It was on my birthday this year, June 14th, that I settled down to watch a Yankee game. It was a Friday night, and the Yanks were on a west coast road trip. The surprising Bronx Bombers had been in second place when that trip had started, just a game and a half behind the even more surprising Red Sox. Their first stop had been in Seattle, where they took three out of four from the hapless Mariners. But then they went to Oakland and dropped three straight to the A’s. It was the results of that series that brought my doubts about the patched together Yankee lineup back to the surface. Since their night games started late on the east coast whenever the Yanks played alongside the Pacific, I had not watched any of the contests that had been played on that trip thus far. Even though I had celebrated my birthday with a couple of bourbons, I was determined to stay awake long enough see if that night’s starting pitcher, Andy Pettitte was back in the smooth-pitching groove he had been in at the beginning of the year.
Remember, Pettitte had started the 2013 season with three straight wins and an ERA of 2.01. Then his back began stiffening up on him and the Yankee offense went into a slump and Andy lost three of his next four decisions before finally going on the DL in the middle of May. That night he would be making his second start since returning from the DL. He had won the third game of the Mariners’ series and I was anxious to see if he really was back in the groove. I had my doubts after watching him give up three hits and a run in the opening inning but then he got the next six hitters out and David Adams two run single in the top of the fourth gave New York its first and only lead. The Halos evened the score in the bottom half of the inning, took the lead in the sixth and then scored their fourth and final run off Pettitte in the seventh.
That was it for the Yankees’ veteran left-hander. He had struggled the whole game giving up 11 hits but he had also battled his way through plenty of jams. He left the game with his team down by two. That’s when it became very clear to me just how short the Yankees’ minor league pitching talent was. I remember that when whichever Yankee announcer announced “Chris Bootcheck will be making his Yankee debut to start the eighth inning” my initial reaction was “Chris who check?”
This very tall right hander, wearing uniform number 34 then appears on my big screen throwing warm-up pitches. At first, I jogged my memory, trying to remember if this was one of those “three B’s” Brian Cashman had been so crazy about a few years earlier but then one of the guys in the Yankee booth said he was 34 years old and was making a homecoming of sorts. He had been a number 1 pick of the Angels in the 2000 draft and had pitched for them as a reliever from 2005 through 2008.
The Yankees had signed Bootcheck during the 2013 spring training season and sent him to Scranton/Wilkes Barre, where he had been turned back into a starter and had become the RailRiders’s best pitcher. In a strange move, indicative of just how stretched the Yankee pitching staff had become, New York had sent Adam Warren to Scranton after he had pitched six scoreless innings of relief against the A’s on that same road trip. They knew Warren wouldn’t be able to pitch again for a while so they sent him down and brought Bootcheck up.
I watched Bootcheck walk the first Angel he faced in the bottom of the eighth and since by then it had to be well past midnight and no longer my birthday, I turned off the TV and went to bad a year older and wiser enough to know that it would take a miracle for this 2013 Yankee team to reach the postseason if they had to depend on their pitching to get them there. No disrespect to Bootcheck but if he was the best pitcher they had on their top farm club, I knew my favorite team did not have the pitching talent it would need to reach the 2013 postseason.
Bootcheck is a native of LaPorte, Indiana, who was born on this date in 1978. He finished the 2013 season in Scranton, going 10-7 with a 3.69 ERA. He was one of 24 different Yankee pitchers to appear in a game for New York during the 2013 regular season. He shares a birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and this one too.
|LAA (5 yrs)||3||7||.300||6.04||77||3||29||0||0||1||132.2||162||93||89||18||55||92||1.636|
|PIT (1 yr)||0||0||11.05||13||0||3||0||0||0||14.2||16||18||18||1||9||13||1.705|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||0||9.00||1||0||1||0||0||0||1.0||2||1||1||0||2||1||4.000|
Yesterday, we celebrated the birthday of a starting Yankee outfielder nicknamed “Birdie.” Today, we celebrate the birthday of the guy who took Birdie’s job and his nickname is “Bunny.” Hugh “Bunny” High was the oldest of three brothers to play big league baseball. He made his Major League debut in 1913 as an outfielder with the Detroit Tigers. At the time the Tigers had one of baseball’s best outfields in Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford and Bobby Veach so High spent much of his first two big league seasons watching games from the Detroit dugout.
In 1915, the financially troubled New York Yankee franchise had been sold to Jake Ruppert and Tillinghast Huston and both men were determined to upgrade the team’s mediocre roster. One of their first purchases brought High and the slugging Tiger first baseman, Wally Pipp to New York. High immediately replaced Birdie Cree as the Yankees’ starting center fielder for the 1915 season and then became New York’s starting left-fielder for the next two years. Back then the league’s cumulative batting average was only in the high .240s so when High averaged .258 and .263 during his first two seasons in New York, it was considered a very respectable performance. But when he slumped to .236 in 1917 he became a marked man, especially after the Yankees fired Manager Wild Bill Donovan at the end of that season and replaced him with the much more demanding Miller Huggins. With World War I raging, baseball lost many of its upper tier outfielders to military service in 1918 so High was still a Yankee when that season opened but Huggins kept him on the bench. It became evident to the then 30-year-old outfielder that his future with New York was not very bright with Huggins calling the shots so he asked the team to trade him and when no deals for his services resulted, he simply left the team to begin a new career in the shipyards.
I couldn’t find out how Hugh High got the nickname of Bunny. If he had played for New York a half century later than he did, you could make a case that it was derived from another famous “Hugh” who had a special affinity for “bunnies.” In any event, Bunny shares his October 24th birthday with another Yankee outfielder and this 2013 Yankee relief pitcher.
|NYY (4 yrs)||345||1400||1179||133||295||43||17||3||90||43||158||123||.250||.343||.323||.666|
|DET (2 yrs)||171||437||367||43||91||11||4||0||33||13||54||45||.248||.349||.300||.649|
The starting center field position for the New York Yankees became one of the most glamorous posts in all of sports during the middle of the twentieth century, when it was filled by Earl Combs, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle who all ended up in Cooperstown. They were followed by Bobby Murcer and then Mickey Rivers, neither of whom made the Hall of Fame but were both very good All Star players in their day. When Rivers slumped in 1979 and the Yankees traded him to Texas, it started a game of musical chair centerfielders in Yankee Stadium that did not end until Bernie Williams was given the job in 1992 and kept it for the next fifteen seasons.
Rupert Jones took over in center in 1980. He was followed by Jerry Mumphrey who did OK his first two seasons in pinstripes but was slumping during the first half of the 1983 season. The Yankee front office responded by trading Mumphrey to Houston for Omar Moreno. Moreno had been the NL stolen base champ for two consecutive seasons with the Pirates and had stolen 96 bases for Pittsburgh in 1980. The problem this Panamanian had was getting on first base. He struck out a lot and did not like to walk. He was only a .250 lifetime hitter and despite all those stolen bases, he scored more than 100 runs in a season only once in his 12-season big league career. In his only full season with the Yankees in 1984, Moreno hit just .259 and scored only 37 runs. Convinced Omar would not be their answer in center field, the Yankee front office made a huge deal in December of 1984 that put another future Hall of Famer in the middle position of New York’s outfield. His name of course was Ricky Henderson. Without a regular spot in the lineup, Moreno struggled to get his average over the .200 mark at the beginning of the 1985 season. New York released him in August of that season and he signed with the Royals. Moreno was born on October 24, 1952.
Henderson started in center for the Yankees for just two seasons. Then came Claudell Washington and Roberto Kelly. Bern Baby Bern shared the position with Kelly for a couple of seasons before taking it over for good in ’92.
|PIT (8 yrs)||944||3978||3585||530||915||115||59||25||263||412||314||633||.255||.315||.341||.657|
|NYY (3 yrs)||199||613||573||66||143||25||8||6||59||28||27||95||.250||.283||.353||.635|
|KCR (1 yr)||24||75||70||9||17||1||3||2||12||0||3||8||.243||.280||.429||.709|
|ATL (1 yr)||118||386||359||46||84||18||6||4||27||17||21||77||.234||.276||.351||.627|
|HOU (1 yr)||97||429||405||48||98||12||11||0||25||30||22||72||.242||.282||.326||.608|