When this Michigan native went 10-7 as a starter for the 1993 Yankees I thought it was the beginning of what would become a very good pinstripe pitching career for the right hander. Instead, he got fewer and fewer starts over the next two seasons and actually was sent back down to the minors in 1996, when he was 32 years-old. During the 1995 ALDS, with the Yankees up two games to one over the Mariners, Buck Showalter had pegged Kamieniecki to start Game 4 in Seattle. The night before the game, he and his wife received a call from the baby sitter watching their two kids back home in Michigan telling them that their two children were in the hospital being treated for smoke inhalation, victims of a house fire. Scott and his wife decided that he would stay in Seattle and pitch while she returned home to be with the couple’s two young sons, who both ended up being fine.
He did not pitch well the next night, giving up three runs in the first inning as Seattle evened the series. To make a bad off season even worse, doctors found bone chips in his pitching elbow and he underwent surgery to have them removed. In the mean time, Joe Torre had taken over as Yankee skipper and Kamieniecki would soon became part of a small but vocal group of ex-Yankees who did not like the way they were treated by him.
According to the pitcher, he had fully recovered from the elbow surgery and the new Yankee manager had promised him he’d be given an equal shot at one of the starting spots in the Yankees’ 1996 rotation. Just a day later, Torre told the media that Kamieniecki’s off season surgery had put him behind the other candidates. Even though Torre apologized to him, the episode left a bitter taste in Kamieniecki’s mouth. He started the 1996 season on the DL and later claimed the Yankees forced him to fake the injury to avoid an assignment back to the minors. He ended up spending much of the ’96 season back in the Triple A anyway, contributing just one regular-season win to the Yankees’ championship. He was then released after the season. The Orioles evidently saw enough of Kamieniecki to give him a 3-year free agent contract just shy of $8 million in 1997. He went 10-6 for Baltimore that year, helping the Birds make the playoffs. Old wounds were also reopened when an embarrassed Yankee front office admitted they had not ordered World Championship rings for many of the players who had been part of the 1996 squad, including Kamieniecki. He was then measured for the valuable keepsake but never actually received one.
After his 10-6 1997 performance, Scott’s career faded quickly, as he went a combined 4-10 in ’98 and ’99. He was out of the Majors for good after the 2000 season. He shares his birthday with another pitcher who had problems with a manager and this former Yankee shortstop.
|NYY (6 yrs)||36||39||.480||4.33||113||94||7||8||0||1||627.1||644||323||302||65||282||323||1.476|
|BAL (3 yrs)||14||16||.467||4.71||85||44||19||0||0||2||290.1||298||156||152||31||122||173||1.447|
|CLE (1 yr)||1||3||.250||5.67||26||0||7||0||0||0||33.1||42||22||21||6||20||29||1.860|
|ATL (1 yr)||2||1||.667||5.47||26||0||4||0||0||2||24.2||22||18||15||3||22||17||1.784|
From the moment I started following my Yankees as a six-year-old in 1960 right up until the team’s fifth place finish in the AL Pennant race in 1965, I loved Major League Baseball’s Reserve Clause. It is what had permitted the Yankee’s skillful and ruthless front office to firmly imprison the best baseball talent in America in Pinstripes until they could no longer run, hit, field, or throw or at least until they could be traded for someone who could do these things a bit better.
But after 1966, my stance on the sanctity of this oppressive piece of contract language began to soften. Overnight, the Yankees’ glamorous galaxy of star players seemed to grow old. Compounding the problem was that CBS, the team’s new owner, stopped investing in the Yankee farm system and that thriftiness, combined with the impact of the newly introduced MLB Amateur Draft, caused New York’s cupboard of bonafide home grown prospects to quickly grow bare. Also coming back to bite the team in the rear end was the tendency of the Yankee front office to avoid signing black prospects all throughout the late forties and fifties.
So by the late sixties I was one of the biggest advocates of testing baseball’s reserve clause in the courts and when George Steinbrenner took control of my favorite team, I was actively rooting for Curt Flood’s legal victory.
The New York Yankee’s first signing in Baseball’s new free agent era took place on the very last day of 1974. At the time, Jim Catfish Hunter was the American League’s premier starter. He had just completed a string of four consecutive 20-victory seasons for Oakland, the ace pitcher on a team that had won the last three World Series.
Hunter’s best season in pinstripes turned out to be his first, in 1975. He won 23 of his 37 decisions, threw 7 shutouts and compiled a 2.49 ERA. It wasn’t enough to win the Yankees a pennant but that certainly was not Catfish’s fault. He literally pitched his arm off that year, completing 30 games and amassing 328 innings pitched. In fact, during the three seasons of 1974, ’75 and ’76, Hunter threw 944 innings of baseball and the damage caused to his arm by that strain helps explain why he spent much of his last three seasons with New York on the DL.
What many Yankee fans fail to fully appreciate about Hunter was his ability to pitch effectively and be a clubhouse leader on teams that had rosters full of strong player personalities led by eccentric, very vocal owners. Hunter’s experience with Charley Finley’s Oakland A’s prepared him well for the Bronx Zoo and George Steinbrenner. And even though he had just that one twenty-victory season with the Yankees, Catfish showed his Yankee teammates how to focus on winning while on the field and how to survive the glare of a hyperactive media, monitoring a crazy clubhouse.
I will never forget Catfish’s gutty seven-inning performance in Game 6 of the 1978 World Series. That victory clinched a second straight championship for New York and I felt it was Hunter’s finest moment as a Yankee.
Inducted into Cooperstown in 1987, Catfish died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, twelve years later.
Below is my all-time Yankee free agent lineup. Only players who became Yankees’ originally via free agency are eligible. This disqualifies Yankees like Derek Jeter, who became a free agent while he was a Yankee and re-signed with the team. It also disqualifies free agent signers like Andy Pettitte, who was a Yankee, left and then re-signed with NY as a free agent.
The Pinstripe Birthday Blog’s All-Time Yankee Free Agent Line-Up
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Steve Sax
3B Wade Boggs
SS Tony Fernandez
C Russ Martin/Butch Wynegar
OF Reggie Jackson
OF Dave Winfield
OF Hideki Matsui
DH Jason Giambi
P CC Sabathia
P Catfish Hunter
P Mike Mussina
P David Wells
CL Goose Gossage
|OAK (10 yrs)||161||113||.588||3.13||363||340||5||116||31||1||2456.1||2079||947||853||261||687||1520||1.126|
|NYY (5 yrs)||63||53||.543||3.58||137||136||1||65||11||0||993.0||879||433||395||113||267||492||1.154|
Casey Stengel fell in love with Art Ditmar during the 1959 and 1960 regular seasons. The “Ol Perfessor” had good reason to. Ditmar won 13 games in ’59 and then surprised everyone by leading the Yankees back to the World Series in 1960 by going 15-9. But that’s when Casey overplayed his hand with the right-hander. He gave the Winthrop, MA native the start in Game 1 against the Pirates instead of Whitey Ford. Ditmar lasted only an inning and took the loss. By holding Ford out of Game 1, Stengel could only pitch his left-handed ace twice if the series went to seven games and that of course is exactly what happened. Ditmar got hit hard and yanked early again in Game 5 while Ford pitched complete game shutouts in Games 2 and 6. After the Yankees lost the Series on Bill Mazeroski’s historic game-winning home-run, Stengel was fired and Ditmar’s Yankee career was on borrowed time. During his four-plus seasons in pinstripes, Art went 47-32 with a 3.24 ERA and 11 saves.
Ditmar may have been a big goat in the 1960 Series but he went to court years later to prove he wasn’t the only goat. When Mazeroski hit his home run, the announcer, Chuck Thompson, mistakingly said that the Pirate second baseman had hit a pitch from Ditmar instead of the actual pitcher at the time, Ralph Terry. When one of those “taste great – less filling” Miller Beer commercials repeated the same error in the 1980’s, Ditmar attempted to sue for damages, claiming the advertisement held him up to undeserved public ridicule and might be costing him autograph, special appearance and memorabilia revenues. The judge hearing the case threw the suit out of court.
|KCA (5 yrs)||25||45||.357||4.97||4.58||119||71||25||21||3||3||544.2||575||338||301||64||266||251||1.544|
|NYY (5 yrs)||47||32||.595||3.24||3.89||168||85||36||20||2||11||723.1||662||311||260||74||195||301||1.185|
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is best known for his involvement in one of the most publicized deals in both Yankee and Major League Baseball history. The trade did not take place between two ball clubs and did not require anyone to switch uniforms. Instead, after a dinner party one evening at the home of New York Post sportswriter, Maury Allen, Yankee pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson agreed to trade families. Kekich’s wife and two daughters would move in with Peterson and Fritzie’s wife and two sons would live with Kekich. As it turned out, Kekich got the short end of that deal.
The left handed fire-baller was once considered the next Sandy Koufak, when the Dodgers drafted him in 1964. He got a chance to pitch with the great one the following season, when LA brought him up for a look-see as a 20-year-old, just before the All Star break. Kekich’s problem on the mound was control. He walked almost as many as he struck out. The Dodgers used him as a starter in 1968 and when he finished that year with a 2-10 record, he was traded to the Yankees for outfielder Andy Kosco. The only thing I remember about that transaction was that it officially converted my big brother Jerry into an ex-Yankee fan for life because for some reason, Andy Kosco was his favorite player.
Over the next four seasons, Kekich evolved into a decent starter for some pretty mediocre Yankee teams. In fact, by 1971, the Yankees had put together a five-man rotation that looked as if it could help get the Yankees back into the pennant picture for seasons to come. In addition to Kekich and Peterson, it included ace Mel Stottlemyre, Stan Bahnsen and Steve Kline, all of whom were younger than 30 and each of whom won in double figures during that ’71 season. Instead, the Yankees proceeded to inexplicably trade Bahnsen for some guy named Rich McKinney and then Peterson and Kekich made that infamous trade of their own.
The family swap worked out for Fritz and Susanne Kekich. The two are still married today. Marilyn Peterson and her two boys left Kekich days after the exchange took place and the pitcher’s personal life and baseball career were pretty much turned upside down. After starting the 1973 season as a Yankee, Kekich was traded to Cleveland for a pitcher named Lowell Palmer. He lasted just one season with the Indians and then started pitching on any team and in any country that would have him. During that period of his life Kekich almost died when he ruptured his spleen trying to break up a player brawl in a Venezuelan league game and almost died again when his motorcycle struck a police car in California. By 1980 he was playing baseball in Mexico by day and enrolled in a course to become a medical doctor, at night. That didn’t work for him either.
Eventually, Kekich did remarry and now lives in New Mexico. He was born in San Diego on this date in 1945. He shared his wife with Peterson and he shares his April 2nd birthday with another former Yankee starting pitcher and this former Yankee outfielder.
|NYY (5 yrs)||31||32||.492||4.31||4.09||125||83||15||7||0||1||564.0||553||298||270||50||276||304||1.470|
|LAD (2 yrs)||2||11||.154||4.38||3.49||30||21||2||1||1||0||125.1||126||66||61||11||59||93||1.476|
|TEX (1 yr)||0||0||3.73||4.21||23||0||8||0||0||2||31.1||33||16||13||2||21||19||1.723|
|CLE (1 yr)||1||4||.200||7.02||5.19||16||6||4||0||0||0||50.0||73||47||39||6||35||26||2.160|
|SEA (1 yr)||5||4||.556||5.60||4.91||41||2||19||0||0||3||90.0||90||58||56||11||51||55||1.567|
Talk about a perfect birthday celebrant for April Fools’ Day, this five-time All Star’s legendary knuckleball fooled thousands of Major League hitters during a 24-year career. The late Bobby Murcer once said that trying to hit Niekro’s signature pitch was like trying to eat jello with chopsticks. The Pitcher once told a Baseball Digest columnist that his goal was to throw the knuckler right down the heart of the plate and let the ball do the rest. He confessed to having no idea where his pitches would end up but either did the hitter. “Knucksie” spent 21 seasons pitching for the Braves before signing with the Yankees in 1984, as a free agent. In his two seasons in pinstripes, he won 32 games including his 300th career victory in 1985. Only five other Major League hurlers won more games than Niekro did during the two seasons he pitched in the Bronx.
Following the 1985 season, New York signed Phil’s younger brother Joe, also a knuckleballer, as a free agent. The Neikro’s were looking forward to pursuing and eclipsing Gaylord and Jim Perry’s record for most ML victories by two brothers, as Yankee teammates. That didn’t happen. Right before their 1986 spring training camp broke, the Yankees played a cruel and early April Fools joke on the Niekro siblings when they unexpectedly released Phil. Both Niekro’s were bitter about the decision claiming the New York front office knew the only reason Joe signed with the team was the opportunity to pitch with his older brother. Phil pitched for two more seasons, retiring in 1987 with a lifetime record of 318-274. He also won five Gold Gloves and made five All Star teams during his long career. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997. The Niekro boys did become the winning-est set of siblings in league history with 538, surpassing the Perry’s by nine victories.
There have been a total of four 300-game-winning pitchers who wore the Yankee pinstripes during their careers. They are listed below in order of their lifetime victories:
|ATL (21 yrs)||268||230||.538||3.20||3.46||740||595||81||226||43||29||4622.1||4224||1922||1645||392||1458||2912||1.229|
|CLE (2 yrs)||18||22||.450||4.90||5.04||56||54||1||7||0||0||334.0||383||209||182||42||148||138||1.590|
|NYY (2 yrs)||32||20||.615||3.59||4.11||65||64||1||12||2||0||435.2||422||195||174||44||196||285||1.419|
|TOR (1 yr)||0||2||.000||8.25||7.79||3||3||0||0||0||0||12.0||15||11||11||4||7||7||1.833|
He’s back and I wish I could honestly end this sentence with the phrase “he’s better than ever,” but that would be a stretch. That’s because in 2006 and 2007 when this elegant Taiwanese right-hander was throwing his hard sinking slider every fifth day in the Yankee rotation, he was one of the very best pitchers in baseball.
If it had been any other player in that fateful day’s Yankee lineup besides Jorge Posada on first base when Chien-Ming Wang laid down that bunt against the Houston Astros, Wang might still be a Yankee today.
At the time, Wang was on his way to earning his eighth victory of the 2008 season against just two defeats. Because it was an inter-league game being played at the NL team’s home park, there was no DH and Wang had to take at bats. Leading 3-0 in the sixth, Wang came to the plate with men on first and second with one out. He attempted a sacrifice but Astro pitcher Roy Oswalt was able to field the bunt and make the throw to third in time to nail the very slow Posada. The play forced Wang to become the baserunner at first. That’s when the floodgates opened for the Yankee offense as they proceeded to score six runs. Unfortunately for Wang and the Yankees, as he was running the bases to score the second of those six runs, he tore a tendon in his right foot and his season was over. As it turned out, so was the Yankees’ thirteen year streak of playoff appearances and effectively, so was Wang’s Yankee career.
My point is this. If its Jeter or A-Rod or Abreu on second at the time, Oswalt probably forgets about the play at third and goes to first for the second out of the inning.
I was a big fan of Wang despite the fact that he never seemed to pitch well in the playoffs. He had a 55-26 career record with New York. Five years ago at his time I was hoping he’d settle in as the number three starter behind CC and AJ and have a great year. That didn’t happen. When he did come back from his foot injury, probably a bit too early, he wasn’t able to replicate his old delivery and hurt his throwing shoulder. He underwent shoulder surgery and signed with the Nationals, finally making it back to a big league mound in late July of 2011. He got 11 starts for Washington during the second half of that season. He finished with a 4-3 record and the Nats re-signed him to a $4 million deal to pitch for them in 2012. He then regressed and Washington let him walk at the end of the 2011 season. I thought his career was over. But then came the 2013 World Baseball Championships during which Wang pitched 12 effective innings for his native Taiwan.
The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal after that tournament but released him so he could pitch for the Blue Jays. He put together two great starts for Toronto in 2013 but then faltered and got released. The Reds signed him to a minor league contract and he began the 2014 season pitching in their farm system.
|NYY (5 yrs)||55||26||.679||4.16||109||104||3||4||1||1||670.2||701||324||310||41||197||310||1.339|
|WSN (2 yrs)||6||6||.500||4.94||21||16||0||0||0||0||94.2||117||59||52||13||28||40||1.532|
|TOR (1 yr)||1||2||.333||7.67||6||6||0||0||0||0||27.0||40||24||23||5||9||14||1.815|
I will always have a special affinity for Victor John Angelo Raschi, even though I never saw him throw a pitch in a single big league game. That’s because he started his professional and Yankee career in my home town of Amsterdam, NY, pitching for the Amsterdam Rugmakers in 1941. At the time, the Rugmakers were New York’s minor league affiliate in the old Canadian American League.
Notice that year, 1941 again. Raschi was born on March 28, 1919 in West Springfield, MA. That was not a particularly good time to be born if you turned out to be an aspiring big league baseball player. Why? Because just as you reached the age at which most professional baseball careers began, your country got involved in WWII and you were called to serve. So after going 10-6 for the Rugmakers that first season and becoming a legend in my home town, Raschi got to spend just one more season in the Yankee farm system before joining the air force for the next three years.
By the time he returned, in 1946, the Springfield, Massachusetts native was already 27-years-old and by the time he became a starter for New York he was 29. For a half-dozen seasons from 1948 to 1954, this fire-baller was as good as any pitcher in baseball. Raschi was a three-time twenty-game winner for the Yankees, compiling a .706 winning percentage and a 120-50 record during his nine years in pinstripes. He combined with Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat to give New York one of the top trio of starters to ever pitch in the same Yankee rotation and that rotation led them to five straight World Series victories from 1949 to 1953.
Unfortunately, Raschi’s Yankee career ended on a sour note when he complained vociferously about a pay cut the Yankees forced upon him after he went 13-6 in 1953. Yankee GM George Weiss sold the then 34-year-old veteran to the Cardinals. It turned out to be the right move by the heartless Weiss as Raschi never again had a winning season in the big leagues. If military service had not stalled the start of his career, I feel Raschi would be in Cooperstown today. He died in 1988 at the age of 69. It was Yankee announcer, Mel Allen who gave this great Yankee right-hander the nickname, “The Springfield Rifle.”
|NYY (8 yrs)||120||50||.706||3.47||218||207||5||99||24||3||1537.0||1347||659||593||104||620||832||1.280|
|STL (2 yrs)||8||10||.444||4.88||31||30||0||6||2||0||180.2||187||103||98||24||72||74||1.434|
|KCA (1 yr)||4||6||.400||5.42||20||18||0||1||0||0||101.1||132||66||61||10||35||38||1.648|