Results tagged ‘ shortstop ’
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.
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|CAL (2 yrs)||91||219||186||19||36||4||0||4||17||0||23||56||.194||.296||.280||.575|
|NYY (2 yrs)||5||6||4||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||1||.000||.333||.000||.333|
|BAL (2 yrs)||82||145||123||10||23||6||1||2||13||0||18||42||.187||.301||.301||.602|
|CHW (2 yrs)||96||141||117||14||18||3||0||3||8||0||18||33||.154||.275||.256||.532|
|WSA (1 yr)||122||391||332||46||82||16||2||16||54||0||49||74||.247||.345||.452||.797|
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.
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|LAA (1 yr)||21||55||49||3||6||0||0||0||3||0||6||9||.122||.218|
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 have dictatorial control over all organizational and personnel 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 52nd birthday to Mr Espinosa and may he enjoy many more. He shares his birthday with this Yankee catcher.
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|NYY (4 yrs)||447||1528||1424||133||363||58||5||7||94||8||46||171||.255||.281||.317||.598|
|MIN (3 yrs)||70||107||99||9||24||3||0||0||10||0||2||19||.242||.265||.273||.537|
|NYM (1 yr)||48||144||134||19||41||7||2||4||16||0||4||19||.306||.324||.478||.801|
|SEA (1 yr)||33||78||72||3||13||1||0||0||7||1||2||12||.181||.213||.194||.408|
As the 1953 season approached, New York’s veteran shortstop, Phil Rizzuto was not enjoying his offseason. Two years removed from his MVP year of 1950, Scooter was getting on in years and slumping at the plate. Yankee GM George Weiss had sent Rizzuto a contract for the ’53 season that included a significant pay cut and to make matters worse, the future Hall of Famer had spent time in the hospital that winter, being treated for some sort of stomach disorder.
Observing all this from his home in California, Yankee skipper Casey Stengel was making plans just in case he did not have the services of Rizzuto on Opening Day of that ’53 season. The Ol Perfessor had two young Yankee shortstop prospects attend his baseball school in Glendale that winter. The first was Andy Carey, who was considered number one in line to succeed Scooter. The second was a University of Southern California graduate by the name of Jim Brideweser.
Brideweser had put himself into contention for the job with a solid 1951 season with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. Then in 1952, he saw significant action with the parent club as Rizzuto’s backup. When Carey showed up at the Yanks 1953 spring training camp with a sore arm, Stengel told the Yankee press he was going to start Bridweser at short and give him a “thorough trial” that spring.
Casey was true to his word and as late as March 22nd of that year, he was still telling anyone who’d listen that he was thrilled with Brideweser’s effort that spring. As the situation played out however, Rizzuto was finally signed and got healthy enough to play 134 games that season and put together a fine bounce-back performance. Carey was switched over to third, where he’d play the rest of his career. Brideweser started the year on the Opening Day roster but spent most of that ’53 season in Syracuse playing for the Yanks Triple A team there. New York GM George Weiss purchased switch-hitting utility infielder Willy Miranda from the Browns that June and he became Rizzuto’s primary backup.
The following May, Brideweser was traded to the Orioles. He would get big league at bats with Baltimore, the White Sox and the Tigers before retiring as a player in 1957 and becoming a high school math teacher and baseball coach.
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|BAL (2 yrs)||164||392||346||34||92||14||3||1||30||3||36||43||.266||.336||.332||.668|
|CHW (2 yrs)||44||75||69||6||14||4||2||0||5||0||3||10||.203||.247||.319||.565|
|DET (1 yr)||70||180||156||23||34||4||0||0||10||3||20||19||.218||.307||.244||.550|
I still remember the play. Opening Day 2003, Yanks are playing the Jays in Toronto and leading 1-0 when Derek Jeter walked with one out in the third inning. The next Yankee hitter, Jason Giambi hit a dribbler between the mound and third base. Jay third baseman Erik Hinske, shortstop Chris Woodward and pitcher Roy Halladay all went after the ball with Halladay reaching it first and nailing Giambi with a good throw to first. Meanwhile, Jeter raced to second and when he saw that neither Hinske or Woodward was covering third he kept running. Ken Huckaby, the Toronto catcher also saw that third base was uncovered and he ran like hell to get there before Jeter. In the mean time, first baseman Carlos Degado threw a bullet to the third base bag, hoping Huckaby would get there before both the ball and Jeter did. Jeter got their first and was safe on the play but a millisecond later, Huckaby arrived and when he tried to catch the ball and stop at the same time, he barreled into the Yankee shortstop, separating his shoulder in the process. Jeter went on the DL for the first time in his career and everyone wondered, what will the Yankees do without their shortstop.
The immediate options to take his place were Enrique Wilson, who was the utility infielder on that year’s Yankee roster or Erick Almonte, who was considered the organization’s top minor league shortstop at that time. The Dominican native had put together some decent offensive seasons in the Yankee farm system up to that point but his bat had actually been regressing more recently. In fact, the year before Jeter’s injury occurred, New York had demoted Almonte from triple A to double A because of his inability to hit.
That’s why everyone was pleasantly surprised when the Yanks decided to go with Almonte and he got off to a torrid start at the plate when he was called up to the Bronx. In his first game he homered, went 2-for-5 and drove in three runs. He hit safely in six of his first seven games and was averaging .333 after his first ten days as the Yankee shortstop. He would tail off a bit but was still hitting .272 when Jeter returned to the lineup in early May and the Yankees were in first place with a three game lead and a 26-10 record. While Yankee fans had missed the Captain, the truth is the Yankee team hadn’t. Erick Almonte had stepped up big time in Jeter’s absence. He would never get another chance to do so.
He was sent back down to Columbus for most of the rest of that 2003 season. He would later sign as a free agent with the Rockies and then play ball in Japan for a few years. He did not get back to the big leagues until 2011, when he made the Milwaukee Brewer roster as a spare outfielder. Unfortunately, he was beaned pretty severely and didn’t get a chance to play much. As of 2013, he was still playing minor league baseball. He turns 36-years-old today.
He shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever, this Gold-Glove-winning center fielder, this one-time Yankee prospect and the player the Yanks got when they traded Tom Tresh.
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|MIL (1 yr)||16||29||29||1||3||0||0||1||3||0||0||4||.103||.103||.207||.310|