Results tagged ‘ utility player ’
Lenny Randle was a superb athlete, an intelligent human being and a good big league ballplayer who unfortunately, is perhaps now best known for punching out his manager and trying to blow a bunted ball foul. The skipper he decked was Frank Luchessi, during the Texas Rangers’ 1977 spring training season. Randle had been a Washington Senator first round draft pick (10th selection overall) in 1970. Before that, he had starred in both baseball and football at Arizona State.
He made his big league debut for the last Washington Senator team in history before that franchise relocated to Texas in 1972. Three years later, Randle was Billy Martin’s starting third baseman on a 1974 Ranger team that surprised everyone by finishing second in the AL West Division race. Randle hit .302 that year and led the team with 26 stolen bases as he thrived under Martin’s aggressive style of play. But when the team struggled to win the following year and Ranger ownership grew tired of Martin’s volcanic temper, he was replaced by Luchessi 95 games into the season.
Randle, who was by then starting at second for Texas, had a terrible offensive season in 1976, averaging just .224. The following spring, Luchessi decided to replace Lenny as the team’s starting second baseman with Bump Wills. Just before Opening Day, Randle approached Luchessi telling him he wanted to talk and in the ensuing conversation, the skipper evidently called the player a “punk.” An enraged Randle decked Luchessi with a three punch combination, breaking his jaw in the process. The player was immediately suspended and one month later, was on his way to New York, where he would become one of the best players on a very bad 1977 Mets’ ball club. Once again, Randle followed up a .300 season with a horrible offensive year in ’78 and the Mets released him.
The Yankees got him on August 3, 1979, one day after Thurman Munson lost his life in a tragic plane crash. Though he was being reunited with Billy Martin, the spirit of that ’79 Yankee team had been destroyed with Munson’s plane and Randle’s addition proved insignificant as New York went through the motions of completing what would be a lost season. He played in just 20 games during the last two months of the season, hitting just .179. The Yanks released him after the season and he would then play for the Cubs and Mariners before becoming the first Major League ballplayer to play professional baseball in Italy, in 1983.
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Clay Bellinger was an all-around utility man for the Yankees from the time he was first called up to the Bronx in April of 1999 until he was released by New York right after the 2001 postseason. During those three years, he played every position on the field for manager Joe Torre, except catcher and pitcher, but he hit just .194 in the 311 at bats he got while doing so.
Born in Oneonta, NY on November 18, 1968, this six feet three inch right-handed hitter played his collegiate baseball for Rollins College in Winter Park, Fl. He was good enough to get selected in the second round of the 1989 MLB amateur draft by San Francisco. He spent the next decade playing his way upwards in the farm systems of three different big league organizations. He was a decent fielder at every position but third base and his career highlight play as a Yankee was appropriately one he made with his glove and not his bat.
Inserted as a late-inning defensive replacement for David Justice in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series, Bellinger leapt in front of Yankee Stadium’s left field wall to rob the Mets’ Todd Zeile of a go-ahead two-run home run in the ninth inning of a 6-5 Yankee victory. He then took his two Yankee World Series rings and signed with the Angels in 2002 but couldn’t stay on their big league roster. He later became a pitching teacher at a Queens, NY baseball school and coached his son Cody in the 2007 Little League World Series.
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I always liked Rex Hudler, despite the fact that he never turned into the all star big league player the Yankee front office promised fans he would when he was selected as the team’s first round draft choice in 1978. Bronx Bomber fans are used to first round picks not fulfilling their potential. Remember Steve Chilcott; Dave Cheadle; Doug Heinhold; Dennis Sherrill; Jim McDonald; Steve Taylor; Todd Demeter; Steve Madden; Tim Birtsas; Jeffrey Pries; Rick Balabon; Brien Taylor; Matt Drews;Brian Buchanan; Shea Morenz; Scott Bradley; Tyler Godwin; Andy Brown, Dave Walling; Dave Parrish; Jon Skaggs; Bronson Sardinha; Eric Duncan; Jon Peterson; should I keep going? These are the names of Yankee number 1 draft picks most of you have never heard of. Though he never made it big as a Yankee, at least today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant ended up playing in the big leagues for over a decade.
“Wonderdog” was a great high school athlete in Fresno, California who turned down Division 1 football scholarship offers to play baseball for the Yankees. It became pretty clear, pretty quick that Hudler was not superstar material when he struggled to hit the pitching he faced at the lowest minor league levels. But the guy never quit. He gave 150% on every play he was involved in and just kept battling his way up New York’s alphabet ladder of farm teams until he got his first chance to play in pinstripes during September of the 1984 season. He struck out in his first big league at bat but doubled off of Boston’s Al Nipper in his second.
He got into a total of nine Yankee games during that 1984 season and 24 more the following year, never getting his big league average above .157. That December, he was traded to the Orioles. For the next ten seasons he was employed by five different big league teams playing every position except pitcher and catcher. He also spent a year (1993) playing in Japan.
When he hung up his spikes for good after the 1998 season he went into broadcasting as a color commentator for the Angels. He now announces for the Royals. Rex Hudler was a great teammate. He was always upbeat and also sort of crazy. Once, while sitting in the Cardinal dugout, Hudler captured a june bug that had landed his cap. When his St. Louis teammates dared him to eat it he started bidding up the challenge. By the time he popped the big ugly flying insect in his mouth and swallowed it, he had earned $800.
Hudler and his wife are the parents of a child with Down Syndrome and have both worked tirelessly on efforts to raise funding, awareness, and support for Down Syndrome children and their families.
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The Yankee (more accurately the pre 1903 Baltimore Oriole) career of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was very brief and very insignificant but the story of how Sport McAllister’s name got on the all-time Yankee franchise roster in the first place is pretty interesting. He was born Lewis McAllister in Austin, Mississippi in 1874. He made his big league debut with the old Cleveland Spiders franchise in 1896. He therefore had the misfortune of being a starting outfielder on the 1899 Spiders’ team that is pretty universally considered to be the worst big league team in the history of the game. That season, the Spiders finished with a 20 – 134 record that left them 84 games behind first place Brooklyn. They drew fewer than 7,000 fans to their home games that year and literally played their way out of existence. When the NL decided to contract from 12 teams to 10 the following season, the Spiders were everyone’s first choice to get the heave ho.
As for McAllister, he did not distinguish himself at the plate during his four years with Cleveland, averaging only .232. He did, however, build a reputation for being able to adequately play just about any position on the field, except pitcher. It was most likely that flexibility that got him a tryout and a contract with the Detroit Tiger team in the brand new American League in 1901 and old Sport had the season of his life. Not only did he play five different positions for his new team that year, he also averaged .301 in ninety games of action and it looked like the then 26-year-old switch-hitter was on his way to stardom. That never happened.
When the 1902 season began, there was trouble brewing in Baltimore. John McGraw had been enticed back to that city to manage its AL franchise by offering him ownership stock in the ball club. The problem was that Ban Johnson, the guy who put the American League together in the first place, owned a controlling share of stock in the team and McGraw absolutely despised Johnson. So McGraw decided to jump to the NL’s New York Giants in June of the 1902 season, but not before he put the screws to Johnson. Lil Napoleon owned a saloon in Baltimore with Wilbert Robinson, one of his Oriole players and also an Orioles’ stockholder. McGraw sold his half of the saloon to Robinson in return for his stock in the ball club. He then sold all his shares to his buddy, the Orioles’ club president who then became a majority stock holder in the club, effectively eliminating Johnson from having any say in the franchise’s operations. The Baltimore team president then turned around and sold his controlling interest in the Orioles to two men. One was Andrew Freeman, who was McGraw’s new boss as the owner of the Giants and John Brush, who was the owner of the NL’s Cincinnati Reds. The two men then proceeded to rape the Orioles roster by reassigning most of the Baltimore players to their respective NL clubs, leaving the team with just seven guys. In an effort to salvage the season and the new league, Johnson convinced all the other AL owners to provide the Orioles with replacement players from their own rosters.
Sport McAllister had started the 1903 season terribly. He got into a collision with a teammate and hurt his knee and the nagging injury had had an impact on his entire game. He was averaging just .209 when Johnson’s request for replacement players reached the Tiger front office. Somebody in that office decided to give the Orioles McAllister. So that’s how and why Sport McAllister became a member of the Yankee franchise’s all-time roster for just three games during the 1902 season. His time with the team only lasted that long because somebody else in the Detroit front office evidently realized that it was a mistake to give up one of the team’s better players, injured or not and had demanded the Orioles return him, which they did. McAllister played just one more season for Detroit before accepting head coach’s position with the University of Michigan’s baseball team. He lived until 1962. I found most of the information for this post in this article about McAllister, published by the Society for American Baseball Research.
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The 1910 New York Highlander season had been successful in terms of wins and losses but an embarrassment for the club in all other ways. The team had surprised everyone by finishing a strong second in that year’s American League Pennant race with an 88-63 record but during the season the team’s manager, George Stallings had been replaced as skipper by Hal Chase, the team’s star first baseman in a scandalous episode. Stallings had been so sure that Chase was throwing games that year that he had finally reported him to the team president, Frank Farrell and league president, Ban Johnson. Since Chase was the darling of New York’s fans at the time, both men not only sided with him, Farrell actually fired Stallings and made Chase his player manager.
Now Chase may have been crooked but he knew his baseball. He felt that if he could acquire a better hitting third baseman during the offseason, his club would have a great shot at winning it all in 1911. Jimmy Austin had started at the hot corner for New York in both 1909 and ’10 but though he was a switch-hitter, he wasn’t very good offensively from either side of the plate and had averaged just .218 in the just-completed season.
Ironically, the third baseman Chase was able to get in exchange for Austin had also hit just .218 that year, playing third for the St. Louis Browns. Chase knew, however that just one year earlier, Roy Hartzell had hit .271 for the Brownies and banged out 161 hits. He was hoping his new third baseman’s 1910 slump was just temporary and he was right.
Hartzell had an outstanding inaugural season for New York, averaging .291. Even more impressively, the then 29-year-old native of Golden, Colorado led the team with 91 runs batted in. Hal Chase had been right about the impact a new third baseman would have on his team’s lineup. The problem was that New York’s pitching collapsed in that 1911 season and the Yankees finished a disappointing 76-76.
Unfortunately for Hartzell, he had joined the team at the beginning of the darkest era in the franchise’s history. In his second season with the ball club, New York finished with a woeful 50-102 mark and during the five full seasons he played there, the team’s cumulative record was a horrible 332-439. But you couldn’t blame Hartzell. He did everything asked of him during his Yankee career, including playing third, short, second and all three outfield positions when the need arose and averaging a solid .261 lifetime for New York. He was also respected enough by his teammates to be named team captain.
By 1916, Hartzell had turned 34 years of age and the Yankees were ready to move forward without him. He accepted an offer to manage the Denver club in the Western Association, permitting him to move home to his native Colorado. In the article announcing Hartzell’s new job, the New York Times called him “the handiest utility man the Yankees ever had.”
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Today, one out of every four Major League ballplayers is Latino. At the beginning of the twentieth century you could count the number of Latinos wearing Major League uniforms on the fingers of one hand and one of those fingers would briefly have represented this Yankee utility player, who was born in Cuba and is generally considered to be the first Latino player ever to wear the uniform of the New York Yankees. Just 5’5″ tall, Aragon got his first shot with the Yankees in 1914. He barely spoke or understood a word of English, making it especially difficult for Frank Chance, the Yankee manager at the time to communicate with him and Aragon was sent back down to the minors. He worked hard to learn English and reappeared briefly on the Yankee teams of both 1916 and 1917. He then spent the next eight seasons in the minors and never again appeared in a big league ball game.
Here are my personal selections for the all-time all- Latino Yankee team:
Aragon shares his birthday with the Yankee pitcher who helped start Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak.