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Archive for the ‘Yankee History’ Category

(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstripe Alley)

In addition to the Hot Stove, baseball warms up the winter months with Hall of Fame debate. From the time the ballot is released until the votes are counted in early January, arguments are made for and against various candidates, often with a considerable degree of disagreement and usually with some form of exaggeration. As a result, for those players on the borderline, the process can be somewhat demeaning.

This year, Bernie Williams is making his first appearance on the ballot, and judging by popular sentiment, he isn’t likely to come close to enshrinement. Although Williams’ case deserves much closer scrutiny than many seem willing to give, as a borderline candidate, there really is no right or wrong answer regarding his candidacy. With that in mind, it seems more appropriate to consider the best players who are not in the Hall of Fame instead of trying to determine which of them actually belong.

At the Baseball: Past and Present blog, Graham Womack recently completed a survey based on exactly that premise. For the second straight year, Womack polled an electorate made up of baseball writers and researchers and compiled the results into a ranking of the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. Included in this baseball version of purgatory were several players who spent most of their careers in pinstripes, prompting a further question: who are the 10 best eligible Yankees without a plaque in Cooperstown?

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Even though the value of wins has been somewhat discredited by the modern focus on sabermetrics, amassing 20 victories in one season remains a notable milestone for a starting pitcher.

Since 1901, 476 different pitchers have started at least one game for the Yankees, but only 35 have made it to the 20-win mark. Included among that group is CC Sabathia, who recorded 21 victories in 2010. Apparently not content with one such season, the Yankees’ ace has been at it again in 2011. As a result, the big lefty takes the mound tonight with the chance to make it back-to-back years with 20 victories.

Multiple 20-Win Seasons by Yankees’ Starters

Pitcher Seasons   Pitcher Seasons
Bob Shawkey 4   Carl Mays 2
Lefty Gomez 4   Herb Pennock 2
Red Ruffing 4   Russ Ford 2
Vic Raschi 3   Spud Chandler 2
Jack Chesbro 3   Tommy John 2
Mel Stottlemyre 3   Waite Hoyt 2
Ron Guidry 3   Whitey Ford 2
Andy Pettitte 2   CC Sabathia ?

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Yankees have had 15 different pitchers win 20 games in at least two seasons, so if Sabathia is able to notch a victory in one of his final three starts, he’ll join a list that includes Hall of Famers like Red Ruffing, Lefty Gomez, and Whitey Ford. What’s more, by winning 20 games in consecutive seasons, Sabathia would become a member of even more select fraternity that includes only 10 pinstriped hurlers.

Consecutive 20-Win Seasons by Yankees’ Starters

    Combined Totals
Pitcher Years IP W SO ERA WHIP
Jack Chesbro 1903-1904 779 1/3 62 386 2.22 1.027
Russ Ford 1910-1911 581    48 367 1.95 1.017
Bob Shawkey 1919-1920 529    40 248 2.59 1.212
Carl Mays 1920-1921 648 2/3 53 162 3.05 1.236
Waite Hoyt 1927-1928 529 1/3 45 153 3.01 1.200
Lefty Gomez 1931-1932 508 1/3 45 326 3.47 1.302
Red Ruffing 1936-1939 1008    82 455 3.29 1.278
Vic Raschi 1949-1951 789 2/3 63 443 3.53 1.354
Mel Stottlemyre 1968-1969 581 2/3 41 253 2.65 1.155
Tommy John 1979-1980 541 2/3 43 189 3.19 1.217

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Hideki Irabu, the first Japanese born player to wear pinstripes, was found dead in his Los Angeles’ home on Thursday, the victim of an apparent suicide.

At his introductory press conference, Irabu tries on the pinstripes he always wanted wear.

When Irabu first came to the United States, he was billed as the Japanese Roger Clemens, but his career yielded more punch lines than punch outs. That’s why it’s easy to forget he was once one of the most coveted international free agents in recent memory.

In the winter of 1997, the San Diego Padres were granted the right to exclusively negotiate with Irabu, who, as a member of the Chiba Lotte Marines, was considered by many to be the best pitcher in Japan. However, Irabu had other plans. He only wanted to play for the Yankees. After much wrangling between the Marines, Padres and Yankees, Irabu was finally able to strong arm his way to New York. At the time, it seemed like a match made in heaven. One of the best international pitchers was bringing his star to Broadway. What could possibly go wrong?

During the All Star break, the Yankees decided that it was time to summon Irabu to the Bronx. Over 51,000 fans packed the Stadium to see his debut on July 10, 1997, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. With the exception of Opening Day and the inaugural interleague series against the Mets, it was the largest crowd of the season, and despite being just a regular season game, the level of anticipation rivaled October.

This was more than I ever dreamed about or imagined for this night. The support of the team is something I can’t compare. I wouldn’t sell what I was able to feel today for anything.”– Hideki Irabu, quoted in the New York Daily News, July 11, 1997

Over 6 2/3 innings, Irabu struck out nine Tigers, each one sending the Stadium crowd into an increasing state of delirium. After the game, which was an anti-climatic 10-3 victory, the excitement was still palpable. Although the Yankees had failed to get the real Roger Clemens during the offseason, it appeared as if they had found the next best thing. Then reality set in. Over his next seven starts, which were interrupted by a stint in the minors, Irabu posted an ERA of 8.72. Soon thereafter, he was demoted to the bullpen and then left off the playoff roster. As quickly as he burst on the scene, Irabu’s star had been extinguished.

Over 50,000 fans packed the Stadium for Irabu's debut on July 10, 1997.

Well, that’s not really true. Following his dismal debut, it would have been easy for Irabu to crawl into a shell, but instead, the right hander rebounded with a strong season in 1998. What’s more, for a stretch during that historic season, Irabu was actually the best pitcher on the team.  In fact, in May, the same month in which David Wells threw a perfect game, Irabu was named the best pitcher in the American League. Although his second half was marred by poor performance, Irabu was still an important part of one of the best teams in baseball history.

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In the early days of the National League, the Chicago franchise was the class of the new circuit. Then called the White Stockings, the team won the championship in six of the league’s first 11 seasons. Led by Hall of Famers like Cap Anson, King Kelly, John Clarkson and Al Spalding (as well as a lesser known contributor named Billy Sunday, who would later gain notoriety as a world-renowned evangelical preacher), the Chicago teams of 1880s were one of the baseball’s first dynasties.

In 1876, the Chicago White Stockings were the first champions of the National League.

After a decade of futility, the Cubs, as they were now being called, had another run of success from 1906 to 1910. Over that five-year span, the team won two World Series and four pennants, and each season won at least 99 games. In fact, the one year the Cubs didn’t win the pennant, they won 104, but still finished six games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Since the second Cubs’ mini-dynasty, the team’s history has been mostly marred by ineptitude or sudden failure just before final victory. As a result, the entire organization has taken on the persona of hard luck losers. Some have attributed that fate to a curse, but Billy Goat or not, the last 100 years haven’t been very kind to the north-siders.

A Yankees series versus the Cubs is baseball’s study in contrast. On one side is the sport’s most storied and successful franchise, while across the field is a team best known for its epic futility. However, despite being miles apart from the Yankees in terms of accomplishments, the Cubs remain in the same ballpark when it comes to fan support.

In 1908, the Cubs won 99 games and repeated as World Series Champions, while the New York Highlanders, as the Yankees were then called, lost 103 games, the most in franchise history. At the point in time, the Cubs might have been considered the sport’s elite, while the Yankees would have been a candidate for laughing stock, but, needless to say, a lot has changed since then. Listed below are five interesting historical tidbits that help put the two franchises’ reversal of fortune in proper perspective.

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When Mariano Rivera finished off the Yankees’ 7-3 victory against the Blue Jays on Wednesday, he became the first pitcher in major league history to record 1,000 games with one team. Remarkably, Rivera accomplished the feat two days removed from the 16th anniversary of his major league debut on May 23, 1995.

Mariano Rivera made his major league debut on May 23, 1995. Almost 16 years later, Rivera pitched in his 1,000th game for the Yankees.

Rivera’s first appearance as a Yankee came as a starter in Anaheim. The skinny right hander was summoned to the major leagues when Jimmy Key was placed on the disabled list, but his promotion might just as well have been a birthday gift to manager Buck Showalter, who was celebrating his 39th year that very day.

Although Rivera was a relatively unknown at the time, the hard throwing Panamanian first opened Showalter’s eyes during spring training in 1992. At the time, young arms like Mark Hutton, Sam Militello, Bob Wickman, Jeff Johnson and Sterling Hitchcock were touted as the future of the Yankees, but the rookie manager instead took an immediate liking to Rivera. In particular, Showalter made note of the young pitcher’s composure and control, two qualities that would become the hallmarks of a Hall of Fame career.

Mariano certainly has a good track record for throwing the ball over the plate. He’s been trying to get a little more depth to his breaking ball, but he’s been able to get people out by locating his fastball, changeup and slider. And he’s a good athlete. A real good athlete. – Buck Showalter, quoted in the New York Daily News, May 23, 1995

The night of Rivera’s debut, the crowd at Anaheim Stadium was treated to an outstanding pitching performance, but unfortunately for the Yankees, it didn’t come from their rookie right hander.  Instead, Chuck Finley was the star of the night. The left hander, who made a habit of dominating the Yankees, struck out 15 batters on his way to a two-hit shutout.

Finley’s performance, which was the 100th of his career, and the Angels’ 10-0 victory completely overshadowed Rivera’s debut, which lasted only 3 1/3 innings. In the brief outing, Rivera surrendered five runs and eight hits, but also showed some flashes of brilliance by striking out five. Those flashes would eventually become roaring flames, but in the meantime, the young Rivera had a few lessons to learn.

One of the things Mariano can learn from tonight is that there’s not much margin for error up here. He missed a few times in some bad spots and he’s going to have to have better command of his off-speed stuff. He started out well and hopefully he’ll learn from it. Every pitcher goes through growing pains.” – Buck Showalter, quoted in the New York Daily News, May 24, 1995

As we now know, Rivera’s growing pains didn’t last long. After a few more inconsistent starts and a demotion to the minors, the future closer had what many consider to be his real coming out party on July 4. This time, Rivera’s outing turned out to be a worthy gift for the Boss, whose birthday’s cake must gone down a lot easier after Rivera’s 11 strikeouts in eight shutout innings. The rest of the season had its up and downs for Rivera, but the 1995 ALCS cemented his future as a prominent figure in an emerging Yankees’ dynasty. Unfortunately for Showalter, he wouldn’t be around to see it.

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Maybe Derek Jeter shouldn’t retire after all?

Considering the furor caused by the short stop’s early season struggles, you’d have thought Jeter was the only part of the Yankees’ team not performing up to standards. In Sunday’s 12-5 rout of the Texas Rangers, however, the Captain allayed those fears…at least for one day.

By going 4-6 with two line drive homeruns over the right centerfield wall, Jeter changed the off day’s narrative from “what’s wrong with the Captain” to “could he be turning it around”? Instead of having to deal with questions about his lagging performance, Jeter can now bask in the glow of a road trip that saw him bat .393/.414/.643.

Although the growing chorus of Jeter’s detractors will likely dismiss the performance as “only one game”, it’s worth noting that his WAR of 0.6 (fangraphs’ version) ranks within reach of every other American League shortstop except Maicer Izturis (who has played only 11 of 26 games at the position). Ironically, a large part of that ranking is attributable to Jeter’s defense, which, according to UZR/150, currently ranks ninth best in all of baseball.

In addition to finding his power stroke over the weekend, Jeter also earned the distinction of becoming the most tenured short stop with one team, surpassing Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,302 games with the Orioles. By the end of the season, Jeter will also surpass Mickey Mantle for the most games played by a Yankee, not to mention the first player in the franchise to reach 3,000 hits.

True Yankees: Longest Tenured Yankees at Each Position

As of May 8, 2011.
Note: Blue lines represent those who only played for the Yankees. Gray lines represent most games at position by players who were also on other teams.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Judging by the tone earlier in the week, it was easy to come away with the impression that some would prefer if Jeter didn’t stick around long enough to accomplish any of the aforementioned milestones. In an ironic twist, it almost seems as if the Captain has worn out his welcome with a significant portion of the fan base simply because he may never regain the glory of his prime years. Hopefully, Sunday’s game will stem the tide of that sentiment. A standing ovation for Jeter in his first at bat at the Stadium on Tuesday would be a nice place to start.

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Andre Ethier’s fifth inning infield single off the glove of Starlin Castro may not have gone very far, but it did get him halfway to the legendary streak of Joe DiMaggio.

After tying Wee Willie Keller's mark, DiMaggio takes some time to enjoy the moment.

By extending his hitting streak to 28 games, Ethier became only the 46th player to reach that point since DiMaggio established the record at 56 games. Since 1919, only 69 players have had hitting streaks of at least 28 games, so even if the Dodgers’ right fielder comes up empty tonight, he’ll still have placed himself in select company.

Despite being at the halfway point, Ethier is still miles away from approaching DiMaggio’s record. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other significant milestones well within his reach. The first one on the horizon is the Dodgers’ franchise record of 31, which was set by Willie Davis in 1969. Then, there’s George Sisler’s modern day record* of 41 straight games with a hit by a left handed batter. Finally, once that hurdle has been cleared, Ethier can set his sites on Pete Rose’s modern day National League record* of 44 games, which is the closest anyone has come to reaching DiMaggio’s lofty plateau.

* Wee Willie Keeler established the National League (as well as the left handed) record by “hitting ‘em where they ain’t” in 44 straight games for the Baltimore Orioles (no relation to the modern day American League team, nor the one that moved to New York to become the Yankees) to start the 1897 season. Keeler also had a hit in the last game of the 1896 season, giving him a career mark of 45 straight games with a hit.

Keeler still holds the NL record for most consecutive games with a hit.

Now that Ethier has reached a symbolic point on his journey, the outfielder’s at bats will come under increased scrutiny, and, as a result, so too will the official scorers presiding over his games.  In last night’s contest, for example, Ethier’s lone hit was aided by Castro’s inability to backhand a groundball in the shortstop hole. Had the strong armed defender fielded the ball cleanly, he might have had a chance to record the out, but the difficulty of the play made the official scorer’s decision well within reason.

If Ethier is going to make a serious run at DiMaggio, he’ll likely need a few more instances in which good fortune accompanies good hitting. After all, even Joltin’ Joe needed a break or two along the way, especially when you consider he recorded one hit in 34 of the 56 games in his streak.

Not every one-hit game was the result of luck, but during a series against the White Sox in June, good fortune smiled upon DiMaggio not once, but twice. The Yankee Clipper entered the series riding a 29-game hitting streak, but was held hitless up until what looked like his last at bat in the seventh inning.  So, when DiMaggio rolled what the New York Times called “a ground ball that was labeled an easy out” to Luke Appling, it looked like the streak was over…at least until the ball took a bad hop and bounced off the shortstop’s shoulder.

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