Tagged: january 17

January 17 – Happy Birthday Chili Davis

His real name is Charles Theodore Davis. In addition to being in fifth place on the Major League’s all-time home run list for switch hitters with 350 (behind Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, Chipper Jones and Lance Berkman) Chili was also the first native Jamaican to play Major League baseball. The Yankees signed him in 1997, right after he hit 30 home runs in a season for the first and only time in his 19-year big league career, for the Royals. His first season in pinstripes got off to a nightmare start when an ankle injury required an operation and an almost season-long stay on the DL. But Davis got himself in shape to play in the 1998 postseason, during which he was a key contributor. His best year in New York was his second, when he was the everyday DH and hit 19 home runs, while providing veteran leadership in the Yankee clubhouse. He did not have a good postseason in 1999 and I believe that helped convince him to not try and play again the following season. Davis retired with three championship rings, 2,380 career hits and three All Star game appearances.

This former Yankee Coach was also born on January 17, as was this first-ever Yankee super scout.

1998 NYY 35 118 103 11 30 7 0 3 9 0 1 14 18 .291 .373 .447 .819
1999 NYY 146 554 476 59 128 25 1 19 78 4 1 73 100 .269 .366 .445 .812
19 Yrs 2436 9997 8673 1240 2380 424 30 350 1372 142 98 1194 1698 .274 .360 .451 .811
SFG (7 yrs) 874 3564 3148 432 840 144 20 101 418 95 62 361 578 .267 .340 .422 .762
CAL (7 yrs) 950 4031 3491 520 973 167 6 156 618 28 20 493 713 .279 .365 .464 .829
MIN (2 yrs) 291 1163 978 147 276 61 3 41 159 9 11 168 193 .282 .385 .476 .862
NYY (2 yrs) 181 672 579 70 158 32 1 22 87 4 2 87 118 .273 .368 .446 .813
KCR (1 yr) 140 567 477 71 133 20 0 30 90 6 3 85 96 .279 .386 .509 .896
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/17/2014.

January 17 – Happy Birthday Mayo Smith

Smith as a manager/outfielder for my hometown Rugmakers

Smith as a manager/outfielder for my hometown Rugmakers

Since my home town is Amsterdam, NY and I’m a passionate long-time fan of the New York Yankees, its only natural that I have a strong interest in the history of a now-defunct minor league franchise known as the Amsterdam Rugmakers. The team was the Yankees’ affiliate in the Class C Canadian-American League from 1938 until 1951. They were immediately successful, winning their league’s pennant during the first two years of their existence and the CanAm Championship in their third. Several future Yankee players made early career marks in Amsterdam. They included the great Vic Raschi, Spec Shea, Joe Page, Lew Burdette, Bob Grim, Joe Collins, Gus Triandous and Johnny Blanchard.

The team ceased operations during the WWII years and when play resumed in 1946, the Rugmakers struggled to regain their pre-war winning ways. They hit bottom in 1948, finishing in seventh place with a 57-80 record, setting a franchise record for most losses in a season. It was decided that a managerial change was in order. At the time, Jim Turner, the former Yankee relief pitcher and future Yankee pitching coach was managing a minor league team in Portland. His starting center fielder on that team was a 33-year-old native Floridian who had failed to stick in his one trial as a big leaguer. His name was Mayo Smith and Turner recommended him to the Yankees for the Rugmakers’ job. Seeing a chance to save some money by employing a player/manager, Smith was hired and spent two years managing and playing outfield for Amsterdam.

After a 67-71 fifth place finish in 1949, Smith’s 1950 Rugmakers got back into the playoffs with a 72-65 fourth place finish and advanced to but lost in the finals. Smith was rewarded with a promotion to the Yankee’s Class B Piedmont League affiliate in Norfolk, VA. He managed that team to two straight league championships and then got promoted again, this time to the Yankee Class A Southern League affiliate in Birmingham, where his team advanced to the league championship finals(but lost) in his first season at the helm. Suddenly, Smith was being mentioned as the potential successor for Yankee legend Casey Stengel. In fact, the Ol Perfessor told reporters that Smith was the most impressive coach he encountered during New York’s spring training camps and he predicted great things for Smith’s future.

Stengel was right. In 1955 Smith got his first big league managerial position with the Philadelphia Phillies. He did a solid job with a pretty mediocre ball club for three-and-a-half seasons. After getting let go by the Phillies midway through the 1958 season he was hired to manage the Reds in ’59. After lasting just a half year in Cincinnati, Smith left managing to return to the Yankees as a scout. Actually, he became the team’s first ever super scout. Major League Baseball had just instituted its inter-league trading period. Previously, if a team in one league wanted to trade a player to a team in the other league, that player would have to clear waivers within his own league first. The Yankees gave Smith the responsibility of scouting all NL teams and in that capacity he became a well-known fixture at all of the senior circuit’s ballparks. Smith remained in that role for six years until he was hired to manage the Detroit Tigers. He managed his 1968 team to a World Series win over the Cardinals. A key move made by Smith during that fall classic to play outfielder Mickey Stanley at shortstop so he could keep both Stanley’s and Al Kaline’s bat in the lineup, was praised for years afterwards by the baseball press.

Smith remained the Tiger manager through the 1970 season. He died in 1977, a victim of a heart attack. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee DH and this popular former Yankee coach.

January 17 – Happy Birthday Don Zimmer

zim.jpeg“Popeye’s” original connection to New York City baseball was over half a century ago when he was being groomed to replace the great Pee Wee Reese as the Brooklyn Dodger starting shortstop. That never happened. A terrible beaning Zimmer suffered as a minor leaguer in the Dodger organization left him unconscious for three weeks and resulted in a metal plate being inserted in his head. The incident left him a different player. He still had the shotgun arm his teammates raved about but he would never become a productive big league hitter. He played three part-time seasons in Brooklyn and two more in LA before he was dealt to the Cubs after the 1959 season. He got quite a few at bats in Chicago but never got his batting average above the .250’s and the Mets drafted him in the NL expansion draft of 1961. Zimmer lasted only 14 games with the Amazins and retired as a player in 1965. He then began the most successful part of his Major League baseball career.

He got his first big league managerial assignment with the Padres, replacing Preston Gomez twenty games into the 1972 season. The Padres lost 190 games during Zim’s almost two season tenure, which lost him that job. During the 1976 season, he was named the Red Sox Manager, replacing Darryl Johnson. The four and a half seasons he spent calling the on-the-field shots in Fenway were the most successful of his career. His Boston teams finished 411-304 but couldn’t get past the Yankees to make the playoffs. Zimmer then got managing jobs for the Rangers and the Cubs. In 1996, he became the fiery bench coach for Joe Torre’s four-time World Champion Yankees. His most famous moment in pinstripes came when he went after then Red Sox ace, Pedro Martinez in the third game of the 2003 American League championship series, after the teams exchanged brush-back pitches.

Zim left the Yankees, livid at George Steinbrenner’s treatment of Yankee manager Joe Torre and his fellow Yankee coaches. I enjoyed his colorful behavior both on and off the field.

Zim shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee DH and the first-ever Yankee super scout.