When he died in January of 2009, today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was 100 years old. He had become the oldest living MLB player and his book, Memories of a Ballplayer, co-written with baseball historian, Paul Rogers in 2001, represented his eye witness account of what playing in the big leagues was like back in the 1930s.
Werber’s Major League career actually began back in 1927, when he was a freshman at Duke University, where he was a brilliant athlete (the first Duke basketball player to be named All American) and a brilliant student (he graduated Phi Beta Kappa.) The legendary scout, Paul Krichell signed the first year collegian to a Yankee contract and had him spend a couple of weeks during that ’27 season sitting on the bench of the famed Murderers Row team to pick up some knowledge of the game. According to Werber, he hated those two weeks because everybody simply ignored him.
He didn’t make it back to Yankee Stadium until 1930 when he got called up in June and appeared in three games at short and one at third for Manager Bob Shawkey’s team. He went 2-3 in his first big league start and also became Babe Ruth’s bridge partner on the train rides during Yankee road trips. Werber and Ruth would play partners against Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey and Werber remembered in his book, how Babe used to drink a bottle of Seagrams during those contests, gradually getting drunker and nastier as the game progressed.
Werber spent the 1932 season back in the minors and then was promoted back to the parent club when the ’33 season started, but not for long. The Yankees had a ton of left-side infielders in their organization back then, so they sold the native of Berwyn, Maryland to the Red Sox. That was the break Werber’s career needed. By 1934, he had become Boston’s starting third baseman and that year he reached the 200 hit mark for the first and only time of his career and led the AL with 40 stolen bases while batting .321. He ended up winning a total of three AL stolen base titles. Werber played until 1942 and finished his 11-year career with a .271 batting average and 1,363 career hits. He won a World Series ring in 1940 with the Reds. He was instrumental in Cincinnati’s victory in that seven game Fall Classic, as he smacked ten hits and batted .370.
Update: The above post was last updated in June of 2011. Since that time I have learned that when Werber left baseball in 1942, he sold life insurance for his father’s company. He evidently was pretty good at it because during his first year in that new career he earned over $100,000. When he retired from his second career he was a millionaire. I also learned from an interview with Werber published in a 2008 edition of the New York Times, that he was not Ruth’s bridge partner on those long-ago Yankee train rides but instead it would be him and Dickey versus the Bambino and Gehrig. According to Werber, Babe and the Iron Horse weren’t too bright so he and Dickey would always win the $3.50 pot from card games. When Werber walked in his first ever Yankee at bat, Ruth came up behind him and hit a home run. Werber decided to take the opportunity to show his teammates just how fleet afoot he was and ran around the bases as fast as he could in front of Babe. When Ruth caught up to him in the dugout, he patted the rookie on top of the head and told him, “Son, you don’t have to run like that when the Babe hits one.
Here are Werber’s Yankee and career player stats:
|BOS (4 yrs)||529||2372||2045||366||575||130||25||38||234||107||268||154||.281||.367||.425||.792|
|CIN (3 yrs)||399||1847||1601||276||435||79||12||21||151||45||212||110||.272||.362||.375||.738|
|PHA (2 yrs)||262||1175||992||177||273||53||11||18||139||54||167||76||.275||.381||.405||.786|
|NYY (2 yrs)||7||19||16||5||4||0||0||0||2||0||3||1||.250||.368||.250||.618|
|NYG (1 yr)||98||429||370||51||76||9||2||1||13||9||51||22||.205||.308||.249||.557|
If Yankee Stadium was a church June 19th would be a holy day of obligation for Yankee fans. The “Iron Horse” was Major League Baseball’s all-time greatest first baseman and perhaps the greatest athlete ever to be born in the Big Apple. In 17 years with New York he batted .340 lifetime and in seven World Series, he averaged .361. Lou had thirteen straight seasons in which he drove in and scored at least 100 runs. Along with his achievements on the ball field, his untimely illness, the grace with which he handled his misfortune, and his early death made Gehrig a true American hero.
Ruth, DiMaggio, and Mantle were each truly great Yankees on the field who lived unhappy, personal lives. I always found it ironic that Gehrig, the Yankee legend with an extremely strong marriage and idyllic private life, never got the opportunity to enjoy his retirement years.
Update: I originally wrote the above post in June of 2008. Since that time I learned something I never knew about Gehrig. I had always thought that after he was diagnosed with ALS at the Mayo Clinic, he simply returned to his home in the Bronx and waited to die. But Gehrig, who would live until June 2, 1941, over two years after his fatal diagnosis, actually accepted Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s appointment to the New York City Parole Commission in October of 1939. The appointment was for a ten-year-term and the position paid a salary of $5,700 per year. Besides sympathy for one of his city’s sports heroes, LaGuardia’s rationalization for selecting the Iron Horse for this job was sound. The Mayor was quoted in the New York Times after making the announcement, “I believe that he will not only be an able and intelligent commissioner but that he will be an inspiration and a hope to many of the younger boys who had gotten into trouble. Surely the misfortune of some of the young men will compare as something trivial with what Mr. Gehrig has so cheerfully and courageously faced.” LaGuardia went on to say that Gehrig had told him he wanted to dedicate his remaining days to public service and the Yankee legend meant what he said. Gehrig showed up for work regularly and did not stop doing so until just a month before he died, when he became to weak to leave his home.
Gehrig shares his birthday with another former Yankee first baseman.
Here are Gehrig’s incredible regular season statistics as a Yankee player:
The only member of the Yankee all-time player roster to be born on June 18 (1975) is their former reliever, Felix Heredia. The Yankees claimed the southpaw off waivers during the 2003 season and he pitched real well out of their bullpen for the remainder of that year, making 12 appearances during which he allowed just two earned runs in fifteen total innings. That effort represented an ERA of just 1.20 prompting New York to sign him to a new two-year contract. But during his second season in pinstripes, Heredia struggled with control problems and his Yankee ERA ballooned by over five times causing Joe Torre to eventually lose faith in him. The Yankees traded him to the Mets after the 2005 season in a deal that returned Mike Stanton to the Yankee bullpen. Heredia retired after the 2005 season with a 28-19 record for his ten years in the big leagues and 6 career saves. During that decade he pitched for six other teams in addition to the Yankees.
The only other member of the Yankee baseball family to be born on this same date is this announcer, who’s most famous call had nothing to do with Yankee baseball.
|CHC (4 yrs)||15||6||.714||5.01||221||0||54||0||0||3||163.1||166||102||91||20||80||146||1.506|
|FLA (3 yrs)||6||7||.462||4.72||118||2||27||0||0||2||114.1||112||68||60||5||72||102||1.609|
|NYY (2 yrs)||1||2||.333||4.86||59||0||13||0||0||0||53.2||57||33||29||6||25||29||1.528|
|NYM (1 yr)||0||0||0.00||3||0||1||0||0||0||2.2||1||0||0||0||1||2||0.750|
|CIN (1 yr)||5||2||.714||3.00||57||0||18||0||0||1||72.0||61||27||24||9||28||41||1.236|
|TOR (1 yr)||1||2||.333||3.61||53||0||15||0||0||0||52.1||51||29||21||5||26||31||1.471|
Vic Mata got his opportunity to play in the Bronx in 1984 mostly because George Steinbrenner was growing frustrated playing and paying high-priced veterans to miss the playoffs. In 1983, the Yankees had won 91 games but finished third in the AL East. That was the second consecutive season New York had failed to qualify for Fall Ball and that was the first time that had happened to a Yankee team since 1975. So “The Boss” let it be known he wanted to start testing the fruit from the Yankee farm system, hoping young guys like Don Mattingly, Mike Pagliarullo, Bobby Meacham and Vic Mata could show the old guys how to win with hunger and hustle. The Yankees were a game under .500 in July when Mata got his first start. Yogi Berra played the Dominican Republic native quite a bit in center field for the balance of that year and both Vic and the Yankees responded. Mata got real hot at the plate in August and helped the Yankees go 40-27 the rest of the way. But that proved to be the best and longest stretch of big league baseball Mata would ever play. That December, the short-memoried Steinbrenner went out and got the A’s Ricky Henderson to play center field for the Yankees. Then when the Yankees got off to a slow start in ’85 “The Boss” canned Berra and replaced him with good old Billy Martin. Berra liked Mata and Martin loved Henderson. Mata ended up playing just six more regular-season games in pinstripes.
After spending the final couple of seasons of his playing career in the minors, Mata eventually got into scouting. It has been in that capacity that this he has made his most significant contribution to the Yankees. Vic is the guy who signed Robinson Cano. He is also the only Yankee past or present who was born on June 17th. Happy Fathers’ Day to all you Dads out there.
Mata shares his birthday with this former front office Yankee executive.
This Jersey native started his seven-season big league career appearing in 24 games with the 1947 Yankees. Most of those appearances were as a first baseman. He was one of the last Yankees to wear uniform number 3 before it was retired upon Babe Ruth’s death in 1948. The highlight of Clarke’s short stay in pinstripes had to be his participation in the 1947 World Series. He appeared in three games against the Dodgers in that Fall Classic, came to the plate three times, getting a walk a base hit, scoring a run and delivering an RBI. He was then traded to the Indians for pitcher Red Embree and appeared in his second straight Series that year, when the Indians captured the AL Pennant. He played three plus seasons in Cleveland and then joined the A’s in Philadelphia for a while. He played his last big league game in 1953.
Clarke played briefly for the Amsterdam Rugmakers in 1941. The team was based in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY and was the Yankees’ C-level affiliate in the old Canadian-American League. He wowed our town’s local sports press by averaging .368 during his 20 games with the team.
|CLE (4 yrs)||178||562||518||73||135||17||3||17||71||0||39||32||.261||.312||.403||.716|
|PHA (3 yrs)||147||456||421||49||106||26||1||14||64||2||28||31||.252||.303||.418||.721|
|NYY (1 yr)||24||73||67||9||25||5||0||1||14||0||5||2||.373||.417||.493||.909|
|CHW (1 yr)||9||15||15||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||5||.067||.067||.067||.133|
I was pretty pumped when I learned the Yanks had signed Tony Clark in January of 2004. He had put together three consecutive outstanding offensive seasons as a Detroit Tiger first baseman earlier in his career. He was a switch-hitter and even though he was packed in a giant six foot eight inch frame, he was very agile defensively.
Jason Giambi had become a disaster defensively at first for New York and he was about to experience the worst season of his career, physically in 2004. Having Clark on the roster helped the team return to postseason that fall. Though not nearly as productive offensively as a healthy Giambi was in pinstripes, this native of Newton, Kansas had his moments. He belted 16 home runs that year and at the end of May, he had a stretch where he drove in 12 runs over an 8-game period.
By the end of the regular season, I thought maybe New York would bring Clark back, especially when Giambi’s physical problems persisted and rumors of his steroid use got louder and louder. Then the Yanks suffered one of the most devastating postseason defeats in the history of the franchise against Boston in that year’s ALCS during which Clark averaged just .143. He ended up signing with the Diamondbacks and having a stellar 2005 season in Arizona. Clark retired after the 2009 season with 251 big league home runs.
In December of 2013, Clark replaced Michael Weiner as the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Clark shares his June 15th birthday with this Hall-of-Fame third baseman, one of the members of the famous Yankee core four, this former Yankee infielder and this other former Yankee first baseman.
|DET (7 yrs)||772||3212||2831||428||783||156||7||156||514||6||343||721||.277||.355||.502||.857|
|ARI (5 yrs)||396||940||831||105||212||37||3||59||178||0||94||234||.255||.330||.520||.850|
|NYM (1 yr)||125||280||254||29||59||13||0||16||43||0||24||73||.232||.300||.472||.772|
|BOS (1 yr)||90||298||275||25||57||12||1||3||29||0||21||57||.207||.265||.291||.556|
|SDP (1 yr)||70||107||88||5||21||3||0||1||11||0||19||32||.239||.374||.307||.681|
|NYY (1 yr)||106||283||253||37||56||12||0||16||49||0||26||92||.221||.297||.458||.755|
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.