First impressions mean a lot in any field of work and probably even more so for baseball players. LaTroy Hawkins’ brief Yankee career got off to a bad start, even before he threw his first regular season pitch in pinstripes. It was the third game of the season and New York was trailing the Blue Jays, 3-0 when Joe Girardi waved in Hawkins to replace Mike Mussina with two outs and runners on first and second in the top of the sixth inning. As Hawkins emerged from the Yankee bullpen the boos began in the Stadium’s bleacher section. It wasn’t anything the huge right-hander had done that was causing the catcalls. It was what he was wearing.
Hawkins had worn uniform number 32 since he had made his big league debut as a 22-year-old starting pitcher with the Minnesota Twins, way back in 1993. That number wasn’t available when he came to the Yankees because it had been retired in honor of Elston Howard. Pirate Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente had always been the Hawkins’ baseball hero so the Gary,Indiana native chose uniform number 21 instead. The problem with that choice was that it had been the uniform number of Yankee fan favorite Paul O’Neill and even though the team had not retired it, Yankee fans, led by the highly emotional bleacher bums, let Hawkins know they didn’t appreciate any one else wearing 21. He then switched jerseys, to number 22.
The truth is, however,that Hawkins could have been wearing number 80 on his back and he still would have been hearing boos in Yankee Stadium. That’s because after his first ten appearances that year, his ERA was over ten, as the Yanks struggled to play .500 baseball during the first month of Girardi’s first season at the helm.
The shaky start resulted in Girardi losing some trust in Hawkins and calling on him less.The lighter workload seemed to help him pitch more effectively.For the next three months, with the exception of a couple of bad appearances, he gave the Yanks some solid innings and lowered his ERA by five runs in the process. But that didn’t prevent him getting traded to the Astros before the ’08 trading deadline.
He then had perhaps the best half season of his career with the Astros. In 24 appearances with Houston that year, he gave up just one earned run resulting in a microscopic ERA of just 0.42. And this guy is still pitching! In 2013, at the age of 40, he was one of the Mets’ best relief pitchers, appearing in 72 games and posting an ERA of 2.93. That effort got him a one-year $2.25 million deal to pitch for the Rockies in 2014. It will be Hawkins’ 20th big league season.
|MIN (9 yrs)||44||57||.436||5.05||366||98||117||2||0||44||818.0||956||497||459||105||290||532||1.523|
|CHC (2 yrs)||6||8||.429||2.76||98||0||62||0||0||29||101.0||90||36||31||14||21||82||1.099|
|HOU (2 yrs)||3||4||.429||1.71||89||0||38||0||0||12||84.1||71||19||16||7||21||70||1.091|
|MIL (2 yrs)||3||4||.429||3.92||70||0||15||0||0||0||64.1||71||30||28||3||16||46||1.352|
|NYM (1 yr)||3||2||.600||2.93||72||0||28||0||0||13||70.2||71||27||23||6||10||55||1.146|
|COL (1 yr)||2||5||.286||3.42||62||0||10||0||0||0||55.1||52||21||21||6||16||29||1.229|
|SFG (1 yr)||1||4||.200||4.10||45||0||9||0||0||2||37.1||40||18||17||3||17||30||1.527|
|LAA (1 yr)||2||3||.400||3.64||48||0||7||0||0||1||42.0||45||20||17||5||13||23||1.381|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||1||.500||5.71||33||0||11||0||0||0||41.0||42||26||26||3||17||23||1.439|
|BAL (1 yr)||3||2||.600||4.48||60||0||12||0||0||0||60.1||73||30||30||4||15||27||1.459|
How times change. In 2006, the Yankee right-hander Jaret Wright went 11-7 with a 4.49 ERA. It was the right-hander’s option year and the Yanks could have kept him in their rotation the next season by paying him $7 million or buy him out for $4 million. If it was this 2013 offseason instead of ’06, its a pretty safe bet Wright would have been pitching in the Bronx next year. But back then, Brian Cashman was convinced he could find someone better than Wright so in a creative deal, the Yankee GM exercised the team’s option and then traded the starting pitcher to the Orioles with $4 million and got today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant back in return.
Chris Britton was a huge 280 pound Florida-born relief pitcher who had been drafted by Baltimore in 2001 and made his big league debut pitching out of the O’s bullpen in 2006. He pitched decently as a reliever for Joe Torre during his first season in pinstripes, which included two stints back in Triple A. In 11 appearances for New York, he managed a 3.55 ERA. He started the ’08 season back in Scranton but pitched well for new Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, in three separate call-ups during the first half of that season. He then got a final call-up in mid August and was used heavily by Girardi the rest of the way. Unfortunately for Britton, he got hit hard during that stretch and was released by New York that December. He kept pitching in the minors until 2011, before hanging up his glove for good, at the age of 28.
Here’s my all-time lineup of Yankees who, like Britton, were born in the Sunshine State.
The only other Yankee born on December 16 is this little-known former Yankee outfielder.
|NYY (2 yrs)||0||1||.000||4.54||26||0||18||0||0||0||35.2||37||18||18||6||15||17||1.458|
|BAL (1 yr)||0||2||.000||3.35||52||0||12||0||0||1||53.2||46||22||20||4||17||41||1.174|
The only member of the Yankee All-Time roster I came across, who was born on November 21 is this right handed reliever who pitched in a total of 20 games for New York during the 1998, ’99 and 2000 seasons. He recorded just one save in pinstripes during that time and had an ERA that exceed five runs for every nine innings pitched. The 1998 trade that brought Erdos to New York from the Arizona Diamondbacks was the same one that ended Andy Fox’s Yankee career. I happened to be a huge Andy Fox fan. Why? Because Andy was a member of the last Albany Colonie Yankee Team in the Double A Eastern league. That was 1994 and the following season, the Yankees switched their Double A affiliation to Greenwich, CT. The Albany ballpark was just a half-hour’s drive from my home in upstate New York. Me and my kids got to see some great future Yankees play in Albany from some very very good seats. In addition to Fox, that team’s final roster for that 1994 season included Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mo Rivera. Erdos is one of two Major League pitchers to be born in Washington, PA. The other one was also a relief pitcher for the Yankees by the name of Joe Verbanic.
|NYY (3 yrs)||0||0||5.03||20||0||8||0||0||1||34.0||41||20||19||4||16||22||1.676|
|SDP (2 yrs)||2||0||1.000||6.23||33||0||10||0||0||1||43.1||49||33||30||6||21||29||1.615|
|BOS (1 yr)||0||0||4.96||10||0||3||0||0||0||16.1||15||9||9||2||8||7||1.408|
Only seven Major League Baseball players have been born in Italy and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant is the only former Yankee on that list. Of course, Rinaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia did not get much of a chance to wear his pinstriped uniform. The right-handed pitcher’s entire Bronx Bomber and big league career consisted of just a single two-inning appearance against the Browns, on April 30, 1947.
The Yanks were getting pasted at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis that afternoon and were already behind 13-4, when Manager Bucky Harris inserted this native of Oleggio, Italy into the game to start the seventh inning. He surrendered four hits and two runs in his two innings of work. Though New York would rebound to win the 1947 AL Pennant and World Series, the team struggled early in the season and after going 2-4 on that late April road trip, Harris reacted by shaking up the Yankee batting order and releasing two pitchers, one of whom was Ardizoia.
He had originally been signed by New York in 1941 and after two seasons in their farm system, he did three years of military service during WWII. He kept pitching in the Pacific Coast League after being released, until1950. Born on November 20, 1919, he turns 94 today, making him the oldest living ex-Yankee.
This lefthander, the only former or current Yankee who celebrates a birthday on November 15, was born in West Wyoming, PA in 1916. It took him a while to get to the big leagues. After graduating from college in 1938, Ostrowski was a high school teacher for three years and then signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox. After two seasons of minor league ball, he spent 1943, ’44 and ’45 in the US Army Air Force. In 1947 he was traded to the Browns’ organization and he made his big league debut with St. Louis as a 31-year-old rookie the following season. He evolved into an important part of the Browns’ bullpen during the next three years and then was traded to New York in the deal that ended the pinstripe career of Snuffy Stirnweiss.
Ostrowski pitched for the 1950, ’51 and ’52 Yankee World Championship teams, making his biggest contribution during the 1951 season, when he won six games and saved five more. He made his only World Series appearance that same season, finishing Game Three against the NY Giants by pitching two innings of shutout ball to preserve the Yankee victory.
Ostrowski wore glasses during his playing days which made him look very professorial while on the mound. Since he actually had taught high school before beginning his pro career, his teammates gave him the nickname “Professor.” After a poor year in 1952, the Yankees released the then 35-year-old southpaw after that season. He spent one more season pitching in the minors and then returned to the classroom and taught at the high school level for the next 25 years. He passed away in 2003.
Here’s my picks for the Yankee’s All-Time Pennsylvania-born lineup:
1b – Joe Collins
2b – Pat Kelley
3b – Joe Dugan
ss – John Knight
c – Butch Wynegar
of – Reggie Jackson
of – Ken Griffey Sr.
of – Dion James
dh – Jack Clark
sp – Mike Mussina
cl – Sparky Lyle
Here’s Joe Ostowski’s Yankee annual and career total regular season stats.
|NYY (3 yrs)||9||7||.563||4.37||75||8||35||3||0||10||179.0||209||101||87||20||47||62||1.430|
|SLB (3 yrs)||14||18||.438||4.65||75||29||25||9||0||5||276.2||350||170||143||24||51||69||1.449|
There have only been four players in the history of Major League Baseball to have been born in Spain. One of them is today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant. Rios came into this world in Madrid on this date in 1972. He and his parents moved to the US two years later. He played baseball for the University of Miami and was signed by the Yankees in 1993. He was groomed from the beginning as a closer by the Yankee organization and had some really strong seasons in that role for New York’s Greensboro, Tampa and Norwich farm teams. By 1997 he was pitching in Columbus and got his call up to the parent club in May of that season.
Unfortunately for Rios, he got shelled by the Red Sox in his first Major League appearance, giving up three home runs and five earned runs during his one and two-thirds inning pitched. That debut performance got him sent back to Columbus and he didn’t throw another pitch in a big league game until September of that season. This time, in his first and only game in the original Yankee Stadium, Rios got shelled again, giving up five hits in two-thirds of an inning against the Orioles. Having seen enough, the Yankees released him after the 1997 season. He signed with the Royals the following year, appeared in five games for Kansas City in 1998 and then left the big leagues for good.
He landed on his feet in the Korean Baseball Organization, becoming the first non-Korean ever to win 20 games in that league in 2007. That performance earned him a huge contract to pitch in Japan the following year. According to his “Bullpen” profile section at Baseball-Reference.com, Rios tested positive for steroids while pitching in Japan and was suspended.
Another nondescript Yankee pitcher named Ownie Carroll was also born on this date.
|KCR (1 yr)||0||1||.000||6.14||5||0||1||0||0||0||7.1||9||9||5||1||6||6||2.045|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||0||19.29||2||0||0||0||0||0||2.1||9||5||5||3||2||1||4.714|
The “Scooter” will always be my all-time favorite Yankee announcer but not because he was a particularly good analyst or play-by-play guy. Quite the opposite, he was petty bad at both. But Rizzuto helped me enjoy Yankee broadcasts regardless if the team won or lost and he wore and flashed his unabashed lack of objectivity on behalf of the Bronx Bombers like a badge of honor.
As much as I enjoyed Rizzuto, I appreciated Jim Kaat. His award-winning commentary taught me things I didn’t know about the game of baseball and how it is played at the highest of levels. He did a great job of explaining technical things to his non-technical audience, like why a curve ball curves, what pitchers have to be prepared for in a suicide squeeze situation, and how the best fielding catchers play the spin of the ball on foul pops.
Unlike Rizzuto, who played his ball before my time during the forties and early fifties, “Kitty” played his rookie season just one year before I became an avid fan of Major League baseball. I loved to listen to him talk about his personal experiences with ballplayers he played with and against, especially during the sixties. Back before you could watch every Yankee game on TV or bring up Major League Baseball’s Web site on the Internet, the only things I knew about players like Bob Allison, Zoilio Versailles, Don Mossi, or Leon Wagner were printed on the backs of the baseball cards that I collected as a kid. Kaat’s vivid memories of the players I grew up watching gave life to the faces on those cards for me.
In addition to announcing for the Yankees for a dozen seasons, Kaat pitched in Pinstripes for parts of both the 1979 and 1980 seasons. He ended his 25-year playing career three seasons later, with 283 career victories. Jim Kaat belongs in the Hall-of-Fame.
|MIN (15 yrs)||190||159||.544||3.34||484||433||20||133||23||6||3014.1||2982||1343||1118||279||729||1851||1.231|
|PHI (4 yrs)||27||30||.474||4.23||102||87||6||11||2||0||536.2||611||266||252||51||109||188||1.342|
|STL (4 yrs)||19||16||.543||3.82||176||17||59||6||1||10||292.1||327||145||124||19||83||98||1.403|
|CHW (3 yrs)||45||28||.616||3.10||92||87||1||30||5||0||623.2||628||250||215||42||144||300||1.238|
|NYY (2 yrs)||2||4||.333||4.12||44||1||16||0||0||2||63.1||72||34||29||4||18||24||1.421|