October 31st, 2013

October 31 – Happy Birthday Paul Zuvella

ZuevellaRemember when Ken Griffey Jr. was in his prime and told everyone that he would never play for the Yankees? That’s because “The Kid’s” father, Ken Griffey Sr. felt the same way. Of course, by the time the elder Griffey had figured that out, he had already been wearing Yankee pinstripes for a year and then had spent the next three and a half seasons with the team begging to be traded.

He would finally get his wish on the last day of June, during the 1986 season when the Yanks sent the unhappy outfielder to the Braves in exchange for Claudell Washington and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Press reports describing the trade at the time indicated the Yankees expected to start Claudell Washington in left field and Paul Zuvella at short.

I was one of those faithful Yankee fans who really hoped Griffey would be a star in New York and since that hadn’t happened, I wasn’t sorry to see him go. I knew Washington would be an adequate starting outfielder for that Yankee team but I also knew Paul Zuvella had no shot at becoming the team’s starting shortstop.

The shortstop position had been an anomaly for New York since Bucky Dent had been traded in 1983. Lou Piniella was the manager of that ’86 team and he wasn’t exactly known for being patient with his players, especially with an even more impatient owner like George Steinbrenner watching over his shoulder and breathing down his neck.

Zuvella had played his college ball for Stanford and had a good run with the 1978 version of Team USA. That got him drafted by Atlanta and he made his big league debut with the Braves in 1982. It took him four seasons to earn just the utility infielder’s job there and then he lost even that at midseason and spent the second half of 1985 back in the minors.

He started his first season in New York with an 0 – for – 25 slump and and at the end of his first month with the team the guy was hitting .083. Piniella, Steinbrenner and Yankee fans had seen enough and Zuvella was banished to Columbus for the rest of the season. He reappeared at the Yankees 1987 spring training camp and found himself in a battle with Bobby Meacham for the Yankee’s utility infielder slot. Though Meacham outplayed him in every facet of the game that spring, it was Zuvella who headed north with the team for Opening Day. Why? Because George Steinbrenner did not like Bobby Meacham, so the Yankee owner ordered Piniella to demote him and keep Zuvella.

The native of San Mateo, California was able to double his average during his second abbreviated season in the Bronx but that still meant he hit just .176. Zuvella’s Yankee career was over. He was released that October and spent the next couple of seasons with Cleveland. He eventually became a minor league manager in the Rockies’ organization. His claim to pinstriped fame? His name appears at the very end of an alphabetized version of the Yankees’ all-time roster.

Zuvella shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder, this former Yankee catcher and this other former yankee infielder.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1986 NYY 21 57 48 2 4 1 0 0 2 0 5 4 .083 .170 .104 .274
1987 NYY 14 36 34 2 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 .176 .176 .176 .353
9 Yrs 209 545 491 41 109 17 2 2 20 2 34 50 .222 .275 .277 .552
ATL (4 yrs) 97 246 221 18 53 9 1 0 5 2 20 18 .240 .306 .290 .595
CLE (2 yrs) 75 206 188 19 46 7 1 2 13 0 9 24 .245 .283 .324 .607
NYY (2 yrs) 35 93 82 4 10 1 0 0 2 0 5 8 .122 .172 .134 .307
KCR (1 yr) 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/31/2013.