|Played for New York Yankees (1957-1965)
Postseason: 1957 WS, 1958 WS, 1960 WS, 1961 WS, 1962 WS, 1963 WS
1957 American League Rookie of the Year
All-Star 1958, 1959, 1961
Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek was felled by one of the costliest pebbles in baseball history. In the eighth inning of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, a double-play ball off the bat of Pittsburgh's Bill Virdon took a bad bounce and struck him in the throat. After Kubek was carried off the field, the Pirates rallied for five runs, setting the stage for New York to tie the game in the top of the ninth and for Bill Mazeroski to become a hero in the bottom of the frame.
Kubek, the American League Rookie of the Year in 1957, retired with a .266 average after the 1965 season at age 29 because of chronic back and neck problems. He later became an outspoken broadcaster, doing both network games and working in the booth for the Blue Jays and Yankees. Unlike others in the booth, he was particularly critical of owners, including his own employers.
-- Dewey & Acocella
The Biographical History of Baseball
On January 25, 1966, Tony Kubek announced his retirement. A Mayo Clinic diagnosis in 1965 revealed that he had fused vertebrae in his back. He was warned that if he continued playing baseball, a collision could paralyze him. If not for his premature retirement at the age of twenty-nine, there are many who believe Tony Kubek would be considered one of the top three shortstops in Yankee history.
The handsome athlete was signed by the Yankees in September of 1953, a month before his seventeenth birthday. In spring training of 1957, Casey Stengel took a shine to the youngster and decided to keep him with the big club that season. .... The twenty-year-old Kubek made his Yankee debut on April 20, 1957. That year he played fifty games in the outfield, forty-one at shortstop, thirty-eight at third base, one game at second, and batted .297 in the first of nine Yankee seasons.
Named Rookie of the Year, Kubek helped the Yankees win the pennant. In the World Series against the Milwaukee Braves, playing before his hometown folk, the multitalented Kubek put on a show. His two game-three homers paced a 12-3 Yankee victory. His versatility was on display throughout the seven-game series as the strong-armed youngster started games in center field, left field, and third base. The Yankees lost the 1957 series to the Braves but were winners against them in 1958. The all-purpose Kubek was the starting shortstop in that series.
A two-time* All Star, Kubek played wherever he was needed. For eight seasons he and second baseman Bobby Richardson were one of baseball's best double-play combinations. Possessing tremendous range and sure hands, Kubek led all shortstops in total chances in 1961; in 1963, he posted the fifth best fielding percentage by a Yankee shortstop ever, .980 ....
-- Harvey Frommer
A Yankee Century
*Actually, Kubek was a three-time All-Star. (ed.)
(1961) The quarterback of the infield was shortstop Tony Kubek, a boyish, awkward-looking, tall string bean with a flattop crewcut a Corsair could land on. Kubek, like his close friend and companion [Bobby] Richardson, was tight-lipped and difficult to approach off the field .... Only 25, but already a five-year veteran, Kubek had the maturity of a man ten years older. He was always serious, determined, and quietly aggressive. He was religious, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't chase women even before he was married, and didn't play poker with the other guys. Fun, for Tony, was going to church and lighting a candle. At night he and Richardson would stay at home. Bobby would read the Bible and Tony would read self-improvement books to expand his vocabulary and his intellectual horizons. Kubek shunned publicity and for years even refused to appear on the Red Barber postgame shows. Though Kubek was the heart of the Yankee infield for half a dozen seasons, his reticence made him almost invisible in the media, and his complete absence of flair or color prevented him from attaining the recognition of some of his equally talented teammates....
Kubek was a player everyone took for granted, and his true value was ascertained only after he retired in 1965 .... [He] was second in the batting order, ahead of Mantle, Maris, and the other sluggers, and his job was to get on base and score runs. He did this with regularity. In 1961 Tony scored eighty-four runs, third on the team behind Roger and Mickey.
On July 14 the Yankees temporarily regained first place from the Tigers with a 6-2 win over the Chicago White Sox. Maris hit his thirty-fourth home run, and Mantle his thirtieth, but it was a play by Kubek that saved the ball game. Luis Aparicio, the fleet White Sox shortstop, was on first when Sox second-baseman Nellie Fox hit a hard ground ball between third and shortstop. Third-baseman Clete Boyer raced toward short to try to cut it off, but the ball was by him, and shortstop Kubek had to race behind Boyer deep in the hole, where he fielded the ball and fired the long throw over to first for the out. Aparicio continued past second base, saw that Boyer was far to the left of third base, and sprinted for third. Kubek quickly anticipated the situation, beat Luis to the base, and Aparicio was stunned when Kubek took the return throw and slapped the ball on him to end the White Sox threat. "He's a very good shortstop," Aparicio said later. "They talk about Zorro [sic] Versalles and Dick Howser. Forget it. Kubek's the best." .... When the Yankees needed the intricate, important play, the hit-and-run, the sacrifice, the lead-off single, the clutch play, Kubek was there to deliver.
When Tony Kubek became a Yankee in 1957, the 20-year-old string bean created excitement not seen in the Yankee instructional camp since Mantle burst on the scene in 1951. Kubek was predicted to be the next Yankee super-star .... [He] could play second, shortstop, third, and all three outfield positions with skill and intelligence. At bat his measured, calculated swing sprayed line drives to all sectors of the ball park. Through Casey Stengel's final few years of managing the Yankees, whenever Mantle in center was injured or needed a rest, or Bauer in right, or Howard in left, or Carey at third, or McDougald at short, or Coleman at second, he would substitute Kubek, and wherever Tony played, he was outstanding .... When Ralph Houk became manager in 1961, one of his first changes was to permanently move Kubek to shortstop and Richardson to second, the combination that had performed so brilliantly for him at Denver in 1956. Houk felt permanence would bring security and improve the defense. In 1961 on a team best known for its slugging prowess, the Yankees won as many games with their superior infield play as they did with their powerful hitting ....
In 1962 Kubek was drafted into the Army when his reserve unit was activated, and a neck injury which he suffered playing touch football during his tour of duty shortened his baseball career. Like infielders Jerry Coleman and Billy Martin, when Tony returned from military service he was not playing at 100 percent, and because of his final few years of relative ineptitude caused by his back and neck miseries, his .280 pre-service lifetime batting average dropped more than eleven points. After the 1965 season doctors told him he had to quit or chance paralysis, and by that time the excellence of his earlier years was unfortunately tarnished. He was never flashy, never as smooth as some shortstops, but in his prime Kubek was as good as any of his contemporaries. He was quick, and his strong and accurate arm saved many a critical situation for the Yankees.
Dynasty: The New York Yankees, 1949-1964