Results tagged ‘ first baseman ’
They were called “Bonus Rules” and before salary caps and luxury taxes existed, they were used to prevent Baseball’s richest teams from signing up all the best amateur talent around the country so their competition could not. Teams like the Yankees would then stock the rosters of their minor league affiliates with these outstanding prospects and keep them down on the farm until they were needed at the big league level or could be sold at hefty profits to other talent-starved organizations.
Major League Baseball’s first Bonus Rule went into effect in 1947. It stated that any amateur player signed by a big league team for a bonus of $4,000 or more had to remain on that team’s 40-man big league roster for a minimum of two full years. If the prospect was removed from the roster before his two years were up, the team lost its contract rights to the player and he was automatically placed on waivers. This rule was repeatedly challenged, put on temporary moratorium and frequently modified but some version of it remained in force right up until Baseball’s Amateur Draft began in 1965. The Bonus Rule is partially credited with destroying the big league career of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
His name was Frank Leja. When he was signed by legendary Yankee scout Paul Krichell, this powerful 6’4″ native of Holyoke, MA was being favorably compared with another first baseman signed by Krichell who was known by the nickname “the Iron Horse.” Leja’s first workout at Yankee Stadium became part of franchise legend. At one point, the young left-handed slugger hit nine of the ten pitches he was thrown into the Stadium’s stands in fair territory. This helps explain why the Yankees paid this kid a $100,000 bonus to sign with them in 1953 and the Bonus Rule helps explain why New York then let this kid spend his first two seasons under contract rotting on their big league bench instead of developing his skills in live-game action as a member of one of their minor league ball clubs.
When the two-year time period expired, Leja was finally sent down. He was still just 20-years-old and the Yankees were hoping that he would simply turn his game-playing switch back on and get his career going. That didn’t happen. He spent the next four seasons hitting a decent number of home runs for Yankee affiliates in Binghamton, New Orleans and Richmond but by the time he might have been really ready for a big league trial, Moose Skowren had a solid hold on the parent club’s first base position. Perhaps if he had been able to spend those first two wasted years after his signing playing instead of sitting, Leja would have been ready to challenge Skowren before big Moose had locked up the job.
The Yankees ended up trading Leja to the Cardinal organization in 1960. His entire Yankee career consisted of nineteen games, eighteen plate appearances and just one hit, all of which took place during his 1954 and ’55 Bonus Rule sit-the-bench mandated seasons. He would eventually get another shot at the big leagues in 1962 as a member of the Los Angeles Angels but that didn’t work out either. Leja passed away at the very young age of 55, in 1991. He shares his February 7th birthday with this one-time Yankee infield prospect.
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Today 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.
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|BOS (2 yrs)||293||1218||1109||162||352||79||10||19||155||17||65||61||.317||.364||.458||.822|
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Along with thousands of Yankee fans, I became a member of the “Lyle Overbay Fan Club” in 2013. When Brian Cashman first signed this native of Centralia, Washington to a minor league contract after the Red Sox cut him during the final week of the 2013 spring training season, I admit I hardly noticed. I knew he had a good glove, but I thought his offensive skills had abandoned him. Though he had a nice stretch of decent years at the plate with both Milwaukee and Toronto earlier in his career, I felt there was no way he’d be able to effectively replace the run production of the now-injured Mark Teixeira and when the 2013 season began, both Cashman and Yankee skipper Joe Girardi fully agreed with me.
The plan was to give Overbay a shot at becoming the short-term answer at first base during the six weeks doctors figured Teixeira would need to recover from his wrist injury. When that six weeks turned into season-ending surgery for the Yankee slugger, Overbay had played well enough in the field and hit just good enough at the plate to permit New York’s front office to continue to delay a bigger more expensive solution to Teixeira’s absence.
The days turned into weeks, the weeks into months and before we knew it, September came around and Overbay was still starting at first for New York. Along the way, he delivered in enough clutch at bats to lead the Yankees in game-winning hits. He was never really spectacular just pretty much always steady and he stayed healthy. If a couple of Cashman’s other “affordable” preseason personnel moves like Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells or Kevin Youklis had followed suit, the Yankees would have made postseason play.
Just this past week, Overbay signed a minor league deal to play for the Brewers in 2014. The Yankees and Yankee fans probably won’t miss him much but I certainly won’t forget his noteworthy contribution to my favorite team during the 2013 regular season. He shares his January 28th birthday with this one-time Yankee announcer and this long ago Yankee second baseman.
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|PIT (1 yr)||103||391||352||40||80||17||1||8||37||1||36||77||.227||.300||.349||.649|
|ATL (1 yr)||20||21||20||1||2||1||0||0||0||0||1||8||.100||.143||.150||.293|
|NYY (1 yr)||142||486||445||43||107||24||1||14||59||2||36||111||.240||.295||.393||.688|
This bespectacled first baseman was born in Snohomish, Washington in 1924. He was not the first Earl born there to end up playing Major League Baseball and become known as the “The Earl of Snohomish.” That honor belonged to the hall of fame outfielder Earl Averill.
The young Earl will never get to Cooperstown but he was a solid big league player during his 15-season career. The best of those seasons was 1950, when he led the National League with 120 runs scored, hitting .290 and driving in 87 runs for the Braves, while the franchise was still in Boston. Earl played the final 22 games of his 1,600-game Major League career with the 1961 Yankees. He was a utility infielder for that great Ralph Houk managed team but was released at the end of August of that season after hitting just .091 in 33 pinstriped at bats. Instead of sending him to the unemployment line, the Yankees made Torgeson a coach.
Torgeson later got into politics back home in Snohomish. He died in Everett Washington in 1980, a victim of leukemia. Averill, the original Earl outlived Torgeson by almost three years but also passed away in the City of Everett.
Also born on New Years Day was this one-time Yankee fireballing phee-nom who graduated from Harvard, won a Bronze Star in WWII and walked away from the pinstripes for a career in banking.
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|PHI (3 yrs)||293||1204||1019||150||277||52||17||17||135||16||160||129||.272||.370||.406||.776|
|DET (3 yrs)||236||831||668||124||181||21||5||22||97||15||151||86||.271||.400||.416||.817|
|NYY (1 yr)||22||26||18||3||2||0||0||0||0||0||8||3||.111||.385||.111||.496|
It was a deal that changed Yankee franchise history. Two weeks before Christmas in 1959 the Yankees sent Hank Bauer, Don Larsen, Norm Siebern and Marvelous Marv Throneberry to Kansas City for Roger Maris, Joe DeMaestri and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. All three of the players New York received in that deal had started for Kansas City during the 1959 season, but only Maris would start once they got to the Bronx. In fact, the Rajah’s unbelievable success during his first two years in the Big Apple, which included two straight AL MVP Awards and baseball’s single season home run record completely obscured Kent Hadleys short time in pinstripes.
After a great collegiate career at USC, the native of Pocatello, Idaho had been signed by the Tigers and spent the next two years playing in Detroit’s farm system. In November of 1957, he was one of thirteen players involved in a swap between Detroit and the A’s. Two years later, he looked like he was becoming a solid big league hitter, popping ten home runs for KC and growing more confident with each at bat. That all ended with the move to New York. With an All Star named Moose Skowren playing first base in front of him, Hadley got just 70 at bats in 1960 and was left off the Yankees’ postseason roster. Still, he hit four home runs that year and during an afternoon in late June, gave Bronx Bomber fans a hint of what might have been if there was room for his left handed bat in that incredible Yankee lineup. New York was playing Detroit in MoTown and Casey Stengel gave Hadley a rare start at first. Batting sixth behind Yogi Berra, the kid hit two bombs off Tiger right-hander Paul Foytack. leading New York to a 7-3 victory.
Released by the Yanks after the 1960 season, he played a year in the White Sox farm system before becoming one of the early US-born baseball playing pioneers to go to Japan. During the next six years he hit 131 home runs for the Nankai Hawks and became a fan favorite.
When his playing days were over, Hadley returned to Pocatello, where he started a successful insurance business. He passed away there in 2005 at the age of 70. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder, this former Yankee starting pitcher and this other one too.
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Tino Martinez was a great Yankee. During his seven seasons in New York, this Tampa native who was born in 1967, drove in 739 runs, hit 192 of his 339 career home runs and won four World Series rings. He also happened to be my wife’s all-time favorite baseball player. So instead of spending the rest of this post describing the biggest highlights of Tino’s career in pinstripes, I’m going to tell you a story about how my wife met Tino Martinez. It happened in my Oldsmobile Minivan outside of Yankee Stadium, about ten years ago and to those of you with your minds in the gutter, it was not “that” type of meeting.
My wife and I had taken our kids to a Yankee Game. As we were leaving the Stadium parking garage I was trying to maneuver the van into a certain exit line so I could take a simple right-hand turn and get onto the Major Deegan Expressway heading north toward home. I had driven to Yankee games at least forty times in my life and had parked in that same garage most of those times. From experience I knew if I used any other exit, barricades would block me from taking a right turn and force me to go left which meant I’d have to spend the next two hours riding through the unfamiliar streets of the South Bronx to get back on the Deegan going in the right direction.
That’s when my wife uttered her famous phrase. “Why are we waiting in this long line? There’s no cars over at that exit why don’t we just go out there?” My immediate reaction was to ignore the question and simply hope she wouldn’t ask it again. No such luck. I don’t remember if it was the third or fourth time she repeated her inquiry that I patiently tried to explain that the reason there were no cars at the other exit was because you couldn’t take a right-hand turn from that location. I tried to point out that every driver in the fifty or so cars in front of us and the one hundred or so vehicles behind us knew that if you took a left instead of a right from this side of the parking garage you would spend the next five hours driving underneath elevated subway platforms and past six thousand auto body shops with pit bulls chained to razor-wire-topped chain link fences, as you cruised aimlessly through South Bronx looking for the one and only sign in the entire borough that directs you to the Deegan North.Her response? ”That’s stupid. I’m sure you can take a right from that exit too. Just go that way. We are going to be stuck in this line forever. I’d go that way if I were driving.”So what did I do? I gave up my place in line and drove to the other exit and sure enough as we drove through the gate the familiar wooden blue NYPD barricades blocked me from taking the right I needed to make and forced me left.
Why did I listen to my wife? Forgive my chauvinism but I know there are many married male readers out there who follow the same rule I do while driving in heavy traffic. If there’s a choice between doing something you know is stupid or not doing it and then getting in an argument with your wife over it, you just follow her stupid advice. Why? Because in the long run, spending two hours lost in the Bronx was better than spending the rest of the ride home and at least the next five days living with a woman who is mad at you for not taking her bad advice.
So I’m now outside the Stadium garage and I’m being forced to head either the wrong way on the Deegan or head back up River Avenue toward the same Stadium we were trying to leave. Usually there was a cop on duty at that corner forcing cars away from the Stadium but for some reason, that day there was just an empty police car sitting there. So I took the left and then I think another left and perhaps another, and before you know it, I had gotten my van onto Ruppert Place which runs right alongside the Stadium itself. In front of me was the same ramp to the Deegan I normally took when I made the correct right hand turn out of the garage. The only thing blocking my path was a huge bus, sitting right there in the middle of the intersection with its passenger door open. We were so close to the bus that we could actually see through the reflective glass of the closed passenger windows.I was about to ask the question, “Isn’t that Tino Martinez in that window?” when I heard my wife screaming at the top of her lungs, ”Teeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeno Marteeeeeeeeeeeeeenez, over here, I love youuuuuu! Teeeeeeno! Teeeeno!”
She was actually standing on the front seat of our minivan and had somehow gotten the entire top three quarters of her body out of the passenger side window yelling as loudly as possible and waving her arms and hands frantically. I had never in my life seen a human being get so excited about seeing a baseball player and evidently, neither had Tino and the rest of the Yankees. My better half (or I should say three quarters of my better half) was making such a commotion that Constantino “Tino” Martinez actually opened his passenger window, laughing at my wife’s enthusiasm, and yelled hello and waved to her. As the bus began to move, me and the kids were able to successfully pull my wife’s contorted body out of the window and get her buckled back into her seat. As we made our way back up the New York State Thruway that evening and I listened to my wife and kids talk and laugh about our encounter with the Yankee player’s bus, I was glad I took that stupid left instead of waiting in line to make my usual right.
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|SEA (6 yrs)||543||2139||1896||250||502||106||6||88||312||3||198||309||.265||.334||.466||.801|
|STL (2 yrs)||288||1123||987||129||264||50||3||36||144||4||111||142||.267||.345||.434||.778|
|TBD (1 yr)||138||538||458||63||120||20||1||23||76||3||66||72||.262||.362||.461||.823|
Born in Richmond, CA, Dale Sveum was the Milwaukee Brewers’ first round draft choice in 1982 and considered to be the heir apparent to the great Robin Yount. By 1987, in just his second year in the big leagues, the 23-year-old switch hitter blasted 25 home runs and drove in 95 as Milwaukee’s starting shortstop. He would continue playing through 1999 and never again come close to matching either of those numbers.
The Brewers gave up on him after the 1991 season and traded him to the Phillies. During the next five years he played for five different teams. The Yankees signed him as a free agent in November of 1997 and the following April, he was on the Opening Day roster of a Yankee team that was about to win more regular season games than any team in franchise history. Sveum spelled Tino Martinez at first base plus saw some occasional time at the hot corner. What he didn’t do was hit. At the All Star break his average was just .155 and the Yanks gave him his walking papers.
After an unsuccessful comeback try with the Pirates the following year, his big league career was over. He got into coaching and in 2008, he became the interim manager of the Brewers for the last 12 games of the season. In 2012, Theo Epstein hired Sveum to manage the Chicago Cubs. Epstein himself had just been hired as the team’s president and given free reign to rebuild the organization from the bottom up. He had chosen Sveum as the new skipper because his plan was to bring Chicago’s best prospects up and play them. That required a manager who could communicate with and develop young talent and Epstein felt those were Sveum’s greatest strengths. Unfortunately, after two years of putting this plan in action, the performances of the Cub prospects had regressed. When Epstein fired Sveum the day after the 2013 regular season ended, he absolved his departing skipper for the failure of those prospects to develop, inferring that the organization may have simply overestimated their abilities.
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|CHW (1 yr)||40||131||114||15||25||9||0||2||12||1||12||29||.219||.287||.351||.638|
His full name was Robert Hamilton Hyatt. Fred Leib, one of a small group of widely read sportswriters who helped give early 20th century New York City baseball its amazing color, described today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant as “one of the game’s greatest pinch-hitters.” If Leib wrote it, it must have been true.
Ham Hamilton was the first player in baseball history to amass 50 pinch-hits during his career. The native of North Carolina made his big league debut with the 1909 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates and instantly exhibited a penchant for coming off the bench in key situations and delivering big hits. He averaged .299 that year and in the process he impressed Fred Clarke enough with his stick work that the Pittsburgh manager tried to make him the team’s starting first baseman the following season. That experiment failed because in addition to being a poor defensive player, Hyatt just didn’t seem to hit as well when he got more than one chance per game to do so.
Probably because the Pirates didn’t think they could afford the luxury of carrying a full-time pinch-hitter, Hyatt went back to the minors in 1911. He would reappear in Pittsburgh the following season however and remained with the team as their primary pinch-hitter for the next three years. When his average took a precipitous dip to just .215 in 1915, the Pirates put him on waivers and he was claimed by the Cardinals. It was in St. Louis that Hyatt met future Yankee manager Miller Huggins, who was the starting second baseman on that 1915 St. Louis team. The two men became good friends.
Three years later, Huggins was in his first season as manager for New York and with World War I causing a shortage of ballplayers, Hug needed a left handed bat for his bench. At the time, Hyatt’s contract was owned by the Boston Braves but he was playing for a minor league team in the Southern Association and leading that league in home runs. When the Yankees were able to purchase his contract from the Braves in June of that 1918 season, the one-time Cardinal teammates were reunited. Huggins gave his old buddy plenty of playing time but Ham was 33-years-old by then and could only manage a .229 batting average during his first season in New York. There would be no second season. Hyatt would end up playing in the Pacific Coast League until 1923, finally retiring for good at the age of 38.
Ham Hyatt shares his birthday with another WWI era Yankee.
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|STL (1 yr)||106||330||295||23||79||8||9||2||46||3||28||24||.268||.337||.376||.714|
|NYY (1 yr)||53||142||131||11||30||8||0||2||10||1||8||8||.229||.273||.336||.609|
Joseph Anthony Pepitone was born on October 9, 1940 in Brooklyn. He came up to the Yankees in 1962 and took over the starting first baseman’s job from one of my favorite players in Pinstripes, Bill Moose Skowron. We long-time Yankee FAN-atics will always consider the November 1962 trade that sent Skowron to the Dodgers for pitcher Stan Williams as the first crack in the crumbling of the original Yankee dynasty.
Pepitone may have had better baseball skills than the Moose but he lacked the unselfishness and professional discipline of his Yankee predecessor. Unlike Skowron, who was extremely self-critical, “Pepi” tended to blame his failures on the field on everyone else but himself. He thought he could work hard during the game and play hard at all other times. As the Yankees continued to lose their veteran players to age and injuries, Pepitone’s lack of maturity and good judgment prevented him from filling that growing vacuum in Yankee team leadership.
Still, in 1966 when my beloved Bombers finished in last place in the American League and Mickey Mantle was officially converted from an “injured superstar” into an “aging has-been,” Joe Pepitone’s 31 home run season gave us Yankee fans hope. His graciousness in switching starting positions with the Mick one season later to help prolong Mantle’s career added luster to Pepitone’s Yankee-fan friendly image. By 1969, however, Pepitone’s diminishing batting average and power numbers along with his continuing off-the-field antics had all worn thin on the fans and few complained when Joe was traded to the Astros for a guy named Curt Blefary. In 1975, Pepitone wrote his autobiography with Barry Stainback. It was called “Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud.” I recommend it to any student of Yankee history and any fan of Pepitone.
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|CHC (4 yrs)||268||1049||966||127||274||36||6||39||144||5||60||84||.284||.328||.454||.782|
|ATL (1 yr)||3||12||11||0||4||0||0||0||1||0||1||1||.364||.417||.364||.780|
|HOU (1 yr)||75||299||279||44||70||9||5||14||35||5||18||28||.251||.298||.470||.767|
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.
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|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|
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