Results tagged ‘ first baseman ’

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.

May 29 – Happy Birthday George McQuinn

Many Yankee historians will agree that today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had one of the worst cases of timing of any player in franchise history. Why?

McQuinn was signed by the Yankees in 1930, as a slick-fielding, solid-hitting first baseman. In 1930, Lou Gehrig averaged .379, hit 41 home runs and drove in 174 runs as the Yankees starting first baseman. Gehrig was also approaching the 1,000 consecutive game mark in what would become his trademark streak. The only person who could have possibly replaced the Iron Horse as the Yankees’ starting first baseman back then walked on water and raised the dead.

That’s why, after five seasons of solid play in the minors, New York traded McQuinn to the Reds. But the 26 year-old native of Arlington, VA couldn’t answer the bell in Cincinnati, averaging just .206 in his first 36-game big league trial. The Reds then sold him back to the Yankees and McQuinn would put together a monster 1937 season for New York’s top farm team in Newark. By then, however, he was 27-years-old. Gehrig was still going strong in the Bronx so the Yankees left McQuinn exposed in the Rule 5 draft and he was selected by the St. Louis Browns. One year later, Gehrig got the tragic news he was dying.

Over the next eight seasons McQuinn became one of the best defensive first basemen in the big leagues. I’m talking Teixeira-level defensive skills without the modern day glove or immaculately groomed infields the Yankee’s current first-baseman enjoys. Since he was 28-years-old during his real rookie season in 1938, McQuinn’s age at the time WWII began made him less desirable for military duty so he was able to continue playing for the Browns through the war years.

Meanwhile, the Yankees had not been successful finding a long-term replacement for Gehrig at first base and that search was still going on eight years later when new Yankee part-owner Larry MacPhail and his manager, Bucky Harris targeted the then 37-year-old McQuinn to play first for New York during the 1947 season. The Browns had traded him to the A’s in 1946 and Philadelphia had released him after just one season.

Finally getting the opportunity to play the position for which he was always destined, McQuinn did not disappoint. He of course fielded it brilliantly but also contributed a .304 batting average, thirteen home runs and 80 RBIs to a Yankee offense that won the AL Pennant. That October, New York beat Brooklyn in a seven-game World Series and McQuinn had his first and only ring. But once again, McQuinn’s timing was bad. He would turn 38-years-old during the 1948 season and the Yankees cupboard of up-and-coming first baseman was getting fully stocked. He was released by New York that October. He completed his twelve-year big league career with 1,588 hits, 135 home runs and a .276 batting average. He passed away on Christmas Eve, 1978 at the age of 68.

McQuinn shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielderthis former Yankee utility player and this one-time Yankee third baseman.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1947 NYY 144 609 517 84 157 24 3 13 80 0 78 66 .304 .395 .437 .832
1948 NYY 94 346 302 33 75 11 4 11 41 0 40 38 .248 .336 .421 .757
12 Yrs 1550 6596 5747 832 1588 315 64 135 794 32 712 634 .276 .357 .424 .781
SLB (8 yrs) 1138 4939 4310 663 1220 254 47 108 625 28 520 446 .283 .361 .439 .800
NYY (2 yrs) 238 955 819 117 232 35 7 24 121 0 118 104 .283 .374 .431 .805
PHA (1 yr) 136 556 484 47 109 23 6 3 35 4 64 62 .225 .317 .316 .633
CIN (1 yr) 38 146 134 5 27 3 4 0 13 0 10 22 .201 .262 .284 .546
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/29/2013.

May 8 – Happy Birthday Orestes Destrade

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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1987 NYY 9 24 19 5 5 0 0 0 1 0 5 5 .263 .417 .263 .680
4 Yrs 237 866 765 80 184 25 3 26 106 1 87 184 .241 .319 .383 .702
FLA (2 yrs) 192 789 699 73 172 24 3 25 102 1 77 162 .246 .322 .396 .719
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/8/2013.

March 24 – Happy Birthday Dick Kryhoski

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.

Kryhoski shares his March 24th birthday with this three-team-teammate of Babe Ruththis former Yankee reliever and this one-time Yankee starting pitcher.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1949 NYY 54 188 177 18 52 10 3 1 27 2 9 17 .294 .335 .401 .736
7 Yrs 569 1946 1794 203 475 85 14 45 231 5 119 163 .265 .314 .403 .717
BAL (3 yrs) 315 1071 980 105 255 44 7 28 126 2 68 99 .260 .312 .405 .717
DET (2 yrs) 172 634 590 78 158 29 4 16 76 1 36 40 .268 .313 .412 .725
KCA (1 yr) 28 53 47 2 10 2 0 0 2 0 6 7 .213 .302 .255 .557
NYY (1 yr) 54 188 177 18 52 10 3 1 27 2 9 17 .294 .335 .401 .736
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/13/2014.

March 3 – Happy Birthday Bud Souchock

I guarantee you that very few Yankee fans have ever heard of Steve Souchock. That’s too bad because the guy was a genuine hero, not on the baseball field but on the battlefield. Better known by his nickname of “Bud,” Souchock’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 Souchock 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. Souchock 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 Souchock actually was.

By the time the war ended and he got back to baseball, Souchock 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, Souchock’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 Hall-of-Fame outfielderthis one-time Yankee reliever and this former Yankee starting pitcher also celebrate  birthdays today.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1946 NYY 47 94 86 15 26 3 3 2 10 0 7 13 .302 .362 .477 .838
1948 NYY 44 126 118 11 24 3 1 3 11 3 7 13 .203 .248 .322 .570
8 Yrs 473 1326 1227 163 313 58 20 50 186 15 88 164 .255 .307 .457 .764
DET (5 yrs) 298 829 771 108 204 39 11 38 128 7 49 100 .265 .311 .492 .803
NYY (2 yrs) 91 220 204 26 50 6 4 5 21 3 14 26 .245 .297 .387 .684
CHW (1 yr) 84 277 252 29 59 13 5 7 37 5 25 38 .234 .303 .409 .712
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/21/2014.

February 26 – Happy Birthday J. T. Snow

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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1992 NYY 7 19 14 1 2 1 0 0 2 0 5 5 .143 .368 .214 .583
16 Yrs 1716 6553 5641 798 1509 293 19 189 877 20 760 1142 .268 .357 .427 .784
SFG (10 yrs) 1183 4497 3822 561 1043 228 15 124 615 14 565 806 .273 .369 .438 .807
CAL (4 yrs) 488 1984 1761 231 455 64 4 65 256 6 182 323 .258 .330 .410 .740
BOS (1 yr) 38 53 44 5 9 0 0 0 4 0 8 8 .205 .340 .205 .544
NYY (1 yr) 7 19 14 1 2 1 0 0 2 0 5 5 .143 .368 .214 .583
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/2/2014.

February 25 – Happy Birthday Paul O’Neill

POneillI 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.

Sharing O’Neil’s February 25th birthday is this former Yankee first basemanthis WWII era Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee skipper.

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1993 30 NYY AL 141 547 498 71 155 34 1 20 75 2 44 69 .311 .367 .504 .871
1994 31 NYY AL 103 443 368 68 132 25 1 21 83 5 72 56 .359 .460 .603 1.064
1995 32 NYY AL 127 543 460 82 138 30 4 22 96 1 71 76 .300 .387 .526 .913
1996 33 NYY AL 150 660 546 89 165 35 1 19 91 0 102 76 .302 .411 .474 .885
1997 34 NYY AL 149 637 553 89 179 42 0 21 117 10 75 92 .324 .399 .514 .912
1998 35 NYY AL 152 672 602 95 191 40 2 24 116 15 57 103 .317 .372 .510 .882
1999 36 NYY AL 153 675 597 70 170 39 4 19 110 11 66 89 .285 .353 .459 .812
2000 37 NYY AL 142 628 566 79 160 26 0 18 100 14 51 90 .283 .336 .424 .760
2001 38 NYY AL 137 563 510 77 136 33 1 21 70 22 48 59 .267 .330 .459 .789
17 Yrs 2053 8329 7318 1041 2105 451 21 281 1269 141 892 1166 .288 .363 .470 .833
NYY (9 yrs) 1254 5368 4700 720 1426 304 14 185 858 80 586 710 .303 .377 .492 .869
CIN (8 yrs) 799 2961 2618 321 679 147 7 96 411 61 306 456 .259 .336 .431 .767
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/2/2014.

February 13 – Happy Birthday Hal Chase

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  and this one-time Yankee shortstop were also born on February 13.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1905 NYY 128 501 465 60 116 16 6 3 49 22 15 62 .249 .277 .329 .606
1906 NYY 151 637 597 84 193 23 10 0 76 28 13 48 .323 .341 .395 .736
1907 NYY 125 528 498 72 143 23 3 2 68 32 19 39 .287 .315 .357 .672
1908 NYY 106 430 405 50 104 11 3 1 36 27 15 34 .257 .285 .306 .591
1909 NYY 118 513 474 60 134 17 3 4 63 25 20 50 .283 .317 .357 .674
1910 NYY 130 560 524 67 152 20 5 3 73 40 16 41 .290 .312 .365 .677
1911 NYY 133 571 527 82 166 32 7 3 62 36 21 40 .315 .342 .419 .762
1912 NYY 131 566 522 61 143 21 9 4 58 33 17 40 .274 .299 .372 .671
1913 NYY 39 160 146 15 31 2 4 0 9 5 11 13 .212 .268 .281 .548
15 Yrs 1919 7938 7417 980 2158 322 124 57 941 363 276 660 .291 .319 .391 .710
NYY (9 yrs) 1061 4466 4158 551 1182 165 50 20 494 248 147 367 .284 .311 .362 .674
CIN (3 yrs) 368 1479 1403 167 429 69 33 10 206 48 47 112 .306 .330 .423 .754
BUF (2 yrs) 220 900 858 128 266 50 19 20 137 33 26 81 .310 .333 .483 .815
CHW (2 yrs) 160 650 590 76 165 21 15 2 59 18 39 60 .280 .329 .376 .705
NYG (1 yr) 110 443 408 58 116 17 7 5 45 16 17 40 .284 .318 .397 .715
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/26/2014.