Up until the 2009 World Series, one of my most frequent Yankee related “What if…” questions was “What if the Yankees never traded Alfonso Soriano for A-Rod.” Then A-Rod finally put together an outstanding postseason that year and led my favorite team to its 27th World Championship. At the same time, Soriano had just struggled through his third straight regular season as a Cub and had been horrible in the two postseasons he played in for Chicago. So I stopped playing the “What if…” game.
Since that 2009 World Series however, A-Rod has emphatically confirmed all of his maddening insecurities that negatively impact his play and make it so hard to root for him. Soriano, on the other hand, has taken advantage of an unexpected return trip to the Bronx to remind us all of just how amazing a ballplayer he can be when he goes on one of his patented “hot streaks.” So I again find myself asking the question, “what if that trade in February of 2004 had never been made?”
If the deal never went down, worst case scenario would be that the Yanks would have failed to win that 2009 title. Rodriguez also put some monster years together during his time in pinstripes especially in ’05 and ’07 so you have to wonder if without him, New York might have missed postseason play all-together in a couple of those seasons. But Soriano’s body of work during that same period of time was not too shabby either and don’t forget the Yanks would have probably used the many extra millions they paid A-Rod to sign at least one other impact free agent. The biggest benefit of getting rid of Soriano was that it opened up the opportunity for Robbie Cano to become New York’s starting second baseman. If you remember, when Soriano was traded to the Nationals from Texas, he fought Washington’s desire to move him from second base to the outfield. Knowing how the Yanks operate, the chances are pretty good they would have dealt a young Cano to another organization because they would have kept Soriano at second.
Oh well, we will never really know the true consequences but it’s fun to surmise. Meanwhile, Soriano turns 38-years-old today and is once again being counted on to help New York win a World Series. The Yankee brain-trust had to force GM Brian Cashman to make the deal with the Cubs that brought this native Dominican back to New York in late July of the 2013 season and thank God they did. At the time the Yankee offense was sinking like the Titanic in the AL East pennant race. Soriano desperately wanted to wear the pinstripes again and willingly waived the no-trade clause in his Cubs contract to make it happen. Then he went out and put the Yankee lineup on his back and just about single-handedly kept the team in contention for fall ball up until the final few weeks of the regular season.
With the free agent signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, Soriano’s role in the Yankees’ 2014 plans remains unclear. They have a glut of outfielders and DH’s on their current roster. But I’m hoping he gets a chance to start somewhere in the Yankee lineup because I don’t want to ask myself any more “What if the Yankees had kept Alfonso Soriano” questions.
|1998||Did not play in major leagues (Did Not Play)|
|CHC (7 yrs)||889||3696||3403||469||898||218||13||181||526||70||245||829||.264||.317||.495||.812|
|NYY (6 yrs)||559||2393||2229||363||627||132||10||115||320||129||112||497||.281||.323||.504||.827|
|TEX (2 yrs)||301||1340||1245||179||341||75||6||64||195||48||66||246||.274||.316||.498||.814|
|WSN (1 yr)||159||728||647||119||179||41||2||46||95||41||67||160||.277||.351||.560||.911|
Luis Sojo was one of my favorite Yankees. He had that wonderful ability to sit on the bench for most of a game and then grab his glove and instantly make a difficult play look easy from any infield position. I also would get a kick out of his rumpled appearance in a Yankee uniform, which always reminded me sort of the way Yogi Berra looked in pinstripes. The Yankees first got him off waivers from Seattle during the 1996 season and the following year, the native Venezuelan took over the starting second base position from Mariano Duncan. When the Yankees acquired Chuck Knoblauch from the Twins to play second in 1998, Sojo became the team’s reliable utility infielder. After the 1999 season, Luis signed as a free agent with the Pirates but when Knoblauch’s strange throwing problems peaked, New York traded to get Sojo back in August of 2000, setting up his most magical moment as a Yankee. That came in the ninth inning of the fifth and final game of that season’s Subway Series. With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth, Sojo came to bat for the first time after being inserted to play second base in the previous inning. His ground ball single through the middle off of Al Leiter scored Jorge Posada from second. Scott Brosius also scored on the play when the throw home trying to nail Posada was way off the mark and the Yankees were once again World Champs. I was thrilled for Sojo. The guy won four rings as a Yankee. He then became New York’s third base coach for a couple of seasons and until last year, managed the Yankees Tampa Minor League club.
|NYY (7 yrs)||274||791||737||90||192||26||3||6||86||7||35||68||.261||.294||.328||.623|
|SEA (3 yrs)||242||861||799||102||209||35||5||14||77||8||41||57||.262||.300||.370||.671|
|CAL (2 yrs)||219||793||732||75||194||26||4||10||63||11||28||50||.265||.297||.352||.650|
|TOR (2 yrs)||52||139||127||19||26||5||0||1||15||1||9||7||.205||.255||.268||.523|
|PIT (1 yr)||61||189||176||14||50||11||0||5||20||1||11||16||.284||.328||.432||.760|
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|
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was born in Sacramento, California on December 5, 1893 and became a star athlete at Sacramento High School. He was so good that Calvin Griffith, the legendary manager and future owner of the Washington Senators, brought Elmer “Joe” Gedeon to the big leagues when he was just 19 years-old. The problem was that back then, the big leagues played all of their games east of the Mississippi and most of them in cities that didn’t get warm until June. Gedeon hated cold weather and was far from disappointed when the Senators sent him back to the much more mild game-time temperatures of the Pacific Coast League for more experience after the 1914 season.
After he put together a great year as the starting second baseman for the Salt Lake City Bees, Griffith wanted him back in Washington. But the Newark franchise in the upstart Federal League lured him away with a very attractive two-year deal that then fell apart when that struggling enterprise went belly-up. That’s when the Yankees swooped in and signed Gedeon to play second base for their 1916 team.
By all accounts,Gedeon had a super spring training camp that year and beat out Luke Boone for the starting job. His hot hitting continued early in the season and his batting average was at .319 at the end of April. He couldn’t keep it up, however and ended his first year with New York hitting just .211. He then lost his job to Fritz Maisel during the 1917 season and was traded to the Browns in January of 1918.
Still just 23 years-old at the time of that deal, over the next three seasons Gedeon got better with both the bat and the glove and was soon being touted as one of the AL’s top second baseman. Then misfortune hit him like a ton of bricks.
When the 1919 regular season ended, instead of returning to California right away, Gedeon decided to take in that year’s World Series between the White Sox and Cincinnati. That of course was the Series during which the infamous “Black Sox” scandal took police. Gedeon had buddies on the Chicago team and he later testified to a Grand Jury that those buddies had told him that the games were going to be fixed. Gedeon placed bets totaling about $700 on the Reds. He won the bets but lost his MLB career.
Unbelievably, after volunteering to tell the whole truth to to the grand jury convened the following year to investigate the scandal, Gedeon received a lifetime ban from the game by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. More shockingly, many of the White Sox players who also knew the fix was on, received no punishment whatsoever.
A distraught Gedeon went back to California and evidently slowly drank himself to death. When he died in 1941 at the age of 47, he was suffering from severe cirrhosis of the liver.
|SLB (3 yrs)||396||1746||1484||191||382||60||13||1||129||13||132||100||.257||.326||.317||.643|
|WSH (2 yrs)||33||78||73||3||13||1||3||0||7||3||1||7||.178||.211||.274||.484|
|NYY (2 yrs)||155||622||552||65||120||21||4||0||35||18||47||74||.217||.284||.270||.554|
It took the New York Yankees about two decades to learn how to get to the World Series and a couple more years to figure out how to win one, but once they created the formula, they applied it more efficiently than any other franchise in the history of professional sports. It required owners who had lots of money at their disposal who were willing to spend it freely; plus a front-office executive who could convert that money into great scouting, shrewd signings and clever trades; plus a manager who had the ability to put those players on the field and in the positions they needed to be to perform most effectively. But most of all, the Yankee formula for success required getting 25 of the best players possible under contract and then somehow motivating them to deliver when called upon.
No one could blame Miller Huggins if he thought his 1924 Yankee team was a cinch to win a fourth straight AL Pennant or even a second straight World Championship. Instead the team finished second to the Washington Senators and then collapsed to seventh place the following year. How could the fortunes of a team with Babe Ruth in his prime in its lineup reverse so rapidly? Huggins blamed complacency and too much partying off the field. He was determined to shake up his roster by getting rid of some of some veterans and bringing in some young talent that was capable of challenging the Yankee starters for playing time. Those new faces included young Yankee infield prospects like Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Mark Koenig and it would be those three Baby Bronx Bombers who helped lead the Yankees back to the World Series in 1926.
Determined not to repeat his mistake, Huggins had Barrow make a deal with the White Sox in January of 1927 that brought catcher Johnny Grabowski and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant to New York for veteran second baseman, Aaron Ward. Originally, the Yankee skipper expected Ray Morehart to be his utility infielder during the 1927 season. The native of Abner, Texas had been known for his defensive ability more than his bat, but he raised some eyebrows when he hit .318 during his final season in Chicago. When he bested all of the great Yankees in that legendary Murderers’ Row lineup with a .378 batting average during his first spring training season with the team, Huggins started thinking he could start Morehart at second. That would permit him to move Lazzeri to short and shift Koenig over to third where he would replace Joe Dugan, who was the only starting infielder on the team who had reached the age of 30. That meant every infielder but Gehrig would have somebody behind him pressing for playing time which suited old “Hug” just fine.
Both Dugan and backup third baseman Mike Gazella started the season hitting the ball well as did both Lazzeri and Koenig. This greatly restricted Morehart’s innings and at bats, which helped turn his hot spring training bat ice cold. Eventually, Huggins did begin playing Lazzeri at both third and short and inserted Morehart at second, where the first-year Yankee impressed everyone with his outstanding defense. The more at bats he got, the better he hit too. He raised his average almost two hundred points over the two months he played regularly and became a valuable little piece of that legendary 1927 Yankee team.
Still, there was too much talent on that roster to keep Morehart a part of it and he was let go following his only year on the team. He would never again appear in a big league ball game. He continued playing minor league ball until 1933.
Morehart shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher from the 1930s.
|CHW (2 yrs)||104||328||292||37||81||14||5||0||27||6||28||22||.277||.343||.360||.702|
|NYY (1 yr)||73||230||195||45||50||7||2||1||20||4||29||18||.256||.353||.328||.681|
The 1974 Yankees opened up their season with a double play combination of Gene Michael at second and Jim Mason at shortstop. Decent defensively, new Yankee skipper, Bill Virdon batted the two switch-hitters eighth and ninth respectively because both men were pretty putrid hitters from both sides of the plate. In an effort to get some more offense from their infield, the Yankees acquired a guy named Fernando Gonzalez from the Royals to play second. He responded by hitting .215 that year. Then just before that season’s trading deadline, the Yankee front-office went out and purchased Sandy Alomar Sr, who was the starting second baseman for the Angels at the time. Virdon handed him the second baseman’s job and Sandy responded well by hitting .269 during the second half of 1974.
As a Yankee fan back then, I can personally attest to the fact that after watching Mason, Michael and Gonzalez consistently fail to produce at the plate, having Alomar in the lineup was a huge offensive upgrade for that 1974 Yankee team. Sandy Sr. continued to start at second for New York for the entire 1975 season but his hitting fell off that year, when he averaged just .239. His offensive regression helped convince the Yankees to make the deal with Pittsburgh in December of 1975 that brought Willie Randolph to the Bronx. Alomar lost his starting job to the more talented youngster in 1976 and was traded to Texas in 1977. His 15-season big-league playing career ended the following year and Alomar then began a long coaching career . Today, Sandy, who was born on October 19, 1943 in Salinas Puerto Rico, is best remembered for being the Dad of former big league All Stars Sandy Jr. and Roberto.
Even the most diehard Yankee fans will have a difficult time remembering this starting pitcher from the 1991 Yankee team who happens to share the senior Alomar’s October 19th birthday.
|CAL (6 yrs)||795||3314||3054||341||758||79||12||8||162||139||209||280||.248||.296||.290||.585|
|ATL (3 yrs)||117||214||205||23||43||3||1||0||16||13||5||33||.210||.229||.234||.463|
|NYY (3 yrs)||294||1005||931||116||231||30||4||4||76||46||53||95||.248||.287||.302||.589|
|CHW (3 yrs)||167||477||436||53||108||10||2||0||16||25||26||48||.248||.290||.280||.570|
|TEX (2 yrs)||93||128||112||24||28||4||0||1||12||4||9||20||.250||.309||.313||.621|
|NYM (1 yr)||15||22||22||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||6||.000||.000||.000||.000|
Ron Blomberg appeared in his first Yankee game on August 23, 1968. Incredibly, he was just the second Jew ever to wear a Yankee uniform. The first was today’s birthday celebrant, Jimmy Reese. Reese doesn’t sound like a Jewish name does it? That’s because the second baseman had changed it from Soloman when he was a teenager, knowing he would have better luck making it as a baseball player if he hid his heritage.
In 1929, Reese hit .337 for the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast league. The Yankees paid Oakland $125,000 for the contracts of Reese and his Oakland teammate and double play partner, Lyn Lary. While Lary became the Yankees’ starting shortstop in 1930, Reese sat on the bench behind future Hall of Fame second baseman, Tony Lazzeri. Yankee skipper, Bob Shawkey did manage to get Jimmy into 77 games that year and Reese responded by hitting .346. He also became Babe Ruth’s roommate on the road and one of the Bambino’s best friends and biggest admirers. Ruth’s first question walking into the Yankee clubhouse would often be “Where’s the Jew.” He’d take Reese home for dinner, play cards with him on the long train rides during Yankee road trips, and pull all sorts of pranks on his adoring roommate. When Reese’s average fell to .241 in 1931, the Yankees sold him to the American Association franchise in St. Paul, MN. After a 90-game trial with the Cardinals in 1932, Reese’s big league playing career was over and he headed back to the Pacific Coast League.
After coaching in the Minors for decades, Reese asked the California Angels for a job and was made the team’s conditioning coach in 1972, when he was 71 years old. He spent the next 22 years in that role, becoming one of the most popular personalities ever to wear the Halos’ uniform. He was best known for his incredible skills with a fungo bat. He could hit a ball wherever he wanted to with that bat and would even sometimes pitch Angels’ batting practice with it, hitting one line drive after another right over the plate. The Angels retired his uniform number when he died in 1994. I wonder if that number would have been retired if this New York City native had not made the decision to change his name from Soloman to Reese all those many years ago?
Also celebrating his birthday today is the player the Yankees traded for outfielder Paul O’Neill and this one-time closer who retired with 365 saves.
|NYY (2 yrs)||142||468||433||85||124||24||4||6||44||3||28||18||.286||.331||.402||.733|
|STL (1 yr)||90||333||309||38||82||15||0||2||26||4||20||19||.265||.314||.333||.648|