Showing posts with label New York Yankees. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York Yankees. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Irv Noren at 92 recalls his ride from worst to first with the Yankees

Fans of yesteryear will remember Irv Noren as the bridge between Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle roaming center field for the New York Yankees. As much as he is known as an integral part of three World Series championship teams in the Bronx (1952, ’53, and ’56), little do fans know that he was dangerously close to playing for their cross town rivals in Brooklyn.

Signed by the Dodgers in 1946 after serving in World War II, Noren tore up the Dodgers farm system, winning consecutive league MVP awards, first in the Double-A Texas League in 1948, and then in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League the next season (an award ironically DiMaggio had won in 1935). So why wasn’t Noren wearing Dodger Blue instead of Yankee Pinstripes?

Irv Noren at his home in 2012 / N. Diunte
With the Dodgers fielding an outfield that contained Duke Snider and Carl Furillo, Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey had other plans for his budding superstar. During a 2012 visit with Noren at his home in Oceanside, California, he explained how he found out just what those plans were.

“I just came out of Hollywood and had a great year there," Noren said. "That winter, I was sitting for dinner one night in Arcadia where we were living and I heard this come over the radio, ‘Irv Noren’s been sold to the Washington Senators by the Brooklyn Dodgers for $70,000 and a player or whatever.’ I dropped my food and went out in the backyard and said, ‘Washington Senators!’”

With the Dodgers’ finances suffering due to their investment in the Brooklyn football franchise of the AAFC, Rickey sold Noren to recover some of the losses they faced. Little did he know that the sale of Noren would haunt him only a few years later.

After two excellent seasons with the Washington Senators, Noren’s sweet left-handed swing and superb defense in the spacious Griffith Stadium attracted the attention of Yankees manager Casey Stengel. Disappointed with the early season play of the replacements for the recently retired DiMaggio, the Yankees acquired Noren in May of 1952 from the Senators in a six-player deal.

“Perhaps we gave up a lot, but we had to in order to get what we wanted. We wanted Noren. We need a center fielder who can hit, run, field, and throw,” said Stengel to the New York Times.

Within a matter of months, Noren went from worst to first, and rode the elevator all the way up to World Series victory.

“It was different going into the Yankees clubhouse instead of the other way," he said. "I said to myself, ‘Jeez, this is where Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and everybody was, in this clubhouse.'"

High expectations were omnipresent, as none of the veterans wanted anyone getting in the way of their World Series checks. The team atmosphere was a tremendous shift from playing in Washington.

“It was fun to go to the ballpark because you knew that the guys meant business and policed the game themselves," he said. "Some guys stayed out all night and if they couldn’t play the next day or pitch, they’d let them know. ‘You’re screwing around with my money. In the winter do whatever you want, but right now [don’t do it]. With the Yankees, everybody wanted to beat them, and you couldn’t make a mistake against them. You had to produce over there. In Washington, you could go 0-8, but in New York if you went 0-8, someone else would be in there. They had to win.”

Noren played five seasons with the Yankees from 1952-56, which in addition to the aforementioned World Series championships, included a selection to the 1954 All-Star Game. He continued playing in the majors until 1960, making appearances with the Athletics, Cardinals, Cubs and Dodgers. Upon retiring from his playing career, he was involved with a variety of business ventures that included owning a sporting goods store, a screen printing business, and breeding thoroughbred horses. In between all of that, Hall of Famer Dick Williams recruited Noren to serve as a coach for the Oakland Athletics during their championship seasons in the early 1970s. Now completely retired, Noren enjoys the company of his family and looking after his horses.

“I felt I was a pretty lucky guy," he said. "You never give up and something good is going to happen if you hang out and do your best. It was tough in them days. Most of us spent the best years of our life in the service. I went in from 18 to 21; that’s the best three years of your life. That’s fine, we did it for the country.

"We didn’t make a lot of money, but we played for fun and a bit of money like they say. It made us respect a little bit more about what life was about, what the priorities are in life. I’ve got 15 grandkids. I get up after dinner and my grandson said, ‘Did you really play center field for the Yankees?’ [To them] we were never young; we’re [just] old. I have a few horses that keep me busy with my buddies, as well as my grandkids and great grandkids; that’s what I’m living for.”

Monday, November 21, 2016

Rinaldo 'Rugger' Ardizoia, 95, pitched one sweet game for the New York Yankees

Rinaldo "Rugger" Ardizoia, a pitcher who played in one game for the New York Yankees in 1947, passed away Sunday evening due to complications from a stroke. He was 95.

The Italian born pitcher gained notoriety in his later years as the oldest living alumni of the New York Yankees. He pitched in one game during the 1947 season against the St. Louis Browns, throwing the final two innings in a 15-5 loss. He gave up two runs, including a home run to one of his former teammates in Iwo Jima during World War II.

Rugger Ardizoia / OOTP Developments
 "The guy that hit the home run off me was one of my boyhood idols, Walter Judnich," he said to Bill Nowlin in Bridging Two Dynasties: The 1947 New York Yankees. "I more of less slid it in for him because we were so far behind anyway."

Ardizoia played the majority of his career in the Pacific Coast League with the Hollywood Stars, where he had the chance to befriend celebrities such as Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, and a fellow that would later become president of the United States.

“Ronald Reagan — he used to hang out with us,” Ardizoia said to the New York Times in 2015.

At the completion of his professional baseball career in 1951, he went to work selling rental linen for 30 years. Still, his passion for baseball did not dwindle, as he played on the semiprofessional level until he was 61. He continued to attend old-timers reunions well into his 90s, willing to share his stories of playing with the legendary Yankees no matter how brief it was.

*Note - This was originally published July 21, 2015 for the now-defunct Examiner.com.




Sunday, August 28, 2016

Book Review: Billy Sample 'A Year in Pinstripes ... And Then Some'

Many athletes shy away from the opportunity to play under the spotlight of the New York City media, but when you play baseball for the New York Yankees, it provides a social cache that is unlikely any other in professional sports. Billy Sample only played one season for the Yankees, but the experience provided a lifetime of memories that he has captured in his autobiography, “A Year in Pinstripes … And Then Some.”

Billy Sample - A Year in Pinstripes

A veteran of nine seasons in Major League Baseball with the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, and Atlanta Braves, Sample peppers the reader with a range of colorful anecdotes that he manages to deliver in the same conversational tone that made him a successful on-air personality after his career ended. He displays his talents to make serious situations palatable when he takes an early passage about his high school teammates refusing to swim in the same pool with him in the early 1970s and find a sliver of humor by telling how he would announce before he went to swim that he was going downstairs, “to clear the pool.”

The aforementioned passage is probably the heaviest social commentary that Sample makes in the entire book. A lighter vibe is maintained of vivid tales explaining how flashbacks of Don Robinson’s curveball still wakes him up in a cold sweat at night and how he served as a radio DJ during the strike-shortened season of 1981.

Yankee fans will get their fix by hearing Sample relay stories of Billy Martin’s antics, George Steinbrenner’s reign, Don Mattingly’s MVP season, and Rickey Henderson, well, being Rickey. Sample manages to humbly sneak in a few of his own highlights, including how his not-so-graceful handling of a carom off the wall while playing left field in Kansas City warranted early morning outfield practice, even though he held the runner to a double.

Baseball enthusiasts will appreciate how Sample tells the story of his career mainly through his experiences with his teammates, ranging from the legendary Hall of Famers, to those who never reached the majors. He places the spotlight on his achievements only when necessary and often in a self-deprecating way, showing that Sample is not above putting his own career in perspective. If you have ever watched Sample as a broadcaster, or met with him in-person, his conversational tone is evident throughout the entire book and what makes his story of, “A Year in Pinstripes,” a worthy one to experience.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How Luis Arroyo gave one baseball fan an experience of a lifetime

Luis Arroyo, the great Puerto Rican left-handed reliever for the 1961 New York Yankees World Series championship team, passed away at the age of 88 on Wednesday January 13, 2016 in Puerto Rico after a bout with cancer. As the closer for their team, Arroyo preserved many of their victories, but one of his greatest assists came well after his playing days ended to a complete stranger.

In 2011, while milling around the hotel where the Yankees Old Timers were stationed for the weekend, I encountered Arroyo sitting in an almost regal manner in a chair in the corner of the lobby, free from the rush of the crowds that swarmed the other alumni making their way through the hotel en route to explore New York City. While the droves of fans and collectors flocked to the younger retired Yankees, I sensed an opportunity to talk with Arroyo about his vast treasure of experiences as a ballplayer in Puerto Rico in the late 1940s with all of the legendary Negro League and Puerto Rican stars who passed through the famed winter league.

Luis Arroyo (r.) with the author in 2011 / N. Diunte
As I approached Arroyo and inquired about his desire to discuss his early baseball career, he seemed a bit surprised and guarded. As we started to talk, I told him that I was a friend of a former teammate and after putting them in touch on the phone as we sat there in the lobby, Arroyo relaxed and opened up his tremendous wealth of knowledge of baseball’s unheralded superstars. For thirty minutes, he brought up the names of such greats as Willard Brown, Bus Clarkson, Perucho Cepeda, Ruben Gomez, and Satchel Paige. The more he spoke, the more he beamed with pride sharing his recollections of being amongst all of these superstars before he hit the major leagues.

Photo of Arroyo with Ponce in Puerto Rico / N. Diunte
One fellow Puerto Rican that he made sure to emphasize was Francisco “Pancho” Coimbre. An early standout with Ponce’s team in Liga de BĂ©isbol Profesional de Puerto Rico, as well as in the Negro Leagues with the New York Cubans, Arroyo insisted that Coimbre was the finest hitter on the island.

“I could name you the best hitter ever to come out of winter ball — Frank Coimbre,” Arroyo said in 2011. “He didn’t get a chance to play because he was colored. He was the best hitter in Puerto Rico and I could bet you anything that he could hit in the big leagues. He could run, throw, and hit. He was a hell of a ballplayer.”

As our conversation progressed, the then 84-year-old Arroyo said that he was tired from the travel and wouldn’t be attending the team’s evening festivities at a local restaurant. He then proceeded to show me his tickets and offer them to me as he didn’t want them to go to waste. I surely couldn’t turn down an opportunity to have a good meal and meet some more of the Yankees alumni.

Old Timers Day Reception Pass / N. Diunte
Before retiring to his room, Arroyo asked me to meet him in the lobby at 9AM the next morning, as he said that he would have something good for me. I thanked him for his generosity and assured him that I would be there.
David Wells (l.) and the author at Yankees alumni party / N. Diunte
After waking up from an enjoyable evening of mingling with the players at a Times Square restaurant, I sat on the train to the hotel with a child-like excitement for my morning encounter with Mr. Arroyo. When I arrived in the hotel lobby, Arroyo was sitting alone reading the newspaper while the slight bustle of the early risers passed him by. After a friendly greeting, we picked up where we left off yesterday’s conversation, as he started running off stories about his time in the National League with St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. Whether it was colorful anecdotes of seeing Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, and Sandy Koufax toil in Puerto Rico before hitting superstardom in the majors, or playing with Stan Musial and a young Frank Robinson, Arroyo had seen it all — even the time in Havana when he was playing with the Sugar Kings and shortstop Leo Cardenas was shot by wayward gunfire.

Arroyo (l.) with Fidel Castro (r.) in 1959 as a member of the Havana team / N. Diunte
As the early sunlight penetrated the glass doors of the lobby, Arroyo perked up even more, speaking with wonderful candor about his time with the Yankees. Like an assembly line, the vaunted names of the Yankees championship team rolled off his tongue: Berra, Ford, Howard, Mantle, and Maris. For each of them he had his own colorful bit, each told with a laugh and a smile. We finally got down to his stellar 1961 season, when he appeared in 65 games for the Yankees, saving 29 of them en route to a 15-5 record, an All-Star appearance, and a sixth place finish in the American League MVP voting.

“When I had that good year, [finishing] 15-5, and we won the World Series, I used to pitch all year around,” he said. “When I finished the World Series in 1961, the GM Roy Hamey said to stop pitching all year around. I told him that I pitch winter ball because I wasn’t making any money. He took care of me. He gave me $10,000.”
Photo of Arroyo pitching that is outside of the Yankees suites / N. Diunte
Arroyo’s decision to take the money from the Yankees was one that he regretted later in life. Instead of keeping in shape during the time he would have normally been playing winter baseball, he went far away from his training routine; a decision that he felt ultimately shortened his career.

“I made a mistake,” he lamented. “When I wasn’t pitching, instead of going to the ballpark and keep running and doing some throwing, I went out with all the friends, drank, and ate, and when I came to spring training, I was 20 pounds overweight; it was the biggest mistake of my life. I don’t blame him, he did me a favor. When I gained all those pounds, I couldn’t throw at all. In 1963, I hurt my arm. … I went to bed and I felt something to my elbow and that was the end of my career. I had an operation. I tried to play winter ball and I couldn’t do it.”

While his arm injury spelled the end of Arroyo’s playing career with the Yankees, he remained with them as a scout for 20 years. He was instrumental in getting them to sign Ricky Ledee, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams, the latter for which he told me how he had to work hard on George Steinbrenner to convince him to go after a skinny 16-year-old outfielder from Puerto Rico.

As he prepared to move on with the rest of his day, he called down his grandson Gustavo from his hotel room. As he emerged from the elevator, he was holding an envelope. Arroyo introduced me to his grandson and proceeded to take a ticket and special pass from the envelope. He wanted me to be their guest at Old Timers Day. He said that he thought it was something that I would enjoy as a baseball fan and instructed me to meet them at the hotel at 9AM for breakfast the next morning.

2011 Old Timers Day Suite Ticket / N. Diunte
I went home elated with my ticket and called a few friends with the news. I wasn’t sure what was in store for the next day, but I was excited about the opportunity. I met Gustavo for breakfast at the hotel in the morning and watched at the Old Timers left on the first bus to the stadium. We went on the next bus for the players’ guests, which took us directly into the private entrance to the stadium. We were escorted through the inside of the stadium up to a series of specially connected luxury suites.

A small sampling of the decor in the suites / N. Diunte
What an experience watching the ceremonies and the games from the suites. The food was top notch and as you start to mingle with the players families, you realize that the event is not only an annual highlight for the retired players, but also their families who can experience the cheers of their loved ones once again from the sold out crowd.
Arroyo's entrance on the big screen at Yankee Stadium / N. Diunte
In the sweltering heat, the elder alumni, including Arroyo made their way back up to the suites before those who played in the game. He was accompanied by the likes of Don Larsen, Hector Lopez, and Moose Skowron, as well as Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. As the aforementioned battery entered the room, they were closely guarded by security and escorted to a private area of the suites. Arroyo managed to get over to the private area to say a few words to both Berra and Ford and emerged with a photo in his hands. He handed it to me and it was signed by both Ford and himself. It was another act of generosity by the former Yankee that deepened my appreciation for his time and effort.

Autographed photo of Ford and Arroyo / N. Diunte
After watching the game and returning to the hotel on the bus sitting next to Skowron, (who was telling jokes all along the way) I met with Arroyo and his grandson and once again thanked them for bringing me behind the curtain for Old Timers Day. They extended the baseball opportunity of a lifetime to a total stranger and for that I am eternally grateful.

Moose Skowron (r.) with the author in 2011 / N. Diunte
I met with both of them in subsequent years during their return trips to Old Timers Day, last seeing Arroyo in 2013. Despite being limited by weakened knees, he made his priority to attend.

“Even though I have arthritis in my knees, I can’t miss it.”

Friday, October 16, 2015

How Matt Reynolds might join Chet Trail for a dubious major league distinction

As Matt Reynolds sat on the New York Mets bench Thursday evening for Game 5 of the National League Championship series waiting to make his major league debut, one man that can relate to his angst is Chet Trail. Placed on the New York Yankees World Series roster in 1964, Trail is the only player ever on a postseason roster never to appear in a major league game.

Chet Trail / Baseball-Birthdays.com
Trail was signed by the Yankees in 1962 out of Libbey High School in Toledo, Ohio, where he was a standout multi-sport start. The Yankees gave Trail a $43,000 bonus, and in 1963 they assigned him to their Fort Lauderdale team in the Florida State League. A year later, in only his second professional season, the Yankees placed him on their World Series roster after Tony Kubek was injured; however, the acclaim wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed.

“The Yankees didn’t call me up,” the 71-year-old Trail said from his home in Toledo on Thursday evening. “It was a paper move protecting me by calling me up on the roster. They told me they were going to put me on the roster, but they didn’t go any further as to what their plans were as far as bringing me up.”

Barely 20 years old, Trail was excited to be named to the club, but he would have enjoyed it more if he would have been in uniform with the rest of the Yankee legends. Trail watched the World Series from his home in Ohio while attending college classes.

“I was just thrilled to be privileged enough to be on the roster, so I didn’t expect any more,” he said. “I was just happy to be on the roster, but I came back home and went back to college.”

The Yankees lost in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals, but in true Yankee fashion, they cut Trail in on a share of the runner-ups earnings even though he never stepped foot in the dugout. It’s something that he appreciates over fifty years later.

“If I can remember, I did get a nominal sum being on that roster,” he said. “Back then I think the players voted for shares, but if I can remember, I did get something just for being on the roster.”

The culmination of the 1964 season left Trail with many unanswered questions. In spring training, he was promised that he would get a look at the major league level, but it never materialized.

“In 1964, Archie Moore and I were supposed to split half of a season in which I was to play in A-ball half a season and go up to the Yankees, and he was to come down and play, but they never did that,” he said. “I stayed the whole year in Greensboro, but they brought me up by name only. I never got an explanation as to why physically that never happened.”

Trail spent seven seasons in the minor leagues, reaching as high as Triple-A. He went to major league spring training five times, but for various reasons, he didn’t make the cut. Despite never reaching the major leagues, Trail had the fortune of spending time around the old guard of the Yankees dynasty.

“I was kind of awe struck with Mantle, Maris, Berra, Howard, Kubek, Richardson, and Pepitone,” he said. “I am 18-19 years old, and to be on the field in spring training with people like that who I grew up idolizing was a great experience.”

After finishing his baseball career in 1969, Trail worked in the insurance field, became a church pastor, and was one of the most successful high school basketball referees in Ohio. He is currently using his position as a respected Pastor in the community to revitalize the site of his old high school, by lobbying to build a sports complex where it once stood. After some meetings with local officials, Trail is proud with the progress he is making.

“Along with the chamber of commerce we’re putting together a business plan, so we’re making headway with that,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to bring that to fruition; I think we will. It’s been two years and it’s finally coming together. I’ve contacted Major League Baseball’s RBI program for a grant and as soon as our leg work with the business part of it is done, we’ll be reaching out to actually getting money and making the complex come to pass.”

Trail hopes that Reynolds, the Mets young shortstop gets his opportunity to play in a major league game whether it is during this year’s playoffs or next year’s regular season. He doesn’t want Reynolds to experience a similar fate searching for answers for a half-century.

“In all my years, now I’m 71, I never quite understood what actually happened there,” he said. “I was never told and it wasn’t explained to me. I had to do well in the minor leagues just to be put on the roster, but I never quite got over that hump.”

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cal Neeman, played seven season in the majors, came up with Mantle in Yankees system

Cal Neeman, a former major league catcher with five different teams in the 1950s and 1960s, passed away Thursday at his home in Lake Saint Louis, Missouri. He was 86.

Signed by the New York Yankees in 1949 out of Illinois Wesleyan University, where he also competed in basketball, Neeman was assigned to their Class C farm team in Joplin. During his second season in Joplin, he was joined by an erratic, but powerful shortstop in Mickey Mantle.

Cal Neeman / Author's Collection

Speaking with Neeman in 2011 in the wake of the tornado that wreaked havoc on the place of his debut, Neeman recalled a more positive image amidst the devastation the town was facing.

“I had all positive memories about Joplin,” he said via telephone in 2011. “It was the first place I played professional baseball. The whole atmosphere there was really good. People liked the ballplayers. We stayed in people’s homes; they would rent a room for $5 per week. Fourth and Main (where the stadium was located) was really close to where that tornado went through, just a tad north up.”

Neeman felt at home in the Yankee organization, primarily due to his Joplin managers Johnny Sturm and Harry Craft. Both had tremendous major league experience, which helped to shape his young career.

“My first manager was Johnny Sturm the Yankee first baseman,” he recalled. “He was just a good manager and I respected him a lot. My second year, Harry Craft was our manager, so I got to play for two good people.”

In 1950, Neeman was joined in Joplin by a young shortstop named Mickey Mantle. His abilities were evident, but he was a far cry from the legend that most know today.

“Everybody knew he had a lot of talent,” he said, “there’s no doubt about that. He did some fabulous things, but he also made some errors too.”

Mantle was so erratic at shortstop that fans were hesitant to sit behind the first base seats for fear of his wild throws. His defensive shortcomings were overshadowed by his trademark speed and power.

“Mantle was just a fun-loving kid that loved baseball,” he said. “He lived for playing ball. We had a fence in center field that was about 420. The first year I was there, no one hit it over the fence during the game. One night in Joplin, Mickey hit one over it left-handed and one over it right-handed. Of course, he could run. People found out about him being able to run like he did and they would usually have races before the away games. They would bring out the other team’s fastest runner and they’d run and win five dollars. Mickey would win every time; he would just run off and leave everybody. The Yankees then sent off a directive that there would be no more races before games.”

Neeman had little time to relish his experiences with Mantle, or the Yankees for that matter. Just as the 1950 season ended, he was drafted into the Korean War, serving two of his prime years in the military.

“After 1950 I went in the Korean War,” he said. “The bad part was I went to Korea itself [for] most of 1952, so there wasn’t any baseball or anything over there.”

The time he spent away from the game while in Korea hampered his return with the Yankees in 1953; however, as with his earlier managers in Joplin, he found a supporter in his manager with Binghamton during his first year back.

“I had a tough time, not physical shape, but to be able to throw, hit, and catch,” he said. “We had a manager Phil Page who stuck with me no matter what.”

Stuck behind Yogi Berra who recently passed away, Neeman was amongst almost a dozen Yankee catching prospects whose paths were blocked to the major leagues. Just as he was about to give up hope on making the big leagues, the Chicago Cubs drafted Neeman from the Yankees at the end of the 1956 season.

“I was ready to look for a job,” he said. “I didn’t think I could stay in baseball any longer. I was married and by that time, I was thinking that I didn’t have enough money to survive on. I was very fortunate and I got to play for a really fine man and manager, Bob Scheffing in Chicago.”

Neeman played in 376 games during his seven seasons with the Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, and Washington Senators. He had a .224 career lifetime average with 30 home runs and 97 RBIs, serving primarily as a backup catcher.

After the completion of his professional baseball career, he went back to school to become a teacher and a coach. He later ran a school supplies business before retiring in Lake Saint Louis.



Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hank Workman recalls the overlooked talents of Yogi Berra

Hank Workman was just a wide-eyed rookie with the New York Yankees when he was called up in September 1950. The University of Southern California star only played two games for the eventual World Series Champions, spending most of his time watching Yankees legends Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize, and Phil Rizzuto lead the Yankees to the pennant. Despite being surrounded by those established veterans, the player he was most impressed with was their upstart catcher, Yogi Berra.

The famous catcher was a sportswriter’s dream. His quick and witty takes on life and baseball lightened up the often serious accounts of a long season. For almost seventy years, his famous quotations have endured and transcended the sport. Sadly, there will no more new “Yogi-isms” to add to the lexicon. Berra passed away Tuesday evening in New Jersey at the age of 90.

Standing 5’8” and weighing 190 lbs. in his playing days, Berra didn’t fit the typical physical profile of a major leaguer. Come to think about it, most of what Berra did on the field was atypical. A notorious “bad ball,” hitter, Berra broke all convention when it came to managing the strike zone. If a pitch was anywhere within reach, it was in Berra’s wheelhouse.

Save for nine at-bats with the New York Mets in 1965, Berra spent his 19-year Hall of Fame playing career with the New York Yankees starting in 1946. One of baseball’s most celebrated champions, Berra helped to lead the Yankees to 10 World Series victories in 14 appearances.

Playing alongside the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, Berra’s skill and accomplishments were often overshadowed by their iconic status. Yet for those that played with Berra, there was a keen sense of his heightened acumen on the field that truly elevated his abilities.

Hank Workman
Hank Workman was a teammate of Berra’s on the 1950 Yankees. Despite only playing with him for one month that season, Workman gained a tremendous appreciation for the breadth of Berra’s skill set. Speaking with Workman in 2008, he was quick to acknowledge the nuances of Berra’s talents that put him in the upper echelon of baseball royalty.

“That guy was a great ballplayer,” Workman said. “He was built like a middleweight prize fighter. He was very athletic and he had great baseball sense. He always knew what to do and the right base to throw to. He could play third base and outfield; he didn’t that often, but he could. He was one of the best late-inning hitters. Nobody says anything about that. He didn’t have a super high average, but he never struck out much; he swung at everything. He was a guy you wanted up there in the clutch in the late innings. He was a fabulous ballplayer, the best catcher I think.”

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fritz Peterson revisits the Horace Clarke Era in his new book

Fritz Peterson spent almost nine seasons with the New York Yankees playing alongside the likes of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Whitey Ford. Surely playing with those legends would have guaranteed the lefty pitcher a shot of making the playoffs at least once in his career, right? Think again.

Playing with the Yankees from 1966-1974, Peterson endured one of the roughest stretches in Yankees history, as the bulk of his time included pairings with offensive juggernauts such Jerry Kenney, Gene Michael, and Horace Clarke. The latter served as the inspiration for the title of Peterson’s newest book, “When the Yankees Were on the Fritz: Revisiting the Horace Clarke Era.


Peterson tells the good, the bad, and often the ugly about the myriad of teammates that went through the Yankees revolving doors of the late 60s and early 70s. The book is dotted with often hilarious nuggets about his Yankee brethren ranging from the aforementioned Hall of Famers to obscurities including Alan Closter, Bill Burbach, and Cecil Perkins. These inside baseball stories that he shares gives a glimpse into the hi-jinks that ballplayers often engage in without revealing the personal clubhouse matters that his former mound mate Jim Bouton exposed in “Ball Four.

Fritz Peterson signing a copy of his new book / N. Diunte

Each chapter is set up neatly for each of the nine “innings,” that he played with the Yankees. His offseason tales of his job as an adjunct professor at his alma mater Northern Illinois University, his contract negotiations with the Yankees front office, and his foray into hockey broadcasting serve as digestible buffers in between his narratives about the hodgepodge collection of teammates that comprised the “Horace Clarke Era.”

Listen below to hear Peterson discussing his new book and the likes of teammates Thurman Munson and Mel Stottlemyre.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How Fritz Peterson was inches from bringing the American League to victory in the 1970 All Star Game

With Cincinnati poised to hold its fifth Major League Baseball All-Star Game tonight, a new crop of history makers will emerge from the contest. Some 45 years ago, the Queen City was the site where baseball lore was written when Pete Rose barreled over Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run in front of the home crowd at the 1970 All-Star Game. Rose emerged from the collision triumphantly in victory while Fosse suffered a shoulder injury that ruined a promising career. If one of the participants in the game could have taken one pitch back, Rose’s infamous moment might have never happened.

Fritz Peterson with Earl Weaver and Ray Fosse at the 1970 All Star Game
The American League had a 4-1 lead with one out in the ninth inning but with the left-handed Willie McCovey of the San Francisco Giants due to bat, manager Earl Weaver called down to his bullpen for New York Yankees left-hander Fritz Peterson to shut the door. As Peterson approached Fosse and Weaver on the mound, the Orioles manager was confident that the Yankee would do the job.

“I don’t know McCovey; he’ll get him [expletive],” Weaver said during the exchange. “I ain’t worried about him.”

In his recently released autobiography, “When the Yankees Were on the Fritz: Revisiting the Horace Clarke Era,” Peterson recounted his memorable experience with victory so close in reach.

“I’ll never forget my role in that All-Star Game,” Peterson said in his new book. “It was the ninth inning with the American League ahead by one run when I was called in from the bullpen to replace Catfish Hunter to face Willie McCovey with a man on first and one out. I felt pretty good out there since McCovey had never faced me before and I was pretty tough against left-handers, especially tall ones with big swings.”

As Weaver predicted, Peterson quickly had the upper hand. Staring down McCovey ahead in the count 0-2, Peterson threw his patented slider with the intent of inducing the Giants slugger into a game-ending double play. Unfortunately, a mere few inches separated his dreams from reality.

“I got ahead of McCovey 0-2 and threw him a slider on the outside corner which he hit for a ground ball base hit just past Davey Johnson’s outreached glove at second,” he recalled.

Still some 45 years later, of all the pitches Peterson threw in his 11-year major league career, his offering to McCovey was one that he wished he had a mulligan for. An inch off the plate to McCovey and a few inches closer to Johnson, Peterson could have changed the course of baseball history. One would have remembered how Peterson closed the door for the American League without Rose ever having the chance to run over Fosse on Jim Hickman’s game-winning hit.

“I have replayed that pitch thousands of times in my mind over the years and want it back for a ‘do over,’” he said. “I planned on throwing that pitch a little bit off of the plate, but instead got it over the plate and Willie hit it through the infield. One foot closer to our second baseman Davey Johnson and we get a double play—game over! Instead, the game went into extra innings after Roberto Clemente hit a sacrifice fly off of Stottlemyre that tied the score. Memories!”



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kal Segrist | Former Texas Tech baseball coach, played for Yankees and Orioles, dies at 84

Kal Segrist, a former infielder with the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles in the 1950s, and the longtime head baseball coach at Texas Tech, passed away in Lubbock, Texas this weekend. He was 84.

Kal Segrist / Author's Collection
Segrist was signed by the Yankees in 1951 after helping to lead Bibb Falk’s Texas Longhorns to back-to-back national championships in 1949 and 1950, with the latter being the first played in Omaha. After earning All-Conference honors as a second baseman in 1949, he volunteered to play first base in 1950 when he saw there was unsteadiness at the position.

“We had six different guys that tried at first base,” Segrist recalled during a 2008 phone interview from his home in Lubbock. “I went to Bibb [Falk] and I said, ‘Coach, I can play first.’ He looked at me in his office and reached in his locker and pulled out this old first base mitt that Abe Lincoln probably played with, threw it up to me, and said, ‘Well, we’ll try.’ We made that move and everything started gelling.”

After his success at the collegiate level, interest quickly grew from professional teams. After he was made an offer by the St. Louis Cardinals at a semi-pro tournament, his father sent notice to all of the major league clubs. Quickly the offers came rolling in. Right away, the Yankees wanted to do business.

“I ended up getting a call from the Yankees,” he said. “I [went] down to Beaumont and they were managed by Rogers Hornsby. That was the Yankee farm team. They were in San Antonio for a playoff. They had me go there and work out. … They made me an offer and I was one of their first bonus ballplayers.” (Segrist was given a $40,000 bonus.)

The only thing in the way of finalizing Segrist’s deal with the Yankees was a physical exam on his knee. As a kid, he has Osgood-Schlatter disease, and as a result of it, one of his legs was bowed. This condition didn’t affect his play, but the Yankees were about to make a substantial investment in the Texan and they couldn’t take any chances.

“With the knee factor, they wanted me to go to Baltimore to see this outstanding doctor and have my knee checked,” he said. “So dad and I flew to Baltimore, and he checked the knee and we got on the train and went on to New York.”

Most players who signed for such substantial bonuses in the 1950s had to be placed immediately on a major league roster, but the bonus rule was rescinded during the time that Segrist signed his contract. This meant the Yankees could send him to the vast depths of their farm system, but with a few strokes of luck, he wound up only one step away from the big show with their Triple-A team in Kansas City for spring training.

“I was probably the youngest guy there,” he recalled. “The only shortstop we had was Roy Nicely and he had stomach ulcers. We had [a few] second baseman and when we scrimmaged, after about five innings they would take him out and move me to short and someone else would play second. They did that through the entire spring. I basically, never actually spent any time playing there.

“It was a rather unusual spring. When we left, we went north. Just out of Florida, they had a place where there were several different teams. After that, we got back on the bus and they cut several people; they just left people there. We had people standing in the bus. So, again, I didn’t know the general manager had scheduled two series with two bases, one an Army base and one a Marine base. … I think Nicely and a guy named Hank Workman both jumped the club either at the Army or the Marine base. We opened the season at Louisville, guess who played short? I played my first 60 games at short in pro ball. That’s basically how I ended up at Kansas City.”

Kal Segrist (l.) with Casey Stengel (c.) and Tom Gorman (r.) in 1952
About halfway through Segrist’s first professional season, he was joined by a rookie outfielder from the big league club, Mickey Mantle. Casey Stengel felt that Mantle needed more seasoning and sent him down to Kansas City rather quickly to fine tune his skills.

“About the time the season started, they sent Mick to Kansas City,” he said. “One of the things he was supposed to learn was to drag bunt. He was to drag bunt once a game. The first three weeks he hit about .200, and the last three weeks he hit the ball like he could hit it and he was up to stay.”

Soon Segrist would have the opportunity to join Mantle on the Yankees the next season. With two of their top infielders, Bobby Brown and Jerry Coleman departing for military service midway through the season, a spot opened up for Segrist. He could have been there even earlier if he kept his mouth shut with the press.

“My second year, I came back and I was in spring training with New York until we broke camp,” he recalled. “This fella who was a nice guy … he wrote an article on me and was asking me questions. One of the things was about playing in Kansas City or New York. My reaction was, ‘I’d rather be in Kansas City playing, than on the bench in New York.’ Casey heard that and he accommodated me. One thing I learned, it was hard to play in New York if you are in Kansas City! If you are sitting on the bench in New York, you have a chance to make a play or make a move.

“I got back sent back to Kansas City and by July 4th, I hit over 20 homers and was hitting well over .300. I got the word from the manager that I was being called up.”

In his first major league game on July 16, 1952, Segrist singled in the 10th inning against the Cleveland Indians and scored the winning run on a single by Hank Bauer. He stayed with the Yankees for just over two weeks, and in 27 plate appearances, it was his only hit. He found that balls that were dropping in the minor leagues ended up deep in the mitts of speedy outfielders.
“We played Cleveland and I hit two balls that would have been out anywhere else,” he said, “one to right center, and one to left center. They had a center fielder [Larry Doby] that could fly and run. I came back and said, ‘What do you have to do to get a hit in this league.’ We were on the road and had a tough road trip. We were in Detroit and if I would have hit them three feet farther, they would have been out of the park, but they were fly outs.”
After a down year in 1953, Segrist picked it up with an All-Star performance with Kansas City, slugging 15 home runs while manning third base duties for the entire season. Just as things were looking up for the Texan, the Yankees shipped him off to the Baltimore Orioles as part of a 17-player trade that brought Don Larsen and Bob Turley to the Yankees. Moving to one of the lower-tier clubs should have provided more of an opportunity for Segrist to play, but the same bonus rule that saved him from a major league roster when he was signed, was now holding him up from occupying one.

“It was disappointing,” he lamented. “Baltimore signed several players and the rule at that time if you signed someone for so much money, they had to stay on the big league roster and you couldn’t send them down. I got caught in a trap.”

Segrist, ever the consummate team player, accepted a demotion at manager Paul Richards’ behest to Double-A San Antonio so that he could be on 24-hour recall. They paid him an additional $2,000 to accept the offer. He hit 25 home runs and in September 1955, he got to experience another taste of major league life. This time around he fared better, batting .333 in nine at-bats; however, he was hobbled by a leg injury he suffered earlier in the season.

By the time Segrist fully recovered from his injury, the Orioles had another third base prospect emerge, and that was future Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. With their attention focus on Robinson, Segrist languished in the minor leagues until 1961, when he finished up with Mobile Bears of the Southern Association. In 11 minor league seasons, he hit a respectable .280 with 156 home runs.

Segrist signing autographs for Chris Potter / Chris Potter Sports
Segrist returned to school and earned his physical education teaching degree. After teaching junior high for two years, he went to Texas Tech at the urging of his cousin Herman Segrist, who chaired the physical education program. Serving as a teaching assistant and assistant baseball coach, Segrist integrated himself into the Texas Tech baseball program. By 1968, he earned the head coaching position, a far less glamorous title than today’s Division 1 standards.

“I took over totally and was there from ’68-83,” he said. “The thing about Tech, baseball wasn’t their most important sport. We didn’t even have a facility. We had trees in the outfield. I was not only the coach, I was the only groundskeeper. It’s a different deal now. Back then, I never had an assistant coach. … The guy that is there now has about six guys. The only thing I needed was a paid pitching coach, everything else I could handle. It was a challenge.

“I had to learn how to lay out a field, put down the grass, lay down home plate, the pitching rubber, first base, etc. I had to learn these things at Tech. When I got done in 1983, our ballpark that we have now, I got a new park built. We had $100,000. Most of the parks in Texas are in the millions; I designed with that $100,000. I got us a basic class ballpark built. Since then, they added to it, upgraded, and done a good job. It’s unbelievable what they got now than what I had to deal with.”

Monday, June 29, 2015

Baseball Happenings Podcast: Fritz Peterson

Former New York Yankees pitcher Fritz Peterson was recently in New York at Carmine's Pizzeria in Brooklyn promoting his book, "When the Yankees Were on the Fritz: Revisiting the Horace Clarke Years." Peterson sat down with the Baseball Happenings Podcast to discuss his inspiration for writing the book, as well as his memories of playing alongside Thurman Munson, Mel Stottlemyre, and yes, Horace Clarke.

Follow Fritz on social media 
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via his website - Fritzpeterson.org

Fritz Peterson / N. Diunte



Monday, May 25, 2015

How Bernie Williams tried to lure Juan Gonzalez from Puerto Rico to the Yankees

The New York Yankees honored their star center fielder Bernie Williams on Sunday evening at Yankee Stadium with a special ceremony to retire his number 51 and put him among the legends in Monument Park. The festivities included Williams accepting this lavish praise alongside his long standing teammates Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera from his four World Series victories with the Yankees. If Williams' parent club was willing to spend just a few extra dollars when they brought him to the United States to sign his contract some thirty years ago, that group could have easily included two-time American League MVP Juan Gonzalez.

Williams and Gonzalez in Puerto Rico
Yankees scout Fred Ferreira was one of George Steinbrenner's most prized eyes for spotting talent across the globe. Steinbrenner recruited Ferreira in 1981 after a team from his baseball school put up a 12-0 lead in an exhibition game against the Yankees. The Yankees owner immediately wanted the man who assembled the talented group of youngsters to be a part of the Yankees organization. A few years later, Ferreira's sharp eye would pay dividends, as he was responsible for helping to lure Bernie Williams to the United States before his 16th birthday in order for the Yankees could sign him.

While Ferreira was in the process of bringing Williams to a baseball school in Connecticut, the young Puerto Rican had requested for his cousin to come along. Surely the Yankees with all of their fortunes could find the means to bring one more player with them for an extended look.

"I told him sorry, but we couldn't afford it," Ferreira said to the Florida Sun-Sentinel in 1996. "And that's how I missed out on signing Juan Gonzalez."

Gonzalez hit 434 home runs in his career, and was ironically the MVP of the American League in 1996 and 1998, the first two years that Williams' Yankees won the World Series. Yankees fans can only imagine how much more potent their lineup would have been if it included Gonzalez's 47 and 45 home runs during those championship years.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Harley Hisner | Gave up Joe DiMaggio's last regular season hit - dies at 88

The thought of facing Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle in the same lineup would make any pitcher restless, but for Harley Hisner, the uneasiness he felt on September 30, 1951 was for a much different reason. He wasn’t shaken by their feared bats, but by the 35,000 fans that would be in attendance when he made his major league debut in a Boston Red Sox uniform at Yankee Stadium.

“I was awake a few times worrying about the game, pitching in front of all of them people,” Hisner said during a 2008 phone interview.

Hisner passed away in Fort Wayne, Indiana on March 20, 2015 at the age of 88. The World War II veteran only had one major league appearance, but his name is forever associated with those Yankees legends from the game he pitched on the last day of the 1951 season.

Harley Hisner / Author's Collection
The first batter he faced in his debut was a 19-year-old Mickey Mantle. The “Commerce Comet,” was in finishing his first major league season, one in which he spent time shuttling between New York and their Triple-A farm club in Kansas City. While pitching for Louisville earlier in the season, Hisner faced Mantle on multiple occasions. Undaunted by the presence of the young upstart, he promptly struck out Mantle to start his big league career.

After giving up a single to Phil Rizzuto and inducing Hank Bauer to hit in to a force out, the great Joe DiMaggio strolled to the plate. Closing the chapter on an illustrious Hall of Fame career, DiMaggio was on display for the Yankee fans one last time. The Red Sox manager Steve O’Neill gave the rookie advice on how to approach the Yankee Clipper.

“He said, ‘Joe − pitch him in on the fists, he can’t hit the good fastball anymore,’” Hisner recalled in a 2013 interview with Wane.com.

The rookie dutifully followed his manager’s instructions, fearlessly going at DiMaggio with his first pitch. Hisner battled the great center fielder, but in the end DiMaggio won out, scratching out a single for what would be the last of his 2,214 major league hits.

“First pitch I threw him, he hit the damn thing in the upper deck left field, foul,” he said during the Wane.com interview. “I said, ‘Uh oh,’ but I came right back with a fastball and I got it where I wanted it. He hit it on the fists; he hit it down between third and short, the shortstop fielded it, but he couldn’t throw him out. That was Joe’s last hit.”

Hisner pitched six innings against the eventual World Series champs (including another strike out of Mantle), surrendering three runs on seven hits. The Red Sox couldn’t muster even one run in support of his efforts, despite Hisner contributing at the plate with a fifth inning single of his own.

“I batted off of Spec Shea and got a hit,” he said during the 2008 interview. “It looks like a line drive in the paper, but it was a dying quail over Johnny Mize’s head into right field. They thought it was a line drive somewhere!”

Hisner was the only rookie pitcher that was called up in September to get a start for the Red Sox. His fortunes banked on the team locking down their place in the division before the end of the season. O’Neill wasn’t going to chance a potential bonus to a rookie’s nervous arm.

“Allie Reynolds threw a no-hitter against us on Saturday before the season ended,” he said. “That was when we had fourth place sewn up. Steve O’Neill told me when I got there two weeks before, ‘Whenever we get a place sewed up, you’re pitching the next day.’ Well, we didn’t get a place sewed up until the next to last day of the season. After Reynolds threw a no-hitter against us, he said, ‘You’re pitching tomorrow.’ No other pitcher that was called up got to pitch.”

Despite his promising start, Hisner would never reach the major leagues again. He was invited to spring training the following season, but with O’Neill out and Lou Boudreau in as the Red Sox new manager, Hisner lost his champion at the helm. They sent him back to Louisville to work on becoming a reliever. When an opportunity came mid-season for Hisner to return to Boston, he was passed over in favor of Al Benton.

“In 1952, they were making a relief pitcher out of me,” he said. “In the first week in July, Boston needed a relief pitcher. San Diego had one. Boston always had a verbal agreement with them. They traded me and Al Richter to San Diego for Al Benton.”

Hisner finished the season with San Diego in the Pacific Coast League and spent one more year with Wichita Falls in the Big State League in 1953. With his hopes deflated from his demotion, Hisner called it quits after his time in Wichita Falls.

"I didn't want him to give it up," his wife Anna said to the Decatur Daily Democrat in 2011. "I never did. But he was getting tired of moving around."

His love for the game couldn’t keep him away from the diamond. He played semi-pro ball in Fort Wayne until he was 37. One of his semi-pro highlights came at the 1957 National Baseball Congress tournament, where he led Fort Wayne to the finals after pitching 38 innings in 11 days, almost tying Satchel Paige’s 1935 record for most wins in the tournament.

“In 1957, we came in second place out in Wichita," he said in 2008, "Texas beat us in the finals. Clint Hartung hit a home run off me in the 10th inning and I only had one day rest off of it. I pitched a nine inning game against Arizona and had one day rest; then I went 10 innings until Hartung hit that home run off me. I can still see that ball in flight! It went over the center field lights. Satchel Paige won five games for South Dakota in 1935 and I came near to tying it. I won the first four games and lost the last game. I threw 38 innings out there in 1957 in 11 days.”

Hisner worked with the Rea Magnet Wire Company until his retirement in 1987. Despite his singular appearance in a major league box score, Hisner remained popular with baseball fans who sought the autograph of the man who stood tall against the mighty New York Yankees.

“I got requests more this year than any other year,” he said in 2008. “I probably got 75-85 this year.”


Friday, December 26, 2014

How Billy Martin's fiery attitude helped him win as a player with the Yankees

Paying tribute Billy Martin on the 25th anniversary of his tragic death on Christmas Day in 1989, much has been written about Martin’s fiery nature as a manager, especially his many run-ins with the late George Steinbrenner. The persona that Martin exhibited as a manager, very closely reflected the energized spirit that willed him to success as a young ballplayer.


Back in 2008, I had the opportunity to speak with Gene Valla, Martin’s teammate in the Yankees minor league system. Valla was three years older than Martin, but they both grew up in the San Francisco area, with Valla attending San Francisco Polytechnic and Martin attending Berkeley.

In 1950, the Bay Area natives reunited while playing for the Yankees Triple-A affiliate in Kansas City. Martin was sent down from the big league club for more experience a month into the season. During their time playing together, Valla described Martin as having a penchant for victory despite his ordinary appearance on the field.

“Martin was a character,” the late Valla said during our 2008 phone interview from his home in San Francisco. “He was a good double play partner, very loose. He was a very aggressive ballplayer. He wasn’t the type that you would say that he would look like a winner, but he [became] a winner. He went back up with the Yankees [in 1950] and they won the World Series.”

Monday, December 15, 2014

Former Yankee Rusty Torres sentenced to three years in prison

Rosendo "Rusty" Torres, a former major league outfielder who broke into the major leagues with the New York Yankees in 1971, was sentenced on December 11, 2014, to three years in prison for sexually abusing an eight-year-old girl while working as a baseball coach for the town of Oyster Bay. The charges stem from a 2012 incident where he allegedly fondled and flashed the girl while working at a local school playground.

Rusty Torres / N. Diunte
Torres moved to Brooklyn from Puerto Rico at the age of seven, and was an unlikely success, emerging from the depths of the 54th round of the 1966 Major League Draft. In nine major league seasons, he posted a .212 career average with 35 home runs and was part of the 1972 trade that brought Graig Nettles to the Yankees from the Cleveland Indians.

In his post-baseball career, Torres struggled with alcohol dependency and cocaine abuse, selling his 1980 American League Championship ring, and working as a porter and cab driver to make ends meet. After hitting rock bottom, Torres founded the Winning Beyond Winning Foundation in 1998, with the hopes of educating children about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. He made countless appearances along with a great many other retired baseball players whom he recruited to help the foundation's efforts. The foundation dissolved after Torres’ 2012 arrest.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mickey Rivers video interview from the 2014 Harrison Apar Foundation Golf Classic

Mickey Rivers, the starting center fielder for the New York Yankees World Series championship teams in 1977 and 1978, sat down with us at the 2014 Harrison Apar Foundation Golf Classic to talk about Yankee baseball, including both captains Thurman Munson and Derek Jeter, as well as his enjoyment of being out with the people at various charity events.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bob Wiesler, climbed the Yankee ranks with Mantle, passes away at 83

Bob Wiesler wasn't even 21 years old when he first stepped on the mound at Yankee Stadium on August, 3, 1951. Looking up at the large crowd, Wiesler admitted that his nerves had set in before he threw his first pitch.

“[I was nervous] in front of all of those people!” Wiesler said to Kenneth Hogan in Batting 10th for the Yankees. “We used to have 1,000 in the minors. In Kansas City, we‘d usually have about 4,000. In Yankee Stadium they used to almost have full houses.”

Wiesler, who went on to enjoy six seasons in front of those packed crowds with the Yankees and Washington Senators in the 1950s, passed away August 10, 2014 at his home in Florissant, Missouri, just three days shy of his 84th birthday.
Bob Wiesler / Lonecadaver.net

The 6’3” lefty pitcher was a star at Beaumont High School in St. Louis, the same school that also spawned major leaguers Roy Sievers, Bobby Hofman, and future Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver. Many clubs aggressively pursued Wiesler in high school, but his admiration for Lou Gehrig drew him to the famous pinstripes.

“I read the book Pride of the Yankees and from that point Lou Gehrig was my idol,” he said. “I had the same kind of deal with each [team] so I picked the Yankees.”

He was assigned to their Class D team in Independence, Kansas, and was joined by another local sensation, Mickey Mantle. They played together for two seasons, working their way up the ladder of the Yankees system.

“He came out of high school in 1949 and joined us in Independence,” he told me in a 2008 interview. “He had a pretty good year, but in Joplin, he was tearing the ball up. [He] hit like .380 or .390, something like that and had a fabulous year.”

Wiesler did well himself at Joplin in 1950, going 15-7 with a 2.35 ERA. His performance attracted the attention of the Yankees management, earning him an invite to a special rookie school with Mantle for further development.

“Mantle and I, and quite a few others that they called prospects were down there in Arizona,” he said. “I impressed them that much to go to spring training in Kansas City and I stayed with them.”

With only two years under his belt, Wiesler was one step away from the major leagues in AAA with Kansas City. He continued to harness his control while in AAA, testing his stuff against those who had major league experience.

“There were some good ballplayers there,” he said. “There were a lot of veterans that were up.”

About halfway through the 1951 season, Mantle and another young pitcher Tom Morgan were not progressing fast enough at the Major League level as the Yankees desired. Looking for a change, the Yankees recalled Wiesler who was among the league leaders in strikeouts.

Playing for the division leaders, Wiesler only had the opportunity to pitch in four games, including an 8-0 loss in his debut against the St. Louis Browns. Forcing the Yankees hand was Mantle, who hit .364 in 40 games with 11 home runs. The two switched places again on August 21st.

“They sent me back down in August,” he said to Hogan, “but they did send me a little check at the end of the year after they split the World Series money.”

Wiesler had little time to enjoy his World Series share, as he was activated from his National Guard service in November. He was sent to Fort Allen, Vermont, where he spent the entire 1952 season on active duty.

After working his way back into playing shape with a full season in at AAA in 1953, the Yankees gave Wiesler another shot in 1954. Just as he was getting his footing in the major leagues, the rug was abruptly pulled from beneath him.

“I had won three games for them,” he said, “and I was supposed to pitch on a Sunday [against Baltimore]. They signed Ralph Branca who was released; he traveled with us and threw batting practice. George Weiss decided to sign him and sent me back down. I wasn't too happy about that.”

Displeased with the decision, Wiesler begrudgingly accepted his demotion. He worked his way back to the Yankees in 1955 and lasted the entire season, en route to a World Series showdown with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He did not pitch in the World Series, but was on the roster to unfortunately witness Johnny Podres help the Dodgers take Brooklyn’s only championship.

Wiesler was selected to go on a tour of Japan with the Yankees after the season, playing in Hawaii and Manila en route to the Land of the Rising Sun. That trip was the last time he wore a Yankee uniform. Early in spring training, he was involved in a seven-player trade with the Washington Senators that included Whitey Herzog. He took the baseball elevator all the way to the proverbial basement.

“I went from a first-place club to a last-place club. It was kind of disappointing,” he said; however, the move did have a small advantage. “I got to pitch more at Washington— I got to start every fourth day.”

He did the bulk of his pitching with Washington in 1956, appearing in 37 games, starting 21, but was plagued by a lack of control. He walked 112 batters in 123 innings on his way to a 3-12 record. It was his last season as a regular in the major leagues, save for cups of coffee in 1957 and 1958.

He finished his playing career in 1961 with Dallas Fort-Worth, ending with a 7-19 record in 70 major league games. He went to work for Anheuser-Busch, and stayed involved with baseball by pitching batting practice for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1964-1968. It didn’t take long for him to reconnect with his Yankee roots.

“I started throwing batting practice for the Cardinals in 1964 and here I am pitching for them and they’re playing the Yankees in the World Series!”


* Note - Wiesler played in Independence, Kansas, in 1949, not Missouri as originally reported.