For the past decade the voodoo drug in Major League Baseball has been steroids and its tentacles have extended into the Yankee locker room on several occasions, highlighted by the public confessions of A-Rod and Jason Giambi. I’m currently reading Jim Bouton’s incredibly good book “Ball Four,” in which he chronicles his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros. In it, “the Bulldog” makes it very clear that in the 1960’s, the voodoo drug of choice for professional baseball players was amphetamines (or “greenies” as they were called back then.) Before that, booze was the preferred poison of Major Leaguers. It was alcohol abuse that almost derailed Babe Ruth’s career in New York, rotted Mickey Mantle’s liver and allegedly contributed to the roll-over of the pickup truck that killed Billy Martin.
So illegal drugs and substance abuse of some sort or another have unfortunately become as big a part of the Yankee tradition as pennant drives and batting crowns. Its been going on forever and you can bet its not going away any time soon. I personally consider the most demoralizing period of substance abuse to have been the 1980s. Why? Cocaine.
Drinking booze was and still is considered as much of an accepted all-American pastime as the game itself. Greenies and steroids were not good for ballplayers but they were dispensed and administered under the premise that they would help a player perform better. But smack was different. Too many Americans had already witnessed or personally experienced the debilitating impact of cocaine addiction on people and whole communities.
Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Steve Howe, Tim Raines, Lee Mazzilli, and Dale Berra were all one-time Yankees who experienced highly publicized cocaine addictions. And then there was today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Rod Scurry was a California native who came up to the big leagues with the Pirates in 1980. He was a tall lean left-hander who became a workhorse in manager Chuck Tanner’s bullpen during the early eighties. But of all places, Pittsburgh, famously known as the Steel City, was also the Cocaine Center of Major League Baseball in the 80’s. In 1985 a Pittsburgh grand jury was convened to hear testimony from players on the Pirates and opposing teams who purchased cocaine from drug dealers permitted inside the home and visiting clubhouses of Three Rivers Stadium. (Raines, Mazzilli, Berra and Scurry all testified)
Trials were held, the dealers were jailed and the commissioner handed out fines and suspensions to the players involved. In September of 1985, while these legal proceedings were still in process, the Yankee purchased Scurry from Pittsburgh. Then-Yankee Manager Billy Martin inserted him into five games for New York during the last month of that season and Scurry pitched well, winning his only decision, earning a save and posting an ERA of 2.84.
The following March, MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth announced his penalties for all the players involved in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials. Scurry was quoted at the time in a NY Times article, referring to the penalties as “a great day for baseball.” In that same article, it was pretty clear that Scurry himself had doubts about his ability to stay off the drug. “It’s all in the past now. It’s a new start in life and in baseball. I’m on the way back up. Go back two years, and I was almost out of baseball. I think addiction overrides everything else, no matter how stiff the penalties are. You don’t care about anything; nothing matters. It’s not something you can turn off and on. I don’t know where it’ll end, if it’ll ever end.”
For Scurry, it did not end. He went on to pitch for New York in 1986, appearing in 31 games and finishing the season with a 1-2 record with 2 saves and ann ERA of 3.66. That December, the Yankees re-signed him to pitch for the club the following year. Just one month after that signing, Scurry was arrested for drunken driving in Reno, NV and refused a police request to undergo a chemical test. That incident pretty much ended his Yankee career.
I found the following in another NY Times article, describing events leading up to Scurry’s death in November of 1992: “…Scurry’s neighbors in Reno summoned Washoe County sheriff’s deputies to his home. They found the 36-year-old Scurry in the throes of what the coroner’s report later called an acute psychotic episode. The deputies said he complained that snakes were crawling on him and biting him. They said Scurry became violent and stopped breathing when they tried to place him in handcuffs and leg restraints. Hospitalized and placed on life-support systems in the intensive-care unit, Scurry died a week later. An autopsy disclosed that he died of a small hemorrhage within his brain after a cardiorespiratory collapse. A “significant condition,” the autopsy report said, was cocaine intoxication.”
Scurry shares his St. Patrick’s Day birthday with this one-time Yankee pitcher.
|PIT (6 yrs)||17||28||.378||3.15||257||7||115||0||0||34||377.1||309||152||132||22||224||345||1.413|
|NYY (2 yrs)||2||2||.500||3.46||36||0||12||0||0||3||52.0||43||22||20||3||32||53||1.442|
|SEA (1 yr)||0||2||.000||4.02||39||0||18||0||0||2||31.1||32||16||14||6||18||33||1.596|
The Yankees signed this Puerto Rican giant in 1988 after selecting the 6’7″ right-hander in the 15th round of that year’s amateur draft. During his senior year at Miami Lakes High School in Hialeah, Florida Munoz was a star basketball player who had scholarship offers to play hoops at several big-time schools. In fact, he planned on playing on the hard court at UNLV but bad grades forced a change in those plans and he went to Palm Beach Community College instead. That’s when the Yanks drafted him and convinced him to give professional baseball a shot.
He spent four-plus seasons in the Yankee farm system, where he was converted into a closer when he reached Stump Merrill’s Columbus Clippers Triple A team in 1993. After starting out the season there with a 3-1 record and 10 saves, the Yanks called him up to the Bronx in late May to join Buck Showalter’s bullpen.
A confident 25-year-old at the time of his call-up, Munoz asked for and received Goose Gossage’s uniform number 54. He then spent his first month in pinstripes reminding New York fans of the Goose, pitching in a setup role for then-Yankee closer Steve Farr. By June 29th his record was 2-0 with 3 holds, 17 K’s and a solid 2.50 ERA.
Unfortunately, he faltered in the second half and then the Yankees grew concerned about his weight, which had gotten above the 260 mark by the end of his debut season. He got his weight back down that winter but was unpleasantly surprised at the beginning of the Yanks 1994 spring-training camp to find he had been dealt to the Phils in the deal that brought starting pitcher Terry Mulholland to New York.
The Phillies tried to make him a starter again and his 7-5 record in that role during the strike-shortened season of 1994 indicated there was some wisdom behind the move. But he hurt his arm the following year and went a combined 1-14 during his final five big league seasons.
|PHI (4 yrs)||8||15||.348||4.84||38||30||2||1||0||1||178.2||205||116||96||19||66||93||1.517|
|MON (1 yr)||0||4||.000||5.14||15||7||4||0||0||0||42.0||53||25||24||6||21||21||1.762|
|NYY (1 yr)||3||3||.500||5.32||38||0||12||0||0||0||45.2||48||27||27||1||26||33||1.620|
|BAL (1 yr)||0||0||9.75||9||1||5||0||0||0||12.0||18||13||13||4||6||6||2.000|
The nice thing about writing a blog like this is that in doing the research necessary, I learn things about my all-time favorite team that I never knew or realized. For example, I remember when Greg Cadaret wore pinstripes but I had no idea he actually appeared in over 180 games for New York during the three and a half seasons he pitched as a Yankee. His best season in the Bronx was 1991 when he went 8-6 out of the bullpen with three saves and a 3.62 ERA. He came to New York in the 1989 in-season trade that sent Ricky Henderson back to Oakland. The Yankees sold him to Cincinnati after the 1992 season. Greg was born in Detroit on February 27, 1962.
Another Yankee celebrating a birthday on February 27 is this former catcher who is the only man in MLB history to have caught two perfect games during his career. This former catcher/coach and another former Yankee reliever also share Cadaret’s birthday.
|NYY (4 yrs)||22||23||.489||4.12||188||35||36||4||2||7||439.0||443||220||201||35||235||324||1.544|
|OAK (3 yrs)||11||4||.733||3.24||113||0||29||0||0||3||139.0||118||57||50||8||79||108||1.417|
|ANA (2 yrs)||1||2||.333||3.91||54||0||17||0||0||1||50.2||49||22||22||7||23||48||1.421|
|KCR (1 yr)||1||1||.500||2.93||13||0||3||0||0||0||15.1||14||5||5||0||7||2||1.370|
|TEX (1 yr)||0||0||4.70||11||0||3||0||0||0||7.2||11||4||4||1||3||5||1.826|
|CIN (1 yr)||2||1||.667||4.96||34||0||15||0||0||1||32.2||40||19||18||3||23||23||1.929|
|DET (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||3.60||17||0||9||0||0||2||20.0||17||9||8||0||16||14||1.650|
|TOR (1 yr)||0||1||.000||5.85||21||0||8||0||0||0||20.0||24||15||13||4||17||15||2.050|
One of the Yankees’ less publicized free agent signings during their busy winter of 2013-14 was Matt Thornton, a veteran left-handed reliever who they are now counting on to replace the departed Boone Logan. They liked Thornton enough to give him a two-year, $7 million deal. I was kind of thinking that they already had Logan’s replacement on their roster.
Cesar Cabral is a huge, hard-throwing southpaw, who made his big league and Yankee debut during September of the 2013 season. Joe Girardi got this 6’3″ – 250 pound native Dominican into eight games that month and he responded by giving up just 1 run while striking out six in the 3.2 innings he pitched. New York had hoped to feature Cabral in their parent club’s bullpen much sooner, when they picked him up in the Rule 5 Draft in 2012. In fact, he was impressing everyone during New York’s 2012 spring training camp, when he injured his left shoulder during the same game Michael Pineda injured his right one, forcing both pitchers to undergo career-disrupting surgery.
If Cabral’s arm is fully healed, I do think he has the stuff to make an impact at the big league level, especially if the Thornton signing backfires. He turns just 25-years-old today, which means he’s young enough to have long-term late-inning impact for my favorite team.
Back in the mid eighties, one of the top Yankee prospects was a big power hitting first baseman named Orestes Destrade. He was a tall Cuban who was hitting about 25 home runs per season for New York’s upper level farm teams and Yankee fans got our first look at him in September of 1987 when big league rosters expanded to 40. He didn’t hit any home runs but he did get on base a lot (.417 OBP) so I thought we’d probably see more of him the following year. I was wrong.
New York traded Destrade that off season. Back then, New York traded top prospects faster than Donald Trump fired apprentices so I wasn’t surprised to see Destrade dealt. I was surprised at who the Yankees got in return. Hipolito Pena was a tall thin left-handed pitcher who had appeared in 26 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates during the previous two seasons. He had lost all six of his Pirate decisions and accumulated a 5.56 ERA. In 1988, Pena became part of the Yankee bullpen, getting into 16 games and earning his first and only big league victory. He then spent the next six seasons in the minors before retiring for good in 1996. In the mean time, Destrade never made it with Pittsburgh but he resurfaced with the Marlins in 1993, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 87 in what was considered his rookie year. But he also struck out 130 times. Orestes had a terrible 1994 season and it ended up being his last one in the big leagues.
Pena shares a birthday with this former Yankee coach.
|PIT (2 yrs)||0||6||.000||5.56||26||2||5||0||0||2||34.0||23||24||21||5||29||22||1.529|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||1||.500||3.14||16||0||8||0||0||0||14.1||10||8||5||1||9||10||1.326|
By the time John Habyan got to the Yankees he had learned the hard way that it was best to keep his emotions in check. The Bay Shore, New York native was drafted by the Orioles in the third round of the 1982 draft right out of St. John the Baptist High School. He then impressed everyone during his quick climb up the O’s farm system and by 1985, this right-hander was getting shots with the parent club. He later admitted that he was overwhelmed by the experience and and had difficulty staying calm and composed on the mound. He got his best shot with Baltimore in 1987, appearing in 27 games, including 13 starts for a very bad Orioles’ ball club. He went just 6-7 with an ERA near five and then he separated his shoulder in a winter sledding mishap.
So by the time Baltimore gave up on Habyan and he was traded to the Yankee organization in 1989, he had learned his lesson. No more being in awe of big league hitters and no more letting his emotions effect his pitching. He convinced himself he hated every hitter he faced and he learned how not to get too excited when a manager handed him a baseball. He also worked hard to improve his slider.
These were great adjustments on his part. He got his ticket to the Bronx in 1991 after pitching well in Columbus the season before. His first year in New York was Stump Merrill’s last and his 4-2 record and 2.30 ERA in 66 appearances was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal Yankee season. He and closer Steve Farr combined to give New York a great chance to win whenever the team’s substandard offense was able to give them a lead to protect in the late innings.
Habyan then started out the 1992 season just as hot and new Yankee manager Buck Showalter told every reporter who would listen that this guy was the best setup man in the game. But it didn’t last. Habyan started getting hammered after the 1992 All Star break as hitters no longer had trouble squaring up on his slider.
New York gave him a chance to recover the magic in 1993 but when it didn’t happen, he was traded in a three-team deal that put reliever Paul Assenmacher in pinstripes. After pitching for four different teams in the next three seasons, Habyan’s big league career ended in 1996. He eventually became the head baseball coach at his old high school on Long Island.
|NYY (4 yrs)||11||9||.550||3.16||164||0||58||0||0||10||213.2||212||82||75||13||59||147||1.268|
|BAL (4 yrs)||9||10||.474||4.61||42||18||7||0||0||1||160.0||159||95||82||25||62||84||1.381|
|STL (2 yrs)||4||2||.667||3.07||83||0||19||0||0||1||88.0||82||35||30||2||35||81||1.330|
|KCR (1 yr)||0||0||4.50||12||0||2||0||0||0||14.0||14||7||7||1||4||10||1.286|
|COL (1 yr)||1||1||.500||7.13||19||0||5||0||0||0||24.0||34||19||19||4||14||25||2.000|
|CAL (1 yr)||1||2||.333||4.13||28||0||7||0||0||0||32.2||36||16||15||2||12||25||1.469|
It really was amazing that despite a rash of injuries and bad personnel moves by the team’s front office, the Yankees still had a shot at postseason play going into the second week of September. But when they dropped the first two games of their final series with the Red Sox, I knew there’d be no fall ball for my favorite team in 2013.
On the evening of Sunday, September 15th, I decided to turn on the final game of that three-game set for one reason and one reason only. Ivan Nova was scheduled to pitch and I wanted to see if he was back in his groove. Even though he had won his previous four decisions, he had pitched poorly in his last two outings, getting roughed up by the Rays and the Red Sox. With Pettitte retiring and Hughes imploding, I figured Nova was an essential member of New York’s 2014 rotation so I wanted to see if he could hold the soon-to-be World Champion Red Sox in check that night. He didn’t. When Boston knocked him out in the fifth inning the Yankees were behind 5-1.
By the time the seventh inning rolled around I was probably already snoring away and dreaming that the Yankees would not only sign Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran the following offseason, but also snare Masahiro Tanaka. Whatever the reason, I ended up missing the Yankee debut of today’s Pinstripe Biirthday Celebrant. It turned out to also be his farewell performance as a Bronx Bomber. When he took the mound in Fenway that evening, he became the 23rd different pitcher to do so for New York during the disappointing 2013 regular season.
Like Joba Chamberlain, the guy he relieved in that night’s game, Zagurski is a native of Nebraska. A 12th round draft choice of the Phillies in 2005, he had made his big league debut two years later, appearing in 25 games out of the bullpen for Philadelphia in 2007 and struggling mightily with his control. The portly southpaw then spent most of the next four seasons in the minors, eventually getting traded to the Diamondbacks. He made Arizona’s big league staff in 2012, appeared in 45 games that season and again struggled with his control.
He was released that November and picked up by Pittsburgh that December. The Yankees originally signed him in June of 2013, when the Pirates let him go. New York then released him two months later. He was with Oakland for two short weeks, got dropped and re-signed with the Yankees. Cashman picked him up again only because Boone Logan’s sore pitching elbow wasn’t responding to treatment and Joe Girardi needed a left-arm in the pen to replace it. Unfortunately, Zagurski failed the only chance the Yankee skipper gave him to fill that void.
The first hitter he faced against Boston that night was Stephen Drew, who drilled a long fly ball out to deep right. Red Sox phee-nom Xander Bogaerts then singled sharply. Another Red Sox phee-nom, Jackie Bradley became the last hitter the Big Zag would ever face while wearing a Yankee uniform. He ended up hitting the young outfielder with a pitch. Cashman released him right after the season ended and Zagurski’s odyssey continued when he was signed the following month by the Indians.
Zagurski became the ninth member of the all-time Yankee roster with a last name that began with the letter “Z.” He shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee who won the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year Award, this long-ago Yankee pitcher and this one too.
|PHI (3 yrs)||1||0||1.000||6.82||37||0||8||0||0||0||31.2||37||24||24||5||19||36||1.768|
|ARI (1 yr)||0||0||5.54||45||0||13||0||0||0||37.1||37||24||23||5||19||34||1.500|
|PIT (1 yr)||0||0||15.00||6||0||2||0||0||0||6.0||10||10||10||1||8||5||3.000|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||0||54.00||1||0||0||0||0||0||0.1||1||2||2||0||0||0||3.000|