Jason Giambi’s mediocre defensive talents at first base were a source of constant consternation for Joe Torre and the Yankee front office. When he first joined the club as a prized free agent in 2002, the Giambino’s offensive production was good enough to offset his weakness
in the field but over the years, as his hitting declined, his defensive deficiencies became more of a net negative. So beginning in 2004, the
Yankees began employing what I’ve come to refer to as the “Affordable Gloves for Giambi” initiative. These were first basemen who could field better than Jason and who were willing to play for what the Yankee’s then considered were “modest” salaries. In 2004, Giambi’s glove was Tony Clarke. Then in 2005, the Yankees handed the job to an aging Tino Martinez. In 2006, as Giambi’s contract was nearing its end, the team took a new approach by giving the role to a first base prospect in the Yankee’s Minor League organization. That turned out to be today’s Birthday Celebrant.
Andy Phillips had hit 80 home runs during his three previous seasons in New York’s farm system when he assumed the “Glove for Giambi” role in April of 2006. The Yankees had selected the Tuscaloosa, AL native in the seventh round of the 1999 draft out of the University of Alabama, so he was already 29-years-old when given the opportunity to become the Yankee’s regular first baseman. He turned out to be solid defensively but as a right handed hitter, his power was marginalized by Yankee Stadium. He hit just .240 that first season and his on-base percentage was a very-low .288.
He found himself back in the minors to start the 2007 season as the Yankees opened that year with former Gold Glove winner and World Series Game 4 ball-stealer, Doug Mientkiewicz at first. When Mientkiewicz got hurt in June of that year, Phillips was called up to replace him and he did that rather well. Andy hit .292 in 61 games that year plus he played flawless defense at first base, handling 408 chances without making an error. Despite the improved effort, the Yankee front office decided Phillips was not in their plans for the future and released him after the 2007 season. He was picked up by the Reds and even played a few games for the Mets in 2008 but was back in the minors the following year and playing in Japan, during the 2010 season.
Phillips shares his April 6th birthday with another Yankee prospect who was trying to work his way up New York’s farm team chain the same time as Andy. This Yankee pitching prospect, also born on April 6th tried to make the same climb three decades earlier.
Kenny Clay’s most famous moment in pinstripes was not a positive one. He had started a home game against the Royals in September of 1979 and was quickly staked to a 5-0 lead. By the time Billy Martin pulled him in the third inning, the lead had shrunk to one run and the Yankees ended up losing that contest 9-8. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was livid after the loss and when reporters asked him what he thought about Clay’s performance, the Boss told them that his once-prized pitching prospect had “spit the bit.”
Just four years earlier, Kenny Clay had been considered a can’t miss future member of the team’s starting rotation. The hard-throwing right-hander had put together a 28-18 record at the Triple A level of the minors but he could never duplicate that success in the big leagues. In three separate trials in the Bronx he was 6-14. After blowing that game in Kansas City and finishing the ’79 season with a horrible 1-7 record, Steinbrenner had seen enough and he traded Clay to Texas for Gaylord Perry during the 1980 season. Old Gaylord went 4-4 for New York the rest of that year while Clay was going 2-3 for the Rangers. Clay’s failure at the big league level gave the Boss even more impetus to turn to free agency and trades instead of his own farm system when the Yankees needed pitching talent.
Turns out that Clay had a bad habit of disappointing his employers. In 1986, he was convicted for stealing $30,000 from Jostens Inc. The company makes class rings for high schools and colleges and had hired Clay as a salesman. He escaped jail by making restitution and doing community service. In 1992 he stole a car from the car dealership he worked for and served hard time for that crime. In 1999 he went back to jail for forgery. Six years later, he forged the sale of a copier in an attempt to obtain a $7,500 commission check and ended up back in the slammer.
Clay is not the only one-time Yankee prospect to be born on April 6th. This first baseman and this Hawaiian-born outfielder both were considered top Yankee prospects in the first decade of the 21st century, but like Clay, neither made much of an impact as a Yankee or as a big leaguer.
|NYY (3 yrs)||6||14||.300||4.72||81||14||41||0||0||3||209.2||230||122||110||21||70||80||1.431|
|TEX (1 yr)||2||3||.400||4.60||8||8||0||0||0||0||43.0||43||24||22||4||29||17||1.674|
|SEA (1 yr)||2||7||.222||4.63||22||14||2||0||0||0||101.0||116||62||52||10||42||32||1.564|
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant has a name that’s a lot harder to forget than his brief Yankee career. The sky was considered the limit, when the Yankees made Hawaiian born Bronson Sardinha their first round pick in the 2001 Amateur Draft. Just 18 years-old at the time, he became the highest school-boy draft pick (34th overall pick) in the island state’s history and the Yankees signed him to a million dollar deal. A shortstop in high school, that’s where he began his minor league career, with the Tampa Yankees of the Gulf Coast League in 2001. He had a great offensive season that year, hitting .303 but his defensive work at short convinced the Yankee brass to switch him to the outfield the following year. Over the course of the next five seasons, Baseball America had Sardinha rated as a better prospect than both Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang. But unlike those two future stars, the six-foot one-inch , 220 pound Honolulu-born Sardinha could not get over the triple A hump. He did get his shot in the Bronx as a late-season call-up in September of 2007 and though he was used mostly as a pinch-runner, he did get ten at bats, scored six runs and collected three hits. That, however, has turned out to be his only taste of the big leagues. The following December, the Yankees released him and though he has since been signed by three different big league teams, chances are getting slimmer and slimmer that we will see Sardinha back in the big leagues. If he never gets a second shot he will retire with a lifetime Yankee and big league batting average of .300 and Bronson Kiheimahanaomauiakeo Sardinha will remain in first place on the all-time Yankee list for players with the longest middle names.
Ironically, the two other former Yankees born on April 6th also never made the successful transition from hot-Yankee prospect to Major League regular. They included this pitcher from the late seventies and this first baseman from Sardinha’s own era.