Results tagged ‘ third baseman ’
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 more recently, it was 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 then in December of 2013, he signed as a free agent with the Yankees, forcing me to root for him too.
The problem with the signing was that it had 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 last 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 had swung the previous few years. Joe Girardi just needed him to provide decent defense at third, use that great eye of his to earn frequent “walks” to first base and most importantly, stay healthy.
After his first regular season month in Pinstripes, Youklis was on the DL. By the middle of June both his season and his Yankee career were over, forcing Yankee fans to once again look forward to getting A-Rod back on the field sooner rather than later. In 2014, Youklis is playing in Japan.
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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.
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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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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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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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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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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 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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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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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.