By the time the Yankees were ready to give today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant his first big league start, the team’s season was already over. It was early September of 1990, the Yanks were mired in last place in the AL East Divison standings with an atrocious 58-84 record and with Stump Merrill now calling the shots in New York’s dugout, the organization’s future looked anything but bright.
So all Yankee starting pitcher Steve Adkins does in his big league debut is take the mound against a pretty good Texas Ranger lineup and pitch hitless baseball. So how come you and I don’t remember Steve Adkins, since he remains the only pitcher in the last 28 years to give up no hits in his first big league start?
Well for one thing, the Yankees lost the game. Texas ended up beating them 5-4 that evening. Perhaps another reason we don’t remember Adkins’ no-hit debut was the fact that he issued eight walks that game. But the real reason this six foot six inch southpaw’s inaugural appearance as a Yankee pitcher is not seared into our memories is because it didn’t last very long, just one-and-a-third innings to be exact.
He was able to get out of the first inning without surrendering a run despite three walks with the help of a double play. But when he gave six straight batters free passes to first base in the second inning, Merrill had seen enough and he yanked the then twenty-five-year-old native of Chicago. He had thrown fifty pitches, surrendered three earned runs and became the first pitcher in half a century to give up no-hits and lose his big-league debut.
Adkins got four more chances to start that September and was actually progressing to the point where he was able to get his first win of the season with an eight-inning stint against the Brewers on September 28th. But then Merrill chose him to start the Yankees final game of the 1990 season against Detroit and four innings later he had given up seven hits, seven earned runs, and four more of those dreaded walks. He never pitched another game at the big league level.
By the end of the 1983 season, the great Yankee third baseman, Graig Nettles was 38 years old and in addition to losing some of his skills to age, he had worn out his relationship with team owner George Steinbrenner. The following February, New York traded reliever George Frazier and outfield prospect Otis Nixon to Cleveland for the third baseman they hoped would replace Nettles. His name was Toby Harrah. I remember being optimistic about the trade. At the time of the deal, Harrah had already enjoyed a solid, fourteen-year Major League career with Texas and Cleveland and was a four-time AL All Star. He wasn’t as good a fielder as Nettles had been in his prime but hardly anyone was. Like Nettles, he could hit the long ball, having reached the 20-homer mark five times and unlike Nettles, Harrah had good speed on the base paths. But this was the early eighties when every deal the Yankees attempted seemed to backfire and the Harrah acquisition was no different. After one terrible season in pinstripes during which he hit just .217 in 84 games, Toby was back in a Ranger uniform the following year. He was born October 26, 1948, in Sissonville, WI.
|TEX (11 yrs)||1355||5408||4572||631||1174||187||22||124||568||153||708||575||.257||.357||.389||.745|
|CLE (5 yrs)||712||3060||2577||444||725||111||14||70||324||82||403||265||.281||.383||.417||.799|
|NYY (1 yr)||88||299||253||40||55||9||4||1||26||3||42||28||.217||.331||.296||.628|
Ichiro Suzuki recently became the newest starting left fielder for the New York Yankees. In franchise history, left field is traditionally the least glamorous of the team’s three outfield positions. Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle converted the Yankee’s starting center field assignment into the first step in baseball sainthood. Babe Ruth played right field for the Yankees and there has been no shortage of MVPs and Hall of Famers who can also now say the same. But left fielders in Yankee history through the years never seem to find a permanent home there. Instead they come and go. Many, like DiMaggio, Ruth and Dave Winfield began their pinstriped playing careers playing the “sun-field”, but got quickly switched closer to the opposite foul line as vacancies occurred. Others, like Yogi Berra, Tom Tresh, Chuck Knoblauch and Elston Howard have been forced to play left for New York because somebody better than them was playing in their natural positions. Sure there have been a few like Roy White and Gene Woodling, who started in left, starred in left and stayed in left for their entire Yankee careers, but they were certainly exceptions to the rule. Today’s Pinstriped Birthday Celebrant is a classic example of a very good Yankee player who got lost in the team’s left-fielder shuffle.
Norm Siebern was a superb high school athlete, growing up in St. Louis. He starred in both baseball and basketball as a kid and after signing his Yankee contract, he actually played college hoops during his minor league team’s off-seasons. He got his first call-up to the Bronx during the 1956 season and it was not an impressive debut for the then 22-year-old. The platoon master, Casey Stengel was using Elston Howard as his starting left fielder at the time because Yogi Berra was still behind the plate for New York. Though not a particularly great outfielder, Howard was a strong hitter. Stengel tried platooning the left hand hitting Siebern with the right-hand hitting Howard. When Siebern hit just .204 that season he was returned to Denver the following year.
In 1958, Siebern got his second chance to play left field for the Yankees and this time, he was very ready. Stengel played him in 134 games and not only did Siebern hit .300, he also won a Gold Glove for his defense. Then, however, the youngster had a horrible World Series against the Braves. Not only did he hit just .125 against Milwaukee, he also made some critical defensive mistakes in the outfield. Though Stengel joked about it with both the press and Siebern after the Series, I don’t think anyone would have been laughing if the Yankees had failed to eventually beat the Braves in that ’58 Series. Poor postseason performances have plagued dozens of Yankee careers over the years. As Yankee fans, we all can remember instances when our favorite team has traded players or not re-signed free agents who experienced substandard individual performances in the postseason. The end may not come immediately, but Yankee front offices (and Casey Stengel) historically have had long memories when it comes to Fall Classic failures.
Siebern continued to start most of the time in left for the 1959 Yankees, but his average dipped to .271 and he experienced a decline in most of his offensive categories. He wasn’t alone, as that Yankee team finished a disappointing third in the ’59 AL Pennant race , winning just 79 games. That December, the Yankees dealt Siebern, an aging Hank Bauer, World Series hero Don Larsen and “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry to the A’s for a young outfielder named Roger Maris who had something Siebern lacked, a perfect left-handed power stroke for that short right-field porch in the old Stadium. Siebern would go on to become the A’s best player and make three consecutive All Star teams. Maris would go on to make baseball history.
Siebern, who also would play for Baltimore, the Angels and Boston, retired after the 1968 season with a .272 lifetime average and 1,217 big league hits. He shares his July 26th birthday with this one-time Yankee pinch-hitter, this “unhappy” starting pitcher and this much more recent. Yankee hurler.
|KCA (4 yrs)||611||2615||2236||331||647||117||19||78||367||6||343||329||.289||.381||.463||.844|
|NYY (3 yrs)||308||1147||1002||158||274||37||9||29||129||9||126||196||.273||.354||.415||.769|
|BOS (2 yrs)||60||80||74||2||11||0||2||0||7||0||6||13||.149||.213||.203||.415|
|BAL (2 yrs)||256||949||775||136||193||37||6||20||88||3||156||136||.249||.373||.390||.763|
|SFG (1 yr)||46||72||58||6||9||1||1||0||4||0||14||13||.155||.319||.207||.526|
|CAL (1 yr)||125||404||336||29||83||14||1||5||41||0||63||61||.247||.361||.339||.701|
A Big Apple native and the son of a New York City policeman, Stirnweiss was a superb athlete who became an All-American running back at North Carolina but chose baseball as his career when he signed with the Yankees in 1940. By 1943 he was New York’s starting second baseman and the following year he led the AL in runs, hits, triples and stolen bases. He did even better in 1945, repeating as league leader in all those categories while adding the AL batting crown to his portfolio. But when WWII ended and the Major League rosters were replenished with returning players who had served their country, Snuffy’s production suffered. He was never again the offensive force he had been during the War years but he did evolve into one of baseball’s best defensive second baseman.
He eventually lost the starting second base job to Jerry Coleman. In 1950, the Yankees traded Stirnweiss to the Browns who in turn traded him to Cleveland. When his playing career ended after the 1952 season, Snuffy tried his hand at managing in the minor leagues. When an opportunity in banking opened up in New York City, Snuffy jumped into the new career. He was on his way to a Manhattan luncheon meeting on September 15, 1958 when he was killed in a commuter train wreck in Bayonne, NJ. He was just 40 years old and the father of six young children at the time of the tragedy.
|NYY (8 yrs)||884||3800||3281||562||899||140||66||27||253||130||468||373||.274||.366||.382||.747|
|CLE (2 yrs)||51||111||88||10||19||1||0||1||4||1||22||25||.216||.373||.261||.634|
|SLB (1 yr)||93||381||326||32||71||16||2||1||24||3||51||49||.218||.324||.288||.612|