February 1st, 2014

February 1 – Happy Birthday Erick Almonte

almonteI still remember the play. Opening Day 2003, Yanks are playing the Jays in Toronto and leading 1-0 when Derek Jeter walked with one out in the third inning. The next Yankee hitter, Jason Giambi hit a dribbler between the mound and third base. Jay third baseman Erik Hinske, shortstop Chris Woodward and pitcher Roy Halladay all went after the ball with Halladay reaching it first and  nailing Giambi with a good throw to first. Meanwhile, Jeter raced to second and when he saw that neither Hinske or Woodward was covering third he kept running. Ken Huckaby, the Toronto catcher also saw that third base was uncovered and he ran like hell to get there before Jeter. In the mean time, first baseman Carlos Degado threw a bullet to the third base bag, hoping Huckaby would get there before both the ball and Jeter did. Jeter got their first and was safe on the play but a millisecond later, Huckaby arrived and when he tried to catch the ball and stop at the same time, he barreled into the Yankee shortstop, separating his shoulder in the process. Jeter went on the DL for the first time in his career and everyone wondered, what will the Yankees do without their shortstop.

The immediate options to take his place were Enrique Wilson, who was the utility infielder on that year’s Yankee roster or Erick Almonte, who was considered the organization’s top minor league shortstop at that time. The Dominican native had put together some decent offensive seasons in the Yankee farm system up to that point but his bat had actually been regressing more recently. In fact, the year before Jeter’s injury occurred, New York had demoted Almonte from triple A to double A because of his inability to hit.

That’s why everyone was pleasantly surprised when the Yanks decided to go with Almonte and he got off to a torrid start at the plate when he was called up to the Bronx. In his first game he homered, went 2-for-5 and drove in three runs. He hit safely in six of his first seven games and was averaging .333 after his first ten days as the Yankee shortstop. He would tail off a bit but was still hitting .272 when Jeter returned to the lineup in early May and the Yankees were in first place with a three game lead and a 26-10 record. While Yankee fans had missed the Captain, the truth is the Yankee team hadn’t. Erick Almonte had stepped up big time in Jeter’s absence. He would never get another chance to do so.

He was sent back down to Columbus for most of the rest of that 2003 season. He would later sign as a free agent with the Rockies and then play ball in Japan for a few years. He did not get back to the big leagues until 2011, when he made the Milwaukee Brewer roster as a spare outfielder. Unfortunately, he was beaned pretty severely and didn’t get a chance to play much. As of 2013, he was still playing minor league baseball. He turns 36-years-old today.

He shares his birthday with this former Yankee relieverthis Gold-Glove-winning center fielderthis one-time Yankee prospect and the player the Yanks got when they traded Tom Tresh.

2001 23 NYY AL 8 4 4 0 2 1 0 0 0 2 0 1 .500 .500 .750 1.250
2003 25 NYY AL 31 111 100 17 26 6 0 1 11 1 8 24 .260 .321 .350 .671
3 Yrs 55 144 133 18 31 7 0 2 14 3 8 29 .233 .282 .331 .613
NYY (2 yrs) 39 115 104 17 28 7 0 1 11 3 8 25 .269 .327 .365 .693
MIL (1 yr) 16 29 29 1 3 0 0 1 3 0 0 4 .103 .103 .207 .310
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/1/2014.

January 31 – Happy Birthday George Burns

28BurnsToday is the birthday of the player who got the first base hit in the original Yankee Stadium. His name was George Burns and he spent a large part of his life answering the question, “Which George Burns are you?” Back during the WWI era of MLB history there were two pretty good players using the same name as well as an up and coming Vaudeville performer who would later marry Gracie Allen and star with her in a popular TV show in the 1950’s.

The National League George Burns played most of his career with the Giants as an outfielder and averaged a very impressive .287 during his 15-years in the Senior Circuit. Then there was the American League George Burns, who averaged an even more robust .307 during his 16-year career in the Junior Circuit, which included brief appearances in a Yankee uniform at the very end of his playing career, during both the 1928 and ’29 seasons.

The NL George Burns was a very good defensive outfielder. The AL George Burns was a horrible defensive player but because he hit from the left side and handled a bat real well, he never had a problem finding a team that wanted him. To help keep the two straight, sportswriters back in the day would refer to the AL George Burns by his nickname, “Tioga George.” He had lived in Tioga, Pennsylvania for quite a while.

He put together some great seasons for the A’s, the Red Sox and the Indians, actually winning the AL MVP Award with Cleveland in 1925, when he set career highs in batting average (.356) and RBIs (112) while leading the league in both base hits (216) and doubles (64). On April 18, 1923, his single off of New York’s Bob Shawkey was the first official regular season hit recorded in the House that Ruth built. A few pitches later, Burns became the first runner ever thrown out attempting to steal a base in the new ballpark.

In September of 1928, Burns had been put on waivers by the Tribe and Miller Huggins told Yankee exec Ed Barrow to pick him up. The Yankee skipper wanted Burns on his bench for those times that called for a skilled left handed hitter. Burns, however, wasn’t sure he wanted to come to the Bronx and he refused to report until he had a chance to talk to Huggins to make sure it was not just an end-of-the-year and then you’re gone sort of deal. When Huggins assured him there’d be a spot for him on the team in 1929 as well, Burns made the move put on the pinstripes.

He was then used exclusively as a pinch-hitter and though he did start the ’29 season on the Yankee roster as Huggins had promised, he was sold back to the A’s that June. That suited Burns just fine because by then he made his home in Philly. He retired following that season and became a coach and manager in the Pacific Coast League following his playing career.

Burns shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee prospectthis former Yankee reliever and this one-time Yankee shortstop.

1928 NYY 4 4 4 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .500 .500 .500 1.000
1929 NYY 9 9 9 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 .000 .000 .000 .000
16 Yrs 1866 7240 6573 901 2018 444 72 72 952 154 363 433 .307 .354 .429 .783
CLE (7 yrs) 757 2882 2611 402 853 230 20 22 432 62 157 144 .327 .375 .455 .830
PHA (4 yrs) 307 1175 1084 130 344 59 18 16 145 28 50 53 .317 .359 .449 .809
DET (4 yrs) 496 1952 1756 206 467 76 24 15 220 47 91 170 .266 .313 .362 .675
BOS (2 yrs) 293 1218 1109 162 352 79 10 19 155 17 65 61 .317 .364 .458 .822
NYY (2 yrs) 13 13 13 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .154 .154 .154 .308
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/1/2014.