In just their second year in New York, the 1904 Yankees, then known as the Highlanders, almost captured their first-ever pennant. Their MVP that year was a spit-balling right hander named Happy Jack Chesbro who set a modern day record that season by winning 41 games. But the Clark Griffith managed Highlander squad won a total of 92 times that year which means pitchers besides Chesbro had 51 more wins. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had 23 of those 51 victories.
One of the joys I had as a baseball fan and a father was watching my oldest son Matt pitch when he played youth baseball. He started doing so at the age of ten when he was still playing in the first level of our local youth baseball league. At that level, the mound was just 45 feet from home plate and at that distance Matt’s fastball was pretty intimidating. As he advanced to the next levels of play the distance between the mound and the plate grew and my son quickly realized he couldn’t win games throwing just his fastball. Instead he became one of the youngest junk pitchers in history. He began experimenting with different arm angles, grips and speeds. Watching from the stands, it sometimes looked like he was lobbing the ball to the plate and the coaches of teams facing him would scream at their players who were batting that they should be hitting his pitches all over the park. But more often than not, they’d take off balance swings that resulted in outs instead of base-runners and Mattie-boy won a lot more games than he lost.
That’s why as I researched the career of Jack Powell, I came to the conclusion that his pitching philosophy was a lot like my son Matt’s. His entire objective on the mound was to fool hitters, not overpower them. Throw the ball near the strike zone at various speeds using different arm angles with the objective of keeping opposing hitter off-balance. Powell threw so effortlessly that sportswriters covering his games swore even they could hit him. He was one of the very few MLB hurlers to use no windup when he pitched and because he threw so easy, he could start often and give you lots of innings each time he did.
A native of Bloomington, IL, Jack “Red” Powell began his big league career in 1897 with the National League’s old Cleveland Spiders. He also pitched for the Cardinals and the Browns until he was traded by the latter to the Highlanders in March of 1904 for a guy named Harry Howell.
Unfortunately, Clark Griffith overdid things with his two best pitchers trying to win that 1904 pennant. Powell made 45 starts for the Highlanders that season and pitched a total of 390 innings. Add Chesbro’s unimaginable 454 innings that same year and these two guys pitched over 60% of the innings the Islanders played that season. It was absolutely no coincidence that both men developed sore arms in 1905 and neither ever again approached their win totals of 1904. In fact, Powell’s lifetime record through 1904 was 157-134 and just 88-120 afterwards.
His record was 8-13 in 1905, when the Yankees released him late in the season. He returned to the St. Louis Browns, where he continued to pitch until 1912.
Powell shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever.
|SLB (10 yrs)||117||143||.450||2.63||294||264||27||210||27||11||2229.2||2083||900||651||43||486||884||49||1.152|
|STL (3 yrs)||59||54||.522||3.79||131||117||14||101||7||3||999.0||1109||559||421||38||212||297||30||1.322|
|CLV (2 yrs)||38||25||.603||3.06||69||67||2||60||8||0||567.0||573||271||193||10||174||154||25||1.317|
|NYY (2 yrs)||31||32||.492||2.81||84||68||14||51||4||1||593.1||554||261||185||19||149||286||16||1.185|
When Hall of Famer Bill Dickey began his sixth consecutive season as the Yankees’ starting catcher in 1934 he broke the 25-year-old record for most consecutive years starting for New York at that position, which was set by today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. John Peter Kleinow, better known as Red, was born in Milwaukee on this date in 1877. He played baseball in college and then the minor leagues before signing with the Highlanders in 1904. During his first season in New York, he was the team’s back-up backstop to Deacon McGuire. He took over as starter the following year and maintained that status through the 1909 season.
Never a good hitter, Kleinow was instead considered to be an excellent defensive catcher. His lifetime percentage for throwing out base runners attempting to steal was an impressive 44%. But it was a pitch that got over Kleinow’s head in his rookie season that cost New York a shot at the franchise’s first pennant in 1904. Trailing Boston by a game and a half with just two to play, New York’s 41-game winner, Jack Chesbro was pitching against the first place team in the eighth inning of a 2-2 tie game. Chesbro threw one of the dirtiest baseballs in the game and in the later innings, when the sun was low in the sky and shadows covered the Hilltopper Park pitching mound, it was next to impossible for a hitter or catcher to pick up the flight of a “Happy Jack” doctored baseball. With a runner on third, Chesbro let loose a spitball that the hitter never saw. Unfortunately, neither did Kleinow. As the ball sailed over the catcher’s head, the runner on third scampered safely home and Boston won the game and clinched the pennant.
In 1910, Red became a Red Sox when Boston purchased his contract from New York. But by then, the wear and tear on Kleinow’s legs from all those years of catching had caught up with him and he was out of the big leagues after 1911. His batting average during his seven years with New York was only .219 and he drove in an average of just 17 runs per season. He must have been a defensive wizard!
Red shares his July 20th birthday with this pitcher the Yankees acquired in a trade for Dave Winfield. Today is also the 44th anniversary of Man’s first steps on the Moon which also means it is my oldest brother’s birthday. Happy birthday Big J.
|NYY (7 yrs)||522||1681||1496||137||328||43||20||2||127||38||131||186||.219||.286||.279||.564|
|BOS (2 yrs)||58||186||161||9||25||1||0||1||8||4||22||26||.155||.257||.180||.437|
|PHI (1 yr)||4||8||8||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||.125||.125||.250||.375|