During the 53 years I’ve been a Yankee fan, I’ve sort of behaved by two rules. The first is that I do not disrespect Yankee players for failing to live up to expectations. Each and every one of them has been skilled and talented enough to accomplish something I know I never could and that is to reach the Major Leagues as a professional ballplayer. Mistakes, slumps and errors are part of the game and as upset as I get when individual Yankees don’t perform well, I don’t hold it against them and I have never boo’d a Yankee player in my lifetime. The second rule is that despite how “against” I might have been about a transaction that brings a player to the Yankees, once he puts on a Yankee uniform, I root like crazy for the guy.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant is a perfect example of how I apply these rules in real-life. When I heard Brian Cashman was going to sign Ben Francisco as a right handed DH and spare outfielder, I screamed in anguish. I absolutely knew this native of Santa Ana, California was not the right guy for the slot the Yankees expected him to fill. When I first read reports that Cashman was going after him, I remember yelling out loud. “Go get Alphonso Soriano from the Cubs instead.” But since I was in my home’s basement office at the time, about 1,300 miles north of Cashman’s office in Tampa, the Yankee GM couldn’t hear my suggestion and he signed Francisco.
So I became an instant Ben Francisco fan, hoping with every fiber in my being that I was wrong about the guy and he would evolve into this year’s version of Raul Ibanez. Unfortunately, I seemed to be in a minority of those Yankee fans who were willing to be patient with him. It didn’t help matters that so many Yankee regulars were physically unable to play on Opening Day of the 2013 season and the pressure on back-up guys like Francisco to perform was abnormally high as a result.
In his first five games,he got a total of eight at bats and failed to get a hit but judging by the boo birds at the Stadium and the vitriol of Yankee bloggers, you’d of thought he went 0-for-80 instead. His first Yankee hit against Arizona, started a three-run come-from-behind rally in a game New York would eventually win. But by the end of April, his average was just .103.
On May 1, Francisco hit his one and only home run as a Bronx Bomber in a 5-4 Yankee victory over the Astros. On June 4th, with his batting average at .114, Francisco was released by New York. A couple weeks later, he was signed by the Padres and spent the remainder of the 2013 season playing for San Diego’s Pacific Coast League affiliate in Tucson.
He was originally a fifth round draft choice of the Cleveland Indians in 2002. After a solid rookie season with the Tribe in 2008, Francisco’s name got thrown into the Cliff Lee trade negotiations and he ended up accompanying the pitcher to Philadelphia in return for four Phillies’ prospects at the 2009 trading deadline. The deal led to Francisco’s first and thus far only World Series appearance that fall against the Yankees (He went hitless in 7 at-bats.) But the outfielder struggled during his entire two-and-a-half season tenure in the City of Brotherly Love. He seemed much more comfortable playing in Cleveland.
|CLE (3 yrs)||235||920||817||123||213||58||1||28||99||17||76||164||.261||.332||.437||.768|
|PHI (3 yrs)||225||594||526||58||136||32||1||17||75||13||52||101||.259||.332||.420||.752|
|TBR (1 yr)||24||63||57||4||13||5||0||2||8||0||4||16||.228||.270||.421||.691|
|NYY (1 yr)||21||50||44||4||5||0||0||1||1||0||5||11||.114||.220||.182||.402|
|HOU (1 yr)||31||90||85||5||21||4||0||2||5||0||5||23||.247||.289||.365||.654|
|TOR (1 yr)||27||54||50||5||12||5||1||0||2||0||4||10||.240||.296||.380||.676|
The article appeared in the New York Times on December 17, 1925. It started out like this; “Good news for Yankee fans. Miller Huggins announced yesterday the purchase of one the best minor league pitchers in the country, a young man named Myles Thomas…” The article went on to say that the purchase had forced Jake Ruppert, the Yankee owner then, to “remove several layers from his bankroll to get this lad” because there were several big league teams interested in the right-hander from College Station, Pennsylvania. The reason for all the attention on Myles Thomas was the 28-8 record he had put together during the 1925 season, while pitching for the double A International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ironically, Huggins had been given a chance to sign this same guy in 1921, when he was fresh out of Pennsylvania State Teachers College. The Yankee skipper passed on that first opportunity and Thomas had then spent the next six seasons pitching in the minors. So he was already 28 years-old when he made his big-league debut with the 1926 Yankees, but he couldn’t have picked a better time to come to the Bronx. During his three full seasons on the team, the Yankees won three straight AL Pennants and both the 1927 and ’28 World Series.
Thomas’s best season in pinstripes was his second, when he went 7-4 for the Murderers’ Row team that went 110-44 and swept the Pirates in the ’27 World Series. But Huggins gradually lost faith in him as time went on. The pitcher’s starts and appearances out of the bullpen decreased in each of his successive seasons with New York until he was finally put on waivers and sold to the Senators in late June of 1929.
He pitched a couple of seasons in Washington before going back to the minors, where after hanging up his glove, he eventually became a coach with the Toledo Mud Hens. I can picture Thomas, perhaps wearing one of the World Series rings he won with the Yankees, out in the Mud Hens bullpen during a game, surrounded by a bunch of wide-eyed big-leaguer wannabe’s, regaling them with his memories of pitching for one of the greatest teams in big league history. I wonder if he told those kids that Babe Ruth himself had given Thomas the nickname of “Duck Eye.” Of course, the Bambino gave just about every teammate he ever played with a nickname because he was too self-absorbed to bother remembering their real names. In fact, in 1928, after Thomas had been Ruth’s teammate for more than two years. Yankee second baseman Tony Lazzeri introduced him to Ruth in a Boston hotel lobby as “the new pitcher from Yale the Yanks had just signed.” Ruth stuck out his hand and said “Hi ya keed.”
Thomas shares his birthday with baseball’s best all-around second baseman and a player who has a decent chance of becoming the first Japanese-born member of the Hall-of-Fame.
|NYY (4 yrs)||14||12||.538||4.70||71||24||22||4||0||0||275.2||311||177||144||13||126||76||1.585|
|WSH (2 yrs)||9||10||.474||4.53||34||16||11||7||0||2||159.0||188||107||80||6||63||45||1.579|
The Yankees 1981 World Series defeat to the Dodgers was an almost tragic turning point for George Steinbrenner. He had spent loads of Yankee dollars to put together an offense that was driven by home runs only to see that offense sputter and fail in both the second half of the strike-induced split season and the last four games with Los Angeles. He then seemed to have let his anger over the strike and the pain of that Dodger defeat drive a series of player decisions that would keep the Yankees out of postseason play for the next fifteen years. No move symbolized Steinbrenner’s inept over-reaction more than the signing of Dave Collins.
At the time, Collins was a singles-hitting, base-stealing outfielder who slap-swung his bat from both sides of the plate. He had hit .300 for the Reds in both 1979 and ’80 but what really captured the Boss’s attention was the 79 bases Collins stole during that 1980 season. Steinbrenner was convinced the guy would be a perfect lead-off man for the new small-ball offense he envisioned for his ball club so he blew him over with a three-year, two-and-a-half million dollar free agent offer that was probably twice as much and at least a year-more than any other team would have offered Collins.
A month before that signing the Boss had approved a trade for Collins’ Cincinnati teammate and fellow outfielder, Ken Griffey. Then just before spring training, Steinbrenner must have been feeling sentimental because he gave both Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, two more outfielders, three-year contract extensions. The Yankees also already had Dave Winfield, Jerry Mumphrey and Oscar Gamble under contract for the 1982 season. That added up to seven outfielders which didn’t add up to a very confused Bob Lemon, who as Yankee manager was given the responsibility of figuring out where and when to play all of them. When Collins reported to spring training, Lemon told him to work out at first base. As Bill Madden explained the situation in his excellent biography of Steinbrenner, “The Last Lion of Baseball,” Collins spent all that spring asking every reporter who covered the team “Why in the world did they sign me?”
He ended up playing first base in 52 games for New York and split 60 more pretty evenly as the Yankee left, right, and center fielder. He hit just .253 that year, stole only 13 bases and was probably one of the most uncomfortable Yankee players in the history of the franchise. Steinbrenner’s 1982 small ball Yankees finished the season next-to-last in their division with a 79-83 record. New York then mercifully traded Collins to the Blue Jays, where, feeling much more wanted, he averaged .290 and 50 stolen bases during the final two years of the contract he had originally signed with New York. But just to make Steinbrenner regret his signing of Collins even more, the Blue jays insisted that the Yankees include a youngster named Fred McGriff in the trade for Collins
|CIN (7 yrs)||697||1981||1774||272||504||70||16||9||126||147||168||231||.284||.349||.357||.706|
|CAL (2 yrs)||192||775||684||86||181||25||5||7||57||56||76||110||.265||.337||.346||.684|
|TOR (2 yrs)||246||943||843||114||245||36||19||3||78||91||76||108||.291||.355||.389||.744|
|STL (1 yr)||99||74||58||12||13||1||0||0||3||7||13||10||.224||.366||.241||.608|
|OAK (1 yr)||112||418||379||52||95||16||4||4||29||29||29||37||.251||.303||.346||.648|
|NYY (1 yr)||111||393||348||41||88||12||3||3||25||13||28||49||.253||.315||.330||.646|
|SEA (1 yr)||120||447||402||46||96||9||3||5||28||25||33||66||.239||.299||.313||.613|
|DET (1 yr)||124||476||419||44||113||18||2||1||27||27||44||49||.270||.340||.329||.670|
The next time I hear James Taylor sing “Walking Man,” I’m sure the name of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant will cross my mind. Roy Cullenbine refused to swing at any pitch that was not in the strike zone. If he played today, he’d probably be an Oakland A and praised profusely in the sports media for his ability to get on base. But Cullenbine played in the 1940′s, during an era when ballplayers were expected to swing their bats at any pitch they could reach and taking too many “walks” was even considered by many to be a sign of laziness. Few paid much attention to on base percentage until Bill James promoted the stat as the sport’s Holy Grail decades later. So when Cullenbine’s OBP reached .477 in 1946, nobody noticed and even though he got on base four out of every ten times he came to the plate the following season and finished second on the Tigers in runs scored, he was still released at the end of the season and forced into retirement.
Cullenbine was born in Tennessee in 1913 but raised in Detroit, where he became a switch-hitting star of the City’s sandlot leagues. The Tigers signed him but then lost him in 1939, when Kenesaw Mountain Landis ruled that Detroit had violated roster manipulation rules and the Commissioner penalized the organization by declaring several of their prized prospects free agents. Cullenbine then signed for a hefty bonus with the Dodgers, got traded to the Browns and in 1942, got traded again, this time to the Senators.
With WWII raging, every big league team was losing players to military service and when Tommy Henrich joined the Coast Guard in August of the 1942 season, Yankee GM Ed Barrow checked the waiver wire to see if he could pick up another outfielder. He found Cullenbine’s name on the list and claimed him on the last day of August.
Since that season’s Yankee team also had George Selkirk on its roster as the fourth outfielder, it wasn’t clear how much playing time Cullenbine would get from New York’s skipper Joe McCarthy. As it turned out, with the Yanks comfortably ahead of the Red Sox in the AL Pennant race at the time, Marse Joe started Cullenbine just about every game down the stretch so he could give his regulars plenty of rest for the postseason.
Cullenbine took advantage of the opportunity by hitting .364 in the 21 games he played in pinstripes that month, while producing a sky-high .484 OBP. That performance guaranteed him a spot on the Yankees World Series roster. He then played in all five games of the 1942 World Series, batting .263 in New York’s losing effort to the Cardinals.
Most Yankee fans and pundits probably expected to see Cullenbine return to the Bronx on Opening Day 1943. But one week before Christmas in 1942, the Yanks traded him and catcher Buddy Rosar to Cleveland for infielder Oscar Grimes and outfielder Roy Weatherly. The “Walking Man” played real well for the Indians the next two seasons and then got traded back to Detroit, where his big league career ended in the same town it began.
Cullenbine passed away in 1991 in Michigan at the age of 77. He still holds the 38th highest MLB career on base percentage. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee third baseman and this former Yankee reliever.
|DET (5 yrs)||501||1952||1561||268||421||76||11||63||259||10||373||164||.270||.412||.454||.865|
|CLE (3 yrs)||300||1288||1072||167||304||59||9||24||136||7||194||107||.284||.395||.423||.817|
|SLB (3 yrs)||273||1080||867||138||239||47||12||18||143||6||201||97||.276||.414||.420||.834|
|WSH (1 yr)||64||285||241||30||69||19||0||2||35||1||44||18||.286||.396||.390||.787|
|BRO (1 yr)||22||84||61||8||11||1||0||1||9||2||23||11||.180||.405||.246||.651|
|NYY (1 yr)||21||97||77||16||28||7||0||2||17||0||18||2||.364||.484||.532||1.017|
Any newspaper or Web site that covers New York Yankee baseball has offered readers some type of editorial or polling content that focuses on what changes the Yankees need to make during the winter to get back into the postseason in 2014. Who should be signed, who should be released, who should be fired, who should retire, there have been dozens of articles published, offering opinions on the offseason fate of every current Yankee employee from Robbie Cano to Brian Cashman.
Permit me to throw today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant into that mix. Dana Cavalea has been the Yankees’ strength and conditioning coach since 2007. Though I don’t have specific facts to back this up, I’m willing to go out on the limb here and say that the average number of Yankee injuries and disabled list assignments per season have climbed to record levels under Cavalea’s watch, peaking in 2013 when New York was forced to make 28 different disabled list assignments.
You can’t blame Cavalea for broken bones but how many strained quads, rib cages, hamstrings, groins and tendons does it take before you begin to question the soundness of the team’s strength and conditioning program. I know I’m sounding a lot like George Steinbrenner here. For that matter, if the Boss were still running things in both Tampa and the Bronx, Mr. Cavalea would probably be looking for a new job right about now.
I certainly know nothing about strength and conditioning strategies and techniques for modern day athletes and I’m sure Cavalea is well credentialed and highly respected in the field. But when there are more starters on the Yankee DL list than in the team’s starting line-up, something’s got to change, doesn’t it?
Happy birthday Dana and please don’t take what I’ve written above personally or professionally for that matter since I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m just burning off some of the frustration I had left over from the just completed season of sickness.
The only Yankee player born on today’s date gave up playing baseball for golf.
Bill Renna was the prototypical California “golden boy” high school athlete. Born in Hanford, a city in the central part of the state near Fresno, Renna was a three-sport standout with Hollywood good looks. Baseball was his favorite sport, but being six feet three inches tall and over two hundred pounds, the guy was built for football. He earned a scholarship to the University of San Francisco in 1942 but was then drafted into the military.
After being discharged two years later, he was supposed to play on the gridiron for Stanford but a mix-up of his transcripts nixed that opportunity and he ended up in the lower-profile program at Santa Clara. Still, his ability with a football drew the interest of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams but by that time, Renna had decided he wanted to play professional baseball and the Yankees had decided they wanted to sign Renna.
He got off to a great start in the minors, hitting 21 home runs and batting .385 during his first 76-game season of C ball. That earned him a huge leap to triple A ball the following year and he struggled at that level. For the next couple of years that pattern continued. Renna would hit B level pitching well and then falter when he moved up and faced the minor’s upper tier pitching talent.
That changed in 1952. That year, Renna put together a 28 HR – 90 RBI – .295 season for the Yankees top farm team in Kansas City. A few months later, he found himself battling for an Opening Day roster spot in the parent club’s spring training camp. That 1953 Yankee team was a great one and its starting outfield was solid. Casey Stengel started Mickey Mantle in center and mixed and matched Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling and Irv Noren in the other two positions depending on the opposing pitcher. Renna also had to compete against fellow Yankee outfield prospects Bob Cerv and Ellie Howard for any remaining roster spot.
In the end, Stengel brought Renna north and it proved to be a good choice. He spent most of his big league rookie season platooning in left field with Gene Woodling. He got just two starts that April, but in his second one, he hit his first big league home run in Comiskey Park off of the White Sox southpaw, Gene Beardon. What made that blast even more memorable for the rookie was that it was also the rear-end of a back-to-backer with Mantle.
He would end up playing in 61 games that year and averaging a very impressive .314. Though he didn’t get a chance to pay in the Yankees fifth consecutive World Series championship that October, he did win his first and only World Series ring. He never got a chance to win a second one because that December, I think George Weiss was bored so he decided to engineer a huge but inconsequential 11-player trade between New York and the A’s. The most notable player the Yankees got in the deal was first baseman Eddie Robinson, who they really did not need. One of the players Weiss sent to Philly was Renna.
He would start in the A’s 1954 outfield and hit a career high 13 home runs. He then moved with the team to Kansas City, but became a part-time player and pinch hitter in the process. Weiss actually got him back in a deal he made with the A’s in June of the 1956 season that ironically sent Robinson back to the A’s, but Renna was sent to the minors and remained there until he was traded to Boston just before the 1957 season. After another year in the minors, he became a valuable Red Sox pinch hitter during the 1958 season, when his 15 pinch hits produced 18 RBIs.
What hurt Renna’s big league career was the late start he got with the Yankees. Military service and then college made him 24-years-old by the time he got signed and 28 when he made his debut in the Bronx. In an interview just five years ago, Renna told the reporter his one year as a Yankee was the best of his career and he loved every second of it. He said Mantle was the greatest player he ever saw. He ended up quitting baseball after the ’59 season to begin a long career in the concrete industry as a job estimator. He’s still alive and living in California and turns 89 years old today.
|KCA (3 yrs)||256||809||719||97||164||25||7||22||86||2||75||112||.228||.304||.374||.678|
|BOS (2 yrs)||53||89||78||7||17||5||0||4||20||0||11||23||.218||.315||.436||.751|
|NYY (1 yr)||61||137||121||19||38||6||3||2||13||0||13||31||.314||.385||.463||.848|
Walter Blair was a back-up catcher for the New York Highlanders during the first decade of the team’s existence. After playing college ball at Bucknell and spending a couple of seasons in the minors, New York signed him in 1907 to back up their starting receiver at the time, Red Kleinow. By then, the native of Landrus, Pennsylvania was 23-years-old and had developed solid defensive skills behind the plate and a sharp mind for the game. His problem was he couldn’t hit.
It was his offensive inabilities that doomed his one attempt at becoming New York’s starting catcher. In 1911, then manager, Hal Chase pretty much alternated Blair and 22-year-old Jeff Sweeney behind the plate the entire season. Sweeney hit just .231 and still outhit Blair by close to 40 points.
That performance ended Blair’s Highlander and big league career. He went back to the Minors for two seasons and then played in the upstart Federal League for a couple of more. He found he had a knack for helping young ballplayers develop their skills and got into managing and even purchased an interest in a minor league team back in his home state of Pennsylvania. Then in 1917, he took over as the coach of the University of Pittsburgh’s baseball team. Three years later, he moved into the same position for his alma mater, Bucknell. He passed away in 1948 at the age of 64.
|NYY (5 yrs)||216||652||587||35||115||16||6||1||53||8||36||80||.196||.251||.249||.500|
When you charted out Mike Morgan’s big league career it looked like a Vasco de Gama expedition. It began and almost ended when Morgan was just eighteen years old and the property of the irascible owner of the Oakland A’s, Charley Finley. It was 1978 and Finley had mismanaged the A’s World Champion rosters from the early 70′s into distant memories. He was looking for a way to reignite interest in his team and he decided to try and turn his first round draft choice into a teenage phee-nom. The young Morgan, a native of Tulare, California was not up to the task. Though he started strong with a complete game performance in his big league debut against the Orioles, it quickly became apparent the kid was not ready. After going 0-3, he was sent down to the minors, where he should have remained for at least two or three more years. But patience was not one of Finley’s virtues. Morgan was brought back to Oakland the following year and took quite a hammering in the 13 games he appeared.
The Yankees acquired the tall right hander after the 1980 postseason, in exchange for infielder, Fred Stanley. New York pitched Morgan at the double A level for a year and then called him up to the Bronx and made him part of the parent club’s starting rotation, in 1982. He certainly was more ready to face big league hitters as a 22-year-old. His numbers that season weren’t great but there were moments of brilliance that gave the Yankee announcers opportunities to remind listeners of his phee-nom roots and potential. Evidently, the team’s front office wasn’t listening because that December, they sent Morgan, speedy outfielder Dave Collins and future all-star slugger Fred McGriff to the Toronto Blue Jays for a well-traveled reliever named Dale Murray and somebody named Tom Dodd. It would turn out to be a horrible trade by the Yankee front office.
Morgan would go on to pitch 19 more seasons in the Majors and wear the uniforms of ten more big league teams. He would become an All Star with the Dodgers in 1991, set his career-high in wins with 16 a year later while pitching for the Cubs and win a World Series ring with Arizona in2001. He would pitch until 2002, finally hanging up his glove for good at the age of 42.
|CHC (5 yrs)||30||35||.462||3.83||90||90||0||8||2||0||575.2||569||274||245||51||212||316||1.357|
|ARI (3 yrs)||7||6||.538||4.82||120||5||33||0||0||5||173.2||209||97||93||19||66||93||1.583|
|LAD (3 yrs)||33||36||.478||3.06||107||85||8||11||5||1||600.0||543||236||204||37||154||318||1.162|
|SEA (3 yrs)||24||35||.407||4.70||73||66||4||17||3||1||429.1||499||247||224||51||144||203||1.498|
|STL (2 yrs)||9||14||.391||4.55||35||35||0||1||0||0||209.2||232||111||106||24||65||101||1.417|
|OAK (2 yrs)||2||13||.133||6.12||16||16||0||3||0||0||89.2||121||69||61||8||58||17||1.996|
|CIN (2 yrs)||11||15||.423||4.42||36||35||0||1||0||0||189.1||193||100||93||15||56||122||1.315|
|MIN (1 yr)||4||2||.667||3.49||18||17||0||0||0||0||98.0||108||41||38||13||24||50||1.347|
|TEX (1 yr)||13||10||.565||6.24||34||25||1||1||0||0||140.0||184||108||97||25||48||61||1.657|
|NYY (1 yr)||7||11||.389||4.37||30||23||2||2||0||0||150.1||167||77||73||15||67||71||1.557|
|BAL (1 yr)||1||6||.143||5.43||22||10||6||2||0||1||71.1||70||45||43||6||23||29||1.304|
|TOR (1 yr)||0||3||.000||5.16||16||4||2||0||0||0||45.1||48||26||26||6||21||22||1.522|
The Yankees signed this Princeton, Missouri native when he was 21-years-old in 1937 and assigned him to their Class C team in Joplin. During his second year with that ball club he popped 24 home runs and got promoted to the Yanks’ Norfolk, Virginia affiliate in the Class B Piedmont League. That’s when and where Derry really raised some eyebrows by belting 40 home runs during the ’39 season.
Normally, when an organization’s young prospect hits 40 homers at any level it gets him on a pretty fast track to a Major League trial. Unfortunately for this young outfielder, the Yankee team he was trying to make was anything but normal, especially in the outfield. The only outfield problem NY manager Joe McCarthy had to solve each and every game was figuring out who was not going to play. If you got Joe DiMaggio, Charley Selkirk, Tommy Henrich and George Selkirk on your roster, as McCarthy did when Derry hit those 40 homers in the Piedmont league, you’re not going to be too concerned with what your team’s minor league outfielders are doing. So while that 1939 Yankee team led by its glut of All Star outfielders was winning its fourth straight World Series, all Derry’s 40 home run season got him was a ticket to Class A.
It would take seven years and a World War to get Derry his shot at the Yankee outfield. By then he was 27-years-old. By 1944, DiMaggio, Keller, Henrich and Selkirk were all doing hitches in the military and Derry became the parent club’s fourth outfielder that season. He saw his most big league action the following season when he got into 78 games for New York and hit a career high 13 home runs. But he averaged just .225 that year against the second tier of pitching talent that took over the big league mounds during WWII. When the war ended and all the Yankees returned from military service the following year, Derry was sold to the A’s. He hit just .207 for Philadelphia and after one more brief shot with the Cardinals, finished out his playing career in the minors.
|NYY (2 yrs)||116||421||367||51||86||9||2||17||59||2||51||68||.234||.329||.409||.738|
|STL (1 yr)||2||2||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|PHA (1 yr)||69||214||184||17||38||8||5||0||14||0||27||54||.207||.311||.304||.616|
I learned a lot about today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant by reading this excellent article authored by Bill Nowlin for the the Society for American Baseball Research. It describes a young man who believed in the power of education and as a high school student in Philadelphia, was genuinely torn between going to college to pursue a career in medicine or playing professional baseball. In the end, the immediate opportunity to start in Connie Mack’s infield for his hometown Philadelphia A’s was just too compelling for John Knight to pass up.
He would become as much of a national sports sensation as one could back in 1905, before radio, television or the Internet were around, when he was the Opening Day nineteen-year-old starting shortstop for Philadelphia and was leading the league with a .400-plus batting average two weeks into the new season. He wasn’t able to maintain that torrid hitting pace and it would be his inability to hit big league pitching that landed him in the minor leagues, playing for the Baltimore Orioles, by 1908. That August, Knight’s contract was purchased by the New York Highlanders.
Knight realized his future in baseball would depend on his ability to become a better hitter and as he joined his new team, he was determined to do so. His efforts certainly bore some fruit. The Highlanders’ first year manager George Stallings made Knight his team’s starting shortstop in ’09 and he hit a career-high .236. In 1910, his offensive epiphany exploded into a .312 batting average and he followed that up by posting a career-high 62 RBIs in 1911. In just six years, he had transformed himself from an offensive liability into one of the game’s better hitting shortstops and Clark Griffith, the former New York manager who now skippered the Senators, noticed. He made it known that he was interested in acquiring Knight and kept poking the Highlander front office with trade offers for the infielder all during the 2011 season. New York finally bit during the 1912 spring training season when they accepted Washington catcher’s Gabby Street for Knight.
His short stay in our nation’s capitol was a disaster. Griffith started Knight at second base and it seemed as if he forgot how to hit and field, both at the same time. He averaged just .161 during the first half of that year and was then sold to a minor league club in New Jersey. He would end up getting a second chance with the Highlanders after he hit .270 for his Jersey City team during the first half of the 1913 season. He did OK with New York, starting at first base and averaging .236 for a very bad Highlander team but it wasn’t good enough to prevent him from getting sold back to the minors at the end of the year. He would remain a minor league player for the rest of his career, finally retiring for good in 1928, at the age of 42.
Knight’s early career start in the big leagues earned him the most appropriate nickname of ”Schoolboy.” At just over six feet two inches tall, Knight was the tallest shortstop in the big leagues.
|NYY (4 yrs)||435||1714||1494||197||399||59||16||6||171||63||138||213||.267||.338||.340||.678|
|PHA (3 yrs)||202||776||717||63||144||26||4||6||61||11||38||157||.201||.244||.273||.517|
|WSH (1 yr)||32||116||93||10||15||2||1||0||9||4||16||25||.161||.284||.204||.489|
|BOS (1 yr)||98||382||360||31||78||9||3||2||29||8||19||53||.217||.256||.275||.531|