December 2012

December 23 – Happy Birthday Fritz Maisel

maiselBack when I first became a Yankee fan, the team was in the final six years of a glorious 45 year run that author Peter Golenbock would later so aptly describe with the title of his excellent book “Dynasty.” The Bronx Bombers had dominated baseball during that era, not just with pennants and World Series, but also with record-breaking individual accomplishments. We had Babe Ruth and his home runs, Lou Gehrig and his games played streak, Joe D’s 56-straight and in 1961, the M&M boy’s glorious race to destiny. The Yankee strategy for winning had not changed since the spitball was outlawed, umpires began replacing balls that had been scuffed or gotten dirty and Ruth arrived in New York. The team lived and died by the three-run home-run. Yankee fans considered any form of small-ball to be a sacrilege and as a result, though lightening-quick Yankees like the great Mantle could have stolen 50 bases a year, they didn’t have to. Their orders were to get on a base and stay there until somebody else drove them in. Why on earth argue with success, right?

Well to tell you the truth, the fact that my Yankees were dead last in the American League in stolen bases during their glorious 1961 season bugged the heck out of me. They swiped a base just 28 times that season, 72 fewer than the league-leading Chicago White Sox, who had the great base-stealer, Luis Aparicio on their team at the time. “Little Louie” would turn a single or base-on-balls into a double about fifty times a year and I can remember thinking that as much as I loved Tony Kubek, if the Yankees traded him for Aparicio, it would propel New York to the top of the league’s stolen base chart. It never dawned on me of course that the Yankee offense had no need for stolen bases at the time or that the White Sox wouldn’t have traded their superlative shortstop and future Hall-of-Famer for six Tony Kubek’s.

While waiting for the Aparicio-for-Kubek deal to be consummated, I also remember coming across a list of all-time team records in my Yankee yearbook at the time and finding the name “Fritz Maisel” listed for most steals in a season. In 1914, this native of Catonsville, Maryland set both the big league and the Yankee team record by stealing 74 bases for New York. Ty Cobb would make short-work of Maisel’s league record by breaking it the following season, but those 74 steals by the former third-baseman would remain the all-time single-season mark for the Yanks until Ricky Henderson surpassed it in 1985 with his 80 steals.

Maisel may have been able to break his own record and become one of the great base-stealers in league history. In 1915, he followed up his record-breaking stolen-base season by hitting a career-high .281 and stealing 51 more. But in 1916, he hurt his throwing shoulder and could no longer make the throw from third-to-first. When his shoulder didn’t improve, the Yanks went out and got Frank “Home Run” Baker to play third and tried playing Maisel at second, where the strength of his throwing arm would matter less. The switch failed and not just because of his sore arm. Maisel’s bat also failed him. He hit just .198 during his final season as a Yankee in 1917 and was traded to the Browns. By the way, Ricky Henderson broke his own Yankee single-season stolen-base mark with his 93 steals in 1988, which remains the franchise standard.

Maisel shares his December 23rd birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and this one too.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1913 NYY 51 224 187 33 48 4 3 0 12 25 34 20 .257 .371 .310 .681
1914 NYY 150 630 548 78 131 23 9 2 47 74 76 69 .239 .334 .325 .659
1915 NYY 135 592 530 77 149 16 6 4 46 51 48 35 .281 .342 .357 .699
1916 NYY 53 183 158 18 36 5 0 0 7 4 20 18 .228 .318 .259 .578
1917 NYY 113 466 404 46 80 4 4 0 20 29 36 18 .198 .267 .228 .495
6 Yrs 592 2450 2111 295 510 56 24 6 148 194 260 177 .242 .327 .299 .626
NYY (5 yrs) 502 2095 1827 252 444 52 22 6 132 183 214 160 .243 .324 .305 .630
SLB (1 yr) 90 355 284 43 66 4 2 0 16 11 46 17 .232 .341 .261 .602
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/24/2013.

December 22 – Happy Birthday Matty Alou

Having three brothers talented enough to become professional anythings is not easy. Take my family as an example. My older brother Matt has a great singing voice. People tell me I could have been the next Sinatra. But any chance the three Cinquanti brothers might have had to become professional entertainers was squashed by our oldest brother Jerry, who couldn’t carry a tune to save his life.

The three Alou brothers, on the other hand, had no weak link when it came to baseball talent. The oldest, Felipe, was the best all-around player of the three. The youngest, Jesus, put together a .280 lifetime batting average over fifteen big league seasons. But only middle sibling, Matty, won a batting championship and finished his big league career with a batting average above .300 (.307).

Matty was not always the best hitting Alou brother. When he came up with the Giants, he used a light bat and an upper cut swing because that’s the way his older brother did it. It was not until he got traded to Pittsburgh, in 1966, and came under the hitting tutelage of Harry “The Hat” Walker that Matty started hitting for average. Walker gave his new outfielder a heavier bat and using Roberto Clemente as an interpreter, convinced Matty to start swinging down on the ball. The results were immediate. Matty won the 1966 NL batting title with a .342 average and did not hit below .331 during his first four seasons with the Pirates. When he finally did (.297 in 1970), Pittsburgh traded him to St Louis.

He ended up with Oakland and a championship ring in 1972 and the Yankees got him in a trade before the 1973 season. For a while, he was reunited with Felipe until New York traded the elder Alou to Montreal late in that same season. Matty hit .296 during his one year in pinstripes and then got sold back to the Cardinals.

How good were the Alou brothers? Between the three of them, Joe, Dom and Vince DiMaggio had 4,853 career hits during their big league careers. Felipe, Matty and Jesus had 5,094.

Matty was born December 22, 1938 and was three years younger than Felipe and four years older than Jesus. He passed away in November of 2011 from complications caused by diabetes. He was 72-years-old.

Alou shared his December 22nd birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and this one-time Yankee catcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1973 NYY 123 538 497 59 147 22 1 2 28 5 30 43 .296 .338 .356 .694
15 Yrs 1667 6220 5789 780 1777 236 50 31 427 156 311 377 .307 .345 .381 .726
SFG (6 yrs) 453 1131 1048 136 272 32 7 12 72 21 59 101 .260 .304 .338 .642
PIT (5 yrs) 743 3224 3018 434 986 129 34 6 202 98 147 165 .327 .360 .398 .758
STL (3 yrs) 268 1103 1024 132 322 45 8 10 106 30 59 50 .314 .352 .403 .756
OAK (1 yr) 32 136 121 11 34 5 0 1 16 2 11 12 .281 .341 .347 .688
SDP (1 yr) 48 88 81 8 16 3 0 0 3 0 5 6 .198 .241 .235 .476
NYY (1 yr) 123 538 497 59 147 22 1 2 28 5 30 43 .296 .338 .356 .694
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/22/2013.

December 21 – Happy Birthday D’Angelo Jimenez

jiminezThe 2000 season was supposed to have been D’Angelo Jimenez’s first full year as a New York Yankee. The native Dominican had completed a noteworthy seven-game-long cup-of-coffee stint in the Bronx the previous September, during which he belted eight hits in his twenty at-bats and drove in four runs. That performance had impressed manager Joe Torre, the team’s front-office and many Yankee fans, including me as well. I can remember being certain that this then 21-year-old switch-hitter would be the Yankees’ fifth infielder in 2000. That didn’t happen.

In an incident that reminded me of the one that had destroyed former Yankee shortstop, Andre Robertson’s big league future, fifteen years earlier, Jimenez broke his neck in a car accident in the Dominican Republic, one month before the 2000 spring training camp opened. A year and a half later, the Yankees traded him to the Padres for reliever Jay Witasick.

While Jimenez had been recovering from his injuries, another Yankee infield prospect named Alfonso Soriano had leap-frogged ahead of him on the organization’s depth chart. Since Derek Jeter, Chuck Knoblauch and Scott Brosius were also firmly ensconced at short, second and third for a Yankee team that had just captured its third-straight World Series, hardly anyone noticed this kid had been traded.

Over the next seven seasons, Jimenez would play for six different big league teams. His best stretch occurred in Cincinnati, where he became the Red’s starting second baseman and Barry Larkin’s double play partner in 2003 and ’04. He hit .290 that first year and than poked 12 home runs and set a career high with 67 RBIs the following season. But after getting off to a slow start in 2005, he lost his job to Rich Aurilia. The Reds released him and he spent the final two years of his big-league career living out of his suitcase, as he played for Texas, Oakland and the Nationals.

Jimenez is still playing baseball. He played for an independent minor league team in 2012 and than joined the Mexican League, where he hit .328 in 21 games. I still think if he didn’t break his neck, he’d have been a great utility infielder for that 2000 Yankee team, instead of Clay Bellinger, who would hit just .207 in that role. That would have put Jimenez in a perfect slot to take over the regular second base job when Knoblauch’s case of Steve Blass throwing disease started. Instead, Jose Vizcaino was given the position and a year later it was Soriano and not today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant who would become a big league all star.

Jimenez shares his birthday with this former home run hitter, this former Yankee reliever and a former Yankee outfielder who’s promising career took a u-turn when he slipped on a wet Shea Stadium outfield.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1999 NYY 7 23 20 3 8 2 0 0 4 0 3 4 .400 .478 .500 .978
8 Yrs 641 2480 2159 290 568 105 17 36 228 36 291 391 .263 .351 .377 .728
CIN (3 yrs) 260 1102 958 124 260 48 5 19 103 22 130 165 .271 .359 .391 .751
SDP (2 yrs) 173 706 629 84 162 30 4 6 66 6 73 131 .258 .333 .347 .679
CHW (2 yrs) 100 433 379 57 100 15 8 8 37 6 48 56 .264 .347 .409 .756
OAK (1 yr) 8 20 14 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 6 7 .071 .350 .071 .421
TEX (1 yr) 20 68 57 7 12 3 0 1 8 0 10 6 .211 .328 .316 .644
WSN (1 yr) 73 128 102 14 25 7 0 2 10 2 21 22 .245 .379 .373 .752
NYY (1 yr) 7 23 20 3 8 2 0 0 4 0 3 4 .400 .478 .500 .978
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/22/2013.