March 19 – Happy Birthday Fritz Brickell
You’d have to be close to my age to remember a shortstop by the name of Freddie Patek, who started for the very good Kansas City Royal teams of the 1970s. Patek’s nickname was “the Flea” because he was tiny, just 5’5″ tall and also a real pest for Royal opponents to deal with. He had good speed, was a heck of a bunter and every time you looked up he was moving a runner into scoring position, beating out a slow grounder or stealing a base. Patek was the guy I thought about as I completed my research on today’s pretty obscure Pinstripe Birthday celebrant named Fritz Brickell. Like Patek, Brickell was a 5’5″ shortstop. But unlike Freddie, Fritzie never became a real pest for Yankee opponents at the big league level.
Brickell’s dad, also named Fred, had been a Major League outfielder back in the twenties who played against the Yankees in the 1927 World Series. In addition to being short, Brickell had the additional misfortune of being a middle infielder in a Yankee organization during the fifties that was loaded with great middle infielders. Nevertheless, when Fritzie took over for Tony Kubek as starting shortstop for the Yankee’s AAA team in Denver in 1957, he banged 170 hits and averaged .295. That performance convinced the Yankees he deserved some look-sees at the Major League level. The 1959 Yankee club was one of the most disappointing teams in the franchise’s history. They finished in third place in the AL that season with a 79-75 record. They were playing .500 baseball in June when Brickell was called up. Manager Casey Stengel played him in 18 games during the next six weeks and Fritz hit his one and only big league career home run off of Detroit’s Tom Morgan. Unfortunately, given his small strike zone, Brickell did not like to walk. Kubek’s job was safe.
The Yankees sent Fritz back down to Denver at the end of July. The next time he played in Yankee Stadium was 1961 and he was wearing the uniform of the Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees had traded him to LA in April of that year to reacquire Duke Maas. Maas had been a valuable member of the Yankee pitching staff during the previous three seasons but when New York left him unprotected in the AL Expansion Draft of 1960, the Angels snatched him. Brickell was the Angels’ first ever Opening Day starting shortstop but after 21 games he was hitting just .122 and was released. Four years later he was dead, a victim of cancer, at the age of 30.
Fritz was born in Wichita, Kansas on March 19, 1935. Only a small handful of Yankees were born in the home state of the Wizard of Oz. The three most notable are Johnny Damon (Ft. Riley) Ralph Houk (Lawrence) and Mike Torrez (Topeka.)
Brickell shares his birthday with this long-ago starting outfielder for the New York Highlanders.