Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Yankee Honored in Cooperstown

Friday we took a look at Joe Gordon, the most recent Yankee Hall of Famer. In the post, I took the time to get up on my high horse and pontificate as to how Gordon is largely forgotten by Yankee fans and overshadowed by more famous teammates. Well, I forgot another former Yankee who was also honored in Cooperstown over the weekend.

Tony Kubek was this year's winner of the Ford C. Frick award, given annually to a writer or broadcaster who has made major contributions to the game. Kubek spent decades doing the Game of the Week on NBC, and also covered numerous All-Star and post-season games. His former NBC broadcasting partners Curt Gowdy and Joe Garagiola have also been given the Frick Award.

Kubek came up with the Yankees in 1957 and won the Rookie of the Year award as the Yankees won the AL pennant for the third consecutive year. Kubek was a utility player initially, spending time in left and center, as well as at third and short. He served a similar role again in 1959, but for the rest of his career he was the Yankee shortstop.

He was a three time All-Star and in 1960 he finished eleventh in AL MVP voting. That fall, as the Yankees faced the Pirates in the World Series, an eighth inning ground ball in Game 7, off the bat of future Yankee manager Bill Virdon, took a bad hop and hit Kubek in the throat. It knocked him from the game and was a critical point in turning the game for the Pirates. The Pirates put up a five run inning, erasing the Yankees' three run lead, and setting the stage for Bill Mazeroski's walk-off homerun in the ninth.

In a losing effort, Kubek hit .333 with a .394 OBP for the Series. In his nine year career, Kubek played on seven pennant winners and won three World Series. Kubek's best season came in 1962 when he posted a 115 OPS+, but he played only 45 games that year due to military service. A back injury kept him off the World Series roster in 1964 - the final pennant of the Yankees Dynasty era - and would end his career after the 1965 season, when Kubek was just 30 years old. Like Gordon, Kubek is largely forgotten these days. But in the years before Derek Jeter arrived, Kubek likely ranked behind only Phil Rizzuto as the best shortstop in Yankee history.

In addition to his work with NBC, Kubek also called games for the Toronto Blue Jays for the first thirteen years of their existence. When NBC lost their national broadcast rights following the 1989 season, Kubek returned to the Yankee family, calling games on MSG Network from 1990 through 1994. Disillusioned with the state of the game following the 1994 strike, Kubek retired and has hardly been heard from since. Since retiring, he appeared at Old Timers' Day only once.

Kubek joins Mel Allen, Red Barber, Curt Gowdy, Joe Garagiola, and former Yankee teammate Jerry Coleman as former Yankee announcers to receive the Frick Award.

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