Results tagged ‘ shortstop ’

March 19 – Happy Birthday Fritz Brickell

brick.jpgYou’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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP
1958 NYY 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1959 NYY 18 41 39 4 10 1 0 1 4 0 1 10 .256 .275
3 Yrs 41 96 88 7 16 1 0 1 7 0 7 19 .182 .242
NYY (2 yrs) 20 41 39 4 10 1 0 1 4 0 1 10 .256 .275
LAA (1 yr) 21 55 49 3 6 0 0 0 3 0 6 9 .122 .218
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/13/2014.

February 19 – Happy Birthday Alvaro Espinosa


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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1988 NYY 3 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
1989 NYY 146 544 503 51 142 23 1 0 41 3 14 60 .282 .301 .332 .633
1990 NYY 150 472 438 31 98 12 2 2 20 1 16 54 .224 .258 .274 .532
1991 NYY 148 509 480 51 123 23 2 5 33 4 16 57 .256 .282 .344 .626
12 Yrs 942 2659 2478 252 630 105 9 22 201 13 76 324 .254 .279 .331 .610
CLE (4 yrs) 344 802 749 88 189 36 2 11 74 4 22 103 .252 .276 .350 .626
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/27/2014.

February 13 – Happy Birthday Jim Brideweser

brideweserAs 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.

This long-ago Highlander outfielderthis former University of Michigan quarterback and this first great Yankee first baseman were each also born on February 13th.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1951 NYY 2 8 8 1 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .375 .375 .375 .750
1952 NYY 42 41 38 12 10 0 0 0 2 0 3 5 .263 .317 .263 .580
1953 NYY 7 4 3 3 3 0 1 0 3 0 1 0 1.000 1.000 1.667 2.667
7 Yrs 329 700 620 79 156 22 6 1 50 6 63 78 .252 .322 .311 .633
NYY (3 yrs) 51 53 49 16 16 0 1 0 5 0 4 6 .327 .377 .367 .745
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/23/2014.