Results tagged ‘ first baseman ’

December 15 – Happy Birthday Eddie Robinson

In 1951, ’52 and ’53, first baseman Eddie Robinson was in the peak years of his Major League Baseball career. Like many players of his era, that career was interrupted early by military service in WWII. Three seasons after Robinson returned from the war, the trades that marked his entire career began. He went from the Indians to the Senators in 1949 and then to the White Sox during the 1950 season. By 1952, however, it looked like he had found a home in the Windy City. He had put together two straight 100 RBI seasons for Chicago, making the All Star team both years. But instead of settling in, Eddie was traded again, this time to the Athletics, who were still in Philadelphia at the time. In the “City of Brotherly Love,” he combined with slugger Gus Zernial to provide the A’s with most of their offense as he reached the 100-RBI mark and made the All Star team for the third year in a row. That’s when the Yankees got him as part of a huge ten player deal that turned out not to have much positive impact for either team.

Simply put, the Yankees did not need the guy. George Weiss thought Robinson would replace the lighter hitting Joe Collins as the Yankee starting first baseman. The crafty GM, however, did not anticipate that rookie Moose Skowren, a powerful right hand hitting first baseman would hit .340 in 1954. Stengel ended up platooning Skowren at first base with Collins, who was the best fielder of all three players and used Robinson more as a pinch hitter. Eddie did very well in that role for two plus seasons in the Bronx but it was truly a waste of the overall talents of this four-time All Star.

In June of 1956, Weiss traded Robinson back to the A’s, who by then had relocated to Kansas City. Unfortunately, Eddie was already 35-years old at the time and he never again would be the hitter he was when New York acquired him three years earlier. When Eddie hung up his spikes in 1957, he began a career in baseball’s front offices that continued through 1996 when he finally retired as head of scouting for the New York Yankees.

Another Yankee born on this date was this AL Rookie of the Year winner in 1968. 

September 28 – Happy Birthday Jack Fournier

I remember very well the first time I realized the purpose and power of a good first baseman’s mitt. I was 11 years old and playing for St. Agnello Club, a team in my hometown’s youth baseball league. During our first practice before the season began, the coach of my team had asked me what position I played. Although Mickey Mantle was my favorite player back then I knew center fielders had to do a lot of running and the only running I did at that time was to get to the dinner table before my two older brothers ate all the good stuff. So I told my coach I played first base.

He looked at the “Rocky Colavito” model Rawlings’ outfielders’ glove I was wearing on my left hand and said, “You can’t play first base with that tiny thing, you need the Trapper.” He then picked up and reached into the large burlap equipment bag that was lying alongside the batting cage and pulled out the biggest wad of rawhide leather I’d ever seen in my young life. It was a genuine first baseman’s mitt.

I put that monster on my hand and went over to first base for my first-ever official infielder’s practice. Coach hit the first ground ball to our third baseman, who happened to also be one of the two sons he had playing on that year’s team. He bobbled the grounder a couple of times before finally getting the ball into his throwing hand and making a pretty hard throw toward my direction. I could tell the ball was not going to reach me and it was going to be wide of first toward right field, so I did my best Joe Pepitone impersonation and put my right toe on the side of the first base bag while reaching across my body to attempt a sweeping backhand scoop catch of the misdirected thrown ball. I may have also closed my eyes. Somehow, the ball ended up in the huge webbing of the “Trapper” and a couple of the parents who were watching the practice started clapping. I heard my coach yell “Looks like we found our new first baseman.”

For the rest of that practice and the first six or seven games of that first season, me and the Trapper caught every ball hit or thrown within four feet of first base. That glove was magical. If a baseball touched it anywhere on its palm side surface it seemed to stick to it like an EZ Pass sticks to the inside of a car’s windshield.

Then before one game, I went to the burlap bag to grab the Trapper for infield practice and it wasn’t there. One of my coach’s sons had taken it out of the bag to play with it that week and left it in their garage. I was forced to play first with my tiny Colavito glove. Sure enough, the first ball in play that game was a grounder to our second baseman. His throw to me was hard but true and I still remember the horror of watching that ball bounce off the pocket of my glove and onto the ground in front of me. After picking up the dropped ball and throwing it back to our pitcher, I remember turning toward our bench to see what the coach’s reaction was to my first-ever miscue and seeing him get into his pick-up truck and drive away. He was on his way home to get the Trapper. From that moment on, the glove never left my side. I remember almost crying when I finally was forced to return it to coach when the baseball season ended.

So why am I telling you all this? Because today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant would probably be in Cooperstown today if he had the chance to play first base with the Trapper. In fact, if Jack Fournier had a modern day first baseman’s mitt, Lou Gehrig might have never been signed by New York or might have instead been traded by the Yankees before Wally Pipp got that famous headache. Why?

In 1918, Pipp left the Yankees for WWI military service. New York signed Fournier to take his place. The French-American native from Au Sable, Michigan got into 27 games for Manager Miller Huggins ball club and instantly became one of the best hitters on that team, scorching the ball at a .350 clip during his 27 games of action. After such an impressive offensive performance, you’d figure the Yankees would quickly offer the guy a contract for the following season or at the very least invite him to next year’s spring training. Instead, the Yankees dropped him like a hot potato. How come?

Jack Fournier might just have been the worst-fielding first baseman in baseball history. During just those 27 games he played as a Yankee, the guy made 7 errors. During his 14 seasons in the big leagues, he made over 200. In Nelson Chip Green’s excellent SABR Baseball Biography profile of Fournier’s career, he quotes from a 1916 LA Times article describing the Chicago White Sox chances for success in the upcoming baseball season. Fournier played his first six big league seasons for the Pale Hose. Here’s that quote: “[t]he only weak defensive point in the infield is at first base,” where “Fournier will again try his hand at playing that position. For every run that he lets in,” suggested Williams, “he will drive in another, making it a so-so proposition.”

It seems that Fournier had hands of stone and played first base like his feet were stuck in cement. Balls thrown or hit directly at him were frequently dropped. Those that passed just a foot to either side of him were considered automatic base runners. Managers tried to hide him in the outfield but he was even worse defensively out there.

The one thing Fournier could do on a baseball field was hit. His lifetime average was .313 and once a livelier baseball was introduced to the game in 1920, Fournier became a power hitter, who was often referred to as the National Leagues “Babe Ruth.” He led the NL with 27 home runs while playing for Brooklyn in 1924. Truth was that Fournier was a great DH before there was a DH in Major League Baseball.

He shares his September 29th birthday with this former Yankee center fielder, this former Yankee relief pitcher and this one-time Yankee pitching prospect.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1918 NYY 27 110 100 9 35 6 1 0 12 7 7 7 .350 .393 .430 .823
15 Yrs 1530 6032 5208 822 1631 252 113 136 859 146 587 424 .313 .392 .483 .875
CHW (6 yrs) 444 1582 1360 192 383 60 43 15 190 61 156 161 .282 .367 .422 .789
BRO (4 yrs) 519 2176 1866 322 629 85 35 82 396 22 242 129 .337 .421 .552 .973
STL (3 yrs) 418 1731 1508 244 478 83 32 29 208 52 138 111 .317 .384 .472 .856
BSN (1 yr) 122 433 374 55 106 18 2 10 53 4 44 16 .283 .368 .422 .790
NYY (1 yr) 27 110 100 9 35 6 1 0 12 7 7 7 .350 .393 .430 .823
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/29/2013.

September 9 – Happy Birthday Frank Chance

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Known as “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” this verse was written by a newspaper reporter who had been born in Chicago but later moved to the Big Apple. He wrote it in 1902, when he was on his way to the Polo Grounds to watch his original hometown’s Cubs play his adopted home town’s Giants. The poem wasn’t published until eight years later, in 1910, inside a New York newspaper. It became an instant nationwide hit; think “Take me Out to the Ballgame” level of popularity without the music.

Tinker, Evers and Chance were respectively the starting shortstop, second baseman and first baseman for Chicago from 1902, when they were still known as the Chicago Orphans, until 1911 (they switched to “Cubs” in 1903). That remains the golden decade of the franchise till this day.Their full names were Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. All three ended up in Cooperstown but it was Chance, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, who was the best all-around player of the three and it was Chance who would also become the most successful Manager in the team’s history.

He took over as Skipper during the 1905 season and continued starting at first base. During the next eight seasons, he led the Cubs to a cumulative won-lost record of 768-389, while capturing four NL Pennants and consecutive World Series victories in 1907 and ’08, the latter of which remains the last world championship in that franchise’s history.

No modern ballplayer would have stomached playing for Chance. Why? Put it this way, if Chance were in Joe Girardi’s shoes today, he’d probably have gotten into at least one fistfight with Derek Jeter by now. Why? Because he had a strict rule against “fraternizing” with the opposing team’s players before, during or after a game and if he caught one of his players violating that rule he’d fine him. He was known to go after frequent offenders physically in the clubhouse. Chance was also accused of inciting on-the-field riots to get his players pumped up and on occasion, he was known to throw beer bottles at heckling fans in the stands.

As his record as Cubs’ manager indicates, Chance’s tactics were effective. His players may have hated him but they also respected him. That’s probably because as player manager, Chance was able to prove he was only asking his teammates to play the game the same hard-nosed, take no prisoners way he played it himself. One of the toughest brawlers in baseball, Chance actually took off-season boxing lessons from former heavyweight champion John Corbett. As a hitter, he would famously crowd the plate and dare opposing pitchers to try and back him off it. Many of the National League’s  mounds-men certainly tried, because he was hit by pitches 137 times during his playing career and was a victim of head beanings so frequently that blood clots formed in his brain and he was forced to undergo emergency surgery during the 1912 season to save his life. It was while he was in the hospital recovering from that surgery that he was dismissed as Cubs manager for arguing with the owner about player trades being contemplated.

That’s when the Yankees hired the man who by then had become known as “the Peerless Leader.” Still considered a player manager, Chance would only appear in 13 games during his almost two full seasons in New York. He was relatively successful during his tenure. By the second year, his 1914 Yankee team had won 20 more regular season games than the 1912 Yankee team had won just before he became the team’s skipper. The problem was that 1912 Yankee team had only won 50 games. He was replaced as skipper by his shortstop, Roger Peckinpaugh during the final month of his second season. He would later manage the Red Sox and be hired to skipper the White Sox as well. But before he managed his first game for Chicago’s southside team, he came down with pneumonia and died at the age of 48.

I found much of the information used in this post in Frank Ryhal’s article on Frank Chance, published by the Society for American Baseball Research.

Chance shares his birthday with this Yankee Hall-of-Fame pitcherthis former Yankee center fielder and this one-time New York third baseman.

Here’s Chance’s limited player stats as a Yankee plus his more impressive lifetime totals:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1913 NYY 12 33 24 3 5 0 0 0 6 1 8 1 .208 .406 .208 .615
1914 NYY 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
17 Yrs 1288 5103 4299 798 1274 200 79 20 596 403 556 320 .296 .394 .394 .788
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
CHC (15 yrs) 1275 5070 4275 795 1269 200 79 20 590 402 548 319 .297 .394 .395 .789
NYY (2 yrs) 13 33 24 3 5 0 0 0 6 1 8 1 .208 .406 .208 .615
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/17/2013.

Here’s Chance’s managerial record:

Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
9 1913 36 New York Yankees AL 153 57 94 .377 7 Player/Manager
10 1914 37 New York Yankees AL 1st of 2 137 60 74 .448 6 Player/Manager
Chicago Cubs 8 years 1178 768 389 .664 1.8 4 Pennants and 2 World Series Titles
New York Yankees 2 years 290 117 168 .411 6.5
Boston Red Sox 1 year 154 61 91 .401 8.0
11 years 1622 946 648 .593 3.2 4 Pennants and 2 World Series Titles
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/17/2013.

September 6 – Happy Birthday Jack Phillips

Most of today’s Yankee fans can very easily remember the era of Jason Giambi in pinstripes. He was signed to be New York’s full-time first baseman but during the seven seasons he played in the Bronx, he started as many as 100 games at that position just once, in 2008, his final season as a Yankee. The Great Giambino got all that Yankee money for his hitting prowess because if he was paid based on his ability to defend his position, the guy would have qualified for food stamps. It was during the Giambi years that Yankee fans grew used to a committee approach of starting first basemen. Now of course, we have the great glove of Mark Teixeira patrolling there game in and game out and prior to Giambi, Yankee first basemen tended to be full-time first basemen, like Tino, Mattingly, Chambliss, Pepitone, Moose and of course the guy who epitomized full-time first basemen the great Lou Gehrig.

Most of you (including myself) don’t remember the Yankees of the late 1940′s and early 50′s. That was really the last lengthy era of multiple Yankee starting first basemen. In 1949 for example, six different guys made starts at that position. “Old Reliable,” Tommy Henrich, was one of them. The former outfielder led the team with just 51 starts at first that season. Former Amsterdam Rugmaker, Dick Kryhoski was next with 47 starts and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Jack Phillips, was Casey Stengel’s starting choice at first base 37 times, before he was sold to the Pirates on August 6th of the 1949 season.

Phillips was very competent defensively and at six feet four inches tall, he provided a big target for the throws of his fellow Yankee infielders. Hence the nickname “Stretch,” which of course was made more famous later by the great Giant first sacker, Willie McCovey. Phillips, a native of Clarence, NY, was a right-handed contact hitter and since both Henrich and Kryhoski batted from the left side, Stengel would frequently start him against southpaws.

Stretch had made his Yankee debut in August of 1947, hitting .278 in fourteen games and impressing then manager, Bucky Harris enough to make New York’s World Series’ roster and get two at bats and his one and only ring against the Dodgers that fall. Two seasons later, Phillips’ was hitting .308 for New York when Pittsburgh made a purchase offer for him that Yankee GM George Weiss did not refuse. He remained with the Pirates for the next three years and in 1950, he hit the first pinch-hit “ultimate” home run in Major League history. What’s an “ultimate” home run? A walk-off blast that occurs when the home-team is down by three runs.

Jack Phillips would later also play a few seasons for the Tigers and then retire in 1957. He would eventually become head baseball coach at Clarkson University in New York State, his alma mater and serve in that capacity for 24 years. That school’s baseball field is named in his honor. Phillips died in 2009 at the age of 87.

This former Yankee back-up catcher and this one-time Yankee catching coach were also born on September 6th.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1947 NYY 16 39 36 5 10 0 1 1 2 0 3 5 .278 .333 .417 .750
1948 NYY 1 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
1949 NYY 45 106 91 16 28 4 1 1 10 1 12 9 .308 .388 .407 .795
9 Yrs 343 990 892 111 252 42 16 9 101 5 85 86 .283 .344 .396 .740
PIT (4 yrs) 158 464 421 43 111 17 10 5 49 3 39 40 .264 .326 .387 .713
NYY (3 yrs) 62 147 129 21 38 4 2 2 12 1 15 15 .295 .368 .403 .771
DET (3 yrs) 123 379 342 47 103 21 4 2 40 1 31 31 .301 .356 .404 .760
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/17/2013.

September 5 – Happy Birthday Buddy Hassett

After spending six seasons in the National League with the Dodgers and Braves, the Yankees acquired Hassett to play first base in 1942, replacing the light-hitting Johnny Sturm. The New York City native who was born September 5, 1911, did OK in Pinstripes, hitting .284 and scoring 80 runs for a Yankee team that won 103 regular season games and captured the AL Pennant. After hitting .333 in a losing effort against the Cardinals in that season’s World Series, Hassett never appeared in another big league ball game.

He was called into military service the following year and the Yankees went out and got Nick Etten to play first base during the ’43 season. By the time Hassett returned from the Navy he was one of over 500 big league and more than 4,000 minor league players coming back from the armed services to reclaim or try to win a limited number of big league roster spots. Though Hassett had been one of a small group of players in history to have compiled at least 375 plate appearances during each season of his major league career before joining the service, he failed to make a post- WWII big league roster (even though the commissioner had expanded those rosters from 25 to 30 players to accommodate returning players.)

September 5 is also the birthday of Bill Mazeroski. My first vivid memory of being a Yankee fan was running all the way home from school as a first grader on an October afternoon in 1960 so I could watch the end of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series. I got in front of our family’s black & white Sylvania just in time to see Yogi Berra staring up at the top of the ivy-covered left field wall at Pittsburgh’s old Forbes Field, watching Mazeroski’s series-winning home run fly over it. So I won’t be wishing the former Pirate second baseman a happy birthday, ever.

Another Yankee born on September 5th is this former Yankee reliever and this long ago starting pitcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1942 NYY 132 581 538 80 153 16 6 5 48 5 32 16 .284 .325 .364 .689
7 Yrs 929 3807 3517 469 1026 130 40 12 343 53 209 116 .292 .333 .362 .695
BSN (3 yrs) 389 1572 1453 190 409 43 11 3 120 27 90 45 .281 .324 .332 .656
BRO (3 yrs) 408 1654 1526 199 464 71 23 4 175 21 87 55 .304 .346 .389 .734
NYY (1 yr) 132 581 538 80 153 16 6 5 48 5 32 16 .284 .325 .364 .689
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/5/2013.

September 2 – Happy Birthday Marv Throneberry

Before Marvelous Marv Throneberry established his legacy with the Amazin Mets he was a phee-nom prospect in the powerful New York Yankee organization. In fact, from 1955 through 1957, he played first base for Manager, Ralph Houk’s Denver Bears, the Yankees’ Triple A affiliate at the time and averaged 39 home runs and 128 RBIs per season in the thin air of the Mile High City. Throneberry got good long trials with the parent club in both 1958 and ’59 but he couldn’t hit for average (just .238). Besides, the Yankees already had Moose Skowren at first base so they made Throneberry one of four players they sent to Kansas City for Roger Maris in December of 1959. He did OK for the A’s in 1960, hitting 11 home runs, but again failed to hit for average. The A’s traded him to Baltimore during the 1961 season and then Baltimore traded him to the Mets for catcher Hobie Landrith.

Reunited with Casey Stengel, Throneberry became “Marvelous Marv.” He struck out too much and made 17 errors in just 89 games and Met fans instantly fell in love with him. Some of his most memorable moments came during rundowns he was involved in. During one, instead of throwing the ball to a teammate covering home plate, Throneberry chased an aging Stan Musial all the way to home plate without catching him. In another, Marv ran into the runner without the ball causing the umpire to call interference, making the runner safe. My favorite story about Throneberry’s misfortunes as a Met was the time he won a $6,000 sailboat. First of all, he lived in an area of Tennessee in which filled bathtubs were the largest bodies of water available. He had won the boat by hitting a clothing store billboard in the old Polo Grounds. Teammate Richie Ashburn won the same prize when Mets fans selected the outfielder as the teams first MVP. A lawyer for the Mets told Throneberry he had to claim his boat as income because he “earned” it by hitting the sign while Ashburn got his boat as a gift  and didn’t have to declare it on his taxes. Throneberry died in 1994, at the age of 60.

Also born on this date was this former Yankee pitcher and this former first round Yankee draft pick.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1955 NYY 1 3 2 1 2 1 0 0 3 1 0 0 1.000 .667 1.500 2.167
1958 NYY 60 172 150 30 34 5 2 7 19 1 19 40 .227 .316 .427 .742
1959 NYY 80 214 192 27 46 5 0 8 22 0 18 51 .240 .302 .391 .693
7 Yrs 480 1331 1186 143 281 37 8 53 170 3 130 295 .237 .311 .416 .726
NYY (3 yrs) 141 389 344 58 82 11 2 15 44 2 37 91 .238 .311 .413 .724
NYM (2 yrs) 130 411 371 29 89 12 3 16 50 1 35 88 .240 .302 .418 .720
KCA (2 yrs) 144 410 366 46 90 11 3 17 65 0 42 90 .246 .323 .432 .754
BAL (2 yrs) 65 121 105 10 20 3 0 5 11 0 16 26 .190 .298 .362 .659
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/6/2013.

August 5 – Happy Birthday John Olerud

The 2004 season had been a bust for Jason Giambi. After apologizing for using PEDs before the beginning of that season, he came down with some sort of strange ailment involving his pituitary gland and he ended up playing in less than half of New York’s regular season games. At the beginning of the year, Tony Clarke subbed for Giambi. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant started out that season with the Mariners but had been given his unconditional release by Seattle in late July. A few weeks later, the Yankees decided to sign him and Joe Torre made Olerud his starting first baseman.

Olerud had won the AL Batting title in 1993 when he hit .363 for the Toronto Blue Jays. He had some good pop in his bat as well, accumulating 255 home runs during his 17-season big league career. His trademark was wearing his batting helmet at all times while on the field, even when he was playing first base on defense. He had suffered a brain aneurism as a child and the perpetual hard hat was worn as a precaution. Olerud was no stranger to the Big Apple. After spending his first eight big league seasons with the Blue Jays, he had been traded to the Mets in 1996, his contract’s option year. He played very good baseball for the Amazins for three straight seasons, but when the Mariners showed an interest, he returned to his home town of Seattle as a free agent in 2000.

He was 35-years-old by the time the Yankees got him but he played very good defense at first for New York and hit a solid .280 for Torre in 49 regular season games. With Giambi still injured, it was Olerud who started at first during the 2004 postseason. He hit a two-run homer against Boston’s Pedro Martinez to help the Yankees win Game 2 of that year’s ALCS. When the Yanks won the next game to go up 3-0 in that series, it looked like Olerud would have the opportunity to win a third World Series ring, He had won his first two with Toronto in 1992 and ’93.

Then disaster struck. Boston shocked the world by winning four straight. One of the after-effects of that traumatic Yankee defeat was letting Olerud go after that postseason. He turned around and signed with the Red Sox in 2005 and hit .289 in 87 games in Beantown before he retired for good. Olerud shares his August 5th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and this former owner of the franchise.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2004 NYY 49 188 164 16 46 7 0 4 26 0 21 20 .280 .367 .396 .763
17 Yrs 2234 9063 7592 1139 2239 500 13 255 1230 11 1275 1016 .295 .398 .465 .863
TOR (8 yrs) 920 3689 3103 464 910 213 6 109 471 3 514 430 .293 .395 .471 .866
SEA (5 yrs) 702 2976 2490 353 709 164 2 72 405 3 418 340 .285 .388 .439 .827
NYM (3 yrs) 476 2018 1662 288 524 109 5 63 291 5 306 206 .315 .425 .501 .926
BOS (1 yr) 87 192 173 18 50 7 0 7 37 0 16 20 .289 .344 .451 .795
NYY (1 yr) 49 188 164 16 46 7 0 4 26 0 21 20 .280 .367 .396 .763
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/5/2013.

July 21 – Happy Birthday Mike Hegan

While doing research for today’s post, I had to smile when I came across a comment made by Yankee great Joe DiMaggio about the son of former Cleveland catcher and Yankee coach, Jim Hegan. The elder Hegan made five All Star teams during his 14-year-career with the Indians without ever getting his batting average above the .240s. Never a good hitter, he had built his sterling reputation and earned his salary with his defensive skills behind the plate. Hegan’s son Mike had been signed by the Yankees in 1961.  When he was invited to his first Yankee spring training camp, Joe D was on hand serving as a special hitting instructor. When someone from the press asked the Yankee Clipper what he thought of Mike Hegan, he assured the reporter that the kid would become a better Major League hitter than his old man ever was. Talk about an underhanded compliment.

Mike Hegan did turn out to be a better hitter than his dad, but not that much better. His lifetime batting average would end up 14 points higher than his father’s own .228 figure. But unlike his dad, who spent fourteen of his seventeen big league seasons in the starting lineup of the team that brought him to the big leagues, the son was in the starting lineup for just one of the twelve years he played in the Majors and never as a Yankee.

Like his pop, Mike Hegan was also an excellent defensive player, but he played first base. At the time he was putting together some great seasons for New York’s minor league teams, Moose Skowren and Joe Pepitone were doing the same for the Yankees. By the time he got his first real shot in the Bronx, it was 1967 and Mickey Mantle had been moved to first in an effort to prolong his Yankee career. That same move effectively ended Hegan’s.

He was sent back down to the minors at the beginning of the 1968 season and that June his contract was purchased by the new Seattle Pilots franchise. Finally getting a chance to be number one on a big league team’s depth chart, Hegan prospered, hitting .292 for Seattle in the team’s inaugural 1969 season and making the AL All Star team. When the team was moved to Milwaukee the following year, Hegan continued to start but his batting average dropped by almost fifty points. The Brewers traded him to the A’s during the ’71 season, where he won his first and only World Series ring the following year. He rejoined the Yankees and his dad in 1973. In 37 games that year he had 6 home runs and 14 RBIs, while averaging .275. He might have remained a Yankee for the rest of his career if Ralph Houk and his dad had not left New York after the ’73 season and moved together over to Detroit. The Yankees then sold Hegan to the Brewers during the ’74 season. Mike would spend the final three and a half years of his big league career as a part-time first baseman, outfielder and DH , back in the city made famous by Schlitz Beer. After hanging up his glove in 1977, Hegan picked up a microphone and became a broadcaster for the Brewers for the next 11 seasons. In 1989, he was hired to do Indian games and has been one of Cleveland’s announcers ever since.

Hegan shares his birthday with this Cy Young Award winner and this former Yankee reliever.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1964 NYY 5 6 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 .167 .000 .167
1966 NYY 13 48 39 7 8 0 1 0 2 1 7 11 .205 .326 .256 .582
1967 NYY 68 140 118 12 16 4 1 1 3 7 20 40 .136 .266 .212 .478
1973 NYY 37 143 131 12 36 3 2 6 14 0 7 34 .275 .309 .466 .775
1974 NYY 18 62 53 3 12 2 0 2 9 1 5 9 .226 .317 .377 .694
12 Yrs 965 2452 2080 281 504 73 18 53 229 28 311 489 .242 .341 .371 .712
MIL (7 yrs) 586 1823 1529 221 380 56 13 42 188 17 254 343 .249 .355 .385 .739
NYY (5 yrs) 141 399 346 34 72 9 4 9 28 9 40 96 .208 .295 .335 .630
OAK (3 yrs) 238 230 205 26 52 8 1 2 13 2 17 50 .254 .308 .332 .640
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/20/2013.

July 18 – Happy Birthday Johnny Hopp

Back in the late forties and early fifties, Yankee GM George Weiss would scour the rosters of the 15 other big league teams looking for what the New York media liked to call “pennant insurance.” With the platoon master, Casey Stengel calling the shots on the field in the Bronx, Weiss knew that providing the Ol’ Perfessor with one good extra bat or pitching arm was the recipe for a few extra late-season wins and quite possibly another trip to the Fall Classic. In August of 1949, Weiss had grabbed the “Big Cat,” Johnny Mize from the cross town Giants for $40,000 dollars. The primary reason the former NL batting champion was available in the first place was because Giant manager Leo Durocher was not very fond of him. When Weiss gave Mize to Stengel, Casey used him masterfully as a pinch hitter and part-time first baseman for the next five Yankee seasons.

A year after getting Mize, Weiss spent another 40,000 Yankee dollars to get Johnny Hopp from the Pirates. Hopp had been a teammate of Mize’s when both played and starred for the Cardinals early in their careers. Though he didn’t have lots of power, Hopp was a great defensive first baseman, a better-than-average center fielder and a solid batsman who turned pitches into line drives with great regularity. In fact, when Weiss swung the deal to put him in pinstripes, Hopp was hitting .340. The national baseball press howled that the mysterious Weiss was somehow using the financial might of the Yankees to form a cabal of MLB owners willing to sell New York any player needed to fill a gap in the team’s roster. In actuality, no NL team in the pennant race at the time of the Hopp transaction wanted or needed a first baseman who could not hit for power. But Stengel welcomed him with open arms into his toolbox, which was more commonly referred to as the Yankee dugout.

During the final month of the 1950 regular season, Hopp appeared in 19 games for New York and hit .333 with a .486 on base percentage. His timely hitting helped the Yankees hold off a very good Detroit Tiger team to win that year’s pennant by just three games. In 1951, Hopp’s age (35 at the time) began to catch up with him as injuries limited his play and had a negative impact on his batting average. The Hastings, Nebraska native was given his outright release the following year and he finished his big league career as a member of the Tigers. He retired with a .296 lifetime batting average and four World Series rings, two each with the Cardinals and Yankees.

Hopp shares his July 18th birthday with this former Yankee Managerthis one-time Yankee starting pitcher and this Yankee utility infielder.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1950 NYY 19 35 27 9 9 2 1 1 8 0 8 1 .333 .486 .593 1.078
1951 NYY 46 73 63 10 13 1 0 2 4 2 9 11 .206 .306 .317 .623
1952 NYY 15 28 25 4 4 0 0 0 2 2 2 3 .160 .250 .160 .410
14 Yrs 1393 4805 4260 698 1262 216 74 46 458 128 464 378 .296 .368 .414 .782
STL (7 yrs) 669 2401 2129 355 619 116 41 24 244 69 227 218 .291 .362 .418 .779
PIT (3 yrs) 331 1208 1081 170 335 53 22 14 117 21 120 71 .310 .379 .438 .818
NYY (3 yrs) 80 136 115 23 26 3 1 3 14 4 19 15 .226 .341 .348 .689
BSN (2 yrs) 263 993 875 145 272 43 10 5 80 34 92 64 .311 .381 .400 .781
BRO (1 yr) 8 14 14 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000
DET (1 yr) 42 53 46 5 10 1 0 0 3 0 6 7 .217 .308 .239 .547
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2013.

June 19 – Happy Birthday Doug Mientkiewicz

When I was a kid, pick-up baseball games were commonplace. Back then, there seemed to be at least ten guys you could call at any time of day or night to meet up for a game. You’d decide where to play based on the total number of kids who showed up. Four man sides worked just fine in the old mill yard across from my Grandmother’s house. It was a small area, boxed in by buildings on both sides and a huge green fully enclosed metal walking ramp that led from the third floor of the mill to the street level in dead center. That ramp served as our version of the “Green Monster.” We also played in a Veterans’ park at the western most end of our city, where a huge memorial with a life-sized bronze soldier standing guard at the top, served as both our center field wall and permanent spectator. Second base at the park was a cast iron silver painted urn that caused lots of bleeding injuries to both aggressive base runners and inattentive fielders.

When we could get eighteen guys together, we’d head down to the huge grass field that sat alongside one of the locks on the Mohawk River. Even back in the early sixties, when neighborhood kids use to actually play with each other, getting eighteen kids together was not easy and usually required a mixing of ages. That’s why, whenever we’d play down by the river, there’d always be at least one “older” kid who was strong enough to drive a ball the three hundred or so feet that separated home plate from the then-pretty-polluted Mohawk. Every official home run down by the river was a “Walk-off” home run because it meant the ball needed to play the game was gone for good and everyone had to go home.

It was always a lack of a simple ball that disrupted many of those glorious contests during my childhood. After all, most kids brought their own gloves to these games and at least a couple of the guys would bring bats. Gloves and bats weren’t perishable but those damn balls seemed to disappear in a hurry. That’s why, the most serious offense any kid could commit was taking the game ball home with him before that game was actually over. We used to let guys from our neighborhood who didn’t know a baseball bat from an umbrella play in those games simply because they owned a new baseball. Of course, the older guys who ran the games then pulled every trick in the book to prevent the talentless ball-owners from coming to bat or making a play in the field during the contest.

One of their favorite techniques was  “No Ralph you’re not up this time around, Joey is going to pinch hit for you.” In those long ago games in the Veterans’ park, I can remember kids being told to go play the field behind the huge memorial, where they would stare up at the butt of the huge bronze soldier waiting for a ball to fly over the huge granite edifice so they could retrieve it. Eventually, some of these persecuted ball-suppliers would get wise to the exploitation being put upon them and would grab their ball and go home. This of course was considered a mortal sin in our neighborhood, punishable by banishment from all future neighborhood sporting activities, sometimes for life, or at the very least until you showed up at one of these future events with the only ball again.

The above memories were the first things that flashed through my mind when I heard that today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant grabbed the game ball after the last out of the final game of the 2004 World Series and brought it home with him. Doug Mientkiewicz had replaced David Ortiz at first base for the Boston Red Sox earlier in that game which is why he caught pitcher, Keith Foulke’s throw to first to end that contest and complete Boston’s four-game sweep of the Cardinals in that Fall Classic. He then just kept the ball and took it home with him. When someone from the Red Sox eventually asked for it, Mientkiewicz refused to hand it over, explaining he could sell it for enough money to cover his own kid’s college costs. Needless to say, that line did not go over to well with Red Sox Nation. He eventually agreed to loan the ball to the Red Sox.

Unfortunately for Mientkiewicz, keeping that ball will be what he’s remembered for most. Even though he was one of baseball’s best defensive first baseman during his 12-years in the big leagues and a Gold Glove winner, it will be the baseball he wouldn’t give back that defines him.

Three years after the incident, the Yankees signed the player nicknamed “Eye Chart” to play first base so that Jason Giambi’s porous glove could be removed from the lineup. He got into 72 games that year and hit a respectable .277. A broken wrist he suffered when Mike Lowell collided with him at first base disrupted his season and then he went hitless for New York during the 2007 postseason. The Yankees let him go and he signed with the Pirates the following year.

Mientkiewicz was a high school teammate of A-Rod’s in Florida when their team won that state’s baseball championship. He also won a Gold Medal as part of the US baseball team that beat Cuba in the 2000 Olympics. His last big league game was in a Dodger uniform in 2009. He retired with a .271 career average, 899 hits and that damn baseball. He also happens to share his birthday with another Yankee first baseman who I’m sure was the source of plenty of lost baseballs when he was a kid.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2007 NYY 72 192 166 26 46 12 0 5 24 0 16 23 .277 .349 .440 .789
12 Yrs 1087 3844 3312 422 899 221 11 66 405 14 438 472 .271 .360 .405 .765
MIN (7 yrs) 643 2505 2147 273 590 146 6 43 266 11 300 308 .275 .367 .408 .776
KCR (1 yr) 91 361 314 37 89 24 2 4 43 3 35 50 .283 .359 .411 .770
NYM (1 yr) 87 313 275 36 66 13 0 11 29 0 32 39 .240 .322 .407 .729
PIT (1 yr) 125 334 285 37 79 19 2 2 30 0 44 28 .277 .374 .379 .753
BOS (1 yr) 49 119 107 13 23 6 1 1 10 0 10 18 .215 .286 .318 .603
LAD (1 yr) 20 20 18 0 6 1 0 0 3 0 1 6 .333 .400 .389 .789
NYY (1 yr) 72 192 166 26 46 12 0 5 24 0 16 23 .277 .349 .440 .789
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/19/2013.