April 18 – Happy Birthday Duffy Lewis

t205-lewis-frontDuffy Lewis was a native of San Francisco who cut his baseball teeth in the Pacific Coast League. His real first name was George and he had made his big league debut with Boston in 1910, when he joined Tris Speaker and Harry Hopper to form one of the great outfields in Red Sox franchise history. Lewis helped Boston win World Series in 1912, ’15 and ’16 and he added lots of luster to his reputation as a clutch hitter when he averaged .444 against the Phillies in the 1915 Fall Classic and .353 the following fall against Brooklyn.

In actuality, Lewis was pretty much a singles hitter who was blessed to be part of one of baseball’s all-time best lineups. Back when Lewis patrolled left field in then brand new Fenway Park, steep inclines of dirt were used in big league parks place of warning tracks to help  outfielders know they were getting close to bone-jarring fence collisions. Lewis became so proficient at scaling the left-field incline at Fenway, the area became known as “Duffy’s Cliff.”

Lewis became one of the first Boston players team owner Harry Frazee sold to the Yankees at the very end of the Dead Ball Era. He and the highly regarded Boston pitcher Ernie Shore had both joined the Navy in 1918 and missed an entire season. Before they returned from service in 1919, the duo had been traded to New York along with another very good veteran Boston pitcher named Dutch Leonard in exchange for four players and $15,000. When the deal was announced, Yankee Manager Miller Huggins told the press the trade would put the Yankees in the thick of the 1919 AL Pennant race.

As it turned out Huggins’ high hopes for both Lewis and Shore (Leonard was sold to the Tigers before he pitched a game as a Yankee) proved to be unfounded. Shore caught the mumps during his first New York spring training camp and would never amount to much of anything in pinstripes. Duffy started in left field for New York in 1919 and averaged just .272, which was 17 points below his career average with Boston. He did drive in 89 run but he was overly aggressive at the plate for a guy with little power and not a good base-runner.

A little over a year after the big trade Huggins pulled a perfect “if at first you don’t succeed try again” maneuver by  convincing the Yankee owner Jake Ruppert to go back to Boston owner Harry Frazee and pay him whatever it takes to purchase Babe Ruth’s contract. The “Big Bang” then joined Lewis and Ping Bodie to form the starting outfield for a 1920 Yankee team that won 95 games, which was only good enough for a third place finish in the 1920 AL Pennant race. Lewis, however, had seen his playing time decrease during his second season in New York thanks to the emergence of a Yankee rookie outfielder by the name of Bob Meusel.

New York then traded Lewis, to Washington in December of 1920. He was out of the big leagues for good the following year but he did not hang up his spikes. Instead he returned to the Pacific Coast League, where he continued playing another six years, finally retiring as a player at the age of 39. Duffy would eventually become the long-time traveling secretary of the Boston Braves.

April 17 – Happy Birthday Jed Lowrie

lowrieThis Oregon native was a collegiate All American infielder at Stanford before being selected by the Red Sox in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft. After three year’s in Boston’s farm system, he made his big league debut in April of 2008. When Julio Lugo, the Red Sox starting shortstop suffered a season ending injury in July of that season, Lowrie and Alex Cora shared the position for the rest of the year, with the switch-hitting Lowrie getting more playing time. In 81 games, the rookie hit a productive .258, driving in 46 runs.

Going into the 2009 season, I thought this guy was definitely Boston’s new starting shortstop but he injured his wrist early in the season. After surgery to repair it, Lowrie never got healthy enough to contribute much to that year’s ball club. In 2010, he was felled by a bad case of mononucleosis but once again showed signs of his strong offensive potential when healthy, by hitting .287 with 9 home runs in just 171 at bats that year.

In 2011, Terry Francona platooned Lowrie at short with Marco Scutaro and then that December, they traded him to the Astros for Houston’s closer Mark Melancon. I was surprised Boston gave up on Lowrie’s upside at the time the deal was made but I did like Melancon’s potential as well and I knew the Red Sox had to replace Jon Papelbon, who was heading to Philadelphia as a free agent.

As it turned out, it appears as if I was right about both Lowrie and Melancon’s potential. Both players had stellar seasons in 2013. Unfortunately, neither was wearing a Red Sox uniform at the time.

April 16 – Happy Birthday Jim Lonborg

lonborgI was thirteen years old at the time but remember vividly Jim Lonborg’s brilliance on the mound during Boston’s “Impossible Dream” season. The tall lean California-born right hander had graduated from Stanford with a degree in biology in 1963 and signed with the Red Sox. After just one season in the minors, Lonborg became part of the “baby Sox”  youth movement that took place during the 1965 and ’66 seasons. That was when the team’s front office decided to rush their best young prospects to the big leagues and let them do their on-the-job training at Fenway.

Lonborg went a combined 19-27 during his first two big league seasons but it was evident to all who saw him that this kid had Major League stuff. He put it all together during Boston’s magical 1967 campaign. His 22-9 record that year included a victory in the pennant-clinching final regular season game against a very good Minnesota Twins team. Since he was called upon to pitch in that contest, he wasn’t rested enough to start in the World Series Opener’ against St. Louis. Instead, he put together one of the best back-to-back pitching performances in Fall Classic history with his complete game shutout victory in Game 2 followed up by a 3-hit, 1-run complete game victory in Game 5.

There was no doubt he would be called upon to start Game 7 on just two-days rest but his right arm had run out of gas. Still, when he left that game in the seventh inning, everyone including me thought he would be one of the best pitchers in baseball over the next decade. Instead, after becoming the first Boston Red Sox pitcher to win a Cy Young Award, Lonborg decided to go skiing. It turned out to be a disastrous decision on his part.

On what was to be his last downhill run of the day, he wiped out and tore two ligaments in his knee, requiring major surgery to repair. When he tried to rush back from that injury, the pain and weakness in his injured knee forced him to change his pitching motion to compensate. That change put undue stress on his pitching shoulder causing subsequent injuries. The short of it was that Lonborg was never again the pitcher he was in 1967. During the three seasons following his surgery, Lonborg’s cumulative record was 17-22 but he was learning to pitch again with a sore arm and weakened knee. By 1971, in his final season in Boston, he was able to fashion a 10-7 record and told reporters he was finally  feeling good on the mound again.

That October, the Red Sox sent Lonborg and a bunch of other players to the Brewers to acquire Tommy Harper’s speed and put it at the top of their lineup. A healthier Lonborg went 14-12 during his one and only season in Milwaukee with an impressive 2.83 ERA. He then got traded to the Phillies, where he would win 67 games over the next five seasons pitching in the number two spot of a Philadelphia rotation, behind future Hall-of-Famer, Steve Carlton.

Lonborg retired after the ’79 season with 157 victories during his 15-year career and a 3.86 lifetime ERA. He then returned to Boston and became a dentist.

April 15 – Happy Birthday Ted Sizemore

sizemoreAfter winning 97 games as Red Sox manager in 1977 and 98 more the following season, Don Zimmer had nothing to show for it. Both those Boston teams lost AL East Division races to the Yankees, Zimmer’s 1979 Boston ball club had a ten game lead over the Bronx Bombers by mid August and would finally finish ahead of their hated rivals. The problem was however, that the Baltimore Orioles had a four game lead over Popeye’s ball club at the time and Red Sox starting second baseman, Jerry Remy and his talented backup, Jack Brohamer were both out of action with injuries.

Boston GM Haywood Sullivan made a deal with the Cubs to acquire veteran second baseman Ted Sizemore to fill the gigantic hole on the right side of his team’s infield. Sizemore, was born in Alabama but grew up in Detroit. He had been a catcher for the University of Michigan, who had been drafted by the Dodgers in 1966 and converted into a second baseman. He made his big league debut with Los Angeles in 1969 and captured the NL Rookie of the Year Award that season.

Two years later, when the Dodgers were looking for a home run hitter to add to their lineup, they traded Sizemore to the Cardinals for Dick Allen. He was a mainstay in the middle of St. Louis’s infield for the next five seasons. The Dodgers reacquired him in 1976 to fill in for an injured Davey Lopes. He then was traded to the Phillies before landing in Chicago with the Cubs.

He had a terrific debut in Fenway, going 3-3 against the White Sox and driving in 2 runs in a Boston victory. He also filled in admirably at second and hit a productive .261 down the stretch. He was certainly not the reason Boston ended up slumping as a team and finishing 11 games behind a very good Orioles squad. Invited back to the Red Sox 1980 spring training camp, Sizemore made the Opening Day roster as the team’s utility infielder, but ended up losing that job to a young rookie named Dave Stapleton and was released.

He was 35 years-old at the time and decided to retire as a player. He ended up going to work for Rawlings and became an executive with that company.

April 14 – Happy Birthday Joe Lahoud

lahoudAfter their Splendid Splinter ended his Hall of Fame career with a home run on his last-ever at bat in 1960, Red Sox Nation quickly realized the players they had left offered few if any compelling reasons to travel to Fenway for a game. Truth was, those Red Sox teams of the early sixties were not very good.

That probably explains better than anything why Boston’s brain trust decided to rush young 19-year-old Tony Conigliaro to the big leagues in 1964. The hype was that the kid could hit like a young Williams, plus he was born and raised in nearby Revere, had Hollywood good looks and unlike “Teddy Ballgame,” he actually smiled at fans and even signed autographs.

So when young “Tony C” went on to belt 24 home runs during his expedited 1965 big league debut season, it convinced the Boston brass that a youth movement was the best path to both a pennant and lots of ticket sales. In the next few years, Red Sox fans were introduced to Rico Petrocelli, George Scott, Reggie Smith, Joe Foy and  Mike Andrews. By 1967, the “Baby Sox” had pulled off the “Impossible Dream” pennant of 1967 and had Boston fans wondering who would be the next star flash-produced by the team’s incredible minor league system.

His name was Joe Lahoud, Ironically, his last name was pronounced la-Who, which was the exact reaction most Red Sox fans had when they heard this 20-year-old native of Danbury, Connecticut had made Boston’s Opening Day lineup against the Tigers in 1968. Batting sixth between Scott and Petrocelli, the young outfielder singled, walked three times and scored his first Major League run in that afternoon’s game, a 7-3 Boston victory.

The next day the kid hit his first big league home run against Detroit’s ace, Denny McLain and for a brief moment, it really did seem that Boston’s incredibly successful lightening quick youth movement had really struck again in the form of the young LaHoud. By the end of that April however, he was hitting just .206 and got sent down to Louisville for more grooming. He then spent the entire 1969 season with the parent club.

Since Lahoud’s ancestors were born in Lebanon, I guess we could call him the Lebanese God of Walks. Like Kevin Youklis a few generations later, Lahoud did not swing at bad pitches. It was his ability to earn frequent free passes to first base that kept him on that ’69 Red Sox roster because he hit just .188 in 257 plate appearances but his 43 walks pushed his on base percentage up to .317.

His good eye was not enough to keep him on the big league roster the following season but he did get a second chance with the parent club in 1971. Though he did hit 14 home runs that year, not an easy accomplishment for any left-handed hitter who plays half of his games in Fenway, his .215 batting average was his undoing. That October, he was one of ten players involved in a trade between Boston and the Brewers.

Lahoud would end up spending whole or parts of 11 seasons in the Major Leagues. He put together his best season as a fourth outfielder for the 1974 Caifornia Angels, when he hit a career high .271 and smacked 13 round-trippers. His final season was 1978 and when he quit he had a lifetime batting average of .223 with an on base percentage that was one hunted and ten points higher.

April 13 – Happy Birthday Jake Stahl

stahlJake Stahl is one of just 11 Red Sox players to have won AL home run titles. He performed the feat way back in 1910, during the Deadball Era, which helps explain why Stahl’s 10 home runs were enough to lead both leagues. He’s also one of just six Red Sox managers to win a World Championship with Boston.

A native of Elkhart, IL, Stahl starred in both baseball and football for the University of Illinois before making his big league debut with the Red Sox as a backup catcher with the 1903 team. Boston then sold him to the Washington Nationals where Stahl was immediately inserted as that team’s starting first baseman. At the time, the Washington franchise was barely surviving and being run by AL President Ban Johnson until new ownership could be found. Johnson liked the college-educated Stahl so much, he made him the team’s player manager in 1905. Though he had some early success in that role, the team then faltered and Stahl was traded to the White Sox in 1906. By then he had married a girl he met in college, who had a wealthy businessman for a father and Stahl had started a second career in the banking business. He probably would have retired from baseball then and there except for the fact that he was traded back to the Red Sox in 1908.

He put together three solid seasons as Boston’s starting first baseman but was faced with a career dilemma. He was doing much better financially with his banking career than he was playing baseball and he knew the wise personal decision was to quit the game and devote  himself full time to the financial industry. That’s what he did after the 1910 season.

Then in 1911, he was approached by the Red Sox with an offer to become player-manager of the team and a co-owner of the franchise. He accepted and led the 1912 Red Sox to an AL Pennant and a World Series victory over the New York Giants. Stahl started at first base for that ball club and hit a career high .301. The success didn’t last. By the following season he was done as a player and after quarreling with the team’s other owners over how the club was being run, he quit and went back to his banking career. Unfortunately, he pretty much worked himself to death, suffering a nervous breakdown in 1920 and then dying in a California tuberculosis sanitarium two years later, at the age of 43.

The six Red Sox managers who won World Championships with the club are: Jimmy Collins, Stahl, Bill Carrigan (twice), Ed Barrow, Terry Francona (twice) and John Farrell. Here is a list of Boston’s AL Home Run champions

2006 – David Ortiz – 54
2004 – Manny Ramirez – 43
1984 – Tony Armas – 43
1983 – Jim Rice – 39
1981 – Dwight Evans – 21
1978 – Jim Rice – 46
1977 – Jim Rice – 39
1967 – Carl Yastrzemski – 44
1965 – Tony Conigliaro – 32
1949 – Ted Williams – 43
1947 – Ted Williams – 32
1942 – Ted Williams – 36
1941 – Ted Williams – 37
1939 – Jimmy Foxx – 35
1919 – Babe Ruth – 29
1918 – Babe Ruth – 11
1912 – Tris Speaker – 10
1911 – Jake Stahl – 10
1903 – Buck Freeman – 13

April 12 – Happy Birthday Eric McNair

mcnairBefore the A’s moved to Oakland they played in Kansas City and back in the 1950′s, their organization made so many trades with the Yankees the joke was that Kansas City was New York’s best farm team. Well, before the team moved to Kansas City, the franchise’s home base was Philadelphia and back in the 1930′s, it was the Red Sox and their new owner Tom Yawkey, who were accused of using the A’s as their top farm team as well.

Lefty Grove, Jimmy Foxx, Max Bishop, Doc Cramer and Pinky Higgins were the biggest names to board the train from KC to Fenway back then, Today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant was also  a key acquisition. Eric McNair packed a whole bunch of talent in his rather tiny 5’8″ 160 pound frame. Born and raised in Meridian, Mississippi, he had talked his way into the batboy’s job with a D-League farm team that used to play in his hometown and when he was 19-years-old, that team offered him a contract. The kid was a right-hand hitting infielder with good speed and surprising power considering his size.

He made his big league debut with Connie Mack’s A’s a year later and by 1932, he was on his way to establishing himself as one of baseball’s better second basemen. That season he led the AL in doubles with 47, while belting 18 home runs and driving in 95, which were all career highs. In 1935, the Red Sox acquired McNair as part of the same deal in which they got Cramer. McNair started at short during his first season in Boston and played really well, averaging .285 and driving in 74 runs. That offseason, however, tragedy struck his personal life when his wife died from complications suffered during the birth of the couple’s first child. Her death caused McNair to battle bouts of depression for the rest of his own life.

Amazingly, McNair somehow put together his best season as a Red Sox after his devastating personal loss. Boston switched him over to second base in 1937 and he averaged .292 with 12 home runs and 76 RBIs. The following year, he decided to hold out for a better salary. His timing couldn’t have been worse. Boston had brought this young second baseman from California to their 1938 spring training camp. The kid’s name was Bobby Doerr. Though McNair ended up signing his contract, he lost his starting job to Doerr and then injured his knee. It turned out to be the worst year of his big league career and his final season as a Red Sox.

That December, Boston traded him to the White Sox, who at the time were being managed by McNair’s old double play partner with the A’s, Jimmy Dykes. Dykes started McNair at third base and he responded with a great year at the plate, averaging a career-high .324 and driving in 82 runs. That ’39 season turned out to be his last hurrah as a big leaguer. Never a great defensive player, McNair lost his starting job with Chicago the following year and became a part-time player. His last big league season was 1942. Seven years later he died from a heart attack at the age of just 39.

April 11 – Happy Birthday Jason Varitek

varitekHe was known to his teammates and all of Red Sox Nation as “Tek.” He was brought to Boston with Derek Lowe in July of 1997 in exchange for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb, in what was the best trade former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette’s ever made. A switch-hitting catcher, who had been a two-time first-round draft choice (Twins-’93 & Mariners-’94) Varitek became the cornerstone on which Boston built two World Championship teams.

There were better players than Varitek on those 2004 and 2007 Red Sox ball clubs, but there were no better leaders. Boston pitching staffs had complete confidence in his game management skills, he was one of the game’s premier defensive catchers and he had a knack of being involved in many of the important runs scored by those great Red Sox teams. He seldom smiled, never grandstanded and really didn’t say much to anybody except his teammates and especially his pitchers. I liked him a lot.

He’s a native of Rochester, Michigan who moved to Florida during his childhood and attended college in Georgia. He also played for USA teams in both the Little League World Series and the Olympics. He ended up playing 15 seasons at Fenway and by the time he was done, Varitek had established himself as the greatest catcher in Red Sox history.

It really was hard for Red Sox fans to watch this great warrior grow old. He became a part-time player during the last couple of seasons of his career and was just a shell of the hitter he had been. He waited till he was about to turn 40-years-old to announce his retirement, just before the 2012 regular season began. Boston’s front office has yet to find the next Varitek. It will be a very difficult and challenging search.

Trot Nixon, a former teammate of Varitek and another Red Sox “Warrior,” shares his birthday.

April 10 – Happy Birthday Bob Watson

watsonAs the 1979 All Star break approached, the Houston Astros’ front office knew they had little chance of re-signing their veteran first baseman, Bob Watson, who’s contract was expiring at the end that season. So rather than get nothing for a guy, who at the time held the highest career batting average in Houston’s franchise history (.297), they sent Watson to Boston for a big 22-year-old right-handed pitching prospect named Pete Ladd who had put together two-and-a-half impressive seasons in the Red Sox’ farm system. Boston also threw in a few bucks from the Yawkey estate to bring the right-hand hitting native of Los Angeles to Beantown.

Watson’s tenure at Fenway was both impressive and short. He appeared in the remaining 84 games Boston played that season, mostly at first base, where he replaced a slumping George Scott. He became an instant offensive force, averaging .337, hitting 13 home runs and driving in 53 runners but he didn’t make the Red Sox a better team. Their club’s record at the time they got Watson was an impressive 49-29. With Watson in the lineup, Boston finished the year just 42-42.

That may help explain why the Red Sox let this guy, who was known by the nickname “Bull” sign as a free agent with the Yankees that November. After two seasons in New York and three more in Atlanta, Watson retired as a player and became a coach for the Oakland A’s. He later was the GM for both Houston and the Yankees.

April 9 – Happy Birthday Mike Brumley

brumleyEven pretty avid long-time Red Sox fans might have difficulty remembering today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant. Mike Brumley was the son of a big league catcher, who followed his Dad into the big leagues and spent parts of eight seasons in the Majors as a pretty obscure utility infielder for six different teams.

One of those teams was the Red Sox. In fact, Boston had originally drafted Brumley in the second round of the 1983 amateur draft only to trade him and pitcher Dennis Eckersley to the Cubs the following May in the deal that brought Bill Buchner to the Red Sox.

Brumley ended up making his big league debut with the Cubs in 1987. He then returned to the minors for a year, spent the 89 season with the Tigers and the following year with Seattle. The Red Sox then signed him as a free agent in January of 1991 and he spent the following season as manager Joe Morgan’s primary utility infielder, appearing in 63 games. A switch-hitter who couldn’t find a good big league stroke from either side of the plate, Brumley averaged just .212 that year and only .206 for his entire career.

His last year in the big leagues was 1994 and then he got into coaching and managing in the minor league systems of both the Diamondbacks and Rangers. He became the Seattle Mariners third base coach in 2010 and in 2014, was named the hitting coach of the Chicago Cubs. It does sort of make you wonder how a guy who had trouble staying above the .200 mark with his own bat can help others better use theirs.

Pinstripe Birthdays

Did you know that on almost every day of the year, at least one member of the New York Yankee's all-time roster celebrates a birthday? The posts of the Pinstripe Birthday Blog celebrate those birthdays and offer personal recollections, career highlights, and trivia questions that will bring back memories and test your knowledge of the storied history of the Bronx Bombers.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.