July 16th, 2013
You never heard of Floyd Newkirk and either had I until this morning. That’s when I found out he was one of just 35 big league players who celebrate or celebrated their birthday on today’s date. I had also thought Tom Metcalf was the only former Yankee among those 35 July 16th birthday celebrants until I discovered that Newkirk had pitched for New York as well, during the 1934 season after getting called up on August 1st from the Yanks’ outstanding Newark Bears farm club. At the time of that call-up, he had put together an 11-4 record for the Bears. When he made his one and only appearance for New York almost three weeks later versus the St.Louis Browns, he became the only three-fingered pitcher in history to pitch for the Yankees.
The right-handed Newkirk had lost two fingers on his pitching hand in a childhood accident. Throughout his youth, he never treated the condition as a handicap. Instead, he claimed his unique three-digit grip on a baseball added speed to his fastball and bite to his curve. He went on to pitch in college in his native Illinois and then signed with the Albany (New York) Senators in the old Eastern League.
In one article I uncovered during my research for today’s post, a fill-in sportswriter for a Milwaukee newspaper gave an account of a 1933 American Association game he was called upon to cover, between Newkirk’s St. Paul Saints and the hometown Milwaukee Brewers. In a very tongue and cheek writing style, this amusing scribe who had never before reported on a baseball game, bemoaned the fact that the St. Paul pitcher with three fingers had out-pitched the five-fingered hometown hurler that day.
In any event, that one scoreless ninth inning Newkirk pitched against St. Louis in 1934 would end up being the the only inning of his Yankee and his big league pitching career. That December, Newkirk was included in the historic trade with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League that brought Joe DiMaggio to New York. He went 8-5 with San Francisco in 1935 but an inability to throw strikes doomed his efforts to make it back to the Majors. He passed away in 1976 at the age of 67.