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.
|ATL (4 yrs)||97||246||221||18||53||9||1||0||5||2||20||18||.240||.306||.290||.595|
|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.
|NYY (2 yrs)||161||505||444||56||106||22||1||7||42||19||38||133||.239||.307||.340||.647|
|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.
|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|
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|