Guest Post: “I Would’ve Played Third Base Left-Handed”: The Unexpected 1944 Home Run Champ

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who goes by Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He’s previously written guest posts on Tim McClelland, Frankie Crosetti, the No. 26, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Miller Huggins, Jerry Kenney, the Copacabana incident, Mark Koenig, Earle Combs, Urban Shocker, Michael Milosevich, and Snuffy Stirnweiss.

Etten. (AP)
Etten. (AP)

Being a New York Yankee in 1943 was an unsure time. Most players knew it was inevitable that players would be drafted into the United States Armed Forces and serve abroad. By the beginning of the 1944 season, most players knew they were being drafted. Teams spent most of 1943 preparing for such a thing. The Yankees acquired players to replace bodies such as Buddy Hassett, Phil Rizzuto and Joe DiMaggio. As a result, 1944 had a lot of players win awards that no one would have picked. Hal Newhouser and Buddy Marion won the MVPs in their respective league that year. An outcast from the Philadelphia Athletics was a 1943 Yankees world champion and he is the subject of the story.

The Prussian Warrior

Nicholas Raymond Thomas Etten was born on September 19, 1913 in Spring Grove, Illinois, just off the Chain O’Lakes in McHenry County. His parents were Joseph Bernard (1883-1940) and Gertrude Mary Scheusen Etten (1883-1966). While little is known about his father’s family, there is quite the history behind his mother’s. Gertrude Mary Scheusen Etten is the granddaughter of Karl Ernst Du Sartz de Vigneul, a former member of the Prussian nobility. While the Du Sartz de Vigneuil nobility heritage came out of the Lorraine section of France, Dr. Sharon Koelling of Iowa State University noted that the family history dates back to the 17th century. Karl Ernst was disowned by the Prussian nobility when they disapproved of his marriage to a commoner, Catherina Niederprum.

A member of the Prussian Uhlan Regiment, Karl Ernst du Sartz de Vigneul was a warrior for the German cavalry in their military. After his death in the Rhineland city of Seffern in 1872, the widow Niederpaum and their nine children immigrated to Chicago, Illinois. One of their daughters, Anna Margaretha Du Sartz de Vigneul Scheusen was Gertrude’s mother. Gertrude was one of eight kids belonging to Du Sartz de Vigneul and Heinrich Scheusen. Nick Etten was one of three children for Joseph and Gertrude, with elder brothers Joseph Etten (1906-2004) and Hubert Etten (1908-1982) preceding him in birth.

Nick Etten was a three-sport star at St. Rita of Cascia High School in Chicago, located at 7740 South Western Avenue. There, he specialized in baseball, basketball and football. At St. Rita’s, he was a guard in basketball, a first baseman in baseball and right end for the football squad. Graduating from St. Rita of Cascia in 1931, Etten took his talents to Villanova University. However, at Villanova, he took his football talent to another level. Despite that football talent, Etten joined the Duffy Florals, a semi-pro team in Chicago during the 1932 season until Cletus Dixon, the manager signed him to a contract with the Davenport Blue Sox, passing up a four-year athletic scholarship at Villanova.

At age 19, Etten succeeded with the Class-B team in the Mississippi Valley League. In 114 games, he got 162 hits, 35 doubles, 4 triples and 14 home runs on his way to a .357 average and .544 slugging percentage for the Blue Sox. However, the Pittsburgh Pirates came calling for the Davenport outfielder in August 1933. At 6’1”, 195, he was a skinny player, and the Pittsburgh Pirates scout that discovered him, Carleton Molesworth, a former pitcher who appeared in three games in 1895 for the Washington Senators, thought that Etten’s speed was below average, something he would gain with experience. Molesworth considered him the best player prospect in the Mississippi Valley League and bought him from the team for more than $2,000 in cold hard cash.

Molesworth ended any intent of the outfield experiment continuing on from Davenport. During his time with the Blue Sox, Etten managed 12 errors in the outfield. The Pirates decided that Etten would move back to his main position of first base. Molesworth stated to the press that all opportunities would be made to get him to work out at first base. Molesworth was confident that Etten would be ready for the big leagues in two years and farmed him out appropriately. As part of the deal, Etten would stay with the Blue Sox through the end of the season, and the Mayor of Davenport, IA, George Tank presented the 19-year old with a traveling bag for joining the Pirates at Islander Field on September 11. Etten arrived at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field on September 18, the day they announced the signing of shortstop Elmer Trappe.

During Spring Training in 1934 for the Pirates at Paso Robles, California, manager George Gibson worked with Etten every day to improve his work at first base. The Pirate team of 1934 was already loaded, with Floyd Young, Paul and Lloyd Waner and Freddy Lindstrom on the team. That Spring Training, Gibson worked with Etten specifically on how to go around first base without tripping on his legs in order to make plays. Gibson stated that his 6’1” inch frame made him perfect for first base and would be a good alternate if Gus Suhr had a slow start. On April 5, 1934, it was announced that Etten would be on his way to Little Rock, Arkansas to play for the A-team Travelers as a first baseman.

In 1934, the season with the Little Rock Travelers was the first sign of things going backwards. After a great season with Davenport in 1933, the Travelers got a player with only 120 hits, 22 doubles, 4 triples and 2 home runs in 113 games. His batting line fell to a .291 average and.379 slugging, and things only seemed to look worse in 1935. In 1935, he jumped from the Elmira Pioneers, Birmingham Barons and Oklahoma City Indians, he managed all of a .264/.379 line with 108 hits, 22 doubles, 2 triples and an uptick to seven home runs.

The 1936 season was the fix. Demoted to the B-league Savannah Indians, Etten hit .329 and got 162 hits, 28 doubles, 10 triples and 12 home runs. It was enough to re-promote him to the A-ball Wilkes-Barre Barons. However, the prospect glow was gone from Etten. He spent the entire 1937 season with Savannah, hitting .304/.518 with 156 hits, 27 doubles, 10 triples and then-career high 21 home runs. By now, Etten was playing in the outfield once again. In 1938, he started the season with the Jacksonville Tars of the South Atlantic (B) League after two years with Savannah. Out of the Pirates organization, Etten batted .370/.516 with 193 hits, 15 triples and 2 home runs (along with 40 doubles) in Jacksonville.

Damaged Goods

The Philadelphia Athletics came calling in 1938. On September 1, 1938, Connie Mack purchased his contract from the Sally League and he would join the team in the majors as a first baseman. Mack got Etten his first game on September 8 against the Washington Senators. It was an eventful debut as a brawl broke out that day between Billy Werber and Buddy Myer. After Myer performed a knockout slide of catcher Harold Wagner, Werber took it upon himself to tell Myer where he can put his slide. The two went to fisticuffs and the fight was on. Umpire Bill Grieve tossed both for the rest of the event.

The next day, Etten got his first hit against Jim Bagby and the Boston Red Sox in a 4-3 win at Fenway. With the A’s in 1938, he played in 22 games, going 21 for 81, getting 6 doubles, 2 triples and no home runs while batting .259/.333/.383. For 1939, he started the season with the Athletics, managing a .252/.322/.406 line in 43 games with 39 hits, 11 doubles, 2 triples and three home runs. His first home run was off Bump Hadley of the Yankees on April 25, 1939 at the Stadium. After the game on June 10, he was optioned back out to the AA Baltimore Orioles. With the Orioles, he played 105 games, getting 115 hits, 25 doubles, 3 triples and 14 home runs, batting .299/.490.

In 1940, the Baltimore Orioles fell under the guise of a Philadelphia Phillies affiliation. As a result, the Phillies acquired Etten. That year, Etten managed a .321/.530 batting line with 185 hits in 160 games with the Orioles. He also hit 4 triples and 40 doubles. The power was slowly being discovered by Etten. 1941 became the first season in which Etten did not have to join the minor league teams. As the starting first baseman for the Phils, Etten hit .311/.405/.454 with 14 home runs, 4 triples, 27 doubles and 168 hits in his first full season. That year he finished 28th in the MVP voting. Etten returned in 1942 with the Phillies, playing in 139 games, but showing a clear decline. Etten hit .271/.355/.420 with 121 hits, 21 doubles, 8 home runs and 3 triples.

First base for the New York Yankees had been a mess leading into the 1943 season. In 1941, the Yankees had a rookie first baseman named Johnny Sturm (#34) from St. Louis. Despite the World Series ring in 1941, Sturm enlisted in the United States Army and served in World War II. He never saw another MLB game. He managed to injure himself in a freak tractor accident trying to build an Army baseball field, damaging his right index finger. He tried for a comeback in 1946, but injured his wrist and finished in the minors the rest of his career. However, he was the man who first recommended the Yankees look at Mickey Mantle. In 1942, the Yankees replaced Sturm with Buddy Hassett, a former first baseman for the Dodgers and Braves. Hassett was a god complimentary piece in 1942, but he went to the war effort leading into the 1943 season. He never played another MLB game after serving in the minors until 1950.

With the need to replace Hassett, the Yankees acquired Nick Etten on January 22, 1943. In return, the Yankees sent the Phillies $10,000 along with pitcher Allan Gettel and first baseman Ed Whitner Levy. However, the trade was not without controversy. William Cox, the President of the Phillies, took issue with the fact that Levy and Gettel would not be with the Phillies in 1943. As a result, the Yankees took back Gettel and Levy and sent Tom Padden and Al Gerheauser instead to the Phillies on March 26.

From Last to First

Leaving the dumpster bin Phillies did wonders for Etten. In his first season with the Yankees, batting seventh in the lineup, Etten took Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio’s #5 to a .271/.355/.420 line. He played all 154 games at first, getting 158 hits, 35 doubles, 5 triples and 14 home runs. He drove in 107 RBIs. In his only postseason opportunity, Etten had a miserable postseason, batting .105/.150/.105 in 19 at bats against the St. Louis Cardinals. Despite that, the Yankees won Etten his only ring in 1943. In 1943, he was one of four Yankees to finish in the top 10 of MVP voting. Spud Chandler won the award, Billy Johnson finished 3rd, Etten 7th and Bill Dickey 8th.

1944 was Etten’s time to shine. Coming into March, the Yankees expected that Etten would be the only member of the starting infield that would return for the 1944 season. However, in early March, during Spring Training, Etten, along with New York Giants star Mel Ott, were reclassified into Draft Class 1-A. Draft Class 1-A was the one that made people eligible for the draft. Manager Joe McCarthy noted that Etten was not expected to report until the summer for his examination.

However, the draft decimated the infield for McCarthy and the Yankees. Not only was Etten eligible, but Billy Johnson and Charlie Keller went to the Merchant Marines. During Spring Training, Bill Dickey was called to war and two days after Dickey, Joe Gordon went to war. Beat writers considered the race for the 1944 American League pennant as open as ever. McCarthy assembled a rag tag version of his infield to replace the ones fighting abroad: Etten at 1B, Snuffy Stirnweiss at 2B, Frank Crosetti and Mike Milosevich at SS, Oscar Grimes at 3B and a team of Mike Garbark and Rollie Hemsley at catcher.

Etten was on a torrid pace to start the 1944 season, heavily credited for keeping the rag-tag Yankees in the race for the pennant early on. By May 18, a month into the season, Etten hit a .354/.485/.494 line with 3 home runs and eight multiple hit games. By June 18, Etten had slowed to a crawl with his average falling below .300 on June 7. He also fell in the lineup. When the season started, McCarthy had Etten in the 3-hole. On April 30, when he was hitting well, McCarthy put him in the 4-hole. On June 11, McCarthy moved him to the 5-hole. He stayed there through the 4th of July, except for June 12 and June 13, when he was back in the 4-hole. For the four games after Independence Day, Etten went to the 6-hole. He never left 5th after that.

Late August and September 1944 were Etten’s best time for power. In a span of August 31 to September 16, the Yankees first baseman hit 6 home runs. From September 16 to September 27, Etten went on a 13-game hitting streak. However, Etten never saw .300 again, despite peaking on September 27 with a .297/.403/.474 batting line. After that, Etten’s bat went cold again, despite a 2 hit game on October 1. Etten’s final line: .293/.399/.466 in all 154 games.

The Yankees lost to the Browns and the Tigers in 1944 as the Browns went for the World Series and the Yankees went home. Despite that, Etten led the majors in home runs with 22. A feared power hitter, Etten led the league in walks (97) and intentional walks (18). He only had 4 triples and 25 doubles (numbers that went down from 1943). In day games (126), he hit .307/.420/.503; in night games (all of 28), he hit .236/.306/.309. Also a pure left-handed hitter, the splits were insane with a .308 average against righties and .235 against lefties. The 296 foot right field in Yankee Stadium benefited Etten enormously as he hit 15 of his home runs at home and 7 on the road. However, the splits between road and home in average were a lot more reasonable (.304 (home) and .283 (road)). Etten finished 23rd in MVP voting that season, tied with Rudy York.

1945 was a slightly backwards season, but not by much. His April and May 1945 were much the same as his April and May in 1944. Through May 18, Etten hit .321/.411/.500 as the starting first baseman. However, unlike 1944, the 1945 season did not fall off a cliff. Etten managed a .300 or higher batting average until July 1. During that streak, McCarthy put him back in the 4-hole. After a 4-hit game in Cleveland, Etten got his average back above .300, but it would not last. On August 25, Etten was put back in the 5-hole for good, and Etten finished the season with a .285/.387/.437 batting line in 152 games. However, in part due to his good season, he drove in a league-high 111 RBI with 18 home runs and 161 hits. Etten finished 1945 with a 15th place finish in the MVP race.

Statistically, 1945 was an unusual season for Etten, if compared to 1944. For a 1944 season where Etten looked bad against left-handed pitchers, his 1945 season is amazing. In 1945, he hit .333 against left-handed hitters versus .267 against right-handed hitters. At home versus away, he hit better away (.287) versus at home (.283). However, his power remained mostly at home (12-6). In another statistical flip, Etten hit .311 at night despite .281 at home (19-133 games ratio). It would be reasonable to say 1945 was his best overall season, despite the lowered power numbers. Either way, 1944 and 1945 were the best years of his career.

The End of Etten

1946 was another story. With the war effort over and Joe DiMaggio back, Etten switched to #9 and promptly hit like a 9-hitter. After beating out Buddy Hassett for the 1B job, Etten had a miserable April. By May 18, he had been demoted to 6th, re-promoted to 5th, and batting a clear .202/.291/.346 while playing 1B. On May 25, seeing Etten’s numbers start to fall, the Yankees promoted Stephen “Bud” Souchock from the minors to play 1st base. The next day, from the farm in Tonawanda, New York (where I live), McCarthy resigned his position as Yankee manager in a telegram.

His ugly season continued as McCarthy’s replacements had Etten pinch hit more than play 1B. Etten’s time in New York continued to dwindle with Souchock getting more playing time. In 108 games, Etten hit .232/.315/.365 with 49 RBI, 9 home runs and only 75 hits (drastic drops from one year ago). On April 14, 1947, the Yankees sent Etten back to the Phillies, but after having a miserable start to the 1947 season, they sent him back to the Yankees. With the Yankees, he played in the minors for the Newark Bears and Oakland Oaks of AAA. In AAA, he hit .256/.369/.439 in 93 games.

He had one AAA resurgence in 1948, playing for the Oaks, where he hit .313/.407/.587 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. There, Etten hit 43 home runs for the Oaks in 164 games, with 181 hits, 155 RBI and 27 doubles. That was a career minor league season for Etten. He never repeated it. In 1949, he joined the Braves minors, playing in Milwaukee for their AA franchise and hit .280/.408/.454 in 148 games. In 1950, aged 36, he joined the White Sox and their Memphis franchise. There, he hit .313/.487 in the South Atlantic League.

With his career over, Etten retired to his home in Chicago. In 1953, Etten became a player agent for a Beverly-Morgan Park pony league. Home with his kids and his wife Helen Patricia at 10214 Oakley Avenue, Etten eventually became a contractor and part-owner for the Carroll Construction Company in Oak Lawn. He moved to Hinsdale, the community he lived in until his death. His son Nick Jr. became a football star himself in the Cook County area. He was soon inducted into the Chicago Sports and Catholic League Hall of Fames for his time in baseball as well as his success at St. Rita’s.

In 1982, he told the Chicago Tribune about his time with the Yankees and about wearing the iconic #5 while DiMaggio was gone. He noted that he would’ve played third base left-handed if necessary to be on the team. He also told the paper that in 1933 he played for a pickup team at Portage Park in Chicago in which he played three innings with a clown outfit on. He kept the paint on after the game until 63rd Street and Kedzie on his way home.

On October 18, 1990, Etten passed away in his home at Hinsdale at the age of 77. His wife, Helen Patricia along with his daughter Patricia and three sons, Nick Jr, John and Thomas along with one of his elder brothers all survived him. He was buried in the Queen of Heaven Catholic Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois. Helen Patricia Conway Etten died in August 1995 at the age of 79. His elder brother, Joseph Etten, died in 2004 at the age of 97.

Nick Etten’s career is another one, unfortunately, shrouded by the war era. However, much like Snuffy Stirnweiss, these guys were legitimate prospects with legitimate chances. Yes, both of their careers died after the war, but baseball is cruel. Etten will forever be the forgotten American League home run king.

Umpire Review: 2017 American League Championship Series

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who goes by Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He’s previously written guest posts on Tim McClelland, Frankie Crosetti, the No. 26, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Miller Huggins, Jerry Kenney, the Copacabana incident, Mark Koenig, Earle Combs, Urban Shocker, Michael Milosevich, and Snuffy Stirnweiss.

Fairchild. (Presswire)
Fairchild. (Presswire)

Man, that last series was something sort of exciting. Unfortunately Aaron Judge’s strike zone was not. The umpires managed to make it hard for him to do anything. That ALDS crew is gone and none are repeating on this ALCS crew. In this series, we will have an interesting set up because of the seven-game series. Instead of the same six umpires, it is a seven man crew, with one serving as replay coordinator during the series. As a result, there are seven umpires on this report, and it is an interesting list.

Chad Fairchild – No. 4 (HP Game 1 / Replay Coordinator Gms 3-7)

Chadwick Jarrett Fairchild will lead off the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park. Immediately, we are stuck with a horrid nightmare for Aaron Judge. Chad Fairchild has a very anti-right handed batter strike zone. Fairchild has a propensity to call more strikes inside out of the zone to righties than lefties. (We saw the opposite with Jeff Nelson in ALDS Game 5.) Fairchild’s statistics read rather rudimentary, with 8.3 K/9 and 8.3 H/9. His numbers also include a 4.01 ERA with a 1.30 WHIP. Hitters had a .246/.315/.421 batting line, which makes a lean towards a pitchers’ umpire, especially inside to righties, but it may be a bit subjective.

The Sandusky, Ohio native definitely has a big enemy in Cincinnati. Catcher Devin Mesoraco has been ejected not once, but twice, arguing Fairchild strike calls, one with him behind the plate. Fairchild made his MLB debut on September 30, 2004 at the Trop between a game between the Devil Rays and the Detroit Tigers. The Yankees have a limited experience with his right arm (which he has utilized 32 times in his career). His first two MLB ejections were of Paul Quantrill and Joe Torre, when the former nailed Jason Smith in replacement of Mike Mussina on May 24, 2005. We only saw him once this season behind the plate, July 7 during the Brewers/Yankees series.

Hunter Wendeltstedt – No. 21 (HP Game 2)

The son of the legendary umpire Harry Wendelstedt, Hunter Wendelstedt is the home plate umpire for the second game of the American League Championship Series. An anonymous scouting report describes Wendelstedt well and it comes down to this: he is inconsistent. He will lose focus during games for reasons I cannot explain and will be willing to call strikes and balls like throwing darts. That 2010 scouting report also stated that it seemed like Wendelstedt preferred you put the ball in play. The last sentence backs up his 2017 statistics. In 27 games this season, Wendelstedt managed to have a 4.41 umpire’s ERA (good for 44th) and a 1.36 WHIP (really high). Wendelstedt averages 8.7 H/9, 3.5 BB/9, and 8.2 K/9. Hitters have a .254/.328/.434 line with Wendelstedt behind the plate. Scouting report: hit the ball. Things are more likely to go your way.

Wendelstedt made his MLB debut at Coors Field on April 19, 1998 (of course, a 10-7 win for Colorado over Atlanta) and like his late father, was hired by the National League. He has 77 ejections since his debut and seems to manage at least 2 a season. Once again, there is no history with the New York Yankees in terms of ejections. However, he has the honor of ejecting Ron Gardenhire not once, not twice, not even three times, but five times. We have seen Hunter behind the plate several times this season: June 28 at Comiskey II, and June 9 against the Orioles at the Stadium.

Gary Cederstrom – No. 38 (HP Game 3 – Crew Chief)

The mellow North Dakotan is the crew chief for the American League Championship Series and he calls the first game at Yankee Stadium. His strike zone is more famous in Willets Point as he is the proud owner of Johan Santana’s strike zone for his June 1, 2012 no-hitter. At the same time, we all know that Santana was a bit wild that night. However, his number reads towards average to hitter’s strike zone. Despite this, you can see that hitters really swing with Cederstrom behind the plate. He has a 4.76 umpire’s ERA (15th of 92) and a 1.40 WHIP. Batters have a .267/.330/.440 batting line, which is insanely pro-hitter. Cederstrom also gave an average of 9.4 H/9, 8.6K/9, and 3.2 BB/9. Probably wise to say you like to swing with Gary.

Cederstrom, from Bismarck, North Dakota, made his MLB debut on June 2, 1989 at Comiskey Park in a game between the Twins and the White Sox. If you want to know why he’s mellow, I have never once seen him angry as an umpire, even during situations where a player or manager is yelling at him, he never raises his voice. The man is really mellow. He has 40 ejections since his debut, which is insanely low per average for an umpire in the league 25+ years. The Yankees experience is three ejections: one of Paul O’Neill on June 2, 1995 for arguing balls and strikes after a groundout. That was literally his first ejection in over four years at that point. His other ejections with the Yankees are a little more unusual. Jason Grimsley threw over the head of Edgar Martinez then nailed him on the second pitch, promptly being ejected. Doug Eddings ended up ejecting Joe Torre. In the top of the 9th, Frank Rodriguez nailed Chuck Knoblauch and while Lou Piniella and Don Zimmer spent time arguing with Cederstrom, Frankie Rodriguez yelled at the Yankees bench and the benches cleared. Joe Girardi took on Rodriguez himself and ended up being ejected for fighting. Humorously, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, both kids at this point, stood aside and started talking while this all was going on. Why YouTube has not found this fight yet is beyond me. I want to see it. We saw Cederstrom behind the plate three times this season. The first was on June 4 at the Rogers Centre; July 15 at Fenway Park and September 20 at the Stadium against the Twins.

Chris Guccione – No. 68 (HP Game 4)

I would say Game 4 features an umpire not on Joe Girardi’s Christmas card list. These two have butted heads on multiple occasions. He is dealing with Game 4 behind the plate. Game 4 will be super crazy zone. Hoo, boy. Chris Guccione has a written off mess for a strike zone and it shows statistically, with a 4.78 ERA, and a 1.40 WHIP. He also has a 9.3 H/9 strike zone, 3.3 BB/9 and the absurdly high 9.2 K/9. Hitters have a .265/.335/.443 hitting line, and looking at a random sample strike zone, he is all over the map: either squeezing or being expansive. We could be looking at literally anything in Game 4.

The native of Salida, Colorado made his MLB debut on April 25, 2000 in a 1-0 game between the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Turner Field. This is his second ALCS, the last being 2012 (with the Yankees and the Tigers). Strangely that season and this season are the only ones in which he does not have an ejection at all. Guccione has 57 ejections, including three of Joe Girardi. He has been tossed once as Marlins manager on August 5, 2006 and twice as Yankees manager (May 22, 2008, his first as a Yankee manager; and May 5, 2016 at Camden Yards). Otherwise, nada. No other Yankees. The Yankees have also not seen his strike zone this season. Only series he was with the Yankees, he never worked the plate.

Jerry Meals – No. 41 (HP Game 5)

Nineteenth Inning Nightmare makes his return in Game 5, if it occurs. Jerry Meals, one of your best definitions of average umpires. This is his first Championship Series in 10 seasons, and his numbers read insanely average. 4.36 ERA, 1.36 WHIP with 8.8 H/9, 8.0 H/9 and 3.4 BB/9. He is an average umpire. Nothing outright amazing, and nothing to really pick on to watch out for in Game 5, if we get that far. If it helps, he was the home plate umpire for Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game.

I’d say Meals has a hot head for his short stature. The native of Butler, Pennsylvania made his MLB debut on September 14, 1992 in a barnburner between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets at Wrigley Field. Since then, he has amassed 49 ejections, two with the Yankees: Joe Torre on April 17, 2001 at Rogers Centre and Joe Girardi on May 4, 2009 at the Stadium. He also ejected Joe as manager of the Marlins on May 19, 2006. That said, the one game that stands in his history came on July 26, 2011 in a game between the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates. That game went 19 innings (10 of them without Nate McLouth and Fredi Gonzalez, both tossed in the 9th for arguing balls and strikes). However, the way the Braves walked-off was insanely controversial as he blew an obvious call at home in the 19th inning with Julio Lugo scoring on a throw. I watched that game, and those who know me know I love 20 inning games. Thanks to that play, the name Nineteen Inning Nightmare was born. If you want to make your own decision, here is the play:

We only saw Meals behind the plate once this season, July 3 at the Stadium behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Hopefully the Yankees and the Astros do not go 19 innings.

Jim Reynolds – No. 77 (HP Game 6)

Jimmy Reynolds starts his fourth Championship Series this week and his third in three years. Reynolds is a textbook definition of hitter’s umpire. In 30 games this season, Reynolds has a 4.51 ERA (38th of 92) with a 1.42 WHIP, 9.2 H/9, 3.5 BB/9 and 8.2 K/9. The .265/.335/.453 batting line also backs up the hitters ump projection. However, if you are a righty batter you are in for another headache, because Reynolds leans towards giving inside strikes to right-handed batters than left-handed ones. It could be an ugly nightmare in Game 6 for right-handed hitters.

The Marlborough, Massachusetts native made his MLB debut on June 4, 1999 at Fenway Park in an interleague game between the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves. He was one of the 25 umpires hired after the mass resignation scandal with the umpires went awry. He has 36 ejections in his career since being hired, which is about average. However, he has none of the Yankees. Despite that, he did eject Joe Girardi in Chicago on April 9, 2000 for a call at second base. That was Reynolds’ second ever ejection. Girardi’s pitching coach, Larry Rothschild was his first ever ejection on July 25, 1999 for arguing a call at 1st base while manager of the Devil Rays. Serving under Joe West’s crew, we did not see his strike zone behind the plate this season.

Mark Carlson – No. 6 (HP Game 7 / Replay Coordinator Gms 1-2)

Mark Carlson is our seventh and final umpire this series and we will not see him on the field until Game 3. I am sure he is happy Carlos Zambrano is not. Zambrano went nuts on him on this play at the plate, which was a correct call. Nyjer Morgan scored before Zambrano tagged him. The former Marine is an average umpire and the 8.8 H/9 innings, 3.2 BB/9 and 8.3 K/9 would agree with that. So would the .256/.323/.440 batting line. (The slugging is on the high side, but that is a nitpick.)

The Joliet, Illinois native Carlson made his MLB debut on June 11, 1999 at Wrigley Field in a game between the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs. Since then, he has amassed 53 ejections (on the high end for an umpire debuting in the 1998-2001 range). He has never ejected a Yankee, but amassed 11 ejections in 2003, including four in one game on July 13, 2003 between the San Diego Padres and the St. Louis Cardinals. Unfortunately there is no video of this fight on YouTube. We saw Carlson’s strike zone three times behind the plate this season: April 27 at Fenway Park, August 9 at the Rogers Centre, and September 24 at Rogers Centre. Let us pray we do not see it again.

Umpire Review: 2017 American League Division Series

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who goes by Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He’s previously written guest posts on Tim McClelland, Frankie Crosetti, the No. 26, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Miller Huggins, Jerry Kenney, the Copacabana incident, Mark Koenig, Earle Combs, Urban Shocker, Michael Milosevich, and Snuffy Stirnweiss.

Carapazza. (Presswire)
Carapazza. (Presswire)

Well that was exciting game Tuesday night. I had a blast watching it (and knowing that my scouting report on Alfonso Marquez was spot on). During the season, there are four-man crews. 92 umpires called games behind the plate this season. During the postseason, there are six, which helps make tougher calls easier (or blow it easier, depending on your point of view). On Monday afternoon, Major League Baseball announced the assignments for the postseason, including the ALDS. Let us look at who we have for this series against the Cleveland Indians.

Home Plate – Vic Carapazza (No. 19)

Vic Carapazza gets us started in Game 1 versus Trevor Bauer. Yeah well, this game has the chance to be the complete opposite of Tuesday night’s affair. The Port Jefferson, New York native is a bit of a mess. His numbers read of a hitter’s umpire, but unlike Marquez, who was consistent for most of Tuesday night, Carapazza can be all over the place. Statistically, he has a 4.01 ERA with 30 games behind the plate. His WHIP was 1.30, while the hits were a measly 8.3 H/9. Similar to Marquez, he has a high BB/9 at 3.4. However, unlike Marquez, he only has 8.9 K/9. Yep, either you’re going to walk or strikeout (or be ejected) with Carapazza. Carapazza provides batters a hitting line of .247/.317/.408 on average.

Like his father in law, Carapazza is a free swinger with the right-arm, with a lot of notable ejections in recent years. Carapazza, as of the end of the 2017 season, has racked up 31 ejections since his MLB debut on April 9, 2010 in a game between the Yankees and Rays at the Trop. (The Yankees lost that game, 9-2 as Javier Vazquez had an awful performance (8 runs in 5 2/3). Somehow, Sergio Mitre had a decent one that night (1 run the rest of the way).) Of his famous right-arm, he tossed Mark Reynolds for throwing his glove in 2012; ejected J.P. Howell in 2011 for throwing the baseball into the ground in frustration; and Turner Ward in 2015 for complaining about Jose Fernandez standing near David Peralta after the former nailed the latter in the shoulder with a pitch.

Carapazza has one Yankees-based ejection, Joe Girardi on May 31, 2013 when a throw by Jon Lester pulled Stephen Drew wide right when trying to force David Adams. His aforementioned father in law has a more famous incident with the Yankees:

First Base – Dan Iassogna (No. 58)

Hothead is a premium this series, apparently. If Vic Carapazza was not enough for those who like to see veins bulge, then MLB put another one in the group. Dan Iassogna is the complete package of hothead and inconsistent strike caller. Corey Kluber and whoever we send out to face the Cleveland Indians are going to have a field day for called strikes. Iassogna’s strike zone has caused a 4.22 ERA (60th of 92) and 1.30 WHIP. However, his numbers all read pitcher’s ump. Hitters have an average 8.1 H/9 and 8.8 K/9 (low for a pitchers ump) and a 3.5 BB/9 average (also oddball). However, the .241/.317/.411 batting line gives it away. This will be a festival of strikes that no one will like.

As you can imagine, for a hothead, Iassogna has flicked his wrist on numerous occasions. 73 times since his first game on August 20, 1999 in a game between the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers in Texas, in fact. He has only ejected a Yankees member once, and that was Joe Girardi, again, on August 20, 2015 (Iassogna’s 16th anniversary). He made a very questionable strike call against Brian McCann during a steal by Alex Rodriguez. I would say, looking at the video, Girardi had a pretty good argument. To say the least, let us pray he has a good game behind the plate, but I wouldn’t expect it. (We last saw Iassogna behind the plate on August 18 against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.)

Second Base – Dana DeMuth (No. 32 – CC)

Well. We go from two hotheads to Mr. Mellow. Dana DeMuth is the definition of a silent umpire. DeMuth is serving as the crew chief for this series and will have the game behind the plate on Game 3. Dana DeMuth calls a very average game, and that is about what you want in the majors. In 28 games behind the plate this season, the Fremont, Ohio native had a 4.49 ERA (39th of 92) with a 1.37 WHIP. Batters had an average of 8.8 H/9, 3.5 BB/9 and 7.9 K/9 (yikes) with a batting line of .257/.329/.432. All are very decent numbers. Not much to complain about in that department.

Dana DeMuth has not had a good season with the New York Yankees and it comes down to one game, August 25, 2017. Between Carlos Torres having a rough game behind the plate, Dana DeMuth did not step in and help calm things down between the Detroit Tigers and the Yankees. That led to the now famous Miguel Cabrera/Austin Romine brawl that we all know about now. If DeMuth had stepped in where Torres did not, it is very likely none of that would have ever occurred unless Cabrera really had some kind of beef. He was the one who ejected Dellin Betances and Girardi after the second incident in the 8th inning. Let us just move on from that, because I doubt we will be starting any brawls this postseason.

Outside of that game, Dana DeMuth is not going to throw you out unless you really, really provoke him. The last Yankee to really really provoke him before that day was Jorge Posada on September 1, 2010. In his career, he has 45 ejections since his debut on June 3, 1983 at Jack Murphy Stadium. This is DeMuth’s 11th Division Series (he also has 5 LCSs and 5 World Series, including the 2013 one) in his 35th season as an umpire.

Third Base – Brian O’Nora (No. 7)

The man who refused to throw out Ryan Dempster on August 18, 2013 but threw out Joe Girardi instead, is the Game 4 umpire, if we get that far. If there’s a definition of average umpire, then that’s Brian O’Nora. He has a 3.85 ERA in 31 games this season (79th of 92) with a batting line of .247/.314/.416. His WHIP was 1.28 (average), with a 8.4 H/9, 3.1 BB/9, and a 8.1 K/9. Nothing that jumps out, really. Like DeMuth, I expect a good game with O’Nora behind the plate.

The Yankees last saw Brian O’Nora’s strike zone on September 14 between the Baltimore Orioles and the Yankees. Of this crew, O’Nora has the honor of being the only man to eject Joe Girardi twice. O’Nora has 38 ejections since his debut on August 4, 1992 at Yankee Stadium, in a game, ironically enough, against the Cleveland Indians. In that game, Curt Young outpitched Dave Otto and the Yankees won 4-3. The Youngstown, Ohio native should provide a good game during his 6th Division Series behind the plate and I would expect it.

Left Field – Jeff Nelson (No. 45)

No it’s not our former ace reliever, but it is Jeff Nelson in left field to start the series. One of the newer crew chiefs, he is the third definition of an average umpire. In 31 games behind the plate this season, he managed a 4.32 ERA (good for 52nd of 92) with a 1.27 WHIP. Hitters have a 8.5 H/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 7.9 K/9 average with a .248/.311/.434 batting line. Once again, nothing to seriously complain about.

The St. Paul, Minnesota native made his MLB debut on May 9, 1997 at Dodger Stadium between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Montreal Expos. He has since accrued 58 ejections. Nelson has ejected only one Yankee in his time in the Majors. Once again, it is Joe Girardi, this time on October 14, 2012 during the American League Championship Series (Game 2). A blatantly missed call on Omar Infante’s attempt to get back to 2nd cause Girardi to get a heave-ho. Yeah, you can see why he was ejected. Let us not have a repeat of this situation.

Right Field – Adrian Johnson (No. 80)

Finally, Adrian Johnson gets his first postseason umpiring assignment. The man who famously gave Johan Santana his no-hitter is getting his first chance to play the game. He won’t see the plate this series, but it is a very hitter’s umpire zone. Johnson had a 4.52 ERA with 29 games behind the plate. Batters have a 1.35 WHIP, a 9.4 H/9, 2.8 BB/9 (low) and a 8.7 K/9 average with Johnson behind the plate. The average batting line was .266/.326/.449, which reads of hitters umpire. I am going to say we are thankful for that.

Chase Headley will be thankful too, as Johnson is the one who ejected him on May 12, 2017. Headley was tossed arguing a foul ball/HBP call. However, unlike the other 5 umpires, he is the only who has not tossed Joe Girardi at some point as Yankees manager. In fact, Headley’s heave-ho on May 12 was his first against a Yankee. We also saw him last behind the plate on July 16 on Game 2 of the doubleheader with the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park after the All-Star Break.


Game 2 has the serious possibility of being a real headache between a Cy Young Award winner and Mr. Strike, Dan Iassogna. I would expect an ugly game with calls, so the Yankees will have to get it done with the bat. Otherwise, I would expect a pretty rudimentary series. Let us hope it stays that way.

Umpire Review: 2017 American League Wild Card Game

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who goes by Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He’s previously written guest posts on Tim McClelland, Frankie Crosetti, the No. 26, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Miller Huggins, Jerry Kenney, the Copacabana incident, Mark Koenig, Earle Combs, Urban Shocker, Michael Milosevich, and Snuffy Stirnweiss.

Marquez. (Presswire)
Marquez. (Presswire)

Just like in 2015, it is that time again. The New York Yankees are in the postseason (choose what you want to call it). I for one follow MLB and call it a postseason game. The team is playing the Minnesota Twins and since it is the postseason, my umpire reviews go from the comments section to the front page of RAB. During the season, there are four man crews. 92 umpires called games behind the plate this season. During the postseason, there are six umpires per game, which helps make tougher calls easier (or easier to blow, depending on your point of view.)  On Monday afternoon, Major League Baseball announced the assignments for the postseason, including our game. Let us look at who we have tonight.

Home Plate – Alfonso Marquez (No. 72)

Alfonso Marquez is our home plate umpire tonight. This is his 18th season in the majors and the first time calling a game in the Wild Card era. The native of Zacatecas, Mexico has three World Series assignments in his name (2006, 2011 and 2015). During the 2017 season, he amassed a 4.34 umpire’s ERA in 27 games behind the plate. This is 50th of the 92 umpires who have called at least one game. For those who have read my pieces, you know I invest in many different numbers when rating an umpire. Marquez has a 9 hits/9 average, which is basically a hit per inning with him behind the plate. Marquez has a 3.5 walks/9 average, which is absurdly high statistically. As a result, it stands to reason that his 7.2 strikeouts/9 average is understandable. We have a hitter’s umpire. Batters average a .263/.333/.442 line with Marquez behind the plate.

Strangely, we have not seen Marquez behind the plate this season. He was part of the series against the Angels at the Stadium in June and the Brewers at the Stadium in July. He never saw home plate.The Yankees do not have a checkered history with Marquez. Of his 57 ejections since his debut, only Kevin Long was ejected on July 1, 2014 for arguing balls and strikes. That was a game between the Rays and Yankees in which Hiroki Kuroda got no run support (shocking, I know). Marquez’s debut was on May 13, 1999 in the second game of a doubleheader between the Montreal Expos and the Colorado Rockies as part of Jerry Crawford’s crew.

First Base – Mike Winters (No. 33 – CC)

Mike Winters is the crew chief. I am going to use editorial privilege to say we should be glad we have Marquez and not Winters behind the plate. Winters has an aggravating strike zone and it is clearly obvious in the 2017 statistics. In 31 games behind the plate, the native of Carlsbad, California managed a 4.90 ERA (which was good enough for 5th of those who called at least 1 game; 4th for 2-plus because Dale Scott’s career is over after a concussion hit early in the season). His numbers are similar to Marquez, but with some higher numbers. Winters had 9.1 H/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 8 K/9 in those games, and hitters averaged 1.4 HR/9 innings. The batting line was .263/.324/.448, which is a tad less than Marquez.

Winters is the crew chief and one of the remaining umpires who started in the 1980s. His crew is notable for being considered the 4 Ms (Marty Foster, Mike Muchlinski and Mark Wegner is his fellow crew). Hired by the National League, Winters made his debut on July 9, 1988 at Dodger Stadium in a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Dodgers under the legend John McSherry’s crew. His MLB postseason record is long with 4 World Series (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2015), 5 LCS (1997, 2004, 2008, 2011 and 2012), 10 LDS (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2015) and most importantly two Wild Card games (2012 and 2016).

Winters is a hothead. There’s no denying his 103 ejections since his debut in 1988. Like Marquez, we have not seen Winters behind the plate and have not since June 12, 2016. He has two ejections historically against the Yankees, October 6, 2001 of Enrique Wilson for a called third strike and Joe Girardi on May 14, 2011 for arguing balls and strikes. Thankfully umpires are warned to not eject people unless absolutely positively necessary in the postseason.

Second Base – Eric Cooper (No. 56)

If Cooper’s name sounds familiar, he was the home plate umpire for the 2015 American League Wild Card Game. To give you an idea of things, here is what I wrote in 2015:

The Des Moines, Iowa native, Eric Cooper, is our home plate umpire for tonight’s game. Cooper, who was with the crew run by Gary Cederstrom (Crew Q), called home plate for 17 games in the 2015 season, logging a 3.79 umpire’s ERA and a 1.20 umpire’s WHIP. The former is good enough for 46th of the 89 umpires in Major League Baseball this year. Hitters with Cooper behind the plate have had 8.1 hits per 9 innings, a 2.7 walk per 9 innings, and 7.8 strikeouts per 9 innings rate, numbers that would lead you to believe he is a hitter’s umpire. However, his tendency is to have a large strike zone and it shows. Cooper has called three no-hitters, including Hideo Nomo’s 2001 over the Orioles and both of Mark Buerhle’s in 2007 and 2009. Hitters are hitting a mere .241/.296/.401 with Cooper behind the plate and only a 1.04 HR per 9 innings, which also corresponds well to the size of the zone.

So, here are those numbers in 2017: Cooper had a 4.47 umpires’ ERA behind the plate in 27 games with a 1.32 WHIP. He has a 8.9 H/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 8.7 K/9 line which should handle the idea that he is still an average umpire. It is within reason that his numbers are affected by the dubiously-juiced baseball. Batters had a line of .257/.317/.434. Everything reads average.

That day, I called him “Car Wreck” because of the famous moment when he got his first MLB World Series assignment:

Finally, the “Car Wreck” nickname comes from Cooper’s World Series assignment last year, when Joe Torre called from New York to tell Cooper he would be umpiring the Fall Classic. He and his wife were in West Des Moines coming back from a showing of Gone Girl, and he nearly wrecked his car in amazement with his wife in it. They ended up switching positions in the car after the call. He ended up calling one of his fellow veteran umpires, and one of my favorites, the great Tim McClelland about the decision, who told him to “soak it all in.”

As noted in the previous review, he has never ejected a Yankees member. He has had 4 more ejections since the last season, and none are of Yankees. For more information, just read my post from 2015, it tells you everything.

Third Base – Lance Barksdale (No. 23)

The last time we saw Lance Barksdale, it was during the series at Citi Field with the Tampa Bay Rays. Serving as the third member of Ted Barrett’s crew, Barksdale was one of three members of that crew who lost their luggage. Everyone that series were required to use another umpires’ coats, shirts, etc. for the purpose of wearing something. The native of Brookhaven, Mississippi (known as Robert Lance Barksdale), is a pitchers’ umpire. His lines are normal in that area (8.5 H/9 and 8.6 K/9) except in walks per 9, in which he averages a high 3.6. Hitters have a .247/.324/.410 batting line with Barksdale behind the plate.

Barksdale and the Yankees have no history. Barksdale, who made his MLB debut on May 29, 2000 at Dodger Stadium in a game versus the Mets with Terry Craft’s crew, has never ejected a New York Yankee on any occasion. He has 39 career ejections, managing to go the entire 2016 season without swinging his arm. Most importantly, this is his 2nd go-around at the Wild Card rodeo. He called right field in the 2013 National League Wild Card Game. He also has three Division Series to his name (2014, 2015 and 2016).

Left Field – Hal “Tripp” Gibson III (No. 73)

The first of the two postseason rookies, Hal Gibson III (known as Tripp Gibson) is calling the game in left field. The Mayfield, Kentucky native gets his first postseason appearance under this crew. He is one of the recent promotions to full-time status in the last two years due to a rash of retirements. In 28 games behind the plate, Gibson has a 4.63 ERA with a 1.33 WHIP. His numbers reek of hitter’s umpire in everything except batting average. With Gibson behind the plate, batters average 8.9 H/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 8.4 K/9. The strange discrepancy is in his average of line which is .254/.322/.426.  The latter two make sense. The .254 batting average is average between hitters and pitchers ump. Because of the other numbers, I would say a hitter’s umpire is a good description.

Being relatively new, the Yankees do not have much experience with him. The Yankees last saw Gibson in the last Red Sox series. Since his debut on July 8, 2013 between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks at Chase Field, he has all of 10 ejections, including three this season (Don Cooper on May 16; Andy Green on August 6; Jeff Banister on August 13). Three is not a career high, as he tossed five players/coaches in the 2015 season, his 2nd season of at least 120 games. There is not much to do in left field as an umpire. Hopefully he refrains from any flagrantly wrong infield fly calls.

Right Field – John Tumpane (No. 74)

The other postseason rookie is one we also saw last at the series in Citi Field against the Rays. John Tumpane, who I call “Tumpy,” was the one who had donate his clothing for his fellow crew (Ted Barrett, Angel Hernandez and Lance Barksdale) to wear. As a result, all the umpires that series wore #74 on their arm. It has been a very up and down season for the 34-year old native of Evergreen Park, Illinois. Tumpane has a stringent strike zone and it reads in the statistics. Hitters average of all 8.1 H/9, 3.5 BB/9 (!), and 8.3 K/9. Borderline strikes are not his thing. Hitters had a .239/.313/.391 line. All of this culminated in a 3.83 ERA, good for 81st of the 92 umpires. As a result, he has had a busy season with the right-arm with players and managers. He has 6 ejections this season (a career high), leaving him 18 reports since his debut on August 2, 2010. None of are the Yankees, but he is on record as the last to eject Bartolo Colon, something no one had done in 11 years.

If the name John Tumpane sounds familiar, Tumpane made headlines while in Pittsburgh. Before calling a game behind home plate at PNC Park, he took a midday run and lunch from their hotel. While crossing the Roberto Clemente Bridge (the one visible in most scenes at PNC Park), he passed a woman climbing over the side of the bridge and looking down at the river. He grabbed the woman to prevent her from jumping and after some struggle, a passerby helped keep her down until emergency services arrived. Tumpane told her she would do so much better if she stayed alive. In justice, he worked the plate that night as the Pirates took down the Tampa Bay Rays. A hero at the right time when needed.

That said, tonight, hopefully he will be a non-issue.


A lot of the complaining in the last year has been about the idea of having a robot umpire behind the plate calling balls and strikes. It is a well-known fact on RAB that I do not support robot umpires and prefer the human aspect of the game (for the most part). That said, the only strike zone that matters tomorrow is Marquez’s. I just included the numbers of the others like I do on Disqus when I write these reviews. I will be watching and hope you all enjoy knowing about our home plate umpires. If we do beat the Twins, I will write the next piece on Wednesday.

Guest Post: My Father Was a Baseball Player Down in Jersey

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who goes by Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He’s previously written guest posts on Tim McClelland, Frankie Crosetti, the No. 26, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Miller Huggins, Jerry Kenney, the Copacabana incident, Mark Koenig, Earle Combs, Urban Shocker, and Michael Milosevich.

Snuffy. (Getty)
Snuffy. (Getty)

Residents of the Jersey Shore must have thought it was just another day on September 15, 1958. The weather provided a wonderful, clear mid-September morning for those boarding Central Railroad of New Jersey train #3314 out of Bay Head at 8:28 am. Destined for Communipaw Terminal on the west shore of the Hudson River, hundreds would transfer to a ferry so they could reach jobs in Manhattan. The people on 3314 that morning read of a who’s who of people who would make such a commute. On board was a mayor of a town on the Jersey Shore, a secret courier for the United States Army, an artist, chemical director, a law firm partner, even a four-month-old baby. The train was supposed to make several stops, including Red Bank, New Jersey, where a 39-year old foreign freight agent nearly missed his train for a luncheon in the city.

After passing the Elizabethport station in Elizabeth, New Jersey, train 3314 sped up to approach the drawbridge over Newark Bay. In the blink of an eye, the two front locomotives and two of the coaches in the front of the train spilled off the tracks and into the waters below. Precariously, a third car dangled on the side of the bridge with numerous lives hanging in the balance. No one knew of the foreign freight agent, who had come down with the train into the waters below. This is a story about that 39-year old foreign freight agent.

Destined to be a Yankee

George Henry Stirnweiss was born on October 26, 1918 in Manhattan as the son of Officer Andrew P. Stirnweiss (b. 1899) and Sophie C. Stirnweiss (Daly; b. ~1898). They were also natives of New York City. George Stirnweiss was raised at 865 Van Nest Avenue in the Morris Park section of the Bronx. When he was five, his parents gave birth to a second son, Andrew Stirnweiss, Jr. (1924-2006). Andrew Stirnweiss, Jr. ended up joining the Navy and serving for 28 years as a pilot. Stirnweiss ended up going to the Fordham Prep School (441 East Fordham Road) and was an All-City Athlete for the varsity football team in 1934 and 1935. During this time period, he was a three-sport athlete, showing success in baseball (where he led the team to the city championship) and basketball (where the team went the Bronx-Westchester CHSAA title).

While he attended Fordham Prep, George Stirnweiss ended up applying and going to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Receiving an athletic scholarship, Stirnweiss was the starting quarterback for three years. At UNC, Stirnweiss was the “terror of the grid” known as “Old 92.” According to an article in the St. Louis Sporting News from 1942, Stirnweiss averaged 6.2 yards carrying and in 1942 was the sixth-best punter in the entire nation. His punting statistics average 40.6 yards across the field. He was also playing baseball during this time period and earned the honor of being the captain for the football and baseball teams. (No other Tar Heel had ever done such a thing.) His time in football was so good; the Chicago Cardinals drafted him in the second round of the 1940 draft. They were going to offer him $6,500 to play football. However, Stirnweiss declined this, figuring that his career would go longer if he played baseball, in which he hit .391 in a 16-5 record for the Heels. On a hunch, a scout from the New York Yankees signed Stirnweiss on the day of his graduation so he could play for his favorite team.

His minor league career started higher than many others. The Yankees front office immediately assigned him to the Norfolk Tars of the Class-B Piedmont League. The aforementioned Sporting News article noted that it was at this level of baseball that players took note of Stirnweiss’ insane use of chewing tobacco and “big black cigars.” There he received the nickname that would stick with him, “Snuffy the Bear” (or just “Snuffy”). At Norfolk in 1940, Stirnweiss hit .307 and slugged .510 in 86 games, with 12 homers and 17 doubles.

However, it was the tool of his speed that kept Stirnweiss a popular piece. Early scouting reports put Stirnweiss’ speed as comparable to Joe Gordon (who would be a teammate in a few years).  Many people felt that it was possible that Stirnweiss would end up replacing Gordon on the squad in a few years and that it was inevitable. His playing at Norfolk got him a promotion to AAA Newark to play for the Bears in the International League.

In 1941, Stirnweiss did not knock the socks off the International League. His manager, the Detroit first baseman Johnny Neun, seemed to be the weak point for his .264/.341/.688 batting line in 100 games. He had only managed 21 steals with 5 home runs and 9 doubles in 96 hits. However, his season was cut short when he came down with stomach ulcers on August 15. At that point, the 21-year old Stirnweiss went straight to the hospital and have them removed. It was believed that a collision at the plate with Ed Parsons of the Buffalo Bisons aggravated the problem, which the Bears never knew about. As a result of the ulcers, he had to reduce his use of cigars, but kept his insane chewing tobacco habit. Health issues involving his tobacco habit will come back later to haunt the infielder.

The idea of “destined to be a Yankee” tells you how close he came to never being one. In July 1942, during a season in which he would bat .270/.340/.397 in 144 games for the Bears, Ed Barrow almost traded the infielder to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Thankfully, Barrow and Larry McPhail got into a massive feud during this time and the deal was nixed. During that 1942 season, Stirnweiss demolished the league in several offensive categories, having 66 steals by July and having 103 runs scored and 105 runs batted in by August! Scouts noted though that Stirnweiss would need to be successful to make the majors as his 5-foot-8 inch frame was not going to help him. Stirnweiss would end the 1942 season, stealing 73 bases for Newark.

A Product of His Time

In December 1942, the Yankees decided to promote 8 members of the Newark Bears to bring some new blood into the team. The 1942 team had a lot of aging and retiring stars. Bill Dickey failed to catch 100 games for the first time since 1928. Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing, the aces of the Yankees during the 1930s were about to retire. On top of that, Frank Crosetti was required to serve a 30-day suspension for a run-in with umpires during the 1942 World Series. Red Rolfe retired to coach baseball at Yale University. On top of that, Phil Rizutto and Buddy Hassett were in the military.

As part of the eight-man group called up, the Yankees promoted Stirnweiss, Tommy Byrne, Hank Majeski (a hitting prodigy for the Bears), Bill Johnson, Bud Metheny and Russ Derry to hit for the team. On top of that, the Yankees promoted a new battery, with Milo Candini and Aaron Robinson being promoted as well.  George Weiss made a joke to the media that he may have to play himself given the lack of players.

The 1943 season around baseball had a hell of a crop of rookies that season, not just in New York. The Altoona Tribune noted that there were many new young stars that fans would look forward to. Aside of Stirnweiss and Johnson, the Red Sox had Eddie Lake (not really a rookie, but a good acquisition from the Cardinals to replace Johnny Pesky) along with Louis Lucier, a pitcher under the eye of Herb Pennock; the Tigers had Dick Wakefield; the Indians had future Yankee ace Allie “Superchief” Reynolds; finally, the Philadelphia Athletics and Connie Mack had a brand new infield of Eddie Mayo, Irwin Hall and Frank Skaff. It was one hell of a crop that year.

After a good Spring Training, Joe McCarthy named Stirnweiss the starting shortstop with the Scooter in the Navy. Stirnweiss would also take Rizutto’s place in the lineup, batting 1st as a leadoff speedster for the Yankees. McCarthy loved his speed, but felt he had the hitting ability to take the job. At the same time, Stirnweiss was to come up for the draft in late April and early May. Draft or no draft, Stirnweiss wasted no time proving Joe McCarthy’s comments correct. By April 28, when Stirnweiss was to leave for Hartford, Connecticut about his draft status, he raised his average to .455 in the first month. Just six days prior, Snuffy got his first MLB hit in his debut against Early Wynn and the Washington Senators.

During the early 1943 season, Stirnweiss married his sweetheart, Jayne Powers, a diehard baseball fan. Stirnweiss met Powers during his days in the minors and when he was promoted to the majors in the spring, they tied the knot. Stirnweiss himself was considered a shy man, and Kevin Cook notes in his book Electric October: Seven World Series Games, Six Lives, Five Minutes of Fame That Lasted Forever, that Stirnweiss handed the bat boy at Newark the following note for Jayne:

“Please don’t think of me too forward or rude. If you do please tear this up, but seeing you today I’d enjoy nothing more than meeting you. Again please don’t think me forward if you find it convenient I’d like to call you. George Stirnweiss #2.”

Stirnweiss tried the winter prior to enlist as a naval aviation cadet to serve his country. However, the stomach ulcers his smoking caused in 1941 caused the military to decline him originally. Despite that, Stirnweiss still departed the team on April 28 to take an examination to see if he was eligible. Thanks to some confusion in his status, they moved the place of his testing from Virginia to Hartford, and club officials noted there was doubt Stirnweiss would be accepted this time around. That ended up being the result as Stirnweiss was sent back to the Yankees instead of being drafted.

That said, the 1943 season was one Stirnweiss would rather have forgotten. Despite the early hot hitting, Stirnweiss finished the season with a .219/.333/.288 batting line as the backup to Crosetti and Joe Gordon. A year after stealing 73 bags for the Newark Bears, Snuffy took 11 bags in 20 attempts. He hit only 1 home run and 60 hits in 83 games. He had 47 walks and 25 RBI. At the end of the season, Weiss noted to the media that Stirnweiss likely would stay in a Yankee uniform if Joe Gordon was sent to the military. At the same time, several teams reached out to Weiss for Stirnweiss’ services.

Similar to his early April performance, Stirnweiss did an excellent job making the front office look smart. 1944 came and Joe Gordon was unable to report to the Yankees in Spring Training at Atlantic City. On the other hand, Snuffy lost 10 pounds in the offseason and managed to start playing second base for the MIA Gordon. His United States military 4-F status (unfit for duty), gave him the opportunity to become a star. A star he became. Replacing Joe Gordon at second base and working with Crosetti, he appeared in a career high 154 games. The speed Stirnweiss was known for in Newark returned. In the famous three-team baseball game for charity on June 26, Stirnweiss outclassed the Dodgers and Giants during the exhibition events, such as a 180ft sprint event, where he outraced Johnny Rucker to home plate in just 7.8 seconds.

In a piece to Joe James Custer of the UPI, Stirnweiss stated that he studied every movement of the pitchers helping to his stealing. By July of 1944, he stormed to 21 steals, five ahead of George Case of the Senators. While he was really hush hush about ever beating Ty Cobb’s 1915 record of 96 steals in a season, his speed became a nuisance to many pitchers. An American League pitcher, aggravated about Stirnweiss stealing second and third on back to back pitches, told the infielder: “Okay, Kid, now go ahead and steal home and get the hell off the field, will you please?!” Strangely, there is no record in Retrosheet of where this exactly occurred, because all of his two stolen base games until that point were not consecutive pitches.

Aside of his super legs, that led to a career high (and major league high) 55 steals in 1944, Stirnweiss led the team and the majors in hits, triples and runs scored. The 154 games during the 1944 season gave Stirnweiss the chance to get 205 hits, 16 triples, 35 doubles and a strangely low 43 RBI. He also scored 125 runs for the Yankees. Those numbers were enough to give him third place in the AL batting title race (behind Lou Boudreau and Bob Johnson) in a season where the best players were overseas fighting for their country. Stirnweiss also appeared in all 154 games that season, playing a career high 1,390.1 innings and making only 17 errors, while turning 117 double plays. No Joe Gordon? No problem. That 1944 team ended up finishing six games behind the Browns, but contained the batting champion and the home run champion as Nick Etten hit 22 home runs that season.

Snuffy’s Season

1945 would have to be considered the Year of the Stirnweiss. The year the estate of Col. Jacob Ruppert sold the Yankees to Larry MacPhail, Dan Topping and Del Webb for $8 million, Stirnweiss came in as a part of the group. When the team was sold, newspapers noted his name next to those of Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Spud Chandler, Phil Rizzuto and Charlie Keller. His day had finally come.

1945 wasted no time throwing curveballs at Stirnweiss and his manager Joe McCarthy. After Nick Etten was reclassified by the military as a 1-A draft status, meaning eligible to serve, Stirnweiss was called once again for a physical examination. Along with Etten and Stirnweiss, Oscar Grimes, Tuck Stainback and Johnny Lindell were also called. If Stirnweiss was drafted, McCarthy would replace Stirnweiss with Joe Buzas. Etten and Stirnweiss managed to avoid losing their service duty, but the Yankees lost Lindell to the military.

Military status removed, the Yankees benefited from a second straight successful season from Stirnweiss. Stirnweiss played in 152 games that season, setting a career record in triples with 22 (this also led the league), with a career high of 10 home runs and a league-high 33 stolen bases. While the numbers for Stirnweiss were not as grand as 1944, he was just as useful for a team that finished 81-71, 6.5 games behind the AL winning Tigers. His final line was .309/.385/.476 (a .476 slugging led the majors). Interestingly, Stirnweiss led the majors in total bases and stolen bases in 1945, a feat only accomplished by those with last names of Wagner, Cobb and Klein.

The last game of 1945, Stirnweiss collected 3 hits to knock Tony Cuccinello of the Chicago White Sox to make sure it belonged to him. (Cuccinello finished with a .308). This was the lowest average for a batting title since 1905, when Elmer Flick of the Cleveland Naps hit .306. As a result, the Yankees offered a “George Stirnweiss Day” at Yankee Stadium. There, they presented Stirnweiss with a new automobile, and Joe McCarthy called him “without a doubt, the best player in baseball today.” However, he would finish third in MVP, which ended up going to Eddie Mayo.

The Post-War Years

World War II ended on September 2, 1945. One might argue, so did the prime career of Snuffy Stirnweiss. Stirnweiss did not help his cause entering the 1946 season either. He decided to conduct a holdout for a raise he felt entitled to. As the previous season batting champion, there stood to be a good reason for a raise. Until then, he stayed up north to workout, being spotted at the New York Athletic Club on February 16. The media began to question his future with the Yankees, but Joe McCarthy killed any idea of that on February 26 when the skipper stated that a trade proposed with the Philadelphia Athletics was unlikely to happen. At that point, Phil Rizzuto had returned, severely underweight for baseball purposes. Stirnweiss ended his holdout a couple days later (February 28) and hit the Silver Meteor bound for Florida. Stirnweiss noted that he would sign a 2 year contract for $40,000 once he got to Florida. While details were not announced, his salary of $16,000 in 1945 turned into $20,000 for 1946 and 1947.

Now without a guaranteed starting job at second base, the Yankees had to move Snuffy Stirnweiss to a third position during his time in the majors. Rizzuto returned to play shortstop despite his poor weight, and Joe Gordon also returned to take his position at second base. Instead of demoting Stirnweiss back to a utility role such as he was in 1943, Crosetti and Oscar Grimes were put back in that position. Unfortunately, the decline of the Stirnweiss was on in 1946. Appearing 129 games that season, he only hit .251/.340/.318, a massive drop over his 1944 and 1945 seasons. His speed vanished; just 18 steals in 24 tries (remember Stirnweiss was only 27 at this point).

Despite the great McCarthy resigning in May 1946 and the team being rather lackluster for one that had a winning record, Stirnweiss’ quality moment was appearing as a reserve in his first ever MLB All-Star Game. The Sporting News noted that Stirnweiss probably would have made the 1945 game as a starting player had the game occurred. Teammate Charlie Keller went deep that day along with Teddy Ballgame in a 12-0 blowout over the National League.

However, the man destined to be a Yankee got another chance in 1947. Dissuaded by the resignation of McCarthy and poor results, Joe Gordon was trade bait for Larry MacPhail. At that point, MacPhail talked to Joe DiMaggio about trading Gordon for one of the members of the Cleveland Indians’ pitching staff. After Joe D. agreed, MacPhail traded the second baseman to the Indians for the future ace, Allie “Superchief” Reynolds. This trade opened up second base for Stirnweiss once again.

Now labeled by some in the media as a “War Product”, Stirnweiss took the chance to become a star once again in 1947. However, the magic could not return as Stirnweiss’ numbers continued to collapse. Snuffy played in 148 games as only a second baseman. However, he only got 146 hits and stole all of 5 bases in a .256/.358/.342 batting line. However, the Bucky Harris-led team managed to reach the World Series after three years of mediocrity. Stirnweiss took home his second ring with a .259/.429/.333 batting line in 27 at bats. He played in all 7 games. This would be his most post-season experience. He only played in 1 game and got 1 appearance in the 1943 World Series.

1948 was not much of an improvement for Stirnweiss. That season, the sapped speedster participated in 141 games as the second baseman for Bucky Harris. He replicated most of the 1947 stats except in one area, which for a time was a record. His defense never fell down and working with Phil Rizzuto turned a lot of double plays. Stirnweiss managed to set records for the best fielding percentage for a second-baseman (.9930) and the fewest errors at second base (5). These records held until 1964 and 1988 and were probably the last thing that the great War Man ever did. Rizzuto finished the 1948 season with a .252/.360/.336 batting line, in line with his averages post-1945. His speed was still MIA (with only 5 steals in 9 attempts after 5 in 8 the previous season). It was a fall from grace from the man who had won a batting title three years before. To add insult to injury, Stirnweiss hurt himself on October 22 in North Dakota, pulling a leg tendon during a Birdie Tebbett’s Baseball All-Stars appearance.

Coming into the 1949 season, baseball writers were baffled to what happened to Stirnweiss. They were wondering what contributed to a bad 1948 season, and it seemed to lean on Rizzuto and Stirnweiss having awful numbers. General belief is that Stirnweiss came into the 1948 season severely overweight (if you call 188 pounds overweight). He lost weight coming into Spring Training of 1949 and the hope was that he would get back to his speedy self. Injuries also got to Stirnweiss in 1949. Stirnweiss was named the starter at second base for the third straight season post-Joe Gordon’s trade. However, on Opening Day, he was spiked in the hand, and the position was handed to a rookie, Jerry Coleman. Reduced to an utility infielder, Stirnweiss’ game was further reduced, slashing a .261/.380/.338 line in 70 games. The stolen base total dropped to 3 and signaled the end of any hope for his speed to return. He did get his third ring as he barely appeared in the 1949 World Series at all.

The End

Humorously, before the 1950 season began, Stirnweiss was photographed by the media catching and bagging a 175-pound spikehorn buck at the Crocker Turn Camps up in Maine. In January, he was spotted giving young fans advice at a charity event in the Spring Lake, New Jersey American Legion post. That night, the boys, all of which suffered from polio got to meet Stirnweiss personally and he signed many items for them.

At the same time, the media did ask Stirnweiss what he felt about being the subject of numerous trade talks during the 1949-1950 offseason. He felt like he was going to be a Yankee through 1950, but knew that being traded was possible. Stirnweiss spent his time as a Yankee in 1950 as a pine-rider, appearing in 7 games and getting 2 at bats. No hits, no stolen bases, no nothing for a man who had won the batting title just five seasons prior. On June 15, the trade deadline at the time, speculation became reality. The Yankees traded Stirnweiss to the St. Louis Browns for 35-year old Mike Ferrick along with pitchers Sid Schacht, Joe Ostrowski and infielder Leo Thomas. The Browns also acquired outfielder Jim Delsing along with pitchers Don Johnson and Duane Pillette. Coleman and a kid known as Billy Martin made Stirnweiss expendable.

Zack Taylor, the manager of the Browns stated that Stirnweiss would go from second base to third base immediately. With rookie Owen Friend installed at second base in his age 23 season, there was no reason to keep Stirnweiss at the position. Going to St. Louis jump-started Stirnweiss’s bat a little during the 1950 season, but the numbers only came out to a .218/.324/.288 pace. The speed was still missing, as he stole three bases in six opportunities for the Brownies. In typical baseball justice, Stirnweiss got a game-winning hit in July against his old team, beating them 3-2, scoring Sherman Lollar.

The next April, the Browns decided Stirnweiss himself was expendable, sending him to the Cleveland Indians in a deal in April 1951. Like in New York, they felt a kid would accomplish more than Stirnweiss, replacing the veteran with Bob Young. Al Lopez, the manager of the Indians felt that Stirnweiss should be nothing more than an injury replacement, feeling Ray Boone was more than capable of performing over the legless Stirnweiss. That season, Stirnweiss appeared in 50 games for the Indians, notching one steal in one try, hitting .216/.363/.261 as a utility infielder.

Ironically, as the 1952 season began, Tony Cuccinello and Snuffy Stirnweiss became teammates on the Indians. The man Stirnweiss beat for the 1945 batting title was now his teammate. While the media made hype of this, there never was a future repeat. The Indians let Stirnweiss appear in one game and released him. He finished the season at Indianapolis in the American Association, batting .238/.390/.375 in 97 games. He stole all of three bases in Indy and was released by the organization after 1952.

After taking 1953 off, the Phillies hired Stirnweiss to manage the Schenectady Blue Jays, their Eastern League affiliate. Despite being manager, he did play in seven games that season as a player/manager. However, by then, his playing days were over. The Phillies reassigned him to a roving batting instructor during the 1954 season. In 1955, the Yankees offered him a position as the manager of the Triples, the Binghamton affiliate. After one season, he left and hoped to become the manager of the Richmond Virginians. However, the spot went to the former Yankee ace Eddie Lopat. After that, Stirnweiss decided leaving baseball was best.

The Champ is Gone

With an ever growing family of six, George Stirnweiss felt after losing out of the 1956 Virginians job that things would be better if he stayed home with Jayne and kids. He got a position as the manager of the sandlot baseball program for the New York Journal-American, a job that he retained the rest of his life after accepting in April 1956. Later that year, Stirnweiss became the solicitor of new accounts at the Federation Bank and Trust Company of New York based in Columbus Circle.

However, the years of chewing tobacco and cigar smoking caught up to the 38-year-old Stirnweiss. On June 24, 1957, the former infielder ended up in Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan with what appeared to be a heart attack. While Stirnweiss denied this, the doctors told the NYPD that it was one. He was noted in satisfactory condition and eventually released. However, afterwards, he departed the banking company and became a “foreign freight agent” for Caldwell and Company, also based in Manhattan.

Now working at 50 Broad Street in Manhattan, Stirnweiss was a regular commuter by train from his home in Red Bank, New Jersey. On the morning of Monday, September 15, 1958, Stirnweiss had a luncheon with executives in Manhattan to make. Feeling like it was important to leave early, Stirnweiss left to catch the 9:16 am train out of Red Bank station on the CNJ New York and Long Branch Railroad line (today’s North Jersey Coast Line). In a form of unfortunate justice, Stirnweiss almost missed the train when rushing for the station from his house on 140 Maple Street.

Sitting in one of the front cars of the train, Stirnweiss joined Mayor of Shrewsbury Township John Hawkins, also a stockbroker (who had $250,000 in negotiable securities on his person at the time); Howard Huntington (age 54) of Neptune, a statistician for The New York Times’ financial news department; Elton Clark (age 72) of Mantoloking, a director for Allied Dye and Chemical Company; James Clark (age 30) of Red Bank, an art director for a New York studio and John J. McDonnell (age 38), an attorney from Spring Lake among others on a train heading for Communipaw Terminal on the side of the Hudson River.

The train, run by diesel engines and with at the time, five modern passenger cars, left Elizabethport station as scheduled at 9:57 am on its way to cross Newark Bay for the 8th Street station in Bayonne at 10:03. However, when Lloyd Wilburn (age 63), the engineer, had a heart attack mid-commute, the train blew threw three stop signals because of a drawbridge opening. At 10:02, the locomotive fell off the tracks into the waters of Newark Bay alone, taking the front two cars with it, holding Stirnweiss and the aforementioned people. A third passenger car hung perilously from the bridge, in a picture seen forever in newspapers and newsreels around the country. It also eventually fell into the waters below. Cranes were called in to raise the sunken locomotive and its coaches. It was discovered later that the locomotive did not contain a dead-man’s switch, which would prevent such an incident.

It was a long night for Jayne Stirnweiss, who was in a panic when she did not hear from her husband that night. She called his two jobs: Caldwell and Company and the sandlot program, and was unable to get a hold of him. Jayne waited and waited for her husband to walk through the door or call her back. He never did. Panic that he was gone came when he never made the luncheon of which he was scheduled to make. With every passing minute, it seemed likely that Stirnweiss died in the waters of Newark Bay. Jane Stirnweiss tried the best she could to explain to the couple’s six children that their father was going to come home. However, his body was pulled up with 13 others in one of the cars on Monday night and identified. George H. Stirnweiss was dead at the age of 39. The last person to see him alive was the Red Bank station agent, who saw him board a front car.

On September 19, a funeral was held in Red Bank for the former Yankee. St. James Catholic Church was overflowed with grieving family, friends and fans. Major Joseph F. Sheehan, the chaplain at Fort Slocum in New York sung a requiem high mass. Sheehan and Stirnweiss were good friends before his death. Joe Collins, Phil Rizzuto, Jerry Coleman, Hank Borowy, Buddy Hassett, Allie Clark and Babe Young were the honorary pallbearers for Stirnweiss’ casket. Also attending the funeral was Jack Farrell of the New York Yankee front office and a former teammate at Fordham Prep, Alex Wojciechowicz. More Yankees, including current members, wanted to attend, but could not due to baseball.

Stirnweiss was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Middletown, New Jersey. 35 years after the passing of her husband, Jayne Powers Stirnweiss, the diehard baseball fan who Stirnweiss fell in love with in Newark, died at the age of 71.

The Orphan

It would not be fair to end this piece on a heartbreaking note. Thankfully, the Stirnweiss story has an epilogue. In 1947, the Yankees infielder visited the St. Michael’s Orphanage in Hopewell, New Jersey. He exchanged stories and questions with the kids at the orphanage. That afternoon, a seven-year old kid, Gerard Peter Gonforone, was really inspired by Stirnweiss. In the orphanage since age four, Gonforone became an immediate friend to the Stirnweisses. Living in Lincroft, New Jersey at the time, George and Jayne let Gerard and another girl come visit them on a regular basis.

While having lived in different locations since 1947, from Red Bank to Shrewsbury, young Gerard became a constant presence in the Stirnweiss home. Jayne Stirnweiss noted that he would watch her cook and always was quiet when visiting, an experience he could never have at the orphanage. When the kid was 12, he was fascinated in how Mrs. Stirnweiss would put ice cubes in a glass of Coca-Cola. While his visits from the orphanage dropped as the Stirnweiss family grew, his connection never died. Every Christmas, despite being older than his own boys, Gerard would get Christmas gifts every year. Before Snuffy’s death, the patriarch had begun legal adoption papers to bring young Gerard Gonforone into his family for good. Unfortunately, those plans fell into Newark Bay with Snuffy.

At age 18, Gerard Gonforone severed ties with St. Michael’s Orphanage, the place he called home since age 4. In 1968 at the age of 28, Gonforone and the widow Stirnweiss, having since married Thomas Athans of Lakewood went to the Monmouth County Probate Court and had the adoption made semi-official under the changing of his last name to Stirnweiss. Gerard Stirnweiss was now a post office worker, living on his own in Sea Bright, but Jayne noted that he would be part of the family forever and that “George would be proud of what he’s done.” Gerard Stirnweiss is still alive as of this writing, along with an adopted brother, Edward.

Snuffy Stirnweiss may have been the forgotten champion. He won a batting title in 1945 that everyone has forgotten about because it was “The War Years.” However, his impact on fans around the New York City area was entrenched forever. His charitable events, numbered in the dozens, made him someone to be considered a hero. Gerard Stirnweiss saw him as a hero and took on his adopted father’s name.

Guest Post: The Other Guy: The Yugoslavian Shortstop of 1944

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who goes by Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He’s previously written guest posts on Tim McClelland, Frankie Crosetti, the No. 26, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Miller Huggins, Jerry Kenney, the Copacabana incident, Mark Koenig, Earle Combs, and Urban Shocker.

(Baseball Birthdays)
Milosevich. (Baseball Birthdays)

The 1944 season for Major League Baseball was a strange one when it comes to the players who were participating. Because of World War II in Europe, many Major Leaguers were overseas fighting. Famously, Yogi Berra participated in the D-Day invasion at the beaches of Normandy, France; Bill Dickey served at the Navy Hospital in Hawaii until his discharge in January of 1946; Joe Gordon served for the United States Army as a member of the Air Corps; Spud Chandler enlisted for the Army as well. At home, the war effort was also important. On June 26, 1944, the Yankees, along with the crosstown Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants had a three-way baseball game to raise money in war bonds. The three-way game raised over $55 million in war bonds for the Roosevelt administration.

New players were needed to replace the players who were serving in the war effort. Aside of this writer’s favorite player, Frankie Crosetti, most of the team in 1944 was backup players. The 80-tool name that the 1944 Yankees had was infielder Snuffy Stirnweiss, who came in fourth for the Most Valuable Player Award. That season he batted .319/.389/.460/.849 and had 16 triples and 55 stolen bases (the highest in the league). He scored the most runs (125) and got the most hits (205) in the most plate appearances (723). Nick Etten, the Yankees first baseman, hit 22 home runs and was the home run king for the season. He led the league in walks with 97 and finished 23rd in the MVP vote. By 1947, Etten was out of the league after 14 games with the Athletics.

While Etten and Stirnweiss held down the right side of the infield, the other side was a platoon. Crosetti was the starting shortstop, but on a downward trend from his peak in the 1930s. With regular shortstop Phil Rizzuto out serving for the Army, the now utility infielder would have to take care of the job until the war ended. At the same time, the Yankees promoted a nine-year minor leaguer from the Kansas City Blues, their AAA affiliate.  This 30-year old rookie would end up becoming the stalwart at shortstop over Crosetti for 1944.

Michael Milosevich was born on January 13, 1915 in the city of Zeigler, Illinois, a two-hour drive southeast of St. Louis. He was one of seven kids born to Rados (“Rado”) and Kata (“Katie”) Miloseovich, natives of Slune in Yugoslavia. The Milosevich children were all very athletically-inclined. Mike, along with his siblings, George, Daniel, Paul, Nicholas and Samuel, represented the sports of Zeigler from 1929-1944. All of them would move on to colleges, such as Samuel, who attended the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and played football and basketball. Paul attended the University of Illinois and was one the varsity football team, varsity baseball team, and the varsity basketball team. (Paul died in a plane crash in Florida in 1943.)

However, Michael had a different calling. At age 20, the eldest brother decided to leave his job at a steel mill as a puddler and a soft coal miner in Zeigler to make it into professional baseball. In 1935, when he made the decision, he was playing semi-professional baseball for a team in Steubenville, Ohio (west of Pittsburgh). Milosevich decided that he would head to Washington, Pennsylvania and talked to the manager of their Pennsylvania State League team, 1927 Yankees backup catcher, Benny Bengough to get on the team. Milosevich asked Bengough to give him a chance and soon he became a shortstop. The known statistics of the Washington Generals for 1935 are limited, but Milosevich appeared in 107 games and batted .294 and slugged .383 with no home runs, five triples and 24 doubles in 112 hits.

The next season, 1936, the Yankees promoted Milosevich and his manager, Bengough to the Joplin Minors C-league team in Joplin, Missouri. In his first season at Joplin, Milosevich batted .269 and slugged .367 with 151 hits in 562 at bats during 141 games. He hit his first two professional home runs at Joplin in 1936. The numbers showed improvement during a second stint at Joplin in 1937. That season he hit .274 and slugged .363 with 22 doubles, 7 triples and three home runs in 139 games.

In 1938, the pairing of Milosevich and Bengough were split as the former was sent to the C-team in Akron, Ohio (the Akron Yankees), managed by Pip Koehler. In 107 games at Akron, he managed to attain 117 hits in 107 games with 409 plate appearances. His home run power continued to go up, reaching six in 1938, where he batted .286 and slugged .430. In 1939, he was promoted to A-league Binghamton in the Eastern League. At this time period, the Binghamton team was named the Triplets. (The name is based on the Triple Cities of Endicott, Binghamton and Johnson City in Broome County.) In the team, Milosevich batted .272/.387 (average/slugging) in 103 games and 346 at bats.

However, the Yankees tried to play Milosevich in the Norfolk Tars playoffs during the 1939 playoffs. This was a disaster. Piedmont League President Ralph Daughton ordered on September 6 that the team was eliminated for using Milosevich. This decision vacated their four wins and gave teams in Asheville, Durham, Portsmouth and Rocky Mount, North Carolina the opportunity to participate for the President’s Cup.

In 1940, the Yankees kept Milosevich with Binghamton, and he hit a bland .250/.327 with 120 hits. The 1940 season would begin to mark a decline in the minor league performance for Milosevich. In 1941, he ended up splitting time between Binghamton and Norfolk, appearing in 63 games for both teams and batted .213/.258 with no home runs and just 89 hits. Despite the lackluster performance in 1941, the Yankees placed Milosevich in the AA Kansas City Blues of the American Association. In 1942, the shortstop appeared in 153 games, batting .286/.370/.362 with 146 hits and 27 doubles with 52 runs batted in. The next season, 1943, he also returned to Kansas City as a 28-year old. Then, he only appeared in 139 games and batted a paltry .243/.285/.304. Milosevich had only 42 RBI and got 127 hits.

The Yankees entered 1944 with Oscar Grimes as their starting shortstop with Crosetti on the bench. Grimes had a horrendous start to the 1944 campaign. He managed to hit only .125/.222/.167 in seven games. (That is what you call small sample size.) On April 30, they called up Milosevich to the Yankees and benched Grimes. (To tell you the Yankees’ opinion of Grimes, he did not appear in another game until May 30 against the Tigers.) In the first game of the doubleheader against the Washington Senators on April 30, Milosevich went 0 for 4 against Mickey Haefner. In the third inning of the second game, Milosevich got his first big league hit against Early Wynn with a double.

Milosevich’s numbers after his debut were outright terrible. They were not Kyle Higashioka-terrible, but he did not reach the Mario Mendoza Line until May 19, when it peaked at .211 in batting average. By the doubleheader on May 21, he was below it again. Aside of a quick jump above .200 on May 30, Milosevich remained there until July 6, when he finally got the average above for good. His 1944 season would be considered a tale of two seasons as he managed to continue going on a rake during the latter half of the season. At the end of the 1944 season, the Yankees finished third in the American League and batted .247/.313/.308 with 77 hits, 11 doubles, four triples and 32 RBI in 94 games.

The damage was done, however. The next season, 1945, Grimes was moved to third base and Crosetti became the starter with Milosevich as the backup. Milosevich did not make his 1945 debut until May 19 and would not appear in another game until July 1. He played sporadically during the months of July and August and early September. His last appearance on the 1945 Yankees came on September 15, when he participated in a doubleheader. By that point, he hit .217/.280/.246 as the backup shortstop. His time as a major leaguer was done as in 1946, Rizzuto returned from the service and Crosetti went to the backup. His final statistics as a Major League player were a .241/.309/.297 line with 92 hits om 391 AB and 124 games.

The Yankees did not cut the infielder from their organization in 1946, but instead, he played for the Newark Bears of the International League and the Blues in Kansas City. In 103 games, his completely tanking numbers showed themselves in a .195/.308/.246 batting line with 61 hits and 23 RBIs. The next season, 1947, he joined the Red Sox organization and played for the Atlanta Crackers and New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association.

By 1949, Milosevich became a D-league player/manager. That season, he managed the Hazlehurst-Baxley Red Socks of the Georgia State League. In 1950, he moved onto the Lumberton Auctioneers of the Tobacco State League as a player (and not a manager). His final season as a player manager was the 1951 season with the Americus Rebels of the Georgia-Florida League. For his minors careers, Milosevich appeared in 1,566 games and had 1,475 hits, 47 home runs, 57 triples, along with 282 doubles. He managed to walk more than he struck out: 145 to 129.

Milosevich’s career was over. Milosevich moved to East Chicago, Indiana, where he died on February 3, 1966 due to heart disease. He was buried in the family plot at Zeigler Cemetery. All of the Milosevich Six have since passed away, with the final brother, Samuel, passing in 2015 at the age of 94. The story of Mike Milosevich is a short one given his short career, but the 1944 Yankee deserves air time because he was a stalwart of the 1944 team despite his poor performance. Hidden behind Etten, Stirnweiss and others, he managed to beat out Crosetti and earned his chance in 1944. While he is never remembered by anyone but the obscure Yankee historians, River Avenue Blues gets a chance to read about him.

Guest Post: Can Ernesto Frieri return to prominence in the Yankees’ bullpen?

The following is a guest post from Steven Simineri, who has previously written guest posts on Austin Romine, Chris Capuano, Ike Davis, the bullpen, and a pair of former Yankees.


When Ernesto Frieri was last seen in the big leagues, the once-dominant Angels closer was serving up meatballs for the Tampa Bay Rays during a 22 game stint in 2015. Frieri didn’t even play affiliated baseball last year and the 31-year old hasn’t posted a positive fWAR since 2013.

Frieri pitched in this year’s World Baseball Classic for his native Colombia, where he threw two scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic. PitchFX clocked his fastball average at 95.0 mph and Yankees scouts decided that he was worth a minor-league contract, which included an invitation to major league camp.

The move came out of nowhere, but it’s an example of how participating in the WBC can help out of sight free agents looking for jobs catch the eyes of major league clubs. In four spring innings, Frieri allowed four runs, including two homers. But he struck out nine and walked only one batter. He was assigned to Scranton and seemed set on proving himself once again.

“I just want to come here and throw in front of big-league hitters,” he said when he signed in March. “First, prove to myself that I’m ready and that my stuff is back and prove to the Yankees that I can get big-league hitters out. I know a lot of guys have been here longer than me.”

Frieri, who signed as a free agent with the San Diego Padres as a 17-year-old in 2003, made his debut in 2009 and pitched for the team until he was traded in May of 2012 to Anaheim. After taking over as the Angels’ closer following the trade, Frieri converted 60 of 67 save opportunities over two seasons and established himself as one of the best closers in baseball. But then 2014 happened.

After recording an unsightly 6.39 ERA in 34 games with the Angels, Frieri was shipped off to the Pirates in June. The struggles continued and he was demoted to the minors, eventually being released in September. In total, the right-hander recorded a 7.34 ERA in 48 games.

He surfaced with Tampa Bay the following season, cobbling together a 4.63 ERA in 23 1/3 innings. The Rays designated him for assignment in June and he cleared waivers. He was then sent down to Triple-A Durham, where he recorded a 2.40 ERA in 15 appearances. Frieri attended Spring Training with the Phillies last year but didn’t make the roster after allowing nine earned runs in seven innings.

No other major league team called and he was limited to a cameo in winter ball in Venezuela. With his delivery in need of repair, Frieri traveled home to Columbia during his time away from the game and went back to the basics with Manuel Ezquivia, who is now a Cubs scout and has known the right-hander for twenty years.

“I got my delivery back. I got my deception back,” Frieri told reporters during the spring. “I proved myself in the WBC; good hitters couldn’t hit the fastball. They didn’t look that good. Even they talked to me after and they said, ‘Dude, man, you’re back. I can’t pick the ball up. ‘ That’s the old Ernie, like three years ago, so I’m really happy about that.”

This isn’t the first time that he’s claimed to be ready for a career “revival.” Back in 2015, Frieri was convinced that Tampa’s famed pitching coach Jim Hickey would get him straightened out. Even during his heyday with Anaheim, he walked plenty of hitters – career 10.9% walk rate. But Frieri, who has a June 1 opt out in his deal, has been nasty of late.

Dating back to April 19, he’s allowed just 2 earned runs in 17 innings. During that span he has walked just 6 batters and recorded 20 punchouts. In 16 games for Scranton, Frieri has a 2.25 ERA and he has yet to allow a homer. He’s also converted six of seven save opportunities.

With his reputation as a quality late-inning reliever long gone, its no guarantee that Frieri will help the Yankees. But New York has a long history of making use of retreads and he’s worth a shot while Aroldis Chapman continues to heal up.