The young Al Downing was filthy

The 1963 New York Yankees won 104 games that season and finished over ten games in front of its nearest American League rival. And it wasn’t the offense that propelled them that season. Mickey Mantle only played 65 games due to injury and Roger Maris‘ run of greatness with the Yankees had ended as he only played 90 games himself. It was the pitching that propelled that team. Along with Whitey Ford and Jim Bouton having their best career years, a 22-year-old Al Downing was mowing down hitters at a league-leading rate.

Alphonso Downing, a kid from Trenton, was only twenty when he was signed by the Yankees in 1961. Assigned to the A-level Binghampton Triplets, he proceeded to go 9-1 for that New York State club with a 1.84 ERA. The success led the Yankees to give him a cup of coffee on that powerhouse 1961 Yankees team and in a handful of games, proceeded to strike out twelve batters per nine innings.…

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Happy Anniversary, Derek Jeter!

Happy Anniversary, Derek Jeter! Nine years ago today, you hit your first (and so far only) career grand slam!

I was at this game, sitting in the left field bleachers and the Cubs fans sitting behind me couldn’t figure out why we were all flipping out so much over a grand slam that turned a 3-1 game into a 7-1 game in the middle of June. I can recall telling one of the girls behind me who was visiting from Chicago that it was Jeter’s first grand slam and she couldn’t believe it.

She said, “Wait, really? The first of his career?”

I nodded.

“Wow, that’s surprising. It seems like he’d have a few by now.”

Then I explained that his numbers up to that point with the bases loaded were really good (his average was north of .300 if I recall correctly) it was just that he had never hit a home run.…

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Remembering Tony Gwynn from the Bronx

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There is certain to be a great deal of ink and bandwidth spent on the legacy of Tony Gwynn over the coming days, and with good reason. Gwynn was one of the greatest pure hitters to ever play the game, winning eight batting titles over his 20 seasons, sitting 20th on the career batting average leader-board with a .338 mark. He was renowned for his enthusiasm for the game, always playing with a hop in his step and a smile on his face – he often made Ken Griffey Jr. look downright sullen by comparison. And most importantly, he was a wonderful human being; one that will be missed by family, friends, and fans alike.

Unfortunately, my own exposure to Tony Gwynn was fairly limited.

I first started appreciating baseball in 1994, when my Yankees-crazed godfather moved in with my family. He regaled me with tall tales about the giants of baseball past, and nudged me towards players that played the game “the right way.” Griffey, Cal Ripken Jr., Don Mattingly, Barry Larkin, and Wade Boggs were some of his favorite players, and he would often talk about their play as if they were heroes of some Greek mythology.…

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Paul O’Neill, and the 1994 Batting Title

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Courtesy of www.tradingcarddb.com

Twenty years ago today, Paul O’Neill went 0-for-2 with 2 walks against the Baltimore Orioles. At night’s end, fifty three games and 224 PA into the season, O’Neill was batting .417/.513/.695 with twelve home runs and more walks (37) than strikeouts (27). It was his second season in pinstripes, and O’Neill was one of the best hitters in the American League.

The deal that brought Paul O’Neill to the Bronx is one of the more understated one-sided deals in recent memory. On November 3, 1992, the Yankees sent Roberto Kelly to the Reds, in exchange for O’Neill and minor leaguer Joe De Berry (who would never play in the Majors). At the time, it seemed like a fair deal. Some would even say that the Reds had robbed the Yankees, as Kelly had just hit .272/.322/.384 with 10 HR and 28 SB, and he had a great reputation as a defender in center field. He was a power-speed type who was still in the midst of the traditional peak years, having turned 28 at the end of that season.…

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Don Zimmer The Catcher

The passing of Don Zimmer this week hit me pretty hard. I moved to New England in 1975 and watched a lot of Red Sox games and he became a sympathetic figure to me for the collapse of his Boston Red Sox and for the booing he received even if it meant my favorite team won during those years. And then with the Yankees for those glorious championship years, I really felt that he made Joe Torre a better manager and I enjoyed the way Derek Jeter rubbed his head and the laugh invoked by the action. I wanted to write some sort of tribute for the man I did not really know but had developed a fan fondness for, cemented when he stood up to Steinbrenner and told him to stuff it. But what could I write that hasn’t been written a hundred times by writers all over the country?

All the aspects have been covered—his managerial years, his championships with the Dodgers as a player, Bill Lee, the Red Sox, his run with the Yankees and his final years becoming a beloved figure in Tampa.…

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Rudy May Day

In 1980, Rudy May had a terrific season for the New York Yankees. He led the league in ERA, FIP, WHIP and strikeout to walk ratio. He came in third among all American League pitchers in WAR. But he did not receive a single Cy Young Award vote. Of course, those were the days before anyone thought anything about WAR and FIP and K/BB ratios. All the writers knew was that Steve Stone went 25-7. Two Yankee teammates of May that year also received votes in Cy Young voting, Tommy John and Goose Gossage. Rudy May‘s season was pretty much overlooked.

It is only through hindsight with the measuring tools we have now that we can truly appreciate the season Rudy May had in 1980. May pitched in 41 games, 17 as a starter and 24 in relief. He still compiled 175.1 innings that season. His final record was 15-5. He completed three of his starts, threw a shutout and chipped in three saves.…

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Short-term winning Yankee pitchers

The history of the New York Yankees is littered with pitchers who put together a winning percentage of .600 or better because the Yankees have won so many games over the team’s history. There is Whitey Ford, Ron Guidry, CC Sabathia, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Orlando Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and even Don Larsen, to name a few. But what about those pitchers who only pitched a season or two for the team and yet had very good success? After setting some criteria, there were nine that are featured here today.

The criteria was this: The pitcher had to make at least fifteen starts, but less than forty. They had to have an ERA+ of 100 or better to be at least league average or better. And they had to have a .600 winning percentage or better. With that set as the parameters, nine pitchers came into focus and are listed below by rWAR:

Jack McDowell: Jack McDowell was a first round draft pick by the Chicago White Sox in 1987.…

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History by the fours

Since today was a day off in the current 2014 New York Yankees season, I thought I might take a look at the past versions of the Yankees during all of their “4″ seasons. This entry will look at every Yankee season that ended with a four and present the best pitcher and batter of that particular season. We begin with the 1904 New York Highlanders.

1904. The New York Highlanders were managed by the 34-year-old Clark Griffith who also pitched ches100+ innings that season and went 7-5 with a 2.86 ERA. The team won 92 games and finished a game and a half behind Boston. The best player on the team was pitcher, Happy Jack Chesbro. Chesbro had his best season and led the league in games pitched, starts, complete games, wins, innings pitched and had the lowest hits per nine allowed in the league. He went 41-12 with a 1.82 ERA (2.19 FIP) and completed 48 of his 51 starts.…

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The Underrated Jackie Robinson

[Editor's note: This piece was originally published on 4/16/13 but we felt it would be nice to revisit today. -SG]

Over the past week or so, there has been much ado about Jackie Robinson – and deservedly so, at that. To many, myself included, Robinson towers over the game of baseball a la the Colossus at Rhodes, marking a turning point in not only the game that we all know and love, but in the United States as a whole. The courage and grace that Robinson displayed has become a part of the mythology that is our sport’s history, transmogrifying the man himself into something of a myth. That is not to say, of course, that Robinson is not deserving of the mighty stature that has been affixed to his memory. Rather, that the narrative has markedly obscured one simple fact that seems to be glossed over in discussions and commemorations of the man who broke baseball’s color barrier:

Jackie Robinson was really freaking good at baseball.…

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