Earle Combs was born on May 14, 1899, in Pebworth, KY. Nicknamed the “”Kentucky Colonel”” he was the first great Yankee center fielder. When he left his parents’ farm at the age of seventeen, his career goal was to become a school teacher. He attended what is now Eastern Kentucky University to pursue a teaching degree. He got involved in a baseball game between the students and the faculty of the college. The guy pitching for the teachers that day had some big league experience and was impressed enough by Combs’ ability that he urged him to try out for the school’s baseball team. He did and quickly became an elite player on that team. Soon he was playing semi pro and minor league ball.
In 1924, he signed a contract to play for the Kentucky Colonels of the American Association. The team’s manager was future Yankee skipper, Joe McCarthy, who converted Combs from a shortstop to a center fielder. After two outstanding seasons with the Colonels, the Yankees outbid a slew of other big league teams and purchased his contract for $50,000. He than began his twelve-season career in Pinstripes in 1924.
He batted .325, lifetime. That mark places Combs third on the list of highest Yankee lifetime batting averages with a minimum of 1,500 plate appearances. Combs scored at least 113 runs for eight straight seasons hitting in front of Ruth and Gehrig. During the 1934 season, he ran into an outfield wall in Sportsmen’s Park in St Louis, chasing a fly ball at top speed. He broke his skull and almost died from the resulting injuries. He attempted a comeback in 1935 but after crashing into another wall, he called it quits for good. Combs was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1970.
|162 Game Avg.||162||725||640||132||208||34||17||6||70||11||75||31||.325||.397||.462||.859|
They may have played their home games in the “Show Me State” but the 1958 starting lineup of the Kansas City A’s certainly had lots of pinstripe connections. Former Yankee prospects, Vic Power and Hal Smith started at first and third respectively. Future Yankees Hector Lopez and shortstop Joe DeMaestri held down the middle positions of the A’s infield and their soon-to-be New York teammates, Roger Maris and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Bob Cerv comprised two thirds of Kansas City’s starting outfield that year. If either Ralph Terry, Bob Grim, Duke Maas, Tom Gorman, Bud Daley or Virgil Trucks happened to be on the mound that day and the A’s fourth outfielder Woodie Held started in place of KC’s Bill Tuttle in center, eight of the nine positions would be manned by former or future players from the Yankee organization. It was no wonder people inside of baseball began referring to the A’s as the Yankees big league farm team.
Cerv had made his debut in New York in 1951, which also happened to be Joe DiMaggio’s last season as a Yankee and Mickey Mantle’s first. Unlike those two superstars, Cerv would never become a Yankee regular, but because he played for Casey Stengel at the time, the platoon maestro of big league managers, he would evolve into a very valuable member of those great New York teams. By 1954, ’55 and ’56 he had settled into the role of the Yankee’s starting right-fielder against left handed pitching. Cerv had a vicious swing and it produced some of the hardest hit balls in the game at the time. His home run power was thwarted by the vast dimensions of the Yankee Stadium’s left-center field, but those line drives off his bat would have been hits in any park.
His best year in the Bronx was 1955, when he hit .341 in 55 games plus his only World Series home run. The following year, he hit .304 while playing in 54 regular season contests. During his first six seasons with New York, the team played in five World Series and won four of them, generating perhaps $30-to-$40 thousand of additional income for the the growing Cerv family. Then the Yankees sold him to Kansas City where he became an All Star outfielder in 1958, belting 38 home runs, driving in 104 runs and topping the .300 mark in batting average.
By 1960, Cerv was back in the Bronx as a reserve outfielder. When the Yankees didn’t protect him during that year’s AL expansion draft, he was selected by the Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees quickly brought him back in a May 1961 trade with LA and he then became the house-mother-like roommate of both Mantle and Maris during their famous home run race that season. Even though he probably could have enjoyed a much more productive statistical career playing somewhere else, Cerv always cherished his days in a Yankee uniform during an era when World Series checks were as regular as paychecks for those on the Yankee roster. His second tenure in pinstripes ended in June of the 1962 season, when he was sold to Houston.
I actually hated seeing Bob Cerv play when I was a kid only because it usually meant my hero, Mickey Mantle, was scratched from the lineup again. The Lincoln, Nebraska native was born in 1926 and played a total of 12 seasons in the Majors. He may have been just a part-time player but Cerv was among the Yankees top ten all-time lists in one important category. He and his wife raised ten children and got each of them through college. That qualifies him for my own Hall of Fame, any day of the week. Mr. Cerv turns 89 years old today. Happy Birthday Bob Cerv!
Cerv shares his Yankee birthday with this one-time Yankee pitcher who’s life ended tragically in July of 2011.
|NYY (9 yrs)||379||878||772||112||205||36||12||26||118||5||94||131||.266||.350||.444||.795|
|KCA (4 yrs)||413||1544||1401||203||403||57||14||75||247||7||115||243||.288||.342||.509||.851|
|LAA (1 yr)||18||60||57||3||9||3||0||2||6||0||1||8||.158||.169||.316||.485|
|HOU (1 yr)||19||33||31||2||7||0||0||2||3||0||2||10||.226||.273||.419||.692|
By most accounts, when Enos “Country” Slaughter joined the Yankees in 1954, many of his new Yankee teammates weren’t too fond of him. That group included and was probably led by the temperamental Billy Martin, who thought Slaughter ‘s habit of running hard to first on every hit ball and even after bases on balls, was an attempt to show up his teammates. Martin considered Slaughter and for that matter most teammates who had not come up through the Yankee organization, as outsiders who could not be trusted on the field or in the clubhouse. Fortunately for Slaughter, Casey Stengel did not share that sentiment, probably because he was an old National Leaguer himself.
Slaughter explained the real reason he hustled every second while on the field in his autobiography. He was playing on a Cardinal farm team in Columbus, GA in 1932, hitting in the low .200’s and thinking he was going to be released any minute when in between innings during a game, he walked backed to the dugout from his right field position. Burt Shotten happened to be his Manager at the time and when Slaughter finally got to the dugout, Shotten told him if he was too tired to run back to the bench that maybe he was too tired to play in the game. Slaughter said that not-too-subtle hint from Shotten forever changed the way he approached the game. He vowed that he would never ever loaf on a baseball field again and he kept that promise for the next 27 years.
The saddest day of his life was August 11, 1954, the day the Cardinals traded him to the Yankees. He actually burst into tears after hearing the news but not because he had any particular animosity toward the Bronx Bombers. Slaughter absolutely loved playing in St. Louis and never dreamed getting traded was even a remote possibility.
As hard as it was for him to do so, Slaughter brought all of his experience and enthusiasm for the game with him to New York. From 1954 until he was traded to Kansas City in 1955 and then again after he was reacquired by New York a season later until 1959, Casey used the aging veteran frequently as both a pinch hitter and outfield substitute. He also treated Slaughter as his bench coach. The two veterans would often sit next to each other in the dugout, constantly discussing strategy and possible moves.
Slaughter contributed on the field as well. He was a star in the 1956 World Series, hitting .350 as the Yankees beat Brooklyn. His best regular season in pinstripes was 1958, when he hit .304 in 160 plate appearances. Enos retired after the 1959 season, at the ripe age of 43 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame, 26-years later. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 85.
|STL (13 yrs)||1820||7713||6775||1071||2064||366||135||146||1148||64||838||429||.305||.384||.463||.847|
|NYY (6 yrs)||350||782||663||90||168||21||6||16||98||4||108||69||.253||.356||.376||.732|
|KCA (2 yrs)||199||570||490||86||148||26||7||7||57||3||69||37||.302||.387||.427||.814|
|MLN (1 yr)||11||21||18||0||3||0||0||0||1||0||3||3||.167||.286||.167||.452|
I became an admirer of Carlos Beltran during the 2004 postseason, when he almost single-handedly put the Houston Astros in their first World Series. Against Atlanta in that year’s ALDS he hit .455 with 4 home runs and nine RBIs in the five game series and then followed that up with 4 more dingers and a .417 average in Houston’s seven-game loss to St. Louis in the 2004 ALCS.
Beltran originally came up with the Royals and won the 1999 AL Rookie of the Year award. He’s driven in over 100 runs eight different times in his career and made eight All Star teams. He also began the 2014 season with 358 career home runs.
Right after his stellar performance in the 2004 postseason, this native of Manati, Puerto Rico became a free agent and I was praying the Yanks would grab him. He even told his agent he wanted to wear the pinstripes. He did end up signing with New York but it was the Mets and not my Yankees who got him. He got off on the wrong foot with the Amazins’ when he had an off-year in 2005. He then put together three of the best seasons any Met outfielder has ever had and still was under appreciated by the team’s front office and fans. They never forgave him for making the third and final out of the 2006 ALCS, when he stared at a third strike thrown past him by the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright. When injuries cut both his 2009 and ’10 seasons short he really became persona non grata over in Queens and the Mets ended up trading him to the Giants.
Beltran became a free agent for the second time at the end of the 2011 season and the slugging switch-hitter again told his agent to try and get him to the Bronx but again it didn’t work out that way. He ended up signing with the Cardinals instead and he put together two all star seasons for St. Louis.
The third time proved a charm. On December 19, 2013, Beltran got the best Christmas present of his life when he signed a three-year deal to probably end his playing career as a Yankee. The signing has already paid dividends for the Bronx Bombers as Beltran has driven in some key runs for New York during the opening month of the 2014 season. He turns 37 years old today and I firmly believe this guy will be one of the top three free agent signings in Yankee franchise history. He shares his April 24th birthday with this former Yankee reliever, this Yankee starting pitcher and this one-time Yankee third baseman.
|KCR (7 yrs)||795||3512||3134||546||899||156||45||123||516||164||316||584||.287||.352||.483||.835|
|NYM (7 yrs)||839||3640||3133||551||878||208||17||149||559||100||449||545||.280||.369||.500||.869|
|STL (2 yrs)||296||1219||1101||162||311||56||4||56||181||15||103||214||.282||.343||.493||.836|
|SFG (1 yr)||44||179||167||17||54||9||4||7||18||1||11||27||.323||.369||.551||.920|
|NYY (1 yr)||19||80||75||10||23||7||0||5||13||0||4||18||.307||.338||.600||.938|
|HOU (1 yr)||90||399||333||70||86||17||7||23||53||28||55||57||.258||.368||.559||.926|
Back in 1964 I was an avid baseball card collector. I remember that $1.25 was enough to purchase an entire box of Topps. I would scrimp, save, beg, and borrow every penny possible and as soon as I reached that magic amount I’d run to Puglisi’s Confectionary, up the street from my house, and buy my box. I’d then take my treasure back to my house and sit on the rusting green metal porch swing we used to have on the front porch and begin the glorious ritual of opening each pack. I will never forget the day I sat on that porch swing and got six Duke Carmel cards in the same box. I saw him staring at me with that bat cocked over his shoulder so many times that afternoon that he became a friend of mine. About a week later, I’m sure five of those Carmel cards were fastened to the forks of my 20″ Rollfast two-wheeler, transforming the sound of the bike into a roaring Harley.
Duke was born in New York City and got to play in his home town when the Cardinals traded him to the Mets in 1963. He joined the Yankees two seasons later but only appeared in a half dozen games wearing the pinstripes. Carmel turns 76 years old today. Carmel shares his April 23rd birthday with this Yankee outfielder.
Here is my all-time lineup of the most skilled players who have played for both the Mets and Yankees during their careers:
1b Dave Kingman
2b Willie Randolph
3b Gary Sheffield
ss Tony Fernandez
c Yogi Berra
of Ricky Henderson
of Darryl Strawberry
of Ron Swoboda
p Dwight Gooden
rp Jesse Orosco
mgr Casey Stengel
Here are Carmel’s Yankee seasonal and big league lifetime career stats.
|STL (3 yrs)||71||81||70||11||13||2||0||1||5||1||2||11||18||.186||.296||.257||.553||52|
|NYM (1 yr)||47||167||149||11||35||5||3||3||18||2||2||16||37||.235||.307||.369||.676||94|
|NYY (1 yr)||6||8||8||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||5||.000||.000||.000||.000||-100|
My in-laws became huge Atlanta Braves’ fans in the 1980s, which of course meant they adored Dale Murphy. I’m not certain of this but I think I do remember my mother-in-law actually crying on the day the team traded “the Murph” to the Phillies, in August of 1990. The guy who took over for the Braves’ legend was David Justice. He got off to a great start, winning the 1990 NL Rookie of the Year Award by hitting 28 home runs and averaging .282 in his first full big league season. He then had two consecutive 21 home run seasons before suddenly exploding with 40 round trippers and 120 RBIs in 1993.
The following season, Justice tore his shoulder muscle and was never again the force he had been in Atlanta’s lineup. He had also married the actress, Halle Barry in 1992 and their life together became fodder for the tabloids for the next few years. Their coupling ended pretty badly just a couple of years after it began and the outfielder’s marriage to the Braves also broke up shortly thereafter.
In March of 1997, Justice switched tribes when Atlanta traded him and fellow Braves’ outfielder, Marquis Grissom to the Indians for Kenny Lofton and pitcher Alan Embree. My mother-in-law didn’t cry that day but she wasn’t happy a year later when Lofton, who had hit .333 during his one season in Atlanta, became a free agent and rejoined the Indians. He and Justice, who hit 31 home runs and drove in 101 runs, led Cleveland to the 1997 World Series.
In June of 2000, Justice came to the Yankees. I had never been a big David Justice fan so when New York made the mid-season trade with Cleveland to get him that year, my first reaction was disappointment that the New York front office had given up on Ricky Ledee, who was part of the trade. But boy did Justice make me forget Ledee in a hurry. In just 78 games in pinstripes that season, he smacked 20 home runs, scored 58, and drove in 60 more. He pretty much put the team on his back and carried them to the playoffs. Then in the ALCS against Seattle, Justice drove in eight more runs. Without him, I doubt seriously the Subway Series of 2000 would ever have taken place.
In 2001, Justice suffered a groin injury that plagued him almost the entire season. He played in only 111 games, hit just 18 home runs and averaged a career low .241. Those numbers got him traded after the 2001 season, first to the Mets who then immediately turned around and traded Justice to the A’s, where the then 36-year-old three-time all-star played the final season of his 14-year big league career. He quit with 305 career home runs and two rings. But baseball wasn’t through with Justice yet.
Five years after he played his final big league game, his name showed up in “the Mitchell Report,” the Major League’s official expose of steroid and HGH abuse. An informant claimed to have sold Justice HGH after the 2000 World Series. Justice has steadfastly denied he ever used any PEDs during his career. What’s the truth? When Justice hit those 40 homers in 1993, the two guys who finished ahead of him in the NL MVP race were Barry Bonds and Larry Dykstra. When the Yankees traded for Justice during the 2000 season, it was only after Brian Cashman failed in his efforts to bring Sammy Sosa or Juan Gonzalez to New York. Justice played and peaked during the same era as Bonds, Dykstra, Sosa and Gonzalez. We know PEDs were part of the game. Are they still? Who really knows? That’s the damn shame.
Justice shares his April 14th birthday with this former Yankee reliever.
|ATL (8 yrs)||817||3349||2858||475||786||127||16||160||522||33||452||492||.275||.374||.499||.873|
|CLE (4 yrs)||486||2025||1713||299||503||102||4||96||335||14||288||316||.294||.392||.526||.918|
|NYY (2 yrs)||189||757||656||101||176||33||1||38||111||2||93||125||.268||.357||.495||.853|
|OAK (1 yr)||118||471||398||54||106||18||3||11||49||4||70||66||.266||.376||.410||.785|
A few years ago, I read a book entitled “The Big Bam,” which is a biography of Babe Ruth, written by Leigh Montville. In it, the author goes into great detail about the transaction that made Ruth a Yankee, in January of 1920. At the time the deal was made, Ruth was coming off a season in which he hit the then unheard of total of 29 home runs. He had almost convinced Red Sox Manager, Ed Barrow, that he was too good a hitter to continue pitching. He was quickly becoming the most famous man in America and was about to embark on a career in pinstripes that would in effect, make him the God of baseball. So imagine for a moment that you are today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Sammy Vick. You’ve been a Yankee for three seasons and in 1919, you finally became the team’s starting right fielder. You’re only 24 years old and the Yankees, under second-year Manager Miller Huggins, were an improving baseball team, finishing in third place in the American League the past season. So you wake up on January 4, 1920 and you pour yourself a cup of coffee and grab the morning newspaper. You unfold it and there on the top of the front page, you’re suddenly staring at your own obituary. Actually, the headline reads “Yankees Purchase Ruth From Boston” but to your eyes it says “Sammy Vick’s Days as Yankees’ Starting Right Fielder Are Over Forever.” When he got to the part of the article where Huggins is quoted as saying Babe’s pitching days are over for good, Vick probably put down his coffee and the newspaper and went back to bed hoping against hope that everything that had just transpired was nothing but a bad dream.
Ruth went on to hit 59 home runs during his first season in New York. Vick only got to play when “The Big Bam” was hurt, tired, hung over or finished hitting for the day. That meant Vick, who was a native of Batesville, Mississippi, appeared in just 51 games in 1920. The following season he was traded to Boston as part of a nine-player swap between the two teams. He floundered as a Red Sox and was back in the minors by 1922. He played until 1930 but never got back to the big leagues. Sammy lived to be 91, passing away in 1986. I bet at the time, he was still telling anyone who would listen that he was the guy who lost his job to Babe Ruth.
Joining Vick as a former Yankee who celebrates his birthday on April 12 is this reliever who came to New York in a trade for El Duque and this outfielder the Yankees picked up from Detroit just as the 2013 season was about to begin.
|NYY (4 yrs)||169||621||564||85||139||25||10||2||41||12||1||50||81||.246||.310||.337||.647|
|BOS (1 yr)||44||81||77||5||20||3||1||0||9||0||1||1||10||.260||.269||.325||.594|