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.”
|NYY (6 yrs)||699||2809||2365||283||617||72||34||8||266||98||328||187||.261||.355||.330||.686|
|SLB (5 yrs)||591||2414||2183||220||529||40||21||4||131||84||127||195||.242||.293||.285||.579|
Back in the early forties, Yankee front-office guru, Ed Barrow was busily signing every catching prospect he could find, knowing that the Yankee’s all-time great, Bill Dickey was nearing the end-of-the-line as the team’s starting receiver. One such prospect was Ken Sears, who’s dad, Ziggy was then a National League umpire.
Sears had played collegiate ball at the University of Alabama and had good power. Since he swung a bat from the left side, Barrow was hoping he’d be a good fit for that short right field porch in the old Yankee Stadium. Sears played his first year of professional ball in my hometown, with the 1939 Amsterdam Rugmakers of the old Class C Canadian American League. The following season he smashed 38 home runs for the Yankees Class B team in Norfolk, VA. That impressive power output got him moved up to the double A level of the Yankee organization, where he continued to pound the ball. There is little doubt that the migration of young Yankee catchers into military service during World War II helped Sears earn his first big league roster spot with the 1943 parent club, but by then he had also established himself as one of the franchise’s prime candidates to succeed Dickey.
His Yankee career got off to a great start on Opening Day 1943, when he hit his first big league home run. He got into 64 games that season as Dickey’s backup and hit .278. He helped the Yankees capture the AL Pennant but he did not get to play in what would be McCarthy’s seventh and final World Series win as a Yankee manager that fall.
What Sears was not able to do that year was hit with anywhere near the level of power he had exhibited at the minor league level. His Opening Day blast was one of just two home runs he managed during his rookie season. That issue became moot when Sears was also called into military service and missed playing the next two years. When he returned to the club, so had all of the other Yankee catchers who had made the switch from baseball to WWII military uniforms. Sears was out of shape and lost his spot on the Yankee catching depth chart quickly. New York then sold him to the Browns who would later try and return the catcher to New York, complaining he had reported to St. Louis with a bum throwing arm. The seven games he played for the Browns in 1946 would be the last of his big league career. Sears died in 1971 at the age of just 58.
|NYY (1 yr)||60||201||187||22||52||7||0||2||22||1||11||18||.278||.328||.348||.676|
|SLB (1 yr)||7||18||15||1||5||0||0||0||1||0||3||0||.333||.444||.333||.778|
I have been a huge Willie Randolph fan since 1976, his rookie season with the New York Yankees. When I first heard about the trade with the Pirates that brought Willie to the Bronx I wasn’t thrilled because the Yankees had sent a pretty good starting pitcher named Doc Medich to Pittsburgh, in the deal. It only took me a few games into the 1976 season, however, to realize Randolph was a winner. Though he was only 21 years old at the time, he played like a polished veteran, especially in the field. I loved the way he fluidly brought ground balls hit to him into his body before making the throw. At the plate, Willie was adept at getting on base, stealing important bases, and moving runners into scoring position. The best way I can describe Willie’s impact on the Yankees was that you really noticed how good he was when he wasn’t in the lineup.
Willie was also a great teammate. On a Yankee team that was notorious for clubhouse cliques and animosity, Willie got along with and was respected by everyone and was eventually named Yankee Captain.
I remember the disappointment I felt when Randolph signed with the Dodgers as a free agent after the 1988 season. The Yankees were in the midst of a fifteen-season-long postseason drought and with Randolph leaving, they were losing one of their last links to their glory teams of the seventies. He ended up playing until 1992 and retired with 2,210 lifetime hits (1,731 as a Yankee) 1,239 runs (1,027 with NY) and a .276 lifetime batting average (.275 with NY) over eighteen seasons.
When Willie was named manager of the Mets, I knew he would be a very calm and controlled field boss who treated his players like professionals, respected the skills and opinions of his coaches, and let his team play. He did just that and deserved a much better fate than he received from the team’s front-office.
Willie was born on this date in 1954, in Holly Hills, SC. His family moved to Brooklyn where Willie was raised and played high school baseball. He shares his July 6th birthday with this World War II era Yankee backup catcher and this long-ago Yankee captain.
|NYY (13 yrs)||1694||7464||6303||1027||1731||259||58||48||549||251||1005||512||.275||.374||.357||.731|
|LAD (2 yrs)||171||746||645||77||181||22||0||3||45||8||84||60||.281||.365||.329||.694|
|NYM (1 yr)||90||336||286||29||72||11||1||2||15||1||40||34||.252||.352||.318||.670|
|PIT (1 yr)||30||70||61||9||10||1||0||0||3||1||7||6||.164||.246||.180||.427|
|OAK (1 yr)||93||333||292||37||75||9||3||1||21||6||32||25||.257||.331||.318||.650|
|MIL (1 yr)||124||512||431||60||141||14||3||0||54||4||75||38||.327||.424||.374||.798|