Results tagged ‘ third baseman ’
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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Eric Chavez turns 35-years-old today. Yesterday, his two year career in pinstripes came to an end, when he signed a one-year, three million dollar deal with the Diamondbacks. The Yankees paid Chavez a total of $2.4 million during the past two seasons to serve as A-Rod’s back-up. It proved to be a wise investment, as Rodriguez made several trips to the DL during that span. Chavez, a Los Angeles native, filled in brilliantly during most of those absences, providing a steady glove and a potent bat.
The Yankees first signed Chavez in February of 2010 and gave him a chance to make the club in spring training. He did so easily and was playing well early in the season, when he broke his foot running the bases. Injuries have hounded the six-time Gold Glove winner since 2007, during his final three seasons with the A’s. He mostly avoided getting hurt this past year with the Yankees, appearing in 113 games in 2012, hitting 16 home runs and averaging .281. Like most of the Yankee lineup, Chavez’s bat went stone cold in the 2012 postseason. He was 0-16 in fall ball against the Orioles and Tigers. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Yankee GM Brian Cashman didn’t make re-signing this guy a top priority during the offseason. I have to admit I was shocked when I read he had signed with Arizona, especially since just a few days before, the Yankees learned A-Rod would miss at least half of the 2013 regular season due to hip surgery.
2016 will be Chavez’s sixteenth season in the Majors. He will enter it with 248 big league home runs and a career OPS of .818. He shares his birthday with this great Yankee first baseman and these two former Yankee outfielders.
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|ARI (1 yr)||80||254||228||28||64||14||2||9||44||1||19||45||.281||.332||.478||.810|
Joe McCarthy first laid eyes on Billy Johnson in the spring of 1943, during a snowy morning at a Newark Bears’ training camp in Asbury Park, NJ. Marse Joe evidently liked what he saw because just a few short weeks later, the 24-year-old native of Montclair, NJ opened the 1943 season as the starting third baseman for McCarthy’s Yankees.
The “Bull” justified his manager’s faith in him by putting together a great rookie season at the hot corner. He played in every single game that season and drove in 94 runs, hit .280, played great defense and actually finished fourth in that year’s AL MVP voting. He followed that up with a strong performance in the 1943 World Series. He hit .300 against the Cardinals and his three run triple in the eighth inning of Game 3 erased a 2-1 St. Louis lead, as the Yanks went on to beat the Red Birds in five games.
Johnson then entered the armed services and did not play another big league game until the middle of the 1946 season. By 1947, he was an AL All Star. That year he hit .285 and drove in a career high 95 runs. That fall he won his second ring, when New York beat Brooklyn in a seven-game Fall Classic. He would end up winning a total of four rings during his seven seasons in pinstripes.
Johnson was one of the many ex-Yankees who did not play himself out of a job but was instead pushed out by the constant influx of high quality prospects produced by baseball’s best minor league system. It also didn’t help that Billy was constantly haggling with the Yankee front office about his contract. In 1948, then Yankee skipper, Bucky Harris began platooning Johnson at third with a young Bobby Brown. Brown was a better hitter than Bull was but he was also a terrible fielder. When Gil McDougald was ready for the big leagues a couple of seasons later, New York traded Johnson to St Louis. I’d compare Johnson’s career as the Yankee starting third baseman with that of Scott Brosius. It didn’t last long but it was very good while it lasted.
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|STL (3 yrs)||229||828||729||75||188||34||3||16||99||6||81||71||.258||.339||.379||.718|
There were many in the Yankee organization who honestly thought this big right hand hitter would not only be the team’s third baseman of the future, they predicted he would also take over from Mickey Mantle and become New York’s biggest home run hitter. That’s how good an athlete Deron Johnson was back in the late fifties. He set all kinds of baseball and football records at San Diego High School and had scholarship offers from all the top football universities.
He chose baseball instead and signed with the Yankees. He was both an All Star and a league leader in home runs on just about every stop of his four-year climb up the Yankee farm system. But instead of replacing Gil McDougald with Johnson, New York traded for the A’s Clete Boyer to play the hot corner. The Yankees had enough home run hitters in their lineup already and Boyer’s great glove gave him the edge over the poor-fielding Johnson. Instead, the Yankees traded their top prospect to the A’s with Art Ditmar for reliever Bud Daley in 1961, after Johnson appeared in just 19 games in pinstripes. He played with eight different teams during the next 16 seasons, hitting 245 lifetime home runs along the way. He was born on July 17, 1938, in San Diego. He died of lung cancer when he was just 53 years old.
Johnson shares his birthday with this former Yankee team co-owner.
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|BOS (3 yrs)||29||82||73||5||14||1||1||1||5||0||7||17||.192||.259||.274||.533|
|NYY (2 yrs)||19||26||23||1||4||1||0||0||2||0||2||5||.174||.231||.217||.448|
|ATL (1 yr)||127||383||342||29||71||11||1||8||33||0||35||79||.208||.285||.316||.600|
|CHW (1 yr)||148||608||555||66||129||25||1||18||72||0||48||117||.232||.292||.378||.671|
|MIL (1 yr)||49||174||152||14||23||3||0||6||18||1||21||41||.151||.253||.289||.542|
When WWII began, the Yankees were on top of the baseball world with a roster full of stars in the primes of their careers. After Pearl Harbor, when many of those stars volunteered or were required to change uniforms and serve their country, it helped even up the playing talent in Major League Baseball. As a result, the Yankees’ pennant chances immediately declined, and they could no longer be counted on to be the odds on favorite to make it to the World Series every year. When WWII ended and players like DiMaggio, Henrich, Rizzuto, Keller, and Chandler put back on the pinstripes, it wasn’t long before the Yankees were once again winning pennants and rings with regularity.
Yankee history however, certainly did not repeat itself when Vietnam became a full scale war in the mid sixties. First of all, the Yankee’s decline from the status of perennial contender had already occurred by 1965 and was caused not by a military draft but instead by advancing age, injuries and poor personnel decision-making. Guys like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Ellie Howard were in no danger of being drafted but they were also beyond their playing peaks and could no longer carry the fight to the enemy in the Bronx much less in Khe Sanh or Que. Mandatory military service did however, disrupt the development of several of the crown jewels of the Yankee farm system.
I can remember very clearly the hype surrounding the simultaneous demilitarization of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant and Bobby Murcer and their mutual return to the Yankees’ 1969 spring training camp. Kenney had excited Yankee fans two seasons earlier, when he had hit .310 in a 20-game late-season call-up and homered in his very first big league at-bat.
After having a sub-five hundred record for three consecutive seasons from 1965 – ’67, and finishing in 6th, last and next-to-last place respectively, the 1968 Yankee team had climbed back into the first division with an 83-79 record. They had assembled a strong young rotation of starting pitchers and the hope was that with Kenney and Murcer back in the lineup, and divisional play commencing that season, the team’s aging offense would be rejuvenated and New York would once again be in the mix for postseason play. The Yankees’ 1969 Opening Day lineup featured Kenney as the starting in the outfield and Murcer starting at third. Both had two hits and New York beat the Senators 8-4 that day. Yankee fans couldn’t help thinking this young dynamic duo just might be the missing ingredient to the Bronx Bombers’ return to glory.
Murcer would end up having a decent season, hitting 26 home runs and leading the team with 82 RBIs. Kenney would not do nearly as well but did steal 25 bases and hit just enough (.257) to warrant another chance the following year. Defensively, neither player was showing Gold Glove potential at their original positions so Manager Ralph Houk switched them. In 1970, the Yankee fans were pleasantly surprised as the team won 93 games and finished a distant second to the mighty Orioles. Murcer again had a decent year at the plate as did another Yankee youngster, catcher Thurman Munson. Kenney, however, was horrible. He played in 140 games and hit just .193, which should tell you all you needed to know about the incredible thinness of that year’s Yankee roster. He would rebound to hit .262 in 1971 but finally lose his third base starting position to Celerino Sanchez.
By then, George Steinbrenner was in control of the franchise and his management team knew that the Yankees could not challenge the Orioles by starting punchless third basemen like Kenney and Sanchez. That’s why in November of 1972, the first-ever great Steinbrenner-era trade took place with the Yankees trading Kenney, Johnny Ellis, Charley Spikes and Rusty Torrez to the Indian’s for Cleveland’s slick-fielding Graig Nettles.
Kenney would appear in just five games for Cleveland during the 1973 season and never again participate in a big league ball game. He was born in St. Louis on June 30, 1945, six weeks before Japan surrendered, ending WWII. Other Yankees sharing Kenney’s birthday include this former Met hero, the shortstop who lost his starting position to Derek Jeter and this one-time Yankee reliever.
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|CLE (1 yr)||5||19||16||0||4||0||1||0||2||0||2||0||.250||.316||.375||.691|
Remember when Cody Ransom made his Yankee debut in August of the 2008 season? Joe Girardi inserted him in a blowout game versus Kansas City as a pinch-hitter for Jason Giambi and the native of Mesa, AZ hit a two-run-home run in his first ever Yankee at bat. Five days later, Girardi again pinch hit Ransom for Giambi, this time in the ninth inning of a game against Baltimore and Ransom hit a three run home run on his second-ever Yankee at bat. He remained hot right through the first half of September before cooling down quite a bit, and he provided a welcome respite for us Yankee fans during the emotional closing days of the old Yankee Stadium, as we sadly watched our favorite team miss the playoffs for the first time in fourteen seasons.
That strong showing convinced Girardi that Ransom could fill in for Alex Rodriguez at third base to begin the 2009 season, while A-Rod recovered from off-season hip surgery. I clearly remember hoping the experiment would work but it certainly did not. I’m not exactly sure why Ransom seemed like he had completely forgotten how to hit that April. It could have been nerves or perhaps American League pitchers had gotten wise to something, but whatever the reason, over the space of a single off season, this guy had become an automatic out. By April 24, he was hitting .180 and by May, he found himself back in Scranton. He did get called back up in late June of that season but he was not put on the Yankees’ postseason roster. Fortunately by October, A-Rod’s hip had completely healed and he put together that magical postseason run that led the Yankees to their 27th World Championship.
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|SDP (1 yr)||5||11||11||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||5||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|CHC (1 yr)||57||182||158||21||32||10||1||9||20||0||22||57||.203||.304||.449||.753|
|PHI (1 yr)||22||46||42||6||8||0||0||2||5||1||3||11||.190||.244||.333||.578|
|HOU (1 yr)||19||46||35||9||8||2||0||1||3||0||9||9||.229||.413||.371||.784|
|MIL (1 yr)||64||194||168||18||33||7||0||6||26||0||23||79||.196||.293||.345||.638|
He may have been a member of perhaps the most famous Yankee team in history, but even the most diehard and long time Bronx Bomber fans have probably never heard of Julie Wera. He was a reserve third baseman on the 1927 Murderers’ Row team and his $2,400 salary made him the lowest paid player on that great squad’s roster. Wera was just 5 feet 8 inches tall and when 5 foot 6 inch Manager, Miller Huggins got his first look at his rookie third baseman during the Yankees’ 1927 spring training season, he took an immediate liking to him. In fact, according to a March, 1927 New York Times article, the usually tight-lipped Huggins told every sports writer in that camp that Vera was one of the most impressive rookie players he had seen come up from New York’s farm system in “quite a while.”
Julie did not live up to that hype. Huggins put the Winona Minnesota native into 38 games that season and Wera hit just .238 with one home run and eight RBIs. Even though it would have been impossible for the youngster to earn a starting berth n that great team, Wera’s lack of playing was not because of any lack of ability on his part. During that season he blew out his knee and was never again the same ballplayer Huggins had raved about that spring. But he remained on the Yankee roster the entire year and even though he didn’t get a chance to play in the 1927 World Series, he did get a ring and a full winning share. Then it was back to the minors for a couple seasons and another quick five-game cup-of-coffee visit with the Yankees in September of 1929. He spent the next eight years in the minors and by 1939, he ended up working in a butcher shop back home in Minnesota. That same summer, he was working behind the meat counter when a surprise visitor showed up at the shop. It was his old Yankee teammate Lou Gehrig. The Iron Horse was in town getting medical tests at the Mayo Clinic and when he found out Wera worked nearby he decided to go say hello and ended up putting on a butcher’s apron and posing for pictures with his old friend. Hours later, Gehrig would receive the devastating news that he had ALS.
Wera’s name again showed up in the newspapers nine years later, when the New York Times reported on September 14, 1948 that he had killed himself by overdosing on sleeping pills. The article reported that a suicide note had been left explaining he was distraught over separating from his wife. It was also erroneously reported in that same article that Wera had made his big league and Yankee debut at the age of 16 and hit a home run off of the great Walter Johnson in his first game. It was later learned that the dead man had been posing as Vera in order to get a front-office position with a minor league baseball team in Oroville, California. He told his employers that his face had been disfigured in World War II and the resulting plastic surgery had changed his appearance.
The real Julie Wera actually lived until December of 1979, when he was felled by a fatal heart attack.
Wera shares his February 9th birthday with another much more successful Yankee third baseman, this one-time Yankee second base prospect and also with this former Yankee catching prospect. Today is also the 90th birthday of the man who took me to my very first Yankee game in 1961 and dozens more after that. Happy Birthday Uncle Jim Gentile.
Casey Stengel wanted to groom Andy Carey to replace Phil Rizzuto as the Yankees starting shortstop and he wanted Carey to become a spray hitter like “the Scooter.” The only problems with the “Ol Perfessor’s” plan were that Carey had always been a hitter who liked to pull the ball and he desperately wanted to play third base for New York. The Yankees had given Carey a $60,000 contract to sign with them after his senior year in high school. Andy’s Dad had a law practice in California and the plan had been for the son to go to law school and then join the father’s firm. But the sixty grand and Andy’s dream to start at the hot corner in Yankee Stadium forced a change in those plans. So from 1952, the year he made his debut in the big leagues, until 1960 when he was traded to Kansas City for outfielder Bob Cerv, Andy and Stengel were constantly battling each other over Carey’s role with the team. As a result, Carey never got the chance to become the great Yankee player he felt he could have become without Stengel’s interference. He may have been right but in trying to overrule a managing legend who ended up winning seven World Championships, Carey was fighting a losing battle. Carey’s best season in pinstripes was 1954, when he hit .302 and drove in a career-high 65 runs. His most famous moment in pinstripes was probably a play he didn’t make at third base. In the second inning of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson hit a hot shot at Carey that veered off his glove toward shortstop Gil McDougald, who’s throw to first just nipped Robinson. Ironically, Carey was considered an outstanding defensive infielder. He also did one thing as well as any Yankee in history with the possible exception of Babe Ruth. Andy could eat. He was the only Yankee who would actually spend more than his entire day’s worth of meal allowance on a single meal. Born October 18, 1931 in Oakland, CA, he retired from baseball after the 1962 season.
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|LAD (1 yr)||53||130||111||12||26||5||1||2||13||0||16||23||.234||.333||.351||.685|
|CHW (1 yr)||56||162||143||21||38||12||3||0||14||0||11||24||.266||.323||.392||.714|
Brandon Laird was born on September 11, 1987. He grew up in Cypress, CA and was drafted right out of high school in the 27th round by the Cleveland Indians in 2005 but decided not to sign. Instead he played ball at Cypress Community College and two years later, when the 27th round of the 2007 MLB draft rolled around again, the Yankees picked him. He has spent the past five years working his way up New York’s farm system, starting with their Tampa Rookie League affiliate and landing with Triple A Scranton during the second half of the 2010 season.
The kid plays third base and has shown he has decent power in the Minors. He hit 23 home runs for Charleston in 2008, 23 more with Trenton the following season and last year, he hit 16 for Scranton. He had an excellent 2011 spring training for Joe Girardi and in the process also made a positive impression on Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long. The Yankees brought Laird up last year in June for a mid season look-see. In his first big league game, he pinch-hit for Derek Jeter during a Yankee blow-out of Oakland and walked in his first at bat. Two innings later he came up again and singled in a run to get his first big league hit and RBI in his first official at bat in the Majors.
He was sent back down to Scranton at the end of July last year and never got another opportunity to play in pinstripes. He hit 15 home runs and drove in 77 in Triple A during the 2012 season but couldn’t get his average out of the .250′s. The Yankees put him on waivers and he was claimed by the Astros on September 1, 2012. Houston currently has him on their big league roster and he just recently hit his first big league home run as an Astro. Laird’s biggest obstacle to a career with the Yankees was A-Rod. There’s no way the kid could have supplanted the superstar at that position in the near future, especially since there are so many years left on A-Rod’s huge contract.
Laird’s older brother Gerald is a catcher with ten years of big league experience who currently plays for the Tigers. In December of 2009, the Laird brothers were involved in a bizarre fight during an NBA game between the Celtics and Suns at US Airways Arena in Phoenix.
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|NYY (1 yr)||11||25||21||3||4||0||0||0||1||0||3||4||.190||.292||.190||.482|
The Dodgers had jumped ahead of New York two games to none and only “Puff” and his well worn fielders glove prevented them from making it three straight wins. He made four great plays in that game. In the third inning, with New York ahead 2-1 and Bill Russell on first base with two outs, Nettles made a diving stop of Reggie Smith’s smash down the third base line and threw Smith out at first. In the fifth, with the tying run on second, Nettles again victimized Smith by knocking down his screaming line drive, preventing the run from scoring and holding the Dodger outfielder to an infield single. The very next hitter, Dodger first baseman, Steve Garvey then scorched another one at Nettles who backhanded it on his knees and forced the runner at second to end the inning. Yet again in the visitors’ half of the sixth, the Dodgers loaded the bases and with two outs, LA second baseman Davey Lopes sent another hard grounder in Nettles’ direction. After another great stop, he made another great throw, forcing the runner at second and ending another Dodger threat. As he ran toward the dugout, the Yankee Stadium crowd gave him a standing ovation. Nettles won Gold Gloves in 1977 and ’78.
Born in San Diego on this date in 1944, he was the AL Home Run Champion in 1976 and when he retired after the 1988 season he had 390 career home runs. 319 of those blasts were the most home runs ever by an AL third baseman. Great glove, plenty of power, a quick irreverent wit and that Game 3 performance sum up my memories of the Yankee’s All-Time great third baseman.
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|MIN (3 yrs)||121||348||304||40||68||12||3||12||34||1||39||67||.224||.314||.401||.715|
|SDP (3 yrs)||387||1380||1189||158||282||43||2||51||181||0||171||176||.237||.333||.405||.739|
|CLE (3 yrs)||465||1947||1704||224||426||59||2||71||218||12||220||183||.250||.338||.412||.750|
|ATL (1 yr)||112||201||177||16||37||8||1||5||33||1||22||25||.209||.294||.350||.644|
|MON (1 yr)||80||104||93||5||16||4||0||1||14||0||9||19||.172||.240||.247||.488|