Results tagged ‘ shortstop ’
I learned a lot about today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant by reading this excellent article authored by Bill Nowlin for the the Society for American Baseball Research. It describes a young man who believed in the power of education and as a high school student in Philadelphia, was genuinely torn between going to college to pursue a career in medicine or playing professional baseball. In the end, the immediate opportunity to start in Connie Mack’s infield for his hometown Philadelphia A’s was just too compelling for John Knight to pass up.
He would become as much of a national sports sensation as one could back in 1905, before radio, television or the Internet were around, when he was the Opening Day nineteen-year-old starting shortstop for Philadelphia and was leading the league with a .400-plus batting average two weeks into the new season. He wasn’t able to maintain that torrid hitting pace and it would be his inability to hit big league pitching that landed him in the minor leagues, playing for the Baltimore Orioles, by 1908. That August, Knight’s contract was purchased by the New York Highlanders.
Knight realized his future in baseball would depend on his ability to become a better hitter and as he joined his new team, he was determined to do so. His efforts certainly bore some fruit. The Highlanders’ first year manager George Stallings made Knight his team’s starting shortstop in ’09 and he hit a career-high .236. In 1910, his offensive epiphany exploded into a .312 batting average and he followed that up by posting a career-high 62 RBIs in 1911. In just six years, he had transformed himself from an offensive liability into one of the game’s better hitting shortstops and Clark Griffith, the former New York manager who now skippered the Senators, noticed. He made it known that he was interested in acquiring Knight and kept poking the Highlander front office with trade offers for the infielder all during the 2011 season. New York finally bit during the 1912 spring training season when they accepted Washington catcher’s Gabby Street for Knight.
His short stay in our nation’s capitol was a disaster. Griffith started Knight at second base and it seemed as if he forgot how to hit and field, both at the same time. He averaged just .161 during the first half of that year and was then sold to a minor league club in New Jersey. He would end up getting a second chance with the Highlanders after he hit .270 for his Jersey City team during the first half of the 1913 season. He did OK with New York, starting at first base and averaging .236 for a very bad Highlander team but it wasn’t good enough to prevent him from getting sold back to the minors at the end of the year. He would remain a minor league player for the rest of his career, finally retiring for good in 1928, at the age of 42.
Knight’s early career start in the big leagues earned him the most appropriate nickname of “Schoolboy.” At just over six feet two inches tall, Knight was the tallest shortstop in the big leagues.
|NYY (4 yrs)||435||1714||1494||197||399||59||16||6||171||63||138||213||.267||.338||.340||.678|
|PHA (3 yrs)||202||776||717||63||144||26||4||6||61||11||38||157||.201||.244||.273||.517|
|WSH (1 yr)||32||116||93||10||15||2||1||0||9||4||16||25||.161||.284||.204||.489|
|BOS (1 yr)||98||382||360||31||78||9||3||2||29||8||19||53||.217||.256||.275||.531|
The Yankees had their own California Gold Rush in the 1920’s and ’30’s. New York’s favorite mine for the precious metal was the Pacific Coast League, which back then was the equivalent of Major League Baseball for the western United States. The team’s prospecting began with San Francisco native Tony Lazzeri who the Yanks acquired from his Salt Lake City PCL team in August of 1925. Four years later, they struck gold again when they purchased the contract of pitcher Lefty Gomez from the San Francisco Seals. Their most famous western find of course was the great Joe DiMaggio, also born in the City by the Bay and also acquired from the Seals in 1934. In between the Gomez and DiMaggio additions came Frankie “The Crow” Crosetti, who was born on today’s date in 1910 in San Francisco. He spent more seasons in a Yankee uniform than any other human being. These included ten seasons as a starting shortstop, seven more as back-up shortstop and then a twenty-season tenure as New York’s third base coach. Not a force with the bat, Frankie was a good base-runner, an excellent fielder and one of the game’s all-time great sign stealers. He was also a skilled bunter and turned the act of getting hit by a pitch into an art form. He became one of Joe McCarthy’s favorite players.
The Yankees of the 1920s were a rowdy bunch, led by the greatest partier and biggest kid in big league history, Babe Ruth. The Yankees of the thirties eventually became the team of Lou Gehrig and McCarthy. They were all business on the field and much more quiet and reserved off of it. Crosetti joined the Yankees as the club was in the process of transitioning from being Ruth’s team to being Gehrig’s. Picking a side was an easy choice for the Crow.
Crosetti was a quiet guy off the field. In his New York Daily News obituary, the writer describes an evening after a Yankee game on the road, at the team’s hotel. Crosetti, Lazzeri and DiMaggio all came down to the lobby at the same time and sat next to each other for an hour and twenty minutes and not one of the three players said a word to each other.
He finished his playing career with a .245 lifetime average. His on base percentage during that time was almost 100 points higher. He collected 1,546 hits and scored 1,006 runs. He was not a great World Series performer although in the 1936 Fall Classic he drove in six runs in New York’s four-game sweep of the Cubs and also hit his one and only postseason home run off of the great but past-his-prime, Dizzy Dean.
He was also a no-nonsense Yankee coach. Crosetti often threw Yankee batting practices and he demanded that every player work on a specific hitting skill when it was their turn in the cage. If someone started swinging for the fences, Yogi Berra remembered Crosetti would actually just walk off the mound and refuse to throw the guy any more pitches. In his book “Ball Four,” Jim Bouton claimed that Crosetti was useless as a coach and hardly ever spoke to or attempted to instruct Yankee players. Ellie Howard later refuted that charge in his own book, claiming Bouton loved everybody on the team when he was pitching good and then hated and blamed everybody when his career went bad. Crosetti retired as a Yankee coach in 1968 but returned to the coaching box for a short time with both the Pilots and Twins.
He died in 2002, at the age of 91. He owned 17 World Series rings. Actually, Crosetti had accumulated so many rings, the Yankees finally started giving him engraved shotguns instead. In all, Crosetti received 23 World Series paychecks as a Yankee player (9) and coach (14). They totaled $142,989.30.
The Crow shares his October 4th birthday with this long ago Yankee spitballer.
It was so nice having the Yankees double A farm team a half hour’s drive away from my back door twenty years ago. We’d put our four kids in the minivan and take them to Heritage Park, which was what they called the home field of the Eastern League’s Albany- Colonie Yankees back then and for less than twenty bucks, my family of six would spend an evening watching players we hoped would some day be on the roster of the big league Yankees. And many were, including the core four of Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte and Posada, the Williams boys, Bernie and Gerald, Roberto Kelly, Jim Leyritz, Andy Stankiewicz, Pat Kelly, Sterling Hitchcock and a host of others who eventually got to play in the Bronx.
One of the Albany-Colonie players who I thought might be a future Yankee star was today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Back in 1991, Dave Silvestri was the A-C Yankees starting shortstop and leading home run hitter. He belted 19 round-trippers that year and drove in 83 runs. I was hopeful that Silvestri would turn into a pinstriped version of Cal Ripken, a starting shortstop with lots of pop in his bat. He wasn’t perfect. His defense needed work and he struck out a lot but those were common maladies in younger players. He was certainly the organization’s top prospect at short and he continued to pound the ball at the triple A level. The parent club was terrible back then and had no good shortstops on the roster. Remember Alvaro Espinosa?
But instead of getting a decent shot to play at the top level, the Yanks treated Silvestri like a yo-yo, sending him up and down repeatedly between their big league and Columbus rosters. He played seven games for New York in 1992, seven more in ’93, a dozen in ’94 and his Yankee career high of seventeen in 1995. Meanwhile, Jeter passed him on the organization’s depth chart for shortstops and the Yankees used up all their options on the guy. For a while, it looked as if he would be groomed to play third base, but in the end, the Yankees traded the then 27-year-old native of St. Louis to the Expos for a minor leaguer named Tyrone Horne. Silvestri told a New York Times reporter he couldn’t wait to leave the Yankees so he could play for an organization that would finally give him a shot at a regular big league job.
The Expos gave Silvestri that shot in 1996, when he appeared in a career-high 86 games for Montreal. But he hit just .204 during that season and he was released at the end of that year. He continued playing, mostly in the minors for three more years.
|NYY (4 yrs)||43||89||73||14||14||1||3||3||11||0||13||24||.192||.315||.411||.726|
|MON (2 yrs)||125||283||234||28||52||10||0||3||24||4||43||68||.222||.341||.303||.644|
|TBD (1 yr)||8||14||14||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.071||.071||.071||.143|
|TEX (1 yr)||2||4||4||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|ANA (1 yr)||3||11||11||0||1||1||0||0||1||0||0||1||.091||.091||.182||.273|