Learned something interesting when researching for stuff I could use to write a post about today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. The Yankees first started spending more money on player acquisition than any other team in baseball, back when Jacob Ruppert owned the team and employed Ed Barrow as the team’s de facto GM and Miller Huggins as field skipper.
Red Sox owner Harry Frazee became the first beneficiary (or should I say “victim”) of New York’s generosity, when he accepted lot’s of Yankee dollars for most of Boston’s starting pitching rotation, including a soon-to-be-ex-pitcher by the name of Ruth. Another team that saw a lot of Ruppert’s money come their way was the Saint Paul Saints, an American Association minor league team based in Minnesota’s capital city.
The two most notable players the Yankees got from the Saints were shortstop Mark Koenig and today’s birthday celebrant, catcher Pat Collins. A native of Sweet Springs, Missouri, Collins had been a big league backup catcher for the St. Louis Browns from 1919 through 1924, when he was released and signed with the Saints. He was not a good defensive receiver and was an exceptionally slow runner but his pretty decent hitting had kept him on the Browns roster for all that time.
Collins feasted on minor league pitching during the 1925 season, smacking 19 home runs and averaging .316. Meanwhile, during that same year, the Yankees had tried to replace their veteran backstop, Wally Schang with 26-year-old Benny Bengough. Neither Huggins or Barrow were pleased with Bengough’s offense so the Yankee GM gave the Saints $15,000 for Collins.
He did provide the offensive boost the Yankees hoped for during his two seasons as New York’s starting catcher, averaging right around .280 with an excellent on-base percentage. His problem remained defense and it was his poor overall glove work that convinced New York they needed to find his replacement. They gave Johnny Grabowski a shot at the job in 1928 and when he was injured in an off-season home fire, they went with a youngster named Bill Dickey who would remain a fixture behind the plate in Yankee Stadium for the next sixteen years.
Collins got sold to the Braves in December of 1928 and after appearing in just 11 games for Boston during the 1929 season, his big league career was over. He and his wife later operated a bar outside Kansas City and became owners of a minor league team. He was also convicted for evading about $4,000 worth of federal income tax in 1952. He died in 1960 at the age of 63.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention the “something interesting” thing I learned when doing my research on Pat Collins. Ed Barrow would end up spending more than $300,000 purchasing players from that Saint Paul Saints minor league team and among them all, only Koenig and to a lesser extent, Collins ever made any significant contributions to the Yankees. The fact that the keen-eyed New York scouting organization could be so right about most of its signings and acquisitions and so frequently wrong when it came to deals made with the Saints sort of defied explanation. Or did it? Come to find out, one of the co-owners of that Saints franchise, who made lot’s of money from those transactions was none other than Yankee manager, Miller Huggins.
|SLB (6 yrs)||272||605||522||48||124||21||0||13||81||1||2||70||104||.238||.328||.352||.680|
|NYY (3 yrs)||264||858||677||97||182||25||6||20||85||3||3||162||97||.269||.413||.412||.825|
|BSN (1 yr)||7||11||5||1||0||0||0||0||2||0||3||1||.000||.375||.000||.375|
This 2012 Yankee season reminds me a bit of the team’s 2000 campaign. That year was the only year a Joe Torre Yankee-managed team failed to win 90 games in a regular season. They were well on their way to doing so. On September 13th of that season they were in first place in the AL East with a nine game lead and an 84-59 record. That July, New York had made two acquisitions they hoped would help fuel the team’s second-half drive. First they got David Justice from Cleveland and two weeks later they sent a package of four “good” minor league prospects, which included Drew Henson and pitcher Ed Yarnall, to Cincinnati for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, the southpaw Denny Neagle.
After making his big league debut with the Twins in 1991, Neagle had spent the next eight seasons pitching in the National League for Pittsburgh, Atlanta and the Reds. He had won 20-games for the Braves in 1997 and made two NL All Star teams and at the time of the deal, was just a few months short of becoming a free agent.
Both these new Yankees paid immediate dividends to their new team. Justice went on a tear at the plate and literally put the Yankee offense on his back and carried it to the postseason. Neagle won his first two starts in pinstripes in impressive fashion to bring his cumulative 2000 season record to 10-2.
I remember after those first couple of starts, everyone, including me was thinking that New York would be signing Neagle to a long term deal at any minute. Even after the six foot four inch native of Gambrills, Maryland lost his next three starts, I still thought ESPN would soon be announcing his Yankee contract extension, especially after he righted himself and won five of his next six decisions. But his September 12th victory over Toronto would prove to be his final win ever in pinstripes. He got hammered in his next three starts and finished his half-season as a Yankee with a 7-7 record. From September 13th until the end of the year, the Yankees went 3-15, crawling to the AL East Pennant by two-and-a-half-games over second place Boston. Even then, most Big Apple Yankee pundits thought it was a better than even-money bet that Neagle would end up with a new Yankee contract.
He most likely blew that deal with his shaky performance in the 2000 postseason. He lost both his starts against the Mariners and Torre coldly pulled him with two-outs in the fifth inning in his Game-4 World Series start against the Mets. In that contest, Neagle had let the Mets close a three-run Yankee lead to a single digit in the third inning when he surrendered a two-run home run to the Mets’ Mike Piazza. With Piazza about to hit again two innings later, Torre decided he was not going to risk history repeating itself. When a manager doesn’t give his starting pitcher the opportunity to get one more out so that he can qualify for a World Series win, you surmise there might be a lack of trust in their relationship. Torre would later tell the press that when he told Neagle he was through for the night he could see the look of shock in his pitcher’s eyes. Neagle was not only shocked, he was bitterly disappointed. That December, he ended up signing with Colorado, where he would close out his 13-season big-league career with three horrible seasons. His final big league record was 124-92.
|PIT (5 yrs)||43||35||.551||4.02||187||95||21||8||1||3||697.0||705||333||311||78||208||553||1.310|
|COL (3 yrs)||19||23||.452||5.57||72||65||0||1||0||0||370.1||409||239||229||67||135||271||1.469|
|ATL (3 yrs)||38||19||.667||3.43||72||71||0||10||6||0||482.1||440||204||184||48||123||355||1.167|
|CIN (2 yrs)||17||7||.708||3.89||38||37||0||0||0||0||229.1||206||102||99||38||90||164||1.291|
|MIN (1 yr)||0||1||.000||4.05||7||3||2||0||0||0||20.0||28||9||9||3||7||14||1.750|
|NYY (1 yr)||7||7||.500||5.81||16||15||0||1||0||0||91.1||99||61||59||16||31||58||1.423|
I was a big Rick Dempsey fan. Right after the 1972 season ended, the Yankees traded an outfielder named Danny Walton to the Twins to acquire the then 23-year-old catcher. New York would then send Dempsey to their Syracuse Triple A farm club for the 1973 season. In 1974, he became Thurman Munson’s primary backup and remained in that position for the next two and a half seasons. The guy became a superb defensive catcher and he had a shotgun for an arm. During his first season backing up Munson, he threw out 16 of the 22 base runners who tried to steal against him. He saw his most action in pinstripes during the 1975 campaign, when he got into 71 games. Never a great hitter, he had a career high .262 average that year and would often DH or play in the outfield if he wasn’t giving Munson a breather. Even though he didn’t hit for average or power, the guy was a grinder at the plate and a tough out in big situations.
Dempsey adored Munson. In a baseball Digest interview he did later on in his career, he said of the late great Yankee Captain, “I always admired his determination and tenacity, the way he played the game. I always said if I got a chance to play every day I wanted to be just like him.” Rick also loved being a Yankee. He credits Munson and Bobby Murcer for showing him how to act like a baseball player and he says working with Yankee coach and former big league All Star receiver Jim Hegan, made him a much better catcher. But Dempsey’s Yankee days were numbered.
In 1976 with Billy Martin now managing and George Steinbrenner’s “Let’s Win Now” philosophy taking hold, the Yankees decided to sacrifice their best young players to obtain veterans who could help them win that year’s division race. On June 15, 1976, New York traded Dempsey along with pitchers Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor and Dave Pagan to the Baltimore Orioles for Doyle Alexander, Jimmy Freeman, Elrod Hendricks, Ken Holtzman and Grant Jackson. New York got the immediate benefit they were looking for from the deal because Alexander, Holtzman and Grant combined to win 25 games during the second half of that season as New York finished in first by 10.5 games over the Orioles. But in the long run, the deal turned out to be one of the best trades ever made by the Orioles organization. Martinez became the foundation of their bullpen, McGregor the foundation of their rotation and Dempsey the foundation of their defense for the next decade, culminating with the 1983 World Championship.
During the ten seasons Dempsey served as Baltimore’s starting catcher (not including the strike shortened 1981 season) the Birds averaged over 90 victories per year. The highlight of his career was the Orioles 1983 World Series triumph over the Phillies in which Dempsey batted .385 and was named MVP. He ended up becoming a free agent after the 1986 season and signing with the Indians. After one year in Cleveland he played three more with the Dodgers and another three in Milwaukee before coming back to Baltimore for the 1992 swan song to his 24-season big league career. He along with Tim McCarver and Carlton Fisk are the only three catchers in big league history to catch games in four different decades.
One of Dempsey’s trademarks was his comedy act during rain delays. He’d put a beach ball over his belly under his jersey, turn his cap sideways, make believe he hit an inside the park home run and then water slide his way around imaginary bases atop the drenched infield rain tarp. These pantomime performances caused Baltimore fans to actually begin to praying for rain delays.
|BAL (12 yrs)||1245||4105||3585||405||854||169||12||75||355||16||424||538||.238||.319||.355||.674|
|MIN (4 yrs)||41||76||66||4||15||3||0||0||0||0||9||10||.227||.320||.273||.593|
|NYY (4 yrs)||141||350||307||31||71||11||0||3||25||1||35||29||.231||.308||.296||.605|
|LAD (3 yrs)||218||532||446||54||94||25||0||13||61||3||78||110||.211||.326||.354||.680|
|CLE (1 yr)||60||170||141||16||25||10||0||1||9||0||23||29||.177||.295||.270||.565|
|MIL (1 yr)||61||174||147||15||34||5||0||4||21||0||23||20||.231||.329||.347||.676|
My earliest memories of Bernie were of those watching him play for the Albany-Colonie (NY) Yankees at the now-closed Heritage Park somewhere around 1990. Back then, Bernie was one of two prospects with the last name of Williams trying to make their way from New York’s double A minor league franchise to the Yankee Stadium outfield and I have to admit, I thought Gerald Williams would win the competition.
But Bernie was a grinder. The only superstar skill he had was using his great speed to get into position to catch just about any fly ball hit his way. In Yankee Stadium’s spacious center field, that was an important skill to have. He was also a switch-hitter. These were probably the two key reasons why Buck Showalter made Bernie his regular center fielder in 1993. From that point on, Bernie simply evolved himself into a great Yankee and became a key cog in the pinstripe teams that won four World Series during the glorious 1996-2000 run.
During his peak years, Bernie made five straight AL All Star teams and put together seven consecutive years of scoring at least 100 runs, of driving in at least 90, and eight consecutive years hitting above 300.
One of Bernie’s unheralded talents and also his most annoying was the way he would step out of the batter’s box at exactly the precise moment when the opposing pitcher was about to initiate his windup. Nobody did this more effectively than Bernie. Unfortunately, it was also the reason most Yankee games took four hours to complete when Bernie was on the team.
I do regret the fact that the Yankees did not permit Bernie to retire on his own terms. He was pretty much forced off the team when the Yankees decided to go younger in the outfield with Melky Cabrera in 2007. I will always feel that Bernie deserved a Yankee roster spot at the beginning of that season.