When the Yankees traded for Minnesota’s Chuck Knoblaugh in February of 1998, New York thought they were getting a perennial .300 hitter and a Golden Glove second baseman. As it turned out, they got neither. His first two seasons in pinstripes at the plate were good enough, as he showed surprising power and scored runs in bunches. But Chuck developed a mysterious case of the Steve Blass throwing disease. His tosses to Yankee first baseman, Tino Martinez, started sailing all over the place and as his errors climbed, Knoblaugh’s confidence and concentration plummeted.
The situation got so bad, the Yankees traded for Jose Vizcaino during the 2000 season and started the Dominican Republic native at second and began using Knoblaugh in the outfield and as DH. Jose hit .251 in 73 regular season games for New York. It was Vizcaino’s single in the twelfth inning of Game One of the 2000 Subway Series that drove in Tino Martinez with the winning run to beat the Mets. Jose was not re-signed by New York after their 2000 World Series victory and in 2001, Alfonso Soriano became New York’s starting second baseman. Jose signed with Houston, where he played for the next five seasons. He left the big leagues in 2006, after an eighteen year career that saw him play for eight different Major League franchises.
|LAD (5 yrs)||245||737||657||71||164||21||2||4||64||11||51||82||.250||.305||.306||.611|
|HOU (5 yrs)||559||1513||1396||154||385||65||13||13||133||9||82||174||.276||.316||.369||.685|
|NYM (3 yrs)||334||1419||1282||160||361||46||14||7||121||18||96||196||.282||.332||.356||.688|
|CHC (3 yrs)||330||1076||981||106||260||34||8||5||81||17||65||124||.265||.309||.331||.640|
|SFG (2 yrs)||215||766||687||93||176||22||7||6||55||8||64||97||.256||.319||.335||.654|
|STL (1 yr)||16||25||23||3||8||3||0||1||3||0||1||4||.348||.375||.609||.984|
|CLE (1 yr)||48||191||179||23||51||5||2||0||13||6||7||24||.285||.310||.335||.645|
|NYY (1 yr)||73||191||174||23||48||8||1||0||10||5||12||28||.276||.319||.333||.652|
Having seven bonafide candidates for the five spots in the Yankees’ 2012 starting rotation is certainly one of Joe Gerardi’s spring training dilemmas this year. But it pales in comparison to the crowd of first basemen Casey Stengel dealt with back in 1949. Stengel, however, loved platooning his ballplayers and he had a veritable ball with that particular Yankee team. To begin with, Joe DiMaggio was disabled with a sore heel that year, so Stengel shuffled his three outfield spots among Hank Bauer, Johnny Lindell, Gene Woodling and Cliff Mapes. At third base, he had the good fielding Billy “the Bull” Johnson and the good hitting but horrible fielding future doctor, Bobby Brown. His two alternatives at second were Snuffy Stirnweiss and Jerry Coleman. But it was at first that the Ol Perfessor had a real logjam. The veteran ex-outfielder, Tommy Henrich was considered the starter but he was joined by fellow first-sackers, Jack Phillips, Fenton Mole, Joe Collins and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Dick Kryhoski.
I know that baseball fans in my hometown of Amsterdam New York were rooting for Kryhoski to make Stengel’s cut. That’s because he had spent part of his first year in the Yankee organization playing for the Amsterdam Rugmakers, New York’s old Class C affiliate in the Canadian American League. Not only did the Livonia, NJ native make the parent club that spring, he also returned to Amsterdam when the Yankees squared off against the Rugmakers in an exhibition and thrilled the crowd with a home run that day.
As the season began, Stengel inserted Kryhoski at first quite a bit to give the then-36-year-old Henrich a breather. Though both he and Henrich batted from the left side, Stengel played him almost exclusively against right-handed pitching. If you played first base for the Yankees and swung from the left side, you better have been able to pull the ball into the old Stadium’s short right field porch. Kryhoski’s inability to do so frustrated Casey and even though the kid had his batting average up over .300, it did not prevent Casey from looking for a better alternative among the aforementioned group of first-sackers already in the Yankee organization. When none of them caught fire, the Yankees went out and purchased “the Big Cat,” Johnny Mize from the cross-town Giants and Kryhoski’s days in Pinstripes were effectively over. He did hit .291 during his rookie season. That December, he was traded to the Tigers. He ended up playing two seasons in Detroit, three seasons for the Browns/Orioles and one more with the A’s. He retired in 1955, with a .265 career average in 569 big league games. He passed away in 2007 at the age of 82.
|BAL (3 yrs)||315||1071||980||105||255||44||7||28||126||2||68||99||.260||.312||.405||.717|
|DET (2 yrs)||172||634||590||78||158||29||4||16||76||1||36||40||.268||.313||.412||.725|
|KCA (1 yr)||28||53||47||2||10||2||0||0||2||0||6||7||.213||.302||.255||.557|
|NYY (1 yr)||54||188||177||18||52||10||3||1||27||2||9||17||.294||.335||.401||.736|
As the Yankees’ 2000 season approached, Jorge Posada was entering his prime. The one thing Joe Torre had learned about his sensitive catcher was that he hated not playing. That helps explain why the Yankees had let his predecessor, Joe Girardi sign with the Cubs as a free agent after the 1999 season. Torre knew there were not enough games or innings available in a season to keep both guys happy so he fully committed to Posada and the Yankees began their search for a backup catcher who was good enough to catch a game when necessary but not good enough to pose a consistent threat to Jorge’s playing time.
During the 2000 spring training season, it looked as if Tom Pagnozzi would be the guy. But he had a horrible spring and a sore shoulder to boot. Today’s Birthday Celebrant, Chris Turner was Pagnozzi’s primary competition in camp and he had not set the world on fire while in Florida either. So when the team headed north it went without either guy and Jim Leyritz was designated Jorge’s backup as the season started. Then when Nick Johnson got hurt at the end of April and went on the DL, the Yanks brought up Turner and he was ready.
The Bowling Green, KY native had spent his first five big league seasons as a reserve catcher with the Angels. In 1998, he caught four games for the Royals and the following year, he got into twelve games with the Indians. Now with the Yankees, Turner got off to a hot start with his bat. At the end of July, he was hitting .360 and had an on base percentage of .418. Torre figured out how to get him into games by making him David Cone’s personal catcher. “Conie” was having a horrible 2000 season but had pitched pretty well the two times he was matched up with Turner as his battery mate. Torre made the pairing permanent.
Unfortunately for both the pitcher and his catcher, it didn’t help. Cone finished the season 4-14 and Turner finished it in a horrific slump that saw his .360 average of July fall to just .236 by season’s end. Compounding Turner’s difficulties was the fact that with Cone on the mound, base runners ran frequently and Turner was only able to prevent three of the twenty-two runners attempting to steal against him.
After the Yankees beat the Mets in that year’s Series (in which Turner did not play) New York’s brain trust decided that despite Posada’s sensitive side, they had to shore up the back up catcher’s spot with somebody who could more effectively replace Jorge, both offensively and defensively, in case he got hurt. They released Turner and signed veteran Bob Oliver. Turner’s playing career was over at the age of 31.
|ANA (5 yrs)||105||293||260||37||65||13||2||3||29||4||25||56||.250||.316||.350||.666|
|KCR (1 yr)||4||10||9||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4||.000||.100||.000||.100|
|CLE (1 yr)||12||22||21||3||4||0||0||0||0||1||1||8||.190||.227||.190||.418|
|NYY (1 yr)||37||102||89||9||21||3||0||1||7||0||10||21||.236||.320||.303||.623|