The next time I hear James Taylor sing “Walking Man,” I’m sure the name of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant will cross my mind. Roy Cullenbine refused to swing at any pitch that was not in the strike zone. If he played today, he’d probably be an Oakland A and praised profusely in the sports media for his ability to get on base. But Cullenbine played in the 1940’s, during an era when ballplayers were expected to swing their bats at any pitch they could reach and taking too many “walks” was even considered by many to be a sign of laziness. Few paid much attention to on base percentage until Bill James promoted the stat as the sport’s Holy Grail decades later. So when Cullenbine’s OBP reached .477 in 1946, nobody noticed and even though he got on base four out of every ten times he came to the plate the following season and finished second on the Tigers in runs scored, he was still released at the end of the season and forced into retirement.
Cullenbine was born in Tennessee in 1913 but raised in Detroit, where he became a switch-hitting star of the City’s sandlot leagues. The Tigers signed him but then lost him in 1939, when Kenesaw Mountain Landis ruled that Detroit had violated roster manipulation rules and the Commissioner penalized the organization by declaring several of their prized prospects free agents. Cullenbine then signed for a hefty bonus with the Dodgers, got traded to the Browns and in 1942, got traded again, this time to the Senators.
With WWII raging, every big league team was losing players to military service and when Tommy Henrich joined the Coast Guard in August of the 1942 season, Yankee GM Ed Barrow checked the waiver wire to see if he could pick up another outfielder. He found Cullenbine’s name on the list and claimed him on the last day of August.
Since that season’s Yankee team also had George Selkirk on its roster as the fourth outfielder, it wasn’t clear how much playing time Cullenbine would get from New York’s skipper Joe McCarthy. As it turned out, with the Yanks comfortably ahead of the Red Sox in the AL Pennant race at the time, Marse Joe started Cullenbine just about every game down the stretch so he could give his regulars plenty of rest for the postseason.
Cullenbine took advantage of the opportunity by hitting .364 in the 21 games he played in pinstripes that month, while producing a sky-high .484 OBP. That performance guaranteed him a spot on the Yankees World Series roster. He then played in all five games of the 1942 World Series, batting .263 in New York’s losing effort to the Cardinals.
Most Yankee fans and pundits probably expected to see Cullenbine return to the Bronx on Opening Day 1943. But one week before Christmas in 1942, the Yanks traded him and catcher Buddy Rosar to Cleveland for infielder Oscar Grimes and outfielder Roy Weatherly. The “Walking Man” played real well for the Indians the next two seasons and then got traded back to Detroit, where his big league career ended in the same town it began.
Cullenbine passed away in 1991 in Michigan at the age of 77. He still holds the 38th highest MLB career on base percentage. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee third baseman and this former Yankee reliever.
|DET (5 yrs)||501||1952||1561||268||421||76||11||63||259||10||373||164||.270||.412||.454||.865|
|CLE (3 yrs)||300||1288||1072||167||304||59||9||24||136||7||194||107||.284||.395||.423||.817|
|SLB (3 yrs)||273||1080||867||138||239||47||12||18||143||6||201||97||.276||.414||.420||.834|
|WSH (1 yr)||64||285||241||30||69||19||0||2||35||1||44||18||.286||.396||.390||.787|
|BRO (1 yr)||22||84||61||8||11||1||0||1||9||2||23||11||.180||.405||.246||.651|
|NYY (1 yr)||21||97||77||16||28||7||0||2||17||0||18||2||.364||.484||.532||1.017|
You have to be a pretty strong Yankee fan to remember when this right-handed reliever wore the pinstripes. He pitched for New York during his first two big league seasons, in 1990 and 1991. He was a member of two of the worst pitching staffs in Yankee franchise history during those years. After the 1991 season, the Yankees traded him to the Orioles. After going 1-6 with New York with an ERA of over four, Mills became a middle relief animal for the Birds in 1993, winning ten of fourteen decisions and compiling an ERA of 2.61. That’s why I remember Alan Mills. As soon as the Yankees dealt him, he became exactly the type of pitcher the Yankees needed so desperately back then. Though he never again achieved those lofty 1993-level numbers on the mound, he was an effective member of the Orioles’ bullpen for the next seven seasons and then signed a pretty nice free agent deal with the Dodgers. He retired in 2001. Mills is a native of Lakeland, FL who was born on this date in 1966.
Another former Yankee born on this date was being groomed by Casey Stengel to take over for the Scooter, Phil Rizzuto, as Yankee shortstop. Problem was, this guy wanted to play third base. This one-time Yankee outfielder was also born on October 18th.
|BAL (9 yrs)||32||21||.604||4.16||346||3||105||0||0||14||480.0||412||231||222||65||295||354||1.473|
|LAD (2 yrs)||5||5||.500||3.86||86||0||27||0||0||1||98.0||101||45||42||13||59||67||1.633|
|NYY (2 yrs)||2||6||.250||4.19||42||2||21||0||0||0||58.0||64||30||27||5||41||35||1.810|
Casey Stengel wanted to groom Andy Carey to replace Phil Rizzuto as the Yankees starting shortstop and he wanted Carey to become a spray hitter like “the Scooter.” The only problems with the “Ol Perfessor’s” plan were that Carey had always been a hitter who liked to pull the ball and he desperately wanted to play third base for New York. The Yankees had given Carey a $60,000 contract to sign with them after his senior year in high school. Andy’s Dad had a law practice in California and the plan had been for the son to go to law school and then join the father’s firm. But the sixty grand and Andy’s dream to start at the hot corner in Yankee Stadium forced a change in those plans. So from 1952, the year he made his debut in the big leagues, until 1960 when he was traded to Kansas City for outfielder Bob Cerv, Andy and Stengel were constantly battling each other over Carey’s role with the team. As a result, Carey never got the chance to become the great Yankee player he felt he could have become without Stengel’s interference. He may have been right but in trying to overrule a managing legend who ended up winning seven World Championships, Carey was fighting a losing battle. Carey’s best season in pinstripes was 1954, when he hit .302 and drove in a career-high 65 runs. His most famous moment in pinstripes was probably a play he didn’t make at third base. In the second inning of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson hit a hot shot at Carey that veered off his glove toward shortstop Gil McDougald, who’s throw to first just nipped Robinson. Ironically, Carey was considered an outstanding defensive infielder. He also did one thing as well as any Yankee in history with the possible exception of Babe Ruth. Andy could eat. He was the only Yankee who would actually spend more than his entire day’s worth of meal allowance on a single meal. Born October 18, 1931 in Oakland, CA, he retired from baseball after the 1962 season.
|NYY (9 yrs)||688||2410||2130||288||567||82||28||47||259||23||200||267||.266||.332||.397||.729|
|KCA (2 yrs)||141||519||466||50||110||20||6||15||64||0||41||75||.236||.300||.401||.701|
|LAD (1 yr)||53||130||111||12||26||5||1||2||13||0||16||23||.234||.333||.351||.685|
|CHW (1 yr)||56||162||143||21||38||12||3||0||14||0||11||24||.266||.323||.392||.714|