It was so nice having the Yankees double A farm team a half hour’s drive away from my back door twenty years ago. We’d put our four kids in the minivan and take them to Heritage Park, which was what they called the home field of the Eastern League’s Albany- Colonie Yankees back then and for less than twenty bucks, my family of six would spend an evening watching players we hoped would some day be on the roster of the big league Yankees. And many were, including the core four of Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte and Posada, the Williams boys, Bernie and Gerald, Roberto Kelly, Jim Leyritz, Andy Stankiewicz, Pat Kelly, Sterling Hitchcock and a host of others who eventually got to play in the Bronx.
One of the Albany-Colonie players who I thought might be a future Yankee star was today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Back in 1991, Dave Silvestri was the A-C Yankees starting shortstop and leading home run hitter. He belted 19 round-trippers that year and drove in 83 runs. I was hopeful that Silvestri would turn into a pinstriped version of Cal Ripken, a starting shortstop with lots of pop in his bat. He wasn’t perfect. His defense needed work and he struck out a lot but those were common maladies in younger players. He was certainly the organization’s top prospect at short and he continued to pound the ball at the triple A level. The parent club was terrible back then and had no good shortstops on the roster. Remember Alvaro Espinosa?
But instead of getting a decent shot to play at the top level, the Yanks treated Silvestri like a yo-yo, sending him up and down repeatedly between their big league and Columbus rosters. He played seven games for New York in 1992, seven more in ’93, a dozen in ’94 and his Yankee career high of seventeen in 1995. Meanwhile, Jeter passed him on the organization’s depth chart for shortstops and the Yankees used up all their options on the guy. For a while, it looked as if he would be groomed to play third base, but in the end, the Yankees traded the then 27-year-old native of St. Louis to the Expos for a minor leaguer named Tyrone Horne. Silvestri told a New York Times reporter he couldn’t wait to leave the Yankees so he could play for an organization that would finally give him a shot at a regular big league job.
The Expos gave Silvestri that shot in 1996, when he appeared in a career-high 86 games for Montreal. But he hit just .204 during that season and he was released at the end of that year. He continued playing, mostly in the minors for three more years.
|NYY (4 yrs)||43||89||73||14||14||1||3||3||11||0||13||24||.192||.315||.411||.726|
|MON (2 yrs)||125||283||234||28||52||10||0||3||24||4||43||68||.222||.341||.303||.644|
|TBD (1 yr)||8||14||14||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.071||.071||.071||.143|
|TEX (1 yr)||2||4||4||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|ANA (1 yr)||3||11||11||0||1||1||0||0||1||0||0||1||.091||.091||.182||.273|
Once again, researching for this blog has taught me something I did not know (or had at least forgotten) about my favorite baseball team. Every Yankee fan over the age of 20 remembers Hideki Irabu. He was the Japanese pitcher the Yankees signed with great fanfare back in 1997, who went a disappointing 29-20 during his two-plus seasons in Pinstripes and who was infamously labeled a “fat toad” by impatient Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ordered Irabu traded after the 1999 season and Brian Cashman obliged by sending him to the Montreal Expos that December for three young pitching prospects. All three of those prospects were assigned to Yankee minor league teams in 2000 and two of them, a right-hander and a southpaw are still pitching in the big leagues today and have compiled over 220 career victories thus far between themselves. Only ten of those victories, however, belong to the Yankees.
The southpaw New York got in that Irabu deal was Ted Lilly and the right-hander is today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Originally assigned to the Yank’s triple A team, then located in Columbus, Westbrook was called up to the parent club in June of 2000 and lost his only two career starts in pinstripes. Later that same month, the Yankees sent Westbrook, outfielder Ricky Ledee and a pitching prospect named Zach Day to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for slugger, David Justice. Westbrook spent most of the next decade starting for the Indians and then signed a free agent contract with the St Louis Cardinals in November of 2010. In 2011, his 12-9 regular season record helped St. Louis make the postseason and he ended up getting and his first World Series victory (against Texas in Game 6) and his first championship ring that year. He’s currently 13-11 for this year’s Cardinals who are in the thick of the 2012 NL Wild Card chase.
As of today, Westbrook’s 35th birthday, he has 98 victories. Lilly, currently a Dodger and on the DL, has won 130 big league games. Both are doing much much better than poor Irabu, who hung himself in Los Angeles in July of 2011.
|CLE (9 yrs)||69||69||.500||4.29||218||179||10||13||3||0||1191.1||1269||624||568||107||368||655||1.374|
|STL (4 yrs)||36||32||.529||4.28||93||91||0||2||1||0||548.2||600||288||261||40||199||309||1.456|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||2||.000||13.50||3||2||1||0||0||0||6.2||15||10||10||1||4||1||2.850|
Long time Yankee fans remember them well. The young slugging prospects brought up to the Bronx from the Yankee’s Triple A team, who start off with a bang and get us believing they may be another Ruth or Mantle in the making. Anyone remember Roger Repoz? He was my personal highlight of New York’s bitterly disappointing 1965 season. For the first time in five seasons the Yankees were about to lose a Pennant race but Repoz’s fourteen home runs in just 79 games that season had me hoping things would be different in 1966. They were. The ’66 Yankees finished in last place and Repoz finished the season in a Kansas City A’s uniform.
They kept coming. Danny Pasqua, Kevin Maas and Shane Spencer were three more-recent power-hitting Yankee phee-noms who faded away after initial homer barrages had us drooling over their futures. Then there was Shelley Duncan. I loved the guy the second I saw him. When Joe Torre inserted his bat into the Yankee lineup after the 2007 All Star break, Duncan responded with seven huge home runs in just 34 games. He hustled like crazy, seemed to be enjoying every second of his big league experience and he brought a much needed jolt of fun and enthusiasm to a stoic Yankee clubhouse. Shelley’s problem was hitting consistency. During his next two seasons he failed to make the team in spring training and when he did get called up to the Bronx, he struggled to hit .200. Plus he was not really a “young” Yankee pheenom, having turned 27 years of age before he made his big league debut in pinstripes.
Today he turns 32 and he just finished his best big league season as a fourth outfielder and some time DH with the Indians. In fact, during the past two seasons, Shelley has played 160 games for Cleveland and has hit 22 home runs and driven in 83 during that span. The Yankees don’t miss Shelley but I still sort of do.
|CLE (3 yrs)||242||770||684||87||158||37||0||33||114||2||73||191||.231||.309||.430||.739|
|NYY (3 yrs)||68||163||146||24||32||4||0||8||24||0||15||38||.219||.290||.411||.701|
|TBR (1 yr)||20||64||55||6||10||1||0||2||6||0||9||14||.182||.297||.309||.606|
On September 19, 1970 in an afternoon game at Tiger Stadium in front of fewer than 9,000 fans, Yankee Manager Ralph Houk inserted veteran lefthander Mike McCormick in the game to pitch the bottom half of the seventh inning with the Yankees trailing by three runs. McCormick held the Tigers scoreless in the seventh but gave up a home run to backup catcher Jim Price in the eighth inning. In the Yankee half of the ninth New York scored five runs on five singles a walk and a wild pitch, to take a 7-6 lead. Jack Aker pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth and in the process saved Mike McCormick’s 134th and final big league victory. McCormick had joined New York’s pitching staff in July of that season when the Yankees traded pitcher John Cumberland to the Giants in exchange for the 1967 NL Cy Young Award winner. In his first start with his new team, Mike lasted seven innings and beat the Angels, but he’d been roughed up as both a starter and reliever in each subsequent appearance. The Yankees ended up releasing the Pasadena, CA native in spring training the following year and after trying to hang on with the Royals, McCormick ended his very good 16-season big league career.
He may have had a lot more than those two wins in pinstripes if the Yankees were inclined to pay bonuses back when Mike was a high school pitching sensation in the early fifties. New York’s arrogant front office felt it was a privilege for any young man to even be offered a contract to play for their organization so they refused to offer signing bonuses. The New York Giants were the only team to offer McCormick one, in the amount of $50,000 and the youngster grabbed it. In addition to the Giants, Yankees and Royals, Mike also pitched for Baltimore and the Senators during his career.
|SFG (11 yrs)||107||96||.527||3.68||357||252||52||78||19||11||1822.2||1737||833||745||195||616||1030||1.291|
|WSA (2 yrs)||19||22||.463||3.42||85||53||13||11||4||1||374.0||351||162||142||40||87||189||1.171|
|BAL (2 yrs)||6||10||.375||4.40||29||23||0||2||0||0||153.1||153||80||75||19||74||88||1.480|
|KCR (1 yr)||0||0||9.31||4||1||1||0||0||0||9.2||14||10||10||0||5||2||1.966|
|NYY (1 yr)||2||0||1.000||6.10||9||4||3||0||0||0||20.2||26||15||14||2||13||12||1.887|