Most Yankee fans around my age can clearly remember the famous shower-room scuffle between Goose Gossage and Cliff Johnson in 1979 but how many of you can recall a similar incident between Don Mattingly and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant that took place eight years later, during the 1987 season? At the time, the southpaw Shirley was in his fifth year as a Yankee pitcher. He had been signed by New York as a free agent after the 1982 season and went 5-8 as a member of Billy Martin’s starting rotation in ’83. After that inauspicious beginning, he was demoted to the bullpen and became the Yankees’ primary left-handed long reliever. He thrived in that role for the next two seasons and had his best year in pinstripes in ’85 when he appeared in 48 games and posted a career-low ERA of 2.64. He then had a horrible year in 1986, going 0-4 with an ERA that exploded to over five runs for every nine innings he pitched. So Shirley was already on pretty thin ice when according to published reports in June of 1987, he and Donnie Baseball engaged in a playful wrestling match in the visitors’ locker room of Milwaukee’s County Stadium, where the Yankees were playing a series against the Brewers. Mattingly ended up on the DL with two ruptured discs in his back. Though both players and their teammates denied the wrestling had taken place, George Steinbrenner was reportedly livid and ordered that Shirley be released the next day. Mattingly continued to insist that his former teammate was not the cause of his injury, explaining to reporters that Shirley was now looking for a job and he did not want other teams to think that the pitcher was some kind of locker room trouble maker.
Mattingly’s chronic back trouble would of course end up stunting the glorious start he had put together as a Yankee. Shirley would sign on with the Royals one week after being let go but pitched horribly during his only three appearances with Kansas City and was quickly released. He never again pitched in a big league game. He finished his 165-game Yankee career with a 14-20 record, 5 saves and a 4.05 ERA. Lifetime, he was 67-94 during his 11 big league seasons with 18 saves and a 3.82 ERA. Shirley shares his June 25th birthday with this former Yankee catcher. Besides George “Babe” Ruth and Shirley, can you think of any other Yankees who have a girl’s first name as their surname?
|NYY (5 yrs)||14||20||.412||4.05||165||39||38||4||1||5||470.2||488||232||212||40||156||232||1.368|
|SDP (4 yrs)||39||57||.406||3.58||197||92||55||10||1||12||722.0||718||329||287||59||274||432||1.374|
|KCR (1 yr)||0||0||14.73||3||0||1||0||0||0||7.1||10||12||12||5||6||1||2.182|
|STL (1 yr)||6||4||.600||4.08||28||11||5||1||0||1||79.1||78||42||36||6||34||36||1.412|
|CIN (1 yr)||8||13||.381||3.60||41||20||6||1||0||0||152.2||138||74||61||17||73||89||1.382|
This 6’3″ right-hander made his big league debut in 1959, as a member of the Yankee bullpen. He lost all three of his decisions but picked up two saves in his 16 appearances that season. He was sent back down to the minors in July of that season and the next time he pitched in the Majors was as a member of the Senators’ 1963 staff.
As I researched Bronstad’s career, I came across newspaper articles from the winter and spring of 1960 that talked about how the Yankees were really expecting this guy to make their big league roster that season. Then I came across a list of Yankee “prospects” who had been invited to the team’s 1960 spring training camp.The pitchers on that list were Bronstad, Bill Bethell, Tom Burrell, Frank Carpin, Ed Dick, Mark Freeman, John Gabler, George Haney, Johnny James, Billy Short, Bill Stafford, Hal Stowe and Don Thompson. Fritz Brickell was the only infield prospect invited to that camp and there were two catchers brought in by the names of Dan Bishop and Joe Miller. The outfielder invitees were Kent Hunt, Deron Johnson, Don Lock, Jack Reed and Roy Thomas. Of these 21 youngsters, only Stafford would end up making what I considered to be a significant contribution to the parent club during their subsequent careers. Deron Johnson and Don Lock would both become solid big leaguers with other organizations and Ken Hunt would have a couple of decent seasons as a member of the Angels. Remember, this was back in 1960, when Major League Baseball had just 16 teams so it was even tougher for a prospect to earn a roster spot with their parent club than it is today. Coincidentally, I was researching this information about the Yankees’ 1960 prospects last evening as I watched one of their 2013 prospects, outfielder Zoilio Almonte, hit his first big league home run against Tampa Bay. The odds are so stacked against these young kids, it truly has been and always will be a huge accomplishment for a young kid to become a star with the same big league organization that signs him.
Bronstad was born in Ft. Worth, TX. Just like “All my Ex’s” there have been some famous Yankees who have lived in Texas. There have not, however been many great Bronx Bombers who were born in the Lone Star State. Mickey Mantle moved his family to Dallas during his playing days. Roger Clemens was born in Ohio but moved to Texas when he was in high school. Andy Pettitte moved there from Louisiana. The honor of being the best-ever Texas-born Yankee is probably currently between Don Baylor, Chuck Knoblaugh and pitcher Ron Davis. Davis, in fact, is the only native born Texan to make an All Star team while wearing the Yankee uniform.
Jim Bronstad’s Yankee and career stats:
|WSA (2 yrs)||1||4||.200||5.60||29||0||12||0||0||1||64.1||76||42||40||9||24||31||1.554|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||3||.000||5.22||16||3||8||0||0||2||29.1||34||19||17||2||13||14||1.602|
The only member of the Yankee all-time player roster to be born on June 18 (1975) is their former reliever, Felix Heredia. The Yankees claimed the southpaw off waivers during the 2003 season and he pitched real well out of their bullpen for the remainder of that year, making 12 appearances during which he allowed just two earned runs in fifteen total innings. That effort represented an ERA of just 1.20 prompting New York to sign him to a new two-year contract. But during his second season in pinstripes, Heredia struggled with control problems and his Yankee ERA ballooned by over five times causing Joe Torre to eventually lose faith in him. The Yankees traded him to the Mets after the 2005 season in a deal that returned Mike Stanton to the Yankee bullpen. Heredia retired after the 2005 season with a 28-19 record for his ten years in the big leagues and 6 career saves. During that decade he pitched for six other teams in addition to the Yankees.
The only other member of the Yankee baseball family to be born on this same date is this announcer, who’s most famous call had nothing to do with Yankee baseball.
|CHC (4 yrs)||15||6||.714||5.01||221||0||54||0||0||3||163.1||166||102||91||20||80||146||1.506|
|FLA (3 yrs)||6||7||.462||4.72||118||2||27||0||0||2||114.1||112||68||60||5||72||102||1.609|
|NYY (2 yrs)||1||2||.333||4.86||59||0||13||0||0||0||53.2||57||33||29||6||25||29||1.528|
|NYM (1 yr)||0||0||0.00||3||0||1||0||0||0||2.2||1||0||0||0||1||2||0.750|
|CIN (1 yr)||5||2||.714||3.00||57||0||18||0||0||1||72.0||61||27||24||9||28||41||1.236|
|TOR (1 yr)||1||2||.333||3.61||53||0||15||0||0||0||52.1||51||29||21||5||26||31||1.471|
Mike Stanton was a key cog in a great Yankee bullpen that helped the team win three straight World Championships, beginning in1998. A left-hander, this native of Houston, Texas didn’t begin pitching until he got to college but mastered the art quick enough to get selected in the 13th round of the 1987 MLB amateur draft by the Atlanta Braves. He made his big league debut with the Braves two years later and impressed the organization by saving 7 ball games, compiling a 1.50 ERA and striking out more than a hitter an inning during his 20-game first-ever trial.
Stanton spent six-plus seasons in Atlanta, including 1993, when he became the team’s closer and saved a career high 27 games. He lost the closer’s job to Greg McMichael the following year and was traded to the Red Sox at the mid-season trading deadline in 1995.
The Yankees signed him as a free agent following the 1996 season and for the next half-dozen years, he was Joe Torre’s first southpaw choice out of the bullpen. He had a good, moving fastball and when his slider and curveball were working, this guy was simply nasty, especially on left-handed hitters. I loved his toughness and no-nonsense demeanor on the mound. He was the type of pitcher who believed he could get any hitter out in any situation. Though you couldn’t prove it by his rather high ERA while in pinstripes, Stanton got lots of key outs during that unforgettable string of three straight Yankee championships.
His best season in the Bronx was probably his first. In 1997, he appeared in 64 games and went 6-1 with a sparkling 2.57 ERA. Though the Yankees didn’t make it to the Fall Classic that year, they did formulate one of the franchise’s all-time great relief corps by putting Mariano Rivera in the closer role and teaming Stanton with Ramiro Mendoza, Jeff Nelson, and Graeme Lloyd as his set-up men. For the next three years, a Yankee lead in the sixth inning was safer than the gold in Fort Knox.
Though he went 7-1 during the final season of his contract with the Yanks in 2002, he had turned 35 and when Brian Cashman didn’t go after him hard, Stanton ended up signing with the Mets. Two years later, he returned to the Yankees in a trade but the magic was gone. When he retired after the 2007 season he held the record for most “Holds” by a big league reliever.
|ATL (7 yrs)||18||21||.462||4.01||304||0||123||0||0||55||289.2||277||146||129||22||114||223||1.350|
|NYY (7 yrs)||31||14||.689||3.77||456||1||118||0||0||15||448.1||430||197||188||35||165||407||1.327|
|BOS (3 yrs)||5||3||.625||3.56||82||0||31||0||0||1||78.1||76||33||31||12||31||57||1.366|
|NYM (2 yrs)||4||13||.235||3.68||133||0||43||0||0||5||122.1||107||57||50||12||52||92||1.300|
|WSN (2 yrs)||5||6||.455||4.13||86||0||13||0||0||0||72.0||78||35||33||3||30||44||1.500|
|SFG (1 yr)||4||2||.667||3.09||26||0||15||0||0||8||23.1||23||8||8||1||6||18||1.243|
|TEX (1 yr)||0||1||.000||3.22||22||0||9||0||0||0||22.1||20||8||8||2||4||14||1.075|
|CIN (1 yr)||1||3||.250||5.93||69||0||11||0||0||0||57.2||75||39||38||6||18||40||1.613|
One of the true bright spots of the Yankees 2012 season was the performance of their bullpen. If someone told you at the beginning of that year’s spring training camp that Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson would all be on the DL at the same time but their absence would have little negative impact on the quality of New York’s relief pitching, you’d call that person crazy. But that’s exactly what happened. Raffie Soriano, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley all stepped up big time and got a huge early-season assist from today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
Through the middle of June Cory Wade appeared in 27 games for New York that season and pitched 27 innings. He has struck out 30 hitters, walked just 5 and allowed only 8e earned runs for an ERA of 2.63. He wasn’t really a flash in the pan for New York either. In 2011, this right-handed native of Indianapolis appeared in 40 games for the Yankees, went 6-1 with an ERA of just 2.04.
Unfortunately for Wade and the 2012 Yankees, his pitching fell apart during the second half of June. When he gave up a total 10 earned runs in his final two appearances that month, New York skipper Joe Girardi lost confidence in the pitcher and he was demoted to Scranton.
Wade came up to the big leagues with the Dodgers in 2008 and pitched well for Manager Joe Torre. He then injured his shoulder in 2009 and required surgery. The Dodgers released him and he signed with Tampa but never pitched an inning for the Rays. The Yankees signed him in June of 2011 and with his arm completely healed, Wade’s been pitching well ever since. He’s not a hard thrower. His fastball tops out at about 90 miles per hour but he has very good command of four different pitches and has been mixing speeds masterfully since he donned the pinstripes. Let’s hope it continues.
Wade was called back up by New York for the 2012 stretch run and pitched OK but not great. He was then left off the Yankees’ postseason roster and put on waivers that October. He’s now pitching in the Royals’ minor league system.
Wade shares his May 28th birthday with another very effective Yankee relief pitcher from the 1950s.
|LAD (2 yrs)||4||4||.500||3.18||82||0||23||0||0||0||99.0||79||39||35||10||25||69||1.051|
|NYY (2 yrs)||7||2||.778||4.23||79||0||15||0||0||0||78.2||79||39||37||13||16||68||1.208|
I was busy last evening and missed most of the Yankee game so when I sat down to write this blog at around 10:00 pm the first thing I did was check for the score of the game on ESPN NY. That’s when I learned about Mariano Rivera twisting his knee while shagging outfield flies in batting practice. After I cursed like a sailor, kicked the dog and screamed at my wife (I’m kidding, I don’t own a dog) I started thinking about just how durable Rivera has been during the seventeen seasons the Yankees have trusted no one else with ninth inning leads.
I’ll never forget thinking the Yankee front office was crazy for letting John Wetteland walk away as a free agent after he had saved 43 games during the 1996 regular season and all four of the Yankees’ victories in that year’s World Series. But it turned out he was just the first of many. What do Bob Wickman, David Weathers, Mark Wohlers, Tom Gordon, Octavio Dotel, Kerry Ward, Armando Benitez, and Rafael Soriano all have in common? Not only did they pitch in the same Yankee bullpen as the great Sandman, each of them has had 30-save seasons in the big leagues either before or after they became Mo’s teammate. Mo has been so good for so long that no other 30-save big league closer has ever had even the slightest chance of taking away his job. And that includes today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
Like Mariano, Joe Borowski also began his big league career in 1995. The Orioles brought him up in July and he appeared in six games as a reliever that season. He spent the next year with the Braves but did not make their postseason roster so he missed the opportunity to compete against Mo and the Yankees in the ’96 Series. The following September Atlanta waived him and the Yankees picked him up. In 1998, he spent most of the season in Columbus but was called up to the Bronx in August. With the exception of one pounding he took against Texas, this right-handed native of Bayonne, NJ pitched real well, surrendering just a single run in his seven other appearances for New York. The Yankees let him go in September of 1999 and he didn’t get back to the big leagues until late in the 2001 season as a member of the Cubs. In 2002, he finally got a chance to pitch regularly at the big league level, when he appeared in 73 games for Chicago, won four of eight decisions, had an ERA of 2.73 and garnered his first two big league saves. That effort gave Cub Manager Dusty Baker the confidence he needed to give Borowski a shot at closing in 2003 and big Joe did not disappoint. He saved 33 games that year, lowered his ERA to 2.63 and was a big reason why the Cubbies made it to the postseason.
Chicago rewarded him with a two-year, four million dollar contract that off season and Borowski went out and tore his rotator cuff. The next year he broke his hand. He did not fully recover from those injuries until 2006 and by then he was pitching for the Marlins and getting paid the league minimum. But after he saved 33 games for Florida, the Indians signed him as a free agent with a two-year deal worth eight million dollars. Borowski helped Cleveland win the AL Central Division in 2007 by leading the League with 45 saves. The odd thing about his performance that season was that he was able to save so many games despite compiling an ERA north of five. When the 2008 season opened, Borowski got off to a horrible start, forcing Cleveland to first take his closer job away and then in July of that year, giving him his outright release. By then Borowski was 37 years old. He shares his May 4th birthday with this former Yankee infielder.
|CHC (5 yrs)||8||11||.421||3.73||175||1||106||0||0||44||198.0||182||87||82||24||67||192||1.258|
|ATL (2 yrs)||4||6||.400||4.32||42||0||16||0||0||0||50.0||60||26||24||6||29||21||1.780|
|CLE (2 yrs)||5||8||.385||5.57||87||0||72||0||0||51||82.1||101||53||51||13||25||67||1.530|
|NYY (2 yrs)||1||1||.500||6.94||9||0||7||0||0||0||11.2||13||9||9||0||8||9||1.800|
|TBD (1 yr)||1||5||.167||3.82||32||0||4||0||0||0||35.1||26||15||15||3||11||16||1.047|
|FLA (1 yr)||3||3||.500||3.75||72||0||60||0||0||36||69.2||63||31||29||7||33||64||1.378|
|BAL (1 yr)||0||0||1.23||6||0||3||0||0||0||7.1||5||1||1||0||4||3||1.227|
When CC Sabathia shed 25 pounds after the 2010 postseason, he also shed the mantra of being the heaviest full-time player in MLB history. That honor now reverts back to another Yankee pitcher named Walter Brown. Brown was 6’4″ tall, three inches shorter than Sabathia and tipped the scales at 295 pounds. As a result, he was better known as “Jumbo” Brown. Born in Green, Rhode Island, he broke into the big leagues with the Cubs in 1925 and then pitched for the Indians during the 1927 and ’28 seasons. Not yet ready for prime time, the big guy then returned to the minors.
He became a Yankee in 1932 and spent four of the next five seasons as a member of the Yankee bullpen and one of manager Joe McCarthy’s occasional starters. Unfortunately for Brown, those Yankee teams of the 1930’s were loaded with talented pitchers. One of Brown’s biggest problems, according to author Stephen Lombardi in his book “The Baseball Same Game,” was the fact that his fingers were too short and too stubby to throw a curveball so he was limited to throwing only a fastball. Though Brown’s heater was a good one, it was not good enough to break into that Yankee rotation because after one time through a lineup, opposing hitters had a much easier time squaring up to a one-pitch pitcher.
By 1934, Jumbo was forced to pitch in Newark where he again got a chance to start and won 20-games for the Yankees’ top Minor League franchise. He was 19-16 during his stay in pinstripes, earning two saves and pitching two shutouts. The Reds purchased his contract in 1937 but he quickly returned to the Big Apple when the Giants bought him from Cincinnati that same season. He spent his final five big league seasons pitching very effectively out of the bullpen at the Polo Grounds. His one pitch repertoire was much more suited to relief work, during which hitters faced the rotund right hander and his fastball just once. Brown actually led the NL in saves in both 1940 and ’41 before joining the US Navy. His baseball career ended for good when his military service began. Jumbo is the only member of the Yankee all-time roster to celebrate his birthday on the last day of April.
|NYG (5 yrs)||13||12||.520||2.93||150||0||104||0||0||26||267.1||237||106||87||13||104||131||1.276|
|NYY (4 yrs)||19||16||.543||4.74||80||22||31||7||2||2||281.0||323||166||148||10||148||146||1.676|
|CLE (2 yrs)||0||3||.000||6.48||13||0||10||0||0||0||33.1||38||29||24||3||41||20||2.370|
|CIN (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||8.38||4||1||0||0||0||0||9.2||16||10||9||0||3||4||1.966|
|CHC (1 yr)||0||0||3.00||2||0||2||0||0||0||6.0||5||5||2||0||4||0||1.500|