Sunday, January 31, 2010

17 Days Until Spring Training: Oscar Gamble

In the history of the franchise, number seventeen has been worn by 52 different Yankees, making it the 7th most commonly adorned combination of numerals to be sewn on Pinstripes. Gene Michael's forty years of service to the Yankees sort of necessitated that we give him the nod today, but it easily could have gone to others.
  • Vic Raschi was a top starter on six championship teams in the late forties and early fifties.
  • Enos Slaughter, a Hall of Famer for his exploits with the Cardinals, served as a valuable reserve outfielder and pinch hitting specialist who won three pennants and two championships in two stints with the club in the fifties.
  • Mickey Rivers played center fielder and hit lead off on three pennant winners and two championship teams in the seventies.
  • Well known Yankees Tommy Henrich, Bobby Richardson, and Bobby Murcer all wore 17 at some point in their Yankee careers as well, but all had their best years with other numbers on their backs.
But, there's one other Yankee who spent several years wearing number seventeen who I just can't pass up, because it gives me an excuse to post this:
Oscar Gamble, like Slaughter, served two stints as a Yankee. As this poorly doctored 1976 Topps Traded baseball card indicates, he was initially acquired on November 22, 1975. The Yankees shipped pitcher Pat Dobson to Cleveland in exchange for Gamble. The Yankees had just completed a two year exile in Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was remodeled. The remodeled Stadium didn't have quite the inviting right field porch that the original had, but it was still just 310 feet down the right field line. It was tailor made for a power hitting lefty like Gamble.

Unfortunately, the Yankees grooming policy forced Gamble to trim his afro. While he still kept the style, it never appeared in pinstripes in its full glory as above. During that first stint with the Yankees, Gamble wore #23. He split time between DH and right field and despite a poor .232 batting average, he posted an OBP just shy of league average, and used 31 extra base hits to post a slugging percentage 65 points better than league average. As expected, he thrived in Yankee Stadium, posting a .992 OPS in the Bronx and hitting 15 of his 17 home runs in the home whites as the Yankees won their first pennant in twelve years.

The following spring, in need of shortstop, the Yankees sent Gamble to the White Sox just prior to Opening Day, getting Bucky Dent in return. Despite a career year for the Pale Hose, Gamble bounced around again, to San Diego in 1978, then to Texas in '79.

On August 1, 1979, the Yankees sent the disgruntled, aforementioned Rivers to Texas, receiving Gamble in return. This time he donned number seventeen. He would remain with the Yankees through the 1984 season as a pinch hitter, reserve outfielder, and DH, batting out of his trademarked deep crouch as taking advantage of the park to hit another seventy home runs. For his career in the House That Ruth Built he posted a .969 OPS and hit 60 of his 200 career home runs.

Gamble was a fan and media favorite throughout his time in the Bronx, despite often being unhappy with his lack of a starting role. His 1984 Topps card to the right is one of the first Yankee cards I pulled from a pack as a kid. Gamble's a regular at Old Timers Day, and despite being bald these days, his introduction is always accompanied with that 1976 Topps Traded card being displayed on the DiamondVision. It's still a crowd pleaser.

17 Days Until Spring Training: Gene Michael

Gene "Stick" Michael has spent virtually all of the past forty years in the Yankees organization, serving the club as a player, coach, manager, general manager, scout, director of scouting, and in his current role as a vice president and special advisor.

Born in Ohio, Michael attended Kent State University, where the baseball field was later named in his honor. He signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959, but didn't make his Major League debut until age 28 in 1966. Traded to the Dodgers for Maury Wills after the season, Stick spent a year in LA before being purchased by the Yankees after the 1967 season. He spent the next seven years with the Yankees, serving as their starting shortstop from 1969 through 1973. He had a pretty good offensive season in 1969, but was otherwise regarded as a good glove no stick shortstop with a knack for pulling off the hidden ball trick.

Released prior to the 1975 season, Michael latched on with the Tigers for one more year. When he failed to make the Red Sox in 1976 he retired, and immediately rejoined the Yankees. He served on the Major League coaching staff in 1976 and 1978, managed the AAA Columbus Clippers to the International League Championship in 1979, and took over as Yankees General Manager for the 1980 season.

When manager Dick Howser departed the team after the 1980 season, Michael returned to the dugout, this time as the Yankee skipper. He had the Yankees on top of the AL East at 34-22 when the strike hit on June 12th. When play resumed on August 10th, the Yankees stuggled, going 14-12. Despite being guaranteed a post-season berth as the first half division champions, George Steinbrenner saw fit for a change, and replaced Michael with Bob Lemon on September 6th. It was Lemon who shepherded the Yankees through the first ever Division Series, and the ALCS, before falling to the Dodgers in the World Series.

Michael then replaced Lemon at the helm just 14 games into the 1982 season. After going 44-42, Michael was canned again, this time replaced by Clyde King. He returned to the coaching staff in 1984, and served there into the 1986 season. On June 14th he took over as manager of the Chicago Cubs, his first time out of the Yankees organization since early 1976. He lasted in that job until late 1987, going 114 and 124.

He returned to the Yankees the following year, serving on the 1988 and 1989 coaching staffs. He began 1990 in a scouting capacity, and then, in George Steinbrenner's final move before serving his suspension, was named General Manager on August 20th. It was in this position, which he held through the conclusion of the 1995 season, that Michael did his greatest work. As General Manager, Michael hired Buck Showalter as manager, oversaw the drafting of Derek Jeter, signed Mike Stanley, Wade Boggs, and Jimmy Key, traded for Paul O'Neill and David Cone, and managed to oversee the development and prevent the trading of homegrown talent like Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada.

Michael's stewardship during Steinbrenner's absence was the single biggest factor in turning the Yankees from the worst team in baseball - both on the field and in the front office - to a model franchise that enjoyed a dynastic run in the late nineties and early aughts. Though he stepped down as GM following the 1995 season, Stick has continued to serve the Yankees in an advisory role and remains one of the most trusted voices in the organization. He has spent nearly the entirety of his adult life in the employ of the Yankees, and the organization has benefited greatly from his service.

Self-Promotion Alert

None of this is new or earth-shattering, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I'm in the batter's box over at LoHud this morning with a distilled version of the post I wrote about Javier Vazquez's clutch ability a while back.

Also, we were listed in Big League Stew's Yankees blogbook. Check that out, not so much for our part, but for the other excellent Yanks' blogs that are listed.

And finally, Matt and I will be attending an event for the launch of Bloomberg's baseball software at their headquarters in Manhattan. There will be some some tweets emanating from the event under the hashtag #BBGSports, and I can promise a post on what we learned at some point in the near future.

Glen Perkins And Undeserved Demotions

Way back in May, when Jay decided to take a little getaway, he blindly handed me to the keys to the blog for the week. The Yankees were about to wrap a four game series against the Twins, having won the first three via walkoff. The series finale was a Monday night affair, one I was to attend. But before I could escape the office and get on the road, I had to author my first game preview.

In keeping with Fack Youk tradition, I had to choose a song to work into the preview. After looking at the pitching match up for the night, I decided to riff on the name of the Twins starting pitcher for the night and went with "Carl Perkins Cadillac" from the very awesome Drive-By Truckers.

Glen Perkins started for the Twins that night, and the Yankees touched him up pretty good. It marked the fifth straight start in which Perkins surrendered at least four earned runs. The next day, Perkins was placed on the DL with an elbow issue. He returned a month later, and continued to struggle through another nine starts and a relief appearance. He was disabled again, and instead of being activated at the end of the month when rosters expanded, the Twins optioned him to AAA, despite the fact the minor league season was essentially over.

Though Perkins struggled in 2009, it was still an unorthodox move, particularly for a club that was in a pennant race. Perkins thought so too, and filed a grievance against the Twins. Being optioned out, rather than kept on the DL, prevented Perkins from accruing Major League service time. Not only did he fail to earn a Big League salary in that time, but the lack of service time prevented him from attaining Super Two arbitration status. That in turn has a major impact upon Perkins' salary for this year and beyond.

Back when I wrote that preview, I noted how cool it must have been for Perkins, born and bred in St. Paul and a former member of the University of Minnesota baseball team, to be drafted by and playing for his hometown team. But as we saw in the 1990 Sports Illustrated article about Dave Righetti that we linked to Friday, sometimes living out a boyhood dream isn't all it's cracked up to be. There's now a rift between Perkins and his club, and there's a chance he won't be a Twin much longer. It appears Perkins won't have quite as happy a story as fellow hometown hero Joe Mauer.

In the bigger picture, Perkins' story is part of an interesting and possibly troubling trend around the game: teams questionably optioning out young, but established players in effort to keep them under club control longer. The Twins took a similar tact with Francisco Liriano in 2008, and the Royals treated Alex Gordon the same way last year. We've seen teams delay calling up prospects like Evan Longoria, David Price, and Matt Wieters in order to keep them from Super Two arbitration status. But in my eyes at least, there's a difference between a club doing that to a minor leaguer on the way up as opposed to doing it to established Major Leaguers like Perkins, Liriano, and Gordon.

The past decade has seen Major League clubs look to exploit market inefficiencies. Valuing young, cost controlled talent has been amongst the leading ways teams have looked to gain an edge. Holding back Longoria, Price, and Wieters and sending down Liriano, Perkins, and Gordon are all part of that process. If Dave Cameron is right and veteran players are the latest market inefficieny, it'll be interesting to see if this trend of demoting established young players continues.