Tagged: shortstop

June 10 – Happy Birthday Pokey Reese

reeseBack in 2000, Pokey Reese was one of the most sought-after middle infielders in the game of baseball. He was the Gold Glove-winning second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds and he was coming off a season in which he had just hit a career-high .285 and stole 38 bases. It was his third year in the big leagues and he was also beginning to produce some pop in his swing, reaching the ten-homer mark for the first time. But it was his glove work that set him apart. Reese could get to balls and make throws few others could.

No doubt, his value was at its peak, which is why the Reds offered the then 26-year-old native of Columbia, SC a four year deal worth about $21 million after the 2000 season. Reese turned it down, a certain indication to Cincinnati’s front office that he was planning on testing free agency. A rumor than began to circulate that Reese wanted $10 million a year, an intimidating number for most teams to swallow at the time, especially for a middle infielder. That number became even more intimidating, when Reese’s offense began to disappear.

His agent denied that he nor his client ever made the demand and Reese himself blamed Reds’ GM Jim Bowden for planting the story but Bowden also denied doing it. Wherever it came from, that rumor and Reese’s .224 batting average in 2001 did huge damage to his acquisition appeal around the league. That’s why the Reds could only get a couple of pretty ordinary pitching prospects for the two-time Gold Glove winner when they traded him to The Rockies in December of 2001. Colorado didn’t even actually want Reese either. A day later they traded him to the Red Sox for Scott Hatteberg. Two days later, Boston released him and he ended up signing with the Pirates.

He did pretty well his first year in Pittsburgh, horribly his second and then just before Christmas in 2003, he was again acquired by the Red Sox, this time as a free agent. At the time, Boston’s front office and the team’s star shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra were locked in one of the bitterest contract feuds in franchise history. When Boston traded the disgruntled Garciaparra to the Cubs during the ’04 regular season, it was Reese who took his place for a while. By the end of that year however, he had lost the job to Orlando Cabrera, and had become the team’s utility infielder. He was the second baseman who cleanly fielded the ground ball off of Ruben Sierra’s bat that ended Game Seven of the dramatic 2004 ALCS versus the Yankees. Then, after winning his first and only World Series Ring, reese never again played in a big league ball game.

It really was remarkable that Reese made it as far as he did in baseball. His childhood back in South Carolina had been one of abject poverty. He then fathered two children out of wedlock and before he reached the big leagues, his daughter was killed in a car accident and his young son witnessed the bloody murder of his own mother.

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May 12 – Happy Birthday Joe Dugan

duganI had always thought today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant got his nickname of “Jumping Joe” from his ability to leap high and snare line drives hit at his hot-corner position. Then I researched his career and found out that was not the reason after all. Joe Dugan had spent the first five seasons of his big league career playing three different infield positions for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s. Just 20 years old when he made his debut, Dugan was probably not yet mature enough to withstand the razzing big league players took back then from their own home crowds whenever they made a mistake or failed to produce in a clutch situation. Dugan’s response mechanism was to just not show up for the next game, or two, or three. That’s right, he’d just jump the team.

Eventually, Connie Mack grew tired of Dugan’s behavior and dealt him in a January, 1922 three-team trade that landed the former Torrington, Connecticut high school star in Boston, wearing a Red Sox uniform. The change of scenery did wonders for him. Boston manager Hugh Duffy used his newest infielder at both third and short and after 84 games, Dugan was averaging a very productive .287 for a very bad Boston team that was going nowhere but down to the bottom of the AL standings.

On July 23, 1922, Boston owner Harry Frazee did what he did best. He helped the Yankees get better and his Red Sox get worse by trading Dugan and outfielder Elmer Smith to New York for 50,000 Yankee dollars and a future two-time batting champion named Lefty O’Doul. Of course, O’Doul would win this batting titles after the Red Sox gave up on him as well.

Reaction to the trade from the other AL owners was swift, loud and angry. In fact, it was this trade that eventually led to baseball’s first intra-league trading deadline in 1924. Dugan went on to spend the next seven seasons with New York, win three World Series and stop his “jumping” once and for all.

May 5 – Happy Birthday Don Buddin

BuddinThough the quality of baseball played at Fenway Park got gradually worse throughout the 1950’s, you couldn’t blame it on Tom Yawkey, the team’s owner back then, being cheap. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars during that decade signing high school baseball stars who were anointed with “can’t miss” labels by Red Sox scouts. Those scouts, however, must have been reading newspapers or bird-watching in the stands during high school games instead of watching some of these bonus babies hit, run and field, because too many of their glowing reports on these sure-thing prospects turned out to be more fiction than fact.

In the case of South Carolina native, Don Buddin, the culprit was Boston scout Mace Brown. Buddin was a high school football star who could have gone to just about any major college in the south on a football scholarship. But he was also a very heavily scouted high school baseball player so when Brown got him to sign with the Red Sox for $50,000 in 1952, it was considered a real coup for the Boston franchise.

Three seasons later, he had progressed to Boston’s top farm club in Louisville, which was being managed at the time by Pinky Higgins, who fell in love with his new shortstop and became one of his biggest career advocates. What everyone was ignoring about this kid was the fact that he was making an alarmingly high number of errors at short (164 during his first three seasons in the minors.) Buddin did have a good bat, decent power, especially for a shortstop and a great eye for the strike zone. It was his offensive ability that got Buddin to the big leagues by the 1956 season, when he was 22-years-old. Of course. it didn’t hurt that Higgins had been promoted to the Red Sox’ skipper position by then, which may also help explain how Buddin won the parent club’s starting shortstop’s job as a rookie that year.

That first year Buddin had a tough time tackling big league pitching, averaging just .239. Of course back in the fifties, big league shortstops were not paid to hit and when you added in Buddin’s 65 rookie season walks, his on base percentage was actually considered to be very good for someone who played his position. The problem again was Buddin’s defense. He made 29 errors in the 113 games he played as a rookie but Higgins insisted this young man would get better with more games under his belt. Unfortunately, Buddin didn’t get to play any games in 1957 because he was drafted and served a year in the military.

When he returned in 1958, his error prone glove came back with him. Buddin committed 31 more fielding miscues that season and the Fenway faithful began booing his defensive lapses. When he made 35 more the following year, the boos grew louder and the derisive nickname “Bootin Buddin” began to take a firm hold in and around Boston baseball circles.

Higgins stuck with Buddin because of his ability to get on base and his ability to pop a ball out of the park every now and then. He hit 12 home runs in 1958 and a 10 more the following season. But the errors continued unabated and when Buddin’s offensive numbers lagged in both 1960 and ’61, the Red Sox gave up on him, trading him to the just formed Houston club in the expanding National League in November of 1961 for shortstop Eddie Bressoud. After one terrible year with the Colt-45’s and another bad one for the Tigers, Buddin’s big league playing career was over by 1962.

April 29 – Happy Birthday Rick Burleson

burlesonThis guy is right there in the mix with Cronin, Petrocelli and Garciaparra for the title of all-time greatest Red Sox shortstop. They called him “the Rooster” because of his red hair and his pointy profile but the nickname also fit because he’d do whatever he had to do to beat you, including scratching your eyes out. There has never been a Red Sox who hated to lose more than Rick Burleson did.

The Red Sox grabbed him out of his California High School with their first round pick in the secondary phase of the 1970 amateur draft and it took him four years to work his way up Boston’s ladder of farm clubs. In 1974 he battled a full season with Mario Guerrero for the right to become Luis Aparicio’s successor as the Red Sox starting shortstop. By Opening Day of 1975 the job was his alone and at 24 years of age he became a leader of a Boston ball club that just kept on winning until the final game of that year’s World Series. He had no superstar skills but no real weaknesses either and just kept making all the plays in the field and grinding his way on base.

His best year in Boston was 1977 when he reached 194 hits and a .293 batting average, both career highs. His immense value to the team was best proved by his absence due to injury during July and August of the 1978 season. When he left the lineup the Red Sox were dominating the AL East. By the time he returned  to the lineup, the Yankees had gotten back into it.

He made three All Star teams as a Red Sox and won the 1979 Gold Glove. His contract was expiring in 1981 and the Boston front office was a mess under the direction of Haywood Sullivan. They were offering Burleson about half the amount he wanted to sign and when they couldn’t get it done by the end of the 1980 season, they traded him and Butch Hobson to the Angels for Mark Clear, Carney Lansford and Rick Miller.

After a strong first year with California during the strike-shortened season of 1981, Burleson tore his rotator cuff early in 1982 and the injury effectively ended his career. He hung on for a few more seasons and then became a highly repeated big league coach and minor league field boss.

April 17 – Happy Birthday Jed Lowrie

lowrieThis Oregon native was a collegiate All American infielder at Stanford before being selected by the Red Sox in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft. After three year’s in Boston’s farm system, he made his big league debut in April of 2008. When Julio Lugo, the Red Sox starting shortstop suffered a season ending injury in July of that season, Lowrie and Alex Cora shared the position for the rest of the year, with the switch-hitting Lowrie getting more playing time. In 81 games, the rookie hit a productive .258, driving in 46 runs.

Going into the 2009 season, I thought this guy was definitely Boston’s new starting shortstop but he injured his wrist early in the season. After surgery to repair it, Lowrie never got healthy enough to contribute much to that year’s ball club. In 2010, he was felled by a bad case of mononucleosis but once again showed signs of his strong offensive potential when healthy, by hitting .287 with 9 home runs in just 171 at bats that year.

In 2011, Terry Francona platooned Lowrie at short with Marco Scutaro and then that December, they traded him to the Astros for Houston’s closer Mark Melancon. I was surprised Boston gave up on Lowrie’s upside at the time the deal was made but I did like Melancon’s potential as well and I knew the Red Sox had to replace Jon Papelbon, who was heading to Philadelphia as a free agent.

As it turned out, it appears as if I was right about both Lowrie and Melancon’s potential. Both players had stellar seasons in 2013. Unfortunately, neither was wearing a Red Sox uniform at the time.

April 12 – Happy Birthday Eric McNair

mcnairBefore the A’s moved to Oakland they played in Kansas City and back in the 1950’s, their organization made so many trades with the Yankees the joke was that Kansas City was New York’s best farm team. Well, before the team moved to Kansas City, the franchise’s home base was Philadelphia and back in the 1930’s, it was the Red Sox and their new owner Tom Yawkey, who were accused of using the A’s as their top farm team as well.

Lefty Grove, Jimmy Foxx, Max Bishop, Doc Cramer and Pinky Higgins were the biggest names to board the train from “the City of Brotherly Love” to Fenway back then, Today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant was also  a key acquisition. Eric McNair packed a whole bunch of talent in his rather tiny 5’8″ 160 pound frame. Born and raised in Meridian, Mississippi, he had talked his way into the batboy’s job with a D-League farm team that used to play in his hometown and when he was 19-years-old, that team offered him a contract. The kid was a right-hand hitting infielder with good speed and surprising power considering his size.

He made his big league debut with Connie Mack’s A’s a year later and by 1932, he was on his way to establishing himself as one of baseball’s better second basemen. That season he led the AL in doubles with 47, while belting 18 home runs and driving in 95, which were all career highs. In 1935, the Red Sox acquired McNair as part of the same deal in which they got Cramer. McNair started at short during his first season in Boston and played really well, averaging .285 and driving in 74 runs. That offseason, however, tragedy struck his personal life when his wife died from complications suffered during the birth of the couple’s first child. Her death caused McNair to battle bouts of depression for the rest of his own life.

Amazingly, McNair somehow put together his best season as a Red Sox after his devastating personal loss. Boston switched him over to second base in 1937 and he averaged .292 with 12 home runs and 76 RBIs. The following year, he decided to hold out for a better salary. His timing couldn’t have been worse. Boston had brought this young second baseman from California to their 1938 spring training camp. The kid’s name was Bobby Doerr. Though McNair ended up signing his contract, he lost his starting job to Doerr and then injured his knee. It turned out to be the worst year of his big league career and his final season as a Red Sox.

That December, Boston traded him to the White Sox, who at the time were being managed by McNair’s old double play partner with the A’s, Jimmy Dykes. Dykes started McNair at third base and he responded with a great year at the plate, averaging a career-high .324 and driving in 82 runs. That ’39 season turned out to be his last hurrah as a big leaguer. Never a great defensive player, McNair lost his starting job with Chicago the following year and became a part-time player. His last big league season was 1942. Seven years later he died from a heart attack at the age of just 39.

March 30 – Happy Birthday Hal Rhyne

rhyneThis California-born shortstop was a star in the Pacific Coast League for several seasons before making his big league debut with the Pirates in 1926. Even though the average size of players back then was smaller than it is now, the 5’8″ Rhyne was still considered small for a big league infielder.

After two years with Pittsburgh, he returned to the PCL and belted 216 hits in 185 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1928. He caught the attention of several AL teams and ended up in Boston, where he became the Red Sox’ starting shortstop in 1929.

Unfortunately for Rhyne, the three years he held that position were three pretty terrible seasons in Boston’s franchise history. The team’s best record during his time with the Red Sox was 62-90 and their best finish was sixth place. Rhyne’s best season for Boston was 1931, when he hit .273 and drove in 51 runs. He actually finished 14th in the AL MVP voting that season.

After the 1932 season, he was traded to the White Sox. He played one more season as Chicago’s utility infielder and then headed back to San Francisco, where he continued playing for the Seals until 1940, finally fully retiring as a player at the age of 41.