Results tagged ‘ utility infielder ’
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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|CLE (2 yrs)||75||206||188||19||46||7||1||2||13||0||9||24||.245||.283||.324||.607|
|NYY (2 yrs)||35||93||82||4||10||1||0||0||2||0||5||8||.122||.172||.134||.307|
|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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|CHW (2 yrs)||118||347||304||39||65||12||0||13||37||10||35||76||.214||.301||.382||.683|
|COL (1 yr)||22||65||56||2||7||2||0||0||2||1||7||17||.125||.234||.161||.395|
|CLE (1 yr)||78||306||282||29||66||14||0||13||29||1||13||75||.234||.283||.422||.705|
|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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|NEW (2 yrs)||276||1179||1021||156||286||46||11||3||81||75||94||67||.280||.345||.356||.700|
|CIN (2 yrs)||85||285||264||15||70||6||1||0||25||9||10||19||.265||.295||.295||.590|
|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|
|NYY (1 yr)||45||124||112||7||15||0||0||0||8||2||8||17||.134||.198||.134||.332|
After the Yanks spent close to $350 million during the 2008 offseason to sign Sabathia, Teixeira and Burnett, putting their Mexican League find, Ramiro Pena on the Opening Day roster as the team’s utility infielder was probably a money-saving move on the part of the team’s front office. It worked out pretty well. The 23-year-old native of the Mexican city of Monterrey was paid the MLB minimum salary of $400,000 and responded with decent fill-in defensive efforts at short and third plus produced an impressive .287 batting average. Pena did spend July and August of his first big league season back in the minors after the Yankees acquired Eric Hinske in late June of 2009, but he returned to New York in September and hit his first big league home run. Though he didn’t see action in that year’s postseason, Pena more than earned the World Series ring he received when the Yankees topped the Phillies in the ’09 World Series.
That effort earned him a return trip to the Bronx the following year and though his average dropped sixty points, his defense improved and so did his RBI production. What really killed Pena’s career as a Yankee was the emergency appendectomy he was forced to undergo in July of 2011, right after he had again been recalled to the Bronx to fill in for an injured Eric Chavez. Major League utility players who get hurt when the starters they are supposed to replace are also hurt are simply asking for trouble. Sure enough, Pena appeared in just three games for New York during the entire 2012 season and was released at the end of that year.
The Atlanta Braves signed him as a free agent in December and he was establishing himself as Atlanta’s super sub during the first half of the 2013 season until the injury jinx bit him again. Pena underwent shoulder surgery this month and will miss the remainder of the year.
|NYY (4 yrs)||180||338||313||40||73||7||2||2||32||11||13||58||.233||.266||.288||.553|
|ATL (1 yr)||50||107||97||14||27||5||1||3||12||0||8||18||.278||.330||.443||.773|
It was a few weeks before Christmas in 1925 and Yankee manager Miller Huggins had just arrived in New York City and spent the morning in a meeting with team owner, Jake Ruppert to discuss personnel needs for the upcoming season. The previous year had been a disaster for the Yankees and Huggins. The shipwreck of a season had gotten off on an ominous note after Babe Ruth began partying as soon as New York was eliminated from the 1924 AL Pennant race and didn’t stop until he collapsed in the Asheville, NC railroad station, when the Yankee team was heading north for Opening Day at the conclusion of their 1925 spring training camp. The “Big Bam” had boozed, eaten and screwed his body into a complete state of physical and mental exhaustion and it would take the entire first two months of the 1925 regular season to get him healthy enough to return to action. By then, the Yankees were already well below .500, on their way to finishing the year with a dismal 69-85 record and an embarrassing seventh-place finish in the AL standings.
Ruth’s near-death experience had done something Huggins had been trying to do since the Sultan of Swat had joined the team in 1920. It scared the hell out of him and convinced the game’s all-time greatest slugger to spend the 1925 offseason in a New York City gym, where he got his abused body into the best shape of his career. For the first time since Huggins had become Ruth’s manager, the skipper could enter a Yankee spring training camp without worrying about the impact of Ruth’s prodigious physical excesses on his team’s Pennant hopes. So as he exited his meeting with Ruppert that morning at the Yankee offices on Manhattan’s West 42nd street and was surrounded by reporters eager to find out what his thoughts were for the upcoming season, the player uppermost on the diminutive field general’s mind was today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
Huggins told the reporters that the Yankees biggest need for the upcoming 1926 season was an infielder, and he had one specifically targeted that he had discussed with Ruppert earlier that morning. The only clue he shared was that the player he was thinking of could field like a “fiend” and hit much better than Huggins ever did during the manager’s own playing days as an NL second baseman. As they pressed him for the player’s identity, they began suggesting names of big league infielders and Huggins would deny each until someone shouted, “What about Spencer Adams?” When Huggins ignored the question and said nothing, the reporters felt they had their answer. A month and a half later, the Yankees confirmed it.
A native of Utah, Adams was one of the first Mormons to play Major League Baseball. He had made his big league debut with the Pirates in 1923 and had spent the 1925 season as a utility infielder for the AL Champion Washington Senators. As Huggins had described, Adams was a very good defensive infielder and his .273 batting average with Washington indicated he could handle a bat just fine. But when he got to the Yankee spring training camp in St. Petersburg that winter, he got his first glimpse of his competition for the team’s starting second baseman’s job. It was this Italian kid from San Francisco by the name of Tony Lazzeri. At first, Huggins played Lazzeri at short and had Adams platooning with Aaron Ward at second. Another Yankee prospect from San Francisco by the name of Mark Koenig was proving to be a much better defensive shortstop than Lazzeri, so by the end of the first week of the 1926 regular season, Huggins had Lazzeri with his booming bat starting at second, the smooth fielding Koenig at short and Adams ended up riding the pine alongside Huggins in the Yankee dugout.
The infielder would appear in just 28 games that year and make just 28 plate appearances, which probably explains why he forgot how to hit. Adams averaged just .120 that season, but he did appear in his second straight World Series that October, again on the losing side as the Yanks lost the 1926 Fall Classic to the Cardinals. With two talented youngsters like Lazzeri and Koenig ensconced as starters in the middle of their infield, the Yankees sold Adams to the Browns after his first and only season in the Bronx was over. He played his last big league game with St. Louis in 1927.
|WSH (1 yr)||39||65||55||11||15||4||1||0||4||1||5||4||.273||.333||.382||.715|
|PIT (1 yr)||25||62||56||11||14||0||1||0||4||2||6||6||.250||.323||.286||.608|
|NYY (1 yr)||28||28||25||7||3||1||0||0||1||1||3||7||.120||.214||.160||.374|
|SLB (1 yr)||88||296||259||32||69||11||3||0||29||1||24||33||.266||.333||.332||.665|
After ten years as a utility infielder with the Brewers, Orioles and A’s, Sakata joined the Yankees for 19 games in 1987, his last big league season. Sakata is one of just three members of the Yankee’s all-time roster to be born in Hawaii. The others were pitcher, Brian Fisher and New York’s first round draft pick in 2001, Bronson Sardinha.
The Yankees’ intention when they signed Sakata as a free agent in November of 1986 was to make him their primary utility infielder, a role he told New York Times reporter Mike Martinez at the time that was not easy. He then explained why; ”Very rarely are you psychologically ready when you’re called. You might sit for a month and then you’re asked to play.
”But I’m on a major league team, and that means I’m one of the better players in the game today. Maybe I’m not one of the glamorous stars, but I’ve been able to make due with the ability I was given. I do the job when I’m called upon. I do what I can on that particular day, at that particular moment. And I go from there.”
What Sakata also found out about being a Yankee utility infielder in the mid eighties was how little job security came with the role. One error at a crucial time or one failure to successfully sacrifice with the “Boss” watching from the Stadium’s owner’s suite and you could be applying for unemployment checks the next day. But it was the other part-time-player no-no that ended this guy’s career.
It happened in a June 28th home game against Boston. Ironically, Lenny was having one of his best days as a Yankee, tripling off Al Nipper in the third inning and then singling off the Red Sox right hander in his second at bat, two innings later. The next hitter, Wayne Tolleson sacrificed Sakata to second. Nipper then attempted to pick him off and Sakata injured his ankle sliding back into second base. After that play, Ron Kittle helped his injured teammate return to the dugout. Sakata wrapped his arm around Kittle’s neck for support somehow causing Kittle to pull a muscle in his shoulder and end up joining Sakata on the DL. Kittle would later return to action for New York that season. For Sakata, that walk to the dugout after he injured his ankle was the last walk he would ever take as an active big league player.
Sakata was the last Oriole to play shortstop prior to the beginning of Cal Ripken’s incredible streak at that position. After his playing days were over, Lenn went into coaching and managing for the San Francisco Giants’ organization. He shares his June 8th birthday with this other one-time Yankee infielder.
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|MIL (3 yrs)||87||269||246||22||47||8||0||2||16||2||17||34||.191||.243||.248||.491|
|NYY (1 yr)||19||48||45||5||12||0||1||2||4||0||2||4||.267||.313||.444||.757|
|OAK (1 yr)||17||38||34||4||12||2||0||0||5||0||3||6||.353||.395||.412||.807|
Miguel Cairo played some very good baseball for the New York Yankees during his 257 game-career in Pinstripes. The Yankees put the guy in some incredibly difficult circumstances but he was unflappable. I believe it was during the 2004 regular season, Cairo’s finest as a Yankee, that he made a play that truly impressed me. He had been playing second base all game long when late in the game he was moved to shortstop. I don’t remember why Joe Torre made the switch but I think it was because Jeter got hit on the hand by a pitch and couldn’t take the field. In any event, the first guy up after Cairo makes the move hits a shot toward short and Cairo made this absolutely awesome play on the ball.
This Venezuelan was one of the most valuable members of that 2004 Yankee squad. He anchored second base but could play and did play every other infield position, plus he hit over .290. He did everything the team asked him to do, he did it well and he often had to do it in the sort of clutch situations that teams in a division race encounter frequently.
So happy birthday Miguel. Every successful team has at least one player who does all the little things well and in 2004, you were that player for the Yankees. If only you could have pitched that 12th inning against Boston in game 4 of that season’s AL Championship series.
Miguel shares his May 4th birthday with this one-time AL Saves leader.
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|TBD (3 yrs)||389||1483||1355||159||373||59||12||9||116||69||77||124||.275||.319||.356||.675|
|CIN (3 yrs)||263||658||595||72||151||27||4||13||74||11||39||86||.254||.309||.378||.687|
|NYY (3 yrs)||257||773||689||88||185||36||8||6||82||32||39||99||.269||.319||.370||.689|
|CHC (2 yrs)||82||179||152||27||42||4||1||2||10||2||18||24||.276||.355||.355||.710|
|NYM (1 yr)||100||367||327||31||82||18||0||2||19||13||19||31||.251||.296||.324||.620|
|PHI (1 yr)||27||47||45||6||12||2||1||1||2||0||0||4||.267||.283||.422||.705|
|SEA (1 yr)||108||250||221||34||55||14||2||0||23||5||18||32||.249||.316||.330||.646|
|TOR (1 yr)||9||30||27||5||6||2||0||0||1||0||2||9||.222||.300||.296||.596|
For the first four years of his big league career, Bill Hall was a utility infielder for the Milwaukee Brewers who, despite his propensity to swing at bad pitches showed decent offensive potential. The native of Tupelo, Mississippi got a break when JJ Hardy, Milwaukee’s starting shortstop was injured for much of the 2006 season. Manager Ned Yost gave the job to Hall and he responded with a 35 home run, 85 RBI, .899 OPS breakout year. That performance earned him a four year $24 million contract with the Brew Crew and since he signed it, Mr. Hall’s HR, RBI and OPS numbers have been on a steady downward trend.
By August of 2009, he was hitting just .201 for Milwaukee when he was traded to the Mariners for a minor league pitcher. The following January, Seattle sent him to Boston for first baseman Casey Kotchman. The Red Sox let him walk him after the 2010 season and the Astros took an expensive gamble by signing him to a $3 million one year deal. It proved to be a bad bet. By June of the 2011 season, Hall was hitting just .224 for Houston and was released. He finished that year with the Giants.
Then in February of 2012, Brian Cashman was on the hunt for a right-hand hitting DH and he gave Hall a minor league deal that included an invitation to make New York’s big league roster with a good spring training performance. Throughout the exhibition season, Hall insisted he was impressing the Yankee brass enough to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster but his .212 batting average and his 11 strikeouts in 33 at bats did not correspond well to that level of optimism. The Yanks released him at the end of the camp so he could try and catch on with another big league team and he did sign with Baltimore, three weeks later.
Hall’s name is being mentioned again this offseason as a possible Yankee spring-training invitee. He shares his birthday with a former Gold Glove third baseman, who unlike Hall, did see a bit of regular season action as a Yankee.
The 2000 season was supposed to have been D’Angelo Jimenez’s first full year as a New York Yankee. The native Dominican had completed a noteworthy seven-game-long cup-of-coffee stint in the Bronx the previous September, during which he belted eight hits in his twenty at-bats and drove in four runs. That performance had impressed manager Joe Torre, the team’s front-office and many Yankee fans, including me as well. I can remember being certain that this then 21-year-old switch-hitter would be the Yankees’ fifth infielder in 2000. That didn’t happen.
In an incident that reminded me of the one that had destroyed former Yankee shortstop, Andre Robertson’s big league future, fifteen years earlier, Jimenez broke his neck in a car accident in the Dominican Republic, one month before the 2000 spring training camp opened. A year and a half later, the Yankees traded him to the Padres for reliever Jay Witasick.
While Jimenez had been recovering from his injuries, another Yankee infield prospect named Alfonso Soriano had leap-frogged ahead of him on the organization’s depth chart. Since Derek Jeter, Chuck Knoblauch and Scott Brosius were also firmly ensconced at short, second and third for a Yankee team that had just captured its third-straight World Series, hardly anyone noticed this kid had been traded.
Over the next seven seasons, Jimenez would play for six different big league teams. His best stretch occurred in Cincinnati, where he became the Red’s starting second baseman and Barry Larkin’s double play partner in 2003 and ’04. He hit .290 that first year and than poked 12 home runs and set a career high with 67 RBIs the following season. But after getting off to a slow start in 2005, he lost his job to Rich Aurilia. The Reds released him and he spent the final two years of his big-league career living out of his suitcase, as he played for Texas, Oakland and the Nationals.
Jimenez is still playing baseball. He played for an independent minor league team in 2012 and than joined the Mexican League, where he hit .328 in 21 games. I still think if he didn’t break his neck, he’d have been a great utility infielder for that 2000 Yankee team, instead of Clay Bellinger, who would hit just .207 in that role. That would have put Jimenez in a perfect slot to take over the regular second base job when Knoblauch’s case of Steve Blass throwing disease started. Instead, Jose Vizcaino was given the position and a year later it was Soriano and not today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant who would become a big league all star.
Jimenez shares his birthday with this former home run hitter, this former Yankee reliever and a former Yankee outfielder who’s promising career took a u-turn when he slipped on a wet Shea Stadium outfield.
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|SDP (2 yrs)||173||706||629||84||162||30||4||6||66||6||73||131||.258||.333||.347||.679|
|CHW (2 yrs)||100||433||379||57||100||15||8||8||37||6||48||56||.264||.347||.409||.756|
|OAK (1 yr)||8||20||14||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||6||7||.071||.350||.071||.421|
|TEX (1 yr)||20||68||57||7||12||3||0||1||8||0||10||6||.211||.328||.316||.644|
|WSN (1 yr)||73||128||102||14||25||7||0||2||10||2||21||22||.245||.379||.373||.752|
|NYY (1 yr)||7||23||20||3||8||2||0||0||4||0||3||4||.400||.478||.500||.978|