Results tagged ‘ shortstop ’
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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|SEA (4 yrs)||462||1770||1590||190||380||61||23||11||136||38||22||138||176||.239||.301||.327||.628|
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|CAL (2 yrs)||164||558||486||47||133||26||5||4||65||5||10||67||39||.274||.363||.372||.735|
|NYY (1 yr)||103||367||334||41||78||16||2||2||20||3||2||29||30||.234||.294||.311||.605|
The Yankees waited until after the 1979 World Series to make the deal to replace Thurman Munson, who had been tragically killed in a plane crash earlier that same season. When they did pull the trigger, I was disappointed. First of all, I was a big Chris Chambliss fan. When it was announced that New York had traded Chambliss along with Paul Mirabella and a young Yankee shortstop prospect to the Blue Jays for Toronto’s starting backstop Rick Cerone and two pitchers, not only was I upset to see Chambliss go, I thought they traded for the wrong guy. I was hoping New York’s front office would target Ted Simmons of the Cardinals as their choice to replace Munson. Simmons was a switch-hitter and perennial All Star while the much younger Cerone had not done anything with his bat up to that point in his career and was too young to provide the sort of veteran leadership I thought the Yankees needed back then.
As it turned out, Cerone did pretty well in pinstripes for a couple of seasons and the Yankees did a good job at replacing Chambliss at first. Even though the Jays turned around and traded Chambu to the Braves for a guy named Barry Bonnell, Toronto made out OK too because they got that young Yankee prospect named Damaso Garcia. The Blue Jays switched him to second base and during the next seven seasons, this Dominican was always among the top two or three players at that position in the American League. He made the AL All Star team in both 1984 and ’85. He spent a total of seven seasons with Toronto, averaged .288 and stole right around 45 bases a year. After Bucky Dent was traded by New York in 1980, Roy Smalley, Bobby Meacham and Wayne Tolleson each had two-year tenures as Yankee starting shortstops. I believe Garcia would have been a much better answer at the time.Garcia shares his February 7th birthday with this one-time Yankee prospect who was once hailed as “the next Lou Gehrig.”
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|NYY (2 yrs)||29||82||79||8||18||1||0||0||5||3||2||8||.228||.244||.241||.484|
|MON (1 yr)||80||222||203||26||55||9||1||3||18||5||15||20||.271||.317||.369||.686|
|ATL (1 yr)||21||64||60||3||7||1||0||1||4||1||3||10||.117||.159||.183||.342|
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.
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|WSH (1 yr)||39||121||103||8||20||4||0||0||7||3||12||10||.194||.278||.233||.511|
|STL (1 yr)||34||96||75||11||14||3||0||0||9||1||16||15||.187||.330||.227||.556|
|BOS (1 yr)||129||501||419||58||101||20||4||2||54||12||66||51||.241||.344||.322||.667|
|BRO (1 yr)||29||46||31||7||5||1||1||0||1||1||12||6||.161||.409||.258||.667|
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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|NYY (5 yrs)||355||947||837||106||187||21||5||2||54||16||87||161||.223||.298||.268||.565|
|CHW (1 yr)||81||310||260||39||65||7||3||3||29||13||38||43||.250||.342||.335||.677|