March 13 – Happy Birthday Cliff Mapes
Legendary Yankee GM, George Weiss was not one to judge a ballplayer’s talent by his physical appearance but he made an exception when it came to Cliff Mapes. Originally signed by the Cleveland Indians before WWII, the Yankees had picked up the outfielder in the 1946 supplemental draft. If a Hollywood casting agent put out a call for an actor to play a ballplayer, Mapes would have got the part on first look. He was 6’3″ tall and a chiseled 205 pounds of muscle. His problem was he couldn’t hit very well but Weiss was determined to keep him. He would tell anyone who asked about Mapes that he didn’t know if the Sutherland, Nebraska native would ever evolve into a big league ballplayer, but if he did, Weiss was determined it was going to be as a Yankee.
Mapes had seen his first action as a Yankee in 1948, hitting .250 in 88 at bats. He got his big opportunity at the beginning of the 1949 season, when Joe DiMaggio’s sore heals prevented him from playing. Casey Stengel started big Cliff in place of the Yankee Clipper in center and he fielded and hit just well enough to keep the job until DiMaggio returned. He had his best season in pinstripes in 1950, when he set career highs with 12 home runs and 61 RBIs as New York’s fourth outfielder. The following year, both Mickey Mantle and Jackie Jensen were added to the Yankee roster so when Mapes got off to a slow start that season, Weiss’s reluctance to let him go vanished and he was sold to the St Louis Browns. He would hit .274 during his half-season with St Louis and then got traded to Detroit. When he hit just .195 for the Tigers in 1952 he was released and rejoined the Yankee organization at the Minor League level. He never again played a big league game.
Mapes became sort of famous for the Yankee uniform numbers he wore. He was the last Bronx Bomber to wear number 3, before it was retired forever upon Babe Ruth’s death. He then donned jersey number 13 for the rest of the 1948 season before getting number 7 in 1949 and wearing it until he was sold to the Browns in 1951, at which time it became the property of Mantle. Mapes passed away in December of 1996 at the age of 74.
He shares his March 13th birthday with the starting second baseman on the Yankees 1996 World Championship team and the starting third baseman on the first two Yankee teams to compete in a World Series.