Last week, Bronx Bomber fans were forced to say good-bye to the most recent “great” second baseman in Yankee franchise history, when Robbie Cano took his magical bat and gifted glove to Seattle for 240 million Mariner bucks. Today, we can say Happy Birthday to the first great second baseman in Yankee franchise history.
Jimmy Williams had made a smashing big league debut in his 1899 rookie season with Pittsburgh, when he led the National League with 27 triples,smashed 9 home runs and averaged a whopping .354. Its no wonder the legendary John McGraw literally kidnapped Williams on his way to the Pirates 1901 spring training camp and enticed him to sign with his newly formed Baltimore Orioles in the newly formed American League.
A third baseman with the Pirates, McGraw switched Williams to second and for the next seven seasons,he established himself as one of the best in the game at that position. Offensively, he continued to be a “triples machine,” leading the league in three-baggers in each of the two seasons the team remained in Baltimore.
When Ban Johnson’s dictatorial antics forced the shift of the Orioles’ franchise to New York before the 1903 season, Williams was one of just four Orioles’ players who made the move north with the club. He and outfielder Harry Howell were the only two starters in the New York Highanders’ first Opening Day lineup who were also in the first ever Baltimore Orioles Opening Day lineup, two seasons earlier. Williams, who was born in St. Louis but spent most of his childhood in Denver, is also credited with driving in the first run in New York Highlander/Yankee history.
Though he never again topped the .300 mark in batting average once the team relocated, he was one of the Highlanders’ best offensive weapons. He consistently finished near the top of the team’s leader board in most of the major hitting categories. He was also well respected by his teammates serving New York’s first-ever team-captains.
Following the 1907 regular season, New York manager Cal Griffith decided Williams was getting a bit long in the tooth and traded his then 30-year-old infielder to the Browns as part of a six player deal that brought 27-year-old St.Louis second baseman, Harry Niles to New York. Williams ended up outplaying Niles during each player’s first season with their new teams but Williams would falter badly for the Browns the following year, (1909) averaging just .195.
Instead of quitting, he went back to the minors and spent the final six years of his playing career manning second base for the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association. A favorite of Minneapolis fans, Williams ended up settling in that city after he finally retired in 1915. He died there in 1965, at the age of 89.
|NYY (7 yrs)||940||3934||3535||486||978||176||87||31||537||94||298||348||.277||.337||.402||.739|
|PIT (2 yrs)||259||1148||1037||199||330||43||38||14||184||44||92||78||.318||.379||.473||.853|
|SLB (2 yrs)||258||1034||913||95||200||23||13||4||75||13||84||105||.219||.288||.286||.574|
There is no doubt whatsoever that the legendary Branch Rickey revolutionized Major League Baseball not once but twice. His first engineered earth change took place when he created a farm system for the St. Louis Cardinals. There had always been minor leagues and minor league teams in US baseball, but not one of those teams had ever been formally affiliated with a big league franchise. The “Mahatma” changed that. As first manager and then president of the St. Louis Cardinals, he began buying portions of ownership in select minor league teams so that he could control the development and contracts of the players on those teams. It was the fruit from Rickey’s pioneer farm system that provided the core players who formed the great St. Louis Gashouse Gang teams that would win six pennants and three World Series before WWII.
Next stop for Rickey was as GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. In that role he engineered the breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier which helped convert the Dodgers into a National League dynasty.
But before he became the greatest baseball executive in the history of the sport, Rickey actually played it. He broke into the big leagues as a catcher with the Browns in 1905. The following year, he started 55 games behind the plate for St. Louis, averaged .284 and threw out close to 40% of the runners attempting to steal against him. The New York Highlanders’ starting catcher, Red Kleinow, had hit just .220 that same season and his back-up, Deacon McGuire was 42 years old. This may help explain why New York traded an outfielder named Little Joe Yeager to the Browns for Rickey, after the 1906 season.
Rickey’s catching career in New York, however, would end up consisting of just 11 games. The biggest reason for that miniscule level of playing time was an injured throwing arm and that bum arm explains Rickey’s only appearance in the MLB record book as a player. When every other Highlander catcher on the roster came down with more serious injuries than Rickey’s at one point during that 1907 season, he was forced to play behind the plate during a game between New York and the Senators. Thirteen Washington base runners were credited with successful stolen base attempts against the then 25-year-old New York catcher that afternoon. In the eleven games in which he was New York’s catcher that year, he made nine errors. His injured wing and his .182 Highlander batting average probably explains why the future Hall of Famer quit playing baseball that year and went to law school. The rest is, as they say, history.
Rickey was born on this date in 1881, in Flat, Ohio. He died in 1965. He shares his birthday with the first starting second baseman in Yankee franchise history and this former Yankee DH and outfielder.
|SLB (3 yrs)||68||228||206||22||57||7||3||3||24||4||16||29||.277||.338||.383||.721|
|NYY (1 yr)||52||152||137||16||25||1||3||0||15||4||11||25||.182||.253||.234||.487|
The first thing long-time Yankee fans usually remember about Oscar is his remarkable “fro” hairstyle. He used to compress it under his Yankee cap but after each hard swing or whenever he had to run in the field or on the bases, his cap would jump of his head and that huge mass of hair used to bounce up like a jack-in-the-box. The second thing I remember about Gamble was his perfect for Yankee Stadium left-handed swing. During his first tour in the Bronx, in 1976, that stroke helped Billy Martin and New York capture the AL Pennant, producing 17 home runs, many of which came at key moments of big games.
The Yankees then traded Oscar to Chicago as part of the package that put Bucky Dent in pinstripes. Oscar had a very timely career year with the White Sox in 1977, blasting 31 home runs, which enabled him to sign a nice free agent contract with the Padres. His only season in San Diego was not a good one and he was traded to Texas in 1979 and then back to New York (for Mickey Rivers) in the same season. He remained in pinstripes for the next five seasons becoming a fan favorite with his happy- go-lucky nature and wonderful one-liner sense of humor.
My favorite Gamble story was when he came to the plate with a runner on first and Yankee third base coach, Dick Howser started flashing him the bunt sign. Oscar kept stepping out of the box and looking at Howser for another sign. Finally, the coach called timeout and met Gamble halfway up the third base line. Howser told Oscar, Billy Martin wanted to get a runner in scoring position. Gamble told Howser, “I’m already in scoring position.” Howser and Martin relented and sure enough, free from the bunt sign, Oscar hit a home run.
Gamble was born in Ramer, AL and turns sixty-three-years-old today. He shares his birthday with the first starting second baseman in Yankee franchise history and with one of baseball’s greatest business minds.
|NYY (7 yrs)||540||1707||1457||220||378||68||8||87||276||14||222||183||.259||.361||.496||.858|
|CLE (3 yrs)||369||1346||1192||190||327||43||10||54||148||19||135||127||.274||.352||.463||.815|
|PHI (3 yrs)||254||771||690||72||166||28||7||8||55||10||67||88||.241||.308||.336||.644|
|CHW (2 yrs)||207||654||556||95||151||27||2||35||103||1||88||76||.272||.377||.516||.893|
|TEX (1 yr)||64||201||161||27||54||6||0||8||32||2||37||15||.335||.458||.522||.979|
|SDP (1 yr)||126||437||375||46||103||15||3||7||47||1||51||45||.275||.366||.387||.753|
|CHC (1 yr)||24||81||71||6||16||1||1||1||5||0||10||12||.225||.321||.310||.631|