December 29 – Happy Birthday Bill Knickerbocker
This L.A.-born shortstop was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1931 and two year’s later he was the Tribe’s starting shortstop. An adept contact hitter, Knickerbocker might have become one of Cleveland’s all-time great shortstops if he didn’t have to actually play the field. This guy made 125 errors at that position during his three-and-a-half seasons as an Indian. So even though his lifetime average was a lofty .293 at the time and he was only 24-years-old, when his error total reached 40 during the 1936 season, Knickerbocker was traded to the Browns in January of the following year.
After his only season in St. Louis, he was dealt to the Yankees. New York had just released veteran second baseman, Tony Lazzeri following the 1937 World Series. Joe McCarthy intended to replace him with rookie Joe Gordon, but he wanted a safety valve just in case the kid wasn’t ready for prime time.
Fortunately for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Yankee shortstop Frank Crosetti suffered a leg injury during spring training and Knickerbocker got plenty of opportunities to show the Yankee skipper his lively bat more than made up for his less than average glove work.
Sure enough, Gordon got off to a horrible start at the plate in ’38 and by May 1st, he was back in the minors and Knickerbocker was starting at second for New York. The move to the new position actually improved his defense and he set a career high in fielding percentage during his first season in pinstripes.
In the mean time, Gordon got his stroke back down on the farm and when he returned to the parent club in June, his torrid bat helped propel New York to the team’s third straight World Championship. The only one who suffered from Gordon’s emergence as an all star was, of course Knickerbocker, who saw action in just seven games during the final three months of the ’38 season and completely sat out that year’s World Series sweep of the Cubs.
In 1939, Knickerbocker had pretty-much a no-show job as Gordon started all but three regular season games at second for New York and Crosetti missed just two starts at short. In 1940, Knickerbocker saw prolonged stretches of playing time at both short and third due to injuries to Crosetti and Red Rolfe. His defense was again better than average though his offense was disappearing, no doubt due to the lack of playing time.
That December, New York traded Knickerbocker to the White Sox for catcher Ken Silvestri. Following the 1942 regular season, Chicago put him on waivers and he spent the ’43 season playing in the Pacific Coast League. He then entered the US Army and served his Country during WWII for the next two years. Though the Yankees invited him to their 1946 spring training camp, he failed to make the team and never again played big league or minor league ball. Knickerbocker was struck down by a heart attack in 1961, passing away at the age of just fifty-one.
|CLE (4 yrs)||513||2199||2030||260||594||117||16||14||227||14||119||131||.293||.333||.387||.719|
|NYY (3 yrs)||97||301||265||34||64||17||4||2||32||1||25||18||.242||.314||.358||.672|
|PHA (1 yr)||87||328||289||25||73||12||0||1||19||1||29||30||.253||.323||.304||.627|
|SLB (1 yr)||121||530||491||53||128||29||5||4||61||3||30||32||.261||.303||.365||.668|
|CHW (1 yr)||89||397||343||51||84||23||2||7||29||6||41||27||.245||.329||.385||.714|