Results tagged ‘ designated hitter ’

September 21 – Happy Birthday Cecil Fielder

If you’re a Yankee fan who is at least twenty years old, you probably remember Cecil Fielder well. He was born on today’s date in 1963, in Los Angeles. The Yankees acquired the slugging first baseman from Detroit during the 1996 season in a move designed to get some right-handed power on their bench. Fielder filled that role perfectly, blasting 13 home runs and driving in 68 in just 98 games.

When starting first baseman, Tino Martinez slumped in the AL playoffs and New York fell behind 2-0 in the ’96 World Series against the Braves, Joe Torre started Fielder at first in the DH-less games in Atlanta and benched Martinez. Cecil responded with an overall .391 average in that Series and because Tino ended up hitting just .091 against Atlanta, many Big Apple sports pundits predicted Fielder would see a lot more action at first base for New York, in ’97. That rumor gained even more traction during the off-season, when the Yankee front-office let it be known that they were considering offering the big guy a three-year contract extension.

That’s when Fielder and his agent over-played their hand and started making some hefty demands involving dollars. The Yankees backed off and New York fans responded to Fielder’s whining by turning on the huge slugger when the 97 season got underway. Fielder’s Yankee fate was sealed when he broke his thumb that July while Martinez was simultaneously in the process of putting together the season of his life, hitting 44 homers and driving in 141 runs. The Yankees’ released Cecil following their playoff loss that year to the Indians.

Since that time, published reports alleging Fielder had severe gambling problems certainly help explain why Fielder seemed to behave so greedily during that 1996 off-season negotiation. We also have since learned that Cecil’s look-alike son Prince, now a big league slugger in his own right, had pretty much disowned the elder Fielder years ago, disgusted with his Father’s gambling habits and resulting money problems. I read one article that claimed Cecil took half of Prince’s bonus money when his son signed with the Brewers.

Too bad for the Fielders and too bad for Major League Baseball. After all, these two guys are the only father and son combination to both hit fifty home runs in a big league season. They should be doing commercials together. Cecil earned close to $50 million playing the game and Prince will probably quadruple that amount by the end of his own career. Ordinary fans struggling to pay their property taxes, health insurance premiums and grocery bills have a real difficult time comprehending how money ever gets to be a divisive issue with athletes who have so God darn much of it, especially when those athletes are father and son.

In any event, the Yankees might not have won that 1996 World Championship without Cecil Fielder.  I hope he gets his priorities and his problems straightened out and finds some peace in the years ahead.

Fielder shares his September 21st birthday with another former big league star who got traded to the Yankees late in his career and who also had to do battle with a debilitating personal demon. This long-ago Yankee outfielder was also born on this date.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1996 NYY 53 228 200 30 52 8 0 13 37 0 24 48 .260 .342 .495 .837
1997 NYY 98 425 361 40 94 15 0 13 61 0 51 87 .260 .358 .410 .768
13 Yrs 1470 5939 5157 744 1313 200 7 319 1008 2 693 1316 .255 .345 .482 .827
DET (7 yrs) 982 4252 3674 558 947 141 4 245 758 2 519 926 .258 .351 .498 .849
TOR (4 yrs) 220 558 506 67 123 19 2 31 84 0 46 144 .243 .308 .472 .781
NYY (2 yrs) 151 653 561 70 146 23 0 26 98 0 75 135 .260 .352 .440 .793
CLE (1 yr) 14 37 35 1 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 13 .143 .189 .171 .361
ANA (1 yr) 103 439 381 48 92 16 1 17 68 0 52 98 .241 .335 .423 .757
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/21/2013.

August 17 – Happy Birthday Butch Hobson

hobsonGeorge Steinbrenner loved the game of football and the toughness of football players. He also loved taking shots at reclamation projects. When the Yanks acquired former Red Sox starting third baseman, Butch Hobson from the Angels just before the ’82 season opened,  “the Boss” probably was the happiest guy in the team’s front office.

Born in Tuscaloosa, AL on August 17, 1951, I surmise that one of the reasons Hobson was forced to become as tough a guy as he did was because his parents named him Clell Lavern. It wasn’t too long I’m sure, before the nickname “Butch” took hold as Hobson became a legendary high school athlete in his home state. He ended up going to the University of Alabama and played football under the legendary Bear Bryant plus started for the Crimson Tide baseball team. On the gridiron, he was a starting safety and a backup quarterback but after three years of playing both sports, he gave up the pigskin his senior year to focus on baseball.

The Red Sox selected him in the 8th round of the 1973 draft and after three and a half seasons of minor league ball and one cup-of-coffee look-see during the 1975 season, Hobson went to Boston for good in June of 1976.

He eventually replaced Rico Petrocelli as the Red Sox’ starting third baseman, becoming a favorite of then new Boston skipper Don Zimmer. His breakout season came in 1977, when he smashed 30 home runs and 112 RBIs, while playing on joints that had been banged and bruised from an entire lifetime of football. He slumped a bit in 1978, the year of Bucky Dent’s blast and the Red Sox’ infamous late-season collapse to the Yankees. He had one more good season in Boston in 1979 before injuries cut more deeply into his playing time in 1980. That was the same season Zimmer was let go by the Red Sox and in 1980, Hobson and shortstop Rick Burleson were traded to the Angels for outfielder Rick Miller, third baseman Carney Lansford and pitcher Mark Clear.

His ’81 season in California was a nightmare. He hit just .235, was constantly playing hurt plus the players strike that year disrupted play. The following March, he became a Yankee. At the time, Graig Nettles, New York’s All Star third baseman was getting up there in age (37) and getting more and more on Steinbrenner’s nerves with his biting criticisms of the owner’s management style. Yankee fans back then just knew nothing would please old George more than being able to replace Nettles with Hobson as New York’s starter at the hot corner.

That didn’t happen. Nettles cooperated by hitting just .237 that year with only 55 RBIs but Hobson hit a putrid .172 and his throwing shoulder was so damaged he didn’t see an inning of play at third base. His Major League playing career was over, but Hobson wasn’t ready to quit. He played three more full seasons for the Yankee Triple A Columbus Clipper farm club, he became a minor league manager in the Mets’ system and then the Red Sox. In October of 1991, Boston hired him to replace Joe Morgan as the parent club’s skipper.

He would last three losing seasons as Red Sox field boss. According to Don Zimmer, his old skipper and his Red Sox bench coach during the 1992 season, Hobson’s drinking during his time as Boston manager had gotten out of hand. As everyone would later find out, alcohol wasn’t Butch’s only demon. The Red Sox fired him after the 1994 season, replacing him with Kevin Kennedy. It was during the 1996 season, while managing for the Phillies Scranton-Wilkes Barre team that he was arrested for possession of cocaine. Hobson later admitted he had been a user of that drug.

Hobson is still managing in the independent Atlantic League for the Lancaster Barnstormers. He turns 62 years old today.

Hobson shares his birthday with this great Yankee catcher and this one-time reliever.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1982 NYY 30 60 58 2 10 2 0 0 3 0 1 14 .172 .183 .207 .390
8 Yrs 738 2799 2556 314 634 107 23 98 397 11 183 569 .248 .297 .423 .719
BOS (6 yrs) 623 2429 2230 285 561 98 19 94 358 10 147 495 .252 .296 .439 .735
CAL (1 yr) 85 310 268 27 63 7 4 4 36 1 35 60 .235 .321 .336 .657
NYY (1 yr) 30 60 58 2 10 2 0 0 3 0 1 14 .172 .183 .207 .390
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/17/2013.

July 2 – Happy Birthday Jose Canseco

The first and only time I attended a game at Fenway Park was a July 17, 1996 night game between the Red Sox and the Yankees. As I settled into the most incredibly uncomfortable seat I had ever been in, the Yankees were surprisingly running away with the AL East Pennant, holding a nine game lead at the time over the Orioles and a full fifteen-game margin over third place Boston. Unfortunately, Kenny Rogers was on the mound for New York and he was facing Boston’s Tom Flash Gordon, who was in his last year as a starter. As usual when he wore the pinstripes, Rogers was not very effective that evening. He was knocked out in the fifth inning after loading the bases, with Boston leading 3-2. Joe Torre brought in Jim Wickman and the right-hander promptly gave up a bases-clearing double. When Wickman put two more Red Sox on base in the sixth, Torre replaced him with big Jeff Nelson.

The first batter Nelson faced was Jose Canseco, who had began his big league career as one of the Oakland A “Bash Brothers” with an end-of-the-season call-up in September of 1985. The following year he hit 33 home runs and was named AL Rookie of the Year. Two seasons later he led the league with 42 home runs and 124 RBIs plus he hit .307 and stole 40 bases becoming the first member ever of MLB’s 40-40 club. He also won the AL MVP that year. During those early years of his career, he was considered one of baseball’s greatest rising stars but as we later learned, that rise was being fueled with human rocket fuel.

Canseco’s string of injuries and DL stays began in 1989. By ’92, the A’s decided he was expendable and they traded him to Texas for Jeff Russell, Ruben Sierra, Mike Witt and money. He spent large portions of his two plus years with the Rangers on the DL. Boston then signed him as a free agent after the 1995 season and again he couldn’t seem to stay healthy. That’s what confused me about Canseco’s later admission of steroid use. I always thought steroids helped athletes not just train harder but also overcome injuries quicker. Jose must have been getting some bad drugs, no?

In any event, Canseco was not on the DL that night I visited Fenway and he had worked the count to 3-2 against the curve-balling Nelson. I will never forget the results of the next pitch. Canseco hit it on a line toward the green monster. I swear, as it passed my eye level, I could hear the ball swoosh. It was still rising when it went over the Green Monster. It remains to this day the hardest hit baseball I have ever seen in my lifetime. To put it in perspective, think back to all those famous bombs Mark McGuire hit during the All Star Home Run Derby contest held at Fenway in 1999. Canseco’s cannon shot was hit harder and travelled further than every one of them. Canseco’s three run blast made the score 9-2 and half of the Fenway crowd got up and left, thinking the game was over. We were able to move to much more comfortable seats behind home plate and as soon as we did the Yankees mounted a comeback. In fact, New York scored nine runs over the last three innings to take the lead. But John Wetteland failed to hold it and Boston ended up with a 12-11 victory in what turned out to be one of the most exciting baseball games I’ve ever seen live.

That home run turned out to be Canseco’s last one of the 1996 season and his final one as a Red Sox. A few weeks later he was again on the DL. The final five years of his career were spent playing for five different teams. They included the Yankees, in 2000. He had been placed on waivers by Tampa Bay that year and New York had picked him up. He appeared in 37 games as a Yankee and hit six of his seventeen-year career total of 462 home runs while wearing the pinstripes. He has since become one of the most controversial ex-big-leaguers of all time.

Update: The above post was originally written in 2010. It has become pretty clear since Canseco’s playing days ended, that his life has turned into a publicity hunting freak show. His long baseball career has become pretty much an afterthought in the memory of most fans who when they think of Jose now, see him testifying in front of that congressional committee hearing in 2005. But like it or not, Canseco changed the course of baseball history. As baseball fans around the world marveled at the almost superhuman achievements of modern day ballplayers like McGuire and Bonds, Jose pulled back the curtain on their games and showed us all that a critical component of their magic came from a needle or from an ingredient in a rubbing cream. Jim Bouton did it with amazing skill forty years earlier and Canseco’s story-telling paled by comparison, but both men simply told the truth about how those who played the game lived their lives while doing it.

Canseco shares his July 2nd birthday with this former Yankee reliever.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2000 NYY 37 137 111 16 27 3 0 6 19 0 23 37 .243 .365 .432 .797
17 Yrs 1887 8129 7057 1186 1877 340 14 462 1407 200 906 1942 .266 .353 .515 .867
OAK (9 yrs) 1058 4531 3970 662 1048 186 8 254 793 135 469 1096 .264 .344 .507 .851
TEX (3 yrs) 193 849 733 126 197 37 3 45 151 22 100 200 .269 .363 .512 .874
TBD (2 yrs) 174 766 648 106 176 33 1 43 125 5 99 200 .272 .373 .525 .898
BOS (2 yrs) 198 882 756 132 225 47 2 52 163 7 105 175 .298 .389 .571 .960
NYY (1 yr) 37 137 111 16 27 3 0 6 19 0 23 37 .243 .365 .432 .797
CHW (1 yr) 76 306 256 46 66 8 0 16 49 2 45 75 .258 .366 .477 .843
TOR (1 yr) 151 658 583 98 138 26 0 46 107 29 65 159 .237 .318 .518 .836
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/2/2013.