December 9th, 2013

December 9 – Happy Birthday Joe DeMaestri

demaestriI really started collecting baseball cards in 1961. As a passionate six-year-old Yankee fan at the time, opening a nickel pack of Topps cards and discovering a Bronx Bomber inside felt like I had found a thousand dollar bill, well maybe not in all cases.

I can remember feeling no such thrill when I got the card pictured with today’s featured Pinstripe Birthday post. I’m sure Joe DeMaestri was a great guy and in his prime he was considered one of the upper tier shortstops in the American League. But he had spent those prime years of his career playing for the A’s in both Philadelphia and Kansas City.

Even though over a half century has passed since I purchased the pack from Puglisi’s Confectionary on Guy Park Avenue in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY, I still clearly remember this card. That’s because in addition to being perhaps the least recognized player on that 1961 Yankee team, DeMaestri wasn’t even wearing a Yankee hat when they took his picture for the card and I used to hate when that happened. Still, he was a Yankee and therefore it was a Yankee card so I figured it was a nickel well spent, just not one that returned that customary thrill worth a thousand bucks.

As it turned out, that 1961 season was this San Francisco native’s final year in the big leagues. The Yankees had acquired him in the historic seven player deal they made with Kansas City that also put Roger Maris in pinstripes. Nicknamed “Oats,” DeMaestri had been New York’s primary utility infielder for two seasons, appearing in just 79 total games during that span but getting the opportunity to play in his only World Series in 1960 and win his only ring in ’61. His most noteworthy moment in Yankee history took place in the eighth inning of the seventh game of that ’60 fall classic in Pittsburgh. It was DeMaestri who replaced Tony Kubek at short, after Bill Virdon’s certain double-play grounder hit a stone in the Forbes Field infield and struck Tony Kubek in the throat. In addition to almost killing the Yankee shortstop, the play started the rally that enabled Pittsburgh to erase a three run deficit and take a two-run lead. Ironically, all season long, New York manager Casey Stengel had been shifting Kubek from shortstop to replace Yogi Berra in left field in the eighth inning of games in which the Yankees had the lead. DeMaestri would then replace Kubek at short. For some reason, the “Ol Perfessor” didn’t make that move that afternoon in Forbes Field and you have to wonder how DeMaestri would have approached and been able to play that same ground ball.

In any event, my older brother Jerry and I were able to collect every card in that 1961 Topps series, but unlike all the rest of those we collected as kids, I don’t have this DeMaestri card anymore. Tragically, the younger brother of one of Jerry’s classmates was struck by a car and killed that year. I still remember walking up to his house a few days later with my brother and giving his grieving friend our entire collection of 1961 Topps baseball cards as our way of expressing sympathy for his loss.

He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and a Yankee franchise Hall-of-Famer nobody remembers.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1960 NYY 49 36 35 8 8 1 0 0 2 0 0 9 .229 .229 .257 .486
1961 NYY 30 41 41 1 6 0 0 0 2 0 0 13 .146 .146 .146 .293
11 Yrs 1121 3679 3441 322 813 114 23 49 281 15 168 511 .236 .274 .325 .599
KCA (7 yrs) 905 3325 3105 292 742 104 20 47 256 15 155 453 .239 .277 .331 .608
NYY (2 yrs) 79 77 76 9 14 1 0 0 4 0 0 22 .184 .184 .197 .382
SLB (1 yr) 81 198 186 13 42 9 1 1 18 0 8 25 .226 .258 .301 .559
CHW (1 yr) 56 79 74 8 15 0 2 1 3 0 5 11 .203 .253 .297 .550
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/8/2013.