July 25 – Happy Birthday Mick Kelleher
If I managed a Dick’s Sporting Goods store in an area with a high demographic of Yankee fans, at the end of the aisle in which the store’s baseball equipment was sold, I’d have a life-sized cutout of Yankee first base coach, Mick Kelleher. Why? Yankee hitters use today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant as their on-the-field locker. Excuse me, I need to elaborate on that statement. I should have started it with “Successful Yankee hitters.” In fact, when I tune into a Yankee game in progress now-a-days, I can sometimes tell how the Yankee offense is doing when a camera shot of Kelleher performing his first base coaching duties comes up on my big screen. If things are going good for NY hitters in that particular inning, Kelleher will be adorned with the hitting accessories of those Yankee players who successfully reached base that inning. He might have A-Rod’s or Cano’s elbow pad on one arm and Mark Teixeira’s ankle guard on the other. Or it could be Jeter’s wrap-around hitting gloves coming out of Mick’s back pocket and Curtis Granderson’s sun glasses resting on top of his hat. Its a good thing for Kelleher that Yankee hitters can run the bases with their jock straps on, huh? In any event, if I managed a Dick’s Sporting Goods store, I’d load up my Kelleher cutout display with every piece of hitting accessory we had in stock.
The ironic thing about that would be that when Kelleher was a big league player himself, he was a horrible hitter. In fact, during his 11-season big league playing career that began in 1972 with the Cardinals and ended in 1982 with the Angels, this native of Seattle averaged just .213 and remains the last big league player who had over 1,000 career at bats without ever hitting a home run. Kelleher made it to the Majors because he was an exceptional defensive infielder, who could play a solid second, short or third. It was also those same defensive skills and Kelleher’s ability to help others learn them that first got Kelleher hired as the Yankees roving minor league infielders coach. His job was to help Yankee prospects like Robbie Cano, Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez become better defensive infielders. His ability to teach defense was also the primary reason the Yankees hired him to replace Tony Pena as the Yankee first base coach in 2009. Its Kelleher who runs all Yankee infield drills for New York including hitting thousands of practice ground balls to Jeter and Cano when the two superstars feel they need the extra work.