July 19 – Happy Birthday Mark Koenig
Derek Jeter will be the last Yankee shortstop to wear uniform number 2 but the first one to do so is today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Mark Koenig started at short for New York’s legendary Murderers’ Row team of 1927 and batted second, after leadoff man Earle Combs and right before the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth. That hallowed team became the first in AL history to remain in first place the entire season, set a regular season record with 110 victories and become the first junior circuit squad to sweep an NL opponent (the Pirates) in a World Series. Koenig hit .285 for that Yankee team and scored 99 runs. He was a very good fielder and was also universally liked and respected by his teammates.
The Yankees became this San Francisco native’s first big league club in 1925, when he was just 20-years old. He won the starting job at short the following season and held it until 1929, when he was replaced by the bold and brash Leo Durocher. In May of the following season, he was traded to the Tigers, but when he couldn’t get his average above the .250s, Detroit sold his contract to a Pacific Coast League team. After 89 games in the minors, he was hitting .335 and caught the attention of the Cubs who were in a battle for the 1932 NL Pennant. He was brought to the Windy City that August and played outstanding baseball for 2 months, hitting a robust .353 to help Chicago hold off the Pirates and earn the right to face the Yankees in the ’32 World Series.
When his former Yankee teammates learned that Koenig’s new Chicago’ teammates had not voted him a full share of the team’s World Series prize money, they exhibited their resentment with a constant and fierce series-long razzing targeting the entire Cubs’ team, except Koenig of course. That razzing was nearing the boil-over point by Game 3, when Babe Ruth came to the plate in the fifth inning with the score tied 4-4 to face Cub pitcher Charley Root. Root and the entire Cub bench were screaming obscenities at the Bambino, who was responding in kind. When Root supposedly quick pitched a second strike, legend has it that Ruth pointed to center and hit Root’s next pitch into the Wrigley Field bleachers in the general direction of where he had pointed.
The Cubs brought Koenig back for the ’33 season and then traded him to the Phillies, who in turn dealt him to the Reds. Still just 29 years old, Koenig became Cincinnati’s starting third baseman in 1934 and had a strong season. He then came back to New York in 1935, this time with the cross town Giants where he finished out his playing career in 1936. Koenig’s lifetime average for his dozen years as a big leaguer was a respectable .279 and he collected 1,190 hits. He would live until 1993 and become the oldest surviving starter from that 1927 Yankee team and missing by a couple of seasons, the beginning of the career of the last Yankee shortstop who will ever wear Koenig’s number.