May 5 – Happy Birthday Bob Cerv
They may have played their home games in the “Show Me State” but the 1958 starting lineup of the Kansas City A’s certainly had lots of pinstripe connections. Former Yankee prospects, Vic Power and Hal Smith started at first and third respectively. Future Yankees Hector Lopez and shortstop Joe DeMaestri held down the middle positions of the A’s infield and their soon-to-be New York teammates, Roger Maris and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, Bob Cerv comprised two thirds of Kansas City’s starting outfield that year. If either Ralph Terry, Bob Grim, Duke Maas, Tom Gorman, Bud Daley or Virgil Trucks happened to be on the mound that day and the A’s fourth outfielder Woodie Held started in place of KC’s Bill Tuttle in center, eight of the nine positions would be manned by former or future players from the Yankee organization. It was no wonder people inside of baseball began referring to the A’s as the Yankees big league farm team.
Cerv had made his debut in New York in 1951, which also happened to be Joe DiMaggio’s last season as a Yankee and Mickey Mantle’s first. Unlike those two superstars, Cerv would never become a Yankee regular, but because he played for Casey Stengel at the time, the platoon maestro of big league managers, he would evolve into a very valuable member of those great New York teams. By 1954, ’55 and ’56 he had settled into the role of the Yankee’s starting right-fielder against left handed pitching. Cerv had a vicious swing and it produced some of the hardest hit balls in the game at the time. His home run power was thwarted by the vast dimensions of the Yankee Stadium’s left-center field, but those line drives off his bat would have been hits in any park.
His best year in the Bronx was 1955, when he hit .341 in 55 games plus his only World Series home run. The following year, he hit .304 while playing in 54 regular season contests. During his first six seasons with New York, the team played in five World Series and won four of them, generating perhaps an additional $30-to-$40 thousand of additional income for the the growing Cerv family. Then the Yankees sold him to Kansas City where he became an All Star outfielder in 1958, belting 38 home runs, driving in 104 runs and topping the .300 mark in batting average.
By 1960, Cerv was back in the Bronx as a reserve outfielder. When the Yankees didn’t protect him during that year’s AL expansion draft, he was selected by the Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees quickly brought him back in a May 1961 trade with LA and he then became the house-mother-like roommate of both Mantle and Maris during their famous home run race that season. Even though he probably could have enjoyed a much more productive statistical career playing somewhere else, Cerv always cherished his days in a Yankee uniform during an era when World Series checks were as regular as paychecks for those on the Yankee roster. His second tenure in pinstripes ended in June of the 1962 season, when he was sold to Houston.
I actually hated seeing Bob Cerv play when I was a kid only because it usually meant my hero, Mickey Mantle, was scratched from the lineup again. The Lincoln, Nebraska native was born in 1926 and played a total of 12 seasons in the Majors. He may have been just a part-time player but Cerv was among the Yankees top ten all-time lists in one important category. He and his wife raised ten children and got each of them through college. That qualifies him for my own Hall of Fame, any day of the week.
Cerv shares his Yankee birthday with this one-time Yankee pitcher who’s life ended tragically in July of 2011.
|NYY (9 yrs)||379||878||772||112||205||36||12||26||118||5||4||94||131||.266||.350||.444||.795|
|KCA (4 yrs)||413||1544||1401||203||403||57||14||75||247||7||6||115||243||.288||.342||.509||.851|
|LAA (1 yr)||18||60||57||3||9||3||0||2||6||0||0||1||8||.158||.169||.316||.485|
|HOU (1 yr)||19||33||31||2||7||0||0||2||3||0||0||2||10||.226||.273||.419||.692|