The hype surrounding Masahiro Tanaka’s migration from a pitching God in the Japan Pacific League to a first year Yankee phee-nom was as intense as any New York free agent signing since Reggie Jackson. Just 24 years-old, coming off a perfect 24-0 regular season in his native country, the Yankees made it clear they were not going to be outbid for the right-hander’s services and they made sure they weren’t.
They gave this kid $155 million and from April to July, his performance on the mound made it seem as if he was underpaid. In his first twenty starts, he never gave up more than three earned runs and his record on July 4th of the 2014 season was 12-3 with a 2.27 ERA.
That’s when the injury jinx permeating the Yankee roster since the 2012 postseason hit Tanaka. On July 9th he went on the disabled list with soreness in his right elbow. Doctors discovered a slight tearing in the ligament of that joint. I admit I was shocked when New York’s front office announced the decision not to surgically repair the tear and even more shocked when they told the media they intended to put Tanaka back in the rotation after resting him for six weeks. As Joe Girardi’s crippled team slowly dropped out of AL East title contention and eventually from a shot at a Wild Card spot, I was one of many who figured the plan for Tanaka would change and he would be shelved for the entire season. We were all wrong.
Per their original rehab blueprint, New York started their young ace in a September 21st contest versus Toronto and you could just about hear the collective sigh of relief emanating from Yankee universe, when Tanaka pitched six strong innings and got the win. If his season ended there and then, I’d be supremely confident going into 2015 spring training that this young man would be ready to again dominate opponents in his second big league season. But six days after his return against Toronto, he was given another start against Boston and he got absolutely shelled, giving up 7 runs and only getting five hitters out before Girardi mercifully removed him from the game. It was a disappointing end to a brilliant season that had begun with so much promise.
The July 1st Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was no stranger to controversy. When Major League Baseball abolished the spit ball just before the 1919 season got under way, exemptions were granted that permitted eighteen pitchers to continue throwing the wet one until the end of their careers. Jack Quinn was one of those 18 pitchers and at the time he was granted the exemption, he was already 36 years old and had pitched four seasons of ball with the Highlanders, one with the Braves and two more in the upstart Federal League. When his Federal League franchise folded, Quinn played in the Pacific Coast League for three seasons until the PCL halted play during the 1918 season due to America’s participation in WWI. Quinn then signed a contract to pitch for the White Sox and finished that year by winning 5 of 6 decisions for Chicago.
But the Yankees pulled a fast one on Chicago by purchasing Quinn’s contract from his former PCL team. When American League President Ban Johnson (along with his National league counterpart) ruled that New York did indeed have the rights to Quinn, the White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey, went ballistic. He had quarreled with Johnson numerous times before but losing Quinn caused Comiskey to attack Johnson’s honor repeatedly and threaten him in very public ways. Johnson was so angry at the White Sox owner that when Comiskey asked the AL President to investigate his early suspicions that his Chicago players were throwing the 1919 World Series, Johnson not only ignored him, he blamed the assertions on Comiskey being a sore loser. Many baseball researchers feel the League’s failure to follow up on Comiskey’s concerns permitted the infamous Black Sox scandal to play out and almost ruin baseball. So Jack Quinn ended up playing a huge role in baseball’s decision to create a Commissioner’s office.
In 1919, the already 35-year-old Quinn began the second phase of his Yankee career, spending his next three big league seasons pitching for New York and compiling a 51-31 record. The Yankees then traded him to Boston, where he won 46 more games as a Red Sox during the next four seasons. By then, Quinn was 41 years-old and still throwing a spitball pitch that had been outlawed for almost everyone else eight years previously. The Red Sox figured Quinn’s best days were behind him and put him on waivers in 1925. Connie Mack needed pitching so the A’s picked up Quinn and he won 69 names for Philadelphia over the next half-dozen seasons. If you’re keeping track, that brings us up to 1930, at which point this ageless right-hander was now 46 years-old. Quinn kept going, pitching until he was fifty years-old and accumulating a lifetime record of 247-218 with 57 saves. He also holds the distinction of being the oldest player (45 yrs old) in American League history to hit a home run. (Julio Franco (46yrs-old) now holds the big league record) When Quinn retired in 1943, only Burleigh Grimes was left as one of the 18 pitchers still throwing a “legal” spitball thanks to that 1918 exemption.
|NYY (7 yrs)||81||65||.555||3.15||228||145||61||83||6||6||1270.0||1337||600||444||27||291||478||1.282|
|PHA (6 yrs)||69||47||.595||3.51||184||112||39||48||10||11||926.2||1051||442||361||33||184||232||1.333|
|BOS (4 yrs)||45||54||.455||3.65||145||100||30||53||7||14||832.2||946||421||338||28||190||226||1.364|
|BRO (2 yrs)||8||11||.421||3.03||81||1||60||0||0||23||151.2||167||64||51||2||48||53||1.418|
|BAL (2 yrs)||35||36||.493||2.98||90||73||16||48||4||2||616.1||624||266||204||12||128||282||1.220|
|BSN (1 yr)||4||3||.571||2.40||8||7||1||6||1||0||56.1||55||22||15||1||7||33||1.101|
|CIN (1 yr)||0||1||.000||4.02||14||0||9||0||0||1||15.2||20||9||7||0||5||3||1.596|
|CHW (1 yr)||5||1||.833||2.29||6||5||1||5||0||0||51.0||38||13||13||0||7||22||0.882|
Most Yankee fans around my age can clearly remember the famous shower-room scuffle between Goose Gossage and Cliff Johnson in 1979 but how many of you can recall a similar incident between Don Mattingly and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant that took place eight years later, during the 1987 season? At the time, the southpaw Shirley was in his fifth year as a Yankee pitcher. He had been signed by New York as a free agent after the 1982 season and went 5-8 as a member of Billy Martin’s starting rotation in ’83. After that inauspicious beginning, he was demoted to the bullpen and became the Yankees’ primary left-handed long reliever. He thrived in that role for the next two seasons and had his best year in pinstripes in ’85 when he appeared in 48 games and posted a career-low ERA of 2.64. He then had a horrible year in 1986, going 0-4 with an ERA that exploded to over five runs for every nine innings he pitched. So Shirley was already on pretty thin ice when according to published reports in June of 1987, he and Donnie Baseball engaged in a playful wrestling match in the visitors’ locker room of Milwaukee’s County Stadium, where the Yankees were playing a series against the Brewers. Mattingly ended up on the DL with two ruptured discs in his back. Though both players and their teammates denied the wrestling had taken place, George Steinbrenner was reportedly livid and ordered that Shirley be released the next day. Mattingly continued to insist that his former teammate was not the cause of his injury, explaining to reporters that Shirley was now looking for a job and he did not want other teams to think that the pitcher was some kind of locker room trouble maker.
Mattingly’s chronic back trouble would of course end up stunting the glorious start he had put together as a Yankee. Shirley would sign on with the Royals one week after being let go but pitched horribly during his only three appearances with Kansas City and was quickly released. He never again pitched in a big league game. He finished his 165-game Yankee career with a 14-20 record, 5 saves and a 4.05 ERA. Lifetime, he was 67-94 during his 11 big league seasons with 18 saves and a 3.82 ERA. Shirley shares his June 25th birthday with this former Yankee catcher. Besides George “Babe” Ruth and Shirley, can you think of any other Yankees who have a girl’s first name as their surname?
|NYY (5 yrs)||14||20||.412||4.05||165||39||38||4||1||5||470.2||488||232||212||40||156||232||1.368|
|SDP (4 yrs)||39||57||.406||3.58||197||92||55||10||1||12||722.0||718||329||287||59||274||432||1.374|
|KCR (1 yr)||0||0||14.73||3||0||1||0||0||0||7.1||10||12||12||5||6||1||2.182|
|STL (1 yr)||6||4||.600||4.08||28||11||5||1||0||1||79.1||78||42||36||6||34||36||1.412|
|CIN (1 yr)||8||13||.381||3.60||41||20||6||1||0||0||152.2||138||74||61||17||73||89||1.382|
Yankee fans are not known for their patience, especially with pitchers. We want strikes thrown, we want to hold leads and we want consistent performances game-to-game, season-to-season and especially in the postseason. Anything less than that and Yankee pitchers begin to see and hear Yankee fans express their dissatisfaction.
The team’s fans grow even more impatient when management touts young pitching prospects as ready-for-prime-time starting pitchers. That’s what happened to Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and also finally, today’s birthday boy, Phil Hughes. All three are now ex-Yankees and of the trio, it was Mr. Hughes who came closest to fulfilling the lofty expectations of New York’s front office and Yankee fans. But close only counts in horseshoes, not in the Bronx.
He originally showed us something in 2007, especially in the playoffs against Cleveland. He earned another reprieve after a very shaky start in 2008 and a rib injury that sidelined him for much of the year. Then in 2009, Hughes stepped up big when he was sent to the bullpen to become Mariano Rivera’s setup man. After a highly publicized spring training competition with Chamberlain for the 2010 fifth starter position, Hughes pitched as well as any starter in either league during the first half of 2010 season and made the All Star team. But even though he finished that year with an 18-8 record, he became a very ordinary pitcher in the second half and was once again ineffective in fall ball.
After failing to sign Cliff Lee and losing Andy Pettitte during the 2010 off season, the Yankees urgently needed Hughes to come out on fire in 2011. Instead, he was horrible. His confidence seemed to decrease in direct proportion to the lower and lower digital number readings on the radar gun aimed at Hughes’ fastballs. Finally, management put him on the DL and told us he had a dead arm. He did bounce back to win 16 games in 2012 and even pitched well in his first postseason start against Baltimore in that year’s ALCS. But in his next start against Detroit in Game 3 of the ALCS, Hughes complained of back stiffness in the third inning and he was taken out of the game.
Whatever the reason, physical, mental or mechanical, Hughes continued to be an enigma during what would be his final season as a Yankee in 2013 and actually regressed. He seemed to lose whatever ability he had to finish off good big league hitters on a consistent basis. Brian Cashman chose not to make him a qualifying offer after the season, afraid he’d accept the $14 million and make a bad situation in New York even worse and much more expensive. But “Hughesie” did land on his feet, signing a three-year $24 million deal to pitch for Minnesota. And through today’s date, the pitcher’s 28th birthday, the Twin Cities have proved very much to his liking. He’s currently 8-3 with his new team and I’m thrilled for him. He deserves the success.
|NYY (7 yrs)||56||50||.528||4.53||182||132||7||2||1||3||780.2||787||419||393||112||245||656||1.322|
|MIN (1 yr)||8||3||.727||3.40||15||15||0||1||0||0||95.1||99||37||36||7||9||82||1.133|
Talk about hot starts, southpaw starting pitcher Russ Van Atta’s big league and Yankee debut on April 25, 1933 could have melted hard steel. The New Jersey native not only threw a complete game five-hit shutout against the Washington Senators in our nation’s capitol that day, he also had a perfect 4-for-4 day at the plate, scoring three runs and driving in another in New York’s 16-0 victory. The guy they called “Sheriff” would go on to win 12 of his 16 decisions in his rookie season and lead the AL with a .750 winning percentage. He also would end up hitting .283 that first season. You couldn’t blame the Yankee brass for thinking that Van Atta would be a key member of the their team’s starting rotation for at least the rest of that decade. It didn’t quite work out that way.
That December, a fire broke out in Van Atta’s home and while fighting or trying to escape the blaze, the Augusta, New Jersey native suffered a severe cut on his pitching hand. That injury severely impacted his pitching performance for the rest of his career. He began the ’34 season still a member of the Yankee rotation, but after getting hit hard in his first four starts, Joe McCarthy demoted Van Atta to the bullpen. Having watched both Joba and Phil Hughes try to go back and forth between the Yankee rotation and bullpen the past few seasons, it was not surprising for me to learn that Van Atta had problems making the moves as well. For the rest of that ’34 season he was used as a reliever and spot starter. He finished the year with a 3-5 record and a 5.30 ERA. He also developed a sore arm.
He was back in the bullpen to start the 1935 season but not for long. On May 15th of that year he was sold to the St. Louis Browns. He continued to struggle with his new team for the next four years, until his contract was sold to a minor league team in Toronto. After appearing in two games there, he hung up his glove for good. He finished his seven-year big league career 15-9 as a Yankee and 18-32 with St. Louis. He shares his June 21st birthday with another Yankee southpaw starting pitcher and the first Mormon to ever wear the Yankee pinstripes.
|SLB (5 yrs)||18||32||.360||5.95||148||45||52||7||1||5||462.2||566||343||306||28||255||221||1.774|
|NYY (3 yrs)||15||9||.625||4.94||59||31||14||10||2||1||249.2||272||155||137||11||113||118||1.542|
It took 64 years but finally, there’s another member of the Yankee all-time roster who shares my own June 14th birthday. I’m hoping this second one leaves a much more significant imprint on Yankee history than the first one, a first baseman named Fenton Mole did.
After a solid 2014 spring training performance, Chase Whitley was sent back to Triple A only because the Yankees had a sudden wealth of healthy pitching arms for their parent club’s bullpen. But when starting pitchers CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda went on the DL it was the reliever Whitley who was surprisingly called up to the Bronx to fill in during their absence.
Thus far, he’s performed better than expected. The Yanks have won six of his eight starts and Whitley has won three of his four decisions. Will his good pitching continue? I can’t say for sure but there’s something about this six foot three inch right-hander from Radburne, AL that makes me think he’s going to be continue to pitch successfully at the big league level.
“Boomer” was not the first Wells to pitch for the Yankees. That honor belonged to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, a southpaw named Ed “Satchelfoot” Wells. The Tigers originally signed this Ashland, OH native in 1922 with the condition that he could keep attending college full-time and pitch during the summer. He made his big league debut for Detroit in June of 1923. His first manager was the legendary Ty Cobb. Though most guys who played with, against and for the “Georgia Peach” hated him, Wells was an exception. The two got along great even though Cobb admitted he couldn’t help his young left-hander get better because he knew nothing about pitching.
Wells was with Detroit for five seasons and went 12-10 for them in 1926 and led the AL with four shutouts that year. But his inconsistency got him released after the ’27 season. He spent 1928 with the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League where he went 28-7 and caught the attention of the Yankees. New York brought him to the Bronx in 1929 and he went 13-9 during his first season in pinstripes. He followed that up with a 12-3 season in 1930 but his ERA was over five. Fortunately for Wells he was pitching for an offense that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, et. al. who made scoring more than five runs per game a habit that boosted the pitcher’s winning percentage.
Wells Yankee Stadium locker was situated right in between Ruth’s and Gehrig’s so he became good friends with both men. He also was the object of one of the Bambino’s most famous practical jokes. Ruth invited the pitcher to go on a double date with him after a Yankee road game in Detroit. When the two Yankees knocked on the door of the girl’s apartment, a guy claiming to be her husband opened it holding a pistol which he fired directly at Ruth. A horrified Wells turned and ran all the way back to his Detroit hotel. By the time he got there, Tony Lazzeri told him Ruth had been shot and was up in his room asking to see Eddie.
When Wells entered the Babe’s suite, the lights were turned down low and Ruth was laying in a bed with ketchup spilled on the white sheets and talcum powder all over his face to feign a dearly pale. Wells took one look at his famous teammate and fainted on the spot.
He ended up pitching a total of four years for New York, before getting sold to the Browns just before the 1933 season started. He had the misfortune of becoming a Yankee right at the time managerial instability. His first Yankee Skipper, Huggins died unexpectedly during the 1929 season and then Bob Shawkey got fired to make room for Joe McCarthy. Wells was 37-20 in Pinstripes and 68-69 when he left the big leagues for good in 1934. He shares his June 7 birthday with this great Yankee catcher.
|DET (5 yrs)||24||28||.462||4.90||115||56||34||19||4||7||444.1||547||287||242||20||191||147||5||1.661|
|NYY (4 yrs)||37||20||.649||4.59||107||54||34||23||3||4||492.1||532||290||251||38||179||171||6||1.444|
|SLB (2 yrs)||7||21||.250||4.38||69||30||24||12||0||2||295.2||338||173||144||20||98||85||1||1.475|