Results tagged ‘ third baseman ’
Todd Zeile had a very impressive first game as a Yankee. The Bronx Bombers had signed this native of Van Nuys, California in December of 2002, when he was a 37-year-old, fourteen-year veteran coming off a strong year with the Colorado Rockies. New York intended to use him as a back-up to Robin Ventura at third base. Ventura had done better than any body expected during his first season in the Bronx, smashing 27 home runs and driving in 93, but he too was getting up there in years. Having the right-hand hitting Zeile spell him against the occasional southpaw seemed like a great idea at the time.
He made his first start for New York in Game 3 of that 2003 season against the Blue Jays in Toronto. He homered against the huge left-hander Mark Hendrickson, in his first-ever pinstriped at bat. He also hit two doubles and drove in three runs that night. That debut performance turned out to be the highlight of his single-season Yankee career. When the Yankees released him that August, he was hitting just .210, with 6 home runs and 23 RBI’s in 66 games. Worse yet was the fact that Ventura also had stopped hitting that season, leaving the Yankees scrambling to come up with offense from the third base position. They solved that problem at the trading deadline when they acquired Aaron Boone from the Reds. The rest of course is Yankee history.
Zeile was picked up by the Expos and then finished his big league career the following year in a Mets’ uniform. He shares his September 9th birthday with this Hall of Fame pitcher, this Hall of Fame manager and this former Yankee center fielder.
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What do David Adams, Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Brent Lillibridge, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, Mark Reynolds, Alex Rodriguez, Vernon Wells, Kevin Youklis and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant have in common? They all played third base for the Yankees during the 2013 regular season.
Chris Nelson was the .300-hitting starting third baseman of the Colorado Rockies during the 2012 season. That same job was his to lose on Opening Day of 2013 and he ended up losing it to Rockie rookie Nelson Aranado. When Kevin Youklis’s back did not hold up during the first month of the season, the Yankees acquired Nelson from Colorado on May 1, 2013. New York skipper, Joe Grardi then started the native of Escondido, California at the hot corner for ten straight games. Defensively, he did fine but his .222 batting average and 2 RBI’s convinced the Yankee brass he wasn’t the answer long-term and he ended up on waivers. The Angels then picked him up and on August 1. He started playing third base regularly for his third big league team this season, when LA-Anaheim’s starter at that position, Alberto Callaspo went on the DL. On August 15th, Nelson got some revenge on the Yankees when he drove in five runs against his former team to prevent New York from an important series sweep.
On August 29th, the injury bug hit Nelson too. While running to first he pulled a hamstring pretty badly and it sounds like he’s done for the season. Nelson shares a birthday with this former Yankee reliever.
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If you watched last evening’s (8/14/2013) Yankee game, in which New York destroyed the Angels for the second consecutive night, you heard Paul O’Neill tell his TV booth partners that the 1998 Yankee team he played on was as close to a perfect team as he had ever been associated with. I couldn’t agree more.
The 1961 Yankees were my favorite team of all time and the 1978 Yankees were the most dramatic. The 1996 Yankees gave me the biggest thrill I ever had as a baseball fan but it was the 1998 Yankees who were the best team I’ve ever seen play a season, beginning to end. And if you had to point to one roster change that made the biggest difference between the team that lost the Divisional playoffs to Cleveland the year before and the one that won 114 regular season games and swept the Padres in the 1998 World Series, it would be the addition of Scott Brosius as New York’s starting third baseman. Born on today’s date in 1966, in Hillsboro, OR, the Yankees signed Brosius as a free agent after he spent his first seven big league seasons in Oakland.
Joe Torre inserted his right-handed bat at the bottom of the Yankee lineup. Brosius responded by hitting .300, smacking 19 home runs, scoring 86 runs and driving in 98 more. He turned the bottom of that lineup into an opposing pitcher’s nightmare and he played superb defense as well. But he saved his best for that year’s post season, batting close to .400 in thirteen October games and winning the 1998 World Series MVP award. He was an AL All Star that first year in pinstripes, a Gold Glove winner in 1999, and his thrilling game-winning home run during Game 5 of the 2001 Series against Arizona was a fitting culmination of his brief but great Yankee career.
Brosius shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
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The Yankee teams of the 1950s were among the best in the elite franchise’s illustrious history. Managed by Casey Stengel, they won eight of the decade’s ten possible Pennants and six World Championships. One of the key members of those great teams was a Scottish-American infielder, born in San Francisco by the name of Gil McDougald. Signed by the Yankees out of the University of San Francisco in 1948, McDougald tore up Minor League pitching, averaging .340 during his three-year climb through the Yankee farm system. He was brought up to the Bronx in 1951 along with a much more heralded Yankee rookie named Mantle. It was McDougald who won that season’s Rookie of the Year award with a .306 average. In that year’s World Series against the cross-town Giants, McDougald became the first rookie to hit a grand slam home run in Fall Classic history.
Stengel loved McDougald’s defensive versatility and took full advantage of it. During his career in the Bronx, the infielder played 599 games at second, 508 at the hot corner and another 284 at shortstop and was selected as an All Star at all three positions. He had a lifetime batting average of .276 and hit 112 regular season and seven World Series home runs.
Two line drives had tremendous impact upon McDougald’s career. The first came off the bat of Yankee teammate, Bob Cerv during batting practice before a game in August of 1955. McDougald was standing near second base and the ball struck him in the left ear. Even though no one realized it at the time, the resulting damage caused a gradual hearing loss that resulted in McDougald being almost completely deaf early on in his retirement years. In 1957, another line drive, this one off McDougald’s bat, hit Cleveland Indian pitching sensation, Herb Score square in the face. Score was never again the same pitcher and McDougald later admitted that the incident impacted his play as well.
After the Yankees suffered their heartbreaking loss to the Pirates in the 1960 World Series, the front office informed Gil that he would not be protected in the upcoming AL expansion draft. McDougald decided to call it quits at that time. He died in November of 2010, at the age of 82.
When Bernie Allen graduated from high school in his hometown of East Liverpool, OH, he was a good enough school-boy quarterback to get a scholarship offer from Purdue University. Problem was Bernie didn’t like playing football but he knew if he wanted to go to college, accepting that scholarship was the only way he’d be able to, so that’s what he did. During his time on the gridiron as a Boilermaker, he became one of the better QB’s in the Big Ten but he also got the opportunity to play collegiate baseball and become an All American in that sport. In early 1961, the Minnesota Twins made Allen one of the first amateurs signed by that team after it had relocated to the Twin Cities from our Nation’s capitol.
After just one year in the minors, he made the Twins big league roster during the team’s 1962 spring training season. Minnesota’s first year manager, Sam Mele liked his rookie infielder so much, he benched the veteran Billy Martin and started Allen at second base. Mele also installed a second rookie, third baseman Rich Rollins in his starting infield and the two first-year players helped the surprising Twins finish in second place with 91 wins, a 20-game improvement over the previous season. Bernie had 154 hits that year including 12 home runs, with 64 RBIs and finished third in the AL Rookie-of-theYear balloting. Though I was just 8-years-old at the time, I clearly remember that 1962 Minnesota team because in addition to battling my Yankees for the Pennant, every player in their starting lineup reached double figures in home runs that season.
Allen got off to a horrendously slow start at the plate in his sophomore season and his batting average was still under.200 by late August. He then hit .320 during the last six weeks of the ’63 season, saving his starting job in the process. But his potential to develop into a perennial big league All Star was wiped out with one play during the 1964 season. Attempting to turn a double play, Allen was bowled over by Don Zimmer who rolled over the second baseman’s leg. Allen had torn his ACL, but the injury was mis-diagnosed by Minnesota’a team doctors. When the leg didn’t get better, Allen got his own doctors to examine the knee and they made a correct diagnosis and operated five months after the injury occurred. By then however, the ligament had shriveled and the surgeon didn’t think Allen would ever again play baseball. He proved that doctor wrong but it does explain why all of Allen’s highest single-season offensive numbers took place during that 1962 rookie season. He was simply never the same player after Zimmer rolled his knee.
The Yankees got Bernie in 1972. The Twins had traded him to the Senators after the 1966 season and he played pretty regularly for Washington for five years, right up until that franchise moved to Texas. He then became Ralph Houk’s primary utility infielder during the 1972 season, appearing in 84 games, mostly as a third baseman, but hitting a paltry .227 in the process. It was that weak bat that got him sold to the Expos in August of 1973. When he hit just .180, the then 34-year-old Allen hung up his glove for good.
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The great Joe McCarthy really was a players’ manager but that didn’t mean he was a pushover, far from it. During the 1942 season, Bill Dickey got hurt. His backup that season and heir apparent as Yankee catcher was a 27-year-old native of Buffalo, NY named Buddy Rosar. Rosar was married and had a kid and with the world at war, he was worried about his future. He felt he needed a career to fall back on in case he didn’t make it as a big league catcher so he made a fateful decision to leave the Yankees for a couple of days to take a policeman’s exam back in his native Buffalo. During his absence, the Yankees played a double header on a very hot afternoon and McCarthy had no choice but to start 35-year-old Rollie Hemsley behind the plate for both games. When the day was done, Hemsley was near collapse from physical exhaustion and McCarthy was determined to get rid of Rosar.
The trade took place ten days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Rosar and Yankee outfielder Roy Cullenbine were sent to Cleveland for outfielder Roy Weatherly and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Oscar Grimes had been around baseball all his life. His father Ray had been a first baseman for the Cubs during the 1920′s and his uncle Roy Grimes, had once played second base for the New York Giants. Oscar was an infielder too and one of the reasons Marse Joe wanted him was his ability to play any of the four infield positions.
That flexibility didn’t earn the native of Minerva, OH much playing time during his first season in New York. He got into just eight games for the Yankees in 1943 but he did get his first and only World Series ring that year, even though he didn’t get to play a single out of that Fall Classic. Things changed for Grimes in 1944. The Yankees’ young and talented starting third baseman, Billy Johnson was called into military service and McCarthy began playing Grimes regularly at the hot corner. In one of his early starts there, he found out firsthand why the legendary Yankee skipper was so beloved by his players. Grimes had made three errors in the contest, pretty much single handedly costing New York the loss. While he was undressing in the clubhouse after the game, he saw McCarthy approaching him. He prepared himself for a tongue-lashing but instead, the manager put his hand on Grimes shoulder and told him about a horrible fielding day he himself had had in the minors.
Grimes played 116 games and had a career high .279 during that ’44 season. In 1945, he played 142 games for New York and had a stellar on base percentage of .395. But Grimes achilles heel were his iron hands. He was simply not a very good defensive infielder and when Johnson and all the other Yankee third base prospects returned from service, Grimes days in pinstripes were numbered. That number came up on July 11th of the 1946 season when New York sold him to the Philadelphia A’s. He became the A’s starting second baseman and didn’t do to badly with his bat, hitting .262 during his half season in Philadelphia. But his defense just wasn’t good enough to keep him in the post war big leagues and he spent the next five seasons playing minor league ball, finally retiring for good in 1950, at the age of 35.
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If you love the Yankees, you hate, or at the very least dislike the Red Sox. But if you love the Yankees, you also find it easy to root for guys who at one time used to be Red Sox but now have landed in the Bronx and wear the pinstripes. If somebody told me in the late 1980s that I’d one day be praying Wade Boggs would drive in a runner from third or that Roger Clemens would strike out the sides, I’d have thought they were looney. Same goes for Johnny Damon fifteen years later. And now its Kevin Youklis.
When he was with Boston, I hated seeing “The Greek God of Walks” stride up to the plate in a close Red Sox/Yankee game. I knew at the very least he’d get into that completely weird batting stance of his and put together a very good at bat, forcing whatever Yankee pitcher happened to to be on the mound at the time to throw at least a dozen pitches. It seemed as if more often than not, those Youklis at bats would end up with him driving in a huge run or he would at least get on base and put himself in position to score that run. I did not like this guy at all and now, thanks to his off-season signing as a Yankee free agent, I’ve got to root for him too.
Problem is, its been about four years since big Kevin had a good season. During his last two plus years in Boston, injuries and Bobby Valentine disrupted his game and he hit just .236 after getting traded to the White Sox in June of 2012. The only reason the Yankees came calling this winter and agreed to pay him $12 million was because A-Rod’s hip went bad. At the time of his signing, New York was hoping they’d only need him to start at the hot corner till Rodriguez recovered and returned at mid-year. With sluggers like Teixeira and Granderson still in the powerful Yankee lineup, they could even afford to absorb the mediocre bat Youklis has swung the last few years. Joe Girardi just needed him to provide decent defense at third and use that great eye of his to earn frequent “walks” to first base.
But in recent weeks, both Granderson and Teixeira have gone down with injuries and are not expected back until at least May. That means a lot more pressure on Youklis to produce offensively coming out of the gate in 2012 and if he is unable to, expect the fans in the Bronx and the Big Apple sports media to voice their displeasure.
I got my fingers crossed that he can perform a Boggs-like come-back in pinstripes. If he can stay healthy, he’s already proven he can perform under pressure during his days in Beantown. His biggest challenge will be Yankee Stadium. It is not the haven for right-handed hitters that Fenway is, so it will be interesting to see how Youklis approaches his at bats when playing on his new home field.
Youklis enters the 2013 season with a lifetime average of .283, a career on base percentage of .384, with 1,030 hits and 148 home runs. He won a Gold Glove with Boston in 2007, as a first baseman. The Cincinnati native turns 34-years-old today.
George Steinbrenner was not the first Yankee owner of German extraction who liked to wheel and deal his way to a pennant. That honor belonged to millionaire brewer, Jacob Rupert, who purchased the New York AL franchise in 1914. He considered every day his baseball team made the headlines as free advertisement for his beer and since the teams that made it to the World Series got the most headlines, old Jake was determined to turn the Yankees into winners as quickly as possible.
His first big move in that direction was the acquisition of Baseball’s first famous slugger. Frank Baker’s nickname was “”Home Run”". He had led the American League in home runs four straight times as a Philadelphia Athletic from 1911 through 1914, during which he hit 11, 10, 12 and 9 round trippers, respectively. He then got into a contract dispute with Connie Mack and sat out the 1915 season. The Hall of Famer spent the last six of his thirteen-year big league career with New York and hit half of his 96 career round trippers as a Yankee. When he retired for good in 1922, he had helped New York make it to the franchise’s first two World Series.
The Yankees have three “Babes” that I know of on their all-time roster. The first and most famous, of course, was Babe Ruth. Then there was Babe Dahlgren, the guy who replaced the legendary Lou Gehrig as the Yankees’ starting first baseman, in 1939. The third Yankee “Babe” was Loren Babe, who’s birthday we celebrate today. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t resemble the original Babe when he was trying to hit big league pitching but if you put a Dodger hat on the guy pictured on the left, you could easily have mistaken him for the great Sandy Koufax.
Loren Babe had the misfortune of being a 24-year-old third base prospect when the Yankees already had a young Gil McDougald and Andy Carey on their big league roster. Born in Pisgah, IA, on January 11, 1928, Mr. Babe got into 17 games as a Yankee during the 1952 and beginning part of the ’53 seasons. Loren’s bat did play a very significant role in Yankee history. I read Jane Leavy’s book about Mickey Mantle, entitled The Last Boy. It contains the most detailed account I’ve ever read of Mickey’s historic home run off of the Senators’ Chuck Stobbs in Washington’s Griffith Stadium, on April 17, 1953 (See illustrative photo below-not a photo of actual home run.) When Mantle hit that monster he was using a bat he borrowed from a teammate. That teammate was Loren Babe. Nine days later, the Yankees sold Babe to the Athletics but Mickey kept his bat.
That missing bat may or may not help explain why Loren hit just .224 in 103 games for Philly and ended up back in the Minors and eventually, back in the Yankee organization. He then went into managing, scouting and coaching. He was on the Yankees’ big league coaching staff in 1967. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1983 while working for the White Sox organization. Needing just eight weeks more of employment to qualify for MLB pension benefits, Chicago put Babe on their coaching staff after Charley Lau, who was serving as the team’s hitting coach, graciously offered to step aside. In a tragic and ironic twist, Lau was also diagnosed with cancer and died just five weeks after the disease took Babe’s life.
Babe shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
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Back when I first became a Yankee fan, the team was in the final six years of a glorious 45 year run that author Peter Golenbock would later so aptly describe with the title of his excellent book “Dynasty.” The Bronx Bombers had dominated baseball during that era, not just with pennants and World Series, but also with record-breaking individual accomplishments. We had Babe Ruth and his home runs, Lou Gehrig and his games played streak, Joe D’s 56-straight and in 1961, the M&M boy’s glorious race to destiny. The Yankee strategy for winning had not changed since the spitball was outlawed, umpires began replacing balls that had been scuffed or gotten dirty and Ruth arrived in New York. The team lived and died by the three-run home-run. Yankee fans considered any form of small-ball to be a sacrilege and as a result, though lightening-quick Yankees like the great Mantle could have stolen 50 bases a year, they didn’t have to. Their orders were to get on a base and stay there until somebody else drove them in. Why on earth argue with success, right?
Well to tell you the truth, the fact that my Yankees were dead last in the American League in stolen bases during their glorious 1961 season bugged the heck out of me. They swiped a base just 28 times that season, 72 fewer than the league-leading Chicago White Sox, who had the great base-stealer, Luis Aparicio on their team at the time. “Little Louie” would turn a single or base-on-balls into a double about fifty times a year and I can remember thinking that as much as I loved Tony Kubek, if the Yankees traded him for Aparicio, it would propel New York to the top of the league’s stolen base chart. It never dawned on me of course that the Yankee offense had no need for stolen bases at the time or that the White Sox wouldn’t have traded their superlative shortstop and future Hall-of-Famer for six Tony Kubek’s.
While waiting for the Aparicio-for-Kubek deal to be consummated, I also remember coming across a list of all-time team records in my Yankee yearbook at the time and finding the name “Fritz Maisel” listed for most steals in a season. In 1914, this native of Catonsville, Maryland set both the big league and the Yankee team record by stealing 74 bases for New York. Ty Cobb would make short-work of Maisel’s league record by breaking it the following season, but those 74 steals by the former third-baseman would remain the all-time single-season mark for the Yanks until Ricky Henderson surpassed it in 1985 with his 80 steals.
Maisel may have been able to break his own record and become one of the great base-stealers in league history. In 1915, he followed up his record-breaking stolen-base season by hitting a career-high .281 and stealing 51 more. But in 1916, he hurt his throwing shoulder and could no longer make the throw from third-to-first. When his shoulder didn’t improve, the Yanks went out and got Frank “Home Run” Baker to play third and tried playing Maisel at second, where the strength of his throwing arm would matter less. The switch failed and not just because of his sore arm. Maisel’s bat also failed him. He hit just .198 during his final season as a Yankee in 1917 and was traded to the Browns. By the way, Ricky Henderson broke his own Yankee single-season stolen-base mark with his 93 steals in 1988, which remains the franchise standard.
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