October 23rd, 2012
His real name was William Franklin Cree. He got his nickname when after he hit for the cycle in his very first game at Penn State University, an excited teammate who had watched Cree fly around the bases that whole day said he looked like a “bird” out there. After being signed by the A’s organization and then getting traded to the Tigers, he ended up in the Highlander organization. He made his big league debut on September 17, 1908 as New York’s starting center fielder, when he was 25-years-old. That New York team was one of the worst in franchise history, finishing the ’08 season with a horrendous 51-103 record. That level of roster ineptitude certainly helped Cree get invited back to try out for the Highlanders the following spring and he was successful. Over the course of the next four seasons he established himself as a starting outfielder for the club, highlighted by his performance in 1911, when he hit a career high .348 with 181 hits, 88 RBIs and 90 runs scored. His 22 triples that season are still the second most ever hit by a Yankee in a single season.
After such an outstanding performance, sports pundits of that era figured Cree was on his way to stardom. That ascent ended the following June in a game against Boston when Cree was struck on the left hand by a pitch that resulted in a broken wrist and ended his season. He was hitting .332 at the time of the injury. He was never again the same hitter. When he returned to full time play in 1913, he hit just .272. The following year he was relegated to team’s utility outfielder’s spot and when he hit just .215 in that role in 1915, his baseball career was over but it was his own decision to end it.
Not wanting to face the possibility of a demotion back to the minor leagues, Cree returned to his home town in Pennsylvania and accepted an entry-level position with a local bank and continued to work there until he died at the age of 60 in 1942. Cree shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher who now is part of the YES Yankee broadcasting team.