Results tagged ‘ third baseman ’
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 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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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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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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When most baseball fans hear the name Robin Ventura, they visualize the 1993 incident during which Nolan Ryan held him in a headlock and threw punches at his head. It is easy to forget the fact that Ventura was one of the best all-around third basemen in baseball during his sixteen-year big league career that included a season and a half tenure wearing the pinstripes in 2002 and ’03. He won a total of six Gold Gloves, hit 294 career home runs and the only two third basemen who had more 90 RBI seasons than Ventura (8) were Hall of Famers, Mike Schmidt (11) and Eddie Matthews (10).
The Yankees signed him as a free agent in 2002 to take over the starting hot corner position after Scott Brosius retired. He was to be the interim guy at third while the Yankees were developing Drew Henson in their farm system. Ventura did a very good job that first season in the Bronx, belting 27 home runs, driving in 93 and making the AL All Star team. But by then he was 35 years old and when his offensive production began to slip in 2003 the Yankees decided to make a move. That move did not involve Henson, who was floundering in Columbus at the time, striking out with regularity and making tons of errors in the field. Instead, New York acquired Aaron Boone from the Reds and on the same day sent Ventura to the Dodgers for pitcher Scott Proctor and outfielder Bubba Crosby.
Boone of course became part of Yankee postseason history with his walk-off grand salami against the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS. Ventura stuck around in Los Angeles for one more year and then retired. He was born on this date in 1967, in Santa Maria, CA. He shares his July 14th birthday with this original Yankee “Fireman” and this long-ago starting pitcher.
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I’ve been a Yankee fan for fifty one years and I’ve seen a lot of unexpected things happen with and to my favorite team during those five decades. But if somebody told me in the late 1980s that Wade Boggs, the Red Sox hitting machine and five-time AL batting champion would one day be a Yankee, I would have called that person crazy. After all, from 1983 through 1989 Boggs had hit a phenomenal .352 for Boston and averaged 110 runs scored and 211 hits per season. He was a certain Hall-of-Famer, an outstanding defensive third baseman and although he had some notorious extra marital exploits off the field, nobody was more focused or more driven on a baseball field than Boggs. Plus the Yankees and Red Sox were bitter rivals and the Boston and New York players genuinely disliked each other. The thought of Boggs in a Yankee uniform was literally beyond the realm of my imagination. But in 1992, Boggs hit just .259 in the final year of his Red Sox contract. That was the first time in the eleven seasons he’d been in the big leagues that he failed to hit .300. The fall-off was just enough to cause the Red Sox front office from going all-out to re-sign their All Star third baseman. The angry Boggs signed with the Yankees instead.
He played the next five seasons in pinstripes and averaged .313 during that span. He teamed with Don Mattingly to give the Yankees veteran leadership and outstanding defense at both corners of their infield. In 1996, he was instrumental in helping the Yankees reach and win the World Series. The image of Boggs, sitting behind a New York City cop riding a police horse around the field of Yankee Stadium after the sixth and final game of that Series has become a visual hallmark in Yankee franchise history. I hated Boggs when he was a Red Sox but once he put on the pinstripes, I quickly learned to love the guy. He retired in 1999 with 3010 hits and a .328 lifetime batting average. Five years later he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Most Yankee fans think this recently retired pitcher, who shares Boggs’ June 15th birthday, also belongs in Cooperstown. Also born on this date is this Yankee utility infielder and this former Yankee first baseman.
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1968 was a terrible year in the history of our country and was shaping up to be a terrible year in Yankee history as well. New York had finished ninth the year before, their best hitter, Joe Pepitone, was getting crazier every season and the great Mickey Mantle was literally on his last leg.
I had two passions as a young teenager, sports and politics. When Bobby Kennedy was killed all I had left to look forward to were Yankee games so I was hoping they’d be decent that year. Almost miraculously, they were. Thanks to a starting staff featuring Mel Stottlemyre, Stan Bahnsen and Fritz Peterson and a bullpen led by Steve Hamilton and Lindy McDaniel, the Yankees could hang around most games and were pretty good at holding a lead if they were lucky enough to have one in the later innings.
The offense was another story. Pepitone imploded and Mantle continued to decline. As a team they hit just just .214 but guys like Roy White, Andy Kosco, and a 27 year-old rookie third baseman named Bobby Cox seemed to get on base and cross home plate just enough times to win more games than they lost. The bomberless Bombers finished 83-79 which to me felt like winning a pennant.
Cox of course went on to become one of the game’s all-time great managers with Atlanta. My In-laws are huge Brave fans and my Mother-in-law loves Cox. Several years ago we were with them at Disney World after the Braves had moved their spring-training operation to the resort. Early one morning, we went to the stadium to watch the Braves practice and Bobby Cox was alongside the dugout talking to someone sitting in the stands. As soon as she saw him my mother started shouting “Yoo-hoo Bobby Cox. I love you. Can I have your autograph? Can I take my picture with you?” Cox looked up feigning annoyance and held up his hand signaling he’d come over to us after he was done talking to the other person. Sure enough he did and he spent the next five minutes talking to my Mother-in-Law like he had known her all his life. I went from being a big Bobby Cox fan to being a huge Bobby Cox fan that day. Happy 72nd Birthday to a great guy and a certain Hall-of-Famer.
They called him “Jumping Joe” but not because of any great leaping ability. According to Joe Dugan’s New York Times obituary, the third baseman had a propensity for jumping his team when he played for the Philadelphia A’s during the earliest years of his career. Whenever the boos from hometown fans struck a nerve, Dugan would simply leave the ballclub and A’s Manager Connie Mack would have to beg him to come back.
On January 10, 1922, Dugan became one of a select few Major League players to be part of three different big league teams in one day. He woke up that morning still an A and then got traded to the Senators, but before he went to bed, Washington had traded him to the Red Sox.
His stay in Beantown didn’t last long either and his departure from Boston caused a Major League rule change. By the 1922 season, Dugan had established himself as one of the better all-around third baseman in the big leagues. He was a defensive wizard and his hitting skills were improving every year. Red Sox owner Harry Frazee was becoming famous for selling his players for the money he needed to produce his Broadway shows. Frazee also spent most of his time and his money in the Big Apple and over the years, he made so many bad trades with the Yankees that Boston fans began to wonder which team he was working for. The ’22 Yankees were locked in a fierce pennant race with the Browns. Miller Huggins needed a third baseman who could spell the aging Frank “Home Run” Baker at the hot corner during the dog days of August. Frazee swapped New York Dugan and an outfielder named Elmer Smith for two of the Yankee’s utility infielders, a spare outfielder, a seldom used pitcher and $50,000 cash.
Dugan proved to be just the spark the Yankees needed to beat out the Browns for the Pennant. His late season acquisition got the rest of the AL teams thinking about the fact that there was nothing stopping a rich team like the Yankees from buying their way to a pennant wenever they were in a close race so they voted to move up the league trading deadline to mid June.
Dugan loved being a Yankee and he became a key cog in the team’s evolution to greatness. He scored 111 runs for New York during the 1923 regular season and then helped lead the team to its first-ever World Series victory that year against the Giants. He had an even better year in 1924, averaging .302 from his second spot in the batting order and continuing to win accolades for his glove work at third. In addition to playing hard on the field, Jumping Joe played hard off it as well. He was one of Babe Ruth’s favorite partying companions with an appetite for booze, gambling and girls that was only surpassed by those of the Big Bam. In Hugh Montville’s biography of Ruth, a story is told of the time Dugan asked the Sultan of Swat for a loan outside the Yankees’ hotel one evening. The Babe reached in his pocket and handed Dugan a bill which the third baseman quickly put in his own pocket. When he went to pay for dinner later that evening, he pulled out the bill Ruth had given him and only then realized it was a $500 bill! Dugan would later become one of the Bambino’s pallbearers at Ruth’s Yankee Stadium funeral in August of 1948. It was a sweltering summer night and Dugan whispered to his old teammate, pitcher Wait Hoyt, that he would give anything for a cold beer. Hoyt responded, “So would the Babe.”
Dugan’s offensive numbers and playing time started declining in 1925 but that glove made him an integral component of the great 1927 Yankee team that many still consider to be the best ever assembled. He stayed with New York for seven seasons, batting .286 lifetime in pinstripes, appearing in five World series and winning three rings. The Yankee released him after the 1928 season and he signed on with the Braves. His last big league game was in 1931 and he passed away in 1982 at the age of 85.
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Mike Pagliarullo had worn out his welcome as the Yankees’ starting third baseman by the end of the 1980′s. Although everybody loved Pags’ desire and hustle, his batting average had declined every year he wore the pinstripes. When it fell to .197 in 1989, the Yankees shipped him to the Padres and used Tom Brookens, Randy Velarde and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant to fill the hole the trade had left at the hot corner. Blowers had been a prospect in the Expos’ organization. The Yankees sent pitcher John Candalaria to Montreal for the young infielder in August of 1989 and Yankee Manager, Bucky Dent played him at third in thirteen September games that season. The following year, Stump Merrill gave the kid a bonafide shot at winning the job but in 42 starts at the position, Blowers hit just .188. The following year, New York traded him to the Mariners. Though he was born in Germany, Blowers had been raised in the State of Washington, played baseball for the University of Washington and getting sent back home turned out to be a great move for his career. He became the Mariners starting third baseman in 1993 and hit .280 with 15 home runs. In 1995, his 23 home runs and 96 RBIs helped Seattle make the playoffs where they beat Buck Showalter’s New York Yankees in that year’s ALDS. His stats in Seattle were good enough to get him a $2.3 million contract from the Dodgers in 1996. He did not play well in Tinseltown and ended up finishing his career back with the Mariners. He eventually became a member of the Mariners’ TV broadcasting crew.
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Today’s birthday celebrant was the first starting third baseman in Yankee franchise history. His name was William Edward Conroy but he was better known to everyone as Wid. He was born In Philadelphia on April 5, 1877. After the 1902 season, he jumped from the National League’s pennant winning Pittsburgh Pirates to the new AL franchise in the Big Apple which was then known as the Highlanders. On Opening Day of the 1903 season, he batted sixth in the Highlander’s first ever lineup. During his six seasons playing for New York, Conroy was one of the teams better offensive players. He had decent power, leading New York in home runs with 4 during the 1906 season. He was also a good base runner and gifted base stealer. In fact, old Wid is still tied for sixth place on the Yankee franchise’s all-time list of stolen bases with 186. In 1909, the Yankees sold Conroy to the Senators, where he finished his playing career in 1911.
Conroy was New York’s starting third baseman for three of his six seasons on the team, playing mostly in the outfield the rest of the time. Here’s the list of top five Yankee third baseman by the number of years they started at the hot corner for New York: