We didn’t know it at the time, but the 1965 Yankee spring training camp would be the last one hosting a defending AL Champion ball club for quite a while, over a decade to be exact. It was Johnny Keane’s first exhibition season as the manager of the Bronx Bombers after he replaced the fired Yogi Berra. Keane’s Cardinals had defeated Berra’s Yankees in the 1964 World Series the previous fall. New York GM, Ralph Houk had already made the decision to fire Berra before losing that Series, convinced his veteran club needed more discipline. Houk felt Keane was the guy who could instill it.
The new skipper’s innovative idea was to move New York’s big hitters like Mantle, Maris and Ellie Howard to the very top of the Yankee lineup so they could get more at bats. The plan was working like a charm during spring training. Mantle actually batted first in some of that year’s preseason games with Maris second and Howard in the three-hole and they all were hitting over .400 at one point.
The other exciting thing about that ’65 camp was the emergence of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant as a bonafide Yankee pitching prospect. Gil Blanco was a big six feet five inch right-hander from Phoenix who had been signed by New York right out of high school the year before. Just nineteen years old, he impressed everyone with his poise and stuff that spring and earned a spot on the Yankee roster.
Though the team started out the 1965 regular season slow under Keane, Blanco did not, holding the opposition scoreless during his first seven big league appearances out of the bullpen. That streak earned him his first start at the end of May versus Detroit and the kid got hammered. He gave up three hits, two walks and four runs and didn’t make it out of the first inning.
That turned out to be the only start he’d make while wearing the pinstripes. He failed to make the Yanks 1966 Opening Day roster and that June, Houk traded Blanco, Bill Stafford and Roger Repoz to the A’s for Fred Talbot and Bill Bryan. He got the opportunity to start for Kansas City during the second half of that season, but after finishing 2-4, he would never again throw a pitch in the big leagues.
They called him”Hal” and “Skinny” but his real name was Hector. He was 6’2″ and weighed about 180 pounds. Just before he retired, the great Ted Williams told reporters that Brown had never thrown him a “fat pitch” and called Skinny a “great pitcher.” Who could be more qualified than the “Splendid Splinter” to make a judgment like that. Brown had a terrific slider and later in his career he learned how to throw a knuckleball. Those two pitches helped him stay in the big leagues for 14 seasons, coming up with the White Sox, in 1951. He was traded to the Red Sox in1953 and went 11-6 for Boston that year in his first shot as a regular starting pitcher. But it wasn’t until he was traded to Baltimore, two seasons later that Brown really hit his pitching stride. In eight years with the Birds, Hal started and relieved his way to a 62-48 record. The Yankees purchased Brown from Baltimore in the last month of the 1962 season and he got his first and only start in pinstripes against the Red Sox, two days later. Boston battered him pretty good and he left in the fifth inning, trailing 9-2. He got just one more relief appearance that season and then was sold to the Houston Colt 45s the following April. Brown is the only member of the Yankee all-time roster I could find who was born on December 11. The Greensboro, NC native was born on this date in 1924.
Just last week, the Yankees announced they had signed free agent Jacoby Ellsbury to a long-term deal. Ellsbury joins Hal Brown and a whole bunch of other former big leaguers who played for both the Yankees and Red Sox during their careers. Here’s my all-time lineup of Yankee/Red Sox:
1b: George Boomer Scott
2b: Mark Bellhorn
3b: Wade Boggs
ss: Everett Scott
c: Elston Howard
of: Babe Ruth
of: Johnny Damon
of: Jacoby Ellsbury
dh: Don Baylor
sp: Red Ruffing
cl: Sparky Lyle
|BAL (8 yrs)||62||48||.564||3.61||204||131||36||30||9||9||1030.2||975||442||413||105||228||422||1.167|
|BOS (3 yrs)||13||14||.481||4.40||72||30||21||7||1||0||288.1||305||159||141||22||100||130||1.405|
|HOU (2 yrs)||8||26||.235||3.62||53||41||5||9||3||1||273.1||291||122||110||32||34||121||1.189|
|CHW (2 yrs)||2||3||.400||4.78||27||8||9||1||0||1||81.0||97||48||43||11||25||35||1.506|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||1||.000||6.75||2||1||1||0||0||0||6.2||9||10||5||3||2||2||1.650|
December 1 in general is not a very noteworthy date for baseball birthdays of any kind. The only member of Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame born on this date, played in just 1 big league game, but he managed in 3,658 of them and won four World Series rings. That would be Walter Alston, who managed the Dodgers for 23 years and beat the Yankees in two of those Fall Classics (1955 and 1963.) The greatest all-around big league player born on this date would probably be former Expo and Rockies outfielder, Larry Walker, who retired in 2005 with a .313 lifetime average and 383 home runs.
The only member of the Yankee all-time roster who celebrates his birthday on December 1 is a former pitcher named Cecil Perkins. You’ve never heard of him because his entire big league and Yankee career consisted of two appearances during the 1967 season. The first was as a starter against the Twins on July 5th of that year. Perkins lasted just three innings, giving up five runs and five hits and getting the loss in a 10-4 Minnesota victory. Former Yankee announcer, Jim Kaat, got the complete game win for the Twins that day. Perkins gave up his first big league hit, a triple to Rod Carew in the first inning. Later in the game, Minnesota third baseman Rich Reese hit what would become the only big league home run ever given up by the right hander. That loss extended a Yankee losing streak to five games. Three days later, Yankee Manager Ralph Houk inserted Perkins in the sixth inning of a game against the Orioles, in Baltimore. The Yankees were trailing 8-3 at the time and Perkins pitched two inning of one-hit, shutout ball, including a strikeout of the great Oriole reliever, Moe Drabowsky, which turned out to be Perkins only big league career K. He was then sent back down to Syracuse for the balance of the 1967 season and was gone from baseball for good after the following season.
Perkins was born in Baltimore in 1940. Other former Yankees born in Baltimore include; Phil Linz, Jeff Nelson, Tommy Byrne, Ron Swoboda and the Big Bam, Babe Ruth.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant did not accomplish much as a Yankee. After getting signed by New York as a 16-year-old pitching phee-nom out of Portland Oregon in 1944, this six foot three inch right-hander’s minor league career was interrupted by two years of military service just as WWII ended. When he returned from service he was still just 20 years-old and he was able to pitch his way onto New York’s 1947 Opening Day roster with a strong spring training performance.
Bucky Harris, the Yankee skipper back then, used Johnson in fifteen games that year including 8 starts. He finished his debut season with a 4-3 record and a 3.64 ERA. He also won a World Series ring that year though he did not appear in the Yankees seven-game victory over the Dodgers. After he got off to a slow start the next year, Johnson was included in a seven-player deal New York GM George Weiss made with the St. Louis Browns. Over the next eight seasons, Johnson became a journeyman, pitching for five different big league teams as well as spending quite a bit of time with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. He hung up his glove for good in 1960 and returned to his hometown, where among other things, he drove a Taxi for 25 years.
While researching Brown’s background for this post, I came across a one-hour video below, which shows an 86-year-old Johnson being interviewed in June of 2013, at his old grade school in Portland. It runs for about an hour and in it, Johnson either mis-remembers or exaggerates some of his accomplishments on the ball field. For example,he claims he once faced Bob Feller when he was on a 4-game winning streak and lost a 1-0 complete-game decision, but a review of his career performances turned up no such streak or decision. He also claimed he won 27 games for Toronto during the 1957 season but Baseball-Reference.com has him winning just 17 games that year. Despite these apparent exaggerations, I found the interview delightful to listen to and hopefully you will as well.
Here are Johnson’s Yankee and career pitching statistics.
|BAL (3 yrs)||7||11||.389||6.54||62||20||19||4||1||2||179.0||242||144||130||22||108||66||1.955|
|WSH (2 yrs)||7||16||.304||4.11||50||26||12||8||1||2||212.2||218||108||97||13||91||89||1.453|
|NYY (2 yrs)||5||3||.625||5.23||23||8||8||2||0||0||72.1||92||47||42||4||35||25||1.756|
|SFG (1 yr)||0||1||.000||6.26||17||0||6||0||0||1||23.0||31||19||16||2||8||14||1.696|
|CHW (1 yr)||8||7||.533||3.13||46||16||17||3||3||7||144.0||129||53||50||14||43||68||1.194|
The article appeared in the New York Times on December 17, 1925. It started out like this; “Good news for Yankee fans. Miller Huggins announced yesterday the purchase of one the best minor league pitchers in the country, a young man named Myles Thomas…” The article went on to say that the purchase had forced Jake Ruppert, the Yankee owner then, to “remove several layers from his bankroll to get this lad” because there were several big league teams interested in the right-hander from College Station, Pennsylvania. The reason for all the attention on Myles Thomas was the 28-8 record he had put together during the 1925 season, while pitching for the double A International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ironically, Huggins had been given a chance to sign this same guy in 1921, when he was fresh out of Pennsylvania State Teachers College. The Yankee skipper passed on that first opportunity and Thomas had then spent the next six seasons pitching in the minors. So he was already 28 years-old when he made his big-league debut with the 1926 Yankees, but he couldn’t have picked a better time to come to the Bronx. During his three full seasons on the team, the Yankees won three straight AL Pennants and both the 1927 and ’28 World Series.
Thomas’s best season in pinstripes was his second, when he went 7-4 for the Murderers’ Row team that went 110-44 and swept the Pirates in the ’27 World Series. But Huggins gradually lost faith in him as time went on. The pitcher’s starts and appearances out of the bullpen decreased in each of his successive seasons with New York until he was finally put on waivers and sold to the Senators in late June of 1929.
He pitched a couple of seasons in Washington before going back to the minors, where after hanging up his glove, he eventually became a coach with the Toledo Mud Hens. I can picture Thomas, perhaps wearing one of the World Series rings he won with the Yankees, out in the Mud Hens bullpen during a game, surrounded by a bunch of wide-eyed big-leaguer wannabe’s, regaling them with his memories of pitching for one of the greatest teams in big league history. I wonder if he told those kids that Babe Ruth himself had given Thomas the nickname of “Duck Eye.” Of course, the Bambino gave just about every teammate he ever played with a nickname because he was too self-absorbed to bother remembering their real names. In fact, in 1928, after Thomas had been Ruth’s teammate for more than two years. Yankee second baseman Tony Lazzeri introduced him to Ruth in a Boston hotel lobby as “the new pitcher from Yale the Yanks had just signed.” Ruth stuck out his hand and said “Hi ya keed.”
Thomas shares his birthday with baseball’s best all-around second baseman and a player who has a decent chance of becoming the first Japanese-born member of the Hall-of-Fame.
|NYY (4 yrs)||14||12||.538||4.70||71||24||22||4||0||0||275.2||311||177||144||13||126||76||1.585|
|WSH (2 yrs)||9||10||.474||4.53||34||16||11||7||0||2||159.0||188||107||80||6||63||45||1.579|
Though the Yankees signed this tall, thin right-handed native of Kansas City in 1949, it took him a full decade to get through the organization’s minor league system and make his big league debut in September of 1959. In fact, the only thing that moved slower than John Gabler’s ascent to the Majors was evidently, his fastball.
He didn’t start winning in the minors until 1954, when he was still pitching in the C-level California League. It wasn’t until four years later, when he went 19-7 for manager Ralph Houk’s 1958 Triple-A Denver Bears team that his name made it to the upper portion of the Yanks pitching prospects list and even then, Yankee skipper Casey Stengel had to be convinced Gabler was worth a roster spot.
The pitcher helped his cause with three strong appearances during his end-of-the-year debut in the Bronx in 1959. Still, it probably was the hiring of Eddie Lopat as Stengel’s new pitching coach that enabled Gabler to make the Yankees’ Opening Day roster in 1960. Steady Eddie had been a big winner on the Stengel-led Yankee teams that won five straight world championships between 1949 and ’53, while mastering a low speed repertoire of junk pitches thrown with precise control. He was the perfect pitching coach for Gabler, who threw the same array of pitches as Lopat.
The combination seemed to be clicking when Gabler opened his season with a win, pitching seven scoreless innings in a 4-0 victory over the Red Sox. But after he got hit hard in his next start, the Yanks sent him to the bullpen and he had never really pitched well as a reliever during his long career in the minors.
Still, he hung on with the team until the end of July, when he was reassigned to Richmond. The Senators then selected him in the 1960 AL Expansion draft. Gabler pitched one season in Washington and his big league career was over. He passed away in 2009, at the age of 78.
|NYY (2 yrs)||4||4||.500||3.79||24||5||5||0||0||1||71.1||67||33||30||3||42||30||1.528|
|WSA (1 yr)||3||8||.273||4.86||29||9||11||0||0||4||92.2||104||61||50||5||37||33||1.522|
Yankee fans heard a lot about Pete Filson in the early eighties. He was a left-handed starting pitcher who had been selected by New York in the ninth round of the 1979 amateur draft. The Yankees assigned him to their Class C Appalachian League team in Paintsville, Kentucky and in 13 starts during the 1979 season he went 9-0 with three shutouts and a 1.68 ERA. The native of Darby, Pennsylvania then proved that first year was no fluke when he followed it up with a 13-9 record in A ball in 1980 and a stellar 17-3 mark the following season.
The question wasn’t would Filson become a winner for New York at the big league level, it was just a matter of when he’d get the chance. But this was the early eighties and the ego-maniacal George Steinbrenner was pretty much dictating the personnel moves made by the Yankee organization. The Boss didn’t get along with Rick Cerone, New York’s staring catcher at the time so he directed the front office to replace him. The Twins’ first string receiver was available but he wouldn’t come cheap. The Yanks had to give Minnesota Filson in the deal.
Filson made his big league debut with the Twins during the 1982 season and spent the next three years pitching out of the Minnesota bullpen. In 1986, he was traded to the White Sox and a year later, he returned to the Bronx as part of the same deal that brought Randy Velarde to the Yankees.
Filson finally got to make his Yankee debut on August 29, 1987 in a relief appearance against the Mariners. He got rocked. He also got lit up in his second appearance against Boston a week later but then settled down and pitched well in his next three. That streak got him his first ever start in pinstripes and he made it a good one, pitching seven scoreless innings against Baltimore and earning his first and only Yankee victory. He pitched well in his next start as well but did not factor in the decision.
Filson turned 29-years-old that year and the Yanks decided to release him at the end of their 1988 spring training camp. He got one more shot at the big leagues in 1990. Filson ended up having a brilliant minor league career, putting together a 95-34 record during his decade pitching on farm teams with a 2.98 ERA. I think the Yanks screwed up his career when they traded him for Wynegar and he ended up stuck in the Twins’ bullpen during his prime. Southpaws did well in the old Yankee Stadium and God knows the Yanks could have used another good lefty starter during those seasons in the early 1980’s.
|MIN (5 yrs)||14||13||.519||3.98||130||24||38||1||0||4||323.0||316||148||143||39||123||164||1.359|
|KCR (1 yr)||0||4||.000||5.91||8||7||0||0||0||0||35.0||42||31||23||6||13||9||1.571|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||3.27||7||2||3||0||0||0||22.0||26||10||8||2||9||10||1.591|
|CHW (1 yr)||0||1||.000||6.17||3||1||2||0||0||0||11.2||14||9||8||4||5||4||1.629|