Results tagged ‘ shortstop ’
There must have been a slight but confusing communication problem in the New York Highlander clubhouse during the 1908 season. The manager of that team at the start of the season was Hall of Famer, Clark Griffith, who would go on to become the patriarch of baseball in our nation’s capital. Griffith’s ’08 Highlanders were not a very good team. In fact they were so bad, Griffith voluntarily resigned as skipper in early June, telling the press that he had tried everything possible to fix what was wrong with the squad and was simply giving up, indicating that perhaps he himself was a jinx.
I’m sure one of the “everything possible remedies” the bewildered skipper used was regular pep talks to his team. If these were like most managerial pep talks through the ages, Griffith would end his oratories with the battle cry “Now let’s play ball!” Therein may have lied the problem. The Highlander players would probably just sit there looking at each other and thinking to themselves; “We are playing Ball already at shortstop and we’re still losing!”
They would be referring to one Cornelius “Neal” Ball, their 5 foot 7 inch teammate from Grand Haven, MI. Ball started 132 games at shortstop for the Highlanders in that ’08 season, hitting .247 and leading the league in strikeouts with 91. It was the 27-year-old Ball’s first full big league season and it would be his last one with the Yankees. In May of 1909, New York sold Ball to the Cleveland Nats. Two months later, he became the first Major League player in history to execute an unassisted triple play.
Ball and this very good former starting pitcher are the only two members of the Yankee roster I could find who celebrate a birthday on April 22.
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I remember very clearly not being too excited when I heard the news that the Yanks had signed free-agent shortstop Spike Owen just before Christmas in 1992. They gave the Cleburne, Texas native a surprisingly generous 3-year deal worth $7 million. He was 31 years old at the time and he had been in the big leagues for 11 seasons. A switch-hitter, Owen had made his big league debut with Seattle in 1983 and got his big break in August of ’86, when the Mariners sent him and outfielder Dave Henderson to the Red Sox for Boston’s young starting shortstop, Rey Quinones. Boston skipper, John McNamara immediately inserted Owen as his starting shortstop and he remained there through the end of the regular season, even though he hit just .183 following the trade. But he played excellent defense and got the opportunity to make some offensive amends during the postseason by averaging .429 in the 1986 ALCS versus the Angels and an even .300 against the Mets during the Red Sox epic collapse in the ’86 World Series.
He lost his starting job in Beantown to Jody Reed in 1988 and was dealt to the Expos the following December. He had some of his best big league seasons defensively while with Montreal and even put together a record 61-game streak of errorless shortstop play there, that has since been broken. Though he never hit for a high average, Owen had good strike zone discipline that permitted him to finish his career with an on base percentage that was almost 80 points higher than his .246 lifetime batting average.
When his contract expired in 1992, Montreal decided to go with Will Cordero at short and let Owen walk. That’s when the Yankees knocked him over with their generosity. The franchise was just emerging from the Stump Merrill regime at the time, during which the flashy but mostly ineffective Alvaro Espinosa had started at short. New York’s new skipper, Buck Showalter had two other shortstop candidates on that year’s Yankee roster in Randy Velarde and Mike Gallego, but he went with Owen to start the season. Spike surprised everyone when he got off to a hot start with his bat, averaging over .400 during the first two weeks of the ’93 season. The problem was his defense. It seemed like every other ground ball hit his way ended up just out of his reach and the New York sports press made frequent negative notice of Owens propensity to make plays from his knees. When his average dipped to .240 by the end of July, Showalter began rotating Gallego and Velarde in with Owen at short.
By the end of that 1993 season, I think Buck might have told the Yankee front office he could get along fine with those two as his middle infielders and Yankee GM Gene Michael took the opportunity to try and shed some of the huge Yankee payroll by dealing Owen. He found a willing partner in the Angels but only after the Yankees agreed to pay most of the amount due on the two remaining years of Owen’s contract. Spike then had the best season of his career starting at short for California during the strike shortened 1994 season. He ended up losing his Angels’ starting job the following year and when his contract expired there were no big league teams interested in signing him.
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Garcia shares his February 7th birthday with this one-time Yankee prospect who was once hailed as “the next Lou Gehrig.”
When Lyn Lary joined the Yankees during his rookie season of 1929, Miller Huggins was still the Manager and Leo Durocher was New York’s starting shortstop. Huggins liked Durocher’s tough take no prisoners attitude, which he felt made up for the fact that Leo was not a very good hitter. Huggins tragically died from an eye infection during that 1929 season and when veteran Yankee pitcher Bob Shawkey was given the Skipper’s job in 1930, the much better-hitting Lary replaced Durocher as New York’s starting shortstop. In 1931, this native of Armona, CA had a terrific year, scoring 100 runs and driving in 107. That RBI number remains the single-season record for New York shortstops. But Lary had some bad moments that season as well, none worse than the time he cost Lou Gehrig sole possession of the 1931 home run title. That happened in an early season game against the Senators, in Washington. The Iron Horse hit a towering fly ball over the center field wall that caromed off the concrete bleachers and bounced back onto the field. Lary was on first base when Gehrig hit the ball and after rounding second with his head down, Lary looked up in time to see the Senator center fielder catch the ball as it bounced back on the field. Thinking it was a fly out and also thinking he could not back to first in time to avoid the double play, Lary just ran straight back into the Yankee dugout. He was ruled out, the Yankees lost two runs and Gehrig was also ruled out and credited with a triple instead of a home run. Lou ended up tied for the league lead in home runs that year with teammate Babe Ruth. Each had 46. Perhaps it was that sort of lackadaisical play that got Lary pushed out of his starting job by a young Frank Crosetti in 1932. He was eventually sent to the Red Sox. He played for six different clubs during the next seven seasons. In 1936, while playing with the Browns, his 37 stolen bases were tops in the American League. He retired after the 1940 season with 1,239 hits and a .269 lifetime average over a 12-year career.
Lary shares his January 28th birthday with this one-time Yankee announcer.
One month after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his permission to Major League Baseball to continue operations during wartime. That of course did not mean the game was unaffected. Hundreds of Major League and Minor League players were drafted or volunteered for military service during the war and joined with hundreds of thousands of American baseball fans who put on uniforms and headed for battle overseas.
From 1942 until the war ended four years later, the lineups of all Major League teams featured many strange and unfamiliar names. These were the replacement players, guys who had either not yet been drafted or were for one reason or another, exempted from the draft. Most came from the Minor Leagues. Many of them probably never would have had the opportunity to wear a big league uniform in peace time conditions. But thanks to them, America’s Favorite Past Time continued to function, giving both our armed forces and the patriotic public back home supporting them, something to cheer about.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was one of the many wartime replacement players who wore a Yankee uniform. Mike “Mollie” Milosevich had been in the Yankee farm system for eight long years when he was called up to the Bronx in 1944 to become New York’s starting shortstop. The Yankees had kept right on winning during the early years of the War, taking the AL Pennant in 1942 and winning the 1943 World Series against the Cardinals. But by 1944, all of their star players were in uniform and they fell to a third place finish.
Milosevich was 29 years-old at the time of his rookie season. He played in 94 games that year, batting .247. He stuck around long enough to play 30 games the following year, before the Yankee regulars began returning from Europe and the Pacific. He then returned to the Minors, where he played for six more seasons before retiring.
Yankee fans really did need a score card to figure out who was who on their favorite team during WW II. Take a look at the two lineups below and you’ll get a clearer idea of the difference in quality between the peace time and wartime Yankees.
New York’s 1941 Starting Lineup
Bill Dickey C
Buddy Hassett 1B
Joe Gordon 2B
Phil Rizzuto SS
Frank Crosetti 3B
Joe DiMaggio OF
Charlie Keller OF
Tommy Henrich OF
New York’s 1944 Starting Lineup
Mike Garbark C
Nick Etten 1B
Snuffy Stirnweiss 2B
Mike Milosevich SS
Oscar Grimes 3B
Bud Metheny OF
Johnny Lindell OF
Hersh Martin OF
This one-time Yankee starting pitcher was also born on January 13th.
One of the Yankees most impacted by the infamous Copa Cabana Nightclub incident wasn’t even there celebrating that night. I’m referring to Woodie Held, a rather free spirited middle infield prospect for New York in the fifties who along with alleged troublemaker Billy Martin, pitcher Ralph Terry and an outfielder named Bob Martyn were traded to Kansas City for reliever Ryne Duren and outfielders Jim Pisoni and Harry “Suitcase” Simpson. Both Martin and Terry would get a chance to return to New York and capture glory in pinstripes. Bob Martyn would never enjoy much success in the big leagues. But Held would go on to play fourteen years in the big leagues and belt 179 home runs.
Back when I was a kid, I collected baseball cards, which in addition to the annual Street & Smith’s Baseball Preview issue were my primary information conduit for the performances and stats of non-Yankee players. I remember checking the backs of cards of every player to find out what teams they played for. It was most likely on the back of the 1961 Woodie Held card pictured with this post that I found out he used to be a Yankee. Once you were a Yankee, I continued to root for your success except when your team happened to be playing the Yankees. That is how and why I became a fan of Woodie Held. I loved his name and I loved the fact that he played in the middle of the infield but could still hit for power. I remember the year I got this card, Maris and Mantle were chasing Ruth but Skowren, Berra, Howard and Blanchard all had more than 20 home runs that season while Clete Boyer (11), Bobby Richardson (3) and Tony Kubek (8) didn’t reach that milestone. I remember looking at Held’s card and seeing he had hit 21 home runs as a shortstop for the Indians in 1960 and 27 the season before. He would hit 23 during the ’61 season. I remember hoping some day he’d return to New York and hit all those home runs as a Yankee shortstop. Of course back then, I didn’t realize that would have been pretty difficult for Held to do since he was a right-handed pull hitter and probably, just like Clete Boyer ended up doing, many of Woodie’s blasts would have been turned into outs by Yankee Stadium’s cavernous left field.
In any event, Held never did come back to the Yankees. He hung on in the big leagues until 1969, quitting when he was 37 years old. He then enjoyed one of the most erratic retirements of any big league player in history. He opened a pizza parlor, ran a lumber yard, he raced snowmobiles, became an iron worker, he worked as a bartender and an electrician. Woodson George Held died in June of 2009 in his adopted home of DuBois Wyoming at the age of 77. He shares his March 25th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and coach.
You’d have to be close to my age to remember a shortstop by the name of Freddie Patek, who started for the very good Kansas City Royal teams of the 1970s. Patek’s nickname was “the Flea” because he was tiny, just 5’5″ tall and also a real pest for Royal opponents to deal with. He had good speed, was a heck of a bunter and every time you looked up he was moving a runner into scoring position, beating out a slow grounder or stealing a base. Patek was the guy I thought about as I completed my research on today’s pretty obscure Pinstripe Birthday celebrant named Fritz Brickell. Like Patek, Brickell was a 5’5″ shortstop. But unlike Freddie, Fritzie never became a real pest for Yankee opponents at the big league level.
Brickell’s dad, also named Fred, had been a Major League outfielder back in the twenties who played against the Yankees in the 1927 World Series. In addition to being short, Brickell had the additional misfortune of being a middle infielder in a Yankee organization during the fifties that was loaded with great middle infielders. Nevertheless, when Fritzie took over for Tony Kubek as starting shortstop for the Yankee’s AAA team in Denver in 1957, he banged 170 hits and averaged .295. That performance convinced the Yankees he deserved some look-sees at the Major League level. The 1959 Yankee club was one of the most disappointing teams in the franchise’s history. They finished in third place in the AL that season with a 79-75 record. They were playing .500 baseball in June when Brickell was called up. Manager Casey Stengel played him in 18 games during the next six weeks and Fritz hit his one and only big league career home run off of Detroit’s Tom Morgan. Unfortunately, given his small strike zone, Brickell did not like to walk. Kubek’s job was safe.
The Yankees sent Fritz back down to Denver at the end of July. The next time he played in Yankee Stadium was 1961 and he was wearing the uniform of the Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees had traded him to LA in April of that year to reacquire Duke Maas. Maas had been a valuable member of the Yankee pitching staff during the previous three seasons but when New York left him unprotected in the AL Expansion Draft of 1960, the Angels snatched him. Brickell was the Angels’ first ever Opening Day starting shortstop but after 21 games he was hitting just .122 and was released. Four years later he was dead, a victim of cancer, at the age of 30.
Fritz was born in Wichita, Kansas on March 19, 1935. Only a small handful of Yankees were born in the home state of the Wizard of Oz. The three most notable are Johnny Damon (Ft. Riley) Ralph Houk (Lawrence) and Mike Torrez (Topeka.)
Brickell shares his birthday with this long-ago starting outfielder for the New York Highlanders.
When I first started following Yankee baseball in 1960, the stolen base was something other teams did but not my Bronx Bombers. The Yankees had built and sustained a dynastic offense on slugging power and in the early ’60′s if somebody stole a base who was wearing a pinstriped uniform, it was either by accident or Mickey Mantle’s legs were feeling particularly strong that day. Case in point, in 1961, the Yankees led all of baseball with 240 home runs and also trailed all of baseball with just 28 stolen bases.
It was the Chicago White Sox at the time, who lived and breathed by a small ball attack that depended on stolen bases to spark their offense it was their great shortstop, Luis Aparicio, who provided the lighter fluid. Little Louie had made his Windy City debut in 1956 and proceeded to win nine straight AL stolen base crowns. That’s why it was pretty shocking when today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant stopped Aparicio’s streak in 1965, by stealing 51 bases for the A’s in just his second big league season.
If you ask Jim Kaat, the one-time Yankee pitcher and game announcer, who Campaneris reminded him of, it might have been Mantle instead of Aparicio. “Kitty” was the first big league pitcher to face the 22-year-old Cuban in his rookie season of 1964 and Campy hit Kaat’s first pitch to him for a home run. He then homered off Kaat again in the same game. This incredibly talented shortstop brought an immediate element of excitement to a Kansas City team that had played horrible baseball for a very long time and gradually, he helped mold that ball club into a force that would win three consecutive World Championships. He would capture six AL stolen base titles in his first eight seasons. Then, just to prove he wasn’t a one-dimensional player, he decided to try and hit home runs during the 1970 season and hit 22 of them.
Campy’s career with the A’s ended after the 1976 season. The bitter Oakland owner Charley Finley had thrown up his hands at free agency and was cashing in his chips by unloading all of the team’s best players. Campaneris was one of the few A’s stars left from the three straight world championship teams to make it to free agency before being traded. He more than doubled his last A’s salary when he signed with Texas. But he was 35 years-old at the time and his best days were behind him. Over the next five seasons, he evolved into a utility infielder and pinch-runner first with the Rangers and then with the Angels. It looked as if his big league playing days were over for good when the Angels let him go and he played the 1982 season in Mexico.
The 1982 Yankee season had been a nightmare. The team finished in fifth place, below five-hundred and had gone through three managers. George Steinbrenner brought Billy Martin back to manage the 1983 club. When the Boss signed Reggie Jackson as a free agent after the 1976 season, Martin had wanted him to sign Campaneris instead. Campy contacted the Yankees about coming to spring training because he had heard they had a shortage of infielders. He was invited to camp and got a break when Roy Smalley went down with appendicitis. Though he didn’t go north with the team he did accept a roster spot with Columbus instead and was called up to the Bronx in early May. He ended up doing a better-than-decent job as Martin’s key infield reserve. He hit .322 in 60 games of action and even stole 6 bases, leaving him with a career total of 649. It was a fitting end to an outstanding 19-year career.
The 1989 season was a bad one for Yankee fans. That year’s team became the first New York club in fifteen seasons to lose more regular season games than it won, (74-87.) It was a season of transition for my favorite baseball team but unfortunately, that transition was moving in the wrong direction. That year would be the last time Don Mattingly would average .300 in a full regular season in pinstripes. It was the first time in almost a decade that Dave Winfield wasn’t a Yankee outfielder and the last season Ricky Henderson was. It was the first year of Ron Guidry’s retirement and the final year George Steinbrenner would officially dictate all team moves before being suspended for his role in the Howie Spira scandal. The Yankee managers that season were Dallas Green and then Bucky Dent, both of whom were fired, clearing the way for the Stump Merrill era to begin one season later or as I like to refer to it as “the era of being completely Stumped.”
It appeared as if the only good thing happening in Yankee Stadium in 1989 was the introduction of a flashy Venezuelan-born starting shortstop. But alas, even that turned out to be an illusion. When I think of Alvaro Espinosa during his Yankee playing days I’m reminded of a line that comedian Billy Crystal used on Saturday Night Live whenever he impersonated the actor, Fernando Lamas, with one slight modification. “It is better to look good than to play good.”
At first appearance to Yankee fans, Alvaro Espinosa looked like a classic Major League shortstop. He hit .282 his first full year as a Yankee and played shortstop with a flair that often thrilled us. As time and Yankee seasons wore on however and the team’s losses mounted, it became clear that Espinosa’s defensive skills, though not horrible were far from great and his propensity to swing at terrible pitches on 3-0 counts and his lack of run production made him a liability in the Yankee lineup. When Buck Showalter replaced Stump Merrill in 1992, Espinosa’s three-year reign as New York’s starting shortstop was officially over. There was of course Espinosa’s great gold necklace. I could be wrong but I do believe it was Alvaro who first introduced bling to big league baseball in the Bronx. In any event, happy 51st birthday to Mr Espinosa and may he enjoy many more. He shares his birthday with this Yankee catcher.
He was the first starting shortstop in New York Yankee team history. Peckinpaugh won the job in 1913, the same year the New York Highlanders officially became the New York Yankees. He kept that position for the next eight seasons, long enough to become the first Yankee starting shortstop to play in the old Yankee Stadium and also to play for New York in a World Series. He was a brilliant fielder and an excellent base runner. His lifetime totals in Pinstripes included 1,170 hits, over 1,200 games played, a .257 batting average and 143 stolen bases. In December of 1921, Roger was part a seven player swap with the Red Sox that included Boston’s starting shortstop, Everett Scott. By 1925, Peckinpaugh had been traded to Washington, where he hit .294 and was named AL MVP for leading the Senators to the World Series. But in that year’s Fall Classic against the Pirates, Peckinpaugh committed the unbelievable total of eight errors, which remains a Series record, today. He ended his playing career in 1927 and began his managing career the following season as skipper of the Indians. He managed for seven seasons and then took a job in Cleveland’s front office. Roger died in 1977, at the age of 86.
Since today’s post is about the first great shortstop in pinstripe history, let’s take a look at my list of the five greatest Yankee shortstops ever:
Number 1 – Derek Jeter: Five rings, eight pennants, seventeen postseasons, 3,000 hits. Simply the best.
Number 2 – Phil Rizzuto: Ted Williams described Scooter as one of the greatest players of his era. Nine pennants, seven rings, an MVP and Hall-of-Famer.
Number 3 – Frankie Crosetti: The starting shortstop on 6 World Championship teams. A total of nine pennants and eight rings as a player. Reached 1,500 hits and 1,000 runs during his career.
Number 4 – Peckinpaugh
Number 5 – Tony Kubek: His three rings, seven pennants and 1,109 hits during a brief nine-year career easily beats out Bucky Dent for the final spot.