Wednesday, September 17, 2008

#65 Tony Kubek

Tony Kubek by you.
The hits just keep on coming. This is the first of five cards that were graciously sent my way by reader John. On the heels of 1965 MVP Zoilo Versalles, we have another award winner: 1957 American League Rookie of the Year Tony Kubek. Like Zoilo, Tony's ascent to the major league level was rapid; he earned a spot as a Yankee regular at the age of twenty-one. Splitting his time amongst third base, shortstop, and the outfield, he was named the league's top rookie on the strength of his .297 batting average. The youngster saved his best for the postseason; though New York was bested in a seven-game World Series by the Milwaukee Braves, Kubek hit two home runs in a Game Three victory. At the time, he was just the second rookie to perform the feat (following another Yankee, Charlie Keller, in 1939). Only two other players have done it in the ensuing five decades: St. Louis' Willie McGee (1982) and Atlanta's Andruw Jones (1996).

Tony would eventually entrench himself at shortstop for the Bronx Bombers, where he was an above-average defender and one-half of a solid double-play combo with second baseman Bobby Richardson. From 1958 through 1961, he was named to three All-Star squads in four seasons. Incidentally, his finest year may have been 1960, when he placed eleventh in MVP voting but did not make it to the Midsummer Classic. That year he reached personal highs in home runs (14) and RBI (62) while batting .273. In October, while playing in the third of his six World Series (in a nine-year career!), Kubek suffered a traumatic moment. In the bottom of the eighth inning of Game Seven, Kubek was injured by a bad-hop ground ball off of the bat of Bill Virdon. It struck him in the throat and Virdon was credited with a single. The Pirates would rally for five runs to take a 9-7 lead in a game they would win 10-9 on Bill Mazeroski's dramatic ninth-inning home run. The Yankee shortstop would prove reluctant to talk about the play in the coming years.

Regrettably, Kubek's career would be cut short by a back injury in 1965. He was forced to retire when he was just twenty-nine. However, the ex-Yankee found his calling as a color commentator, most famously for NBC's Game of the Week. He held that position for twenty-four years, pairing with play-by-play men including Jim Simpson, Curt Gowdy, Joe Garagiola, and Bob Costas. He also worked eleven World Series and did local broadcasts for the Blue Jays and Yankees at different times. He was not one to withhold his personal opinions. Most notably, on the broadcast of Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th career home run, he blasted commissioner Bowie Kuhn for his conspicuous absence. Kubek has been retired from announcing for the past fifteen years, citing a desire to spend more time with his family, as well as a growing disenchantment with the business of the game.

Fun fact: After socking two home runs in his third-ever World Series game, Kubek failed to hit another round-tripper in thirty-four more Fall Classic contests.
Tony Kubek (back) by you.

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