This L.A.-born shortstop was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1931 and two year’s later he was the Tribe’s starting shortstop. An adept contact hitter, Knickerbocker might have become one of Cleveland’s all-time great shortstops if he didn’t have to actually play the field. This guy made 125 errors at that position during his three-and-a-half seasons as an Indian. So even though his lifetime average was a lofty .293 at the time and he was only 24-years-old, when his error total reached 40 during the 1936 season, Knickerbocker was traded to the Browns in January of the following year.
After his only season in St. Louis, he was dealt to the Yankees. New York had just released veteran second baseman, Tony Lazzeri following the 1937 World Series. Joe McCarthy intended to replace him with rookie Joe Gordon, but he wanted a safety valve just in case the kid wasn’t ready for prime time.
Fortunately for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Yankee shortstop Frank Crosetti suffered a leg injury during spring training and Knickerbocker got plenty of opportunities to show the Yankee skipper his lively bat more than made up for his less than average glove work.
Sure enough, Gordon got off to a horrible start at the plate in ’38 and by May 1st, he was back in the minors and Knickerbocker was starting at second for New York. The move to the new position actually improved his defense and he set a career high in fielding percentage during his first season in pinstripes.
In the mean time, Gordon got his stroke back down on the farm and when he returned to the parent club in June, his torrid bat helped propel New York to the team’s third straight World Championship. The only one who suffered from Gordon’s emergence as an all star was, of course Knickerbocker, who saw action in just seven games during the final three months of the ’38 season and completely sat out that year’s World Series sweep of the Cubs.
In 1939, Knickerbocker had pretty-much a no-show job as Gordon started all but three regular season games at second for New York and Crosetti missed just two starts at short. In 1940, Knickerbocker saw prolonged stretches of playing time at both short and third due to injuries to Crosetti and Red Rolfe. His defense was again better than average though his offense was disappearing, no doubt due to the lack of playing time.
That December, New York traded Knickerbocker to the White Sox for catcher Ken Silvestri. Following the 1942 regular season, Chicago put him on waivers and he spent the ’43 season playing in the Pacific Coast League. He then entered the US Army and served his Country during WWII for the next two years. Though the Yankees invited him to their 1946 spring training camp, he failed to make the team and never again played big league or minor league ball. Knickerbocker was struck down by a heart attack in 1961, passing away at the age of just fifty-one.
|CLE (4 yrs)||513||2199||2030||260||594||117||16||14||227||14||119||131||.293||.333||.387||.719|
|NYY (3 yrs)||97||301||265||34||64||17||4||2||32||1||25||18||.242||.314||.358||.672|
|PHA (1 yr)||87||328||289||25||73||12||0||1||19||1||29||30||.253||.323||.304||.627|
|SLB (1 yr)||121||530||491||53||128||29||5||4||61||3||30||32||.261||.303||.365||.668|
|CHW (1 yr)||89||397||343||51||84||23||2||7||29||6||41||27||.245||.329||.385||.714|
I really started collecting baseball cards in 1961. As a passionate six-year-old Yankee fan at the time, opening a nickel pack of Topps cards and discovering a Bronx Bomber inside felt like I had found a thousand dollar bill, well maybe not in all cases.
I can remember feeling no such thrill when I got the card pictured with today’s featured Pinstripe Birthday post. I’m sure Joe DeMaestri was a great guy and in his prime he was considered one of the upper tier shortstops in the American League. But he had spent those prime years of his career playing for the A’s in both Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Even though over a half century has passed since I purchased the pack from Puglisi’s Confectionary on Guy Park Avenue in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY, I still clearly remember this card. That’s because in addition to being perhaps the least recognized player on that 1961 Yankee team, DeMaestri wasn’t even wearing a Yankee hat when they took his picture for the card and I used to hate when that happened. Still, he was a Yankee and therefore it was a Yankee card so I figured it was a nickel well spent, just not one that returned that customary thrill worth a thousand bucks.
As it turned out, that 1961 season was this San Francisco native’s final year in the big leagues. The Yankees had acquired him in the historic seven player deal they made with Kansas City that also put Roger Maris in pinstripes. Nicknamed “Oats,” DeMaestri had been New York’s primary utility infielder for two seasons, appearing in just 79 total games during that span but getting the opportunity to play in his only World Series in 1960 and win his only ring in ’61. His most noteworthy moment in Yankee history took place in the eighth inning of the seventh game of that ’60 fall classic in Pittsburgh. It was DeMaestri who replaced Tony Kubek at short, after Bill Virdon’s certain double-play grounder hit a stone in the Forbes Field infield and struck Tony Kubek in the throat. In addition to almost killing the Yankee shortstop, the play started the rally that enabled Pittsburgh to erase a three run deficit and take a two-run lead. Ironically, all season long, New York manager Casey Stengel had been shifting Kubek from shortstop to replace Yogi Berra in left field in the eighth inning of games in which the Yankees had the lead. DeMaestri would then replace Kubek at short. For some reason, the “Ol Perfessor” didn’t make that move that afternoon in Forbes Field and you have to wonder how DeMaestri would have approached and been able to play that same ground ball.
In any event, my older brother Jerry and I were able to collect every card in that 1961 Topps series, but unlike all the rest of those we collected as kids, I don’t have this DeMaestri card anymore. Tragically, the younger brother of one of Jerry’s classmates was struck by a car and killed that year. I still remember walking up to his house a few days later with my brother and giving his grieving friend our entire collection of 1961 Topps baseball cards as our way of expressing sympathy for his loss.
He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and a Yankee franchise Hall-of-Famer nobody remembers.
|KCA (7 yrs)||905||3325||3105||292||742||104||20||47||256||15||155||453||.239||.277||.331||.608|
|NYY (2 yrs)||79||77||76||9||14||1||0||0||4||0||0||22||.184||.184||.197||.382|
|SLB (1 yr)||81||198||186||13||42||9||1||1||18||0||8||25||.226||.258||.301||.559|
|CHW (1 yr)||56||79||74||8||15||0||2||1||3||0||5||11||.203||.253||.297||.550|
I always thought Wilson Betemit could become a big league All Star. He is a switch-hitter with decent power who can play a decent third base and even an adequate shortstop in an emergency. He saw quite a bit of action with the Yankees in 2008 and the more he played the better he seemed to hit the ball. I knew he wasn’t going to see much action in the Yankee’s All Star infield that year but still, when he was traded to the White Sox, after that season I was sort of disappointed to see him go. The fact that the Yankees got Nick Swisher for him turned out to make the swap pretty much a steal for New York.
Betemit signed with the Royals in 2010 and hit .295, while smacking 13 home runs and driving in 43 for KC in just 84 games. He began the 2011 season with the Royals but was traded to the Tigers that July. Detroit Manager Jim Leyland credited Betemit’s play during the second half of that year as one of the key reasons why his Tigers rallied to win the AL Central Division race. In 2012, he signed with the Orioles and became Buck Showalter’s starting third baseman. He hit a creditable .261 with 12 home runs but lost his job when the O’s brought up the very impressive 19-year-old Manny Machado in August of that year. Betemit sat the Baltimore bench from that point on and was released in September of 2013. He is still just 32 years old but it looks like he might never get the opportunity to put together that all star season I thought he could.
Also born on this date is the only member of the Yankee’s all time roster to have been born in Aruba.
|ATL (4 yrs)||233||550||495||69||139||28||4||13||52||4||47||131||.281||.341||.432||.774|
|KCR (2 yrs)||141||541||479||65||139||35||1||16||70||3||56||132||.290||.362||.468||.830|
|LAD (2 yrs)||139||385||330||41||78||15||0||19||50||1||49||94||.236||.332||.455||.787|
|NYY (2 yrs)||124||290||273||35||69||17||0||10||49||0||12||89||.253||.286||.425||.711|
|BAL (2 yrs)||108||386||351||41||89||19||0||12||40||0||31||106||.254||.313||.410||.724|
|DET (1 yr)||40||133||120||11||35||7||3||5||19||1||11||47||.292||.346||.525||.871|
|CHW (1 yr)||20||50||45||2||9||5||0||0||3||0||5||13||.200||.280||.311||.591|
Remember when Ken Griffey Jr. was in his prime and told everyone that he would never play for the Yankees? That’s because “The Kid’s” father, Ken Griffey Sr. felt the same way. Of course, by the time the elder Griffey had figured that out, he had already been wearing Yankee pinstripes for a year and then had spent the next three and a half seasons with the team begging to be traded.
He would finally get his wish on the last day of June, during the 1986 season when the Yanks sent the unhappy outfielder to the Braves in exchange for Claudell Washington and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Press reports describing the trade at the time indicated the Yankees expected to start Claudell Washington in left field and Paul Zuvella at short.
I was one of those faithful Yankee fans who really hoped Griffey would be a star in New York and since that hadn’t happened, I wasn’t sorry to see him go. I knew Washington would be an adequate starting outfielder for that Yankee team but I also knew Paul Zuvella had no shot at becoming the team’s starting shortstop.
The shortstop position had been an anomaly for New York since Bucky Dent had been traded in 1983. Lou Piniella was the manager of that ’86 team and he wasn’t exactly known for being patient with his players, especially with an even more impatient owner like George Steinbrenner watching over his shoulder and breathing down his neck.
Zuvella had played his college ball for Stanford and had a good run with the 1978 version of Team USA. That got him drafted by Atlanta and he made his big league debut with the Braves in 1982. It took him four seasons to earn just the utility infielder’s job there and then he lost even that at midseason and spent the second half of 1985 back in the minors.
He started his first season in New York with an 0 – for – 25 slump and and at the end of his first month with the team the guy was hitting .083. Piniella, Steinbrenner and Yankee fans had seen enough and Zuvella was banished to Columbus for the rest of the season. He reappeared at the Yankees 1987 spring training camp and found himself in a battle with Bobby Meacham for the Yankee’s utility infielder slot. Though Meacham outplayed him in every facet of the game that spring, it was Zuvella who headed north with the team for Opening Day. Why? Because George Steinbrenner did not like Bobby Meacham, so the Yankee owner ordered Piniella to demote him and keep Zuvella.
The native of San Mateo, California was able to double his average during his second abbreviated season in the Bronx but that still meant he hit just .176. Zuvella’s Yankee career was over. He was released that October and spent the next couple of seasons with Cleveland. He eventually became a minor league manager in the Rockies’ organization. His claim to pinstriped fame? His name appears at the very end of an alphabetized version of the Yankees’ all-time roster.
|ATL (4 yrs)||97||246||221||18||53||9||1||0||5||2||20||18||.240||.306||.290||.595|
|CLE (2 yrs)||75||206||188||19||46||7||1||2||13||0||9||24||.245||.283||.324||.607|
|NYY (2 yrs)||35||93||82||4||10||1||0||0||2||0||5||8||.122||.172||.134||.307|
|KCR (1 yr)||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
You have to be a very good and long-time Yankee fan to remember when George Zeber played for the Yankees. It was back in 1977, and Zeber surprised everyone by making the team in spring training. That year’s Yankee squad were the defending AL Champions. Manager Billy Martin liked the fact that Zeber could play second, short and third so he brought the native of Elwood City, PA north that April and made him one of his primary utility infielders.
At the time, Zeber was already 27 years old and his path to the Majors had been anything but a cakewalk. His Dad had died when he was just five years old. Fortunately, the man his Mom then married was a great guy and baseball fan who got his new stepson involved in the game. He was a fifth round draft choice of the Yankees in 1968 but after just one year in the minors he was drafted and actually spent a year in front line combat duty in the jungles of Vietnam. He survived the war but when he returned to the minors he suffered a severe knee injury that pretty much stalled his development for two years. All that adversity would serve him well when he became part of Manager Martin’s Bronx Zoo Clubhouse.
He got his first big league at bat that May and remained on the roster the entire season, appearing in 25 games, getting 75 plate appearances and hitting a healthy .325. He even made that year’s World Series roster getting two at bats against the Dodgers but striking out both times. In 1978 he lost his roster spot to Brian Doyle and was sent back down to Syracuse, never again appearing in a big league game. He played the 1978 season with the Yankee’s Tacoma affiliate and then hung up his spikes for good. He then got into real estate and built a successful career for himself. It probably didn’t hurt that he was wearing a New York Yankee World Championship ring when he introduced himself to new realty clients.
Mr. and Mrs. Nix must have wanted their boys to remember to always be curious. They added unnecessary “Y’s” to both their first names. The older of the two boys is named Laynce, who’s been a big league outfielder since 2003 and currently plays for the Phillies. His younger brother, Jayson was a 2001 first round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies, and has served as the Yankees’ jack-of-all-trades utility infielder for the past two seasons.
When the Yankees brought up the younger Nix in May of 2012 to take the place of Eduardo Nunez as the team’s primary utility infielder, I thought someone in the front office had made a big mistake. I agreed that Nunez’s defensive shortcomings warranted the demotion, but Nix had batted just .169 for the Blue Jays in 2011, making me think he’d be too big of an offensive liability to play very much. I underestimated him.
I’ve now nicknamed Nix “the Caulk Gun” because he’s done such a credible job filling in the huge cracks in both the Yankee’s offense and defense that have been caused by the un-Godly large number of injuries the team has suffered during the past two seasons. In 2012 he appeared in 74 games for New York, making 54 starts. He played all or parts of 29 games at third, 18 at short, 13 at second and 11 in left field, plus he DH’d in a couple more. Thus far in 2013, Nix had started 41 games at third base for New York and 33 more at short, while the Yankees waited for A-Rod and Derek Jeter to recover from offseason surgeries. Ironically, now that both of those superstars are finally ready to play in the same infield for the first time since those surgeries were performed, it is Nix who is on the DL with a broken hand. Since coming to the Bronx, he’s been more than adequate defensively in every position he’s played and he’s also hit right around .240 in pinstripes, which is 22 points above his career average. He’s also contributed some mighty timely hits along the way. About the only negative thing Nix has done since joining the team is hit the ball in batting practice last May that Mariano Rivera was attempting to catch when the fabled closer blew out his ACL.
The Caulk Gun was born on this date in Dallas in 1982. He made his big league debut with the Rockies in 2008 and in addition to the Blue Jays, he’s also played for the White Sox and Indians. Nix shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee third baseman.
|NYY (2 yrs)||161||505||444||56||106||22||1||7||42||19||38||133||.239||.307||.340||.647|
|CHW (2 yrs)||118||347||304||39||65||12||0||13||37||10||35||76||.214||.301||.382||.683|
|COL (1 yr)||22||65||56||2||7||2||0||0||2||1||7||17||.125||.234||.161||.395|
|CLE (1 yr)||78||306||282||29||66||14||0||13||29||1||13||75||.234||.283||.422||.705|
|TOR (1 yr)||46||151||136||15||23||5||1||4||16||4||12||42||.169||.245||.309||.554|
Deacon Bill McKechnie wasn’t an especially good baseball player. He played a total of 846 games over eleven seasons as a utility infielder for five different ball clubs, averaging just .251 lifetime. Forty-five of those games were played in a Yankee uniform during the 1913 season. The switch-hitting Wilkinsburg, PA native hit just .134 for that Frank Chance managed New York team that finished in seventh place that season with a horrible 57-94 record. Those mediocre numbers may explain why the Yankees or nobody else seemed to care when McKechnie jumped to the upstart Federal League the following season to play for the Indianapolis Hoosiers. He averaged .304 as the Hoosier’s starting third baseman in 1914 and when the franchise was relocated to Newark, NJ the following year, McKechnie was made the team’s player-manager.
McKechne may have not been a very good big league player but he became an excellent big league manager. After the Federal League went belly up in 1916, he returned to the National League and played five more seasons before landing the Pittsburgh Pirates’ skipper’s job in June of 1922. His 1925 Pirate team won the World Series. His 1928 St. Louis Cardinal team won the NL Pennant. He then won two more Pennants with the 1939 and ’40 Cincinnati Reds and captured his second World Championship with that 1940 Reds team. He was the only big league manager to win pennants with three different teams until Dick Williams accomplished that same feat in 1984. In all he managed for 24 seasons in the National League. In addition to the Pirates, Cards and Reds, he also managed the Boston Braves for eight seasons. In all, he won 1,842 games which placed him in second place on the all-time list, when he retired in 1946, behind only John McGraw. He was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1962. He died three years later at the age of 79.
|PIT (6 yrs)||368||1313||1182||118||278||25||20||5||109||34||71||80||.235||.281||.303||.584|
|NEW (2 yrs)||276||1179||1021||156||286||46||11||3||81||75||94||67||.280||.345||.356||.700|
|CIN (2 yrs)||85||285||264||15||70||6||1||0||25||9||10||19||.265||.295||.295||.590|
|NYG (1 yr)||71||273||260||22||64||9||1||0||17||7||7||20||.246||.269||.288||.557|
|BSN (1 yr)||1||5||4||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||.000||.200||.000||.200|
|NYY (1 yr)||45||124||112||7||15||0||0||0||8||2||8||17||.134||.198||.134||.332|