Results tagged ‘ first baseman ’
One of the things that has changed most about the Major League game between the time I started following the Yankees and now is the balance of trade when it comes to Major League Baseball and baseball in Japan.
Before WWII, the people of Japan had fallen in love with the game of baseball and Babe Ruth became just as popular in the Land of the Rising Sun as he was in our country. WWII of course changed the dynamic between the two countries. By the time I was Bradley’s age in the late 1950s, the bitter feelings and suspicions we Americans and the Japanese had for each other still lingered and carried over to each country’s professional baseball leagues. At the same time, however, the game of baseball was a passion shared by both peoples and it was that passion for a common game that would eventually help bring us together again.
The first American to play professional baseball in Japan after the War was a Japanese American and former NFL running back named Wally Yonamine, who played there in 1951. The first Japanese player to play in America was a left handed pitcher named Masanori Murakami who played for the Giants in 1964 and 65. By the time I was a teenager, the Japanese professional leagues had become a common destination for American players who were not quite good enough to make the rosters of Major League teams. By the time my sons were born in the late seventies and early eighties, Major League veterans, who’s best playing days were behind them in the US were finding new markets for their slowing bats and fast balls on the other side of the Pacific.
It took until 1995 for the pendulum to begin swinging and it was the one-time Yankee, Hideki Nomo who got it going in the other direction, when he signed to pitch with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees first ever Japanese born roster member was pitcher Hideki Irabu, who began his career in pinstripes in July of 2007. The greatest Japanese-born Yankee to date has been Hideki Matsui. The big league successes of guys like Nomo, Matsui and especially Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki, have caused every Major League franchise to both begin and then expand their scouting operations in Japan.
Orestes Destrade was a classic example of a young Major League prospect who struggled to make a big league roster and then traveled to Japan and became a star in that country’s version of the same sport. I can remember when he hit a bunch of homers as a minor-leaguer for the Albany-Colonie Yankees during their 1985 season. The Yankees had predicted this left-hand-hitting Cuban native would be a thirty-home-run hitter, playing in Yankee Stadium. That never happened. He failed to hit a home run during his nine-game, 1987 stint in pinstripes. He had much more success in Japan, leading the league in home runs for three straight seasons from 1990-’92. He then returned to the States and managed to hit 20 round trippers for Seattle in 1993.
This one-time Yankee catcher was also born on May 8.
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|PIT (1 yr)||36||53||47||2||7||1||0||1||3||0||5||17||.149||.226||.234||.460|
|NYY (1 yr)||9||24||19||5||5||0||0||0||1||0||5||5||.263||.417||.263||.680|
Don Mattingly’s first game in a Yankee uniform took place in 1982, the season after the Yankees lost a World Series to the LA Dodgers. His career in pinstripes lasted until 1995. One year later the Yankees would finally make it back to the Fall Classic, with their victory over Atlanta. “Donnie Baseball” was the first person I thought about when New York third baseman Charlie Hayes squeezed the foul-popped final out of the 1996 World Series in his glove.
During his first six full seasons with New York, Mattingly averaged 203 hits per year, 27 home runs, 114 RBIs and hit .327. He also made the All Star team each of those seasons, won five Gold Gloves for his outstanding play at first base and was voted AL MVP in 1985. During that period, he was the best and most popular player in baseball and he along with Dave Winfield made the Yankees perennial contenders in the very tough AL East.
Even though they missed the playoffs every year, those Mattingly-Winfield-led Yankee teams played every inning of every game with a hustle and determination that made you proud to be a Yankee fan. In 1990, Mattingly injured his back and it never fully healed. The impact of the injury on his swing and his power was immediate, significant and permanent. Still he persevered, playing six more seasons. I remember feeling so bad for him when a strike ended the 1994 regular season and prevented the Yankees, who were in first place at the time, from playing in Mattingly’s first-ever postseason. Fortunately, New York did get there in ’95. Those of us who followed him closely throughout his career will never forget his outstanding performance during those five October games against the Mariners. He had ten hits in that series with a homer and six RBIs and he averaged .417. Even though New York lost, Mattingly’s farewell effort to Yankee fans was one of the most poignant moments in franchise history. Donnie Baseball turns fifty-two-years-old today. I still miss watching him play the game.
Mattingly shares his birthday with this long-ago New York outfielder.
Having seven bonafide candidates for the five spots in the Yankees’ 2012 starting rotation is certainly one of Joe Gerardi’s spring training dilemmas this year. But it pales in comparison to the crowd of first basemen Casey Stengel dealt with back in 1949. Stengel, however, loved platooning his ballplayers and he had a veritable ball with that particular Yankee team. To begin with, Joe DiMaggio was disabled with a sore heel that year, so Stengel shuffled his three outfield spots among Hank Bauer, Johnny Lindell, Gene Woodling and Cliff Mapes. At third base, he had the good fielding Billy “the Bull” Johnson and the good hitting but horrible fielding future doctor, Bobby Brown. His two alternatives at second were Snuffy Stirnweiss and Jerry Coleman. But it was at first that the Ol Perfessor had a real logjam. The veteran ex-outfielder, Tommy Henrich was considered the starter but he was joined by fellow first-sackers, Jack Phillips, Fenton Mole, Joe Collins and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Dick Kryhoski.
I know that baseball fans in my hometown of Amsterdam New York were rooting for Kryhoski to make Stengel’s cut. That’s because he had spent part of his first year in the Yankee organization playing for the Amsterdam Rugmakers, New York’s old Class C affiliate in the Canadian American League. Not only did the Livonia, NJ native make the parent club that spring, he also returned to Amsterdam when the Yankees squared off against the Rugmakers in an exhibition and thrilled the crowd with a home run that day.
As the season began, Stengel inserted Kryhoski at first quite a bit to give the then-36-year-old Henrich a breather. Though both he and Henrich batted from the left side, Stengel played him almost exclusively against right-handed pitching. If you played first base for the Yankees and swung from the left side, you better have been able to pull the ball into the old Stadium’s short right field porch. Kryhoski’s inability to do so frustrated Casey and even though the kid had his batting average up over .300, it did not prevent Casey from looking for a better alternative among the aforementioned group of first-sackers already in the Yankee organization. When none of them caught fire, the Yankees went out and purchased “the Big Cat,” Johnny Mize from the cross-town Giants and Kryhoski’s days in Pinstripes were effectively over. He did hit .291 during his rookie season. That December, he was traded to the Tigers. He ended up playing two seasons in Detroit, three seasons for the Browns/Orioles and one more with the A’s. He retired in 1955, with a .265 career average in 569 big league games. He passed away in 2007 at the age of 82.
I guarantee you that very few Yankee fans have ever heard of Steve Souchok. That’s too bad because the guy was a genuine hero, not on the baseball field but on the battlefield. Souchok’s story begins in a town called Yatesboro, Pennsylvania, in the heart of coal-mining country, where he was born on March 3, 1919. He became a great high school athlete but he couldn’t think about college because with the country in the midst of a depression, his coal-miner Dad became ill and Souchok needed to find a job. He went to Detroit, hoping to work in the auto industry but grew homesick and returned to Yatesboro. He got a tryout with a Washington Senator farm team in nearby Greensberg. They offered him $65 a month to play for the team but within a year, the club went bankrupt and Souchok became the property of the New York Yankees. During the next three seasons he developed rapidly as a ballplayer but America’s entry into WWII changed his career path. He turned in his bat for a gun. Souchok enlisted in the army and was sent to France where he was made part of a tank destroyer battalion. He eventually became commander of his own gun crew. He would take that crew all the way to Germany during the final two years of the War, fighting so valiantly along the way that he was awarded both a silver and a bronze star. If you know any military veterans ask them what it takes to win either of these medals. Better yet, Google these commendations and find out for yourself. It will help you better understand the sort of exceptional soldier Steve Souchok actually was.
By the time the war ended and he got back to baseball, Souchok was already 27-years-old. To accommodate all the ballplayers returning from service to their country, Major League Baseball expanded the big league rosters from 25-to-30 players. Those five extra slots made it possible for Souchok to make his big league debut in pinstripes during the 1946 season and it was a pretty decent opening act for the returning war hero. He appeared in 46 games that season, mostly as a backup first baseman. He got 26 hits in 86 at bats to average .302 and hit his first two big league home runs. The following year, Souchok’s batting average fell 100 points and the well-stocked Yankees gave up on him, trading him to the White Sox. Souchok would spend just one season in the Windy City before returning to Detroit, where he was once a homesick auto worker. He would remain with the Tigers as a utility player for the final five years of his big league career, never earning a starting position during that time. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 83.
This Brooklyn-born Hall-of-Fame, former Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee starting pitcher also celebrate birthdays today.
By the early nineties it had become pretty evident that Don Mattingly was never going to regain the stroke that had made him the very best hitter in baseball during the first half of his career. The Yankees would need to find a new first baseman in the very near future and the question became would they go the free agent route, make a trade or was their a prospect down in the minors who had the game to at least attempt to fill “Donnie Baseball’s” hard-to-fill cleats. The best first base prospect at the time in New York’s farm system was today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant.
Jack Thomas Snow, better known as “J. T.” had the genetics of a professional athlete. His Dad was the great All-Pro receiver for the LA Rams, Jack Snow. The younger Snow played his college ball at the University of Arizona and the Yankees had selected him in the fifth round of the 1989 Amateur Draft. I saw him play for the Albany Colonie Yankees in the Eastern League in 1991. He had both a good bat and a fine glove. By 1992 he had made it to the top rung of New York’s farm system and put together a strong season for the Columbus Clippers, averaging .313 with 15 home runs and 78 RBIs. That was also the year that Snow made his big league debut via a seven-game call-up with New York in late September.
As it turned out, the Yankees needed started pitching back then more than they needed a replacement for Mattingly. In December of ’92, they went after the Angels one-handed starter, Jim Abbott. New York had to include Snow in the deal to close it. Getting a chance to watch the remarkable Abbott pitch regularly was certainly a thrill for me but California had gotten the best player in that trade. Snow started at first immediately for the Angels. By 1995, he had won his first Gold Glove and also hit 24 home runs and drove in 102 for California. But when he slumped at the plate the following season, the Halo’s traded him to the Giants, where he would play for the next nine years. His best years in San Fran were his first four, when he won the Gold Glove for first basemen each year while averaging 22 home runs and 94 RBIs per season. By then, Tino Martinez had also replaced Mattingly in New York. Martinez would prove to be the better choice for the Yankees but I’ve always felt J.T. Snow would have handled the job pretty well, himself. We’ll never know.
Snow shares his birthday with this former and pretty famous Yankee third-string catcher and this Yankee pitcher from the roaring twenties.
I absolutely loved watching Paul O’Neill play baseball for the Yankees. I do admit, however, I had my doubts about the deal New York made with Cincinnati to bring him to the Bronx. To get O’Neill in the November 1992 transaction, the Yankees had to give up their starting center fielder at the time, Roberto Kelly. I’m sure there are some of you who have just read the previous line and are asking yourself one of two questions: ”Roberto who?” or “Is this guy kidding?” Not so fast.
If you can remember the Yankee team that was on the field in the very late eighties and very early-nineties than you know how really bad that team was. In 1990, for example, New York finished dead last in the Major Leagues with a .241 batting average. Their lineup cards back then could have been mistaken for a list of players who had just cleared waivers. The only bonafide superstar they had was Don Mattingly and by then his crippled back had forever changed his once classic swing. The only player in their starting lineup who could run, hit, hit with power, field, and throw was Kelly. Perhaps his five tools may not have been of the Craftsman variety, but the guy was the very best all-around player on that Yankee team and I admit I cringed when I read they had just traded him away for Paul O’Neill.
Of course I knew little about O’Neill. I remembered him a bit from the 1990 playoffs. I was rooting for the Reds in that postseason because Sweet Lou Piniella was their manager at the time. O’Neill had a very good NLCS against the Pirates that October but then disappeared and was hardly a factor in Cincinnati’s surprising four-game sweep of the A’s in the World Series. A review of his stats during his time playing with the Reds also underwhelmed you. He hit just .259 during his eight years there and I clearly remember thinking that Piniella was pulling a “get-even” fast one on his old employer by helping to convince the Yankees to trade O’Neill for Kelly.
Simply put, if I were the Yankee GM in November of 1992, I would not have made that deal. (I was so bad at judging the talent of baseball players that my brother-in-law, who co-managed a Little League baseball team with me when both our sons played, would tell me the annual player draft began at 8:30 PM when it actually started two hours earlier.)
In any event, Paul O’Neill went onto become not just a great Yankee but one of my all-time favorite Yankees. He and Bernie Williams took over their starting outfield positions together on that 1993 team and within a year, helped transform New York into perennial postseason participants who would go on to capture four World Series flags. Getting the opportunity to watch O’Neill play regularly, I was amazed at how good he was defensively out in right. I also quickly realized how perfect his swing was for Yankee Stadium. The .259 career hitter as a Red became a .303 hitter during his nine seasons in pinstripes. We could count on him to provide 20 homers and right around 100 RBIs every season.
Though he was so instrumental in turning the Yankees into winners, ironically it was during a Yankee defeat that I feel O’Neill gave us his greatest moment in pinstripes. It was the dramatic five-game 1997 ALDS between New York and Cleveland. In the opener, O’Neill’s homer contributed to an 8-6 Yankee victory. He then hit a grand slam and drove in five runs in Game 3 to once again give New York a one-game edge. Then in Game 5, with New York down by a run and just a single out from elimination, O’Neill came to the plate and faced Cleveland’s ace closer, Jose Mesa. Every Yankee fan watching that day can still picture O’Neill’s bullet-like drive hitting Jacobs Field’s center field wall, just inches from becoming a game-tying home run. But it was O’Neill’s harrowing slide into second base on that play, just ahead of Marquis Grissom’s outstanding throw, that I will always remember. I thought he had knocked himself out during the slide but he stood himself up and when he saw a pinch-runner heading toward second, he angrily tried to wave him back to the dugout. That pinch-runner did not score and Cleveland won that game and the Series, but with that one play, O’Neill proved he was indeed a “Warrior” in pinstripes.
One of the things I’ve truly missed since O’Neill retired is watching him go nuts on himself in the Yankee dugout after a bad at bat and seeing his Yankee teammates try to keep from laughing at his antics. Hearing New York fans serenade him with their “Paul O’Neill” chant during the final Yankee home game in the 2001 World Series was also an absolute great moment in Yankee franchise history.
Imagine if at some time during the 2012 season, Joe Girardi held a press conference after a Yankee defeat to announce to the media that he suspected Mark Teixeira had just purposely played poorly in that game. How would the public react if Girardi went on to accuse Teixeira of throwing the game for gambling reasons? Then try to comprehend Teixeira pleading his case to Hal Steinbrenner, who ends up believing his star first baseman’s story, fires Girardi, and names Teixeira, of all people, to become the next Yankee manager. Unbelievable! Right? Such a course of events involving the current star Yankee first baseman is beyond the realm of imagination of today’s baseball fans. But this is exactly what happened to the very first star first baseman in the franchise’s history.
Hal Chase became the regular New York Highlander first baseman in 1905 and remained in that position for a little more than eight seasons and over 1,000 games. “Prince Hal” was a smart and gifted athlete who immediately became a fan favorite in New York. It was Chase who first began the now accepted defensive strategy of charging the plate in likely sacrifice situations. He also pioneered the practice of moving into the outfield to receive and relay cut-off throws. In addition to being an excellent and innovative fielder, Chase was also a strong hitter and a great base runner. He had a .291 lifetime batting average and his 248 stolen bases made him the all-time Yankee base stealer until Willie Randolph and Ricky Henderson passed him seven decades later.
Chase, however, had one passion greater than his love for baseball and that was money. Perhaps, if he lived in today’s era of free agency and multi-million dollar contracts, his story and career would have had a different ending. But at the turn of the century, professional baseball players were not paid royally. As a result, many of them were forced to earn a living doing other things.
Before the 1908 season, Chase tried holding out on the Yankees, to force team management to pay him more money. Even though the tactic was successful, Chase still jumped to the outlawed California league and played for the San Jose franchise using a fake name. Caught in this charade, Chase was suspended by the Highlanders but his immense popularity with New York fans quickly got him reinstated. It was after this episode that Chase’s reputation as an unsavory character began to emerge.
His manager, George Stallings, began to suspect Chase of throwing games. The skipper’s suspicions grew so strong during the 1910 season, he leveled the charges publicly. But Chase’s popularity on the field helped him earn enough support with Yankee President Frank Farrell and League President Ban Johnson to beat back Stallings’ charges and actually get the manager fired. Adding insult to injury, Chase got himself named to replace Stallings as the team’s field boss.
Chase was not a good manager and his continued unpredictable behavior on the playing field led to the resurfacing of attacks on Chase’s integrity as a ballplayer. By 1913, even the Yankee brass became convinced Chase could not be trusted and they shipped him to the White Sox, where in 1914, Chase chased the money again and jumped to the Buffalo team entry in the upstart Federal League. The smaller than normal confines of the Buffalo home field helped Chase accumulate 17 home runs during the 1915 season, so that when the league folded after that season, the Cincinnati Reds welcomed him to the National League with wide open arms.
Even though Chase won the National League batting title with a .339 average in 1916, the Reds skipper, Hall-of-Famer Christy Matthewson, felt the first baseman was involved in throwing games and promptly suspended him. This time the team ownership and league officers backed the Manager instead of Chase and upheld his suspension. The next year was the year of the Black Sox scandal effectively destroying any chance a player with Chase’s shady reputation would ever have of playing Major League Baseball, again.
Hal Chase’s story is a sad one, but only three other Yankee first sackers had more hits or more runs scored as a Yankee than Chase did. The fact of the matter is that if Hal Chase had not gotten himself accused of throwing baseball games, his career with New York would have been longer and his numbers and stature as a Bomber, even more impressive.
This former Yankee, also born on this date, once quarterbacked the Michigan Wolverines to a Big Ten title and a Citrus Bowl victory over Auburn. This former teammate of Chase’s was also born on this date.
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.
Jason Giambi’s mediocre defensive talents at first base were a source of constant consternation for Joe Torre and the Yankee front office. When he first joined the club as a prized free agent in 2002, the Giambino’s offensive production was good enough to offset his weakness
in the field but over the years, as his hitting declined, his defensive deficiencies became more of a net negative. So beginning in 2004, the
Yankees began employing what I’ve come to refer to as the “Affordable Gloves for Giambi” initiative. These were first basemen who could field better than Jason and who were willing to play for what the Yankee’s then considered were “modest” salaries. In 2004, Giambi’s glove was Tony Clarke. Then in 2005, the Yankees handed the job to an aging Tino Martinez. In 2006, as Giambi’s contract was nearing its end, the team took a new approach by giving the role to a first base prospect in the Yankee’s Minor League organization. That turned out to be today’s Birthday Celebrant.
Andy Phillips had hit 80 home runs during his three previous seasons in New York’s farm system when he assumed the “Glove for Giambi” role in April of 2006. The Yankees had selected the Tuscaloosa, AL native in the seventh round of the 1999 draft out of the University of Alabama, so he was already 29-years-old when given the opportunity to become the Yankee’s regular first baseman. He turned out to be solid defensively but as a right handed hitter, his power was marginalized by Yankee Stadium. He hit just .240 that first season and his on-base percentage was a very-low .288.
He found himself back in the minors to start the 2007 season as the Yankees opened that year with former Gold Glove winner and World Series Game 4 ball-stealer, Doug Mientkiewicz at first. When Mientkiewicz got hurt in June of that year, Phillips was called up to replace him and he did that rather well. Andy hit .292 in 61 games that year plus he played flawless defense at first base, handling 408 chances without making an error. Despite the improved effort, the Yankee front office decided Phillips was not in their plans for the future and released him after the 2007 season. He was picked up by the Reds and even played a few games for the Mets in 2008 but was back in the minors the following year and playing in Japan, during the 2010 season.
Phillips shares his April 6th birthday with another Yankee prospect who was trying to work his way up New York’s farm team chain the same time as Andy. This Yankee pitching prospect, also born on April 6th tried to make the same climb three decades earlier.
You’d have to be about my age to remember when Al Downing was a young and very good starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. When most fans hear Downing’s name they remember him for giving up Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. Instead, I remember a a fire-balling young southpaw who won 13 games for the pennant-winning Yankee teams of 1963 and ’64 and hearing Downing’s name makes me also think about today’s birthday celebrant. Why? Because in 1969, the Yankees traded Downing to Oakland for Danny Cater. Cater was a good line drive hitter with not much power when he joined the 1970 Yankee team. He hit .301 during his first year in pinstripes, usually batting fifth or sixth in the lineup and he drove in 76 runs. It was a key contribution to a not very robust Yankee offensive attack and it helped that ’70 team win 93 games that season. The following year, Cater’s average slumped to .271 and his run and RBI numbers dropped too. So when Boston was ready to trade their bullpen ace, Sparky Lyle to New York for Cater, the Yankees made the deal. It turned out to be one of the great trades in the franchise’s history. Cater played sparingly in Beantown for three seasons. He retired after the 1975 season with a .276 lifetime batting average. Cater was born on this date in 1940, in Austin TX. He is not the most famous Yankee born on this day. That honor belongs to this guy. This former Yankee manager was also born on February 25th.