Friday, February 18, 2011

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Joe Gordon | Baseball Digest

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Joe Gordon | Baseball Digest

Joe “Flash” Gordon was one of the most versatile athletes to ever come out of the Pacific Northwest. After graduating high school he attended the University of Oregon in Eugene where he became one of their most revered student athletes. Gordon starred in baseball, football, and gymnastics. The latter was said to have contributed to his dazzling footwork as a 2nd baseman. He also played soccer and competed in the long jump in track. To round things out, Gordon played violin in the school’s orchestra.

Baseball would win out in the end though, and so would Oregon, as Gordon helped the Ducks win back-to-back Northwest Division college championships in 1934-1935. He signed with the New York Yankees in 1936 and made his major league debut two years later. At 23 years of age, Gordon had the unenviable task of replacing future Hall of Fame member Tony Lazzeri in the Yankees lineup. But Gordon was up to the task.

Had the Rookie of the Year Award existed then, Gordon would have likely captured the trophy with ease. He smacked 25 home runs, drove in 97 runs and scored 83. His season was so good that he finished 12th in the AL MVP voting. Gordon’s bat was even better in the World Series victory over the Chicago Cubs when he drove in six runs and recorded an 1.171 OPS.

In 1939 Gordon began a streak of nine straight all-star seasons despite missing two years (1944-1945) during World War II. He won the AL MVP Award in 1942 when he hit a career high .322, belted 18 HR and knocked in 103 runs. But after a solid season in ’43, Gordon was rusty when he returned from the war. He hit just .210 and struck out more often than not. It led to the Yankees’ decision to deal him that off-season to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Allie Reynolds. The “Big Chief” would have a stellar career as a Yankee, but Gordon had something to prove as a member of the Indians. He would do just that.

In his first two seasons in Cleveland, Gordon averaged 30 HR and 108 RBI (with career highs in both categories in 1948), finished in the top 10 in the AL MVP voting, and helped lead the Tribe to the 1948 AL pennant and their first World Series win in 28 years. Gordon was also instrumental in helping Larry Doby, the first African-American to play in the American League, integrate with the ball club. Gordon’s simple gesture to play catch with Doby exemplified his leadership and made Doby one of the guys.

In Gordon’s first year as the Indians’ manager, the Cleveland News’ Ed McAuley talked about his natural leadership. Click here to read all about it!

Gordon made one more All-Star appearance, but after his second-worst offensive season, the Indians released him in October, 1950. He still holds the AL record for home runs by a 2nd baseman (246) and was also the league’s first 2nd baseman to hit 20 home runs in a season.

Gordon spent the next several years as a player-manager, scout, and manager in the Pacific Coast League (PCL). He returned to Cleveland in 1958, this time as their manager. However, he often clashed with GM Frank Lane, who liked to micromanage. Despite finishing second to the Yankees in 1959, one of the oddest trades in baseball history was made in the midst of the 1960 season. Gordon would not have been back for the ’60 season, but talks to hire Leo Durocher didn’t work out. So after 95 games, Cleveland sent Gordon to the Detroit Tigers for their skipper, Jimmy Dykes. After finishing the season with the Tigers, Gordon went on to manage the Kansas City Athletics in 1961, but was fired in mid-season by the always fickle Charlie Finley. Gordon managed one final season in the Major Leagues as the skipper of the expansion Kansas City Royals in 1969.

Unfortunately, Gordon died of a heart attack at age 63 in 1978, 31 years before the Veteran’s Committee honored him with an election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

We remember Joe Gordon on his date of birth, February 18, 1915.

Also Born Today:

Alex Rios (1981, Guaynabo, PR): Was selected with the 19th overall pick (San Pedro Martin HS) in the 1999 amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto’s front office looked at Rios as a young Dave Winfield; a player who could hit for power and average, drive in runs, steal bases, play stellar defense and throw out base runners with his strong arm. Rios progressed nicely, turning out very productive back-to-back All-Star seasons in 2006-2007.

That led the team to sign Rios to a long-term deal, buying up his remaining arbitration years and first years of free agent elibility. The seven year deal guaranteed Rios over $69MM. Though he hit .291 in 2008, Rios’ overall production was down from the prior year and his numbers took an even bigger dip the following season. In August 2009, the Blue Jays decided to put Rios on waivers. When the Chicago White Sox put in a claim, the Blue Jays decided to give their bank account a break and allowed the White Sox to keep him. With no player transaction in return, the White Sox would have to assume the remainder of the contract.

Rios went into an awful slump after the move to Chicago, but in 2010 produced stats (.284-21-88, 34 steals) more in line with his pre-contract form. The White Sox are banking on Rios to repeat those figures for several years to come.

John Mayberry (1949, Detroit, MI): Was one of the most fearsome sluggers of the 1970′s. The 6th overall pick in the 1967 amateur draft (Houston Astros), never played more than 50 games in a season until he was dealt to the Kansas City Royals after the 1971 season. There he became a star, averaging 24 HR and 92 RBI over the next six seasons. He finished second in the 1975 AL MVP voting to rookie Fred Lynn of Boston when he reached career highs in home runs (34), RBI (106), and OPS (.963). He helped lead the Royals to their first three American League West Division titles, but unfortunately for Mayberry and his teammates, they lost all three ALCS series to the New York Yankees.

Mayberry spent four-plus seasons in Toronto and finished out his final season with the Yankees in 1982. In the coming season, he will continue to watch his son John Mayberry Jr. try to make the Major Leagues as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

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