Results tagged ‘ utility infielder ’

August 7 – Happy Birthday Bill McKechnie

Bill McKechnieDeacon 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.

McKechnie shares his birthday with this World Series legend, this former Yankee DH/outfielder and this one-time Yankee reliever.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1913 NYY 45 124 112 7 15 0 0 0 8 2 8 17 .134 .198 .134 .332
11 Yrs 846 3179 2843 319 713 86 33 8 240 127 190 204 .251 .301 .313 .614
PIT (6 yrs) 368 1313 1182 118 278 25 20 5 109 34 71 80 .235 .281 .303 .584
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/6/2013.

July 18 – Happy Birthday Ramiro Pena

penaAfter 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.

Pena shares his birthday with this former Yankee manager, this former starting piitcher and this long-ago pinch-hitter.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 NYY 69 121 115 17 33 6 1 1 10 4 5 20 .287 .317 .383 .699
2010 NYY 85 167 154 18 35 1 1 0 18 7 6 27 .227 .258 .247 .504
2011 NYY 23 46 40 5 4 0 0 1 4 0 2 11 .100 .159 .175 .334
2012 NYY 3 4 4 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .250 .250 .250 .500
5 Yrs 230 445 410 54 100 12 3 5 44 11 21 76 .244 .281 .324 .606
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2013.

June 21 – Happy Birthday Spencer Adams

Spencer_AdamsIt 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.

He shares a birthday with this great Yankee starting pitcher and this one-time Yankee phee-nom.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1926 NYY 28 28 25 7 3 1 0 0 1 1 3 7 .120 .214 .160 .374
4 Yrs 180 451 395 61 101 16 5 0 38 5 38 50 .256 .324 .322 .646
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/21/2013.

June 20 – Happy Birthday Bill Werber

bill_werberhWhen he died in January of 2009, today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was 100 years old. He had become the oldest living MLB player and his book, Memories of a Ballplayer, co-written with baseball historian, Paul Rogers in 2001, represented his eye witness account of what playing in the big leagues was like back in the 1930s.

Werber’s Major League career actually began back in 1927, when he was a freshman at Duke University, where he was a brilliant athlete (the first Duke basketball player to be named All American) and a brilliant student (he graduated Phi Beta Kappa.) The legendary scout, Paul Krichell signed the first year collegian  to a Yankee contract and had him spend a couple of weeks during that ’27 season sitting on the bench of the famed Murderers Row team to pick up some knowledge of the game. According to Werber, he hated those two weeks because everybody simply ignored him.

He didn’t make it back to Yankee Stadium until 1930 when he got called up in June and appeared in three games at short and one at third for Manager Bob Shawkey’s team. He went 2-3 in his first big league start and also became Babe Ruth’s bridge partner on the train rides during Yankee road trips. Werber and Ruth would play partners against Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey and Werber remembered in his book, how Babe used to drink a bottle of Seagrams during those contests, gradually getting drunker and nastier as the game progressed.

Werber spent the 1932 season back in the minors and then was promoted back to the parent club when the ’33 season started, but not for long. The Yankees had a ton of left-side infielders in their organization back then, so they sold the native of Berwyn, Maryland to the Red Sox. That was the break Werber’s career needed. By 1934, he had become Boston’s starting third baseman and that year he reached the 200 hit mark for the first and only time of his career and led the AL with 40 stolen bases while batting .321. He ended up winning a total of three AL stolen base titles. Werber played until 1942 and finished his 11-year career with a .271 batting average and 1,363 career hits. He won a World Series ring in 1940 with the Reds. He was instrumental in Cincinnati’s victory in that seven game Fall Classic, as he smacked ten hits and batted .370.

Update: The above post was last updated in June of 2011. Since that time I have learned that when Werber left baseball in 1942, he sold life insurance for his father’s company. He evidently was pretty good at it because during his first year in that new career he earned over $100,000. When he retired from his second career he was a millionaire. I also learned from an interview with Werber published in a 2008 edition of the New York Times, that he was not Ruth’s bridge partner on those long-ago Yankee train rides but instead it would be him and Dickey versus the Bambino and Gehrig.  According to Werber, Babe and the Iron Horse weren’t too bright so he and Dickey would always win the $3.50 pot from card games. When Werber walked in his first ever Yankee at bat, Ruth came up behind him and hit a home run. Werber decided to take the opportunity to show his teammates just how fleet afoot he was and ran around the bases as fast as he could in front of Babe. When Ruth caught up to him in the dugout, he patted the rookie on top of the head and told him, “Son, you don’t have to run like that when the Babe hits one.

Here are Werber’s Yankee and career player stats:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1930 NYY 4 17 14 5 4 0 0 0 2 0 3 1 .286 .412 .286 .697
1933 NYY 3 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
11 Yrs 1295 5842 5024 875 1363 271 50 78 539 215 701 363 .271 .364 .392 .756
BOS (4 yrs) 529 2372 2045 366 575 130 25 38 234 107 268 154 .281 .367 .425 .792
CIN (3 yrs) 399 1847 1601 276 435 79 12 21 151 45 212 110 .272 .362 .375 .738
PHA (2 yrs) 262 1175 992 177 273 53 11 18 139 54 167 76 .275 .381 .405 .786
NYY (2 yrs) 7 19 16 5 4 0 0 0 2 0 3 1 .250 .368 .250 .618
NYG (1 yr) 98 429 370 51 76 9 2 1 13 9 51 22 .205 .308 .249 .557
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/20/2013.

June 8 – Happy Birthday Lenn Sakata

sakataAfter 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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1987 NYY 19 48 45 5 12 0 1 2 4 0 2 4 .267 .313 .444 .757
11 Yrs 565 1423 1289 163 296 46 4 25 109 30 97 158 .230 .286 .330 .616
BAL (6 yrs) 442 1068 964 132 225 36 3 21 84 28 75 114 .233 .292 .342 .634
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/8/2013.

May 4 – Happy Birthday Miguel Cairo

miguel.cairo.jpgMiguel 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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2004 NYY 122 408 360 48 105 17 5 6 42 11 3 18 49 .292 .346 .417 .763
2006 NYY 81 244 222 28 53 12 3 0 30 13 1 13 31 .239 .280 .320 .600
2007 NYY 54 121 107 12 27 7 0 0 10 8 1 8 19 .252 .308 .318 .625
17 Yrs 1490 4392 3956 504 1044 193 34 41 394 139 40 243 482 .264 .314 .361 .675
STL (4 yrs) 255 605 545 82 138 31 6 8 67 7 3 31 73 .253 .301 .376 .677
TBD (3 yrs) 389 1483 1355 159 373 59 12 9 116 69 22 77 124 .275 .319 .356 .675
CIN (3 yrs) 263 658 595 72 151 27 4 13 74 11 4 39 86 .254 .309 .378 .687
NYY (3 yrs) 257 773 689 88 185 36 8 6 82 32 5 39 99 .269 .319 .370 .689
CHC (2 yrs) 82 179 152 27 42 4 1 2 10 2 1 18 24 .276 .355 .355 .710
NYM (1 yr) 100 367 327 31 82 18 0 2 19 13 3 19 31 .251 .296 .324 .620
PHI (1 yr) 27 47 45 6 12 2 1 1 2 0 0 0 4 .267 .283 .422 .705
SEA (1 yr) 108 250 221 34 55 14 2 0 23 5 2 18 32 .249 .316 .330 .646
TOR (1 yr) 9 30 27 5 6 2 0 0 1 0 0 2 9 .222 .300 .296 .596
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/4/2013.

December 28 – Happy Birthday Bill Hall

hallFor 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.

December 21 – Happy Birthday D’Angelo Jimenez

jiminezThe 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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1999 NYY 7 23 20 3 8 2 0 0 4 0 3 4 .400 .478 .500 .978
8 Yrs 641 2480 2159 290 568 105 17 36 228 36 291 391 .263 .351 .377 .728
CIN (3 yrs) 260 1102 958 124 260 48 5 19 103 22 130 165 .271 .359 .391 .751
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/22/2013.

December 8 – Happy Birthday Eddie Brinkman

ed_brinkman_autographYoung Yankee fans have been spoiled by Derek Jeter. When I was a kid, having a shortstop who could rap 200 hits a year or average .300 just didn’t happen. In fact, good-hitting shortstops were so rare that when Minnesota’s Zoilio Versailles hit 19 home runs and drove in 77 in 1965, he was awarded the freaking AL MVP award.

The prototypical shortstop of the 1960′s was a great fielder who was paid to prevent runs with his glove and not worry about producing any with his bat. Eddie Brinkman fit that prototype perfectly. A native of Cincinnati who was a pitcher on the same high school team as Pete Rose, the guy I called “Steady Eddie” made his big league debut with the Senators in 1961, when he was just 19-years-old. By 1963, he was starting for Washington and developing a reputation as one of the league’s smoothest fielding shortstops. He failed to hit above .228 during his first eight years as a Senator, than suddenly got his average up to .266 in 1969 and .262 in ’70. In October of 1970, Brinkman was included in a blockbuster trade that brought two-time Cy Young award winner Denny McLain to Washington along with future Yankee Elliott Maddox, third baseman Don Wert, and reliever Norm McRae. The great fielding third baseman, Aurelio Rodriguez and pitchers Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan accompanied Brinkman to MoTown.

Brinkman’s sleek fielding continued with his new team but unfortunately, his batting average reverted back toward just north of the Mendoza line. He remained in Detroit for five seasons before getting traded to San Diego in November of 1974. Perhaps sensing the Tigers were about to get rid of him, Brinkman had left Detroit with a bang by smashing a career high 14 home runs during the ’74 season. San Diego owned his contract for jus a few minutes because they immediately shipped him to St Louis to complete a trade they had made with the Cardinals earlier in that year. St. Louis traded him to Texas on June 4, 1975 and nine days later, the Rangers sold the then 33-year-old Brinkman to the Yankees.

Yankee GM Gabe Paul had been trying to acquire Brinkman since the beginning of that ’75 season. He told a New York Times reporter he had called St. Louis GM Bing Devine at least a hundred times about acquiring the shortstop but couldn’t make a deal. The Yankee starting shortstop during that 1975 season was Jim Mason, who averaged just .152 that year and though strong defensively, was not as good a fielder as Brinkman. Paul was hoping those 14 home runs Brinkman had hit the previous season for Detroit were not an aberration, but that’s exactly what that one-year power display turned out to be. Brinkman hit just .175 in his 44 games in pinstripes that season. New York invited him back to their 1976 spring training camp but he was released a week before the team headed north.

He retired with a lifetime average of .224 and 60 home runs during his fifteen years in the big leagues. He won a Gold Glove with Detroit in 1972. After hanging up his glove, he began a long career as a White Sox scout and coach. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 66. His younger brother Chuck was a big league catcher with the White Sox. Brinkman shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee reliever.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1975 NYY 44 68 63 2 11 4 1 0 2 0 3 6 .175 .224 .270 .494
15 Yrs 1845 6642 6045 550 1355 201 38 60 461 30 444 845 .224 .280 .300 .580
TEX (11 yrs) 1143 4217 3847 350 868 125 27 31 273 27 289 574 .226 .282 .296 .579
DET (4 yrs) 630 2272 2060 192 458 68 10 28 180 3 145 255 .222 .276 .306 .582
STL (1 yr) 28 85 75 6 18 4 0 1 6 0 7 10 .240 .306 .333 .639
NYY (1 yr) 44 68 63 2 11 4 1 0 2 0 3 6 .175 .224 .270 .494
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/8/2013.

October 31 – Happy Birthday Mike Gallego

The Buck Showalter era in Yankee franchise history began in 1992. New York was coming off of three straight losing seasons under Stump Merrill and I remember wondering if this new guy was the right choice to turn the team around. The Yankee lineup that year featured a potpourri of well-travelled veterans like Danny Tartabull, Mel Hall and Charley Hayes, home grown kids like Roberto Kelly, Pat Kelly, Kevin Maas and Andy Stankiewicz and of course, Donnie Baseball. But it was two role players on that squad, who I thought Showalter took a particular liking to; Randy Velarde and a former Oakland A named Mike Gallego.

Gallego became that team’s primary backup at second and short and Velarde did the same at every other position on the field besides catcher. Neither put together glittering statistics. Velarde averaged .272, Gallego just .254 but whenever I watched a Yankee game that season, one or both of them seemed to make some sort of hustling play or put together a particularly good at bat. That ’92 Yankee team finished ten games under .500 but I clearly remember thinking they were finally on the right track.

The following year, the Yankees finished 14 games above .500 and Showalter started Gallego in 119 games at second, short or third. The Whittier, CA native put together his best big league offensive season, hitting .283 and knocking in 54 runs. By the following year, he had become New York’s de facto starting shortstop. That ’94 Yankee team was running away with their division race when a strike halted play and ended the season. At the time, Gallego’s average was just .239. and the three year free agent contract he had signed with New York was ending. When the strike finally ended and play resumed in 1995, Tony Fernandez was the Yankee shortstop and Mike Gallego was back playing for Oakland.

Gallego shares his October 31st birthday with this former Yankee outfielderthis former Yankee catcher and this other former Yankee infielder.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1992 NYY 53 201 173 24 44 7 1 3 14 0 20 22 .254 .343 .358 .702
1993 NYY 119 465 403 63 114 20 1 10 54 3 50 65 .283 .364 .412 .776
1994 NYY 89 357 306 39 73 17 1 6 41 0 38 46 .239 .327 .359 .686
13 Yrs 1111 3379 2931 374 700 111 12 42 282 24 326 465 .239 .320 .328 .648
OAK (8 yrs) 772 2151 1863 230 432 63 9 23 168 21 205 295 .232 .313 .312 .625
NYY (3 yrs) 261 1023 882 126 231 44 3 19 109 3 108 133 .262 .347 .383 .730
STL (2 yrs) 78 205 186 18 37 4 0 0 5 0 13 37 .199 .254 .220 .474
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/31/2013.