I had taken my two sons to the second game of the 1998 American League Championship Series against Cleveland. It turned out to be a pitchers’ duel, first between David Cone and Charles Nagy and then each team’s bullpen. The score was tied one to one in the top of the twelfth when Jim Thome led off the inning with a single off of Yankee reliever Jeff Nelson. Enrique Wilson came into run for Thome and the next hitter, Travis Fryman, laid a bunt down the first base line. Knoblauch was covering first when the throw hit Fryman and the ball squirted into foul territory. Instead of going for the ball, Knoblauch decided to argue runner interference with first base umpire John Shulock.
As Knoblauch stood there arguing, Wilson rounded third and scored the go-ahead run as me and my boys and about 57,000 other fans in the Stadium that evening screamed at the clueless Yankee second baseman to get the damn ball. The incident turned what could have been a baseball classic into an extra inning nightmare and I was never ever able to completely forgive Chuck for that bonehead play.
As it turned out, Knoblauch was just not a good fit for the Yankees. The artificial turf in Minnesota had helped him average better than .300 with the Twins and he was never the same hitter on Yankee Stadium turf. He also developed that horrible case of the “Steve Blass” throwing disease that eventually forced Joe Torre to play him at designated hitter.Knoblauch was born on this date in 1968, in Houston.
Knoblauch shares his July 7th birthday with the only former Yankee player to become a big league umpire.
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|NYY (4 yrs)||539||2478||2127||378||579||103||13||49||202||112||263||245||.272||.366||.402||.768|
|KCR (1 yr)||80||336||300||41||63||9||0||6||22||19||28||32||.210||.284||.300||.584|
Robinson Cano is the latest in a long and illustrious line of great New York Yankee second basemen. The first was Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri and then Joe Gordon. Later on, both Billy Martin and Bobby Richardson became All Stars for New York at that position, as did the great Willie Randolph. One name not on that list is Jerry Priddy and the late, great Phil Rizzuto was always astonished by that omission. Why? Because Scooter was Priddy’s teammate and double-play partner during their climb through the Yankee’s Minor League organization. During his days in the broadcast booth, Rizzuto would often tell listeners that Priddy had been a much better all-around player than he was and that he could not believe his Los Angeles-born former teammate did not make it big in pinstripes.
Priddy and Rizzuto were so good that when they joined the Yankees in 1941, Manager Joe McCarthy moved Gordon from second base to first so that the two rookies could take over the middle of New York’s infield. Rizzuto held his own at short but Priddy struggled to hit big league pitching. The Yankees might have been more patient with a less cocky rookie, but Priddy was anything but. He told Gordon in spring training that he was a better second baseman than the future Hall of Famer so when he got off to a slow start, his veteran teammates offered no assistance, shed no tears and spared no criticism of the outspoken rookie.
Priddy hit just .213 in 56 games during that rookie season. He did better the following year, hitting .280 as Gordon’s backup but when he complained about a lack of playing time, the Yankees decided to give up on their loud-mouthed prospect and traded him to Washington. He had a good year there and then spent the next three seasons in military service. When he returned, Jerry did evolve into one of the league’s better second baseman, playing eleven seasons in all and averaging .265 lifetime. In the mean time, Scooter played himself into the Hall of Fame and was left wondering why his old teammate wasn’t in there with him.
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|WSH (3 yrs)||434||1787||1576||164||390||73||14||13||169||21||186||228||.247||.328||.336||.665|
|NYY (2 yrs)||115||416||363||41||90||16||2||3||54||4||49||43||.248||.341||.328||.668|
|SLB (2 yrs)||296||1291||1104||179||324||66||13||19||142||11||166||152||.293||.387||.428||.815|
Oh Doctor! True baseball fans know these words as the signature phrase of long-time San Diego Padre play-by-play announcer, Jerry Coleman. Only very long-time baseball fans, however, can remember when that same Jerry Coleman was the starting second baseman for the first three of Casey Stengel’s five straight New York Yankee championship teams from 1949 through 1951. Where was Coleman when the Yankees won the ’52 and ’53 titles? He was in the Marines flying a fighter jet during the Korean War while his starting Yankee position was taken over by Billy Martin. Coleman had also spent the three years before beginning his Yankee career as a Marine aviator during WWII, making him the only big league baseball player in history to see combat action in two different wars.
He spent a total of nine seasons in Pinstripes. His best year was 1950, when Stengel used him in 153 games and he batted .287. Coleman also had a .275 lifetime batting average in six World Series.
When I was a kid, I would have to pilfer my older brother’s GE transistor radio to listen to radio broadcasts of Yankee games on the front porch of our house on Guy Park Avenue. That was my first encounter with Coleman, who was doing New York’s games on the radio back then.
The older I get the more respect and awe I have for athletes like Coleman, who excelled at their sport, served their country in an active combat position during what would have been their peak performance years and then excelled in the careers they entered, when their playing days were over. Coleman was born September 14, 1924, in San Jose, CA. Update: Coleman passed away on January 5, 2014, at the age of 89.
Coleman shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher who was acquired by New York in exchange for the great first baseman, Moose Skowren.
His Yankee teammates used to call him “Wardie.” He had put on the pinstripes for the first time in 1917, when he was just 20 years-old. A year later, Miller Huggins became Yankee Manager and Ward sat on his bench for two seasons, listening, watching and learning how the game was played. In 1920, the wife of Yankee third baseman, Frank “Home Run” Baker, died suddenly. Baker decided to take a year off from playing baseball to be with his two young children. “Hug” started playing Ward at third that season and the Akansas native did OK, hitting 11 home runs and driving in 54 for an improving Yankee team that also featured newcomer Babe Ruth that year. When Baker decided to return to the game the following year, the Yankees traded their starting second baseman, Del Pratt to the Red Sox and Huggins made Ward the team’s new starting second sacker.
For the next three seasons, he was as valuable a Yankee as any with the exception of Ruth. Ward hit a career high .306 in 1921, helping Huggins and New York reach their first World Series, which they lost to their hometown rivals, the Giants. They lost to them again in the ’22 Fall Classic but the third time proved to be the charm the following year and Ward played a huge roll in the Yankees first-ever World Championship. He hit .284 in the regular season and drove in a career-high 82 runs. Than in the ’23 World Series, Wardie led the Yankees with 10 hits and a .417 batting average, while providing excellent defense at second. Yankee owner, Jacob Rupert told the press that Ward deserved as much credit as Ruth and Huggins, for the Yankees’ first title.
Neither the Yankees or Ward could continue their success in 1924, as the team finished in second place and the second baseman slumped to .253. The bigger problem facing Huggins was Ruth’s outlandish personal behavior and the impact it was having on not only the Bambino’s play but also the attitude of the entire Yankee team. It came to a head in 1925, the year of Ruth’s famous “big bellyache,” which in actuality was a complete physical and mental breakdown. The Yankees fell all the way to seventh place in the final standings.
The Bambino had been scared straight. He worked harder during the 1925 off season than he ever had before and helped the Yankees win another AL Pennant in ’26. But he sure didn’t do it by himself. New York had introduced a whole new right side of their infield that year. Lou Gehrig took over for Wally Pipp at first and Aaron Ward lost his job at second to a kid named Tony Lazzeri. He appeared in just 22 games during his final season in the Bronx and then got traded to the White Sox. He retired two seasons later with a .268 lifetime average and 966 hits during his dozen-year big league career.
Wardie shares his birthday with this former Cy Young Award winner, this outfielder known for his sweet swing, this one-time Yankee pitcher who also gave up Bucky Dent’s home run and this former Yankee reliever.
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|CLE (1 yr)||6||11||9||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||2||.111||.200||.111||.311|
|CHW (1 yr)||145||550||463||75||125||25||8||5||56||6||63||56||.270||.360||.391||.751|
Those of us who are old enough to have been Yankee fans back in 1961, remember today’s birthday celebrant fondly. Bobby Richardson was born on today’s date in 1935, in Sumter, SC. He was the lead-off man and starting second baseman for one of the great teams and most impressive starting infields in Pinstripe history. He combined with first baseman Moose Skowren, shortstop Tony Kubek and the late Clete Boyer at the hot corner to provide New York’s pitching staff with an outstanding first line of defense. The seven-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner had a productive bat as well. He reached the .300 mark twice during his twelve-year career, led the league in hits with 209 in 1962 and drove in a record 12 RBIs in a losing effort against Pittsburgh, during the 1960 World Series. His only weakness was his inability to draw more walks as a lead-off man. In 1961, for example, Richardson drew just 30 base-on-balls in over 700 plate appearances. How many more RBI’s would his teammates Mantle and Maris have had that year if Bobby wasn’t such a free swinger?
Richardson retired from the Yankees in 1966, just 31 years-old at the time. He became a successful college baseball coach at the University of South Carolina and ran for Congress in the mid seventies. Always a deeply religious man, younger Yankee fans were introduced to Bobby when he officiated at teammate Mickey Mantle’s funeral.
Richardson shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitcher, who afterwards became the Yankee scout who signed Ron Guidry.
When the Yankees traded for Minnesota’s Chuck Knoblaugh in February of 1998, New York thought they were getting a perennial .300 hitter and a Golden Glove second baseman. As it turned out, they got neither. His first two seasons in pinstripes at the plate were good enough, as he showed surprising power and scored runs in bunches. But Chuck developed a mysterious case of the Steve Blass throwing disease. His tosses to Yankee first baseman, Tino Martinez, started sailing all over the place and as his errors climbed, Knoblaugh’s confidence and concentration plummeted.
The situation got so bad, the Yankees traded for Jose Vizcaino during the 2000 season and started the Dominican Republic native at second and began using Knoblaugh in the outfield and as DH. Jose hit .251 in 73 regular season games for New York. It was Vizcaino’s single in the twelfth inning of Game One of the 2000 Subway Series that drove in Tino Martinez with the winning run to beat the Mets. Jose was not re-signed by New York after their 2000 World Series victory and in 2001, Alfonso Soriano became New York’s starting second baseman. Jose signed with Houston, where he played for the next five seasons. He left the big leagues in 2006, after an eighteen year career that saw him play for eight different Major League franchises.
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|HOU (5 yrs)||559||1513||1396||154||385||65||13||13||133||9||82||174||.276||.316||.369||.685|
|NYM (3 yrs)||334||1419||1282||160||361||46||14||7||121||18||96||196||.282||.332||.356||.688|
|CHC (3 yrs)||330||1076||981||106||260||34||8||5||81||17||65||124||.265||.309||.331||.640|
|SFG (2 yrs)||215||766||687||93||176||22||7||6||55||8||64||97||.256||.319||.335||.654|
|STL (1 yr)||16||25||23||3||8||3||0||1||3||0||1||4||.348||.375||.609||.984|
|CLE (1 yr)||48||191||179||23||51||5||2||0||13||6||7||24||.285||.310||.335||.645|
|NYY (1 yr)||73||191||174||23||48||8||1||0||10||5||12||28||.276||.319||.333||.652|
My favorite story about “Flash” came from his Yankee teammate, Tommy Henrich. According to Old Reliable, reporters were questioning Yankee manager Joe McCarthy in New York’s locker room after a game and asked him why he liked Joe Gordon as a player so much. McCarthy had frequently claimed Gordon was the “best player in baseball.” Instead of answering the question, McCarthy called his second baseman over and asked him what his batting average was. Gordon replied that he did not know. Next, McCarthy asked Joe how many home runs he had hit so far that season and again the Flash told his skipper that he had no idea. McCarthy then excused the infielder and after he walked away, answered the reporters original question. “That’s what I like. All he does is come to beat you.”
Joe played for the Yankees from 1938 until 1943 and then served in WWII. During those six seasons the Yankees won five World Series, Gordon made five All Star teams and he won the 1942 AL MVP award. He was also a magnificent second baseman. When Scooter joined the Yankees in 1941 he and Flash formed a terrific middle infield until Pearl Harbor blew it apart. When Gordon returned to the Yankees from military service after the war, he hit just .210 and New York’s front office, thinking his best playing days were behind him, traded Joe to Cleveland for pitcher Allie Reynolds. It turned out to be one of those transactions that worked well for both teams. The hits and power returned to Gordon’s bat and he teamed with Indians’ player manager Lou Boudreau to lead Cleveland to a 1948 World Series victory. Gordon blasted 32 home runs and drove in 124 that season. He played for Cleveland until 1950, retiring after 11 big league seasons. He eventually became a manager, skippering Cleveland, the Athletics and the Royals.
Joe died in 1978 and was voted into Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee in 2009. I listened to his daughter make the acceptance speech and the loving words she shared about her Dad made it clear that Gordon was much more than just a great ballplayer. Joe was born in LA on February 18, 1915.
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|CLE (4 yrs)||566||2322||2021||318||530||78||14||100||358||21||278||194||.262||.354||.463||.817|