After the Yanks spent close to $350 million during the 2008 offseason to sign Sabathia, Teixeira and Burnett, putting their Mexican League find, Ramiro Pena on the Opening Day roster as the team’s utility infielder was probably a money-saving move on the part of the team’s front office. It worked out pretty well. The 23-year-old native of the Mexican city of Monterrey was paid the MLB minimum salary of $400,000 and responded with decent fill-in defensive efforts at short and third plus produced an impressive .287 batting average. Pena did spend July and August of his first big league season back in the minors after the Yankees acquired Eric Hinske in late June of 2009, but he returned to New York in September and hit his first big league home run. Though he didn’t see action in that year’s postseason, Pena more than earned the World Series ring he received when the Yankees topped the Phillies in the ’09 World Series.
That effort earned him a return trip to the Bronx the following year and though his average dropped sixty points, his defense improved and so did his RBI production. What really killed Pena’s career as a Yankee was the emergency appendectomy he was forced to undergo in July of 2011, right after he had again been recalled to the Bronx to fill in for an injured Eric Chavez. Major League utility players who get hurt when the starters they are supposed to replace are also hurt are simply asking for trouble. Sure enough, Pena appeared in just three games for New York during the entire 2012 season and was released at the end of that year.
The Atlanta Braves signed him as a free agent in December and he was establishing himself as Atlanta’s super sub during the first half of the 2013 season until the injury jinx bit him again. Pena underwent shoulder surgery this month and will miss the remainder of the year.
|NYY (4 yrs)||180||338||313||40||73||7||2||2||32||11||13||58||.233||.266||.288||.553|
|ATL (1 yr)||50||107||97||14||27||5||1||3||12||0||8||18||.278||.330||.443||.773|
It was a few weeks before Christmas in 1925 and Yankee manager Miller Huggins had just arrived in New York City and spent the morning in a meeting with team owner, Jake Ruppert to discuss personnel needs for the upcoming season. The previous year had been a disaster for the Yankees and Huggins. The shipwreck of a season had gotten off on an ominous note after Babe Ruth began partying as soon as New York was eliminated from the 1924 AL Pennant race and didn’t stop until he collapsed in the Asheville, NC railroad station, when the Yankee team was heading north for Opening Day at the conclusion of their 1925 spring training camp. The “Big Bam” had boozed, eaten and screwed his body into a complete state of physical and mental exhaustion and it would take the entire first two months of the 1925 regular season to get him healthy enough to return to action. By then, the Yankees were already well below .500, on their way to finishing the year with a dismal 69-85 record and an embarrassing seventh-place finish in the AL standings.
Ruth’s near-death experience had done something Huggins had been trying to do since the Sultan of Swat had joined the team in 1920. It scared the hell out of him and convinced the game’s all-time greatest slugger to spend the 1925 offseason in a New York City gym, where he got his abused body into the best shape of his career. For the first time since Huggins had become Ruth’s manager, the skipper could enter a Yankee spring training camp without worrying about the impact of Ruth’s prodigious physical excesses on his team’s Pennant hopes. So as he exited his meeting with Ruppert that morning at the Yankee offices on Manhattan’s West 42nd street and was surrounded by reporters eager to find out what his thoughts were for the upcoming season, the player uppermost on the diminutive field general’s mind was today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
Huggins told the reporters that the Yankees biggest need for the upcoming 1926 season was an infielder, and he had one specifically targeted that he had discussed with Ruppert earlier that morning. The only clue he shared was that the player he was thinking of could field like a “fiend” and hit much better than Huggins ever did during the manager’s own playing days as an NL second baseman. As they pressed him for the player’s identity, they began suggesting names of big league infielders and Huggins would deny each until someone shouted, “What about Spencer Adams?” When Huggins ignored the question and said nothing, the reporters felt they had their answer. A month and a half later, the Yankees confirmed it.
A native of Utah, Adams was one of the first Mormons to play Major League Baseball. He had made his big league debut with the Pirates in 1923 and had spent the 1925 season as a utility infielder for the AL Champion Washington Senators. As Huggins had described, Adams was a very good defensive infielder and his .273 batting average with Washington indicated he could handle a bat just fine. But when he got to the Yankee spring training camp in St. Petersburg that winter, he got his first glimpse of his competition for the team’s starting second baseman’s job. It was this Italian kid from San Francisco by the name of Tony Lazzeri. At first, Huggins played Lazzeri at short and had Adams platooning with Aaron Ward at second. Another Yankee prospect from San Francisco by the name of Mark Koenig was proving to be a much better defensive shortstop than Lazzeri, so by the end of the first week of the 1926 regular season, Huggins had Lazzeri with his booming bat starting at second, the smooth fielding Koenig at short and Adams ended up riding the pine alongside Huggins in the Yankee dugout.
The infielder would appear in just 28 games that year and make just 28 plate appearances, which probably explains why he forgot how to hit. Adams averaged just .120 that season, but he did appear in his second straight World Series that October, again on the losing side as the Yanks lost the 1926 Fall Classic to the Cardinals. With two talented youngsters like Lazzeri and Koenig ensconced as starters in the middle of their infield, the Yankees sold Adams to the Browns after his first and only season in the Bronx was over. He played his last big league game with St. Louis in 1927.
|WSH (1 yr)||39||65||55||11||15||4||1||0||4||1||5||4||.273||.333||.382||.715|
|PIT (1 yr)||25||62||56||11||14||0||1||0||4||2||6||6||.250||.323||.286||.608|
|NYY (1 yr)||28||28||25||7||3||1||0||0||1||1||3||7||.120||.214||.160||.374|
|SLB (1 yr)||88||296||259||32||69||11||3||0||29||1||24||33||.266||.333||.332||.665|
After ten years as a utility infielder with the Brewers, Orioles and A’s, Sakata joined the Yankees for 19 games in 1987, his last big league season. Sakata is one of just three members of the Yankee’s all-time roster to be born in Hawaii. The others were pitcher, Brian Fisher and New York’s first round draft pick in 2001, Bronson Sardinha.
The Yankees’ intention when they signed Sakata as a free agent in November of 1986 was to make him their primary utility infielder, a role he told New York Times reporter Mike Martinez at the time that was not easy. He then explained why; ”Very rarely are you psychologically ready when you’re called. You might sit for a month and then you’re asked to play.
”But I’m on a major league team, and that means I’m one of the better players in the game today. Maybe I’m not one of the glamorous stars, but I’ve been able to make due with the ability I was given. I do the job when I’m called upon. I do what I can on that particular day, at that particular moment. And I go from there.”
What Sakata also found out about being a Yankee utility infielder in the mid eighties was how little job security came with the role. One error at a crucial time or one failure to successfully sacrifice with the “Boss” watching from the Stadium’s owner’s suite and you could be applying for unemployment checks the next day. But it was the other part-time-player no-no that ended this guy’s career.
It happened in a June 28th home game against Boston. Ironically, Lenny was having one of his best days as a Yankee, tripling off Al Nipper in the third inning and then singling off the Red Sox right hander in his second at bat, two innings later. The next hitter, Wayne Tolleson sacrificed Sakata to second. Nipper then attempted to pick him off and Sakata injured his ankle sliding back into second base. After that play, Ron Kittle helped his injured teammate return to the dugout. Sakata wrapped his arm around Kittle’s neck for support somehow causing Kittle to pull a muscle in his shoulder and end up joining Sakata on the DL. Kittle would later return to action for New York that season. For Sakata, that walk to the dugout after he injured his ankle was the last walk he would ever take as an active big league player.
Sakata was the last Oriole to play shortstop prior to the beginning of Cal Ripken’s incredible streak at that position. After his playing days were over, Lenn went into coaching and managing for the San Francisco Giants’ organization. He shares his June 8th birthday with this other one-time Yankee infielder.
|BAL (6 yrs)||442||1068||964||132||225||36||3||21||84||28||75||114||.233||.292||.342||.634|
|MIL (3 yrs)||87||269||246||22||47||8||0||2||16||2||17||34||.191||.243||.248||.491|
|NYY (1 yr)||19||48||45||5||12||0||1||2||4||0||2||4||.267||.313||.444||.757|
|OAK (1 yr)||17||38||34||4||12||2||0||0||5||0||3||6||.353||.395||.412||.807|
Miguel Cairo played some very good baseball for the New York Yankees during his 257 game-career in Pinstripes. The Yankees put the guy in some incredibly difficult circumstances but he was unflappable. I believe it was during the 2004 regular season, Cairo’s finest as a Yankee, that he made a play that truly impressed me. He had been playing second base all game long when late in the game he was moved to shortstop. I don’t remember why Joe Torre made the switch but I think it was because Jeter got hit on the hand by a pitch and couldn’t take the field. In any event, the first guy up after Cairo makes the move hits a shot toward short and Cairo made this absolutely awesome play on the ball.
This Venezuelan was one of the most valuable members of that 2004 Yankee squad. He anchored second base but could play and did play every other infield position, plus he hit over .290. He did everything the team asked him to do, he did it well and he often had to do it in the sort of clutch situations that teams in a division race encounter frequently.
So happy birthday Miguel. Every successful team has at least one player who does all the little things well and in 2004, you were that player for the Yankees. If only you could have pitched that 12th inning against Boston in game 4 of that season’s AL Championship series.
Miguel shares his May 4th birthday with this one-time AL Saves leader.
|STL (4 yrs)||255||605||545||82||138||31||6||8||67||7||31||73||.253||.301||.376||.677|
|TBD (3 yrs)||389||1483||1355||159||373||59||12||9||116||69||77||124||.275||.319||.356||.675|
|CIN (3 yrs)||263||658||595||72||151||27||4||13||74||11||39||86||.254||.309||.378||.687|
|NYY (3 yrs)||257||773||689||88||185||36||8||6||82||32||39||99||.269||.319||.370||.689|
|CHC (2 yrs)||82||179||152||27||42||4||1||2||10||2||18||24||.276||.355||.355||.710|
|NYM (1 yr)||100||367||327||31||82||18||0||2||19||13||19||31||.251||.296||.324||.620|
|PHI (1 yr)||27||47||45||6||12||2||1||1||2||0||0||4||.267||.283||.422||.705|
|SEA (1 yr)||108||250||221||34||55||14||2||0||23||5||18||32||.249||.316||.330||.646|
|TOR (1 yr)||9||30||27||5||6||2||0||0||1||0||2||9||.222||.300||.296||.596|
For the first four years of his big league career, Bill Hall was a utility infielder for the Milwaukee Brewers who, despite his propensity to swing at bad pitches showed decent offensive potential. The native of Tupelo, Mississippi got a break when JJ Hardy, Milwaukee’s starting shortstop was injured for much of the 2006 season. Manager Ned Yost gave the job to Hall and he responded with a 35 home run, 85 RBI, .899 OPS breakout year. That performance earned him a four year $24 million contract with the Brew Crew and since he signed it, Mr. Hall’s HR, RBI and OPS numbers have been on a steady downward trend.
By August of 2009, he was hitting just .201 for Milwaukee when he was traded to the Mariners for a minor league pitcher. The following January, Seattle sent him to Boston for first baseman Casey Kotchman. The Red Sox let him walk him after the 2010 season and the Astros took an expensive gamble by signing him to a $3 million one year deal. It proved to be a bad bet. By June of the 2011 season, Hall was hitting just .224 for Houston and was released. He finished that year with the Giants.
Then in February of 2012, Brian Cashman was on the hunt for a right-hand hitting DH and he gave Hall a minor league deal that included an invitation to make New York’s big league roster with a good spring training performance. Throughout the exhibition season, Hall insisted he was impressing the Yankee brass enough to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster but his .212 batting average and his 11 strikeouts in 33 at bats did not correspond well to that level of optimism. The Yanks released him at the end of the camp so he could try and catch on with another big league team and he did sign with Baltimore, three weeks later.
Hall’s name is being mentioned again this offseason as a possible Yankee spring-training invitee. He shares his birthday with a former Gold Glove third baseman, who unlike Hall, did see a bit of regular season action as a Yankee.
The 2000 season was supposed to have been D’Angelo Jimenez’s first full year as a New York Yankee. The native Dominican had completed a noteworthy seven-game-long cup-of-coffee stint in the Bronx the previous September, during which he belted eight hits in his twenty at-bats and drove in four runs. That performance had impressed manager Joe Torre, the team’s front-office and many Yankee fans, including me as well. I can remember being certain that this then 21-year-old switch-hitter would be the Yankees’ fifth infielder in 2000. That didn’t happen.
In an incident that reminded me of the one that had destroyed former Yankee shortstop, Andre Robertson’s big league future, fifteen years earlier, Jimenez broke his neck in a car accident in the Dominican Republic, one month before the 2000 spring training camp opened. A year and a half later, the Yankees traded him to the Padres for reliever Jay Witasick.
While Jimenez had been recovering from his injuries, another Yankee infield prospect named Alfonso Soriano had leap-frogged ahead of him on the organization’s depth chart. Since Derek Jeter, Chuck Knoblauch and Scott Brosius were also firmly ensconced at short, second and third for a Yankee team that had just captured its third-straight World Series, hardly anyone noticed this kid had been traded.
Over the next seven seasons, Jimenez would play for six different big league teams. His best stretch occurred in Cincinnati, where he became the Red’s starting second baseman and Barry Larkin’s double play partner in 2003 and ’04. He hit .290 that first year and than poked 12 home runs and set a career high with 67 RBIs the following season. But after getting off to a slow start in 2005, he lost his job to Rich Aurilia. The Reds released him and he spent the final two years of his big-league career living out of his suitcase, as he played for Texas, Oakland and the Nationals.
Jimenez is still playing baseball. He played for an independent minor league team in 2012 and than joined the Mexican League, where he hit .328 in 21 games. I still think if he didn’t break his neck, he’d have been a great utility infielder for that 2000 Yankee team, instead of Clay Bellinger, who would hit just .207 in that role. That would have put Jimenez in a perfect slot to take over the regular second base job when Knoblauch’s case of Steve Blass throwing disease started. Instead, Jose Vizcaino was given the position and a year later it was Soriano and not today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant who would become a big league all star.
Jimenez shares his birthday with this former home run hitter, this former Yankee reliever and a former Yankee outfielder who’s promising career took a u-turn when he slipped on a wet Shea Stadium outfield.
|CIN (3 yrs)||260||1102||958||124||260||48||5||19||103||22||130||165||.271||.359||.391||.751|
|SDP (2 yrs)||173||706||629||84||162||30||4||6||66||6||73||131||.258||.333||.347||.679|
|CHW (2 yrs)||100||433||379||57||100||15||8||8||37||6||48||56||.264||.347||.409||.756|
|OAK (1 yr)||8||20||14||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||6||7||.071||.350||.071||.421|
|TEX (1 yr)||20||68||57||7||12||3||0||1||8||0||10||6||.211||.328||.316||.644|
|WSN (1 yr)||73||128||102||14||25||7||0||2||10||2||21||22||.245||.379||.373||.752|
|NYY (1 yr)||7||23||20||3||8||2||0||0||4||0||3||4||.400||.478||.500||.978|
Young Yankee fans have been spoiled by Derek Jeter. When I was a kid, having a shortstop who could rap 200 hits a year or average .300 just didn’t happen. In fact, good-hitting shortstops were so rare that when Minnesota’s Zoilio Versailles hit 19 home runs and drove in 77 in 1965, he was awarded the freaking AL MVP award.
The prototypical shortstop of the 1960’s was a great fielder who was paid to prevent runs with his glove and not worry about producing any with his bat. Eddie Brinkman fit that prototype perfectly. A native of Cincinnati who was a pitcher on the same high school team as Pete Rose, the guy I called “Steady Eddie” made his big league debut with the Senators in 1961, when he was just 19-years-old. By 1963, he was starting for Washington and developing a reputation as one of the league’s smoothest fielding shortstops. He failed to hit above .228 during his first eight years as a Senator, than suddenly got his average up to .266 in 1969 and .262 in ’70. In October of 1970, Brinkman was included in a blockbuster trade that brought two-time Cy Young award winner Denny McLain to Washington along with future Yankee Elliott Maddox, third baseman Don Wert, and reliever Norm McRae. The great fielding third baseman, Aurelio Rodriguez and pitchers Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan accompanied Brinkman to MoTown.
Brinkman’s sleek fielding continued with his new team but unfortunately, his batting average reverted back toward just north of the Mendoza line. He remained in Detroit for five seasons before getting traded to San Diego in November of 1974. Perhaps sensing the Tigers were about to get rid of him, Brinkman had left Detroit with a bang by smashing a career high 14 home runs during the ’74 season. San Diego owned his contract for jus a few minutes because they immediately shipped him to St Louis to complete a trade they had made with the Cardinals earlier in that year. St. Louis traded him to Texas on June 4, 1975 and nine days later, the Rangers sold the then 33-year-old Brinkman to the Yankees.
Yankee GM Gabe Paul had been trying to acquire Brinkman since the beginning of that ’75 season. He told a New York Times reporter he had called St. Louis GM Bing Devine at least a hundred times about acquiring the shortstop but couldn’t make a deal. The Yankee starting shortstop during that 1975 season was Jim Mason, who averaged just .152 that year and though strong defensively, was not as good a fielder as Brinkman. Paul was hoping those 14 home runs Brinkman had hit the previous season for Detroit were not an aberration, but that’s exactly what that one-year power display turned out to be. Brinkman hit just .175 in his 44 games in pinstripes that season. New York invited him back to their 1976 spring training camp but he was released a week before the team headed north.
He retired with a lifetime average of .224 and 60 home runs during his fifteen years in the big leagues. He won a Gold Glove with Detroit in 1972. After hanging up his glove, he began a long career as a White Sox scout and coach. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 66. His younger brother Chuck was a big league catcher with the White Sox. Brinkman shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee reliever.
|TEX (11 yrs)||1143||4217||3847||350||868||125||27||31||273||27||289||574||.226||.282||.296||.579|
|DET (4 yrs)||630||2272||2060||192||458||68||10||28||180||3||145||255||.222||.276||.306||.582|
|STL (1 yr)||28||85||75||6||18||4||0||1||6||0||7||10||.240||.306||.333||.639|
|NYY (1 yr)||44||68||63||2||11||4||1||0||2||0||3||6||.175||.224||.270||.494|