Ichiro Suzuki recently became the newest starting left fielder for the New York Yankees. In franchise history, left field is traditionally the least glamorous of the team’s three outfield positions. Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle converted the Yankee’s starting center field assignment into the first step in baseball sainthood. Babe Ruth played right field for the Yankees and there has been no shortage of MVPs and Hall of Famers who can also now say the same. But left fielders in Yankee history through the years never seem to find a permanent home there. Instead they come and go. Many, like DiMaggio, Ruth and Dave Winfield began their pinstriped playing careers playing the “sun-field”, but got quickly switched closer to the opposite foul line as vacancies occurred. Others, like Yogi Berra, Tom Tresh, Chuck Knoblauch and Elston Howard have been forced to play left for New York because somebody better than them was playing in their natural positions. Sure there have been a few like Roy White and Gene Woodling, who started in left, starred in left and stayed in left for their entire Yankee careers, but they were certainly exceptions to the rule. Today’s Pinstriped Birthday Celebrant is a classic example of a very good Yankee player who got lost in the team’s left-fielder shuffle.
Norm Siebern was a superb high school athlete, growing up in St. Louis. He starred in both baseball and basketball as a kid and after signing his Yankee contract, he actually played college hoops during his minor league team’s off-seasons. He got his first call-up to the Bronx during the 1956 season and it was not an impressive debut for the then 22-year-old. The platoon master, Casey Stengel was using Elston Howard as his starting left fielder at the time because Yogi Berra was still behind the plate for New York. Though not a particularly great outfielder, Howard was a strong hitter. Stengel tried platooning the left hand hitting Siebern with the right-hand hitting Howard. When Siebern hit just .204 that season he was returned to Denver the following year.
In 1958, Siebern got his second chance to play left field for the Yankees and this time, he was very ready. Stengel played him in 134 games and not only did Siebern hit .300, he also won a Gold Glove for his defense. Then, however, the youngster had a horrible World Series against the Braves. Not only did he hit just .125 against Milwaukee, he also made some critical defensive mistakes in the outfield. Though Stengel joked about it with both the press and Siebern after the Series, I don’t think anyone would have been laughing if the Yankees had failed to eventually beat the Braves in that ’58 Series. Poor postseason performances have plagued dozens of Yankee careers over the years. As Yankee fans, we all can remember instances when our favorite team has traded players or not re-signed free agents who experienced substandard individual performances in the postseason. The end may not come immediately, but Yankee front offices (and Casey Stengel) historically have had long memories when it comes to Fall Classic failures.
Siebern continued to start most of the time in left for the 1959 Yankees, but his average dipped to .271 and he experienced a decline in most of his offensive categories. He wasn’t alone, as that Yankee team finished a disappointing third in the ’59 AL Pennant race , winning just 79 games. That December, the Yankees dealt Siebern, an aging Hank Bauer, World Series hero Don Larsen and “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry to the A’s for a young outfielder named Roger Maris who had something Siebern lacked, a perfect left-handed power stroke for that short right-field porch in the old Stadium. Siebern would go on to become the A’s best player and make three consecutive All Star teams. Maris would go on to make baseball history.
Siebern, who also would play for Baltimore, the Angels and Boston, retired after the 1968 season with a .272 lifetime average and 1,217 big league hits. He shares his July 26th birthday with this one-time Yankee pinch-hitter, this “unhappy” starting pitcher and this much more recent. Yankee hurler.
|KCA (4 yrs)||611||2615||2236||331||647||117||19||78||367||6||343||329||.289||.381||.463||.844|
|NYY (3 yrs)||308||1147||1002||158||274||37||9||29||129||9||126||196||.273||.354||.415||.769|
|BOS (2 yrs)||60||80||74||2||11||0||2||0||7||0||6||13||.149||.213||.203||.415|
|BAL (2 yrs)||256||949||775||136||193||37||6||20||88||3||156||136||.249||.373||.390||.763|
|SFG (1 yr)||46||72||58||6||9||1||1||0||4||0||14||13||.155||.319||.207||.526|
|CAL (1 yr)||125||404||336||29||83||14||1||5||41||0||63||61||.247||.361||.339||.701|
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.
Today is the 49th birthday of Major League Baseball’s controversial career home run leader and son of a former-Yankee, Barry Bonds. Exactly one year after Bonds came into this world, today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Joe Oliver played just 12 games of his 13-year big league career in a Yankee uniform as a backup catcher during the 2001 season. He spent his most productive big league seasons with the Reds and started behind the plate for Lou Piniella’s 1990 World Champion Cincinnati team. He caught 1,033 games in thirteen big league seasons. He hit the last of his 102 big league home runs in a Yankee uniform against the great Greg Maddux. The only other member of the Yankee family to be born on this date is this former Yankee pitcher.
|CIN (8 yrs)||769||2648||2408||210||593||120||2||72||342||6||178||437||.246||.298||.387||.686|
|SEA (2 yrs)||98||316||285||45||72||16||1||12||45||3||24||53||.253||.311||.442||.753|
|PIT (1 yr)||45||146||134||10||27||8||0||1||13||2||10||33||.201||.253||.284||.537|
|BOS (1 yr)||5||13||12||1||3||1||0||0||1||0||1||3||.250||.308||.333||.641|
|NYY (1 yr)||12||40||36||3||9||1||0||1||2||0||1||12||.250||.263||.361||.624|
|DET (1 yr)||50||166||155||8||35||8||0||4||22||0||7||33||.226||.253||.355||.608|
|MIL (1 yr)||97||369||337||43||92||20||0||12||51||2||27||66||.273||.332||.439||.772|
Yankee GM, George Weiss was again on the prowl for some pennant insurance for the last month of the 1952 season. He approached the Red Sox who were willing to sell veteran hurler, Ray Scarborough’s contract to New York. At the time the deal was made, the right-hander was 1-5 for Boston with an ERA near five. Six weeks later, the Yankees were again headed to a World Series, after holding off a very good Cleveland Indians team by two games, thanks in large part to Scarborough, who went 5-1 for Casey Stengel and posted a Yankee ERA of just 2.91.
If Scarborough got the chance to pitch his entire big league career in pinstripes he may have been much more remembered than he is now. He would get to spend parts of just his last two big league seasons with the Yankees in 1952 and ’53. He spent most of his time in the Majors with the lowly Senators, from 1942, his rookie season, until 1950 when he got traded to the White Sox. He lost two of those seasons to service during WWII. Here’s a hint as to how good a pitcher Ray must have been in his earlier years. In 1948, Washington won just 56 games and finished in seventh place in the then-eight-team American League. There were five starters on that squad. The won-lost records and ERA of the other four were: 8-19, 5.82; 8-15, 3.83; 4-16, 5.88; and 5-13, 4.02. Ray’s record that season was 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA. He finished 80-85 lifetime during his decade-long career.
This other not well-known Yankee pitcher was also born on July 23rd and had two first names in his signature. His Pinstripe Birthday post includes my all-time lineup of Yankees who had last names that are also commonly used as first names. Scarborough also shares a birthday with this long-ago Yankee/Oriole utility player.
|WSH (7 yrs)||50||53||.485||3.69||179||110||36||41||7||5||909.1||934||449||373||39||401||349||1.468|
|BOS (2 yrs)||13||14||.481||5.01||65||30||19||9||1||4||260.2||280||153||145||29||96||100||1.442|
|NYY (2 yrs)||7||3||.700||3.15||34||5||12||1||0||2||88.2||79||34||31||8||41||33||1.353|
|DET (1 yr)||0||2||.000||8.27||13||0||5||0||0||2||20.2||34||24||19||3||11||12||2.177|
|CHW (1 yr)||10||13||.435||5.30||27||23||3||8||1||1||149.1||160||95||88||10||62||70||1.487|
By the time Scott Sanderson became a Yankee, he was already a thirteen-year veteran of the big leagues. He started his career with the Expos in 1978 and was 56-47 during his six seasons up north. He then pitched another half-dozen seasons for the Cubs, where he won in double figures just once. In 1989, this right-handed native of Dearborn, MI signed a one-year free agent deal with Oakland and proceeded to have a career year. Pitching in a rotation that included 20-game-winners Dave Stewart and Bob Welch, Sanderson finished 17-11 during his first season in the American League, helping the A’s win the AL West flag. The A’s re-signed him that December and then almost immediately sold him to the Yankees.
The Yankee rotation Sanderson joined was in a shambles. Tim Leary had been New York’s biggest winner the previous season with a 9-19 record. Not one Yankee starter had managed to finish the 1990 season with a winning record. Sanderson got off to a great start as a Yankee, taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning of his pinstripe mound debut against Detroit. He finished the 1991 season with a 16-10 record and a 3.81 ERA and was the only pitcher on that horrible club to achieve double-digit victories and a winning record.
Sanderson’s second year in the Bronx was not as noteworthy. He again was the only Yankee starter with a winning record, going 12-11, but his ERA climbed to 4.93. When his contract expired at the end of the 1992 season, the Yankees did not try to re-sign him. Sanderson shares his July 22nd birthday with this former Yankee DH and this one-time Cy Young Award winner.
|CHC (6 yrs)||42||42||.500||3.81||160||116||12||8||1||3||737.2||729||338||312||79||172||478||1.221|
|MON (6 yrs)||56||47||.544||3.33||149||136||5||24||8||2||883.0||838||363||327||83||240||603||1.221|
|CAL (3 yrs)||8||16||.333||4.67||33||32||0||4||1||0||192.2||240||121||100||26||35||96||1.427|
|NYY (2 yrs)||28||21||.571||4.35||67||67||0||4||3||0||401.1||420||211||194||50||93||234||1.278|
|SFG (1 yr)||4||2||.667||3.51||11||8||1||0||0||0||48.2||48||20||19||12||7||36||1.130|
|OAK (1 yr)||17||11||.607||3.88||34||34||0||2||1||0||206.1||205||99||89||27||66||128||1.313|
|CHW (1 yr)||8||4||.667||5.09||18||14||0||1||0||0||92.0||110||57||52||20||12||36||1.326|