Joseph Anthony Pepitone was born on October 9, 1940 in Brooklyn. He came up to the Yankees in 1962 and took over the starting first baseman’s job from one of my favorite players in Pinstripes, Bill Moose Skowron. We long-time Yankee FAN-atics will always consider the November 1962 trade that sent Skowron to the Dodgers for pitcher Stan Williams as the first crack in the crumbling of the original Yankee dynasty.
Pepitone may have had better baseball skills than the Moose but he lacked the unselfishness and professional discipline of his Yankee predecessor. Unlike Skowron, who was extremely self-critical, “Pepi” tended to blame his failures on the field on everyone else but himself. He thought he could work hard during the game and play hard at all other times. As the Yankees continued to lose their veteran players to age and injuries, Pepitone’s lack of maturity and good judgment prevented him from filling that growing vacuum in Yankee team leadership.
Still, in 1966 when my beloved Bombers finished in last place in the American League and Mickey Mantle was officially converted from an “injured superstar” into an “aging has-been,” Joe Pepitone’s 31 home run season gave us Yankee fans hope. His graciousness in switching starting positions with the Mick one season later to help prolong Mantle’s career added luster to Pepitone’s Yankee-fan friendly image. By 1969, however, Pepitone’s diminishing batting average and power numbers along with his continuing off-the-field antics had all worn thin on the fans and few complained when Joe was traded to the Astros for a guy named Curt Blefary. In 1975, Pepitone wrote his autobiography with Barry Stainback. It was called “Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud.” I recommend it to any student of Yankee history and any fan of Pepitone.
|NYY (8 yrs)||1051||4115||3841||435||967||113||24||166||541||31||223||413||.252||.294||.423||.718|
|CHC (4 yrs)||268||1049||966||127||274||36||6||39||144||5||60||84||.284||.328||.454||.782|
|ATL (1 yr)||3||12||11||0||4||0||0||0||1||0||1||1||.364||.417||.364||.780|
|HOU (1 yr)||75||299||279||44||70||9||5||14||35||5||18||28||.251||.298||.470||.767|
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the surprise Yankee rookie of the year during the 2012 regular season. Born in St. Louis on this date in 1986, Phelps played his college ball at Notre Dame until his junior year, when he was selected by New York in the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft. He then pitched well at every rung of the Yankees’ minor league ladder until injuring his shoulder in 2011 while pitching for Triple A Scranton. I confess I had never paid any attention to Phelps until the end of New York’s 2012 spring training season, when it became clear he was heading north with the team. He had out-pitched the Yankees’ more highly touted “”Killer B” duo of Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos and with newcomer Michael Pineda injured and out for the year and the suddenly un-retired Andy Pettitte, not yet ready to go, Phelps got the roster slot. Manager Joe Girardi pitched him exclusively out of the bullpen during the first month of the 2012 season. He caused a bit of a stir by retiring the first 12 big league hitters he faced. When Freddie Garcia struggled early, Phelps took his spot in the rotation. He made two decent starts but was then sent back to the bullpen when Pettitte was finally ready to go in mid May. Then Ivan Nova went on the DL and Phelps was again switched from reliever to starter and remained in the rotation for most of the rest of the season. When all was said and done, Phelps went 4-4 during his rookie year, appearing in 33 games, 11 as a starter.
In the two seasons since, Phelps has had a hard time staying healthy and when he has been, he has pitched unspectacularly for the Yanks both as a starter and out of the bullpen. In fact, if not for an unbelievable epidemic of injuries to members of New York’s rotation in both 2013 and ’14, I doubt Phelps would still be pitching in the Bronx. I continue to hope that those brief instances, when he looks un-hittable on the mound can still turn into longer moments and Phelps will settle into and master the long-relief slot in the Yankee bullpen.
|162 Game Avg.||8||7||.517||4.21||47||21||7||1||0||1||160||152||80||75||19||64||143||1.346|
Joe Sewell turned another man’s tragedy into an opportunity that eventually landed him in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. When Cleveland shortstop, Ray Chapman was struck and killed by a pitch thrown by the Yankees’ Carl Mays in a late-season game in September of 1920, Sewell was called up from Cleveland’s farm system to replace Chapman. During the remainder of that month Sewell did not field his position very well, committing 15 errors in just 22 games, but what he did do was get on base, averaging .329 with a .413 on base percentage. That was enough to earn Sewell the Indians’ shortstop job for the next season and Sewell never looked back. There were quite a few other things Sewell never or hardly ever did while wearing a Major League baseball uniform. He never broke his bat. In fact, Sewell used the same bat during his entire 14-season big league career. He also never took a day off. From that first game as a replacement for Chapman in September 1920 until May 2, 1930, Sewell played in 1,103 consecutive games, which was the Major League record until Lou Gehrig shattered it. And Sewell hardly ever struck out. In fact, the 5’6 inch left-handed hitter, whiffed just 114 times in 1,903 games for an average of about eight strikeouts per 154-game season. It was said of Sewell at the time that if he didn’t swing at a pitch, umpires knew it wasn’t a strike. When Sewell played in just 109 games for Cleveland in 1930 and his batting average slumped to .289, the Indians coldly released him. That’s when the Yankees signed him and manager Joe McCarthy made the Titus, Alabama native his starting third baseman. Sewell responded by hitting .302 and scoring 102 runs during his first season in pinstripes. The following year, Sewell and McCarthy both won their first World Series rings on a team that included seven other future Hall of Famers in addition to the Manager and third baseman. Sewell played one more season for New York and retired. He had a .312 lifetime batting average and a .391 career on base percentage. He passed away in 1990 at the age of 91.
|CLE (11 yrs)||1513||6580||5621||857||1800||375||63||30||868||71||654||99||.320||.398||.425||.823|
|NYY (3 yrs)||390||1753||1511||284||426||61||5||19||186||3||188||15||.282||.366||.367||.733|