Results tagged ‘ shortstop ’
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.
Milosevich’s Yankee regulars season & lifetime stats:
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.
The New York Yankees had won the 1976 AL Pennant but had then been swept by the Reds in that year’s Fall Classic. After watching my favorite team miss the postseason for eleven straight years, I for one was satisfied with that season’s results and I remember looking forward to the ’77 season with lots of positive anticipation. I’ll tell you who wasn’t satisfied though, George Steinbrenner. The Boss was OK with Pennants but what he really wanted was rings and after he watched Cincinnati’s lineup of all stars undress his outmatched ball club in that ’76 Series, the Yankee owner was determined to field players at every position who could match up with their counterparts on the Big Red Machine.
Steinbrenner’s goal was not that far-fetched. The Yankees already had seven bonafide all stars in their ’76 lineup in Thurman Munson, Chris Chambliss, Wille Randolph, Graig Nettles, Mickey Rivers, Lou Piniella and Roy White. His signing of Reggie Jackson that offseason made it eight. The only missing link was at shortstop. Fred “Chicken” Stanley had held down that position the previous season and performed well. He was more than adequate defensively but Steinbrenner would point to his .239 average during the 1976 season and insist the Yankees couldn’t win a championship with Stanley at shortstop.
New York was actively shopping around for an all star replacement for Chicken. The best one available in that year’s free agent pool was the Oakland A’s veteran, Bert Campaneris. But Campy was already 34 years old at the time and Yankee GM Gabe Paul was convinced he was on the downside of his brilliant career. Instead, Paul convinced Steinbrenner to try and sign Bobby Grich, the Baltimore second baseman who also became a free agent after the ’76 season. Paul was certain that Grich could be converted into a shortstop and he and the Boss went after the about-to-be ex-Oriole hard. But Grich, a native of California chose the Angels instead. Out of free agent options and still determined that Stanley was not the solution, Steinbrenner and Yankee manager Billy Martin agreed that they would give the franchise’s top minor league shortstop every chance to win the starter’s job during New York’s 1977 spring training season.
At the time, I was well aware of Mickey Klutts’ impressive numbers at the minor league level. Back then, the Syracuse Chiefs were the Yankee’s triple A farm team. I had a cousin living in Syracuse who was a huge Yankee fan, who would follow the Chiefs closely and let me know if there were any especially promising prospects on their way to the Bronx. That cousin was crazy about Klutts. He was a right-handed hitter who was just 21 years-old in 1976 and he had hit 24 home runs for the Chiefs that season and driven in 80 in just 119 games. The Yankees had brought him up to the parent club for a short time that same year and Billy Martin took a liking to the kid’s attitude. Since his first name was Mickey, he had good power and he was starting out as a shortstop, I couldn’t help hoping Klutts would have even more in common with another Yankee named “Mickey” at the end of his career as he did starting out.
Unfortunately for Klutts, he jammed his wrist in his first ’77 spring training game. Day’s later, he was diagnosed with a broken thumb. An impatient Steinbrenner was in no mood to wait around for his prospect’s injury to heel. He ordered Paul to trade for White Sox shortstop, Bucky Dent. As soon as Dent became a Yankee, Klutts’ future with the team became clouded. After his hand recovered, he went back to Syracuse and put together a solid season. That August, he returned to the big league roster. During the final game of the ’77 season, Klutts hit a two-run home run against the Tigers. That would be the only home run he would hit while wearing the pinstripes.
The Yankees and Steinbrenner got their ring at the end of that ’77 season with Dent starting at shortstop. The following June, Mickey Klutts was traded to the A’s for outfielder Gary Thomasson. He would spend the next four years as a utility infielder and outfielder with Oakland and then play one more season with Toronto before his big league career was officially over. Mickey shares his birthday with another former Yankee shortstop prospect.
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Derek Jeter will be the last Yankee shortstop to wear uniform number 2 but the first one to do so is today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Mark Koenig started at short for New York’s legendary Murderers’ Row team of 1927 and batted second, after leadoff man Earle Combs and right before the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth. That hallowed team became the first in AL history to remain in first place the entire season, set a regular season record with 110 victories and become the first junior circuit squad to sweep an NL opponent (the Pirates) in a World Series. Koenig hit .285 for that Yankee team and scored 99 runs. He was a very good fielder and was also universally liked and respected by his teammates.
The Yankees became this San Francisco native’s first big league club in 1925, when he was just 20-years old. He won the starting job at short the following season and held it until 1929, when he was replaced by the bold and brash Leo Durocher. In May of the following season, he was traded to the Tigers, but when he couldn’t get his average above the .250s, Detroit sold his contract to a Pacific Coast League team. After 89 games in the minors, he was hitting .335 and caught the attention of the Cubs who were in a battle for the 1932 NL Pennant. He was brought to the Windy City that August and played outstanding baseball for 2 months, hitting a robust .353 to help Chicago hold off the Pirates and earn the right to face the Yankees in the ’32 World Series.
When his former Yankee teammates learned that Koenig’s new Chicago’ teammates had not voted him a full share of the team’s World Series prize money, they exhibited their resentment with a constant and fierce series-long razzing targeting the entire Cubs’ team, except Koenig of course. That razzing was nearing the boil-over point by Game 3, when Babe Ruth came to the plate in the fifth inning with the score tied 4-4 to face Cub pitcher Charley Root. Root and the entire Cub bench were screaming obscenities at the Bambino, who was responding in kind. When Root supposedly quick pitched a second strike, legend has it that Ruth pointed to center and hit Root’s next pitch into the Wrigley Field bleachers in the general direction of where he had pointed.
The Cubs brought Koenig back for the ’33 season and then traded him to the Phillies, who in turn dealt him to the Reds. Still just 29 years old, Koenig became Cincinnati’s starting third baseman in 1934 and had a strong season. He then came back to New York in 1935, this time with the cross town Giants where he finished out his playing career in 1936. Koenig’s lifetime average for his dozen years as a big leaguer was a respectable .279 and he collected 1,190 hits. He would live until 1993 and become the oldest surviving starter from that 1927 Yankee team and missing by a couple of seasons, the beginning of the career of the last Yankee shortstop who will ever wear Koenig’s number.
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Joe Girardi has been one of Eduardo Nunez’s biggest fans and boosters since the young Dominican infielder made his big league and Yankee debut in August of 2010. Several of the team’s talent developers have also predicted that Nunez would one day succeed his boyhood idol, Derek Jeter as Yankee shortstop. Members of the Yankee front-office have been quoted as labeling this kid as untouchable. I’m not that optimistic about this guy.
Don’t get me wrong, he has potential. I just have not seen strong enough evidence that he’s anywhere near ready to take over Jeter’s position anytime soon. He was a valuable utility infielder for Girardi in 2011, appearing in 112 games that season and averaging .265 as a fill-in for Jeter and A-Rod who both were forced into long absences with injuries. But his defensive lapses at both short and third were often glaring and far too frequent for a big league infielder.
It was those same defensive shortcomings in several early-season games this season that finally forced Girardi to OK Nunez’s return to Triple A. I do think he has the offensive skills necessary to play regularly at the big league level but he lacks the power necessary to hold down the Yankees’ DH spot. Making Nunez’s return to the Bronx even more difficult is the fact that he can’t focus his time in the minors mastering one infield spot. With A-Rod, Jeter and Robbie Cano pretty firmly ensconced at their respective positions for the next few years, Nunez must learn to play all three adequately.
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.
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