June 2013

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June 21 – Happy Birthday Spencer Adams

Spencer_AdamsIt was a few weeks before Christmas in 1925 and Yankee manager Miller Huggins had just arrived in New York City and spent the morning in a meeting with team owner, Jake Ruppert to discuss personnel needs for the upcoming season. The previous year had been a disaster for the Yankees and Huggins. The shipwreck of a season had gotten off on an ominous note after Babe Ruth began partying as soon as New York was eliminated from the 1924 AL Pennant race and didn’t stop until he collapsed in the Asheville, NC railroad station, when the Yankee team was heading north for Opening Day at the conclusion of their 1925 spring training camp. The “Big Bam” had boozed, eaten and screwed his body into a complete state of physical and mental exhaustion and it would take the entire first two months of the 1925 regular season to get him healthy enough to return to action. By then, the Yankees were already well below .500, on their way to finishing the year with a dismal 69-85 record and an embarrassing seventh-place finish in the AL standings.

Ruth’s near-death experience had done something Huggins had been trying to do since the Sultan of Swat had joined the team in 1920. It scared the hell out of him and convinced the game’s all-time greatest slugger to spend the 1925 offseason in a New York City gym, where he got his abused body into the best shape of his career. For the first time since Huggins had become Ruth’s manager, the skipper could enter a Yankee spring training camp without worrying about the impact of Ruth’s prodigious physical excesses on his team’s Pennant hopes. So as he exited his meeting with Ruppert that morning at the Yankee offices on Manhattan’s West 42nd street and was surrounded by reporters eager to find out what his thoughts were for the upcoming season, the player uppermost on the diminutive field general’s mind was today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.

Huggins told the reporters that the Yankees biggest need for the upcoming 1926 season was an infielder, and he had one specifically targeted that he had discussed with Ruppert earlier that morning. The only clue he shared was that the player he was thinking of could field like a “fiend” and hit much better than Huggins ever did during the manager’s own playing days as an NL second baseman.  As they pressed him for the player’s identity, they began suggesting names of big league infielders and Huggins would deny each until someone shouted, “What about Spencer Adams?” When Huggins ignored the question and said nothing, the reporters felt they had their answer. A month and a half later, the Yankees confirmed it.

A native of Utah, Adams was one of the first Mormons to play Major League Baseball. He had made his big league debut with the Pirates in 1923 and had spent the 1925 season as a utility infielder for the AL Champion Washington Senators. As Huggins had described, Adams was a very good defensive infielder and his .273 batting average with Washington indicated he could handle a bat just fine. But when he got to the Yankee spring training camp in St. Petersburg that winter, he got his first glimpse of his competition for the team’s starting second baseman’s job. It was this Italian kid from San Francisco by the name of Tony Lazzeri. At first, Huggins played Lazzeri at short and had Adams platooning with Aaron Ward at second. Another Yankee prospect from San Francisco by the name of Mark Koenig was proving to be a much better defensive shortstop than Lazzeri, so by the end of the first week of the 1926 regular season, Huggins had Lazzeri with his booming bat starting at second, the smooth fielding Koenig at short and Adams ended up riding the pine alongside Huggins in the Yankee dugout.

The infielder would appear in just 28 games that year and make just 28 plate appearances, which probably explains why he forgot how to hit. Adams averaged just .120 that season, but he did appear in his second straight World Series that October, again on the losing side as the Yanks lost the 1926 Fall Classic to the Cardinals. With two talented youngsters like Lazzeri and Koenig ensconced as starters in the middle of their infield, the Yankees sold Adams to the Browns after his first and only season in the Bronx was over. He played his last big league game with St. Louis in 1927.

He shares a birthday with this great Yankee starting pitcher and this one-time Yankee phee-nom.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1926 NYY 28 28 25 7 3 1 0 0 1 1 3 7 .120 .214 .160 .374
4 Yrs 180 451 395 61 101 16 5 0 38 5 38 50 .256 .324 .322 .646
WSH (1 yr) 39 65 55 11 15 4 1 0 4 1 5 4 .273 .333 .382 .715
PIT (1 yr) 25 62 56 11 14 0 1 0 4 2 6 6 .250 .323 .286 .608
NYY (1 yr) 28 28 25 7 3 1 0 0 1 1 3 7 .120 .214 .160 .374
SLB (1 yr) 88 296 259 32 69 11 3 0 29 1 24 33 .266 .333 .332 .665
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/21/2013.

June 18 – Happy Birthday Russ Hodges

Yes, the same Russ Hodges who made the famous call of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World,” was once the number 2 man in the Yankee broadcast booth behind Mel Allen. Back in the forties, the Yankees and the New York Giants did radio broadcasts of only their home games and since the two teams were never scheduled to play at home at the same time, the clubs shared announcers. In 1949, both teams started broadcasting road games as well and ended the practice of sharing play-by-play personalities. Allen stuck with the Yankees and Hodges the Giants, which is why on October 3, 1951, it was Hodges who was in the Polo Grounds radio booth screaming those famous words out over the air waves; “The Giants win the pennant” The Giants win the pennant!” Hodges remained the voice of the Giants for 21 years until his death in 1971. He was inducted into Cooperstown as the 1980 winner of the Ford Frick Award. Hodges was actually one of two eventual Frick Award winners to make the live call on Thomson’s historic blast. The other was the late, great Ernie Harwell who was doing the television play-by-play of that legendary game.

The only member of the Yankee all-time roster to be born on June 18th is this former reliever.