Last September, the Yankee front office was about to announce that Derek Jeter’s frustrating 2013 season was over. Before they did, they acquired another big league shortstop by the name of Brendan Ryan. At the time of the announcement, I had never heard of Ryan, which was odd because he had been the starting shortstop for both the Cardinals and Mariners for two seasons each.
Unlike Jeter, who was one of baseball’s all-time best-hitting shortstops, Ryan was not a good hitter, averaging just .237 during his almost 700 games in the big leagues. Also unlike Jeter, Ryan was considered one of the very best defensive shortstops in the game. The Yankees then signed their new acquisition to a two-year contract for $4 million.
I was a bit puzzled by the contract until the Yankees went on their free agent signing spree during the offseason and reloaded their offense with Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. So even if Jeter could not make it back in 2014, the rejuvenated Yankee lineup could score runs without his offense and by using Ryan at short, they could prevent more runs on defense. It seemed a sound strategy.
Ironically, as we approach the end of the first month of the 2014 season, it is Ryan who is on the DL and unable to play, while Jeter looks like he will do just fine in this final year of his brilliant playing career.
Ryan was born in Los Angeles on this date in 1982 and was selected by the Cardinals in the 7th round of the 2003 draft. He bats and throws right-handed and can play second and third in addition to short. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee infielder and this pacifist WWII era pitcher.
|STL (4 yrs)||415||1332||1206||165||312||56||10||9||95||39||88||166||.259||.314||.344||.658|
|SEA (3 yrs)||351||1251||1103||116||237||48||6||9||91||28||99||245||.215||.286||.294||.580|
|NYY (1 yr)||17||62||59||7||13||2||0||1||1||0||2||13||.220||.258||.305||.563|
One of the Yankees most impacted by the infamous Copa Cabana Nightclub incident wasn’t even there celebrating that night. I’m referring to Woodie Held, a rather free spirited middle infield prospect for New York in the fifties who along with alleged troublemaker Billy Martin, pitcher Ralph Terry and an outfielder named Bob Martyn were traded to Kansas City for reliever Ryne Duren and outfielders Jim Pisoni and Harry “Suitcase” Simpson. Both Martin and Terry would get a chance to return to New York and capture glory in pinstripes. Bob Martyn would never enjoy much success in the big leagues. But Held would go on to play fourteen years in the big leagues and belt 179 home runs.
Back when I was a kid, I collected baseball cards, which in addition to the annual Street & Smith’s Baseball Preview issue were my primary information conduit for the performances and stats of non-Yankee players. I remember checking the backs of cards of every player to find out what teams they played for. It was most likely on the back of the 1961 Woodie Held card pictured with this post that I found out he used to be a Yankee. Once you were a Yankee, I continued to root for your success except when your team happened to be playing the Yankees. That is how and why I became a fan of Woodie Held. I loved his name and I loved the fact that he played in the middle of the infield but could still hit for power. I remember the year I got this card, Maris and Mantle were chasing Ruth but Skowren, Berra, Howard and Blanchard all had more than 20 home runs that season while Clete Boyer (11), Bobby Richardson (3) and Tony Kubek (8) didn’t reach that milestone. I remember looking at Held’s card and seeing he had hit 21 home runs as a shortstop for the Indians in 1960 and 27 the season before. He would hit 23 during the ’61 season. I remember hoping some day he’d return to New York and hit all those home runs as a Yankee shortstop. Of course back then, I didn’t realize that would have been pretty difficult for Held to do since he was a right-handed pull hitter and probably, just like Clete Boyer ended up doing, many of Woodie’s blasts would have been turned into outs by Yankee Stadium’s cavernous left field.
In any event, Held never did come back to the Yankees. He hung on in the big leagues until 1969, quitting when he was 37 years old. He then enjoyed one of the most erratic retirements of any big league player in history. He opened a pizza parlor, ran a lumber yard, he raced snowmobiles, became an iron worker, he worked as a bartender and an electrician. Woodson George Held died in June of 2009 in his adopted home of DuBois Wyoming at the age of 77. He shares his March 25th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and coach.
|CLE (7 yrs)||855||3227||2800||372||698||105||16||130||401||10||351||629||.249||.339||.438||.777|
|KCA (2 yrs)||139||518||457||61||106||16||3||24||66||4||47||109||.232||.308||.438||.746|
|CAL (2 yrs)||91||219||186||19||36||4||0||4||17||0||23||56||.194||.296||.280||.575|
|NYY (2 yrs)||5||6||4||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||1||.000||.333||.000||.333|
|BAL (2 yrs)||82||145||123||10||23||6||1||2||13||0||18||42||.187||.301||.301||.602|
|CHW (2 yrs)||96||141||117||14||18||3||0||3||8||0||18||33||.154||.275||.256||.532|
|WSA (1 yr)||122||391||332||46||82||16||2||16||54||0||49||74||.247||.345||.452||.797|
If Marvin Miller or Scott “the snake oil salesman” Boras had been around in the 1920′s, I might have a lot more to tell you about today’s Pinstripe Baseball Birthday Celebrant. Unfortunately, however, for guys like William Harmong Lamar, ballplayers did all of their own labor-lawyer-ing and contract negotiations for many many years and Lamar simply wasn’t very good at it.
As the only member of the all-time Yankee roster to be born on this date, Lamar did not get the opportunity to play much baseball in the Big Apple. Born in Maryland, near Washington DC, he became a high school baseball star who in 1916, signed a contract to play for the Baltimore Orioles in the International League. By the following year, the US had entered WWI and the military draft began in May of that year. The Yankees were probably looking for bodies to replace players lost to the army when they purchased the contracts of Lamar and two of his Oriole teammates toward the end of the 1917 season. Lamar’s first appearance in a big league and Yankee game was on September 19th of that season. He played a total of 11 games that year and just 28 the next before he himself was drafted.
From the research I did on his career, it appears as if Lamar was a very fast runner but not much of a hitter or defensive outfielder during his days with the Yankees. Neither of his two Yankee Managers, Wild Bill Donovan or Miller Huggins played him much during the 1917 and ’18 seasons and the kid averaged less than .230 in the Yankee action he did experience. That explains why Huggins did not invite Lamar to the Yankees’ 1919 spring training camp but he showed up anyway. Not wanting to disrespect a returning soldier, Huggins let him stay and brought him north with the team, but only for a short while. On June 10, 1919, Huggins ended Lamar’s Yankee career by putting him on waivers. The Red Sox picked him up immediately and he managed to hit .291 for Boston during the second half of the 1919 season. He was then traded for an International League outfielder and it would take Lamar another five years before he actually got a regular job as a big leaguer. That was in 1924, when he joined Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s as a 27-year-old left-fielder.
Lamar hit .330 in 1924 and then an even more robust .356 in 1925 with 202 hits. It looked as if his train had finally arrived at the station. But Lamar had also developed a propensity to party. In fact, his nickname was “Good Time Bill.” His batting average and his playing time dropped in ’26 and even though he was hitting .299 at the time, Lamar was put on waivers by the A’s in early August of the 1927 season. accompanied by rumors that he had a difficult time complying with Connie Mack’s team rules. The Senators immediately picked up his contract but that’s when Lamar started getting a bit too cute. The Washington newspapers had played up the fact that the newest Senator would be starting in the outfield in an upcoming series against the Yankees. He decided to try and leverage the anticipation of Washington fans for his arrival into a bonus for reporting from the famously tight-fisted Senators’ owner Clark Griffith. How’d that little ploy turn out for “Good Time Bill?” He lost the balance of his salary for 1927 and he never again played in a big league came.
Much of the information used for this post came from an article about Lamar, written by Bill Nowlin, as part of the SABR Baseball Biography Project. You can find that article online, here.
|PHA (4 yrs)||425||1818||1678||263||539||101||22||19||223||18||73||63||.321||.350||.442||.792|
|NYY (3 yrs)||50||179||167||15||38||4||0||0||5||4||8||5||.228||.263||.251||.514|
|BRO (2 yrs)||27||47||47||7||13||4||0||0||4||0||0||1||.277||.277||.362||.638|
|BOS (1 yr)||48||159||148||18||43||5||1||0||14||3||5||9||.291||.314||.338||.652|
For the past decade the voodoo drug in Major League Baseball has been steroids and its tentacles have extended into the Yankee locker room on several occasions, highlighted by the public confessions of A-Rod and Jason Giambi. I’m currently reading Jim Bouton’s incredibly good book “Ball Four,” in which he chronicles his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros. In it, “the Bulldog” makes it very clear that in the 1960′s, the voodoo drug of choice for professional baseball players was amphetamines (or “greenies” as they were called back then.) Before that, booze was the preferred poison of Major Leaguers. It was alcohol abuse that almost derailed Babe Ruth’s career in New York, rotted Mickey Mantle’s liver and allegedly contributed to the roll-over of the pickup truck that killed Billy Martin.
So illegal drugs and substance abuse of some sort or another have unfortunately become as big a part of the Yankee tradition as pennant drives and batting crowns. Its been going on forever and you can bet its not going away any time soon. I personally consider the most demoralizing period of substance abuse to have been the 1980s. Why? Cocaine.
Drinking booze was and still is considered as much of an accepted all-American pastime as the game itself. Greenies and steroids were not good for ballplayers but they were dispensed and administered under the premise that they would help a player perform better. But smack was different. Too many Americans had already witnessed or personally experienced the debilitating impact of cocaine addiction on people and whole communities.
Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Steve Howe, Tim Raines, Lee Mazzilli, and Dale Berra were all one-time Yankees who experienced highly publicized cocaine addictions. And then there was today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Rod Scurry was a California native who came up to the big leagues with the Pirates in 1980. He was a tall lean left-hander who became a workhorse in manager Chuck Tanner’s bullpen during the early eighties. But of all places, Pittsburgh, famously known as the Steel City, was also the Cocaine Center of Major League Baseball in the 80′s. In 1985 a Pittsburgh grand jury was convened to hear testimony from players on the Pirates and opposing teams who purchased cocaine from drug dealers permitted inside the home and visiting clubhouses of Three Rivers Stadium. (Raines, Mazzilli, Berra and Scurry all testified)
Trials were held, the dealers were jailed and the commissioner handed out fines and suspensions to the players involved. In September of 1985, while these legal proceedings were still in process, the Yankee purchased Scurry from Pittsburgh. Then-Yankee Manager Billy Martin inserted him into five games for New York during the last month of that season and Scurry pitched well, winning his only decision, earning a save and posting an ERA of 2.84.
The following March, MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth announced his penalties for all the players involved in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials. Scurry was quoted at the time in a NY Times article, referring to the penalties as “a great day for baseball.” In that same article, it was pretty clear that Scurry himself had doubts about his ability to stay off the drug. “It’s all in the past now. It’s a new start in life and in baseball. I’m on the way back up. Go back two years, and I was almost out of baseball. I think addiction overrides everything else, no matter how stiff the penalties are. You don’t care about anything; nothing matters. It’s not something you can turn off and on. I don’t know where it’ll end, if it’ll ever end.”
For Scurry, it did not end. He went on to pitch for New York in 1986, appearing in 31 games and finishing the season with a 1-2 record with 2 saves and ann ERA of 3.66. That December, the Yankees re-signed him to pitch for the club the following year. Just one month after that signing, Scurry was arrested for drunken driving in Reno, NV and refused a police request to undergo a chemical test. That incident pretty much ended his Yankee career.
I found the following in another NY Times article, describing events leading up to Scurry’s death in November of 1992: “…Scurry’s neighbors in Reno summoned Washoe County sheriff’s deputies to his home. They found the 36-year-old Scurry in the throes of what the coroner’s report later called an acute psychotic episode. The deputies said he complained that snakes were crawling on him and biting him. They said Scurry became violent and stopped breathing when they tried to place him in handcuffs and leg restraints. Hospitalized and placed on life-support systems in the intensive-care unit, Scurry died a week later. An autopsy disclosed that he died of a small hemorrhage within his brain after a cardiorespiratory collapse. A “significant condition,” the autopsy report said, was cocaine intoxication.”
Scurry shares his St. Patrick’s Day birthday with this one-time Yankee pitcher.
|PIT (6 yrs)||17||28||.378||3.15||257||7||115||0||0||34||377.1||309||152||132||22||224||345||1.413|
|NYY (2 yrs)||2||2||.500||3.46||36||0||12||0||0||3||52.0||43||22||20||3||32||53||1.442|
|SEA (1 yr)||0||2||.000||4.02||39||0||18||0||0||2||31.1||32||16||14||6||18||33||1.596|
Its been over 25 years since the transaction took place and it wasn’t until I did research for today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant that I finally completely understood why the Yankees traded their very solid designated hitter, Mike “the Hit Man” Easler, for the very shaky Philadelphia starting pitcher, Charles Hudson in December of 1985. I knew that Easler had demanded to be traded when he was told that Yankee manager Lou Piniella intended to platoon him at DH with Ken Griffey during the ’86 season. What I was not aware of was that the Yankees were contractually obligated to doing so within three months of the demand or Easler would have become a free agent.
So that’s why a very emphatic George Steinbrenner ordered the Yankees to send Easler, who had hit .302 for New York in 1985, to the Phillies for Hudson, who had had put together a very mediocre 32-42 record during his four years pitching in the “City of Brotherly Love.” Hudson was also a switch-hitter, which was a pretty rare attribute for a pitcher. His problem was however, he couldn’t hit very well from either side of the plate.
At first, it looked like “the Boss” was a prophet, as Hudson got off to a fast start with New York, winning his first six decisions during the 1987 season. Even though the right-handed native of Ennis, TX cooled off after that and spent some time pitching out of the Yankee bullpen, he still finished his first year in pinstripes with an 11-7 record that included two shutouts and an efficient 3.61 ERA. That win total put him in third place behind Rick Rhoden (16) and Tommy John (13) for most victories by a Yankee pitcher that year.
Unfortunately for Hudson, that would prove to be his best season in New York. In 1988, he again split his time between the starting rotation and the bullpen to finish 6-6, while his ERA jumped to 4.49. In spite of that performance, the Yankees resigned him for the ’89 season. Then just before spring training camp broke, he was dealt to the Tigers for the veteran infielder, Tom Brookens, who was a complete bust during his one season in pinstripes.
Hudson floundered in Detroit during the 1989 season and his career ended that August, after he smashed his car into a Motor City telephone pole, and destroyed his right knee. It was at that low point that Hudson admitted to having a drinking problem, which he worked hard to eliminate.
Hudson shares his March 16th birthday with “the Grandy-Man.”
|PHI (4 yrs)||32||42||.432||3.98||127||105||9||7||1||0||680.0||692||353||301||68||237||399||1.366|
|NYY (2 yrs)||17||13||.567||3.97||63||28||17||7||2||2||261.0||230||116||115||28||93||158||1.238|
|DET (1 yr)||1||5||.167||6.35||18||7||4||0||0||0||66.2||75||49||47||14||31||23||1.590|
There was a two-season gap in between the time that Hal Chase, the Yankees’ first great first baseman left the team in 1912 and Wally Pipp, the franchise’s second great first baseman took over that position in 1915. Charley Mullen was one of the interim first sackers New York used to fill that gap.
This native of Seattle was 25 years old when Yankee manager Frank Chance began starting him during the 1914 season. He wasn’t a disaster. Mullen hit .260 that year, which was actually third best among the team’s starting lineup and he drove in 44 runs, which was also third best on the squad during that low-scoring deadfall era.
Just before the 1915 season began, the Yankee franchise was purchased by brewer Jacob Ruppert and his partner Tillinghast Huston. The two men had been assured by AL President Ban Johnson that the Junior Circuit’s other team owners would help the Yankees become more competitive with their New York City neighbors, the Giants. The plan was to have the other clubs make some of their best players and prospects available to New York for acquisition. One of the first such acquisitions made by the new Yankee ownership was Pipp, a young hard-hitting Detroit Tiger prospect who would start at first for New York for the next decade until his famous headache opened the door for Lou Gehrig.
So what happened to Charley Mullen? He actually remained a Yankee for the next couple of seasons in a utility role before returning to the minors. He played his final season in 1919 with the Seattle Raniers of the Pacific Coast League. He remained in his hometown after he retired and died there in 1963 at the age of 74.
|NYY (3 yrs)||192||644||559||55||147||18||1||0||69||23||52||80||.263||.328||.299||.627|
|CHW (2 yrs)||61||204||182||22||36||4||2||0||18||5||9||17||.198||.236||.242||.477|
The lucrative salaries paid in Major League Baseball nowadays continue to shock me. Those huge bucks have changed the way big leaguers play the game and live their lives. Even the most marginal players today have contracts sizable enough to permit them to not have to worry about working a second career, at least during their playing days. And with decent investment counseling and a much improved MLB pension plan, when these guys retire in their thirties, many can afford to kick back and relax their way through their forties and fifties too. Good for them. I just hope they tell their children and grandchildren the story about Marvin Miller some day.
When I was a kid, guys like Ray Barker, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had to scrape to make a living on what they were paid to play the game. Barker, who had grown up a Yankee fan, had been originally signed by the Orioles in 1955 when he was a 19-year-old kid and given a $1,000 bonus. The son of a West Virginia stone quarry worker, that was more money than his family had ever seen.
He then spent the next ten years of his life trying to get to the big leagues and trying to take care of his growing family on the few thousand dollars he would earn playing both minor league and winter baseball. His wife and children lived in a trailer park back in West Virginia and when Barker’s dad was killed while riding his motorcycle, his Mom moved in with them.
After brief big league appearances with the Orioles and Indians, Cleveland traded this left-hand-hitting first baseman to the Yankees for infielder Pedro Gonzalez, in May of 1965. The defending AL Pennant winners were a mess that year under new skipper, Johnny Keane. In addition to rebelling at Keane’s strict disciplinarian management style, injuries began crippling the veteran Yankee lineup. Both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were out for extended periods, forcing Keane to play his starting first baseman, Joe Pepitone in the outfield. That Yankee misfortune was the piece of good luck Barker needed to finally get an extended stay on a big league roster.
His debut season in the Bronx wasn’t spectacular but it was steady and in 1965, steady was good enough for the Yankee front office. In addition to tying a big league record that season by hitting two consecutive pinch-hit home runs, Barker’s 7 total round-trippers and 31 RBIs in 98 games got him invited back for a second season. He returned to West Virginia, bought a home and moved his brood out of that trailer park.
Unfortunately, the Yankees got even worse in 1966, finishing in last place and Barker got worse too. He pretty much stopped hitting, which meant he pretty much stopped getting chances to hit. During most any other season in Yankee history, Barker’s .187 batting average would have got him banished forever but not in 1966.
Ralph Houk brought Barker back to spring training in 1967 as a Mickey Mantle insurance policy. The Yankees had become convinced that in order to extend the switch-hitting legend’s career, they needed to get him out of the outfield and start him at first base. That meant they also had to commit to playing Joe Pepitone in the outfield full-time. Houk needed somebody to serve as a late-inning defensive replacement for Mantle at first. The organization’s bonus-baby heir to that position was Mike Hegan, who was doing Army reserve duty until May of that ’67 season. That gave Barker just a small window of time to impress Houk enough to keep him on the 25-man roster and get Hegan sent back down to the minors.
Barker couldn’t get it done. In the 17 games he appeared during the first part of that ’67 season, he hit an atrocious .077. During that trying period of his career, Barker was interviewed by long-time New York Times’ sports journalist Robert Lipsyte. He explained to Lipsyte that he needed to get hot at the plate in order to stick with the Yankees but he needed more at bats to get in an offensive groove but he would only get those at bats if he could get hot. It was the age-old Catch-22 lament of big-league utility players.
During that interview, Barker said his goal was to get five seasons of service as a Major League player so that he could qualify for the pension plan. If he could make that milestone, Barker would start receiving a retirement benefit of $250 per month when he reached the age of 50. Barker didn’t make that five-year milestone but hopefully, he’s not missing that $250 check every month.
|NYY (3 yrs)||176||342||306||34||68||16||0||10||44||1||27||71||.222||.289||.373||.662|
|CLE (1 yr)||11||8||6||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||2||.000||.250||.000||.250|
|BAL (1 yr)||5||6||6||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3||.000||.000||.000||.000|
When outfielder Myril Hoag began his Yankee career, he competed for playing time with the likes of Babe Ruth and Earle Combs. By the time he completed it seven years later, he was playing behind names like DiMaggio, Selkirk and Henrich. Thus went the pinstriped career of one of the most effective fourth outfielders in franchise history, good enough to back up those who were better.
Born in California, Hoag began his pro career in the Pacific Coast League and made his Yankee and big league debut in 1931. His best season in the Bronx was 1937, when he appeared in 103 games, had 109 hits and averaged .301. Hoag also put together a solid World Series against the Giants in 1937, starting all five games and batting an even .300.
After the 1938 World Series, New York traded Hoag and back-up catcher Joe Glenn to the St. Louis Browns for pitcher Orel Hildebrand and outfielder Buster Mills. He finally got his chance to be a starting outfielder with his new ball club and took advantage of it, by averaging .295 and making the AL All Star team. That ’39 season proved to be his best. The Browns traded him to the White Sox and after his second season with Chicago, Hoag joined the Army. He was given a medical discharge a year later and ended up playing for Cleveland during the second half of the ’44 season and averaging .285 for the Tribe.
That would be Hoag’s last hurrah as a big leaguer, though he’d continue to play in the minors well into his forties, finally hanging his spikes up for good after the 1951 season. He was only 63 when he passed away in 1971, a victim of an emphysema-induced heart attack.
Hoag shares his March 9th birthday with this Yankee who hit one of the most famous home runs in franchise history, this former AL MVP, this recent Yankee reliever and one of the great base-stealers in MLB history.
|NYY (7 yrs)||471||1360||1228||181||349||61||18||11||185||17||106||141||.284||.345||.390||.735|
|SLB (3 yrs)||206||724||674||78||192||34||4||13||101||11||37||65||.285||.323||.405||.728|
|CHW (3 yrs)||236||927||840||82||207||32||5||3||85||24||73||51||.246||.307||.307||.615|
|CLE (2 yrs)||107||451||405||43||106||14||6||1||30||7||36||41||.262||.325||.333||.658|
In 1985, a 24-year-old rookie from Montebello, California named Mark Salas surprised just about everyone by hitting .300 as the starting catcher of the Minnesota Twins. Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner, always looking for a good left-hand-hitting catcher who could take advantage of his home Stadium’s short right field porch, took notice of the kid. Two seasons later, he approved a mid-season deal that brought Salas to the Bronx in exchange for the Yankees disgruntled veteran knuckleballer, Joe Niekro.
The Boss ignored the fact that Salas had followed up his stellar rookie performance by hitting just .233 in his sophomore season with the Twins. He also didn’t pay attention to Salas’s below average defensive skills behind the plate. After all, even though Salas had lost Minnesota’s starting catching job to Mark Laudner, he was hitting a robust .379 in his back-up role at the time of the trade and he was a much better hitter than Joel Skinner, who had been serving as the Yankees second string catcher that year.
So Salas came to New York and was forced upon Lou Piniella, who was not a thrilled recipient. The Yankee skipper was struggling to keep his 1987 club in first place at the time and growing increasingly frustrated by having every decision he made as manager second guessed by “the Boss.” When it became apparent that Salas was not very good defensively and he stopped hitting too, Piniella wanted Skinner brought back up from Triple A, where he had been sent to make roster room for Salas. Steinbrenner refused to approve the move. So Piniella decided to refuse to accept any more of Steinbrenner’s phone calls, which served as perfect fodder for some creative back-page headlining in the New York City tabloids.
Eventually, Skinner was recalled and Salas was sent down to Columbus. The Yankees finished that ’87 season in fourth place in the AL East race with an 89-73 record. Salas finished his only half-season as a Yankee with a .200 batting average and then got traded to the White Sox with Dan Pasqua for pitcher Rich Dotson. His big league career would end after the 1991 season. He finished with 319 lifetime hits and a .247 batting average. He then went into coaching.
|MIN (3 yrs)||233||718||663||87||185||29||9||20||83||3||41||75||.279||.320||.440||.760|
|DET (2 yrs)||107||247||221||20||43||4||0||10||31||0||21||38||.195||.272||.348||.621|
|CLE (1 yr)||30||83||77||4||17||4||1||2||7||0||5||13||.221||.277||.377||.654|
|NYY (1 yr)||50||130||115||13||23||4||0||3||12||0||10||17||.200||.279||.313||.592|
|STL (1 yr)||14||21||20||1||2||1||0||0||1||0||0||3||.100||.100||.150||.250|
|CHW (1 yr)||75||211||196||17||49||7||0||3||9||0||12||17||.250||.303||.332||.635|
Don Savage was a depression-era New Jersey schoolboy athlete who could have played football for a number of major colleges but chose baseball instead. Unfortunately, he suffered two serious knee injuries during his high school playing days and those injuries would haunt him and eventually shorten his big league career.
The Yankees signed him in 1938 and groomed him mostly as a third baseman. He spent the next four seasons following another future Yankee third sacker named Billy Johnson through New York’s farm system. That ascent suddenly got abruptly stalled during the winter of 1941 when Savage, feeling unusually tired all the time, went to the doctor to find out what was wrong with him. He was diagnosed with diabetes and would spend the rest of his life trying to keep the disease under control.
The one and only advantage of the diagnosis was that it made Savage permanently ineligible for military service. That meant, once he felt well enough to resume his career, the Yankees could count on him being available for the remainder of the war years. He got the OK from his doctors to play for the New Jersey Bears in 1943 and put together a good enough season there to get invited to the Yankees’ 1944 spring training camp. With most of the Yankee veterans and top prospects in military service by then, New York manager Joe McCarthy had plenty of time to pay attention to the team’s new arrivals. He liked Savage enough to bring him north and start him at third base on Opening Day, replacing Johnson who had an outstanding rookie season in 1943 but had then been called into the service.
After getting off to a hot start, Savage’s fragile knees failed him and he began missing games and valuable at bats. The injuries also disrupted his fielding work and before he knew it, he was spending most of his time sitting in the Yankee dugout, watching another Yankee wartime third baseman, Oscar Grimes take his position away.
Savage ended up playing just 71 games during his rookie season and averaging .261. His offensive numbers were decent enough, especially considering his injuries, but it was his mediocre defensive play at the hot corner that eventually caused McCarthy to give up on him.
Savage got to play in 34 games for New York in his second season but after averaging just .224, his big league playing days were over. He ended up working as an elevator mechanic back in his New Jersey hometown and then tragically losing his two-decade battle with diabetes at the age of 42, on Christmas Day in 1961.