While doing research for today’s post, I had to smile when I came across a comment made by Yankee great Joe DiMaggio about the son of former Cleveland catcher and Yankee coach, Jim Hegan. The elder Hegan made five All Star teams during his 14-year-career with the Indians without ever getting his batting average above the .240s. Never a good hitter, he had built his sterling reputation and earned his salary with his defensive skills behind the plate. Hegan’s son Mike had been signed by the Yankees in 1961. When he was invited to his first Yankee spring training camp, Joe D was on hand serving as a special hitting instructor. When someone from the press asked the Yankee Clipper what he thought of Mike Hegan, he assured the reporter that the kid would become a better Major League hitter than his old man ever was. Talk about an underhanded compliment.
Mike Hegan did turn out to be a better hitter than his dad, but not that much better. His lifetime batting average would end up 14 points higher than his father’s own .228 figure. But unlike his dad, who spent fourteen of his seventeen big league seasons in the starting lineup of the team that brought him to the big leagues, the son was in the starting lineup for just one of the twelve years he played in the Majors and never as a Yankee.
Like his pop, Mike Hegan was also an excellent defensive player, but he played first base. At the time he was putting together some great seasons for New York’s minor league teams, Moose Skowren and Joe Pepitone were doing the same for the Yankees. By the time he got his first real shot in the Bronx, it was 1967 and Mickey Mantle had been moved to first in an effort to prolong his Yankee career. That same move effectively ended Hegan’s.
He was sent back down to the minors at the beginning of the 1968 season and that June his contract was purchased by the new Seattle Pilots franchise. Finally getting a chance to be number one on a big league team’s depth chart, Hegan prospered, hitting .292 for Seattle in the team’s inaugural 1969 season and making the AL All Star team. When the team was moved to Milwaukee the following year, Hegan continued to start but his batting average dropped by almost fifty points. The Brewers traded him to the A’s during the ’71 season, where he won his first and only World Series ring the following year. He rejoined the Yankees and his dad in 1973. In 37 games that year he had 6 home runs and 14 RBIs, while averaging .275. He might have remained a Yankee for the rest of his career if Ralph Houk and his dad had not left New York after the ’73 season and moved together over to Detroit. The Yankees then sold Hegan to the Brewers during the ’74 season. Mike would spend the final three and a half years of his big league career as a part-time first baseman, outfielder and DH , back in the city made famous by Schlitz Beer. After hanging up his glove in 1977, Hegan picked up a microphone and became a broadcaster for the Brewers for the next 11 seasons. In 1989, he was hired to do Indian games and has been one of Cleveland’s announcers ever since.
|MIL (7 yrs)||586||1823||1529||221||380||56||13||42||188||17||254||343||.249||.355||.385||.739|
|NYY (5 yrs)||141||399||346||34||72||9||4||9||28||9||40||96||.208||.295||.335||.630|
|OAK (3 yrs)||238||230||205||26||52||8||1||2||13||2||17||50||.254||.308||.332||.640|
When Hall of Famer Bill Dickey began his sixth consecutive season as the Yankees’ starting catcher in 1934 he broke the 25-year-old record for most consecutive years starting for New York at that position, which was set by today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. John Peter Kleinow, better known as Red, was born in Milwaukee on this date in 1877. He played baseball in college and then the minor leagues before signing with the Highlanders in 1904. During his first season in New York, he was the team’s back-up backstop to Deacon McGuire. He took over as starter the following year and maintained that status through the 1909 season.
Never a good hitter, Kleinow was instead considered to be an excellent defensive catcher. His lifetime percentage for throwing out base runners attempting to steal was an impressive 44%. But it was a pitch that got over Kleinow’s head in his rookie season that cost New York a shot at the franchise’s first pennant in 1904. Trailing Boston by a game and a half with just two to play, New York’s 41-game winner, Jack Chesbro was pitching against the first place team in the eighth inning of a 2-2 tie game. Chesbro threw one of the dirtiest baseballs in the game and in the later innings, when the sun was low in the sky and shadows covered the Hilltopper Park pitching mound, it was next to impossible for a hitter or catcher to pick up the flight of a “Happy Jack” doctored baseball. With a runner on third, Chesbro let loose a spitball that the hitter never saw. Unfortunately, neither did Kleinow. As the ball sailed over the catcher’s head, the runner on third scampered safely home and Boston won the game and clinched the pennant.
In 1910, Red became a Red Sox when Boston purchased his contract from New York. But by then, the wear and tear on Kleinow’s legs from all those years of catching had caught up with him and he was out of the big leagues after 1911. His batting average during his seven years with New York was only .219 and he drove in an average of just 17 runs per season. He must have been a defensive wizard!
Red shares his July 20th birthday with this pitcher the Yankees acquired in a trade for Dave Winfield. Today is also the 44th anniversary of Man’s first steps on the Moon which also means it is my oldest brother’s birthday. Happy birthday Big J.
|NYY (7 yrs)||522||1681||1496||137||328||43||20||2||127||38||131||186||.219||.286||.279||.564|
|BOS (2 yrs)||58||186||161||9||25||1||0||1||8||4||22||26||.155||.257||.180||.437|
|PHI (1 yr)||4||8||8||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||.125||.125||.250||.375|
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.
|NYY (6 yrs)||567||2428||2233||348||636||103||35||15||244||11||134||103||.285||.327||.382||.710|
|NYG (2 yrs)||149||487||454||47||128||16||0||4||44||0||21||22||.282||.315||.344||.659|
|CHC (2 yrs)||113||345||320||47||98||17||2||6||36||5||18||14||.306||.345||.428||.773|
|DET (2 yrs)||182||682||631||70||156||33||6||2||55||10||34||27||.247||.288||.328||.616|
|CIN (1 yr)||151||661||633||60||172||26||6||1||67||5||15||24||.272||.289||.336||.625|
Back in the late forties and early fifties, Yankee GM George Weiss would scour the rosters of the 15 other big league teams looking for what the New York media liked to call “pennant insurance.” With the platoon master, Casey Stengel calling the shots on the field in the Bronx, Weiss knew that providing the Ol’ Perfessor with one good extra bat or pitching arm was the recipe for a few extra late-season wins and quite possibly another trip to the Fall Classic. In August of 1949, Weiss had grabbed the “Big Cat,” Johnny Mize from the cross town Giants for $40,000 dollars. The primary reason the former NL batting champion was available in the first place was because Giant manager Leo Durocher was not very fond of him. When Weiss gave Mize to Stengel, Casey used him masterfully as a pinch hitter and part-time first baseman for the next five Yankee seasons.
A year after getting Mize, Weiss spent another 40,000 Yankee dollars to get Johnny Hopp from the Pirates. Hopp had been a teammate of Mize’s when both played and starred for the Cardinals early in their careers. Though he didn’t have lots of power, Hopp was a great defensive first baseman, a better-than-average center fielder and a solid batsman who turned pitches into line drives with great regularity. In fact, when Weiss swung the deal to put him in pinstripes, Hopp was hitting .340. The national baseball press howled that the mysterious Weiss was somehow using the financial might of the Yankees to form a cabal of MLB owners willing to sell New York any player needed to fill a gap in the team’s roster. In actuality, no NL team in the pennant race at the time of the Hopp transaction wanted or needed a first baseman who could not hit for power. But Stengel welcomed him with open arms into his toolbox, which was more commonly referred to as the Yankee dugout.
During the final month of the 1950 regular season, Hopp appeared in 19 games for New York and hit .333 with a .486 on base percentage. His timely hitting helped the Yankees hold off a very good Detroit Tiger team to win that year’s pennant by just three games. In 1951, Hopp’s age (35 at the time) began to catch up with him as injuries limited his play and had a negative impact on his batting average. The Hastings, Nebraska native was given his outright release the following year and he finished his big league career as a member of the Tigers. He retired with a .296 lifetime batting average and four World Series rings, two each with the Cardinals and Yankees.
|STL (7 yrs)||669||2401||2129||355||619||116||41||24||244||69||227||218||.291||.362||.418||.779|
|PIT (3 yrs)||331||1208||1081||170||335||53||22||14||117||21||120||71||.310||.379||.438||.818|
|NYY (3 yrs)||80||136||115||23||26||3||1||3||14||4||19||15||.226||.341||.348||.689|
|BSN (2 yrs)||263||993||875||145||272||43||10||5||80||34||92||64||.311||.381||.400||.781|
|BRO (1 yr)||8||14||14||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|DET (1 yr)||42||53||46||5||10||1||0||0||3||0||6||7||.217||.308||.239||.547|
There were many in the Yankee organization who honestly thought this big right hand hitter would not only be the team’s third baseman of the future, they predicted he would also take over from Mickey Mantle and become New York’s biggest home run hitter. That’s how good an athlete Deron Johnson was back in the late fifties. He set all kinds of baseball and football records at San Diego High School and had scholarship offers from all the top football universities.
He chose baseball instead and signed with the Yankees. He was both an All Star and a league leader in home runs on just about every stop of his four-year climb up the Yankee farm system. But instead of replacing Gil McDougald with Johnson, New York traded for the A’s Clete Boyer to play the hot corner. The Yankees had enough home run hitters in their lineup already and Boyer’s great glove gave him the edge over the poor-fielding Johnson. Instead, the Yankees traded their top prospect to the A’s with Art Ditmar for reliever Bud Daley in 1961, after Johnson appeared in just 19 games in pinstripes. He played with eight different teams during the next 16 seasons, hitting 245 lifetime home runs along the way. He was born on July 17, 1938, in San Diego. He died of lung cancer when he was just 53 years old.
Johnson shares his birthday with this former Yankee team co-owner.
|PHI (5 yrs)||563||2161||1897||213||477||82||8||88||304||4||235||468||.251||.333||.442||.775|
|OAK (4 yrs)||281||1043||940||109||211||27||7||34||146||1||87||205||.224||.289||.377||.665|
|CIN (4 yrs)||549||2142||1959||269||518||97||15||90||343||5||150||386||.264||.316||.467||.783|
|BOS (3 yrs)||29||82||73||5||14||1||1||1||5||0||7||17||.192||.259||.274||.533|
|NYY (2 yrs)||19||26||23||1||4||1||0||0||2||0||2||5||.174||.231||.217||.448|
|ATL (1 yr)||127||383||342||29||71||11||1||8||33||0||35||79||.208||.285||.316||.600|
|CHW (1 yr)||148||608||555||66||129||25||1||18||72||0||48||117||.232||.292||.378||.671|
|MIL (1 yr)||49||174||152||14||23||3||0||6||18||1||21||41||.151||.253||.289||.542|