I really started collecting baseball cards in 1961. As a passionate six-year-old Yankee fan at the time, opening a nickel pack of Topps cards and discovering a Bronx Bomber inside felt like I had found a thousand dollar bill, well maybe not in all cases.
I can remember feeling no such thrill when I got the card pictured with today’s featured Pinstripe Birthday post. I’m sure Joe DeMaestri was a great guy and in his prime he was considered one of the upper tier shortstops in the American League. But he had spent those prime years of his career playing for the A’s in both Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Even though over a half century has passed since I purchased the pack from Puglisi’s Confectionary on Guy Park Avenue in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY, I still clearly remember this card. That’s because in addition to being perhaps the least recognized player on that 1961 Yankee team, DeMaestri wasn’t even wearing a Yankee hat when they took his picture for the card and I used to hate when that happened. Still, he was a Yankee and therefore it was a Yankee card so I figured it was a nickel well spent, just not one that returned that customary thrill worth a thousand bucks.
As it turned out, that 1961 season was this San Francisco native’s final year in the big leagues. The Yankees had acquired him in the historic seven player deal they made with Kansas City that also put Roger Maris in pinstripes. Nicknamed “Oats,” DeMaestri had been New York’s primary utility infielder for two seasons, appearing in just 79 total games during that span but getting the opportunity to play in his only World Series in 1960 and win his only ring in ’61. His most noteworthy moment in Yankee history took place in the eighth inning of the seventh game of that ’60 fall classic in Pittsburgh. It was DeMaestri who replaced Tony Kubek at short, after Bill Virdon’s certain double-play grounder hit a stone in the Forbes Field infield and struck Tony Kubek in the throat. In addition to almost killing the Yankee shortstop, the play started the rally that enabled Pittsburgh to erase a three run deficit and take a two-run lead. Ironically, all season long, New York manager Casey Stengel had been shifting Kubek from shortstop to replace Yogi Berra in left field in the eighth inning of games in which the Yankees had the lead. DeMaestri would then replace Kubek at short. For some reason, the “Ol Perfessor” didn’t make that move that afternoon in Forbes Field and you have to wonder how DeMaestri would have approached and been able to play that same ground ball.
In any event, my older brother Jerry and I were able to collect every card in that 1961 Topps series, but unlike all the rest of those we collected as kids, I don’t have this DeMaestri card anymore. Tragically, the younger brother of one of Jerry’s classmates was struck by a car and killed that year. I still remember walking up to his house a few days later with my brother and giving his grieving friend our entire collection of 1961 Topps baseball cards as our way of expressing sympathy for his loss.
He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and a Yankee franchise Hall-of-Famer nobody remembers.
|KCA (7 yrs)||905||3325||3105||292||742||104||20||47||256||15||155||453||.239||.277||.331||.608|
|NYY (2 yrs)||79||77||76||9||14||1||0||0||4||0||0||22||.184||.184||.197||.382|
|SLB (1 yr)||81||198||186||13||42||9||1||1||18||0||8||25||.226||.258||.301||.559|
|CHW (1 yr)||56||79||74||8||15||0||2||1||3||0||5||11||.203||.253||.297||.550|
I remember not being thrilled by the news that the Yankees had traded this big right-hander to Pittsburgh just before Christmas in 1975. I was a Doc Medich fan. He was born George Francis Medich on today’s date in 1948, in Aliquippa, PA. He had gone 14-9 during his first big league season in 1973, including three shutouts and finished third in that year’s AL Rookie of the Year balloting. Then in ’74, he stepped up big when Yankee ace Mel Stottlemyre was injured, winning 19 games, including four more shutouts and helping New York finish second, just two games behind Eastern Division winner, Baltimore. Doc was 6’5″ tall and weighed right around 230 pounds so you expected he’d have a real good fastball but he did not. He was much more of a finesse and control pitcher. He was also one smart cookie, attending medical school during the off season and eventually becoming a practicing physician.
After New York finished so close to the Orioles, George Steinbrenner traded Bobby Murcer for Bobby Bonds and then signed Catfish Hunter. Everyone expected the Yankees to win their Division in 1975. That didn’t happen. Medich went 16-16 that year, still pitching well but not well enough to suit the Yankee brass. The following December, New York traded Medich to Pittsburgh for pitchers Ken Brett, Dock Ellis and a young second baseman named Willie Randolph.
He lasted just one disappointing season with the Pirates and then pitched for three different teams during the 1977 season before ending up with the Rangers. He remained in Texas for almost five years. Doc’s lifetime record was 124 – 105 over eleven big league seasons and 49-40, with a 3.37 ERA in pinstripes. He practiced medicine full time after he retired from the big leagues in 1982. Seventeen years later, he lost his medical license when he was convicted of writing fake prescriptions and illegally possessing painkillers. At that time he admitted he had been battling a drug addiction for years.
|TEX (5 yrs)||50||43||.538||3.95||132||114||4||22||7||2||790.1||834||384||347||48||251||322||1.373|
|NYY (4 yrs)||49||40||.551||3.40||111||108||2||43||9||0||787.0||765||323||297||69||239||431||1.276|
|NYM (1 yr)||0||1||.000||3.86||1||1||0||0||0||0||7.0||6||3||3||0||1||3||1.000|
|PIT (1 yr)||8||11||.421||3.52||29||26||1||3||0||0||179.0||193||80||70||10||48||86||1.346|
|OAK (1 yr)||10||6||.625||4.69||26||25||1||1||0||0||147.2||155||89||77||19||49||74||1.381|
|SEA (1 yr)||2||0||1.000||3.63||3||3||0||1||0||0||22.1||26||9||9||1||4||3||1.343|
|MIL (1 yr)||5||4||.556||5.00||10||10||0||1||0||0||63.0||57||37||35||4||32||36||1.413|
I doubt there’s a Yankee fan who ever heard of Joe Kelley. Yet, he was one of the original Yankee franchise’s first stars and he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1971. Kelley’s anonymity within Pinstripe Nation is due to two factors. The first is that he played most of his baseball back in the 19th century. The second reason is that he played just 60 games for the Yankee franchise and those games were played in 1902, when the team was still based in Baltimore and nicknamed the Orioles.
There is no doubt, however, that Kelley was one of baseball’s brightest stars back when Grover Cleveland and William McKinley lived in the White House. He was a lifetime .317 hitter, who was consistently among league leaders in most offensive categories and also recognized as one of baseball’s best defensive outfielders. He had a 17 year-career, but his best seasons were spent in Baltimore, when the Oriloles were still part of the senior circuit. He teamed with John McGraw, Wee Willie Keeler and Hughie Jennings to lead Baltimore to three straight pennants and averaged .352 during his six year tenure with that team. He once had nine consecutive base hits in an Orioles’ double-header. Kelley was also quite the lady’s man back in the day. He was often seen in public with beautiful members of the opposite sex, enjoying the night-life of Baltimore and other NL home cities, sort of like a 19th century version of A-Rod.
He was traded to Brooklyn in 1899 and helped that team win two straight pennants, but his heart and his family were still in Baltimore. By 1902, the Orioles were part of Ban Johnson’s upstart American League. That year, Kelley jumped the NL to return to the O’s. When his former teammate and current Oriole manager, John McGraw got into a personal squabble with Ban Johnson. McGraw reversed Kelley’s geographical path and jumped from Baltimore back to the Big Apple to manage the Giants. Though it was Wilbert Robinson who took over for McGraw as the official manager, Kelley actually became that Oriole team’s co-skipper. He ended up appearing in 60 games that year and hit .311. When it was learned that Johnson had finagled the transfer of the financially troubled Orioles’ franchise to New York, Kelley jumped back to the NL and became a player-manager for the Reds.
|BLN (7 yrs)||781||3624||3048||768||1069||181||98||40||653||290||482||178||.351||.446||.514||.960|
|CIN (5 yrs)||487||2042||1774||270||492||78||36||6||210||53||186||116||.277||.353||.372||.725|
|BRO (3 yrs)||384||1678||1484||275||471||66||43||16||249||75||163||67||.317||.391||.452||.843|
|BSN (2 yrs)||85||310||273||32||70||9||3||2||20||5||29||32||.256||.332||.333||.666|
|PIT (1 yr)||56||222||205||26||49||7||7||0||28||8||17||21||.239||.297||.341||.639|
|BLA (1 yr)||60||263||222||50||69||17||7||1||34||12||34||16||.311||.405||.464||.869|