Results tagged ‘ outfielder ’
You can consider yourself a solid fan of Yankee baseball if you can remember this Chestertown, MD native, who was born on November 4, 1967. He played his first four seasons of big league ball as a regularly-used spare outfielder with the Mets. In 2000, he was signed as a free agent by the Yankees after that season’s All Star break. He got off to a fast start, driving in five runs during his first two games in pinstripes. In 33 games that year, he hit .260 and drove in 14 runs. The Yankees did not put him on that season’s postseason roster and released Thompson in the off-season that followed.
The only other Yankee I could find who was born on November 2nd is this Yankee pitcher from the late 1930s.
|NYM (4 yrs)||283||1106||997||127||238||53||4||39||126||8||74||276||.239||.300||.417||.717|
|CLE (1 yr)||8||23||22||2||7||0||0||1||5||0||1||6||.318||.348||.455||.802|
|NYY (1 yr)||33||56||50||12||13||3||0||3||14||0||5||12||.260||.339||.500||.839|
|FLA (1 yr)||18||32||31||6||9||5||0||0||2||0||1||8||.290||.313||.452||.764|
|HOU (1 yr)||12||22||20||2||4||1||0||1||5||0||2||7||.200||.273||.400||.673|
|MIL (1 yr)||62||146||137||16||34||9||2||8||24||1||7||38||.248||.295||.518||.813|
When I saw that today was Karim Garcia’s birthday it brought back memories of the Yankee’s classic 2003 ALCS series against Boston. I watched and enjoyed every single inning of all seven games in that series and I will never forget the Game Three confrontations that all began when the great but sometimes too emotional Pedro Martinez hit Garcia in the back with one of his fastballs. That started a chain reaction of reactions that included the threatening hand signal communication between Martinez and Posada, Garcia’s hard slide into second, Manny Ramirez ducking away from a Roger Clemens pitch that was nowhere near him followed by a bench clearing scuffle during which Pedro pulled his famous matador move on the bull-rushing “Popye” Zimmer, who had forgotten for a moment that he was 72-years old. Then later on, Garcia and Jeff Nelson got into a surreal fight with a Red Sox groundskeeper in the Yankee bullpen. What tends to be forgotten about that series was how competitive it was. Four of the last five games were decided by a single run and the seventh contest was one of the most dramatic extra inning affairs in big league history, ending with Aaron Boone’s majestic blast off of Tim Wakefield.
Garcia made that postseason roster by hitting .305 for Joe Torre in 52 games of action during the regular season. Torre had made Garcia his starting right-fielder for the remainder of that season, replacing Raul Mondesi, who was traded to Arizona just before the 2003 trading deadline. During the Yankees 2004 spring training, Garcia again paired up with a Yankee teammate in a tussle with a non-baseball player. This time his tag-team partner was Shane Spencer and their opponent was a pizza delivery guy. Shortly after that incident, Garcia was released by the Yankees and he signed with the Mets. He finished his decade-long big league career in 2004 with 66 lifetime home runs and a .241 batting average.
|LAD (3 yrs)||29||67||60||6||9||0||0||1||8||0||6||19||.150||.224||.200||.424|
|CLE (3 yrs)||95||356||335||45||91||12||0||26||75||0||14||73||.272||.301||.540||.841|
|NYY (2 yrs)||54||166||156||18||47||5||0||6||21||0||9||33||.301||.337||.449||.786|
|BAL (2 yrs)||31||89||82||9||14||0||0||3||11||0||4||21||.171||.202||.280||.483|
|DET (2 yrs)||104||327||305||39||72||10||3||14||32||2||20||71||.236||.282||.426||.708|
|ARI (1 yr)||113||354||333||39||74||10||8||9||43||5||18||78||.222||.260||.381||.641|
|NYM (1 yr)||62||202||192||24||45||7||2||7||22||3||10||35||.234||.272||.401||.673|
During the 53 years I’ve been a Yankee fan, I’ve sort of behaved by two rules. The first is that I do not disrespect Yankee players for failing to live up to expectations. Each and every one of them has been skilled and talented enough to accomplish something I know I never could and that is to reach the Major Leagues as a professional ballplayer. Mistakes, slumps and errors are part of the game and as upset as I get when individual Yankees don’t perform well, I don’t hold it against them and I have never boo’d a Yankee player in my lifetime. The second rule is that despite how “against” I might have been about a transaction that brings a player to the Yankees, once he puts on a Yankee uniform, I root like crazy for the guy.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant is a perfect example of how I apply these rules in real-life. When I heard Brian Cashman was going to sign Ben Francisco as a right handed DH and spare outfielder, I screamed in anguish. I absolutely knew this native of Santa Ana, California was not the right guy for the slot the Yankees expected him to fill. When I first read reports that Cashman was going after him, I remember yelling out loud. “Go get Alphonso Soriano from the Cubs instead.” But since I was in my home’s basement office at the time, about 1,300 miles north of Cashman’s office in Tampa, the Yankee GM couldn’t hear my suggestion and he signed Francisco.
So I became an instant Ben Francisco fan, hoping with every fiber in my being that I was wrong about the guy and he would evolve into this year’s version of Raul Ibanez. Unfortunately, I seemed to be in a minority of those Yankee fans who were willing to be patient with him. It didn’t help matters that so many Yankee regulars were physically unable to play on Opening Day of the 2013 season and the pressure on back-up guys like Francisco to perform was abnormally high as a result.
In his first five games,he got a total of eight at bats and failed to get a hit but judging by the boo birds at the Stadium and the vitriol of Yankee bloggers, you’d of thought he went 0-for-80 instead. His first Yankee hit against Arizona, started a three-run come-from-behind rally in a game New York would eventually win. But by the end of April, his average was just .103.
On May 1, Francisco hit his one and only home run as a Bronx Bomber in a 5-4 Yankee victory over the Astros. On June 4th, with his batting average at .114, Francisco was released by New York. A couple weeks later, he was signed by the Padres and spent the remainder of the 2013 season playing for San Diego’s Pacific Coast League affiliate in Tucson.
He was originally a fifth round draft choice of the Cleveland Indians in 2002. After a solid rookie season with the Tribe in 2008, Francisco’s name got thrown into the Cliff Lee trade negotiations and he ended up accompanying the pitcher to Philadelphia in return for four Phillies’ prospects at the 2009 trading deadline. The deal led to Francisco’s first and thus far only World Series appearance that fall against the Yankees (He went hitless in 7 at-bats.) But the outfielder struggled during his entire two-and-a-half season tenure in the City of Brotherly Love. He seemed much more comfortable playing in Cleveland.
|CLE (3 yrs)||235||920||817||123||213||58||1||28||99||17||76||164||.261||.332||.437||.768|
|PHI (3 yrs)||225||594||526||58||136||32||1||17||75||13||52||101||.259||.332||.420||.752|
|TBR (1 yr)||24||63||57||4||13||5||0||2||8||0||4||16||.228||.270||.421||.691|
|NYY (1 yr)||21||50||44||4||5||0||0||1||1||0||5||11||.114||.220||.182||.402|
|HOU (1 yr)||31||90||85||5||21||4||0||2||5||0||5||23||.247||.289||.365||.654|
|TOR (1 yr)||27||54||50||5||12||5||1||0||2||0||4||10||.240||.296||.380||.676|
The Yankees 1981 World Series defeat to the Dodgers was an almost tragic turning point for George Steinbrenner. He had spent loads of Yankee dollars to put together an offense that was driven by home runs only to see that offense sputter and fail in both the second half of the strike-induced split season and the last four games with Los Angeles. He then seemed to have let his anger over the strike and the pain of that Dodger defeat drive a series of player decisions that would keep the Yankees out of postseason play for the next fifteen years. No move symbolized Steinbrenner’s inept over-reaction more than the signing of Dave Collins.
At the time, Collins was a singles-hitting, base-stealing outfielder who slap-swung his bat from both sides of the plate. He had hit .300 for the Reds in both 1979 and ’80 but what really captured the Boss’s attention was the 79 bases Collins stole during that 1980 season. Steinbrenner was convinced the guy would be a perfect lead-off man for the new small-ball offense he envisioned for his ball club so he blew him over with a three-year, two-and-a-half million dollar free agent offer that was probably twice as much and at least a year-more than any other team would have offered Collins.
A month before that signing the Boss had approved a trade for Collins’ Cincinnati teammate and fellow outfielder, Ken Griffey. Then just before spring training, Steinbrenner must have been feeling sentimental because he gave both Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, two more outfielders, three-year contract extensions. The Yankees also already had Dave Winfield, Jerry Mumphrey and Oscar Gamble under contract for the 1982 season. That added up to seven outfielders which didn’t add up to a very confused Bob Lemon, who as Yankee manager was given the responsibility of figuring out where and when to play all of them. When Collins reported to spring training, Lemon told him to work out at first base. As Bill Madden explained the situation in his excellent biography of Steinbrenner, “The Last Lion of Baseball,” Collins spent all that spring asking every reporter who covered the team “Why in the world did they sign me?”
He ended up playing first base in 52 games for New York and split 60 more pretty evenly as the Yankee left, right, and center fielder. He hit just .253 that year, stole only 13 bases and was probably one of the most uncomfortable Yankee players in the history of the franchise. Steinbrenner’s 1982 small ball Yankees finished the season next-to-last in their division with a 79-83 record. New York then mercifully traded Collins to the Blue Jays, where, feeling much more wanted, he averaged .290 and 50 stolen bases during the final two years of the contract he had originally signed with New York. But just to make Steinbrenner regret his signing of Collins even more, the Blue jays insisted that the Yankees include a youngster named Fred McGriff in the trade for Collins
|CIN (7 yrs)||697||1981||1774||272||504||70||16||9||126||147||168||231||.284||.349||.357||.706|
|CAL (2 yrs)||192||775||684||86||181||25||5||7||57||56||76||110||.265||.337||.346||.684|
|TOR (2 yrs)||246||943||843||114||245||36||19||3||78||91||76||108||.291||.355||.389||.744|
|STL (1 yr)||99||74||58||12||13||1||0||0||3||7||13||10||.224||.366||.241||.608|
|OAK (1 yr)||112||418||379||52||95||16||4||4||29||29||29||37||.251||.303||.346||.648|
|NYY (1 yr)||111||393||348||41||88||12||3||3||25||13||28||49||.253||.315||.330||.646|
|SEA (1 yr)||120||447||402||46||96||9||3||5||28||25||33||66||.239||.299||.313||.613|
|DET (1 yr)||124||476||419||44||113||18||2||1||27||27||44||49||.270||.340||.329||.670|
The next time I hear James Taylor sing “Walking Man,” I’m sure the name of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant will cross my mind. Roy Cullenbine refused to swing at any pitch that was not in the strike zone. If he played today, he’d probably be an Oakland A and praised profusely in the sports media for his ability to get on base. But Cullenbine played in the 1940′s, during an era when ballplayers were expected to swing their bats at any pitch they could reach and taking too many “walks” was even considered by many to be a sign of laziness. Few paid much attention to on base percentage until Bill James promoted the stat as the sport’s Holy Grail decades later. So when Cullenbine’s OBP reached .477 in 1946, nobody noticed and even though he got on base four out of every ten times he came to the plate the following season and finished second on the Tigers in runs scored, he was still released at the end of the season and forced into retirement.
Cullenbine was born in Tennessee in 1913 but raised in Detroit, where he became a switch-hitting star of the City’s sandlot leagues. The Tigers signed him but then lost him in 1939, when Kenesaw Mountain Landis ruled that Detroit had violated roster manipulation rules and the Commissioner penalized the organization by declaring several of their prized prospects free agents. Cullenbine then signed for a hefty bonus with the Dodgers, got traded to the Browns and in 1942, got traded again, this time to the Senators.
With WWII raging, every big league team was losing players to military service and when Tommy Henrich joined the Coast Guard in August of the 1942 season, Yankee GM Ed Barrow checked the waiver wire to see if he could pick up another outfielder. He found Cullenbine’s name on the list and claimed him on the last day of August.
Since that season’s Yankee team also had George Selkirk on its roster as the fourth outfielder, it wasn’t clear how much playing time Cullenbine would get from New York’s skipper Joe McCarthy. As it turned out, with the Yanks comfortably ahead of the Red Sox in the AL Pennant race at the time, Marse Joe started Cullenbine just about every game down the stretch so he could give his regulars plenty of rest for the postseason.
Cullenbine took advantage of the opportunity by hitting .364 in the 21 games he played in pinstripes that month, while producing a sky-high .484 OBP. That performance guaranteed him a spot on the Yankees World Series roster. He then played in all five games of the 1942 World Series, batting .263 in New York’s losing effort to the Cardinals.
Most Yankee fans and pundits probably expected to see Cullenbine return to the Bronx on Opening Day 1943. But one week before Christmas in 1942, the Yanks traded him and catcher Buddy Rosar to Cleveland for infielder Oscar Grimes and outfielder Roy Weatherly. The “Walking Man” played real well for the Indians the next two seasons and then got traded back to Detroit, where his big league career ended in the same town it began.
Cullenbine passed away in 1991 in Michigan at the age of 77. He still holds the 38th highest MLB career on base percentage. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee third baseman and this former Yankee reliever.
|DET (5 yrs)||501||1952||1561||268||421||76||11||63||259||10||373||164||.270||.412||.454||.865|
|CLE (3 yrs)||300||1288||1072||167||304||59||9||24||136||7||194||107||.284||.395||.423||.817|
|SLB (3 yrs)||273||1080||867||138||239||47||12||18||143||6||201||97||.276||.414||.420||.834|
|WSH (1 yr)||64||285||241||30||69||19||0||2||35||1||44||18||.286||.396||.390||.787|
|BRO (1 yr)||22||84||61||8||11||1||0||1||9||2||23||11||.180||.405||.246||.651|
|NYY (1 yr)||21||97||77||16||28||7||0||2||17||0||18||2||.364||.484||.532||1.017|
Bill Renna was the prototypical California “golden boy” high school athlete. Born in Hanford, a city in the central part of the state near Fresno, Renna was a three-sport standout with Hollywood good looks. Baseball was his favorite sport, but being six feet three inches tall and over two hundred pounds, the guy was built for football. He earned a scholarship to the University of San Francisco in 1942 but was then drafted into the military.
After being discharged two years later, he was supposed to play on the gridiron for Stanford but a mix-up of his transcripts nixed that opportunity and he ended up in the lower-profile program at Santa Clara. Still, his ability with a football drew the interest of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams but by that time, Renna had decided he wanted to play professional baseball and the Yankees had decided they wanted to sign Renna.
He got off to a great start in the minors, hitting 21 home runs and batting .385 during his first 76-game season of C ball. That earned him a huge leap to triple A ball the following year and he struggled at that level. For the next couple of years that pattern continued. Renna would hit B level pitching well and then falter when he moved up and faced the minor’s upper tier pitching talent.
That changed in 1952. That year, Renna put together a 28 HR – 90 RBI – .295 season for the Yankees top farm team in Kansas City. A few months later, he found himself battling for an Opening Day roster spot in the parent club’s spring training camp. That 1953 Yankee team was a great one and its starting outfield was solid. Casey Stengel started Mickey Mantle in center and mixed and matched Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling and Irv Noren in the other two positions depending on the opposing pitcher. Renna also had to compete against fellow Yankee outfield prospects Bob Cerv and Ellie Howard for any remaining roster spot.
In the end, Stengel brought Renna north and it proved to be a good choice. He spent most of his big league rookie season platooning in left field with Gene Woodling. He got just two starts that April, but in his second one, he hit his first big league home run in Comiskey Park off of the White Sox southpaw, Gene Beardon. What made that blast even more memorable for the rookie was that it was also the rear-end of a back-to-backer with Mantle.
He would end up playing in 61 games that year and averaging a very impressive .314. Though he didn’t get a chance to pay in the Yankees fifth consecutive World Series championship that October, he did win his first and only World Series ring. He never got a chance to win a second one because that December, I think George Weiss was bored so he decided to engineer a huge but inconsequential 11-player trade between New York and the A’s. The most notable player the Yankees got in the deal was first baseman Eddie Robinson, who they really did not need. One of the players Weiss sent to Philly was Renna.
He would start in the A’s 1954 outfield and hit a career high 13 home runs. He then moved with the team to Kansas City, but became a part-time player and pinch hitter in the process. Weiss actually got him back in a deal he made with the A’s in June of the 1956 season that ironically sent Robinson back to the A’s, but Renna was sent to the minors and remained there until he was traded to Boston just before the 1957 season. After another year in the minors, he became a valuable Red Sox pinch hitter during the 1958 season, when his 15 pinch hits produced 18 RBIs.
What hurt Renna’s big league career was the late start he got with the Yankees. Military service and then college made him 24-years-old by the time he got signed and 28 when he made his debut in the Bronx. In an interview just five years ago, Renna told the reporter his one year as a Yankee was the best of his career and he loved every second of it. He said Mantle was the greatest player he ever saw. He ended up quitting baseball after the ’59 season to begin a long career in the concrete industry as a job estimator. He’s still alive and living in California and turns 89 years old today.
|KCA (3 yrs)||256||809||719||97||164||25||7||22||86||2||75||112||.228||.304||.374||.678|
|BOS (2 yrs)||53||89||78||7||17||5||0||4||20||0||11||23||.218||.315||.436||.751|
|NYY (1 yr)||61||137||121||19||38||6||3||2||13||0||13||31||.314||.385||.463||.848|
The Yankees signed this Princeton, Missouri native when he was 21-years-old in 1937 and assigned him to their Class C team in Joplin. During his second year with that ball club he popped 24 home runs and got promoted to the Yanks’ Norfolk, Virginia affiliate in the Class B Piedmont League. That’s when and where Derry really raised some eyebrows by belting 40 home runs during the ’39 season.
Normally, when an organization’s young prospect hits 40 homers at any level it gets him on a pretty fast track to a Major League trial. Unfortunately for this young outfielder, the Yankee team he was trying to make was anything but normal, especially in the outfield. The only outfield problem NY manager Joe McCarthy had to solve each and every game was figuring out who was not going to play. If you got Joe DiMaggio, Charley Selkirk, Tommy Henrich and George Selkirk on your roster, as McCarthy did when Derry hit those 40 homers in the Piedmont league, you’re not going to be too concerned with what your team’s minor league outfielders are doing. So while that 1939 Yankee team led by its glut of All Star outfielders was winning its fourth straight World Series, all Derry’s 40 home run season got him was a ticket to Class A.
It would take seven years and a World War to get Derry his shot at the Yankee outfield. By then he was 27-years-old. By 1944, DiMaggio, Keller, Henrich and Selkirk were all doing hitches in the military and Derry became the parent club’s fourth outfielder that season. He saw his most big league action the following season when he got into 78 games for New York and hit a career high 13 home runs. But he averaged just .225 that year against the second tier of pitching talent that took over the big league mounds during WWII. When the war ended and all the Yankees returned from military service the following year, Derry was sold to the A’s. He hit just .207 for Philadelphia and after one more brief shot with the Cardinals, finished out his playing career in the minors.
|NYY (2 yrs)||116||421||367||51||86||9||2||17||59||2||51||68||.234||.329||.409||.738|
|STL (1 yr)||2||2||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|PHA (1 yr)||69||214||184||17||38||8||5||0||14||0||27||54||.207||.311||.304||.616|
OK, this one is bugging me. How come I have absolutely no recollection of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant playing for the Yankees, nothing, zero nada! Heck, if I can vividly remember the brief Yankee careers of guys like Jack Reed, Marty Perez and Chris Widger, why do I draw such a blank on Aaron Guiel?
After all, it was just seven seasons ago, in 2006 that this short and stocky native Canadian played 33 games for my favorite team, split almost evenly as an outfielder and first baseman. The Yankees had picked him up off the waiver wire that July after his first and only other big league team, the Royals had put him there. That 2006 season was a particularly harsh one on Yankee outfielders. Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui both were shelved for most of the year with major injuries.
Guiel had spent his first four-and-a-half big league seasons as Kansas City’s fourth outfielder, averaging .246 during that span. He had decent power, as was evidenced by the career-high 15 homers he had hit for KC in 2003. At first, New York assigned him to their Triple A Columbus affiliate but when Johnny Damon strained a muscle in his back, the Yankees called Guiel (pronounced Guy-el) up.
He scored three runs in his pinstriped debut against Cleveland and in his first start at Yankee Stadium a week later, his first home run as a Bronx Bomber was the difference maker in a 6-5 win versus the White Sox. New York skipper, Joe Torre played him pretty regularly that first month, but when the Yanks completed their trade for Bobby Abreu from the Phillies at the end of July, Guiel was sent back to Columbus. He didn’t stay there long.
He was called back up two weeks later. Since the Yanks ran away with the AL East Division race that year, winning it by ten full games over second-place Toronto, Torre rested his regular outfielders as much as possible down the stretch and Guiel saw plenty of action as a result. That’s why it bothers me that I have no recollection of him playing for the Yankees. I guess because he did not make that year’s postseason roster and the Yanks ended up releasing him, the 44 games he played for New York just faded from my memory. Those ended up being the final 44 games of Guiel’s big league career.
In 2007, he signed to play for the Yakult Swallows, in Japan’s Central League and played there for the next five seasons. Guiel shares his birthday with this other former Yankee outfielder and this one-time Yankee utility infielder.
|KCR (5 yrs)||263||1007||888||135||218||55||0||31||117||6||76||198||.245||.320||.412||.733|
|NYY (1 yr)||44||92||82||16||21||3||0||4||11||2||7||20||.256||.337||.439||.776|
Armando Marsans’ father was a wealthy Cuban merchant who took his family to New York City to live at the turn of the 20th century to shield them from the violence of the Spanish American War. By the time the 13-year-old boy returned to his homeland after the conflict ended, he had learned how to play America’s favorite pastime well enough to eventually become a star outfielder in the Cuban Winter League.
With Major League teams visiting the island country every winter to participate in exhibition games against Cuban native all-stars, it did not take long for Marsans to get signed by a big league organization, the Cincinnati Reds. In 1911, he and his long-time friend and teammate, pitcher Rafael Almeida became the first native Cubans to play in the Majors when they made their debut with the Reds. Marsans was ready for the challenge. He averaged .317 in 1912, his first full big league season and stole 35 bases. It wasn’t long before he was being touted as one of the best young outfielders in baseball.
That’s when Marsans got into a huge and prolonged argument with his Reds’ manager Buck Herzog that culminated in the outfielder’s suspension. An angry and offended Marsans responded by jumping to the newly formed Federal League, signing a sizable three-year contract to play for the St. Louis Terriers. The owner of the Cincinnati team responded by going to court and obtaining an injunction that prevented the Cuban from playing for the Terriers while a judge decided if he had violated the terms of his Reds’ contract. After playing just nine games for his new team and league, Marsans was forced off the field and returned to Cuba to await the judge’s decision. It wasn’t until the end of the 1915 regular season that the court permitted Marsans to resume playing with his new Federal League team while his case was being considered.
By then, the Federal League was staggering under financial difficulties that would force it to disband a few weeks later. Marsans ended up in the American League, playing for the St Louis Browns. He had a decent season for the Brownies in 1916, starting in their outfield, driving in 60 runs and finishing second in the AL with 46 stolen bases. But the almost two-year-layoff forced upon him by the Reds had a negative impact on Marsans overall game and he was never again the same player he had been before he jumped to the Federal League.
After he got off to a slow start with the Browns in 1917, he was traded to the Yankees in July of that season, for outfielder, Lee Magee. In New York, he joined fellow Cuban outfielder Angel Aragon. Unfortunately for Marsans, he broke his leg during just his 25th game in pinstripes. He went back to Cuba to heal and when he failed to report to the Yankees 1918 spring training camp, it looked like he was retiring. Two months later, he changed his mind and rejoined the team. After his first three starts during his second season in New York, Marsans had seven hits in his first 13 at bats and was averaging .538. But it was pretty much all downhill after that and when he left the team that July, the temperamental 30-year-old was averaging just .236.
He would unsuccessfully try to revive his baseball career in America a few years later but remained a force in Cuban baseball as both a player and a manager for years to come.
|CIN (4 yrs)||322||1224||1113||141||334||31||15||1||109||96||66||59||.300||.345||.358||.702|
|SLM (2 yrs)||45||188||164||21||36||3||2||0||8||9||17||5||.220||.293||.262||.555|
|NYY (2 yrs)||62||232||211||23||49||9||1||0||24||9||13||6||.232||.277||.284||.561|
|SLB (2 yrs)||226||903||785||82||193||24||1||1||80||57||77||47||.246||.318||.283||.601|
What I love about writing this Blog are the things I learn about Yankee history that I didn’t know. Today’s post offers an excellent example of that. If not for a collision at home plate and some bad knees, Joe DiMaggio might never have been a Yankee and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Dixie “The People’s Cherce” Walker would probably have been the guy who replaced him.
The collision at home plate took place between Dixie and a Chicago White Sox catcher named Charley Berry during Walker’s 1933 rookie season with the Yankees. Earlier that year, Walker had been knocked down twice in the same game by a Chicago pitcher. After he got up from the ground after the second brushback, Walker told Berry he’d be coming in hard at home the next chance he got. Sure enough, later that same year Dusty found himself rounding third and bearing down on Berry. There were three problems for Dusty with this scenario. Berry outweighed Dusty by ten pounds, he was wearing protective catcher’s gear, and he knew Walker was coming to get him. With the element of surprise gone, Berry braced himself for what was a violent collision at the plate. Not only did Berry hold onto the ball but it was Dusty who ended up getting injured on the play, suffering a separated shoulder that would keep getting dislocated for the rest of the outfielder’s years in the Yankee organization.
Fred Walker was born in Villa Rica, Georgia on September 24, 1910. His Dad had been a pitcher with the Senators who went 25-31 during his four years in the big leagues. His Father, who’s real first name had been Ewart, had thankfully been given the nickname Dixie and the son inherited it. The Walker family had baseball in its blood. Dusty Sr.’s brother Ernie had been an outfielder with the Browns and Dusty’s own kid brother, Harry, would one day win an NL Batting title and later become one of the great hitting instructors in the history of the game.
The Yankees had purchased Dusty Walker’s contract from a minor league team in 1930. For the next three years, he tore up minor league pitching at every level and the Yankees front office took notice. With Babe Ruth growing older and ornery, New York needed to groom his replacement and by 1933, the prime candidate for that role had become Walker. He was given his first real chance to show what he could do at the big league level in 1933. Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy played his rookie in center field and often batted him lead-off. Walker was just 22-years-old at the time and responded with a strong season. In 98 games of action, he hit .274 and proved his left-handed swing was well-suited for Yankee Stadium by drilling 15 home runs and driving in 51. But he also tore up that shoulder and McCarthy had little respect or use for players who would not play hurt. Knowing that, Walker tried to play through his injury, which only exasperated his condition. He could no longer throw the ball and if you played center field for a big league club you had to be able to throw the ball.
As Walker tried to play through his shoulder problems in the Minors, the Yankee front office began taking notice of this DiMaggio kid playing out in San Francisco. He had put together a 61-game hitting streak in the Pacific Coast League but most big league teams were leery of him because he had suffered some knee injuries and the rumor was, he could not stay healthy. The Yankee’s minor league development guy was the tight-fisted genius, George Weiss. With few other suitors to compete against, Weiss was able to purchase the future Yankee Clipper’s contract for just $25,000 and as soon as he did, Walker was no longer the chosen one to replace Ruth as the next Yankee franchise outfielder.
The Yankees then traded Dixie to the White Sox where he once again dislocated that bum shoulder. That’s when it was determined that surgery was Walker’s only option and in what was a pretty experimental procedure back then, a bone graft was done to rebuild a chip in his shoulder and from that point on in his career, it never dislocated again. He hit .302 for the White Sox in 1937. He got traded to Detroit the following season and hit .308 in MoTown. But he hurt his knee while playing for the Tigers and when Detroit’s front office told him he needed another operation, Walker refused and was sold to the Dodgers.
Dixie would spend the next nine seasons becoming the star outfielder for “Dem Bums.” He would average .311 during that time and win the 1944 NL Batting title in the process. Dodger fans adored him until he threatened to not play if Jackie Robinson was made his Brooklyn teammate. His prejudice got him banished to Pittsburgh, where he played out his career and retired after the 1949 season.
|BRO (9 yrs)||1207||5094||4492||666||1395||274||56||67||725||44||539||185||.311||.386||.441||.827|
|NYY (5 yrs)||131||422||388||75||104||18||9||16||58||3||28||39||.268||.319||.485||.803|
|PIT (2 yrs)||217||677||589||65||180||23||4||3||72||1||78||29||.306||.387||.374||.760|
|DET (2 yrs)||170||704||608||114||187||31||11||10||62||9||80||40||.308||.389||.444||.833|
|CHW (2 yrs)||180||773||663||117||198||30||16||9||106||2||92||32||.299||.385||.433||.818|