Yankee fans heard a lot about Pete Filson in the early eighties. He was a left-handed starting pitcher who had been selected by New York in the ninth round of the 1979 amateur draft. The Yankees assigned him to their Class C Appalachian League team in Paintsville, Kentucky and in 13 starts during the 1979 season he went 9-0 with three shutouts and a 1.68 ERA. The native of Darby, Pennsylvania then proved that first year was no fluke when he followed it up with a 13-9 record in A ball in 1980 and a stellar 17-3 mark the following season.
The question wasn’t would Filson become a winner for New York at the big league level, it was just a matter of when he’d get the chance. But this was the early eighties and the ego-maniacal George Steinbrenner was pretty much dictating the personnel moves made by the Yankee organization. The Boss didn’t get along with Rick Cerone, New York’s staring catcher at the time so he directed the front office to replace him. The Twins’ first string receiver was available but he wouldn’t come cheap. The Yanks had to give Minnesota Filson in the deal.
Filson made his big league debut with the Twins during the 1982 season and spent the next three years pitching out of the Minnesota bullpen. In 1986, he was traded to the White Sox and a year later, he returned to the Bronx as part of the same deal that brought Randy Velarde to the Yankees.
Filson finally got to make his Yankee debut on August 29, 1987 in a relief appearance against the Mariners. He got rocked. He also got lit up in his second appearance against Boston a week later but then settled down and pitched well in his next three. That streak got him his first ever start in pinstripes and he made it a good one, pitching seven scoreless innings against Baltimore and earning his first and only Yankee victory. He pitched well in his next start as well but did not factor in the decision.
Filson turned 29-years-old that year and the Yanks decided to release him at the end of their 1988 spring training camp. He got one more shot at the big leagues in 1990. Filson ended up having a brilliant minor league career, putting together a 95-34 record during his decade pitching on farm teams with a 2.98 ERA. I think the Yanks screwed up his career when they traded him for Wynegar and he ended up stuck in the Twins’ bullpen during his prime. Southpaws did well in the old Yankee Stadium and God knows the Yanks could have used another good lefty starter during those seasons in the early 1980’s.
|MIN (5 yrs)||14||13||.519||3.98||130||24||38||1||0||4||323.0||316||148||143||39||123||164||1.359|
|KCR (1 yr)||0||4||.000||5.91||8||7||0||0||0||0||35.0||42||31||23||6||13||9||1.571|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||3.27||7||2||3||0||0||0||22.0||26||10||8||2||9||10||1.591|
|CHW (1 yr)||0||1||.000||6.17||3||1||2||0||0||0||11.2||14||9||8||4||5||4||1.629|
I remember very well the first time I realized the purpose and power of a good first baseman’s mitt. I was 11 years old and playing for St. Agnello Club, a team in my hometown’s youth baseball league. During our first practice before the season began, the coach of my team had asked me what position I played. Although Mickey Mantle was my favorite player back then I knew center fielders had to do a lot of running and the only running I did at that time was to get to the dinner table before my two older brothers ate all the good stuff. So I told my coach I played first base.
He looked at the “Rocky Colavito” model Rawlings’ outfielders’ glove I was wearing on my left hand and said, “You can’t play first base with that tiny thing, you need the Trapper.” He then picked up and reached into the large burlap equipment bag that was lying alongside the batting cage and pulled out the biggest wad of rawhide leather I’d ever seen in my young life. It was a genuine first baseman’s mitt.
I put that monster on my hand and went over to first base for my first-ever official infielder’s practice. Coach hit the first ground ball to our third baseman, who happened to also be one of the two sons he had playing on that year’s team. He bobbled the grounder a couple of times before finally getting the ball into his throwing hand and making a pretty hard throw toward my direction. I could tell the ball was not going to reach me and it was going to be wide of first toward right field, so I did my best Joe Pepitone impersonation and put my right toe on the side of the first base bag while reaching across my body to attempt a sweeping backhand scoop catch of the misdirected thrown ball. I may have also closed my eyes. Somehow, the ball ended up in the huge webbing of the “Trapper” and a couple of the parents who were watching the practice started clapping. I heard my coach yell “Looks like we found our new first baseman.”
For the rest of that practice and the first six or seven games of that first season, me and the Trapper caught every ball hit or thrown within four feet of first base. That glove was magical. If a baseball touched it anywhere on its palm side surface it seemed to stick to it like an EZ Pass sticks to the inside of a car’s windshield.
Then before one game, I went to the burlap bag to grab the Trapper for infield practice and it wasn’t there. One of my coach’s sons had taken it out of the bag to play with it that week and left it in their garage. I was forced to play first with my tiny Colavito glove. Sure enough, the first ball in play that game was a grounder to our second baseman. His throw to me was hard but true and I still remember the horror of watching that ball bounce off the pocket of my glove and onto the ground in front of me. After picking up the dropped ball and throwing it back to our pitcher, I remember turning toward our bench to see what the coach’s reaction was to my first-ever miscue and seeing him get into his pick-up truck and drive away. He was on his way home to get the Trapper. From that moment on, the glove never left my side. I remember almost crying when I finally was forced to return it to coach when the baseball season ended.
So why am I telling you all this? Because today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant would probably be in Cooperstown today if he had the chance to play first base with the Trapper. In fact, if Jack Fournier had a modern day first baseman’s mitt, Lou Gehrig might have never been signed by New York or might have instead been traded by the Yankees before Wally Pipp got that famous headache. Why?
In 1918, Pipp left the Yankees for WWI military service. New York signed Fournier to take his place. The French-American native from Au Sable, Michigan got into 27 games for Manager Miller Huggins ball club and instantly became one of the best hitters on that team, scorching the ball at a .350 clip during his 27 games of action. After such an impressive offensive performance, you’d figure the Yankees would quickly offer the guy a contract for the following season or at the very least invite him to next year’s spring training. Instead, the Yankees dropped him like a hot potato. How come?
Jack Fournier might just have been the worst-fielding first baseman in baseball history. During just those 27 games he played as a Yankee, the guy made 7 errors. During his 14 seasons in the big leagues, he made over 200. In Nelson Chip Green’s excellent SABR Baseball Biography profile of Fournier’s career, he quotes from a 1916 LA Times article describing the Chicago White Sox chances for success in the upcoming baseball season. Fournier played his first six big league seasons for the Pale Hose. Here’s that quote: “[t]he only weak defensive point in the infield is at first base,” where “Fournier will again try his hand at playing that position. For every run that he lets in,” suggested Williams, “he will drive in another, making it a so-so proposition.”
It seems that Fournier had hands of stone and played first base like his feet were stuck in cement. Balls thrown or hit directly at him were frequently dropped. Those that passed just a foot to either side of him were considered automatic base runners. Managers tried to hide him in the outfield but he was even worse defensively out there.
The one thing Fournier could do on a baseball field was hit. His lifetime average was .313 and once a livelier baseball was introduced to the game in 1920, Fournier became a power hitter, who was often referred to as the National Leagues “Babe Ruth.” He led the NL with 27 home runs while playing for Brooklyn in 1924. Truth was that Fournier was a great DH before there was a DH in Major League Baseball.
|CHW (6 yrs)||444||1582||1360||192||383||60||43||15||190||61||156||161||.282||.367||.422||.789|
|BRO (4 yrs)||519||2176||1866||322||629||85||35||82||396||22||242||129||.337||.421||.552||.973|
|STL (3 yrs)||418||1731||1508||244||478||83||32||29||208||52||138||111||.317||.384||.472||.856|
|BSN (1 yr)||122||433||374||55||106||18||2||10||53||4||44||16||.283||.368||.422||.790|
|NYY (1 yr)||27||110||100||9||35||6||1||0||12||7||7||7||.350||.393||.430||.823|
Earl Combs was considered the Yankee’s first great centerfielder. In fact, the Bob Meusel, Combs, Babe Ruth Yankee outfield of the mid twenties is considered one of the best starting outfields in baseball history. But before Combs was part of it, Whitey Witt was the regular center fielder between the Bambino and Long Bob and he did not do too badly himself.
One of the smallest players in the big leagues, Witt became a Yankee when his contract was purchased from the Athletics at the beginning of the 1922 season. The Yankee front office wanted players who could get on base in front of Ruth and Meusel to give the two sluggers runners to drive in. Witt did just that in 1922 with a .400 on base percentage and 98 runs scored, helping New York get to their second straight World Series, which they again lost to the Giants. He was even better the following season when he also became the first Yankee starting centerfielder and the first Yankee ever to bat in brand new Yankee Stadium. Witt hit .314 in 1923 and scored 113 runs and New York knocked off the hated Giants that October to win their first-ever World Series flag. It looked as if Witt would be in pinstripes for a long time.
But after the 1924 Yankees slumped to second place and the 1925 team stumbled to seventh Manager Miller Huggins felt as if some of the veterans on the club, led by Ruth, were not taking their profession seriously enough. Since Ruth had to stay, the Yankee front office responded by dealing away or releasing several of the team’s veterans including Witt. After appearing in 22 games with Brooklyn in 1926, Whitey’s big league career was over.
|PHA (5 yrs)||612||2657||2322||311||643||86||39||7||167||60||270||210||.277||.353||.357||.710|
|NYY (4 yrs)||464||2022||1764||308||530||57||22||11||132||17||207||93||.300||.375||.376||.752|
|BRO (1 yr)||63||99||85||13||22||1||1||0||3||1||12||6||.259||.351||.294||.645|
Grant Dwight Jackson was born on September 28, 1942, in Fostoria, OH. He spent his first six big league seasons with the Phillies as a starting pitcher. After getting dealt to Baltimore in 1970, the Orioles converted Jackson into a reliever and he became a mainstay in their bullpen for the next five seasons. In June of 1976, he was made part of an unusual mid season ten-player trade that took place between the Yanks and Orioles. It was unusual because both teams were fighting for the same AL Eastern Division pennant at the time and normally, teams competing for the same flag don’t do deals with each other, much less deals involving ten guys. In the swap, New York sent Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Rudy May, Scott McGregor and Dave Pagan to the Birds in return for Jackson, Doyle Alexander, Ken Holtzman, Elrod Hendricks and somebody named Jimmy Freeman.
Jackson quickly became a key member of Billy Martin’s pitching staff, appearing in 21 games during the second half of that season, mostly in relief and winning all six of his decisions. Alexander was 10-5 that year with New York and Holtzman was 9-7. That means the three pitchers the Yankees got in the Baltimore deal won an impressive total of 25 games during the balance of that 1976 season. After Jackson pitched poorly during the ’76 postseason, the Yankees left him unprotected in that year’s AL expansion draft and he was selected by the new Mariners franchise.
|PIT (6 yrs)||29||19||.604||3.23||278||2||119||0||0||36||354.1||339||143||127||31||136||173||1.341|
|PHI (6 yrs)||23||43||.348||3.99||154||70||32||15||4||3||563.1||571||288||250||44||224||431||1.411|
|BAL (6 yrs)||24||12||.667||2.81||209||9||120||0||0||39||333.1||268||111||104||24||105||241||1.119|
|KCR (1 yr)||3||1||.750||5.17||20||0||10||0||0||0||38.1||42||27||22||7||21||15||1.643|
|MON (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||7.59||10||0||2||0||0||0||10.2||14||9||9||2||9||4||2.156|
|NYY (1 yr)||6||0||1.000||1.69||21||2||8||1||1||1||58.2||38||11||11||1||16||25||0.920|