Results tagged ‘ utility infielder ’
The deal that made Larry Milbourne a Yankee for the first time became part of Yankee trivia history. In November of 1980, the Seattle Mariners traded Milbourne and a player to be named later to New York for catcher Brad Gulden. The following May, the Mariners completed the trade by sending Gulden back to the Yankees as the “player to be named later” part of the trade. This made Gulden the only player in franchise history ever to be traded for himself.
Milbourne would go on to have his best big league season during his 1981 Yankee debut. He played sparingly but well as a pinch-hitter and back-up infielder during the first half of that season, which was split in two by a players’ strike. In the second half, he took over as New York’s starting shortstop after Bucky Dent tore a ligament in his hand at the end of August. The League’s embarrassingly bad decision to award team’s with the best pre-strike records a postseason spot gave the Yankee players little motivation to give a damn during the second half, but Milbourne impressed everyone with his grit and hustle as he filled in for Dent.
He then hit a combined .363 in New York’s ALDS and ALCS victories that postseason and though his bat cooled off a bit against the Dodgers in the Series, Yankee fans like me were very grateful for his better-than-expected performance. Milbourne also loved playing for New York and told reporters he was so happy wearing the pinstripes, he’d prefer staying with the Yanks and backing up Dent and Willie Randolph to starting for any other team. But after getting off to a horrible start in 1982, he was traded to the Twins in May of that year in the deal that brought Butch Wynegar to New York. The Yanks brought him back to New York the following year but traded him back to the Mariners after he hit just .200 in 31 games. His final big league season was 1984.
Nicknamed “the Devil,” Milbourne was born on Valentine’s Day in 1951 in Port Norris, NJ. He shares a birthday with this Hall-of-Fame Yankee announcer, this former Yankee relief pitcher and this one-time Yankee pitching prospect.
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|CLE (1 yr)||82||319||291||29||80||11||4||2||25||2||12||20||.275||.301||.361||.662|
Brian Doyle’s big break took place on September 29, 1978 during the bottom half of the eighth inning of an afternoon game between the Yankees and Cleveland Indians, at Yankee Stadium. It was a critical game for New York. Bob Lemon’s team had come from eight and-a-half games behind Boston in late August to catch and pass the Red Sox in the AL East standings. But Boston was hanging tough. When they took the field against the Indians that day, the Yankees were on a four-game winning streak but still only had a one-game lead over the resilient Red Sox.
The game against Cleveland had turned into a pitchers’ duel between the Yankees Jim Beattie and the one-time Ranger phee–nom, David Clyde. The Yankees were behind 1-0 when Lemon sent up Cliff Johnson to bat for Bucky Dent to lead off the inning, and Johnson worked a walk off Clyde. The Yankee skipper then sent Fred Stanley into run for Johnson and he had Mickey Rivers sacrifice “Chicken” to second. That brought up Willie Randolph and it brought Cleveland manager Jeff Torborg out of the dugout to make a pitching change. He brought in the tall right-hander, Jim Kern to face the Yankee second baseman.
Randolph hit a slow roller down the third base line toward Buddy Bell, who, at the time, was well on his way to becoming the premier defensive third baseman in the American League. Knowing Bell had a strong arm and hoping Stanley could get to third on Bell’s throw to first, Randolph most certainly attempted to turn a higher gear on his sprint to first. He did beat Bell’s throw but in the process he pulled the hamstring in his left leg. As Randolph limped his way toward the Yankee dugout for treatment, he passed Brian Doyle, who Lemon had sent in to run for him. But Doyle’s walk that day did not stop at first base. Instead, it took him to a special place in Yankee lore.
Doyle would end up playing just 93 regular season games during his three-year Yankee career, but this Glasgow, KY native’s 1978 World Series performance was one of the best and most unexpected in pinstripe history. Filling in for the injured Randolph, Doyle batted .438 in the six game victory over the Dodgers. This guy never averaged higher than .192 during a regular season with New York. If you’re not old enough to remember Doyle, think about a player with abilities similar to Ramiro Pena. Him hitting .438 in the biggest baseball show on earth would be like if Pena had taken over for the injured Derek Jeter in the 2012 ALCS and led the Yankees to the World Series with his hitting. In other words, Doyle’s performance was shocking, especially since it took place in the national spotlight of the World Series.
Brian is the brother of former big league infielder, Denny Doyle. Together, they and a third brother, Brian’s twin named Blake, run the very successful Doyle Baseball Camp program. Graduates of the program include, Gary Sheffield, J.D. Drew, Brian Roberts and Tim Wakefield.
Doyle shares his January 26th birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
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Luis Sojo was one of my favorite Yankees. He had that wonderful ability to sit on the bench for most of a game and then grab his glove and instantly make a difficult play look easy from any infield position. I also would get a kick out of his rumpled appearance in a Yankee uniform, which always reminded me sort of the way Yogi Berra looked in pinstripes. The Yankees first got him off waivers from Seattle during the 1996 season and the following year, the native Venezuelan took over the starting second base position from Mariano Duncan. When the Yankees acquired Chuck Knoblauch from the Twins to play second in 1998, Sojo became the team’s reliable utility infielder. After the 1999 season, Luis signed as a free agent with the Pirates but when Knoblauch’s strange throwing problems peaked, New York traded to get Sojo back in August of 2000, setting up his most magical moment as a Yankee. That came in the ninth inning of the fifth and final game of that season’s Subway Series. With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth, Sojo came to bat for the first time after being inserted to play second base in the previous inning. His ground ball single through the middle off of Al Leiter scored Jorge Posada from second. Scott Brosius also scored on the play when the throw home trying to nail Posada was way off the mark and the Yankees were once again World Champs. I was thrilled for Sojo. The guy won four rings as a Yankee. He then became New York’s third base coach for a couple of seasons and until last year, managed the Yankees Tampa Minor League club.
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|PIT (1 yr)||61||189||176||14||50||11||0||5||20||1||11||16||.284||.328||.432||.760|
This L.A.-born shortstop was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1931 and two year’s later he was the Tribe’s starting shortstop. An adept contact hitter, Knickerbocker might have become one of Cleveland’s all-time great shortstops if he didn’t have to actually play the field. This guy made 125 errors at that position during his three-and-a-half seasons as an Indian. So even though his lifetime average was a lofty .293 at the time and he was only 24-years-old, when his error total reached 40 during the 1936 season, Knickerbocker was traded to the Browns in January of the following year.
After his only season in St. Louis, he was dealt to the Yankees. New York had just released veteran second baseman, Tony Lazzeri following the 1937 World Series. Joe McCarthy intended to replace him with rookie Joe Gordon, but he wanted a safety valve just in case the kid wasn’t ready for prime time.
Fortunately for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Yankee shortstop Frank Crosetti suffered a leg injury during spring training and Knickerbocker got plenty of opportunities to show the Yankee skipper his lively bat more than made up for his less than average glove work.
Sure enough, Gordon got off to a horrible start at the plate in ’38 and by May 1st, he was back in the minors and Knickerbocker was starting at second for New York. The move to the new position actually improved his defense and he set a career high in fielding percentage during his first season in pinstripes.
In the mean time, Gordon got his stroke back down on the farm and when he returned to the parent club in June, his torrid bat helped propel New York to the team’s third straight World Championship. The only one who suffered from Gordon’s emergence as an all star was, of course Knickerbocker, who saw action in just seven games during the final three months of the ’38 season and completely sat out that year’s World Series sweep of the Cubs.
In 1939, Knickerbocker had pretty-much a no-show job as Gordon started all but three regular season games at second for New York and Crosetti missed just two starts at short. In 1940, Knickerbocker saw prolonged stretches of playing time at both short and third due to injuries to Crosetti and Red Rolfe. His defense was again better than average though his offense was disappearing, no doubt due to the lack of playing time.
That December, New York traded Knickerbocker to the White Sox for catcher Ken Silvestri. Following the 1942 regular season, Chicago put him on waivers and he spent the ’43 season playing in the Pacific Coast League. He then entered the US Army and served his Country during WWII for the next two years. Though the Yankees invited him to their 1946 spring training camp, he failed to make the team and never again played big league or minor league ball. Knickerbocker was struck down by a heart attack in 1961, passing away at the age of just fifty-one.
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|SLB (1 yr)||121||530||491||53||128||29||5||4||61||3||30||32||.261||.303||.365||.668|
|CHW (1 yr)||89||397||343||51||84||23||2||7||29||6||41||27||.245||.329||.385||.714|
I really started collecting baseball cards in 1961. As a passionate six-year-old Yankee fan at the time, opening a nickel pack of Topps cards and discovering a Bronx Bomber inside felt like I had found a thousand dollar bill, well maybe not in all cases.
I can remember feeling no such thrill when I got the card pictured with today’s featured Pinstripe Birthday post. I’m sure Joe DeMaestri was a great guy and in his prime he was considered one of the upper tier shortstops in the American League. But he had spent those prime years of his career playing for the A’s in both Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Even though over a half century has passed since I purchased the pack from Puglisi’s Confectionary on Guy Park Avenue in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY, I still clearly remember this card. That’s because in addition to being perhaps the least recognized player on that 1961 Yankee team, DeMaestri wasn’t even wearing a Yankee hat when they took his picture for the card and I used to hate when that happened. Still, he was a Yankee and therefore it was a Yankee card so I figured it was a nickel well spent, just not one that returned that customary thrill worth a thousand bucks.
As it turned out, that 1961 season was this San Francisco native’s final year in the big leagues. The Yankees had acquired him in the historic seven player deal they made with Kansas City that also put Roger Maris in pinstripes. Nicknamed “Oats,” DeMaestri had been New York’s primary utility infielder for two seasons, appearing in just 79 total games during that span but getting the opportunity to play in his only World Series in 1960 and win his only ring in ’61. His most noteworthy moment in Yankee history took place in the eighth inning of the seventh game of that ’60 fall classic in Pittsburgh. It was DeMaestri who replaced Tony Kubek at short, after Bill Virdon’s certain double-play grounder hit a stone in the Forbes Field infield and struck Tony Kubek in the throat. In addition to almost killing the Yankee shortstop, the play started the rally that enabled Pittsburgh to erase a three run deficit and take a two-run lead. Ironically, all season long, New York manager Casey Stengel had been shifting Kubek from shortstop to replace Yogi Berra in left field in the eighth inning of games in which the Yankees had the lead. DeMaestri would then replace Kubek at short. For some reason, the “Ol Perfessor” didn’t make that move that afternoon in Forbes Field and you have to wonder how DeMaestri would have approached and been able to play that same ground ball.
In any event, my older brother Jerry and I were able to collect every card in that 1961 Topps series, but unlike all the rest of those we collected as kids, I don’t have this DeMaestri card anymore. Tragically, the younger brother of one of Jerry’s classmates was struck by a car and killed that year. I still remember walking up to his house a few days later with my brother and giving his grieving friend our entire collection of 1961 Topps baseball cards as our way of expressing sympathy for his loss.
He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and a Yankee franchise Hall-of-Famer nobody remembers.
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|CHW (1 yr)||56||79||74||8||15||0||2||1||3||0||5||11||.203||.253||.297||.550|
I always thought Wilson Betemit could become a big league All Star. He is a switch-hitter with decent power who can play a decent third base and even an adequate shortstop in an emergency. He saw quite a bit of action with the Yankees in 2008 and the more he played the better he seemed to hit the ball. I knew he wasn’t going to see much action in the Yankee’s All Star infield that year but still, when he was traded to the White Sox, after that season I was sort of disappointed to see him go. The fact that the Yankees got Nick Swisher for him turned out to make the swap pretty much a steal for New York.
Betemit signed with the Royals in 2010 and hit .295, while smacking 13 home runs and driving in 43 for KC in just 84 games. He began the 2011 season with the Royals but was traded to the Tigers that July. Detroit Manager Jim Leyland credited Betemit’s play during the second half of that year as one of the key reasons why his Tigers rallied to win the AL Central Division race. In 2012, he signed with the Orioles and became Buck Showalter’s starting third baseman. He hit a creditable .261 with 12 home runs but lost his job when the O’s brought up the very impressive 19-year-old Manny Machado in August of that year. Betemit sat the Baltimore bench from that point on and was released in September of 2013. He is still just 32 years old but it looks like he might never get the opportunity to put together that all star season I thought he could.
Also born on this date is the only member of the Yankee’s all time roster to have been born in Aruba.
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Remember when Ken Griffey Jr. was in his prime and told everyone that he would never play for the Yankees? That’s because “The Kid’s” father, Ken Griffey Sr. felt the same way. Of course, by the time the elder Griffey had figured that out, he had already been wearing Yankee pinstripes for a year and then had spent the next three and a half seasons with the team begging to be traded.
He would finally get his wish on the last day of June, during the 1986 season when the Yanks sent the unhappy outfielder to the Braves in exchange for Claudell Washington and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Press reports describing the trade at the time indicated the Yankees expected to start Claudell Washington in left field and Paul Zuvella at short.
I was one of those faithful Yankee fans who really hoped Griffey would be a star in New York and since that hadn’t happened, I wasn’t sorry to see him go. I knew Washington would be an adequate starting outfielder for that Yankee team but I also knew Paul Zuvella had no shot at becoming the team’s starting shortstop.
The shortstop position had been an anomaly for New York since Bucky Dent had been traded in 1983. Lou Piniella was the manager of that ’86 team and he wasn’t exactly known for being patient with his players, especially with an even more impatient owner like George Steinbrenner watching over his shoulder and breathing down his neck.
Zuvella had played his college ball for Stanford and had a good run with the 1978 version of Team USA. That got him drafted by Atlanta and he made his big league debut with the Braves in 1982. It took him four seasons to earn just the utility infielder’s job there and then he lost even that at midseason and spent the second half of 1985 back in the minors.
He started his first season in New York with an 0 – for – 25 slump and and at the end of his first month with the team the guy was hitting .083. Piniella, Steinbrenner and Yankee fans had seen enough and Zuvella was banished to Columbus for the rest of the season. He reappeared at the Yankees 1987 spring training camp and found himself in a battle with Bobby Meacham for the Yankee’s utility infielder slot. Though Meacham outplayed him in every facet of the game that spring, it was Zuvella who headed north with the team for Opening Day. Why? Because George Steinbrenner did not like Bobby Meacham, so the Yankee owner ordered Piniella to demote him and keep Zuvella.
The native of San Mateo, California was able to double his average during his second abbreviated season in the Bronx but that still meant he hit just .176. Zuvella’s Yankee career was over. He was released that October and spent the next couple of seasons with Cleveland. He eventually became a minor league manager in the Rockies’ organization. His claim to pinstriped fame? His name appears at the very end of an alphabetized version of the Yankees’ all-time roster.
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|KCR (1 yr)||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
You have to be a very good and long-time Yankee fan to remember when George Zeber played for the Yankees. It was back in 1977, and Zeber surprised everyone by making the team in spring training. That year’s Yankee squad were the defending AL Champions. Manager Billy Martin liked the fact that Zeber could play second, short and third so he brought the native of Elwood City, PA north that April and made him one of his primary utility infielders.
At the time, Zeber was already 27 years old and his path to the Majors had been anything but a cakewalk. His Dad had died when he was just five years old. Fortunately, the man his Mom then married was a great guy and baseball fan who got his new stepson involved in the game. He was a fifth round draft choice of the Yankees in 1968 but after just one year in the minors he was drafted and actually spent a year in front line combat duty in the jungles of Vietnam. He survived the war but when he returned to the minors he suffered a severe knee injury that pretty much stalled his development for two years. All that adversity would serve him well when he became part of Manager Martin’s Bronx Zoo Clubhouse.
He got his first big league at bat that May and remained on the roster the entire season, appearing in 25 games, getting 75 plate appearances and hitting a healthy .325. He even made that year’s World Series roster getting two at bats against the Dodgers but striking out both times. In 1978 he lost his roster spot to Brian Doyle and was sent back down to Syracuse, never again appearing in a big league game. He played the 1978 season with the Yankee’s Tacoma affiliate and then hung up his spikes for good. He then got into real estate and built a successful career for himself. It probably didn’t hurt that he was wearing a New York Yankee World Championship ring when he introduced himself to new realty clients.
Mr. and Mrs. Nix must have wanted their boys to remember to always be curious. They added unnecessary “Y’s” to both their first names. The older of the two boys is named Laynce, who’s been a big league outfielder since 2003 and currently plays for the Phillies. His younger brother, Jayson was a 2001 first round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies, and has served as the Yankees’ jack-of-all-trades utility infielder for the past two seasons.
When the Yankees brought up the younger Nix in May of 2012 to take the place of Eduardo Nunez as the team’s primary utility infielder, I thought someone in the front office had made a big mistake. I agreed that Nunez’s defensive shortcomings warranted the demotion, but Nix had batted just .169 for the Blue Jays in 2011, making me think he’d be too big of an offensive liability to play very much. I underestimated him.
I’ve now nicknamed Nix “the Caulk Gun” because he’s done such a credible job filling in the huge cracks in both the Yankee’s offense and defense that have been caused by the un-Godly large number of injuries the team has suffered during the past two seasons. In 2012 he appeared in 74 games for New York, making 54 starts. He played all or parts of 29 games at third, 18 at short, 13 at second and 11 in left field, plus he DH’d in a couple more. Thus far in 2013, Nix had started 41 games at third base for New York and 33 more at short, while the Yankees waited for A-Rod and Derek Jeter to recover from offseason surgeries. Ironically, now that both of those superstars are finally ready to play in the same infield for the first time since those surgeries were performed, it is Nix who is on the DL with a broken hand. Since coming to the Bronx, he’s been more than adequate defensively in every position he’s played and he’s also hit right around .240 in pinstripes, which is 22 points above his career average. He’s also contributed some mighty timely hits along the way. About the only negative thing Nix has done since joining the team is hit the ball in batting practice last May that Mariano Rivera was attempting to catch when the fabled closer blew out his ACL.
The Caulk Gun was born on this date in Dallas in 1982. He made his big league debut with the Rockies in 2008 and in addition to the Blue Jays, he’s also played for the White Sox and Indians. Nix shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee third baseman.
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|TOR (1 yr)||46||151||136||15||23||5||1||4||16||4||12||42||.169||.245||.309||.554|
Deacon Bill McKechnie wasn’t an especially good baseball player. He played a total of 846 games over eleven seasons as a utility infielder for five different ball clubs, averaging just .251 lifetime. Forty-five of those games were played in a Yankee uniform during the 1913 season. The switch-hitting Wilkinsburg, PA native hit just .134 for that Frank Chance managed New York team that finished in seventh place that season with a horrible 57-94 record. Those mediocre numbers may explain why the Yankees or nobody else seemed to care when McKechnie jumped to the upstart Federal League the following season to play for the Indianapolis Hoosiers. He averaged .304 as the Hoosier’s starting third baseman in 1914 and when the franchise was relocated to Newark, NJ the following year, McKechnie was made the team’s player-manager.
McKechne may have not been a very good big league player but he became an excellent big league manager. After the Federal League went belly up in 1916, he returned to the National League and played five more seasons before landing the Pittsburgh Pirates’ skipper’s job in June of 1922. His 1925 Pirate team won the World Series. His 1928 St. Louis Cardinal team won the NL Pennant. He then won two more Pennants with the 1939 and ’40 Cincinnati Reds and captured his second World Championship with that 1940 Reds team. He was the only big league manager to win pennants with three different teams until Dick Williams accomplished that same feat in 1984. In all he managed for 24 seasons in the National League. In addition to the Pirates, Cards and Reds, he also managed the Boston Braves for eight seasons. In all, he won 1,842 games which placed him in second place on the all-time list, when he retired in 1946, behind only John McGraw. He was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1962. He died three years later at the age of 79.
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|NYG (1 yr)||71||273||260||22||64||9||1||0||17||7||7||20||.246||.269||.288||.557|
|BSN (1 yr)||1||5||4||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||.000||.200||.000||.200|
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