthy’s all-time favorite players because he worked so hard and so smart at getting better and gaining every possible advantage over an opponent on the field. It was Rolfe who was one of the first players in baseball to keep a “book” on opposing hitters that he would use to change his fielding position at the hot corner, based on who was in the batters box. His book on opposing pitchers was just as detailed. He knew and could tell his Yankee teammates what pitch to expect in a pressure situation from every pitcher in the league. He did not ignore opposing fielders either. He would make notes how an outfielder fielded line drives and if they had a tendency to drop to their knee or back up on the ball, you could be sure the next time Rolfe hit one of his patented line drives at them he’d end up sliding safely into second. It may have been because Rolfe did so much thinking as a player he never found time to just relax and enjoy the game he played so well. He developed painful ulcers which were the primary reason he retired at the young age of 33 after New York lost the 1942 World Series to the Cardinals.
Rolfe got back into the big leagues as a Manager with the Tigers in 1949 and led Detroit to a 95-win season the following year, just three games behind the AL Pennant-winning 1950 Yankees. At the time, he attributed his success to cracking the whip on a bunch of Detroit players who he claimed had grown complacent. By 1952, many of those same players turned on Rolfe, claiming he was impossible to satisfy and the Tigers fired him. Born on October 17, 1908 in Penacook, NH, Rolfe returned to Dartmouth as athletic director. He died in 1969. Dartmouth’s baseball stadium is named after him.
Today is Danny Pasqua’s 52nd birthday. The native of Yonkers joined the Yankees at the end of May in 1985 after tearing up Minor League pitching at both Nashville and Columbus. He spent the next two-and-a-half seasons teasing Bomber fans with with his power. He was a streaky hitter and back in the eighties, if you were a young Yankee prospect who went into a slump, you’d be sent back down to the minors to hit your way out of it. Pasqua made return trips to the Clippers in each of his three seasons in pinstripes and in November of 1987, the impatient Yankee front office traded him to the White Sox for starting pitcher Rich Dotson. He was a left handed hitter who couldn’t hit lefties. Of his 117 career home runs, only 11 were served up by left-handers and Pasqua’s career average against southpaws was below .200. That weakness forced him into a platoon role with both New York and Chicago. He played for Chicago from 1988 until 1994, his final big league season. He hit 117 home runs during his decade-long career, including the 42 he hit during his 275 games (two-plus seasons) in pinstripes.
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|NYY (3 yrs)||275||860||746||103||187||27||2||42||112||2||103||215||.251||.344||.461||.805|
A New York Times article from November of 1989, cited a series of letters written by today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant that helped him secure the New York Yankee General Manager’s job that October. The letters were addressed to team owner George Steinbrenner and in them, Harding “Pete” Peterson had stressed that in order to be successful, a big league organization had to have front office job stability. Those letters may have helped Peterson get the position he wanted but they certainly did nothing to stabilize Steinbrenner’s front office.
Peterson is a New Jersey native who had grown up rooting for the Yankees and was a good enough ballplayer to play for Rutgers and eventually become a big league catcher with the Pirates. His playing career ended in 1959 when a violent collision at home plate busted his throwing arm so badly that he was never able to recover. Instead, he became a coach and manager in Pittsburgh’s farm system, then director of the organization’s player development and scouting operations and by 1978, the Pirates GM. He reached the apex of his profession in 1979, when his Pittsburgh team won the World Championship. Six years later, Harding’s fortunes and reputation had suffered a complete reversal with the revelation of widespread cocaine use by Pirate players. He shouldered much of the blame for letting the Buc clubhouse run wild and was fired. When he left Pittsburgh, the chance of him ever becoming a big league GM again seemed microscopic.
George Steinbrenner may have been an egomaniacal narcissist but he also believed in giving guys who had been successful and then failed, a chance to be successful again. As the 1989 season ended, the Boss was embroiled up to his eyeballs in the Dave Winfield-Howie Spira scandal and his Yankee team was falling further and further away from being a playoff contender. He had just fired his 13th Yankee GM when he gave Bob Quinn his walking papers. He decided to give Peterson a shot but instead of handing over all control of personnel matters to his new GM, Steinbrenner hedged his bet by also giving George Bradley, New York’s director of minor league operations at the time, equal say in any player move the Yankees made. This fateful decision was the origin of the Yankee’s infamous two-headed organizational monster. In theory, the New York-based office headed by Peterson was expected to work in conjunction with the Tampa-based office head by Bradley on any and all trades, signings, assignments, etc. In reality, it was the beginning of total chaos.
The one season Peterson semi general-managed the Yankees was a disaster. They finished in last place in the AL East with just 67 wins, not one of the team’s starting pitchers achieved double digits in victories and they had the worst offense in baseball. Peterson was the guy who had to fire Bucky Dent as Yankee skipper, replace him with Stump Merrill and trade Dave Winfield to the Angels for Mike Witt. As expected the dual GM structure was a disaster and it was Peterson who ended up being the sacrificial lamb, when in his last official act before beginning what was supposed to be a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball, Steinbrenner fired the guy and replaced him with Gene Michael. Actually, Steinbrenner demoted Peterson at the time, making him Michael’s assistant.
The one bright spot during Peterson’s tenure as Yankee GM was the 1990 draft. The Yankees selections that year included Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Shane Spencer and Ricky Ledee. Peterson ended up quickly leaving the Yankee organization to become a scout for the Blue Jays and later the Padres. He’s still alive and residing in Florida and turns 84-years-old today.