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.
At the 1986 All Star break, just about everyone playing for and following that year’s Yankee team thought the club’s top acquisition priority was starting pitching. That’s why everyone was a bit surprised by the deal New York swung with the White Sox. The Yankees sent Chicago their starting catcher at the time, Ron Hassey and the organization’s top minor league shortstop, a guy named Carlos Martinez. In return, New York got power-hitting DH Ron Kittle, a new starting catcher in Joel Skinner and a scrappy middle infielder named Wayne Tolleson.
At the time of the deal, Tolleson, a native of Spartanburg, SC and an all-league star in baseball and football at Western Carolina was 30 years old. He had debuted in the big leagues in 1981 with Texas and became the Rangers starting shortstop in 1983. He was only five feet nine inches tall and weighed just 160 pounds, which helps explain why he would hit just 9 home runs during his decade in the big leagues. A switch hitter, he made up for his lack of pop with constant hustle, good speed and solid defense.
Yankee skipper, Lou Piniella made Tolleson his starting shortstop during the second half of the 1986 season, replacing Bobby Meacham. Tolleson put together a solid first half-season in pinstripes, averaging .284 and committing just five errors. That 1986 Yankee team finished with 90 wins but missed the postseason. Piniella stuck with Tolleson at short but his bat went ice cold and he hit just .221 during his first full season as a Yankee. That 1987 team again failed to reach the postseason and the New York front office decided Tolleson was no longer the answer at short. They went out and got Rafael Santana from the Mets and Tolleson his final three seasons in the Bronx as the Yankees top utility infielder.
This pitching star of the 1957 World Series, this hitting star of the 1998 World Series, this former third baseman and this current Yankee catching prospect all share Tolleson’s November 22nd birthday.
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In the five years after World War I ended, the Yankees and Red Sox made nine major player transactions. The Yankees came out of most of those deals so far ahead of the Red Sox that many Boston fans and sports writers were sure Red Sox owner Harry Frazee also had an ownership stake in New York’s franchise. Just before Christmas in 1921, Frazee made yet another deal with New York. A total of seven players were involved in the transaction including each team’s starting shortstop. Boston got New York’s Roger Peckinpaugh and then quickly traded him to Washington for another future Yankee, Jumpin Joe Dugan. New York got Everett Scott from the Red Sox who at the time of the trade had played in a then Major League record of 830 consecutive games. That streak would not end until May 5 1925, during Scott’s fourth and final season with New York, when Yankee Manager, Miller Huggins decided his shortstop needed to rest a sore back. At the time he had played in 1,307 consecutive games. Just a couple weeks later, Scott’s Yankee teammate, a young first baseman named Lou Gehrig began a consecutive game playing streak that would eventually overwhelm Scott’s achievement.
The player they called “Deacon” was not much of a hitter but he was one of baseball’s best defensive shortstops during his day. And although he didn’t hit for average, Scott barely struck out, making him a valuable hit-and-run weapon. He was also very smart and worked very hard at his craft. That’s probably why Miller Huggins made the guy a Yankee Captain. Old Everett won three World Series with Boston and was a key member of the first-ever Yankee team to win the Fall Classic in 1923. In all he played thirteen big league seasons in five different uniforms and hit .249 lifetime. He was born on November 19, 1892 in Bluffton, IN and died almost 68 years later, in nearby Ft Wayne.
Scott shares a birthday with this former Yankee catcher.
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The 1970 Yankees had surprised everyone including me by finishing in second place in the AL East with the impressive total of 93 wins. That unexpected success put a lot of pressure on manager Ralph Houk to not only prove his team was that good but to also come up with a plan for making up the 15 games that had separated the second place Bronx Bombers from their division foes, the 1970 World Champion Baltimore Orioles.
The New York skipper was telling the press that the Yankee bullpen was one of the league’s best, thanks to the righty/lefty duo of veterans Jack Aker and Lindy McDaniel. He felt Mel Stottlemyre, Fritz Peterson and Stan Bahnsen were as good as any team’s first three starting pitchers. He touted Bobby Murcer, Roy White and 1970 AL Rookie of the Year Thurman Munson as the foundation of an efficient run-producing lineup. His goals that spring were to find a fourth starting pitcher and a corner infielder with some home run power. He also expected today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant to replace Gene Michael as the Yankees’ starting shortstop.
It wouldn’t be the first time the franchise was counting on a “Frank Baker” to help the team compete for an AL Pennant. Over a half century earlier, the Yankees had purchased the contract of Hall of Famer Frank “Home Run” Baker from the Philadelphia A’s. By the time that Frank Baker retired after the 1922 season, he had helped the Yankees make it to the franchise’s first two Fall Classics.
The “Frank Baker” Houk was introducing was a sleek fielding shortstop who had spent the previous four seasons playing that position brilliantly for the Yankee’s Syracuse Chiefs. But I had the same question everyone else had about Baker. Could the guy hit?
The shortstop he was replacing was Gene Michael. Nicknamed “Stick,” Michael was a mediocre switch hitter who would average just .229 lifetime, but he had somehow managed to hit a career high .272 during the 1969 season. That blip caused the Yankees to keep Michael at short instead of Baker for the 1970 season. When Stick reverted to form by averaging just .214 the following year, Houk was determined to move forward with the switch. Baker had been a career .250 hitter at the minor league level and had hit at that same level during a 1970 call-up from Syracuse. I remember clearly thinking that he would not make a huge impact offensively for the Yankees in 1971 and I was correct. In fact, he was so unimpressive in that year’s spring training season that Houk kept Michael as the team’s starting shortstop. Baker ended up seeing action in just 43 games that year and his batting average was a putrid .139. He found himself back in Syracuse the following year and was then traded to the Orioles in 1973. Meanwhile, Gene Michael kept starting at short for New York until 1974, finally losing the job to Jim Mason.
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|BAL (2 yrs)||68||103||92||13||17||2||2||1||11||0||10||12||.185||.262||.283||.545|
By the end of the 1983 season, the great Yankee third baseman, Graig Nettles was 38 years old and in addition to losing some of his skills to age, he had worn out his relationship with team owner George Steinbrenner. The following February, New York traded reliever George Frazier and outfield prospect Otis Nixon to Cleveland for the third baseman they hoped would replace Nettles. His name was Toby Harrah. I remember being optimistic about the trade. At the time of the deal, Harrah had already enjoyed a solid, fourteen-year Major League career with Texas and Cleveland and was a four-time AL All Star. He wasn’t as good a fielder as Nettles had been in his prime but hardly anyone was. Like Nettles, he could hit the long ball, having reached the 20-homer mark five times and unlike Nettles, Harrah had good speed on the base paths. But this was the early eighties when every deal the Yankees attempted seemed to backfire and the Harrah acquisition was no different. After one terrible season in pinstripes during which he hit just .217 in 84 games, Toby was back in a Ranger uniform the following year. He was born October 26, 1948, in Sissonville, WI.
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You’ve probably never heard of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant but Joe Buzas owns an off-the-field record no Yankee past or present will ever break. He played just a half-season in pinstripes in 1945, from April till the end of June. He was New York’s Opening Day starting shortstop that season and got off to a fast start, driving in six runs in his first seven big league games. But those would prove to be the only RBIs he would get as a Yankee and as a big leaguer. He would end up playing behind Frankie Crosetti, appearing in just 34 games and hitting .264 that year, before blowing out his shoulder, an injury that ruined his future as a player.
Buzas had attended Bucknell University where, in addition to playing baseball, basketball and football plus joining the boxing team, he evidently also found time to take some business and management classes. After his playing career was over, this native of Lewisburg, PA coached and managed in the minor leagues for ten years and then purchased a minor league baseball team. During the next four decades he would buy and sell 82 more minor league franchises, becoming a multi-millionaire in the process.