The All-Highlander Team
Most fans know that before the Yankees were the Yankees, they were the Highlanders. Originally the American League Franchise in Baltimore when the league began operations in 1901, they were moved to New York by league President Ban Johnson to compete with John McGraw’s Giants in 1903. The team played in Hilltop Park in one of the highest points in Upper Manhattan, and took on the name Highlanders.
In 1904 it looked like a good move by Johnson as the Highlanders won 92 games battled the Boston Americans to the very end for the AL Pennant. Afterwards the team struggled, with .500 or higher percentage in only three of the next eight seasons while languishing in the middle of the pack in attendance.
In 1913 the Highlanders started sharing the Polo Grounds with the Giants, and the name “Highlanders” didn’t seem appropriate anymore. The team officially took on the name “Yankees” which the press had been calling them for some time.
While their time as the Highlanders certainly pales in comparison to the rest of the franchise’s history, there were memorable players though in the Highlander era. Here’s my “All-Highlander” team:
Catcher – Red Kleinow: In an era in which catchers were expected to bat eighth and produce next to nothing on offense, Kleinow’s .219 average over seven seasons was considered acceptable. Never played a lot (career high was 95 games caught), but well regarded.
First Baseman – Hal Chase: Chase is one of the most notorious figures in baseball history, with numerous accusations of throwing/fixing ballgames during his career. During his Highlander years however he established himself as one of the better players in the game, batting .287 and averaging 30 stolen bases per season while being especially adept in the field.
Second Baseman – Jimmy Williams: Served as team Captain, and led the 1903 Highlanders with a robust .392 slugging percentage and 82 RBI.
Shortstop – Kid Elberfield: “The Tabasco Kid” feuded with umpires, teammates and opposing players alike. Was once called “the dirtiest, scrappiest, most rantankerous, most rambunctious ball player that ever stood in spikes”. Was well regarded at bat and in the field. Batted .268 in seven years in New York, among the best of AL shortstops, and served as player-manager for a portion of the 1908 season.
Third Baseman – Wid Conroy: Conroy was a versatile player who could play multiple positions well, but was mostly positioned at third base for the Highlanders. Batted .250 with the Highlanders and stole an average of 38 bases from 1903-1908.
Outfielder – Willie Keeler: Best known for his time in Baltimore and Brooklyn in the late 19th century, he came to the Highlanders in 1903 and still “hit ‘em where they ain’t”, batting .315 over his first four seasons.
Outfielder – Birdie Cree: Floated primarily between left and center field for the Highlanders from 1908-1912, finished sixth in Chalmers (MVP) voting in 1911 with .348/.415/.513 season.
Outfielder – Harry Wolter – 3+ WAR right fielder in 1910 and 1911.
Pitcher – Jack Chesbro: The Hall of Famer is best known for his epic 1904 season, when he almost single handedly pitched the team to the AL flag with a 41-12, 1.82 ERA. In that epic season, he hurled 48 complete games and threw 454.2 innings, making him an iron man among iron men in the Deadball Era.
The change in team name in 1913 didn’t have any change on the field, as the Yankees finished the decade by playing collectively sub-.500 baseball.
After the 1919 season, the Yankees purchased Boston Red Sox outfielder-pitcher Babe Ruth, and the trajectory of the franchise was forever changed. It all started though with the Highlanders.